Stuck in the Plaza with nothing to do, Hiccup struggles to obey, to his detriment.
It started thirteen days ago. Hiccup got in the biggest trouble of his life; it got him his first spanking and a lot of other punishments, like staying in the village for six weeks. It was embarrassing: everyone knew how much he’d been stupid and blown it, but he had to see people and have dignity, so he did. He thought the worst part was everyone knowing he messed up and harassing him for it, but people stopped caring about that, and there was the real worst part.
Hiccup was bored.
He had measured the length and width of the plaza twice. It was two hundred and seventy-four Hiccup foot prints wide and four hundred and ten of his footprints long, and the measuring was not nearly enough to keep him busy. He climbed the stairs to the Mead hall three times in a row, but had to sit down on the fourth attempt. Mrs. Ingerman banned him from the place unless he had Dad with him. He wanted to work, but no one gave him any tasks.
He spent a lot of time with Gobber. He loved Gobber, but being bored at the forge wasn’t much better than regular boredom. He used to be able to sit in there, but he wasn’t allowed to climb for six weeks—another punishment—and he had to climb to sit on his stool. Hiccup knew not to attempt an escape. He’d tried standing near the outskirts and backing up, but Mrs. Ingerman grabbed him by the ear and hauled him in front of his father, who said if Hiccup tried that again, he’d be confined to the plaza.
He did everything he could think up and when he ran out of ideas he became desperate. There had to be something he hadn’t tried yet. Gobber wanted him outside the forge—sitting on his stool inside was the only place Hiccup was allowed to go—and Hiccup’s frustration led him to try whining.
“There’s nothing to do, Gobber.”
Gobber never looked up from hammering. “I’m sure you can occupy yourself, lad. There’s always something.”
“I’ve practiced my runes and figuring and done all the reading I can. Dad won’t let me bring anything outside to study, because they’re the family and Chief’s records, and they can’t get destroyed. I can't go in the forge with you and nobody’s around anymore.” He was desperate, and Gobber was his last hope. “There has to be a job or an errand or a message I can run. Please, Gobber, don’t you need help?”
Gobber raised his eyebrow. “How are you supposed to help me if you can’t come in?”
“I can fetch you something to eat. You’re hungry, right?”
Gobber inspected the axe. “Aye, my stomach’s feeling hollow. Get me a loaf of the good oat bread from the bakery, then. Here’s coin for the purchase.”
Hiccup took the money—a whole silver—and walked slowly across the plaza, savoring the errand. He entered the building and waited to be noticed; startling the baker might result in burns. The baker turned toward him. “Ah, Hiccup. How are you, lad?”
“I’m fine, Mr. Iverson. How are you?”
“I’m doing well.”
“How’s Mrs. Iverson? I hope she is well.” Hiccup dragged out the conversation—it might be the only one he had today with someone that wasn’t his dad or Gobber.
The baker chuckled. “Aye, Hiccup, she is fine, too. Did you come to ask after me and mine, or is there another reason?”
“Gobber sent me to purchase a loaf of your oat bread for him. I brought coin for it.” He opened his palm and displayed the money.
“Gobber usually comes himself. He must think well of you to trust you with his coin. Well, this loaf’s fresh, so I’ll send it along to him as soon as you hand me that silver in your palm.”
Hiccup passed the money over, inhaling the fragrance of flour and salt as he did so. “What are you making? It smells wonderful.”
“That’s rolls in the oven right now, Hiccup. And this,” he added, “is Gobber’s change from the purchase. Carry that bread carefully now—I suspect he doesn’t want it arriving squeezed.” Hiccup accepted the loaf and took a final look around the shop. It was time to get back.
“Hiccup.” He glanced back at Mr. Iverson. “Before you leave, I have something for you. There’s one berry tart that cooked too long, and I don’t want to put it out to sell. Good as it is, Mrs. Iverson tells me I don’t need to eat more than I already do.” He jiggled his belly and handed the pastry to Hiccup. “Besides, you look hungry. Go on,
take it along and don’t let that scoundrel of a blacksmith rob you of it. He’s a whole loaf of bread richer, and doesn’t need that tart any more than I do.”
“Thank you, Mr. Iverson. That’s really generous of you.” Hiccup thought a moment, and asked, “Can I tell Gobber what you said about him?”
“If it keeps his fingers off your treat, go right ahead. I don’t mind. Gobber will likely laugh if you tell him, anyway. Now get out and let me see to those rolls I have going, before they stay in too long.”
§ § §
§ § §
Gobber did laugh, and told Hiccup it was a good thing he had to stay outside, or Gobber would hook the tart out of his hands and eat it in one bite.
“Gobber! I never get berry tarts. I’m not getting near you.” He smirked. “Hooks off.”
“Ohhh, making fun of auld Gobber, are ye? I just trusted ye with not squashing my bread, and here ye are mouthing off to me. See if I send ye on an errand again, smart aleck.”
Hiccup drooped. If he’d stayed quiet, Gobber might have sent him again tomorrow; now even that was gone. He was useless to everyone and just wanted to be productive, and that wasn’t gonna happen.
“Sorry, Gobber. I didn’t mean to be rude. I’ll go find something to keep busy.”
“Ye told me ten minutes ago there wasn’t anything to keep ye occupied. What changed?”
“Nothing. I guess I’ll dig a hole. That ought to take an hour. Filling it back in takes less time, so maybe ten more minutes. See you, Gobber.”
“Hiccup.” He turned back to the smith.“Ye are digging a hole for no reason?”
“Yeah. I’m getting good at it.” He calculated. “This is my fourth one since the week began.”
“Why do ye dig holes instead of doing something different? Can’t ye take a walk or go to the Mead hall?”
“I’ve walked everywhere I can. I’ve walked in circles until I got dizzy. There’s no invitations to see anyone and if I stay out of sight for too long, Dad hears about it, so I have to be where people can see me.” He blew out a breath. “The Mead hall workers don’t want me climbing the steps unless I’m with Dad. Steps are about all Dad lets me climb, but I have to stay away from them. That’s why I dig holes in that patch by the puddle.”
“Oh. Well, can’t ye dig in a different spot?”
“I can’t dig up the paths and going behind my house means nobody can see me. The forest, beach, and hot springs are off limits, too.” Hiccup thought of all these things, and none of them worked.
“Ye can see Gothi.”
“She’s on the outskirts of the village.”
“Aye, that she is. Well, come back when ye finish and I might have an idea.” Hiccup hoped so. Digging holes was getting tiresome.
§ § §
“I’m telling ye, Stoick, the boy's beyond bored and he’s wasting time on purpose. He’s doing pointless tasks to keep busy. I came up with eight different things for him to try and he told me why they didn’t work. I got frustrated finding out I couldn’t help the lad; can ye imagine how he feels?”
“I certain he will come up with an idea. He is allowed to play with his friends.”
“Snotlout drags them to the woods every day so Hiccup has no playmates.” Gobber ticked off the suggestions on his hands. “No going near Mead hall without you there. No hiding inside. No playing outside your house because people can’t see him there. No hanging around the shops, or seeing Gothi, or walking in the forest. No running, so he can’t burn off energy. No docks, no beach, and nothing else to do.”
“He can go inside the smithy—you made him a safe spot.”
“Aye, and he can’t climb the stool to sit, and no stool means no forge.”
“He’s not helpless, Gobber. In a few weeks, this will be over and life will return to normal.”
“It won’t be the same, Stoick. What we have is a boy who’s not active and needs to be active. There’s a village full of people who see him sit around and think your son’s lazy. He’s craving a way to spend his time and because he’s obeying you, he becomes more discouraged every day. I suppose you told him if he didn’t follow the rules he’d get in more trouble?”
“Of course I did. The boy needs to obey me. He landed in this mess because he refused to do as I told him for over a year. I am not reversing the punishment, Gobber.”
“Well, ye have to give him something, Stoick, because you’ve taken more away than he can deal with, and he’s trapped. Pay attention to him tonight and try to tell me he’s the same lad from two weeks ago. Ignore the others begging for attention, and focus on Hiccup. He needs ye, Stoick.”
§ § §
“I thought we were eating at the Mead hall, Dad.”
“I thought just being your dad was better than having the village come looking for the Chief. Do not tell me you mind.” Stoick raised an eyebrow.
“No, I’m just surprised. We always eat there so people can see you and ask questions. I like not having to wait around for you.”
“You can wait for me at the table—it is permitted.” Stoick could offer his son no favoritism in public—it was part of the shaming—but coming to the Chief’s table when it was time to leave was within reason.
“Everybody tells me to go, that I’m not supposed to be there, and stop being impertinent.” The last bit was a quote and Stoick knew Hiccup had heard it more than once.
“Tonight it is us, and none of them get a say in it. Set the table and we can eat.”
Once he and Hiccup had filled their plates, Stoick began probing, searching for the problem Gobber insisted was there.
“Are you going to eat that much, Hiccup? I didn’t think your stomach was big enough.”
“You made a lot of food, Dad. Somebody has to eat it or it gets wasted.”
“Correct. Are you hungry enough to finish that?”
“No. But I have to. ‘No wasting food, son.’ It’s a rule, Dad, and I have to follow the rules. All of them, so I have to clear my plate.” He bit deep into the salmon, prepared to conquer the calories.
“What did you accomplish today?”
“I worked on my figuring. I counted the number of logs used for the food storage building, then added them to the number in the Iverson longhouse. The storage building has eighteen more, if you don’t count the Iverson’s barn. If you count that, the Iversons have a lot more.” That seemed a typical study exercise. “I counted the logs three times to be sure it was correct. I was going to check the Thorston’s next, but they said I needed to stay in the village.” Hiccup realized what he’d said, and rushed to explain. “I thought the Thorstons lived in the village. I wasn’t trying to sneak out, but I didn’t know I’d left. I’m sorry, Dad—please don’t make it longer.” He hunched his shoulders, as if expecting Stoick to be angry.
“It’s okay, Hiccup. The Thorstons do live in the village and you did nothing wrong. I am pleased to see you working to follow the rules.” Hiccup straightened up. “So, what else happened?”
“I sat on the slope and watched people walk by. More women were marketing early, and more men went to Mead hall. It wasn’t as busy as yesterday, though.” The counting was a little obsessive, even for Hiccup.
“Did you do things besides count, Hiccup?”
“I listened to conversations. No one really talked to me, but everyone talks to Gobber. The whole tribe likes Gobber.” Hiccup took a break from the salmon and started on his carrots.
“They talk to you, I’m sure. People like you, Hiccup.” Stoick heard a lot of good about Hiccup: how smart he was, how good his manners were, that he was kind to the littles.
“Maybe. I don’t get to talk to anyone. I tried with Mister Hofferson, and he said not to interrupt. Mrs. Hofferson said I should only speak if I’m asked to, and nobody asks.”
“So you counted and listened. What else?” This could not be his son’s entire day.
“Gobber let me get a loaf of bread for him. He let me go and gave me money for Mr. Iverson. I got fresh bread and Mr. Iverson said Gobber trusted me with his coin and don’t squish the bread.” Hiccup recounted the entire conversation and added commentary about, among other things, the lack of scorching on the tart. Stoick was assured Hiccup only walked the entire time, as he was supposed to and returned Gobber’s change and did not damage the bread. It seemed the biggest excitement of his day.
“Then I was cheeky to Gobber and he called me a smart aleck, so I apologized and dug a hole.”
“Gobber mentioned that. He said you talked about finding things to do. How did you make out with thinking up something else to occupy yourself with?”
“I can’t come up with anything new. Gobber had some ideas, but none of them were possible. I’d thought about them already, but they don’t fit inside the rules, so they’re useless.” He hesitated, before muttering, “I’m useless.”
Stoick bit his tongue. He nearly told Hiccup not to whine, not to complain, and he had done this to himself. He had said that a bit too often, and Hiccup looked like he expected to hear it again. His son’s spirit was taking a bruising; the boy was working hard to do everything right and follow every rule when it was too much to ask. Gobber was right. Hiccup needed him and he had to help the boy somehow.
“Hiccup. You are not useless. You are smart and kind and inventive. People like you. This tribe can be picky about who they like, and they like you. You need a place to fit and right now you cannot find one. We will sort this out, son. What do you think?”
Hiccup blinked, and stared at Stoick. “You’ll help? Really?”
“Yes, I will help you. You don’t have to solve this by yourself, not when I am here.” Gratitude shone from Hiccup’s eyes. “We are solving this problem together. All right?”
“All right. Dad?”
“Yes.” Hiccup was easier in his spirit.
“Your salmon’s getting cold.”
Stoick laughed. “You caught me. I will eat, then. We cannot allow anything to go to waste.” Especially you.
§ § §
The grass was dying and the stone steps were touched with rime. Gobber met Stoick at the bottom of the slope outside Haddock house, a spot out of Hiccup’s hearing.
“He’s trying to obey every rule he knows, not just the restrictions. He hears an adult say “Get out of the way, boy,” and tries to stay out of everyone’s way. “Don’t bother me” means he tries not to bother anyone. One of the Thorstons had him believing he had left the village. He begged me not to lengthen his confinement.”
“Those Thorston kids have a mean streak. The lad hates making mistakes. Ye know that, Stoick.”
“This is more, Gobber. He’s afraid of doing the wrong thing and cannot understand an honest error is acceptable. He wiped down his writing table because three nights ago I told him not to leave smudges. I did not expect him to take it as a command. He frets if he forgets to return his boots to the spot beside the bed. Having them in his room is inadequate. I almost ordered him to relax.”
“That’s wouldn’t’ve worked, but made life worse for the lad. At least ye ate at home and he didn’t have to put up with all pestering at mealtime.”
“The people at my table insist he cannot wait there. He’s a boy ready to go home with his father, and they’re chasing him off. No one asked me about sending him away, or I would have made certain he remained.”
“Aye. He doesn’t see ye during the day and gets chased off at the one time he can. He’s lonely all the time, then.” After a moment, Gobber added, “Ye know, he hardly smiles these days. I joked with him a moment, but when I called him mouthy, he apologized. I said...I told him I wouldn’t send him on another errand. Oh, Thor, he took me seriously.”
“Hiccup’s not designed to be solemn or quiet. He has to talk and see people and keep moving. He’s naturally happy, and now he’s miserable. We're trampling over him, Stoick, and he doesn’t say a word. I suspect ye told him not to grumble.”
“Of course I did. Every time he tries telling me what goes on, I tell him no complaining. I’ve told him that too much and he takes it to heart. Worse, he said he was useless.”
“That’s ridiculous. He’s a worker and would do anything to please ye or anyone else.”
“Right now he’s trying to please me, and that’s much of the problem. I told him to look people in the eye and take whatever they sent his way, to prove he was capable. I never thought they would ignore him.”
“Three traders came in and the gossip changed. Hiccup’s disaster fell by the side of the road, and all folks see is an idle lad who’s where they don’t want him. He still has to prove himself to the village.”
“It’s back to the same problem we had before. No one expects him to be productive or capable.”
“Or useful.” Gobber tugged on his moustache. “I can’t have him in the forge without a way to keep him safe, or I’d invite him in. I can send him on the occasional errand. There’s nothing more I can offer.”
“That errand was the highlight of Hiccup’s day; he talked about it for five minutes. He made certain I knew he did everything correctly. His day is only about being proper and correct. He cannot live like that. I expected the village to see him take things well and realize there’s more to Hiccup that’s boy who gets in trouble, and all they see is Hiccup’s idle. I have them thinking once again my son is no good for anything.”
“Ye mean useless. The lad knows already. So what do ye plan to do next?”
“I cannot force people to notice him—if I tried, they would resent Hiccup, and he would know it was not his efforts that won him notice or respect. Then it’s the same problem again.”
“Aye, and the more you have this happen, the more people keep thinking poorly of him.” Gobber stamped his foot. The air had a bite this evening and the man left the warmth of Mead hall to find out more on Hiccup. “I’m thinking he needs a place to start, mebbe with someone who doesn’t know him well. This tribe needs to have an idea driven into their skulls, and anyone Hiccup’s close to won’t be trusted to be honest about the lad.”
“Stoick, there’s an entire island of people to draw from. All he needs is a chance from someone who doesn’t think he’s a nuisance. Let him work for someone tomorrow and see how it goes. That won’t make anything worse and will cheer the lad. Thor knows he can use the encouragement.”
“All right. I cannot see a different way to handle this, so I give leave for him to help around the village tomorrow. I thought people would have given him work, but that idea failed along with the others I used. All I have done so far is make his life worse.” Stoick’s exhale created a cloud. “I am not suited for this, Gobber. Hiccup will struggle because I cannot help him solve one problem when we all know the answer—work. I care for Hiccup more than you can know, but I’m a disaster as his father and cannot do one thing right for my own son.”
“So ye are feeling useless.”
“I suppose so.”
“Well, then, you’re in a good position to understand the lad, Stoick.” Gobber rested a hand on Stoick’s shoulder. “We can’t solve this tonight. Let’s give over fretting about this and sleep on it. Mebbe an idea will come into that noggin of yours in the morning. For now, hold on along with Hiccup and this’ll get sorted out.” He stretched. “I’m for bed. I’m going to get frostbite soon, and I’ve lost enough body parts; I don’t want to surrender more.”
§ § §