The Chief’s Son altered to provide insight into Halvar.
|“Relieve yourself youngster, then come back.” Grateful for the reminder, he hurried to the privy. Ragna knew bladders were treacherous, and a visit from his father made him anxious. He finished and returned, closing the door tight. The housekeeper ruffled his hair, and after moving the table aside, left for her errands. Ragna never stayed for his visits with Father, saying it was betwixt them.
The boy scooped up entrails, glum. He tried to please his father, but spilling things was forbidden and the mess at his feet showed he'd fallen short. Stoick’s size and age didn’t matter; much was expected from him, and he must not fail. Failure required his father’s attention. Hearing his father enter, he rose and walked to him, eyes still inspecting the floor. The huge man sat in his chair and acknowledged him; no barriers were between them—the table was gone—and he stood in the empty spot before his father.
The boy heard the disappointment, and waited for the lecture. He hated listening to the lecture—it showed he’d let his father down again. He lifted his head; unable to look his father in the eye, he stared at the thick beard, preparing himself to listen. Assured of his son’s attention, Halvar began.
“I’m unhappy to be here, Stoick. You did well until today. You know it’s needful for you to work hard and behave. You know the tribe expects you to be worthy and to obey your father.” He heard a sigh. “I want to be proud of you, but you erred and must tell me your error.” He slumped at the last words; admitting his blunders made them real and hurt Father, and Stoick never wanted to hurt him. He drew a breath and spoke in a clear voice.
“Father, I lost my grip on the bucket and spilled fish guts on the floor. Spilling is not permitted, and I disobeyed your command. Because of me, Ragna isn’t here to tend to the house, and you aren’t in the village to tend Berk.” He swallowed. “Please instruct me, so I may learn and improve.”
His father’s brows drew down in a scowl, and his disappointed father vanished. He was in front of the Chief, and the Chief was impatient with disobedience. “You disobeyed my order. You made a stinking mess on my floor. You force me to spend time correcting you. The tribe is without their Chief; your duty is to them and obeying me is your work.” He enumerated the offenses; Stoick saw his impatience become anger, and his own trepidation increased as the litany continued. “You were willful and foolish and disobedient, lad. You must have respect for me and be prepared to serve the tribe. You neglected your duty to Berk.” He bit off each word and Stoick waited; the old speech patterns came next. “The Hope and Heir to Berk must be strong. Today ye ignored my command and showed weakness. Ye earned correction.”
“Please correct me.” His gut twisted, and he hoped this time would be a pinching; those ended earlier and with less misery than a slapping. His father’s pinches hurt, and left lasting bruises, but might be hidden under his clothes. Slaps left obvious marking, and the tribe would see his disgrace before the day’s end.
The Chief gestured. Stoick surrendered his arms for the reminders. The discomfort helped him recall today’s failure. The Chief bent back his fingers and twisted his arms, so he’d pay attention to holding, gripping, and lifting. When the Chief yanked his head back, Stoick knew he’d receive a slapping. He tensed, watching the large, calloused hand approach his face. He cried out on the third one, something he hadn’t done in months. The Chief administered a total of six sharp blows to his Heir, the most he’d ever given. His father’s anger was past; the final words came next.
“Ye made a mess and I have corrected ye for it. But ye cried out; ‘tis not over, lad.”
He snapped his fingers; the boy hurried to disrobe, and stood exposed, hoping for no further shaming. He was snatched, pinned over a knee, and struck on his backside. He jolted forward, too stunned to cry out. The Chief held him there, using a fierce, precise assault that made his bottom burn. He could neither stop the yelps that escaped him, nor stay still while the Chief landed blows on his unprotected flesh. Stoick endured—he was a Haddock, and Haddocks are strong—but tears spilled down his bruised face and the pain worsened until he shrieked. Hearing that, the Chief stopped.
“That’s a reason to cry out, lad. That’s real hurt. Now you’ve had one, you’ll have others. You’re big enough and old enough to last. No more crying out for a simple slapping. Put your clothes on, lad, and when this floor is clean, your correction will be over.” He dressed with care and knelt, scraping up offal until his father said, “That’ll do.” He ran outside, the snug leggings compounding the pain, to hide until it was time to go to the Meade Hall for nattmal.*
§ § §
Stoick’s eyes snapped open. He glanced around, recognized his room, and exhaled. The fearful boy of three was gone, but the vivid nightmare made his heart gallop, and he forced himself to relax. He recalled the details of each first: slapping, spanking, the belt. Growing up under Halvar’s expectations meant no drops or breaks or damage, and the severity of his first spanking remained a humiliating memory. He swung his legs out of bed and lit a candle; going back to sleep was impossible. Rising and easing past the table, Stoick made his way to the steps. He trod on them with care, avoiding creaky spots in the wood. He reached the upstairs room and looked inside.
Hiccup’s breathing was quiet and regular. Yesterday, Stoick saw Hiccup spill Ingrida’s clean laundry; his dad insisted he pick it up, help her rewash it, carry it to her house, and apologize. It was an avoidable accident, and Stoick had taken the paper and charcoal from his son, a reprimand to pay attention to other people’s things. His six-year-old bore no bruises or injuries or scars from his dad’s hand, nor would he. Never would Stoick call Hiccup a weakling or slap his face or tell him to prepare himself. He would not feel a strap or switch or beating on his body. Hiccup would one day go too far, receive his first spanking, and experience the embarrassment of a sore bottom. Stoick refused to hurt him more severely, or to discipline like Halvar Haddock. He was not a brute.
Stoick returned to his room. Watching his son’s innocent slumber comforted him. He put the candle on the table and wrote on the paper he took from Hiccup. He did this every time he confiscated the charcoal and paper. His son knew somewhere on a sheet of his paper, his dad left a joke or a squiggle or a compliment, and he looked for it when his father returned the tools. Halvar refused to forget a transgression, and Stoick used the secret scribble to put it behind them and brighten Hiccup’s smile. In Haddock house, Stoick used rules, not commands; he scolded and handed out additional chores, kept Hiccup inside, and assured his son he loved him. Hiccup broke plates and forgot his manners and grew cranky. He defied Stoick and fought bedtime, interrupted conversations—and loved Stoick back. Hiccup did not know about fearing his father’s moods, or keeping his head down, or hiding his pain. Stoick gave him freedom to be a child. The small boy with the glittering spirit offered him everything he possessed because he loved Dad and would do anything to please him. Stoick now had his son to live up to, and he was barely past Stoick’s knee. He finished the note, writing the runes backward to make Hiccup laugh, before he blew out the candle and returned to bed.
*Nattmal was the final meal of the day, eaten in the evening.