9/15/19 cleaning up the story. Hiccup stands before the tribal council.
|AN: This is a work of fan fiction based on How to Train Your Dragon. The rights to How to Train Your Dragon remain with Cressida Cowell and Dreamworks. Only the plot and original characters are mine.
I’m sorry, but it’s true.
§ § §
Gothi headed for the village, grateful for the staff’s ability to help her through the mud. Her weapon was a staff since she was age seven, and she’d bested some of the best fighters in the tribe during her youth. Every Gothi needed a prop; her height worked against her, but the staff demanded respect and she could thump anyone with impunity. 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. She didn’t know why this was necessary, but if she’d waded out in this muck for nothing Stoick would feel her wrath. 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 and impatient. The Haddocks produced good chiefs, but they were imperfect, and it was part of the Gothi’s job to look after and keep records on them. This held true for all the family lines in the village, but the Haddocks merited extra attention; observing Stoick and Hiccup would 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 square face. The Jorgensons would say they were warriors, but Gothi thought they just enjoyed fighting; hearing a Jorgenson argue was proof of that. Knotlegs Ingerman, a studious, diligent man, had the fair hair, blue eyes, and solid build of his clan. Stoick was approaching with young Hiccup, a comical contrast when seen from a distance. The Chief, at 6’10,” stood taller than most men in the tribe and wider across than many, while his son stood a little above Stoick’s knee. Hiccup was listening intently to his father and bobbing his head. The two were easy with one another, and Hiccup didn't seem worried about his appearance before them. She caught a bit of their talk.
“You’ll help me in there, Dad?”
“Yes, Hiccup, just look to me if you forget 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 byplay intrigued Gothi. Her Chief was dedicated to his work, and, like his name, stoic. Today, his expression appeared to have a bit of his son’s impishness, and she wondered why.
Gothi entered the room. Someone had prepared the space; charcoal sticks and a stack of paper sat near the far end of the larger table, and another table held mugs and pitchers of water. The fire burned but the open shutters provided little light on this damp day, and two tables held only three candles; she tapped Gobber with her staff and drew her command on the floor. She possessed wickedly accurate aim with that staff, and he resigned himself to fetching more candles. Even if the rest were content to sit in the dark, she expected to see what happened, and to create a record of Hiccup’s appearance. Gobber returned with candles, and placed them to her satisfaction. She took a corner seat of the short table. 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 ordered this one would be good. Is it about the boy?”
“That’s what I plan to do, Spitelout, if you would wait.” The massive redhead looked down at his brother. “I am 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. He scowled at her and rubbed the spot, a positive result.
“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? You know what happened, Stoick. Just tell us, and be done with it; we’ve real work to do.”
“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. “The tribe knows anyway—why keep it a secret?”
“Because the tribe knows a small part of what happened. For most of it, no one was around to see him. Gossip is bad enough, Spite. 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 rumors would multiply; 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 his son to it. The boy was waiting to speak, and Gothi 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 doe?” Gothi thumped him. “Oi! Ah, she says don’t take all day.” Gobber rubbed his side, annoyed.
“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 was 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 today it does not? 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?” 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 down the table. “This will divide the council and put fellow councilors in the position of either keeping secrets from one another or violating their oaths. The council members have to work together. If we cannot do that we will suffer and so will Berk.”
One or two were reluctant, but the “ayes” were unanimous. Hiccup looked at his father, stepped in front of the table, and chose a spot where every councilor could see him. “I am here today to address...”
“Hiccup.” Young 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 Hiccup.” 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 this exchange. “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 start laughing. The other council members weren’t going to rescue Spitelout; the boy might call them anything.
Spitelout was at a loss for words. Gothi rapped her knuckles on the table and broke him out of his stupor. 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. Stoick had coached his son on procedure, but Hiccup’s thoughts and words were his own.
“My third answer is that I was not punished by my father. I was,” he stated 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?”
“I was wondering what it is Hiccup meant. And why,” he twisted his hook, “he used those words.”
“Because I did render judgment on him.” Stoick’s voice was matter-of-fact.
“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 have 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. Hoark had his arms crossed, and Spitelout 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.” 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 not question my son, Gobber? I’m sure the Hope and Heir will be happy to assist you. What do you say, Heir to Berk? Can you help him out?” Stoick was laughing at him. When this was 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 was still dragging, and it could have been over long ago. Well, his job as the voice of reason was still there, and ‘twas time he said something. Gobber looked right into Stoick’s eyes, asking, ”Chief, can we stop for a minute? I need something to drink.” 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 studied Hiccup. 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 said, “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 Knotlegs visibly exhaled. Hiccup’s propriety had unsettled them. These well-regarded, powerful, warrior men were unnerved by a child of six who looked like he needed a good feeding. Hiccup still hadn’t been given a chance to speak, and she wondered how they’d cope when he did. She was enjoying the moment when she noticed it.
The Haddocks moved constantly; it was in their blood. Stoick’s father jerked his head and ground his teeth and drummed his fingers on the table. She’d seen pacing, flailing and numberless nods from Stoick, while Hiccup waved his hands in circles, stretched out his arms, and ran everywhere. A still Haddock was unusual, but for several heartbeats neither Stoick nor Hiccup moved. Then the Chief’s fingers twitched; Hiccup lifted the corner of his mouth before returning 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 clan developed it long ago, a way of shunting their feelings into gestures meaningless to anyone else: running 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. Their exchange outside was about Haddock sign.
Gothi’s slog in the mud counted as nothing against this meeting’s surprises. It became worth it at “General Larssen,” but...Haddock sign. Oh, the trouble they could cause with Haddock sign. She doubted Stoick knew any before he was twelve, and he had Hiccup using it now. Gothi saw a pair of rascals before her. She’d never tell her chief she knew, but Gothi’s compliments were rare, and she planned to give them one today.
“About the question of Stoick judging Hiccup, what does the council want to know?” Gobber steered them back to the point.
The others glanced from Gobber to Stoick, who addressed his son. “Can you assist the council, Hiccup Haddock?”
“Yes, sir.” Hiccup examined the assembly. “I am ready to answer any questions about my judgment.”
“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 to apologize.”
“Yes, sir, I know. A judgment is when the chief hears all the facts and everyone’s testimony, then decides what happens.” Hiccup looked at Knotlegs and elaborated. “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 dawned on some that Stoick stated he’d judged his son. No, he had 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 one half-year 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. 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 he 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 boy was irked and knew it showed. He dipped his head to clear his expression, and 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.
Hoark asked the question for them all. “What did he forget?”
“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?”
“Yes, Hoark, it is.” She heard irritation in Stoick’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 only 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 mind if I question Hiccup?”
No one objected, 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 provide your account?”
“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.”
Their exchange made everything penetrate. They meant those titles; Hiccup attended on the command of his Chief, as the Heir to Berk. Hiccup had explained his presence as a duty and responsibility. At that meeting and for that reason, he did not face his dad, but the highest authority on Berk. The pair of them understood that, but most 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, “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 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 moments, they began murmuring, alarmed, then horrified.
“Jumped off a roof...”
“Climbed thin branches...”
The Haddocks focused on one another. Hiccup expected to tell the council, not face Stoick and break his heart a second time. The Chief was a father and the Heir his son, and they suffered through the recitation together, for one another. 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. 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 down the length of the table, 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 for 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.
“Why did you do that?”
“Did you think about stopping?”
“Why didn’t you turn back?”
“Didn’t you know it was risky?”
Hiccup offered no excuses.
“I knew it was forbidden to children older and larger than I am. I knew that’s why there were no lower branches. I climbed anyway.”
“I wanted to be in that tree, and that was all I cared about.”
“I knew it was risky. My father told me. I heard it from adults and other kids.”
His answers were complete, and 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 did not require these answers, but his son provided them. Hiccup had not 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?”
“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 murmured.
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 gave him pause. He had not 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; he 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. Valka was bright and beautiful, clever and quick-witted, and the love of his life. No one could replace her, and Stoick would not remarry. All he had now was their son, and the thought of losing Hiccup was unbearable.
“He’d be alone and hurting about me. It would be...awful.” He wasn’t the Heir, not right now. His son had not 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 nephew’s 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 the council knew that. Stoick regained, with effort, the impassive look he wore during meetings. His brother continued, his gaze fixed upon Hiccup. “Hiccup, 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 to 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. There was something comforting about Spitelout, and his uncle’s presence gave Hiccup an extra measure of strength. Stoick’s brother was solid and reliable, and Stoick thanked the gods for his reserved nature. Hiccup rarely saw emotion from his uncle, but hearing Spitelout would miss him struck hard. Right now, the dark-haired man looked grieved and Hiccup began to realize how many would have suffered if he’d fallen. The entire tribe, saddened and in pain, because of what he risked two days past.
Stoick watched Hiccup stand in front of his uncle, who still squatted down to face him. The boy planted his hands on either side of Spitelout’s chest, making a box of their arms. Stoick heard his son swallow. His emotions overwhelmed him and he began crying. The rush of fear, sorrow, and guilt blended into a colossal lump of pain, and he couldn’t keep it in. He clutched Spitelout’s tunic, heartsick for what he’d almost done to himself and them. He stood straight and kept his head up this time; Stoick watched his brother’s hands frame Hiccup’s face, offering a tiny protection from the watching council. Spitelout sheltered his nephew as the boy comprehended the size of the devastation he nearly caused.
Hiccup wept until he ran dry of tears. Looking around the table, his son did not 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 dipped his chin. His composure slipped a fraction and 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, 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 set one by Hiccup, and drank some himself. Stoick looked at the mug, recalled his surroundings, and took a sip. Hiccup released his hold and lowered his arms, while 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 struggling for composure. No one knew what to do next; the questioning might continue, but it seemed pointless. Everyone 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 clacking tongues. He’d have to say something.
“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 he did two days ago are finished.” He eyed the other council members, hoping they would cease questioning the lad.
“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 was irked. Gobber was just as irritated at him, and expected real answers about this impossible judgment they claim happened. He pushed back.
“Gothi already said if a question is raised, it needs an answer.” She narrowed her eyes; 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 don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.” They still hadn’t explained—Stoick kept stringing them along and Hiccup’s answers made no sense—and he wanted to reach inside those two and pull the answers out of them.
Hiccup looked at Gobber, baffled. Talking to Stoick was useless, so he may as well try the lad. “What are you looking puzzled about, Hiccup? If you have something to say, go ahead.” His curtness drew a stare from his chief. 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 your 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. You’re the council, and you don’t know. I thought you would figure it out. I knew right away.” Hiccup had had an epiphany, and Gobber hoped it would resolve this mess.
Hiccup spoke again. “My judgment came from Trial by Chief.”
§ § §
Gothi was taken aback. Gobber stared at Stoick as if he was a madman, and Hoark clenched his fists; Knotlegs looked as if he were trapped in a nightmare. Hiccup watched them, uncomfortable with their reactions. He looked to his father, who waved him over. Hiccup offered his dad a crooked grin and stood beside him, dwarfed by the oversized chair and relieved to be away from the 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 Trial by Chief.” Spitelout’s voice was clipped.
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. The Chief asks questions and you have to answer each one truthfully, and as much as you can. You must follow the commands of the Chief. He 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 answered them. It’s required.”
“Why were you on trial in the first place, Hiccup?” Gobber was grappling with this, and the others were equally at sea.
Stoick told his son, “Start with yesterday morning, Hiccup. That ought to help everyone understand.”
“Why can’t you tell us, instead of making Hiccup answer?” Spitelout spoke for the room, and she nodded. It felt as if Hiccup was the only one of the two of them expecting to explain.
“Hiccup requested I not tell his story for him, and I agreed. Hiccup stood before his Chief. How he got there and what happened is his story. I gave my word, and I’m not breaking my word to him.” Stoick turned to his son. “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, arranging his words. “Climbing 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.”
“He always asks me why I did it, and I’m supposed to explain. Then I have to tell him everything that happened.”
She wrote on the floor again. Gobber squinted at the message. “Well, the auld bat...Oi! Alright, Gothi wants to know why not hearing the questions bothered you.”
“Because I have to answer. My dad does everything else, but answering the questions is my job, and he never asked.” It was the only thing you had and it was taken from you.
“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—he’d enough to think about already.” Gobber was indignant. “I know Hiccup, and if he wants to know something, he’ll ask. He’s good at asking questions. Too cursed good, sometimes. But if he doesn’t want to know, he won’t bring it up.”
Gothi 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, he’d have an injury. It might be time to change where she sat; Gobber wasn’t the only one needing her attention.
“So, did your father tell you why he didn’t ask those questions?” The question was ridiculous and Gobber would settle it.
“No sir, he didn’t. He never told me why he started asking them, either. I never asked him.”
“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 and willing to fix his mistake; whatever Stoick was teaching his son, the lessons were getting through.
“Hiccup, can you give your answer again?” Gobber was trying to move 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, did you want 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. 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 it wasn't.” She tilted her head at him. He studied her, replayed the question in his mind, and realized he hadn’t answered her. “My father asked me if I wanted 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.”
§ § §
Gobber slipped when he called Hiccup “laddie,” and 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 thought a moment. “Do you know the beginning, sir? I can tell you if you like.”
“Yes, Hiccup, I’d appreciate that.” Knotlegs eyed him as if he was a puzzle box, and if he twisted and pushed the right way, he’d unlock the lad. Hah. Gobber had put six years into figuring out Hiccup; 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.” The lad was in his element: he enjoyed explaining and would lecture Knotlegs on trials and judgments with good cheer. Spitelout stifled a snicker.
“Are you certain, young Hiccup?” Gobber swallowed a curse, and Nils Larssen grimaced. Gothi narrowed her eyes; Knotlegs insulted the Heir after he’d proven himself to them. They all watched Hiccup, and the boy did not disappoint. Hiccup pulled himself to his full height, dropped his chin, and fixed an unwavering gaze on Knotlegs, 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, yet firm. “I studied the accounts 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.” After a moment, the boy added, “Chief Stoick told me that in the case of the Heir he would decide the consequences. I’m sorry, I forgot that part.”
“Hiccup Haddock, can you tell us what happened after that?” This was unreal, too strange to believe and too compelling to turn away.
“Yes, sir. The Chief told me the accusation, and I swore to tell the truth as Heir to Berk.”
“Aye, Berk’s Heir. What happened next?”
“The Chief asked me why I disobeyed and I answered. Every time I stopped, he asked if my answer was complete, and I kept adding to it until I’d told him everything.”
“Continue your account, Hope and Heir to Berk.”
“The Chief commanded me to give each detail of what I’d done, and I did. Then I admitted my guilt and swore to my testimony. The Chief allowed me to say something, then passed judgment.”
“Was there anything after that, Hiccup Haddock?” Gobber dropped the titles and felt the lad’s gratitude.
“After he passed judgment, Chief Stoick said the trial was over. That’s everything, sir.” Hiccup looked to his father, unsure what came next.
“Hiccup’s story is correct; I judged him and I confirm his testimony.”
Gobber translated that into I am done with this, and stated, “I have no more questions, Chief.” The others added similar remarks; finally, Stoick could end this meeting. Before he dismissed them, Hiccup broke in with a question.
“May I be allowed to make a personal statement?”
Gothi thumped her staff twice—a yes—and he addressed the councilors. “Elder Gothi. Sirs. I want to say that my trial was fair. Chief’s Trial is for the unusual, and this met that standard. My father acted rightly and he knew it was not beyond my strength. I am not hurt and I am not afraid of my father or my Chief. I ask you be just to him as he was just to me.” She acknowledged the remarks, and Hiccup stepped back. “Thank you.”
The council hadn’t hid their disapproval of Stoick or his decisions. The accusations and arguing, the sneering and belligerence aimed at the Chief roused Hiccup. He would be respectful and do everything they expected, but don’t touch his father. Hiccup refused to be a weapon used against him, but would protect his father from any detractors; Stoick’s son was fierce and unafraid to fight for the man raising him.
Spitelout was mouthing “To Hel with you all,” while Stoick stared at his son, speechless. Gobber had watched his friend spend years safeguarding the lad, and now Hiccup was shielding his dad against the council and possibly the tribe. ‘Twas funny, really. Hoark and Knotlegs deserved a knock down for how they treated their Chief, and Stoick wouldn’t call them out with Hiccup here. Hiccup stood in front of them, chewed them out for their disrespect, and defended his father. Soon, Stoick would break out of his stupor and wonder what to say, whether to dismiss them, or how to tackle such brazenness in his son. Gobber wanted to applaud.
Gothi gestured and he steered Hiccup her way. She might be annoying, but she was fond of his lad. Besides, she was the only one able to think—the rest were still staring at the lad. She raised an eyebrow at Hiccup, then gripped her staff and wrote in clear, precise runes. Gobber leaned over and squinted, reading her message.
“Ah, Gothi says ‘Well spoken, Hiccup Haddock. Your words remind us that as the Chief protects the tribe, so does the Heir protect others, and his protection should not be denied without cause.’” Ah, Hiccup was getting applause from her. Gothi pointed to something else, and he relayed it. “Gothi also says...” Gobber’s mouth opened, “‘You are a credit to your house and line.’” He felt the shock in the room.
Hiccup beamed at her, saying, “Thank you, Elder Gothi.” Gobber, still gaping, knew the boy had no idea.
“Hiccup, Gothi doesn’t just give compliments. You have to earn them, and it takes a lot to receive one.”
“Gothi smiles and nods at me. Aren’t those compliments? Sir.”
“Aye, but this is much bigger. Gothi said it in front of the council, Hiccup.”
Stoick intervened. “Gothi has writings on every Haddock from the time Berk was settled—the Chiefs and Chieftesses, their children, and their descendants. Those who have married and moved to other islands are in those writings. Each Haddock life and every clan connection is detailed in her records. When she calls you a credit to the house and line, she knows about everyone in seven generations, son. She said this in an official meeting before members of other clans, and some of them are Haddock kin. This is huge, son.”
Hiccup absorbed his father’s statement and gazed at her, awed. She put a hand on his shoulder, then ran it over the lad’s hair, and the boy knew she meant every word.
Hiccup was overcome and said soberly, “Thank you again, very much, Elder Gothi.” She acknowledged the thanks and Gobber watched her catch Stoick’s eyes. She glanced at his son, raised her eyebrows, and pointed at Stoick. You are the one raising him; much credit to you, Stoick the Vast. It was a second accolade, folded into the first, and Gobber knew it had never happened before.
§ § §
Gothi had promised herself to commend Stoick and Hiccup. The use of Haddock sign along with Hiccup’s conduct had earned them a “well done.” Stoick knew about her reticence and would be warmed by the comment; Hiccup would cherish the words because they came from her, and she’d written them out just for him.
She had an itch in her mind as she observed Hiccup. The boy had admitted to his failure, been examined by the council, and made no excuse. He endured personal distress in front of them and kept his head up. He underwent Chief’s Trial and remained easy with his father, unscarred by the event. The itch became a voice; one of the gods had a message for Hiccup. With Hiccup’s championing of Stoick, she knew it was the moment to speak. The words weren’t flattery, but fact. One of the Aesir desired he know this—the potency of the message could come from no one else—and Hiccup received a blessing from the gods. She placed her hand on his shoulder and drew it over his head. Gothi rarely needed the deeper rites of the priestess, and never did she anticipate sealing the mark of favor.
The voice spoke again. Gothi pointed at her Chief, singling him out. She held her finger there long, and when she gave Stoick a penetrating gaze, he remembered she was the instrument of the gods. Gothi furthered the message and Stoick knew none of this came from her. She relaxed her hand and let the power drain away, weary. She and Stoick had much to think about after this meeting ended.
She examined the men in the room. Spitelout was rubbing one eye in a gesture much like Stoick’s, and Gobber fiddled with his hook. She prodded Hiccup, and he returned to his earlier spot. The council members were trying to remember what was happening before the boy spoke. In a moment, Stoick or Gobber would restart matters, and they’d be dismissed.
“Is that all, Stoick? You were about to let us go, and I’ve work waiting.”
“Aye, Gobber, there is no need to stay longer. I, Stoick, Chief on Berk, dismiss this meeting.” They stirred and rose, and Gothi watched the interactions. Stoick and Gobber were conferring about something. Knotlegs collected his notes and Spitelout made a beeline for the exit, giving a quick smile to Hiccup before he left. Hoark finished his drink and scowled, still smarting from the reprimand.
The next meeting would be different. As an elder and a healer and the priestess of the tribe, she outranked Hoark. If Hoark would act like a spoilt child, she would treat him as one. She would force him to sit beside her for each meeting after this one. There was little he could do in a public meeting, and Stoick’s support meant no objections from anyone else. Wielded properly, her staff left solid bruises, and Gothi planned to use it on him until he learned better manners. With Hiccup’s dressing-down fresh in everyone’s mind, Gothi reseating Hoark would be a humiliating rebuke. The connection between both events was clear, and the type of thing other council members would remember.
That left young Larssen. Nils did surprisingly well. He listened and considered Hiccup’s words instead of disregarding his testimony. He asked sensible questions. He avoided troubling the waters, and Gothi saw a worthy successor to Pinchskin Larssen. She watched Nils stop by the door, squatting to speak to Hiccup, then leave him with a grin. She folded her hand closed—come here—and he came her way. She scrawled in the dust, and he looked at her question mark and the initials.
“What did Mr. Larssen want?” She nodded. “He said that it was his first time sitting on the council, like it was my first time in front of them, and he hoped he did as good a job as I did. And, Gothi, he agreed with you. I did speak well and my words were clear and he heard everything I said.” She heard the note of pride in his voice before shooing Hiccup away. For youngsters, quantity sometimes outweighed quality. Nils understood that and offered a remark of his own. It wasn’t as good as one from her or Stoick or Gobber, but Hiccup had been noticed and praised by someone he didn’t know. Nils measured his words with care and she suspected that for a minute Hiccup became young Larssen’s little brother.
This morning, Hiccup had been Stoick’s son, the Heir to Berk, a warrior fighting for his father, and a child blessed by her—only she and Stoick knew the full truth of that. Now he was back to being Stoick’s son. He’d struggled with all that and contending with everything else put to him. While the adults complained and argued and failed to take him seriously, Hiccup endured. Nils had seen something the others missed; Hiccup was a boy who needed a friend, and Nils Larssen became one so he wouldn’t be alone.
Pinchskin was a decent man, but she’d be pleased to see his son here again. Gothi hoped that he would continue to be there for Hiccup, especially as they grew older and took their spots in this room. Hiccup might inherit a group of Stoick’s peers, but Nils would listen to him and offer regard. They’d argue—this was the council—but he wouldn’t agitate without cause.
Nils was twelve years Hiccup’s senior. Hiccup needed someone enough older to talk to and she hoped young Larssen would become that man. Nils was the oldest of four boys and Hiccup could use a big brother to help him over rough patches.
§ § §