During nattmal at Mead Hall, Eggpost has her sentence handed down.
Cobweb Larssen departed Mead Hall, shoulders hunched and head hanging. Hiccup’s dad had had other tasks and the sun had been at its peak when her sentence was decided. The Chief’s work needed attention, and the ruling would be given at the evening meal; until then, she was under the eye of her mother-in-law.
Hiccup spent the afternoon in the forge. Gobber moved his stool to the back room, and Hiccup could occupy the empty space and remain safe.
“Don’t get used to it, laddie. I want to know where ye are; I have a plan for this afternoon and ye are part of it. No questions,” he said, cutting Hiccup short. “Wait a bit. Ahh, here we go. Hello, Sigrid.”
“How are you, Gobber? I hear there’s been some excitement about Cobweb and young Hiccup. Can you tell me what the Chief decided?”
“Well, the Chief scheduled her sentencing for tonight at Mead hall, and I’m not giving it out to anyone beforehand. Stoick’s not happy with how today’s gone and I’m in no rush to annoy him. Ye can wait ‘til tomorrow to learn the judgment, but I’d say be there for it. It's going to be entertaining.” Gobber gave her a full-on smirk. “Hiccup came up with the idea.”
“How did that happen?” She frowned. “The boy's only six, far too young to make decisions like that.”
“He’s right here, if ye want to know.” Mrs. Hofferson tilted her head, still frowning, and Hiccup gave Gobber a look of betrayal. “Answer Mrs. Hofferson, lad.”
“My dad was talking to me about the charges. The council wanted to figure out how to sentence Mrs. Larssen and I had an idea. The council listened and they liked it.” He shrugged, secretly pleased with the result.
“What idea was that, Hiccup?” He looked to Gobber, who raised his brow at her.
“Nuh uh, ye’re not getting any scraps out of the boy. Ye can see it tonight or hear about it later. Neither of us are sharing, so if ye have no need of me, I’ll carry on with mending this sword.”
“Mrs. Hofferson.” She turned her head, startled. “I don’t know what’s going to happen either. I’ll find out tonight. I hope it all works out; I’ve never given an idea to the council before, and I want to get it right.”
“I see. My Astrid’s that way, too. Shall I greet her for you?” Mrs. Hofferson’s frown was gone and Hiccup smiled. She wasn’t being left out and that was enough for her until tonight.
“Yeah. I haven’t seen her in awhile. Maybe she’ll be at Mead hall tonight.” It was a question.
“If I go, I’ll bring Astrid. I’ve errands right now.”
After she left, Hiccup studied Gobber. He looked way too happy for someone banging on a weapon in sweltering heat, and Hiccup became suspicious.
“Are you going to do this all day?”
“Do what, Hiccup?”
“Tell people to come tonight, then let them know I gave the idea for her sentence.”
“Aye. It’s great fun. We’ll pack that hall full and Cobweb will suffer a complete embarrassing. She’ll learn not to harass my lad.” Gobber began whistling “Lucky Leif’s Voyage,” and Hiccup resigned himself to answering the question for hours. At least he wasn’t digging holes.
§ § §
The room boasted a growing crowd, and Hiccup couldn’t see the long line of shield portraits anymore. Extra servers wove through the assembly, trying to provide food and drink—mostly drink—to the crowd. The sound of creaking wood was a constant as the massive Mead hall doors opened to admit even more people. He’d moved past the shock of so many folk in the hall on an ordinary night, and moved on to figuring out when the last time was the room was so packed. He was grateful the Chief’s table was away from the door. The draft was nasty and nights were chillier and he wanted warmth.
His dad was around, but Hiccup had only spotted him for a moment. Tonight he got to sit in his proper chair beside his father, and Gobber assured him anyone who tried to steal his seat would meet with a knock on the head. Good. He deserved to sit next to his dad after this mess, and Hiccup needed a good view of the sentencing.
There was a stir in the crowd as the door opened and closed yet again. Cobweb Larssen entered the hall and the volume of talk lessened, then rose to an excited buzz. She was reduced from the definite young woman of this morning to a dismal girl who cowered. A young, stiff backed man with spots on his face walked in front of Cobweb while a hatchet-faced woman dragged her by the elbow.
“That’s the husband and mother-in-law with her, and it looks like they’re making sure she doesn’t run.” Gobber told him. “She’s spent the afternoon under Yakspit’s care, and that woman’s tongue can cut grown men into pieces. After today, she might need it sharpened.”
“Gobber.” This was supposed to be serious. “What else do you see?”
“Well, yer Aunt Bliss is right in front of the table staring at the girl.”
“I bet she’s mad. I heard her shout at Cobweb before Dad showed up.”
“She doesn’t look angry, but a good, long stare will shake most people, especially a coward like the Larssen girl.” He snorted. “Yer aunt looks after her own, y’know. She’s doing the job yer father can’t—personally shaming the girl and convincing folk here she deserves sharp treatment.” Gobber signaled for a refill. “Good on her.”
He ordered more mead and a warm cider for Hiccup. Hiccup furrowed his brow and asked Gobber, “Is that what you were doing at the forge when people stopped by?”
The afternoon was full of Gobber telling people to come here tonight and pointing out the judgment was Hiccup’s idea.
“Aye. The girl is getting off light from Stoick. He’s going to be fair to her, but there’s a lot of angry Hooligans in the room and they have different ideas about justice. As long as they don’t damage her, yer father’s well out of it.”
“What does that have to do with my idea?”
“Well, she wronged ye the most. It’s fair yer idea gets heard, and folk are curious about their future Chief’s justice. That the Chief and council agreed is strange and makes them wonder more. She’ll be upset ye picked it and lots of the people here will laugh at her. The tribe ought to like the notion and think better of ye.”
“Oh.” He wasn’t sure what to make of that. When he thought it up, Hiccup didn’t think it would be so unforgiving. “Gobber, is it too much for her? Did I pick the wrong thing to do?”
“Ye chose well, lad. She’s not in a cell or being charged with a solemn crime. She will be reminded every day it lasts how much damage she did. Yer father plans to tell her about the solemn charges ye wanted to spare her, and let her know her Chief can still bring them forward if she doesn’t fix her thinking.” Gobber leaned forward and told him, “Tis a good solution and I’m proud of ye for providing it. So is yer dad.”
“I can see Dad over there.” Stoick was a hard man to miss, with seven feet of muscle, with a flaming beard, and, right now, a bellowing laugh. Hiccup’s dad was moving through the crowd, expansive, tipping his head to the women, clapping men on the shoulder, and making the room cheerful.
“Hiccup!” Stoick strode to his chair, lowered his voice, and asked, “How was the afternoon, son?”
“Good. Gobber kept telling people I thought up the judgment. They’re all here and if I mess this up, it’s going to be horrible, Dad. I don’t want to make another mistake.”
“You won’t. Your Grandpapa did the same thing with me, son, and I was terrified the first time he gave me the chance. It will be fine. Now, let’s get the room settled.”
Hiccup braced himself, and his father pulled himself to his full height.
“HOOLIGANS!” Conversation stilled. “I am many things: a Hooligan, a Chieftain, a warrior, and a father. Does anyone disagree?” A bemused crowd shook their heads and offered up “nay” in response. Their Chief was in a rare mood tonight, and no one wanted to spoil it. “I am one thing more—starving.” There was laughter. “I want my grub, as do you, and the only way to get to the food,” his mood became serious, “is to get through the work first.”
“This morning, Cobweb Larssen ordered my son Hiccup to act directly against my command. He is confined to the village and she insisted he go to Gothi’s with her. She put him in an impossible position, using her status as an adult to compel his obedience. She lied to him, asserting if Gobber opposed her decision, she would drop the idea. She argued with Gobber, and refused to listen. My son hid from her to avoid disobeying me. She rejected my command to Hiccup, spoke with disrespect toward her Chief and criticized my decisions as Hiccup’s father.” An angry chatter began and Hiccup’s father raised a palm.
“This brought a disturbance to the tribe. She caused a problem for no reason and continued pursuing it after hearing her order to Hiccup opposed mine. She argued publicly with Gobber, asserting she would take Hiccup, the Heir to Berk, to Gothi’s.” The mention of his status drew grim looks from the tribe, and Hiccup heard several hisses. “Word spread throughout the Plaza and beyond, stirring up unrest and drawing attention away from the business of harvest and preparation for winter.”
“The tribal council, with a contribution from my son and Berk’s Heir, Hiccup, lays the following four lesser charges against Cobweb Larssen: Disrespect to a member of the council, Gobber Borkeson, defiance of her Chief’s command, disrespect to her Chief, and needless troubling of the Hooligan tribe. The council also places one serious charge, an attack on a child, Hiccup Haddock.” His father’s face darkened as he said those words. He fixed his gaze on Cobweb and she shriveled under his regard.
“Cobweb Larssen, stand before this council.” She resisted, and her husband dragged her forward. “Do you deny responsibility for the charge of disrespect to a council member?”
“No, my Chief.” It was a murmur.
“Speak so all in this hall can hear you.”
“No, my Chief.” She raised her voice, and his dad accepted the volume.
“Do you admit guilt?”
“Yes, my Chief.”
Hiccup observed as she completed the litany through the four lesser offenses, and Stoick assigned her penalties: one month of working for Gobber at home or forge tasks, two months of tending the needs of Haddock house, all without neglecting any of her own tasks. She was made to serve the tribe by being one of the first to be called for any jobs requiring additional labor, such as unloading fish, harvesting crops, or nursing the ill, also without neglecting her other work.
“For the final judgment, attack on a child, my son Hiccup raised a question. How old is Cobweb Larssen? Legally, she is an adult, a married woman with a home of her own. But her behavior today was immature. She acted on impulse and turned away from instruction. She defied authority and deliberately hurt a child. Cobweb broke her word to Hiccup and did not admit her wrongdoing. She criticized my ability to raise Hiccup, and told him I was cruel and unfair. She frightened and threatened and coerced my son so badly he ran from her.” Hiccup recalled the anxiety of hiding behind the bakery, afraid she would search him out.
“The council has decided that for the next thirty days, Cobweb Larssen is to be treated as a seven-year-old girl. She will lose the title of wife. She will not wear a marriage braid. Her freedom to choose will be drastically reduced. She shall be allowed the freedom of the Plaza as long as she is accompanied by an adult. She must stay with an adult to travel anywhere. She is allowed to play with children age five through eight.” Her eyes widened as Hiccup’s father continued the judgment.
“Cobweb’s obedience to childhood expectations means she may not engage in adult conversation unless invited. Her days will be structured by another and her desires are of the least consideration. Members of this tribe may chase her away from their workplaces, tell her to hush, go elsewhere, mind her manners. Minor discipline may be provided by a tribe member when appropriate.” Hiccup was certain Gobber would offer cuffings, and Mrs. Ingerman’s grip on an ear was unshakeable. “Any common instruction given to children will be applied to Cobweb. She will do as she is told. Any misbehavior may be reported to a council member. Appropriate discipline for a child of seven may be used. Her clan will be responsible for her discipline.”
“These measures, including the time limit, are for the tribe. Her clan may add requirements of their own. Those decisions are up to clan Larssen and remain separate from this ruling. Since clan Larssen has suffered damage to their honor, that clan has the claim to limiting her life. The thirty day ruling applies only to the council judgment, not to clan Larssen.” Hiccup saw her shudder.
“After thirty days, this judgment shall expire and Cobweb will begin her month of service to Gobber the Belch, followed by two months of serving Haddock house. This shall take her well into Devastating Winter. The tribal council hopes she will discover the value of restraint, obedience, and humility; we do not wish to see her come to our attention again.”
His dad released her to her husband’s custody and spoke once again.
“While I have everyone’s attention, I want to raise one more item. I am grateful to those who found me and alerted me to Hiccup’s problem. I also want to thank those who supported my son today. You are part of the reason I hear about everything that happens on Berk.” Hiccup listened, curious as to what came next. “Your diligence in looking after Hiccup is noteworthy. You all know Hiccup is confined to the village and worry about him escaping.” His dad quirked his lips. “One of the benefits of raising Hiccup is my son is a terrible liar.” Some chuckled, and when he ducked his head, more joined them.
“Aye, that’s for certain. Don’t know why he bothers, it’s such a waste of breath. The lad is dismal at it.”
“Yes, thank you, Gobber.”
“Thanks a lot, Gobber.”
The exasperated response from the two Haddocks drew another laugh.
“Every night I ask Hiccup if he left the village and he tells me no. I am certain he’s telling the truth. I have given him the freedom of the entire village. If you do not see him, leave the problem with me and I will find the truth of it. Do not assume he left because he’s not always in or near the Plaza. Today made it clear that he does not want to disobey me.
“I have decided to ease one part of Hiccup’s confinement.” Hiccup’s mouth opened, and Gobber raised his brow; he hadn’t heard this either. “If he is asked by an adult with a legitimate reason, he may travel to Gothi’s hut. He cannot choose to go or create an excuse to do so. He will be able to carry messages, return items, and other small errands. Hiccup shall travel and return by the quickest possible route, completing his task without dawdling or lingering.” Hiccup stared at his dad, stunned. “If asked, my son may help Gothi with her work. She has lost the help of a trained assistant, and Hiccup’s skills should not be wasted.” Hiccup looked at Gothi for confirmation, and she nodded.
“Well, I am still starving, and will wait no longer. Let us eat!” He signaled a serving girl and ordered something for them. Hiccup wasn’t paying attention. He was still adjusting to his new freedoms—leaving the village, seeing Gothi, having work—and trying to hold still. It was hard; he wanted to jump with joy, run through the hall, and bounce in his chair all at once. He settled for kicking his legs, which was almost like running.
Hiccup’s father sat beside him. “We did not get a chance to speak earlier. How are you holding up?”
“I’m good. Today a lot of stuff was going on and I feel strange. Nothing’s wrong, though.”
“Your solution worked. No one demanded solemn charges be brought against her. People are satisfied and the judgment provides a way for them to participate without lasting harm to anyone. Good job, son.”
“I did that. No one criticized me or told me to be quiet. They just accepted the judgment, even when you and Gobber told them it came from me.”
“Aye. Your Grandpapa gave me three chances before I made a good decision. He would be proud of you today, just like I am.”
“For true, Dad?” That was their saying, one Grandpapa used when he was alive.
“For true, Hiccup.”
“This is all very charming, but ye’re between me and the lass bringing my mutton, and I’d appreciate it if ye yanked in yer chair, Stoick.” His dad laughed and the serving girl flushed, but Gobber got his mutton. Stoick’s order arrived next and Hiccup eyed it with disfavor: smoked eel was nasty. Hiccup’s bowl of stew burned his tongue, but tasted of mutton and peas and salt. He’d gulped most of it down when his dad went to a meeting room off the hall. Cobweb Larssen followed, with her father, husband and mother-in-law behind, telling her to hurry up.
“He’s telling her what a solemn crime means. This judgment’s over, but she can still be charged with an attack on the Heir, and no one wants that. Any ruling damages her, and yer dad can’t be gentle, not with an attack on ye.” Gobber took one half of his moustache and wiped his mouth with it. “He wouldn’t want to be easy on her, anyroad, Chief or not.”
“Can she understand?” She possessed more stupidity than a herd of sheep, and he hoped today was an anomaly.
“Aye. It’s convincing her to act properly she’ll struggle with. Stoick’s left room to make it worse, so she can’t be charged with an attack right away, just punished more. It ought to work.”
“Good.” This morning he didn’t know Cobweb and he was sick of her now. Hiccup hoped she suffered a painful long time. He wanted her to be afraid and cry and hang her head while the tribe made fun of her. Hiccup wanted her to cringe when she saw his dad and get filthy cleaning up after them.
But mostly, Hiccup wanted to go home. The room was warm and he wasn’t hungry and his house was a lot friendlier than Mead hall.
“Astrid? Cool. Your mom brought you, right? She said she would but I didn’t see you.”
Ruffnut charged over. “Come on, Hiccup.”
“Cobweb’s our age, Hiccup. Tuff and I are going to remind the adults about what it’s like to be seven. She gets called for Nattmal, sent to bed, made to write lines, all of it.”
“She's going to get swatted when she walks.” Hiccup was grinning madly. “She’ll have her ear flicked and her hand held in front of everyone for a month. We get to watch, too.”
“My mom grabs our shoulders when she’s annoyed and never lets go. So we need to mention shoulder grabs and Cobweb in front of her, so she uses that.”
“What’s Tuff doing?” Ruffnut and Tuffnut liked working as a team.
“Moaning about carrying full buckets and how heavy they are. Snotlout’s arguing the hauling wood is worse.” She snickered. “Astrid’s got the best job. She’s bringing up the stuff we’re supposed to learn, like company manners and taking someone’s coat. They drum that stuff into you, even when you know it.” Yeah, Hiccup was stuck with three months of holding the door open and inviting people in to make sure he knew how. “Then she brings up all the really boring jobs, like cleaning outside the village well, or scrubbing Gothi’s steps, that somebody has to do.’
“Ruffnut, do ye realize she’ll have to come here during dragon raids?” Gobber’s face looked placid, which meant his mind was plotting something. “Eggpost will need to listen ta the big girls of ten and eleven, like the Ingerman lasses. They’ll need to be prepared for the young Cobweb.”
“Let’s get Fishlegs.” Ruff bounded off, and Hiccup sidled through the horde—Ruffnut was fun but exhausting.