Condensing the story. Incomplete
|Berk’s Chieftess, Veronica Haddock, wore a dark blue dress, her wedding ring, and the attitude of a determined mama. She carried the bairn and tugged three-year-old Stoick along with her. She approached the smithy with purpose in her step.
“Good day to you, Coalie. It is a calling you have, working in this smithy—I admire your skill. Halvar,” she referred to the Chief, “is careful with all his weapons, but if he lost one you made, I expect he would go into mourning.”
“Good day and welcome to ye, Chieftess.” Coalie brushed off his apron, adding, “‘Tis a pleasure to have such a beauty visit the forge.”
Gobber turned his back on them and busied himself. His da was talking to Lady Haddock like a smitten boy talked to a girl; ‘twas wrong, but there was no correcting adults—his only choice
was to wait for disaster to strike.
“Halvar stopped to see you, then?”
“Aye. Those words came out of his mouth three times in the past two days. I think Berk’s Chief,” Gobber heard his Da say, “has a fondness for his wife.”
“I agree with you, but I think you unsettled Gobber with your remark.”
Gobber flushed, and focused on his sharpening. The Chieftess could read minds, and knew he thought they acted wrongly. He tensed, and felt his da’s hand on his back.
“‘Tis alright, lad. I joke with the Chieftess over how often he talks about her. Our Chief is a man in love, and he tells yer da of it all the time. I didna commit any wrong. Ye have uprightness in ye, but I worrit ye, and now say dinna concern yerself. Ask yer Ma if ye must. Push off and speak with her—ye won’t feel better without it.”
Gobber’s ma confirmed the truth of it, said his da wanted to stay in one piece, and running afoul of her was riskier than working in the smithy blindfolded. Coalie noticed Gobber’s ease and ordered him outside to see the Chieftess.
“Stoick is learning the names and jobs of everyone who works in the Plaza, so he must get a good look at everyone, hear their jobs, and say their names. Your father agreed to Stoick’s examination of you.” She looked down at the wee one. “This is Gobber. He works in the smithy with his Papa, Mister Borkeson. Say hello.”
“Hello. I greet ye. You,” he corrected. I greet you.”
“Hullo, Stoick. I’m Gobber.”
“Are you a boy, or grown up?”
“A boy, eight years of age.”
“I am three. You are a lot bigger for a boy.”
Gobber squatted in front of him. “Ye will be as tall when ye are eight.” Take a gander at me, Stoick, and say my name.”
Stoick studied him before trying to say his name. “Gaw....”
“Gaw burr. Try it again, lad.”
“Gaw bur. Gobber.” Stoick tasted the name on his tongue. “You’re—I mean, you are Gobber.”
Gobber had known Stoick since he was a lad of three, with eyes big at the wonders around him. Small ones needed help managing in a big world of grown people, and Gobber kept an eye on them. Stoick was another little boy, Heir or not, and he spoke to the lad and listened as well, while telling him not to touch things or get in people’s way as he would any child. He didna favor the lad or soothe him when he whinged—if Stoick behaved badly and got in trouble, ‘twas his own fault. Gobber’s copied his Da’s treatment of him for the lad, because in a forge, ye couldna be stupid or careless without getting hurt.
Now Stoick was more than four, old enough to go to the Plaza alone for simple errands. He would return small items or bring payment to a craftsman, or purchase a loaf of bread. Sometimes he lingered to inhale the good fragrance from the bakery. Other times he stayed outside the smithy and watched Gobber work. Neither Coalie nor Gobber minded; Stoick rarely caused trouble and if he did, they could tell him to leave.
Somewhere around Stoick's sixth year, the Chief told him how seriously the lad took his words and occasional discipline, and thanked him for his help. Gobber’s Da grinned as Gobber stared at the man, astounded that “Gobber says” came out of the boy's mouth so often. The Chief had commended him for serving the tribe, told him “Ye do good work,” and chuckled as he left.
His Da laughed all through that day, and told the story over the evening meal at home. After, he ordered Gobber to come with him, and sat his son down for a solemn discussion. Stoick was the older brother of the house, Da said, and looked out for his big sister Brenna, who was the girl, and his little brother Flint, and Ragna’s baby Spitelout. “He is a friend and a brother, but has no older boy to help him. Ye have a load on yer shoulders, to be Stoick’s example, for the children in Haddock house look to him to set a standard. Ye teach them all, so mind how ye go.” He gave the only answer he could.
“Good. The Chief stops by later this week, so stay near the smithy. Ye two have things to discuss. One last word, Gobber.” Da’s eyes shone. “I’m proud of ye.” Gobber was stunned—Coalie Borkeson’s affection ran to “Dinna kill yerself”—and his Da gave him a nudge. “‘Tis fully dark. Find yer bed, lad.”
The Chief visited two days after to see Gobber. They sat in the back room, each with a mug of cider, and Gobber was given the Chief’s thoughts.
“Ye are a solid lad and will be a stalwart man one day. The Chieftess and I know this, and we are grateful Berk holds such a one as yerself.” Chief Halvar supped from his mug. “Yer influence on Stoick is a gift and we willna force ye to continue helping our son, nor stop ye from doing more. Either way, ye are becoming someone Stoick can rely on, and ye will work together when he is older. Aye?”
“Ye have freedom to choose, but if ye act as a big brother then ye will help us to raise Stoick. Not just be a friend, but act as someone to show him the right road and block him from a wrong one.” The Chief took another swallow. “Drink up, lad. ‘Tis wonderful stuff.”
Gobber took a long draught from his mug—’twas cool and sharp tasting—and tried to wrap his mind around events. He belonged in the forge, but his Chieftain sought him out. Da was doing Gobber’s tasks so he could talk with the leader of Berk. He was eleven years old, covered in coal dust, and having a drink and serious conversation with Halvar the Unflinching about helping to raise his Heir. Oh, and Chieftess Veronika sent her own cider for the discussion. Things like this happened in tales, but not in real life. Not in Gobber’s life, anyroad.
“‘Tis perfect, that drink.” The Chief set his mug down, and Gobber snapped out of his stupor. “If ye agree, ye will have duties. Ye shall listen to Stoick and tell him to shut it. Ye shall cheer him and tell him life is unfair. Ye shall offer advice and tell him to settle his own problems.” Gobber listened intently. “Ye canna coddle Stoick nor let him be damaged. From what we hear, ye do these things already.”
“Do ye wish it of me?” Gobber wanted to know if he must, if the Chief was serious.
“I willna lie, lad. I wish it, as does the Chieftess. We refuse to force ye and willna think less of ye for saying no, nor will Coalie push ye. Ye have yer work and dinna need extra. ‘Tis no small task, but a genuine effort, and we wish ye to think about all it means, for ‘twill change yer life and steal freedom from ye.” He locked his eyes on Gobber. “I will pledge to ye, if it helps.”
Gobber sucked in his breath. His Chief wouldna swear any oath unless it mattered. They wanted to benefit Stoick, and believed Gobber would do all that for the lad. Gobber chewed on the words. He recognized ‘twas an honor and a challenge. It was also, without any question, a thrice cursed lot to think about for someone his age. He focused on the Chief.
“I dinna know what to answer ye, sir.”
“Think for as long as ye need, and we’ll speak again when ye’ve settled it in yer mind. ‘Twill be fine whatever ye choose.” He smiled and put a hand on Gobber’s shoulder. “Dinna fret.” The Chief—Stoick’s Da—rose to leave. “Thank ye, Gobber Coaliesson, Clan Borkeson, for yer time. I enjoyed speaking with ye.” Gobber scrambled to his feet and proffered the pitcher. Chief Halvar pushed it aside. “Keep the drink; smithing is thirsty work. Good day to ye.”
Gobber stood until Halvar Haddock was out of sight, and reviewed the visit in his head. The Haddocks trusted him with their son, and wanted his help. He didna have to agree, and no adult would force him. His Chief had shown him respect and spoke as if he was grown man, not a grubby apprentice. Lastly, he could keep the cider. The Chief was right, it tasted wonderful.
§ § §
The Chief spit on his palm, Gobber did likewise, and they shook on it. Gobber would use his judgment and keep looking after young Stoick, unless the lad’s parents intervened. The Chieftess handed him a purse half filled with coin. “It is needed, Gobber Coaliesson, so do not argue. Stoick is able to cause disaster, and I do not expect you to use your own funds to remedy those problems.” The Chieftess had a look that cancelled all arguments before they left his tongue, and he accepted the purse. She gave a brilliant smile, and said, “I have a second item that is for you alone, Gobber.” She pulled out a rectangular box wrapped in soft cord. “A young man like yourself deserves something to commemorate his growing status in the tribe. We hope you will derive pleasure from it.”
He opened the box to find a beautifully crafted flask, larger than most, with an etched design of Mjölnir adorning it. It was his Da’s best work, one of the rare luxury items available to those with the money to spend. He’d polished the flask yesterday, before it left the forge, and today it returned to him as a permanent possession.
“‘Twas the Chieftess’ notion ye'd require a man’s gift for a man’s job, and she picked it for ye to use and enjoy. Neither me not yer Da had any voice in the matter.” The big man smiled. “She made yer Da get out the best product to select from, because she said, ‘Gobber requires an item of superior quality, and I expect to see the worthiest items you have today, Coalie.’” Both men laughed and his Chieftess, Lady Veronika Haddock, turned pink.
She placed the flask in his hand, her soft skin brushing over his burn scars. “I hope you like it, Gobber. If you are going to be as a brother to Stoick, then I will do for you as I would my own sons on a noteworthy occasion. It is a small thank you from a grateful Mama.”
Gobber out on his best manners for her.“Thank you, Lady Haddock, for the flask. ‘Tis—it is no small gift but a grand one. Are ye—you sure you do not want to save it for Stoick?”
“When that day arrives, you can craft it for him. This I selected for my son’s friend, brother, and guardian, and Stoick shall not get his grasping hands on it. With the amount of begging he does for cider, providing him with a flask would be disastrous. Be warned, Gobber.” She laughed, a joy-filled tinkle that charmed him and caused the Chief’s eyes to crinkle. The leading couple were nothing like he expected from people of such high status, and Gobber wondered how well he would come to know them as Stoick’s parents, and as people.