Stoick tells a story from his past to make Gobber shut up.
|Author’s Note: This story is a one-shot. The timeline I used slots into another of my stories, Breakage. It is not necessary to read Breakage to understand this, but if anyone is interested, Having Leave fits into the story early on, after Hiccup falls asleep.
This is a work of fan fiction based on How to Train Your Dragon. The rights remain with Cressida Cowell and Dreamworks. Only the plot is mine.
I’m sorry, but it’s true.
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Stoick added two logs to the fire. He was unsure how late he and Gobber would be up—Stoick needed to sift through today’s horror, and Gobber was his sounding board. They had discussed the matter through four tankards of his better ale, but Stoick still had no peace about Hiccup, and was repeating himself. “Going up that tree after him, all I could think about was getting the boy down and safe. I hauled him home and unloaded on my son with everything I dared. Hiccup never had me wrathful at him, and he never before felt fear like I inflicted on him. I refused to let him speak; allowing that meant he would explain himself. If he told me what happened, I would know it directly from him, and have to deliver more pain or fail him as his father.”
“Aye, the boy was fortunate you let him off as light as you did. Aerie Rock is nothing but hazards and he knew better than to be there. I don’t doubt you wanted to beat his arse raw.” Gobber pushed back in his chair. “I would’ve, first spanking or not. ‘Course, you had Halvar to keep you in check.”
Stoick pinched the bridge of his nose. Gods, not this again. Hiccup nearly died today and Stoick had never been so harsh to the boy. He needed to talk to Gobber tonight, not hear ill-informed remarks about his father. Halvar Haddock’s temper made his punishments severe; Gobber had seen the bruises and welts and how carefully Stoick moved afterwards. Now he believed any discipline Stoick chose stemmed from Halvar. Tonight he had enough ale and anger in him to put a check on the man’s tongue. It meant talking about Gunnar, but he was tired of hearing the attacks and Gobber would not shut it if he kept the tale to himself. He refilled his tankard.
“You remember my father.”
“I do. He wasn’t a man you forgot, and you’ve spent years trying to leave the brute behind. That’s the reason you held back on Hiccup.”
“When I was young, my father had no room in his life for disorder. The house must always be clean, the floor polished, and all things put away. We worked hard to satisfy him, but he wasnae always reasonable.” Stoick slipped back into the old term, a relic from his childhood. “He might come home in the evening and learn Mama caught me in a misdeed. Then Papa chided and told me to listen or behave or not to do it again.” Stoick took a swallow of the ale, and Gobber lifted his tankard along with his friend. “There were other times when he stood on the edge of his temper, and someone spun him a tale of a mistake I had made, casting it as a dreadful thing.” Stoick grimaced. “He left the tribe and the village to visit with me, told me I was disobedient, and delivered a correction. That only occurred if Mama was not there to prevent it. I had to tell him about dropping a bucket of wash water or spilling ashes or breaking a mug, and ask to be disciplined. He wanted his sons to be tough. We were not to indulge in fear, and we did not have the luxury of showing pain or crying. He told us, ‘You are a Haddock, and Haddocks are strong.’”
“He was a right bastard, your da. Punishing Hiccup’s brought him to mind, hasn’t it.” It was a statement.
Stoick took a breath before starting. This memory was awful, but not because of Halvar.
“I was eleven, Gobber. Father remained home after dagmal and said, ‘I need to have a speak with my son Stoick alone.’ He sent the others out of the house, and told them he would see them at the Mead hall that night. After they left, Father brought two full tankards of water to the table.”
“I had no idea what he wanted, but ‘have a speak with my son’ was nothing he had said before. He used the same phrases, Gobber, never a change. Father never sent the housekeeper out for an entire day. I wished I knew why I earned correction or how I angered him. The last time he corrected me was almost a year earlier; we were by ourselves for an hour, and that ended in a strapping. My father and I alone for this long would be the belt or worse.”
“He was not angry. He knew I feared him, so he let me see him calm. It was the first time in about a year I saw him openly care if I was afraid. I braved asking why he was there instead of the village. He told me being with me that morning was Chief’s business.” Gobber leaned forward and Stoick knew he had the man’s attention.
“He told me to sit and listen.“‘Ye’re no child anymore and ye have a new thing to learn today. Ye must hear all I say and remember every word.’ He put his hand on my shoulder and told me, “‘Today, Stoick, I give ye leave.’” Stoick drank some of the ale, and inhaled the smell before continuing. “I had no notion what that meant.”
“And?” Gobber asked.
“He told me the story of Gunnar Iverson’s death.”
“Who’s Gunnar Iverson?”
“He lived in the time of the first Haddock Chief. According to Father, his life was unremarkable; it was his death we remember. Before we knew the risks of going there, he was the first person to die at Aerie Rock.”
“Father recounted in detail every bone the man broke when he fell. There were seven in all. He told me about every wound, the long gash on his arm, and how he fell and landed. He told me about every bit of the man’s body from head to heel, and the shock from the healers when they looked at his body. Father described his wife keening, and the way Gunnar’s ten-year-old shoved the younger children away from seeing their papa’s body with its skull smashed open. It was grotesque, Gobber.”
Gobber was silent. They both witnessed terrible deaths from Outcast attacks, dragon raids, and contagion; you became hardened to it, but he offered Gobber a bare summary, not the gruesome litany of damage he heard at age eleven. Stoick never witnessed a death worse than the account he heard from his father, and for years afterward he suffered nightmares about Gunnar’s death; tonight there would be another.
“He went slowly and stopped when it became hard for me to bear. He gripped my shoulder and when I was ready again, he told me more. Before he restarted, I heard him tell me, ’”Remember every word.”’
“I made it through the story. Immediately after, I was on my hands and knees, spraying puke on the floor. I knelt and heaved, ‘til nothing but bile came up. His palm was on my brow, holding my head up, and once I finished, he handed me a tankard and told me to rinse and spit the water onto the floor. I did, three times.”
“My father knelt on the floor, took the other tankard, and used the water and a rag to wash my face and hands. It was the tenderest I remember him being in a long while, and it undid me. I lost every bit of control I had left and wept like a bairn.” Stoick swallowed. He expected this to be rough to tell, but forgot it was so fraught with pain.
“He held me and gentled me for a long time past when I stopped crying. The puke was all over me and he wore splatter from it on his clothes and cloak. The floor was covered in it, and the room stank. I could only think of the mess I made. I looked at Father and stood and started admitting to what I did wrong. ‘“Father, I vomited on the floor. Because of this mess...”’ He stopped me. Then my father told me, ‘I was yer age, and I puked halfway through. I needed the entire morning to hear the story of Gunnar. Yer grandda, when he heard the story, he was nine. He pissed himself before he threw up. He moved it to age eleven fer me.’”
“That bad, Stoick?” Gobber’s eyebrow rose.
“Aye, that bad.” He shivered. “My father said he was proud of me. I should be sickened, and that mess on his clean floor showed him I would be a good Chief, one who refused to waste his people and risk their lives. He told me a second time he gave me leave. I asked him what he meant, and he said, whatever I needed that day, I could have. I could hide or go swimming or train with a weapon, whatever it took to feel better. He wanted me home for bed and hoped to see me at nattmal, but I could go without eating if I wanted.” Stoick stared at Gobber, and told him, “When I came home, the smell had vanished and the floor shone—Father cleaned it up, and there was no evidence of our talk. He let me keep it a secret.”
“Your father did all that?” Stoick heard astonishment in Gobber’s voice.
“Aye. My father went through it and knew the tale was harrowing, so he permitted me to do and feel any way I needed. He expected me to be sick with fear. Father rarely showed weakness, but told me I surpassed both what he and my grandfather could take. It was a sacrifice, Gobber, and I never doubted he loved me.”
“Hauling Hiccup back from Aerie Rock today, I was terrified and had no idea what to do, how to cope with a child who almost smashed himself into the ground to die in pieces, like Gunnar had done. I remembered Father saying I had his leave to do as I needed. I took all Hiccup’s expectations, his entire routine, and destroyed it. I did not chide or lecture; I backed Hiccup against a wall, frightened him, and struck him. He’s a wreck and so am I, but I took steps and got through to the boy.” Gobber’s uncharacteristic stillness revealed much, and Stoick knew reliving that day did some good.
“It was a deliberate act when someone angered my father and set him on his sons. Everyone knew when he corrected me or my brother—we wore bruises and welts. I had him strike me and then show me to the village, praising me for taking my correcting well. I knew disgrace from a young age, and Halvar once beat me so hard I stayed abed for two days. Mama refused to speak to him, and Brenna cried for hours about her little brother.” He remembered his Mama’s cold silent fury, shocking in a woman so gentle. “After that, Papa came and told me stories from when he was young, recounting all the things he did wrong as a child. He could not take back the beating, but he told me about his worst behavior. He was ashamed. It was an apology, and he never again hit me past what my body could bear.”
Gobber studied the wood grain in the tabletop. “I didn’t know he did that. No one said, y’see.” His voice was hesitant.
“It was family business, and private. The tribe sees enough of the Haddocks without us inviting more eyes upon us. Some things are not shared. I never wanted to share this.” Stoick let the words penetrate—he had bared himself, made a personal sacrifice, to shut Gobber’s mouth. He locked his eyes on his friend. “Can I trust you to keep it close?”
“You need to ask, Stoick?” Gobber sounded hurt.
“Aye. You have never hesitated to criticize my father. If you cannot keep those words to yourself, I must ask if you can keep this private.”
“Point taken. I swear to it, then.” He stopped, then spoke again. “Stoick?”
“What is it?”
“Sorry about all...that.”
He nodded. “You were right—I wanted to hurt Hiccup. I remember the reasons for the corrections. He wanted us to do well and be strong. He was trying to build endurance. I want those things for Hiccup, Gobber. I have Halvar’s temper, and the temptation to strike him is there. It’s a dangerous mix. So, part of holding back was from what Halvar did to me. Part was from my father giving me leave to do whatever seemed best.”
Oddly, that thought brought Stoick relief. Hiccup still lived, though it was a near thing. He did his best to reach his son using a series of rude shocks that culminated in Hiccup’s first spanking. His son spent the remainder of the day hiding in his room, steeped in shame and misery, but intact. Stoick’s methods might not be perfect, but he surely could have done worse. It was enough; he could quit talking and try for some sleep. He heaved himself out of the chair.
“Gobber, I want my bed and am sending you to find your own. Get out and let me have some shuteye before I have to deal with an ornery tribe and a daredevil son again.”
Gobber lumbered home, muttering about impatient Chiefs interrupting a man’s ale. Stoick locked the door, abandoned the mugs, and exhaled, silently thanking his father for providing both the harshness and the kindness that got Stoick through disciplining his own son.
§ § §
The Vikings had two mealtimes. Dagmal, or “day meal,” was the morning meal. Nattmal, or “night meal” was the evening meal.