The completed story
§ § §
Hiccup fled up the staircase, anguished and in pain. He fell on his bed, clutched his pillow, and cried until he fell asleep. He woke to the sun setting. Hiding in the darkened room, he looked back at the mess he’d made.
He knew he’d been stupid. His dad told him to keep close to the ground; even climbing to rooftop height meant punishment. His father, Stoick the Vast, said the area was dangerous and ordered him to keep away from there. When Hiccup’s feet hit the dirt, he glanced at his dad and saw his green eyes flashing, eyebrows drawn down in a glower. His dad put a massive hand on his shoulder and shoved him to the house. He didn’t ask Hiccup why he did it, but spoke in a thundering voice. Hiccup winced, remembering.
“I expect you to obey me.”
“I forbade you from that place.”
“Climbing those trees was reckless.”
“You could have died out there today.”
Hiccup knew how his dad looked when he was angry, but that anger had never been aimed at him. His dad never shouted or scowled at him; he didn’t slam his palms on the table and lean forward, either. Today he did all that, and Hiccup fought to stand there and listen when he wanted to duck and run. Then his father said three words he’d never used before—”Bare your bottom.” He delivered a long, hard spanking, then watched as Hiccup bolted. That had been hours ago.
Guilt felt like a rock in his chest. His dad was right. His actions were foolish and risky. His dad trusted Hiccup would listen and obey him, and he broke that trust. His dad was Chief on Berk, and he’d humiliated him in front of the tribe. Before, when he got in trouble, Stoick was disappointed. Today, his dad was furious with him. He used to be able to look at his dad after a walloping and have it all behind them; this time, he ran straight to his room.
He knew his father loved him. When he ducked under the huge fur cape, his dad laughed and call Hiccup his extra chief. He sat his son in his lap when he was unhappy or afraid and tickled him. Even when he should be asleep, his father might take Hiccup outside, point to the constellations, and tell him about the Two Ravens or Thor’s Hammer. He’d take his son’s small hands and wrap them in his massive ones, saying Hiccup would always be deep inside of his dad’s heart like that. Today made all that feel impossible. He’d done too much damage, and wondered how long might it take for his dad to forgive him. He didn’t know, but it wasn’t yet, not when his father was silent and he’d run away.
He heard voices downstairs, and knew Gobber had come over. He was missing an arm and a leg, and he smelled like coal dust and hot metal and sweat. Gobber was the forge: as boxy as the anvil, as strong as iron, with a blonde moustache that dangled longer than a sword. Hiccup was Gobber’s “wee laddie,” and Stoick’s best friend. He said whatever he wanted to Hiccup’s dad, even though he was Chief. His dad didn’t talk much, but he’d talk to Gobber. On tough days, Gobber would visit Hiccup’s dad to listen and try to help him.
Hiccup snuck to his bedroom door, opening it a crack. They were discussing him. He didn’t fall to sleep as early as they thought, and he’d listened in for years, learning a lot, including a word Gobber thumped him for using. Tonight, he needed to pay attention. If he listened hard, Hiccup might find a way to fix what he broke.
Gobber spoke first. “So, about Hiccup...”
“What about him?” Stoick sounded weary.
“Well, he climbed up that tree, didn’t he?”
“I know that. All of Berk knows that. I imagine the sheep know by now. Can you get to a point?”
Hiccup opened the door wider and risked peeking out. His father stood by the fire. Hiccup watched the flames dance, and Gobber stepped into his line of vision. “I know you have something to say, man. I’m one of cursed few people who know you’re more than a chief, and the only one you can talk with.”
“I could not believe the boy would behave so, so...foolishly.”
“He went above foolishness today. You know any tree that tall has its lowest branches cut off. Hiccup boosted himself onto someone’s roof first, then grabbed the nearest branch.” Gobber’s voice sounded serious and a little rough. “This wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. He meant to go there.”
Hiccup cringed. His father failed to ask him how he got that high. Every other time, Stoick required Hiccup to tell him each detail, and Hiccup’s relief at his dad’s forgetfulness became horror as Gobber reminded him. Telling untruths to his dad failed each time he tried. Lying to Stoick provided a penalty, and telling the truth today would bring a penalty. He anticipated standing before his father, too scared to speak, and making everything so much worse. Please, no, please don’t call me down, Hiccup pleaded silently. Please, Odin, please.
“Do you think I have not figured it out? The boy’s strength is in his mind, not his size; he thought himself into that disaster. The tree he got to was not even the one he wanted; he was trying for the one beside it when he slipped.” Stoick paused, then told him, “The trees were at Aerie Rock.” Stoick choked on the last two words.
All Hiccup heard was the crackling of the fire. Gobber’s mouth opened; he stood frozen, and Hiccup felt something would shatter if he moved. His dad hunched his shoulders and stabbed at the fire. Fear permeated the room, and Hiccup remembered Stoick saying he could have died. That seemed unreal; Hiccup couldn’t imagine any separation from the two men. Hiccup tried to picture his father without him to sit in his lap; Gobber would have no one to whisper to, no little comments that made Hiccup laugh. He didn’t get hurt, but they were afraid of what he’d done. Hiccup felt himself shrink inside, like their fear was catching.
Gobber coughed, and his voice broke the heaviness. “So, what did you do, then? I know Hiccup must’ve got a walloping for this, at least.” Hiccup cringed; Gobber knew all about his wallopings, and this one was fresh; he felt his bottom prickle. “You know you have to tell me. I’m not leaving until you do. What happened?”
“What happened?” Hiccup’s dad was angry. “I marched him home, stood over him, and told him everything he did wrong. I did not sit with him or let him speak. To answer your other question, I did not wallop the boy, Gobber.”
Hiccup jaw dropped. He was spanked harder than ever today, and Stoick was the one who did it. Any child on Berk would have been, and the Chief’s son was no exception. Gobber was aware of each misdeed behind his spankings, and knew today he’d earned one; his dad, the Chief, denied it happened. The tribe trusted Stoick, and Stoick never lied.
“Ah,” Gobber said, sympathetic. “I thought that might be part of the problem. Today was the day, then. You gave Hiccup his first spanking.”
“Yes, I did, and I hated it.” Hiccup heard unhappiness in his dad’s voice. “He doesn’t know there’s a difference between a walloping and a spanking, and today he felt the difference on his body. I did not hurt his pride this time, I hurt him. I struck him longer and harder than he had ever felt, knowing how painful it is. There was no other way, but I cannot feel good about it.”
Oh. They’re not the same thing. That’s why it was worse.
“Aye, it’s not a happy moment for either of you. You knew this was coming, and put it off as long as you could, Stoick, but the lad earned the punishment. The boy’s sore and guilty and embarrassed, but he’s alive. If the pain keeps him breathing, it’s worth it.” Stoick leaned the poker along the wall, and Gobber went on. “I remember my first. I was five and my da decided it was time. Hurts like Hel, that first one.” Gobber looked at Stoick and asked, “How old were you?”
“I was still three.” Hiccup eyes widened, and Gobber flinched. “Father had high expectations for the Hope and Heir to Berk.” Stoick sighed. “He ran straight to his room. Today wore him out. He’s asleep now, and ought to feel better in the morning. I did what I could, but there is no going back; now all his spankings will feel like that.”
“Ah. That’s why you didn’t ask him to tell you all that happened.”
“Oh Gobber. He’s a terrible liar. Even not knowing what happened, I always spot his lies. Telling the truth would be just as bad. Either way, his punishment would be worse. This one time, I can let him think I forgot.” Stoick glanced at the fire. “But not again. He must learn to listen and obey, before he kills himself. If I have to make him miserable to keep him safe, I will. Hiccup’s the best part of my life and the brightest thing on this island, and I refuse to lose him.”
Hiccup closed the door and returned to his bed. His father and Gobber were afraid he might have died. Hiccup couldn’t imagine more pain than he already undergone, but Stoick had gone easy on him, and didn’t make him explain. His dad was the Chief, and the Chief always had to do what’s right. But for his son, he would pretend not to know, and do wrong. Hiccup had to pretend he didn’t hear the truth, and know he wasn’t really punished. He’d listened, but still didn’t know how to fix things. Hiccup curled up beneath the fur, exhausted, and closed his eyes. He’d talk to his dad in the morning, and figure it out. Right now his brain was too full, and he needed sleep.
§ § §
Stoick walked into the great room, where his son stood waiting for him. Hiccup’s russet hair was combed, his face shining, and he wore a newer tunic that fell below his knees. He turned to Stoick and said, “Good morning, dad.”
Stoick observed his son. The night’s sleep allowed him to recover and his sunny nature had returned. The boy would need to talk—Hiccup rarely stopped talking—and Stoick would help him sort through yesterday’s catastrophe. “Good morning, Hiccup. Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah, I did. How about you?”
“Not bad, son.” He stifled a yawn. “You rose early today.”
“Uh-huh. If I came downstairs early, I could be ready when you woke up. You usually get me out of bed, and I wanted things to be different today.” He wore a shy smile. “There’s bread and milk and other things on the table. You know, to eat.”
The sun was barely up, and dagmal* wasn’t for a couple of hours, but Hiccup had made an effort. Stoick saw both the provisions waiting for him and the set table. Both mugs were clean, and the ones left from last night’s visit with Gobber were gone; his son’s industriousness included washing those and putting them on the shelf. The open shutters allowed the early light to brighten the room, and Stoick wondered how the house would have looked if he overslept. His son waited, expectant, as his father noted the changes.
Hiccup usually slept in, but rose in darkness to accomplish all this. Stoick recognized the labor his son put into this and honored it; they would eat now. He gave the boy a warm smile. “This is fine work, Hiccup.” He tugged his son’s chair next to his, and seated himself. “Join me.” His son moved his mug and plate closer and settled on the edge of the seat. They ate, punctuating the stillness with passing plates and slicing bread. Hiccup had a few bites left when Stoick noted a glance from the boy. After his son swallowed the final mouthful, he looked Stoick.
“I have a question. Well, maybe not a question. It’s...”
“Tell me what it is, Hiccup, even if you’re not sure what to call it.”
He hesitated. “Well, it’s about yesterday. Yesterday was confusing. A lot happened, and I’m not sure what to do.” Hiccup squirmed in his seat.
“What was confusing, son?” Hiccup seized the question, grateful to have somewhere to begin.
“Lots of things. Not everything; I know it was wrong to get in that tree, and I know you had to punish me. But other things were different, and I didn’t know what would happen. I feel better if I know what’s going to happen.” He peered at Stoick, searching for a reaction. Stoick tossed his son another question.
“Were you afraid?”
He fidgeted. “Yes, Dad, I was afraid, really afraid.”
“Were you scared of me, Hiccup? Tell the truth.” Stoick leaned forward and watched his son drop his eyes.
“You were mad, and you’re scary looking when you’re mad. But I wasn’t too frightened of you, Dad.”
That was partially true, but not an outright lie. Telling your father he’s terrifying—even when it’s true—required courage, and Hiccup’s bravery did not stretch that far. He would not push the point.
Hiccup tried again. “You always have things you do when I get in trouble, and you didn’t do any of them. It scared me.” He studied Stoick, then asked, “Do you know what I mean?”
“I think so, son.” Stoick hadn’t realized how all those changes would affect the boy. There was no slow walk home, no waiting until nighttime for his spanking, and no questions to answer. Hiccup hadn’t sat down with Stoick, but stood there while his father scowled down at him. Too many differences made the day hard to process. “It’s better for you when things stay the same, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, Dad, it’s a lot better. Yesterday...” Hiccup glanced at Stoick, then looked away. “I hated yesterday. Nothing went right. I was stupid and I didn’t listen, and you had to come get me. I wanted to go back and not climb that tree, but I couldn’t. And...it’s not over yet.” His voice became small. “I want it to be over.”
In a gentle tone, Stoick asked, “What would make it be over, Hiccup?”
“I need to do my part. I never told you anything, and I’m supposed to tell.” Hiccup had raised his head and looked Stoick in the eye. “I have to do this. It’s what’s fair, and just, and right. The Chief must always do what’s fair and just and right.”
Odin help him, Hiccup just threw “a chief must” in his face. His boy quoted his father on a chieftain’s responsibilities, and the boy was right. He had denied Hiccup the chance to tell his story. He never told the boy it was behind them, and now it lingered, driving Hiccup to plead for a chance to give his account. The first spanking shocked everyone; the assault on your body, your emotions, and your security magnified the physical pain. Stoick believed his restraint provided mercy because he despised striking his child. Hiccup knew offering the truth meant suffering another miserable, painful spanking, but it would be in the past. Somewhere inside, Hiccup knew that his dad might make a mistake, but the Chief served justice. Hiccup had appealed to his Chief, and Stoick had no other option.
“You want me to ask the questions, don’t you?”
“Yes, Dad, I want you to ask the questions.”
“All right. When you answer them, Hiccup, will I like what you tell me?”
“No Dad, you won’t.”
“Will I get upset?”
“Will you be in more trouble after you tell me?” His son gave a tiny nod.
“I did not put questions to you yesterday. You could have let me forget and stayed out of trouble. I know you don’t want more punishment, son; why did you remind me?”
“It wasn’t right. You always ask. If you don’t ask me, I can’t tell you, and it won’t be over.” Hiccup struggled to explain. “Yesterday, I messed up, and broke something, and I can’t fix it if you don’t ask the questions. I want it fixed, Dad.”
“Can you tell me what you broke, Hiccup?”
His son murmured a response. “Son, I cannot hear you. Speak up, and tell me what you broke.”
“I didn’t listen, and I disobeyed, and you can’t trust me anymore. I’m really sorry, Dad. I didn’t mean to mess it up, but I did anyway.” Stoick saw the sorrow on his face. “I broke us.”
§ § §
“Oh son. You did not break us. You and I are harder to break than you know, even when the worst days occur.”
Hiccup looked at his father, hoping it was true. “Really, Dad?”
“Yes, Hiccup, really. Now you know that, do you still need to fix anything? Is it over yet?”
“No, Dad, it’s not over. I’m waiting for the questions. I know I’ll get another spanking.” He fidgeted. “I don’t want to, but it’s gonna happen. Please Dad, ask me, so I can finish.”
“All right, son. I’ll ask. Why did you climb up into that tree yesterday?”
“I wanted to look at the bird’s nest.”
“You could see it from the ground, Hiccup. You need to give me a better answer.”
“I wanted to see inside, close up.”
“Why did you climb up there? You knew to avoid Aerie Rock.” He saw the boy wince. He wasn’t supposed to be near that area; climbing those trees wasn’t his only disobedience.
“I wanted to be in the trees, not on the ground.” Hiccup squirmed under Stoick’s gaze. “I like being high up. In those trees, I’d be higher than anyone. No one else would climb up there.”
“Why don’t you like the ground, son?” Hiccup didn’t answer. “Hiccup. I expect a complete answer that provides all your reasons. Why don’t you like the ground?”
“The ground is boring. It’s safe, but I don’t want to be safe. I’m a Viking, and Vikings are bold. I can’t fight or go voyaging, but I can climb, so I climbed that tree.”
“Keep going.” Stoick noted Hiccup’s reluctance; the uncomfortable questions—the ones about his motivations—came next. “Why did you want to be high up?”
“I wanted to keep away from everyone. I like being by myself.”
“Why do you want to avoid everyone, Hiccup?”
He spoke slowly. “No one thinks I’m any good. I’m smaller than anyone, The other kids are too fast to keep up with, and play games I can’t. The adults talk to me like I’m four, not six. Sometimes being alone feels better.”
Stoick knew a pang of sorrow for his son, but asked what he hoped would be the final questions. “Hiccup, did you notice that nest before yesterday?”
“Why did you climb up after it yesterday? Did something happen?”
“Tell me what happened.”
“Snotlout said he’d play with me, but I had to chase him. I chased him, but I didn’t see the hole. I caught my foot and fell. Snotlout and the twins laughed at me, and said I was weak. Then they ran off and left me. I just wanted to get away from there, Dad. So I climbed.”
“I didn’t want anybody around me.” His shoulders slumped. “If I stayed, people would treat me like I’m little. I already felt bad, and that just makes it worse.”
Stoick learned what he needed, and hoped to stop asking questions. He doubted there was more to his son’s account. Still, Hiccup already lied to him once today, and Stoick wanted to see if lying was becoming a habit. He challenged Hiccup.
“Hiccup, I want to know if I need to ask more questions. Am I done with ‘why’ questions, or do you have things to tell me?” Stoick wore a stern expression, his son’s reminder to be truthful.
“You never asked why I was near the trees. I wasn’t supposed to be there at all, and you left that one out.” His son refused to lie, even by omission—he wanted no extra trouble. Stoick planned to address the matter of Aerie Rock, and was satisfied Hiccup avoided lying as a practice.
“Why were you there, Hiccup? You know it is forbidden.”
“I know. I like watching the island, and I can see a lot of Berk from there. If I sit in the right spot, I can see the ocean, too.”
“Why do I think you’ve spent other days there?”
“Because I’ve sat there before. I like that place, so I kept coming back. I didn’t want to stop going, even when it was forbidden.”
Here were three “why” answers, when Stoick had asked for one. Hiccup was impatient and wanted to finish. His son regretted being caught, but not disobeying. He had no qualms about his actions, and no compelling reason to stay away. He’d risk the spanking to return to the site, and that insubordination must not continue. Stoick returned to probing the boy.
“Why do you think Aerie Rock is forbidden, son?”
“Because the trees there are dangerous. If I’m not there, I can’t climb the trees.”
“That’s correct, Hiccup. What other reasons are there?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I didn’t know there were more.” Hiccup scratched his head. “Are there more?”
“There are more reasons. Too many people have been injured there. It’s steep and slippery. The ground is rocky, and falling will get you badly hurt. You can see the ocean because it’s close to a cliff. You chased Snotlout and fell in a hole you didn’t see. Imagine running off the cliff because you didn’t spot the edge or stop in time.” Hiccup’s eyes widened. “It’s empty of people, isn’t it?” His boy nodded. “That’s because everyone in the tribe avoids that spot, and all the youngsters on Berk are forbidden to go there. We warn every visitor to Berk about it, too.”
He caught his boy’s attention and locked eyes with him, allowing his words to penetrate, then said, “I need you to answer another question. Can you count how many times you went there, Hiccup?”
“No what, Hiccup?” Stoick increased the pressure, making his child answer formally.
“No, sir. I do not know how many times I went there, sir.” He looked cowed.
“Ten times? Twenty times? Was it more than twenty times, son?”
Mumbling, Hiccup replied, “More than twenty times, sir.”
“How long have you been going, Hiccup?”
“Since midsummer, sir.” So, this began three months ago. “The midsummer before harvest. Sir.”
Stoick stared at the anxious figure before him. Over a year of risking his life for a view of Berk. Fifteen months of going near a cliff to see the ocean, because his boy thought the rules did not apply to him. “Yesterday, I told you that if you fell, you could have died.” Stoick took a breath. “Do you think you were unfairly punished for that?” Hiccup shook his head. “Every time you went there, and didn’t climb those trees, you still could have died, Hiccup. You’ve gone there a lot more than twenty times, haven’t you?”
“If I punished you for every time you went, would it be unfair? If each one of those meant I became angry, shouted at you, and provided a spanking like the one you had yesterday, would it be unfair?”
Stoick watched Hiccup. The boy thought in straight lines and his imagination would magnify this into a horror. He watched it dawn on Hiccup—he would be spanked and sore every night for weeks, maybe months. The shame haunting him and the remarks he’d hear would compound his misery. The other children would harass him. Stoick knew that a spanking every night would injure him. He’d be afraid to leave the house. It would consume his life; the daytime meant a wait filled with dread and the evenings filled with his enormous father angry and shouting, followed by pain and tears. It would not end for Hiccup until his dad finished every bit of it, but none of it would be unfair. Stoick refused to visit such monstrous cruelty on his six-year-old—his own childhood held many spankings and shamings—but needed the boy to absorb the possibility, and use his shock to drive the lesson deeper.
“Dad? Sir?” His voice was nearly inaudible.
“Yes, son?” His boy’s breathing sped up and he trembled. Stoick enclosed him in a gigantic arm, saw him tense, and touched his forehead to his son’s. “It’s all right, Hiccup. Don’t be afraid. I would never harm you. I promise you’re safe with me.” Stoick shushed the boy, murmuring reassurances, then inhaled, telling his son, “Deep breaths. Take some deep breaths, they’ll help you.” Hiccup followed his father’s instructions. By degrees, his breathing slowed, and his trembling dwindled until he was still. Shaken, he looked at his father.
“Hiccup, I would never hurt you that much. Never, son. I love you more than you can imagine, and you,” Stoick said, “have a huge imagination.” He stroked Hiccup’s hair and felt the lad relax. “I want you to think about my words.”
“Can I ask a question, sir?”
“Go ahead, son.”
“Why did you say those things if you didn’t mean them?”
Will you ever forget what I told you?”
“No, Dad.” He caught himself. “No, sir, I won’t forget.”
“Being punished for everything would have hurt, not just once or twice, but for a long time. It would be painful to your body and your heart and to everything you are inside. You would be frightened and sad and wouldn’t want to go places or do things. Am I right, son? You can call me Dad now.”
“If anything happened to you, Hiccup, I would feel exactly like that. If you died, I’d be afraid and hurting inside. I wouldn’t want to be Chief or talk to people, or even eat.” Stoick lost his wife when Hiccup was an infant, and only his son provided the impetus for him to keep going. Without Hiccup, Stoick would be destroyed.
Hiccup pondered this.“You wouldn’t?”
“For all my life, Hiccup. It would never be over, not if you died, son. I’d always feel like that.” He sat Hiccup on the table, and looked directly into his eyes. “You disobey and break rules and get in trouble. None of those things can break us, son. If you died, Hiccup, that would break us.” Stoick lifted Hiccup’s small hands, and enveloped them in one of his. “That would break me, and I could never be fixed.”
Hiccup grew still, then crumpled. The welter of emotions on his face—terror, anguish, grief—showed him the boy understood. Stoick had wrested the boy’s complacency from him. He risked the thing he loved most—his bond with his father. If he died, he’d destroy his dad, too. Stoick nodded, unwilling to break the moment. This ordeal was concluded, and they were all right.
§ § §
An hour had passed since they had finished eating, and the second half of the questioning remained. Hiccup stood on the floor before him and Stoick steeled himself to listen, cherishing these last moments of ignorance; Hiccup’s account promised to be appalling. The adventures of Hiccup the Bold might be a good tale, but nothing prepared him for hearing about them. Stoick didn’t expect to be raising a daredevil, and thanked the gods his son still breathed.
“Tell me about yesterday; provide each thought and action, leaving nothing out.”
“I went to Aerie Rock and there were tall trees. I saw the bird’s nest, and decided to climb up to check for eggs or baby birds.” Hiccup paused, then said, “The branches were too high to reach, but I knew the Abramsson’s roof was near the trees. I looked for watchers, but no one saw me.” His son took a break, and Stoick knew Hiccup was ordering his thoughts.
“I overturned a bucket, stood on it, and climbed onto a barrel from there. I grabbed a shutter. From the shutter I grabbed the edge of the roof. I stood on the edge, and...” Hiccup halted.
“The entire story, son. Begin at, ‘“I stood on the roof’s edge...”’
“...and leaped to a tree. I caught the nearest branch; it was one thumblength thick. I moved toward the trunk of that tree, holding tight to the branch, and pulled myself up. I stood up and started climbing.” He took a breath, and Stoick wondered if the danger of his actions was catching up to him. “I climbed high, and the branches were thinner. The next tree held the bird’s nest, so I leaned out and tried to grab a branch. My left foot slipped. I fell, but I grabbed a lower branch. It was weak, and I fell again. I grabbed another branch and held on with my right arm; then I found a knothole with my left hand, and grabbed that, too. I couldn’t get down. I yelled for help, and people came. Someone brought you.” He halted.
“Finish, Hiccup.” Stoick’s stern voice compelled him. His son requested justice, and Stoick would not deny him. This was Hiccup’s task to complete, and neither his feelings nor Stoick’s mattered. “Now.”
“I didn’t have anything to stand on. I couldn’t hold on for long enough. You were climbing up to get me. I lost my hold and slid on the trunk, but you caught me and carried me down to the ground. That’s everything that happened, Dad.”
“Good job.” Stoick selected his words carefully. “The questions are over, and it’s time to decide what comes next. This is difficult, because you must receive fitting discipline. A spanking or a grounding or extra chores are not enough. That’s why,” Stoick said, “you have to help me decide your chastening.”
§ § §
Hiccup was taken aback. “That’s your job, Dad. I don’t get to choose what happens.”
“You never did before. Today you will. You caused this mess, you have to clean it up, and you are part of this decision. Now tell me your thoughts.”
“I expect a spanking. Aren’t you going to do that?”
“Do you think that’s enough, Hiccup? For more than a year, you chose to disobey and risked your life repeatedly. Don’t you think your punishment ought to be more severe than one spanking?”
“I guess so, Dad.” He noted the reluctance, and brought out the next question.
“Is this unjust, Hiccup? You’ve seen me hear people’s problems and try to find the best solution. Am I being unfair?” The boy shook his head.
“As Chief, I sometimes solve problems for other people. Other times, I make them solve their own. You cannot leave this choice to me, son. It will take both of us to decide.”
Stoick took a long pull of his drink. He never spoke so much at one time, and his throat was dry. Talking this through with Hiccup was a test of endurance, but everything had changed in the space of a day. The absence of the routine and predictable unsettled his son, and he would use that. He couldn’t leave Hiccup torn between being a young and irresponsible lad and being old enough to be accountable. Still, Stoick felt like he’d used two weeks worth of words and a week’s worth of explaining in one conversation.
“Dad. I don’t know how to start. I’ve never done this and I’m...stuck.”
“Do you want help beginning?”
“Yes, please, Dad. I need a lot of help, and I have an idea, but maybe not a good one, or at least...” Stoick listened to Hiccup’s mouth run on, relieved and amused by the onslaught of speech. Hiccup was back to prattling at his usual enthusiastic, breakneck rate. Stoick listened for another minute before stopping him.
“Some of those ideas are good ones, son, but wrong for today. We need something that fits your actions. Tell me your thoughts about that.”
“Could you ask more questions, Dad? Sometimes that helps.”
“All right, Hiccup. You climbed that tree. What is a good punishment for that?”
“Well, I can stop climbing those trees. But I’m not supposed to do that anyway. So, maybe I can’t climb any trees.”
“Maybe so. How many trees can you climb now?”
His son calculated the number. “Eight trees, Dad.”
“You risked your life. Is being stopped from climbing eight trees enough?”
“No, I guess not.”
Stoick prompted him. “Give me another idea, or change the first one.”
Hiccup considered it, then told his father, “I can’t. I’m stuck again.”
“That tree isn’t the only thing you climbed, is it?” Stoick saw Hiccup remember the sequence of events. Bucket, barrel, shutter, roof—he climbed four other items before he ever grabbed a branch.
“No, it wasn’t. But I don’t have any ideas about that, either. Maybe,” he mused, “hitting my head would wake up my brain? Gobber said it works.”
Gobber told you pictsies dance in the lit forge, too. Stoick refused the distraction, saying, “Your brain is awake, Hiccup. Do you want another question?” He nodded.
“If you got up to the edge of that roof and stopped, would you still be in trouble?”
“Yes, I’d still be in trouble, Dad.”
Another single sentence answer. The excited gabble was gone, and Stoick knew why: Hiccup was not stuck, but recalcitrant. He had no desire to create his own punishment. Too bad. Stoick was doing as his son asked—providing justice. He didn’t get to choose how it arrived.
“What questions do I usually ask you, son?”
“Why did I do it, and how, and what.” Hiccup was quick with the reply, glad for more familiar ground.
“Since you know the questions, son, ask them yourself, and answer them. I’ll listen.” Stoick took another swallow of his drink and observed his son’s dismay. He had trapped the boy, and felt a twinge of satisfaction. His son had quoted “a chief must” at him; now Hiccup was caught by his own words. “Begin with your last answer. Why?”
“Because I didn’t have permission. Because climbing up there is dangerous.” Stoick motioned for Hiccup to continue.“Because I could get hurt?” Stoick watched his boy pursue the idea, then look at Stoick. “I need another question.”
Stoick sat silently, and saw Hiccup realize his father wasn’t going to ask—it was his job now. No pleading looks or acting stuck would succeed. He knew the questions, his father granted him the task of asking them, and he had to keep going.
Cornered, Hiccup said, “What happens next? I might get hurt. Then I have to see the healer, and I’d know not to do that...but I knew anyway.”
“Put it in a sentence, son.”
Hiccup’s relief at being interrupted became chagrin; one sentence provided no way to avoid looking bad. “I broke the rules, hurt myself, and learned I was stupid for disobeying.”
Hiccup’s aggravation amused Stoick. His son admitted to being stupid, but resented examining the details. He hated making mistakes, and these glaring blunders vexed him. Good. Stoick wanted to sting his pride. Hiccup hesitated, searching for a way out, and Stoick folded his arms, radiating a willingness to wait.
“How. How do I fix this? I never did it—I never got hurt—so I can’t fix that. I did disobey and it was dumb.” Stoick raised an eyebrow, and Hiccup admitted, “I was dumb.”
“True.” Hiccup frowned, dissatisfied.
“I can’t think of any more questions. Can you help me, please?” The boy’s face told Stoick he had genuinely run dry. This time, Stoick would help him.
“Use so, and, since.”
“I was dumb, so...I have to be smarter. So I don’t get in trouble and get punished again. And so other people won’t think I’m stupid.” He halted. “So, I need to listen more and follow the rules, because I’m tired of people thinking I’m little and stupid.” He emitted a noise between a sigh and a huff, and said, “I need to fix that.”
“Aye. That you do.” Hiccup looked at his father, startled. The boy hadn’t expected the comment, or any remark at all. It was a welcome surprise, and Stoick saw his son absorb his words and consider them.
His lips moved silently, forming the six words he’d been given to use. He became intent, repeating them while staring forward. Stoick observed him think; Hiccup’s focus on the problem blocked out all else. He would find a solution. The boy’s stubbornness got him into this and he would use it to find his way out. Stoick rose, poured more water for them both, and sat down to study his son.
Hiccup looked at his father, frowned, and shook his head; he would not ask for help. Stoick settled comfortably, then raised his mug to drink. His son pursed his lips, appearing dissatisfied, and he wondered how long the boy would chase the idea in his head. Stoick could not remember seeing this determined focus before; his look of concentration had grown to nearly a scowl. The flagon was almost empty when the boy’s brow cleared, and he looked at his father again.
“I need to talk.”
§ § §
Hiccup was cross. His dad stuck him with answering his own questions, and it stunk. He worked on figuring something out, but no ideas came. It bugged him that he wasn’t getting the answer, even with his dad’s help. He was tired of everything—tired of questions, tired of being in trouble, tired of people thinking something was wrong with him. He was talking through the “so’s” and thinking about the tribe when he said it. I need to fix that. He could fix it. The idea was a good one, but he had to save it for later. Hiccup still needed to pick a punishment.
Then his dad looked at him and said “Aye.” His dad wouldn’t talk unless Hiccup really needed help, but he’d looked at Hiccup and agreed with him. His dad saw Hiccup, not some baby, not a little kid who didn’t know things, and when he spoke his dad listened like his words mattered. His father talked to him in an adult voice, the kind he used when villagers approached him with a problem. Hiccup kept going over the question words, trying to figure things out, but part of him considered his father.
His dad hadn’t asked the questions yesterday and this morning gave him a chance to skip them. His dad was kind, but Hiccup made him ask. Once his dad started asking, he became serious. When he told his father about Aerie Rock, he got scary. He stared at Hiccup and talked about all the times he could have died and asked how many times he’d gone there, and asked if having lots of shouting and spanking was fair. Hiccup had to tell the truth, and he knew it was fair. Then he looked at his dad and realized he could do it. Hiccup felt sick. His father was scary yesterday, and he’d be scary every day this happened. His dad wouldn’t smile or laugh or tell him about the stars. It would go on for a long time, and really, really hurt. He’d be all alone. The whole tribe would know he was still disgraced. It would be awful, but it would be fair. He knew it would happen, and all he could do was shake. His father came close and told him it was okay and he was safe, but he still said it first. He wanted Hiccup afraid, so he’d remember. His dad stopped being kind; that was for little boys, and Hiccup wasn’t little any longer. He looked over at his dad and saw him waiting. He needed to keep thinking because he couldn’t talk to his dad until he finished the idea. He forgot about the questions and focused on his father.
His father made it hard too, forcing him to think up his own punishment and ask his own questions and only give Hiccup help if he wanted. It was a rotten thing to do—this was his father’s job and he got it anyway. But Stoick listened and paid attention. Then he said “Aye.”
His dad had treated Hiccup like he was little. Today he stopped doing that. He decided his son needed to be punished as a six-year-old. No letting him have it easier or how he wanted. He expected his son to be responsible, and took him seriously. That was what Hiccup wanted and how he could fix being treated like a small child. He had to make the tribe see he was serious. Now he had a good idea, one he could use. He turned to his dad.
“I need to talk.”
§ § §
His father gave him a nod and leaned forward, expecting his son to begin. Hiccup told him, “The only way to fix this is to make them see me, not a little kid. It’s hard, because I’m too small for six.” Hiccup cleared his throat, and Stoick handed him a mug of water. He drank two swallows before resuming.
“So they look at my size, but not anything else. I need to make them look at something that’s more than my size. I don’t know what that's gonna be.”
His dad leaned forward. “Can I interrupt?”
Wow. His dad just asked him for permission. “Yeah, Dad, go ahead.”
“Instead of making them look at something, you might show them.”
Hiccup played the words in his head. Almost every grownup treated him like he didn’t know anything. Only Gobber didn’t, and Gothi. He thought about Gothi.
Gothi gave him work to do: sweeping the floor, bringing water, picking herbs. At Gothi’s hut, he paid attention to her. She never talked, and if he wanted to learn, he needed to concentrate. She demonstrated the steps for each task, and let him attempt the work. She’d take his hand and put the spoon in it, then guide his motions until he learned the rhythm for stirring. She led his hands to measure water into a mixture, and to press petals to dry, and to fill her bags of herbs. Once he knew how, she trusted him to work at the task. She watched and helped only when he needed her. That was showing him, and that’s what he must do for other people. Hiccup’s solution was to show them he was enough, that he was more than they believed. He didn’t know how yet, but the answer was hiding inside his head; it just needed to come out.
Gothi was the shortest adult on Berk, shorter than a ten-year-old. The tribe relied on her. She carried a long wooden staff and even if you couldn’t see her, you saw the staff. She was strong and smart and a little tricky. She became cranky when people behaved stupidly, and glared at them to make them think. The tribe’s ideas about her weren’t about how tall she was, but who she was. He had to show them who he was, what he was like, and what he could do. Hiccup couldn’t change his size, but he might change someone’s mind about him. He turned to his dad.
“I can show everyone. If I show people who I am and what I know, they’ll know there’s more than size.” He looked at his dad. “Can you keep listening? It helps.”
“Yes, son. Go ahead.”
“Gothi’s short. No one sees it or cares because she’s Gothi. Everybody respects her. She’s a healer and an elder and tough. People don’t bother her because she’ll hit them with her staff.” He father covered his mouth and his eyes crinkled, but he still listened. “Gothi’s a lot older than I am, so people have practice in how they think about her, and she has practice in showing them who she is.” He paused. There was another good idea in there. “So, they know what to think about Gothi already, because she always shows them first. Like when she shows me how to pick plants or stir mixtures.”
He frowned. “I still don’t know how to show people anything. But,” he realized, “what works with Gothi works with everybody. Gobber shows people who he is and so does Uncle Spitelout. So do you.” His father nodded. “So what do they see when they see me? What do I show them?” His dad looked at him and gave a short jerk of his chin; Hiccup pursued the idea, thinking hard. “They see I’m small, but it’s more than that. They don’t just see me,” he had it now, “they watch what I do. What I do makes them think the way they do.” His Dad’s lips quirked for a moment, and Hiccup knew he was almost there. “I make them decide I’m weak and stupid. I make them think I’m small.”
He looked at Stoick. His father smiled; Hiccup had found a problem to solve, and knew what caused it. All he needed was a good solution; Hiccup smiled back. He came this far and knew the answer was there inside him. He just needed to find it. His dad would help him solve this.
The idea struck him like a blow. His dad was the Chief. Hiccup was the only person in the tribe whose Chief was called Dad. This morning, he was sitting with both of them. Hiccup had seen the quick nods and head tilts in meetings and conversations, and been exposed to his “I’m listening” look when people came to him for advice or help or just to complain. But his father also had things that were only his, like being Hiccup’s dad. He had a way of sitting back with his mouth in a straight line, staring forward that no one understood. Only Hiccup knew it was his dad’s way of not laughing when he needed to stay serious. His father and the Chief were the same person, but not exact. The tribe saw the Chief, but they didn’t see all of Stoick, because he chose what they saw. Hiccup could choose what people saw about him.
He was blocked. He had to finish this, and there was a wall between what he knew and the answer. He needed to try something else. It was time to go back to his original task. Thinking about that might help.
“Dad. Can I ask a question?”
“What is it, son?”
“Why must I pick my punishment? You always do, and every time I’m the person making the mistake. If you can decide it then, why not now?” This had been bugging him.
“The trouble you are in is larger, so your consequences are larger. Having to choose is a consequence.”
The answer made an uncomfortable kind of sense. Hiccup wasn’t supposed to enjoy being punished, and making a decision about how it happened was part of the discipline. His dad had already done part of the work by picking this task for him. Hiccup didn’t like it, but he had to admit he wasn’t expected to choose everything. His father said they’d do it together. It was his mess to clean up.
What he showed the villagers yesterday was his mess, too. They saw it and heard about it, and again decided he was small. They saw him disobey and get in trouble. They knew he shouldn’t be there and that his dad told him to stay away. They knew he risked his life. He caused all that. He didn’t act his age. They thought he was as old as he behaved, and that was four, maybe younger. He had to act another way—smarter, more obedient, more helpful.
He had to work.
The only work Hiccup did was what people asked him to do. They didn’t ask often, and what they asked for wasn’t hard. He carried things like thread or picked up a cup that fell to the floor or watched for people to arrive. Frowning, he realized he was given part of a task, not the whole thing. No one asked him to bring needles with thread, or wash the cup and put it back. He wasn’t supposed to greet people or help them, either. They thought he couldn’t do any of that. If no one thought he could work, then they wouldn’t give him work. He couldn’t prove himself without tasks to do. It went around in a circle. He exhaled sharply.
He drank from his mug, hoping for a solution to pop into his head. Draining his mug didn’t help; the problem remained, and Hiccup’s annoyance grew. He’d acted like a little kid. His thinking and his actions caused this mess. He fought his dad and broke the rules and the mess got bigger. Now he had the answer and no way to use it, and no one could fix it but him. There was no solution and his dad expected him to find one. He didn’t want this; he had done enough and he hated his life. His resentment took over, and the words burst forth.
“I’m sick of this. It’s too much. This is not my job.” Glowering and irate, he snapped at his father. It shocked them both, and his dad stared at him.
Hiccup was aghast, appalled that such words had come out of his mouth, and a million thoughts crossed his mind in an instant. His dad understood if Hiccup felt fed up or impatient, and had to let it out. But this was much worse. He hadn’t been annoyed or frustrated or even rude—the line he thought it was impossible to cross had been breached. This was way beyond “Come here right now.” It was worse than “You do not speak to me like that,” and even surpassed Astrid’s account of having your mouth washed out with soap.
Hiccup had been insolent.
“Stand up straight and look at me.” Hiccup faced his father and saw the scowl, the set jaw, and the ice in his father’s eyes; Stoick was a glacier, huge and cold and forbidding. After a long silence, his father stated, “The way you addressed me was abominable. Never do you behave that way. I am your father, Hiccup, and I commanded you to perform this task. You do not refuse, or rebel, or raise your voice to me. Never do you glare or snap at me. Your behavior is disgraceful and there will be consequences.” His tone was severe, sharper than a sword, and every word justified. Hiccup held himself rigid and kept his eyes on Stoick, wanting to do one thing right and obey his father.
Hiccup’s emotions were churning inside; he was ashamed and guilty and disgusted with himself. This morning, his dad listened to Hiccup and talked to him like his son was a grown person. His dad cared about him and wanted him to be okay. Hiccup knew his dad had stayed home for him, when he had all of Berk to look after. He trusted his son, and gave him a challenge: pick your punishment. When he didn’t like it, Hiccup defied his father and spat in his face. Now there was something else he couldn’t fix. A long time later, he saw his dad tilt his head and gesture with his hand; Hiccup was expected to respond.
“I’m sorry.” He knew it wasn’t enough, but Hiccup didn’t have any way to say everything in his heart. He was a horrible person, disobeying and lying and treating his dad like he didn’t care. Another spanking wouldn’t be enough; this was too bad. He might have to be called before the village or put in the cells. He didn’t want that, but he wanted this fixed more. Whatever happened or how his dad decided, he must accept it. Hiccup did the only thing he could think of—he walked straight up to Stoick, leaving almost no space between them, and told his father, “I’m ready.”
§ § §
He finished his speech to Hiccup, fighting for control. He restrained the fiery rage that wanted to burst out like a dragon’s fire and scorch his son. Hiccup must not know about the temper he had trouble containing, or the desire to verbally attack his son so the entire village would hear. He could never know about the vile voice that whispered to Stoick. Hit him. Hurt him. Pain is a teacher. He needs correcting and you must compel his obedience. Misery will make him remember. He is the son of the Chief and must know discipline, so he does not fail the tribe or blacken the Haddock name. This is your duty.
Stoick despised that voice. Halvar Haddock was years dead and his words still haunted Stoick. The desire to strike Hiccup had never come at such a terrible time—his son’s transgressions kept building and Hiccup’s insolence should be the tipping point. He could scream at Hiccup and it would be acceptable. He could deride his son and condemn him, and could strike his body to the point of injury. Stoick could publicly and painfully humiliate Hiccup, because he was the boy’s father.
The way Halvar the Unflinching had treated his son Stoick.
The anger receded, relieving him of the temptation to lash out at Hiccup. He refused to be his father, and every time a memory was triggered, he wrestled the old man back into his prison and gagged him. This time, Stoick had no easy solution; Hiccup had gone too far and must endure a physical punishment. He could only refuse the extremes his father used. He must choose and act with care, but that decision was for later: now it was time to come back to the problem in front of him. He gestured to Hiccup.
“I’m sorry.” It was a whisper. His son struggled to speak, to answer for his actions. He regretted it all: the words, the glares, his raised voice, his audacity. The Greeks in the distant south had a word for it—hubris. Hiccup had been proud, arrogant, and conceited, and Stoick knew he was horror-struck the moment the words left his mouth. Now he could barely speak. Hiccup without words was a rare creature, and sighting it now showed Stoick he wouldn’t need to drive into the boy just how wrong his behavior had been. Stoick would not let it drop—Hiccup required a full grasp of what he had done—but the boy was castigating himself and appeared contrite. Watching Hiccup, he saw a change in his son. The boy stared into the distance, and his mind was working out something. The storm of emotions passed, replaced by determination. Hiccup lifted his chin and walked toward him with purpose, stopping only when he could not get any closer.
Odin help him. Stoick never used that tactic, never forced his son to ask for his punishment as if he wanted it. Being disciplined was hard enough without cramming it into the boy that he was some sort of sacrifice and should be willing to walk toward the knife. He had no idea why Hiccup chose this. Hiccup, on the other side of his first spanking, relied on Stoick to know what would best serve as punishment. He believed his dad could strike him but never harm him, that no number of blows from his father’s hand would keep him from the safety of Dad’s arms. Here stood his son, unafraid and trusting Stoick.
“You should be sorry, and I believe you are. I know you are ready, but I am not.”
“I know you expect an answer, but it will have to wait. Do you know why?”
“Waiting is a consequence.” Stoick knew his son had more to say. “Dad? Are you gonna put me in the cells?”
Hiccup expected that? “No son, never. This is between us and no one else needs to know. Anything I do, I will first tell you about. All right?”
“Alright. Do I have to pick this one, too?”
“You do not. I will choose your discipline.”
Hiccup appeared satisfied. He offered himself, not knowing the outcome, and hoped for an answer. He got enough of one to set his mind at rest, and became the child Stoick was used to seeing. Hiccup plopped into his chair, kicking his legs and waiting for his dad to restart things.
“Have you thoughts, Hiccup, on what to do?” Hiccup retraced the events in his head, focusing on his earlier thinking.
“I had an idea, Dad, but it doesn’t work; I messed up too much. And I’m too busy wondering about other stuff to concentrate.”
“What other stuff, son?” Clearing this away ought to help get him back on track. Hiccup hesitated, then reached a decision.
“Dad?” His father inclined his head, his “go-ahead-I’m-listening” gesture, and Hiccup began. “You yelled at me yesterday, and you never yell. You should yell more, but you don’t, even when I deserve it.” He faltered, then went on. “I have something I want to say, but I don’t know if I can say it. It’s not about anything I’ve done wrong, but you might not like it. It’s about you.”
Stoick pondered the problem. Hiccup needed to get rid of this, whatever it was. He would not force a confession, but offer an opportunity. “I can’t promise what I’ll do, Hiccup, but I will think about your words. You make this choice, son.”
“You don’t like me getting in trouble, because you don’t like punishing me. I think there were times you were mad, but said you were disappointed, like you didn’t want me to feel bad. Why didn’t you get mad before yesterday?”
§ § §
Thor, but he was perceptive. How could he answer a question like that? His son’s sharp mind found another discrepancy between Stoick’s words and his actions, and the boy could not grasp why his dad refused to become angry. Stoick’s choice looked clear-cut to his son; Hiccup knew little about grey areas and Stoick had to make him understand. “Why do you ask, son?”
“I never thought about it before, but yesterday, you were shouting and angry and I was afraid.” A pause, then, “I lied to you today, when I said I wasn’t too frightened of you, because you were really scary, Dad.” He continued in a quiet voice, “I’m sorry for my falsehood, sir.”
Hiccup provided the standard response for lying, and Stoick set the transgression aside for later. “All right. Tell me the rest.” The boy’s patent relief told Stoick just how terrified his boy had been yesterday.
“I’ve gotten in trouble before, and you were never mad at me. If I didn’t listen, or disobeyed, or did the same wrong thing again and again, you never shouted. Other parents get mad and yell at their kids, even the little ones. Everybody expects it. I think you must have wanted to be angry and yell at me before yesterday. Why didn’t you?”
“You are correct, Hiccup. I did not want you feeling bad.” And I hated the shouting when I was in trouble. “That’s why I waited.”
Hiccup grimaced. “That’s wrong. It means you stayed angry because you couldn’t get rid of it. I didn’t know you were mad, and I’d keep getting in trouble. Doing that made things too hard for you.” Hiccup stopped, but the words “too easy for me” hung in the air, and his son looked pained. “You let me hurt you over and over, and I never behaved, so I hurt you more. I thought everything was okay, but it wasn’t and I can’t fix that, either. You should have shouted at me sooner.” A long pause, then Hiccup looked at him. “I’m sorry, Dad.”
“Hiccup.” The boy met his eyes, and Stoick detected fresh shame. “You cannot feel bad about this. I did not want to yell at you, and I was disappointed. If it was wrong, the mistake is mine. Do not think this is your fault, son. I chose this.”
“Some choices are untidy. I didn’t yell or become angry because I did not want to hurt you or make you afraid. I do not like you to feel those things, because when you hurt, I hurt too. I want to be disappointed, not angry. Many decisions cannot be right, just, or fair. I chose not hurting us and I believe it was the best decision.” Stoick allowed his words to penetrate before going on.
“This morning, you told me I was not scary. I saw through your lie, Hiccup.” His son’s mouth opened. “We both know you are terrible at lying, and telling the truth is safer and smarter. I told you to be truthful and lying means more trouble for you. So, were you trying to keep me from feeling bad?” Hiccup nodded.
“That wasn’t right either. It was an untidy answer, but a decent one. You lied and disobeyed to spare my feelings. It was wrong and risky and kind, but you showed bravery, and I saw that, too.” Stoick answered the next question before Hiccup asked. “You are in trouble for lying, but you lied to help me. It was unselfish, and I will punish more for selfishness than for kindness. You,” Stoick assured him, smiling, “will survive.”
§ § §
“You said you had an idea.” Time to return to the subject. “What can you do with it?”
“I don’t know. I found the answer but it doesn’t work. Not for me, anyway.”
“Because I messed up too badly, and no one's going to think I can do better. It’s impossible.”
“Tell me the answer.” There must be some way to settle this, if Hiccup had found a solution.
“If I work, they’ll change their minds, but I don’t have any work to do. Nobody thinks I’m good for anything, so they don’t ask me to help.”
The boy was right. No one thought him capable. Other children his age were learning a family trade; the Chief’s son had different responsibilities, and much of it was studying things that the tribe found unnecessary. They didn’t need to know rules for greeting other Chiefs and their heirs. None of them were required to learn Latin. Hiccup had few concrete, physical skills, and that’s what Berkians valued; baking and fishing and carpentry were real work. No one got tired and sweaty reading books. Hiccup was learning his trade, and to the others he looked idle.
This was his son’s disaster, but the dynamics of the village made it worse. The boy was astute enough to know how much he was compared to his father, and that he fell short. Stoick was almost seven feet tall, with flaming red hair and a booming voice, and no child would measure up to that. Hiccup’s small size drew attention, and he was scrutinized earlier, at age four instead of six or seven. His son had heard harsher criticism than was warranted, too. Stoick couldn’t stop the talk, but it weighed on Hiccup, and now the boy was trapped and couldn’t find a way out. Hiccup needed something of his own, to give a visible contribution to the tribe, and Stoick could see no way to accomplish that. He understood the boy’s frustration.
Hiccup took a break from finding a punishment and that had led them somewhere. Fine: Stoick would do the same. Hiccup was deep inside his head, growing more discouraged, and Stoick needed to bring him back to right now.
“Sweep the floor.”
“What?” Hiccup hadn’t registered the words, but Stoick had his attention.
“Sweep the floor, son.”
Perplexed, Hiccup asked, “Why?”
“Because I told you to.”
Hiccup fetched the broom and swept left to right, using small strokes. He knew the floor was clean, but worked in a regular pattern without complaint. He did a thorough job, replaced the broom, and returned to Stoick, maintaining the silence he’d kept during the job. Stoick noticed his son had relaxed.
“Good. Wipe down the table.”
He didn’t question his father. Hiccup put the food away and cleared dishes, setting the mugs aside for later use. He ran the rag over the already-clean tabletop, wiping each square inch before returning to the far end and beginning again. Three repetitions later, Hiccup looked at Stoick, curious about the reason for this. Stoick wasn’t certain he had an answer to the question. Still, Hiccup wasn’t frustrated anymore.
“Well done, son.” Stoick was feeling his way, hoping to find a way through the problem. “Earlier, I gave you an order and you asked me why. Do you still want to know?”
“Yeah, I do. You’ve never given me chores that didn’t need doing, Dad. It was weird.”
“You listened to me, followed orders, and did as I expected. You obeyed me. Yesterday, and at other times you disobeyed. Today you chose differently. Why?”
“I had to—you said so.”
“What about the days you didn’t listen? You could have argued or ignored me. Why did you follow the rules today?”
“I have to listen. Not listening gets me in trouble. It got me in trouble yesterday.” He frowned. “I’m not going to be that stupid again.”
“You do not have to do the same things you did before, Hiccup. You cannot take back your actions, but you can change them now. That is how you show people.”
“No I can’t. It’s impossible, Dad.”
“Then we can talk about something else. I want to discuss your spanking.”
Hiccup gave Stoick a look that was a speech. He didn’t want to discuss it, and he was horrified he had to, and he dare not disobey. He was ashamed and wanted to forget it all happened. He felt betrayed by Stoick and...a tiny bit curious, too.
It was the curiousity Stoick was aiming for.
“Let me start. When I finish, you tell me where I made mistakes. Yesterday was a terrible day, maybe the worst of your life. It was scary and painful and new and harsh. Nothing could stop it, and you never hurt so much in your life.” Hiccup nodded solemnly.
“You wanted to run and hide from everyone. Your heart was ripped up inside, and you were certain the whole world knew what happened.” Another nod.
“You were mad at yourself and called yourself an idiot and decided to never get in trouble again. You cried for a long time, and it wore you out. Being happy again seemed impossible.”
“Nothing felt safe. I struck you on your bare bottom and there was no escaping. I turned on you and that was never supposed to happen. You wanted Dad to be far away and to hold you close, all at the same time. You might even have hated me.”
Hiccup broke in. “I didn’t hate you.”
“All right. I know how it feels because I felt that way after my first spanking, too. I felt all those things.”
“You did?” Hiccup’s eyes grew round.
“Yes. I was a lot littler then, smaller than you are, and your grandfather was very big. I hated it and I hated him, for a tiny while.” Hiccup sat and digested this information, a look of disbelief on his face.
“Every child in this village is spanked when they’re old enough, and every adult felt them when they were children. Everyone finds out what it’s like. All of Berk knows how much trouble you got into. People will talk and they will ask and it will be embarrassing. Snotlout will have plenty to say; I know he had his first. No matter how much he denies it, he ran and hid and cried, too.”
‘What do I do, Dad? I don’t want to go out there—everyone will know.”
“Aye, it’s difficult. Being around folks afterward is worse than the spanking itself. Your father is the Chief and you will have no privacy. People will make comments and ask questions and watch how you behave. They will pick at you, some of them, and you must be ready for that.”
Hiccup swallowed, dreading the moment he left the house. “I can’t stand the tribe doing that, Dad. It’s too much.”
“Hiccup, you must see people again, and you will. How you face them is important.”
“I-I can’t Dad. It’s too bad, what I did, and seeing people now is even worse.”
“How you react to this—the embarrassment, the rude remarks, having other kids poke your bottom—” Hiccup grimaced at this, “is a chance to show every adult who you are. Inside this house, where no one can see, you can run, hide, and cry. Outside these walls, with people watching, you will keep your head up and look others in the eye. You will admit to what happened. When people ask what you are punished for, tell them you were disobedient to your father. Make no excuses. Face people and let them see you are old enough to accept the treatment they give you. You earned your chastening, all of it, and you can tell them that. Remember, you will receive more than a spanking; other punishments are coming, and you may tell them about those things, too.”
“You lied to me and later admitted your lie, knowing it meant trouble. You asked to tell your story when you knew it would bring another spanking. You took your first spanking, then got up early and cleaned the house to please me. You walked to me and told me you were ready, even if I put you in the cells. You spoke and acted bravely, and I saw your strength. You showed me you are no longer little; you have to show everyone else now.”
Hiccup digested this, puzzling through the words. He addressed Stoick. “I’m not going to like this.”
“Everyone’s going to laugh at me.”
“Keep going, son.”
It came out in a rush.“I’m gonna hate it. People will talk to me about being spanked. They’ll whisper and point and talk when they know I can hear. I don’t want to remember and they won’t let me forget. They’ll say rude things. Snotlout and the twins will snicker and say stuff all the time and they’ll be loud so people can listen and laugh at me. It’ll be embarrassing and awful and everyone will tell me I have to behave better. It stinks. It worse than stinks.”
“It stinks like yak dung.”
“It stinks worse than yak dung.” His tone was definite.
“I can’t stay home. I can’t argue with anyone and I have to tell the village over and over that I got it and it was all my fault since I disobeyed.”
“Yes, son, you do. They will sneer and say I should have done more to you, and you deserve it. If you were their son, it would have happened sooner. That you’re lucky because you went so long without this. You may even hear them wish harsher punishments on you. I will be criticized for not being tougher on you, and told how to discipline you next time. People like Mildew will gladly say all this to my face.”
“Mildew.” Hiccup winced. Mildew the Unpleasant hated everyone and they hated him back, but it never stopped folk from listening to him. The old crank would be thrilled to attack Hiccup and Stoick. Stoick was expecting him to glory in this, but Hiccup had forgotten about the vicious old git.
“You shall do this, Hiccup. Show all of Berk who you are. Let them see you do hard things, like admitting you felt my hand on you, that it was your fault, that you earned this for disobeying. Let the village see you do it over and over again. Some of those folk expect you to act irresponsibly, so prove them wrong.”
“I can’t, Dad. I’m gonna mess up if I try.”
“I command it, Hiccup. Do you choose to disobey?” Stoick was Hiccup’s father and his Chief, and there was no arguing with either one.
“No sir.” He seemed resigned; these were consequences. “I’ll obey you. I’ll listen to you and follow your orders. You are my Chief and I answer to your command.”
Hmm. Hiccup had been studying tribal justice to come up with that musty relic. “You begin tomorrow. Today you stay home all day. Have you any ideas for punishments?”
“If everyone’s going to know I’m punished anyway, can I pick someone to hear my story? At least someone will know the whole thing, not just some of it. Someone who won’t tell, even when it’s embarrassing.”
“Why do you want this, son?”
“I want one adult on Berk to be on my side, even if she never does anything about it. I want to pick something I don’t like, and I hate telling this to anybody. It’s horrid. I’ll tell everything I did wrong and about today. I’ll tell her about being scared, about how much I disobeyed, about fighting you and acting small. I want to tell her I was stupid, but I plan to be smarter. And I want to tell her about you, Dad, about how good you were and how rude and angry and horrible I was. And that you still didn’t shout at me, even when I was,” he gulped, “insolent.”
“All that, Hiccup?”
“Is it Gothi?”
“If Gothi agrees, I expect it will be only the two of you there. If you don’t tell her everything, only you will know it. This is a long story, and it makes you look bad. You have to promise yourself to include every bit, every detail. It will be hard.”
His son had chosen this and would follow through, he suspected. “She’s impatient with foolishness, you know. She will disapprove of what you did and has good aim with her staff; telling her might leave bruises.” Stoick smiled.
“I know.” Hiccup grinned. “I’ll be okay—she doesn’t hit me hard.”
“You can ask. Write her a letter and see what she says. Do you have other ideas for your discipline?”
“I know it needs to make me unhappy, and to fit what I did, but I don’t know how to put both of them into one punishment.”
“Well, what makes you unhappy?”
“Being punished.” Stoick pretended not to see the spark of mischief in the boy’s eyes.
“Being around Snotlout.”
“That’s not something we can turn into a punishment. Try again.”
“Okay. I don’t like being grounded, getting sick, getting hurt, falling out of trees...” He stopped, reminded of what he had done, then went back to the list. “I don’t like being made fun of, or being ignored, or people who think I’m small. I’m unhappy when I’ve been stupid and messed up. I’m unhappy when I run out of paper and charcoal. I don’t like it when the rain keeps me inside or you have to leave when we’re eating, even when it’s not your fault. I don’t like it when people bug you over dumb stuff. I don’t like Gobber telling me I can’t come in the forge. I don’t like people yelling at me when I didn’t do anything wrong. I don’t like dragons or seeing houses that got burnt. I don’t like that you go outside to fight dragons.”
“All right. That’s a useful list. If you cannot come up with any more ideas for your discipline, I will decide the rest. Do you want to try?”
“No, I want you to pick the rest.”
“You run all over the island—the docks, the forest, the hot springs—and I allow it. Yesterday you went to a place I forbade you from going. Since you cannot be happy with what you had, you will be confined to the village for six weeks. Since you cannot leave the village, you have no need to run everywhere. You will walk all the timeHiccup watched Stoick, accepting the restrictions without complaint.
“You may not run, skip, climb, jump, or swim. Climbing anything without permission from me is forbidden. You may climb on steps and to get into chairs. Anything else requires my approval. If you decide to violate the idea behind the restriction, you will receive additional punishment.” At his son’s baffled look, Stoick elaborated. “If you go in the water to float instead of swim, it is still forbidden. If you hop instead of jumping, it is still forbidden. It will be disobedience.”
“For lying, I expect you to write lines.” Hiccup was relieved—”I shall not tell lies” was a familiar friend. “You shall write ‘I willfully disobeyed my father and my Chief by telling a falsehood. It was dishonest and disrespectful and I must not lie to them again’ fifty times. Two sentences and twenty-five words, and I want to see it tonight.” Stoick saw a flash of indignation before Hiccup looked away; his sentences and lines were not supposed to change, and he had five times the words to write now. Stoick turned Hiccup’s head, stared directly into his eyes, and his son slumped, staring down in submission.
“Now for the rest.” Stoick turned this over in his mind, and the best solution was an ugly one. “Yesterday, you climbed three places you weren’t supposed to in an area you were forbidden to go. Those are four large infractions, Hiccup. You must receive a spanking for each one. If you had done one of those things, you would get one spanking. You did four and all at the same time, so you will be punished this way four times; your actions were serious and I cannot do less. Now,” he continued, “last night, we never put it behind us. We need to do that now. Last night is for climbing to a rooftop. You are done and we are leaving it behind, like it never happened. Do you understand?”
“It’s over, son. Now I will tell you what to expect. I will not become angry or shout or stand over you. I will not glare. I will remind you why it’s happening and when I finish, it will be over. This is a private matter between us and no one else has to know. You will have one every other night, and the next one is tomorrow.”
“Too many spankings close together injures you, so you are getting one every other night. I am aware you want this over, son, but I never want you to need a healer because I disciplined you.” The remark made Hiccup uneasy. Stoick realized he had said too much, and added, “You will ache, but not badly enough to need one of Gothi’s ointments, son.” The remark eased the boy’s worries; soreness he could understand, but not violence.
“Will it be after we eat, or before?”
“We will eat first. The day is going to be a challenge and you will be weary. Heading to bed after everything is done will be welcome; I expect you to fall asleep right away.”
“Does Gobber have to know?”
“I will tell Gobber privately. He expects to know, and if I do not let him know, he will ask. This means he will not question you; most of the time Gobber is working when he sees you, and people are around. You do not want them overhearing.”
“Have you more questions?”
“No, I’m done.”
“Good. Today you stay inside and write lines. Do not leave the house or let anyone in. You can remember what we talked about and consider the things you did. Tonight everything will be the same as it always is, and tomorrow you face the village.”
“That part still stinks, Dad.” Hiccup scowled.
“But I have to do it. You’re my father and it’s a command.”
“Yes, and you said you would obey me.”
“Yeah.” A pause, followed by, “Dad? Are we done?”
“Almost. First, come here.”
Hiccup climbed off the chair and went to his father. Stoick lifted his son into his lap and placed a hand on his shoulder. “This talk was hard. It took a long time, and I know you struggled with it. There were times you wanted to quit, or were afraid, or hurt, but you kept going. You did well, and I’m proud of you.” Stoick tightened his hold on the boy. Hiccup’s face lit up from the praise and Stoick spotted triumph in his eyes. Hiccup did everything he was expected to, got it right, and pleased his father. Dad was proud of him.
Stoick’s fear of harming his son shrank: Hiccup trusted him completely and knew Dad protected him. His son’s unshakable faith in his father changed the equation. Stoick no longer needed to fight his father; Hiccup’s trust in his dad vanquished his grandfather’s malice. Halvar sneered down at his son, but Hiccup beamed up at his dad. Every ugly word Halvar whispered to Stoick, Hiccup refuted with two of his own—”I’m ready.”
Hiccup liberated his father and would never know it.
“Are you unhappy now, son?”
“Are you afraid?” Stoick rested his hand on Hiccup’s stomach.
“Does that mean I cannot do...this?”
Stoick’s fingers ran over his son, tickling him in his sides and belly. Hiccup squirmed wildly, giggling and attempting to ward off his dad. Stoick held him tight and continued his assault, mercilessly making his boy laugh and laughing with him. Hiccup squealed and wriggled and Stoick only stopped when Hiccup ran out of breath.
“Now we are finished. This is over and we can put it behind us. All right?”
“Everything is fixed?”
“Fixed and forgiven, Hiccup, every bit. Do you feel better now?”
“I feel a lot better, Dad.”
“You are welcome. Now,” Stoick shooed Hiccup off his lap, “I need to go be Chief for awhile. First, I will write your lines and you can begin copying them for me to read tonight.” He squatted and ruffled his son’s hair. “Do a good job, and tonight we can spend extra time together.” Stoick rose, dashed off two sentences, and gave his son a smile. “You might want a nap; you and I will be up late.” Hiccup’s eyes got bigger; his Dad would talk to him about the constellations.
“You’re the best, Dad!”
“Oh, son, so are you.” Stoick offered a final pat and headed to the village for a few hours before coming home to his stargazing son.
§ § §