I finally finished my story to submit for the short story contest (located here), and wanted to share it here as well. It is very long, so pull up some snacks, beverages, and whatnot to last you through it.
Glittering ripples sped along the water’s currents, swaying in gurgling time with slowly advancing bare feet making their way towards a silvery fish beneath the surface. She gripped her fishing spear tighter, eying the catfish wiggling in the shadow of the exposed tree root in front of her. A trickle of sweat inched down her brow, and she dashed it away in impatience, leaving a salty trail on her forearm that evaporated quickly in the hot noonday sun.
Her hair lay in heavy braids coiled down her back, their golden color the reason for her namesake Gullveig, Gold Might, or Gully to her baby siblings. Her clan knew not to tease her with that name or her quick temper would best them.
The cool liquid pressed her cloth wrap over her thighs, the dampness spreading upward, a welcome relief under the blazing light above her. Gullveig looked longingly at the deeper water, wishing she could go swimming. But first she had to catch food, or her and her family would go hungry tonight. Stabbing hard, she held the spear steady as the large body fought the death brought by her sharpened weapon. Grunting with effort, she lifted the spear up carefully, balancing the bleeding kill away from becoming waterlogged, or lost after all her hard work.
Making her way back to the rocky shore, she lifted the spear to a more comfortable position on her shoulder, and laid it and her catch on a flat river stone near a large woven basket that brimmed with leafy greens, the end of a coil of rope, and her fire making supplies. Kneeling by the river to clean the fish, she heaved a small sigh at the wet cloth squishing against the mud and stones under her, but it couldn’t be helped.
The fish had to be cleaned and carried back to camp; a wet article of clothing couldn’t stop her from that. Reaching into a pouch-like fold, she pulled her flint work knife out and slid the razor sharp edge along the underbelly of the gasping catfish. Reaching into the fish’s body to pull out the innards, she felt something hard within the stomach. Sometimes bottom feeders gulped down rocks which had been washed from midden heaps or glacial runoff and saved as lucky charms by hunters, but this had never happened to her before and piqued her curiosity. She carefully cut open the organ’s thin walls, and reached the tips of her fingers into it, an injury wouldn’t do at all. A smooth surface similar to a predator tooth or mammoth tusk emerged from the innards with a gush of sandy water.
A large heavy lump of an unknown substance lay in her palm, its surface glittering under the sun as if a piece of the sky orb had fallen to earth. She turned it over in her hands, trying to discern what this was, frowning in puzzlement.
“If you’re not careful, your face will stick like that darling.” A voice echoed behind her, laughter in every syllable. Turning, Gullveig glimpsed a tall, thin man leaning lazily against the trunk of a peeling birch tree across the stream. His eyes seemed to glow with secrets and his hair was as red as a sunset, hanging long and curly down his shoulders.
“Who are you?” she asked impatiently, “I have much to do, and no time to bandy words with a stranger.”
He chuckled and shook his head, refusing to answer, so Gullveig stood to her full height and slid the lump into her side pouch. Lifting the carcass, she carried it to the stream to be rinsed. She could feel his gaze upon her, as if too close to a flame, but decided ignoring it was a safer bet. With the fish cleaned and stowed into her basket, she lifted it onto her back to begin the journey back to her clan’s dwelling.
“Here, let me help you with that, I would hate to see you get hurt.” he murmured into her ear, and adjusted the straps more comfortably onto her shoulders, his fingertips gliding along her skin with soft heat.
She turned with a gasp of fear and wonderment, how did he get so close in an instant? Up close his eyes were a grassy green, and his lips were oddly marked with old scars that framed his smile with perfect abundance. He twirled one of her braids in his fingers, and raised it to his lips for an instant, before bowing elaborately before her and winking.
“My names are many, most beauteous of maidens, Truth Bearer, Flame-Haired, The One Who Won’t Weep, Skadi’s Laugh-bringer, and more. I come to you on this glorious day to humbly ask for a place at your table, for I am famished, and lack even a place to lay my head. Could you see it in your heart to offer me this?” His eyes gazed up at her with exaggerated sadness, miming her younger brother’s same expression when begging for one more story or honey cake.
“I suppose if you lack even a stone to sleep on, I shall have to extend my family’s hospitality to you, since you asked so nicely.”
Gullveig giggled in spite of herself, copying his bow and gesturing towards the wooded glen east of her fishing spot.
“Lead on fair maid, for without your radiant tresses I might become lost within these trees and never escape.” He tucked a wisp of her hair behind her ear and winked again.
As they walked along the cleared path through the woods, she plucked a handful of raspberries for him to eat, but he refused to take them from her, pointing at his mouth, making her toss them through the air so he could catch them. Only one made it, the others splatted across his face and forehead leaving sticky seeds in their wake.
“Tell me, sweet mistress of berry tossing, what is your name?” He swiped at the berry juices and only succeeded in making it worse. Gullveig smiled and used the hem of her cloth wrap to try and help, but she had forgotten it was full of mud and sand, so her poor dinner guest looked even messier. As she rubbed the muddied fabric along his cheek, he caught her hand and held it still against his skin, his eyes staring into hers. A heated flush spread all over her body, and reddened her cheeks as her heart beat faster. Gullveig wondered what sort of magic he had that made her feel like this, and tugged her hand away quickly.
“My name is Gullveig, daughter of Jord, and descendent of Ymir.” She bit her lips as her true name emerged despite her family’s teachings to take great care with who knew it. Twisting her fingers around the edge of her wrap, Gullveig stared at her feet and began walking faster towards the hill that housed her clan’s dwelling.
“We should hurry, my siblings will be hungry,” she called over her shoulder, “Take care along the curve ahead, it winds along the edge of the cliff above the stream.”
“Lead on most courteous maiden, whose name is Gullveig, but her hair shines brighter than the sun, making this name a pale dance partner to your beauty.” He grinned and hopped from one boulder to the next behind her, red curls dancing around his face. Gullveig shook her head at his antics and pointed to an oak tree in the path ahead of them.
“This is the boundary of my clan’s territory, so come down off those rocks before you break your skull!” she called as he twirled on one foot, grinning at her like a cat that stole the morning cream.
“Alas my lovely travelling companion, I cannot come down! Not without something to entice me,” His eyes met hers merrily, “Come now, what will you offer me?”
“I have nothing to offer you, all of the berries are destroyed and the fish is for everyone. I thought you wanted to join us for the night? Stop wasting time and come on!” She plunked her hands on her hips impatiently, and pointed at the trail ahead.
“But my feet cannot brave the climb down without a reward, ah, I know, how about a kiss?” Dimples appeared on his cheeks as he stared pointedly at her lips.
“You want a kiss?” She blushed, “But I have no experience in kissing, I cannot offer you that.”
“I will lead the way, if you decide to agree.” He beckoned her closer, and reached his hand down to lift her up onto the rock next to him, her feet carrying her towards him without her guidance. Grasping his hand, she climbed onto the boulder and stood frozen as he held both of her hands, her gaze returning to his lips again and again. Steeling herself, she pursed her lips up and closed her eyes tightly, heartbeat thundering in her ears. His fingers traced along her jawline gently, and his warm breath seemed to smell of spices and wood smoke as their lips touched. His kisses traced from her mouth along her jaw to her ear, and a whisper echoed softly sending chills down her spine.
“My name is Loki, sweet Gullveig, for now I must say goodbye. We will meet again soon my love, for my heart will not be whole without you. The lump you found is a metal I am naming after you, so that all will remember your name.”
His hand traced along her side to the lump she had found earlier, and lifted it free of the cloth confines. She felt a stab of grief, and any words lodged in her throat as the taste of his kisses lingered on her lips. He raised the lump into the air and flames flickered from his fingers, splitting it into two matching heart shapes. Tears blurred her eyes as he traced her name into one, and his name into the other, before the flames died out with a puff of smoke. Loki took her hand and cupped her fingers around the piece bearing his name, and kissed her one more time.
As Gullveig’s eyes opened, he was gone, and she stood alone on the boulder holding the golden heart bearing the name of the love she never expected to have.