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Adventure Fantasy Indigenous

Thea was well acquainted with the sensation that is burning. From cold, from heat, from ice, from fire. It always hurt, but there was something comforting about the familiar sort of pain that came along with stepping on snow with naked feet, or holding impressively frosted hands too close to a flame. Physical burning, she was well accustomed to. Anticipated it with elated apprehension, even, because cold hands meant snow, and snow meant winter, and winter meant joy, just as much as heat meant sun, and sun meant summer, and fire, and if put together, winter and fire meant family and hytte.

Hytte is home. Directly translated, it means cabin, but for Scandinavians, it is much more than that.

A perfect holiday destination, a flame in a blizzard, or an island on the ocean. An isolated cottage on the water or in the mountains, passed down for generations, resides as part of the true Norwegian dream.

For as long as she can remember, Thea's family religiously traveled to their beloved cottage in the mountains on lake Saligheta (bliss): Storefri (the great free). It was where Thea truly found her freedom, from school and her brothers and even herself. Years of love and laughter and liberty had rooted their memories beneath the wooden cabin, and it was there, devoid and rid of civilization and it's frivolous luxuries such as electricity, internet, phone service, and warm water that Norwegians find the definition of koselig, a word with no English equivalent but can be paired with cozy, secure, warm, and dopamine-inducing.

The old CD in the car stereo came to a stuttering halt, and then started again, the old Norwegian folksong bringing promises of kjærlighet and musikk. Her father glanced at it, then shifted his eyes back to the road. While Thea found the songs not particularly fascinating, it beat having to be in her mom's car where they would have to speak English the whole time. Her mom was an English professor at a nearby videregående skole, so car rides were a prime 'practice time'. Her English grades were the best in the class, but that didn't mean she was in a hurry to speak it all the time.

"Vil du ha'n Kvikk Lunsj?" (Do you wanna Kvikk Lunsj?) her dad asked, by way of saying "I would like a Kvikk Lunsj, and if you hand one to me you can have one as well."

Thea handed him the chocolate, and ripped open one for herself. She didn't break it, just took a bite, to which her father glared playfully and muttered, "En avsky" (an abomination).

Thea's eyes spoke when her expression didn't, and they smiled softly as she turned her head to out of the window, where the mountain hugged them on one side and the ground fell away into a deep ravine on the other. Frost teased the edges of her window, and she exhaled to watch it melt away. Winter itself was toying with not only the glass, but with all of the weather, giving signals of return but not yet making its presence known. Thea and her family would be staying at the hytte for two weeks over the Juleferie (Christmas vacation), and Thea hoped for stronger burning indulgances than frost within the next few days.

The rest of the journey consisted of nibbles of chocolate, Norwegian folk songs and the off-key humming spurts of her father, and a game Thea played with herself to see how long she could keep her hand pressed flat against the window before the cold became too much.

Her neck ached in displeasure after she fell asleep upright. Thea’s family often joked she could fall asleep anywhere, a gift for its fulfilling properties but a curse for all the knots and that had plagued her muscles over the years. Massaging it harshly with her thumb, Thea glanced at the map displayed on the screen in the car and realized they were two minutes away from the hytte.

Her eyes grinned.

As usual, her brothers would share the room with one bunk and one loft bed, and their luggage bags lay underneath, forgotten by two and empty for one (Erne and Askilt took the dogs for a hike; Teodor had already organised his belongings in the dresser and was making a fire, ever the responsible one). Thea would be sharing with her mormor (grandmother on her mother's side) and the dogs, Snøsildre and Stjernesmell. She would have to bathe them after their adventuring, but she didn't mind because at least one of them would warm her bed that night, and she didn't want muddy paws and matted white fur over her duvet.

After peeling and chopping and dicing with her 'climber's hands' (Thea was a competitive rock-climber) to assist mormor with the stew, she wandered outside, traveling by the excited former footfalls of her brothers left in the dusting of powder blanketing everything in sight. She found herself straying from this path at one point, and ended up at the lake. The water was frigid to the touch, but not frozen; winter was a breath away from claiming this area of the mountains. An idea uncloiled like a string in the back of her mind, and prompted her to walk with more purpose toward the poor excuse for a boathouse on the other side of the lake.

Thea's hands burned at the chill of the metal paddle, and she savoured the entire experience of kayaking again. A soothing rhythm took her mind to a gentle place as she slipped into muscle memory and let her mind wander yet be hypersensitive to her surroundings. Water rocked the boat, and there was a sort of comfort in being the only thing causing ripples on the surface, like she alone could control her fate, uninfluenced by the ripples of others. 

She originally had no destination in mind, but that mindset fell away as she drew nearer to the troll stone. A small island lay off-centre in the lake, and many stories of it really being a stone thrown by mountain trolls in a fight circled it in the family. It was roughly ten metres across, sporting a trio of lone evergreen trees and engulfed by moss and grass on every centimetre, even once the land merged with the water.

She moored the kayak by attaching it to a sturdy rope tied to a stake in the soft ground of the island, and stepped off with caution, greeted with a squelchy ground protesting both her weight and the weather. Marsh is meant for humidity, not humans.

Thea was most at peace in two places: on a climbing wall, where her mind was so engaged it was free of anything else, and at her troll stone on the lake, where her mind was so full she could entertain herself for hours with a kaleidoscope of childish fantasies and laughable ponderings and thoughtful observations. When she was younger she became popular for the play situations seemingly thought up on the spot, when really she had spent hours on an isolated island plotting each detail, like she would anticipate moves in a chess game or envision the next hold in a time-climb.

They had set off for the hytte around 6 in the morning, with 9 hours to drive and several stops. It was now quarter til’ 17:00, and she would be expected to return around 20 to set up for their first-night-in-the-hytte late dinner and bonfire. Tomorrow, she would hike and run with the dogs and the boys, to work off the hours if sitting idly and eating chocolate, but in that moment, she allowed herself to relax, absorb what little of the burning cold she could through her many layers (she had finally put on gloves) and all the thoughts she usually purged from her fishbowl of a brain came plopping back in, eager and thirsty.

Then the island began to move.

Thea had only observed earthquakes through the safety of a screen, so she wasn’t prepared for the grond to begin to shift underneath her, taking her with it. It was as if the island was diving under the water, rolling and moving as no logical island should. Thea sprang to her feet and grabbed a branch located above her. She watched as the land in front of her rolled under the water, smooth as seal’s skin, water slithering up toward her feet. Petrified, Thea stood as still as possible, and felt nothing but warm as her body slid into the lake with the rest of the island. Her lungs burned, and it was not at all a pleasant sort of burning. It clawed at the inside of her lungs, the seducing thought of ‘just breathe’ enveloping her. As she gasped for oxygen, her eyes opened as well, and not only could she breathe but she could see. The island continued to dive, and the water continued to warm, until it was boiling, cooking her, the sweltering heat threatening to rid her of life; yet another uncomfortable sort of burn. 

The water stopped. Cold air attacked her skin like leeches, and she realised she was no longer in possession of her layers, just a modest base layer and, for some reason, her gloves. Thea and her island had emerged, sopping wet, on the other side of the lake. Or rather, the underside. It was as if the lake was a thick mirror, and the island a globe with but a bit of land protruding on either side, and could roll itself from one side of the mirror to the other. However, it did not stop there. The island did not stay in the middle of this other-lake, it continued to move toward the land, going slightly up and down, as if taking steps. 

It was then Thea realised that her island may not be an island at all. 

As they came closer to the shore, Thea’s very-likely-to-be-alive transportation rose out of the water not only due to the shallowing of the water but it rose itself as well. It’s back remained stooped, so Thea’s patch of land was still mostly upright, but a large head emerged, and with the help of reflection Thea could make out two small, glowing eyes, a huge, bulbous nose, and the disposition of an old creature who had wandered the North for longer than the stories that followed it had existed: a troll. A large mountain troll, of the variety that could be compared to tigers in the way that what housecats were to their beastly ancestors, mountain trolls were to their knee-height descendants (also, mountain trolls are the only ones that like water). It’s arms were endless, and as it stepped onto the shore, she saw that they were almost as long as it’s legs. The land Thea now saw from an astounding height was, as to be expected, a perfect mirror of the other ‘side’ of the lake. The only difference was, of course, the giant troll she was using for a trolley, and the hytte was different . . . . very different. It was actually several residences, from what she could see, all with grass roofs and made of crude young wood. It was of a much older style than her beloved vacation getaway; it was of a more rustic variety. 

She decided on a whim that it was to be her destination. Thea was a skilled climber, no doubt about that, but she had yet to try her luck climbing down from a moving mountain troll’s back. She started, cautious at first, but then discovered that the rhythm of his steps were quite predictable, so she needed only time her movements properly. It still proved quite the challenge, and she almost broke her neck jumping off the tip of his tail, which swayed and was a few metres off of the ground.

She managed, not unscathed but proud nonetheless. Her mind was strangely empty as she made her way towards the residence, not at all frantic at the fact that she was in a world of the folklore she had grown up hearing tales of, not at all mystified or surprised by the fact that she could cross troll-riding off her bucket list, not that it had ever been there. No, in fact, Thea’s state of being after these strange occurrences might give cause for a visit to a medic, as all she felt as she walked farther away from the earth-shaking steps of a mountain troll was a sort of tamed curiosity, as a child might feel on their way to visit a park they knew very well; excited for the adventures that lay in wait but also very familiar with where they were going. 

A tail of inviting smoke wafted out of a crude chimney of one of the cabins, but no lights seemed to be on inside. On a day like this, with weather not warm or humid but not cold enough to call for a jacket, with no rain or clouds, ice or merciless sun, Thea was used to being outside, so it wasn’t an odd thought that the likely some 20 creatures that inhabited the cabins were all out enjoying the weather. 

A cry from further into the forest towards the mountain made Thea’s legs move of their own accord, faster than she had ever run without panting, but she found she was not tired. She arrived in a small clearing, where a cluster of roughly 40cm beings had collected beneath a tree, offering guttural words into the tree above them. Thea found she could almost make out what they were saying, but it was clearly an old germanic language. Through their throughty accent she heard advices for how to get out of the tree. She supposed one of them must be stuck up there, and again, she found herself comparing trolls to cats: good at climbing trees, but not good at getting down. Although, these trolls were very much of a different variety than the one who brought her from the lake. Long, white dreadlocks wrought with moss, thick, grey hide like a rhino’s and large eyes, glowing a playful yellow like a firefly. They sported flat, hairy feet with no nails but iron-looking claws, and their fingers were lengthy, clever and five-jointed. 

As Thea came closer, they stopped their chatter and turned toward her, and while if in a more capable state of mind she would have been wary of a hoard of yellow-eyed trolls watching her with ominous silence, she approached them with confidence and familiarity. 

Jeg-” -she pointed to herself- “skal hjelpe.” (I, will help). She pointed to the tree. The troll at the front paused for a moment, then nodded, and slowly but surely, all the other trolls began nodding. They continued to do so as Thea climbed the tree as if she had more limbs and more lives than she had. She reached the small troll, about 30 centimetres, and made her face as approachable and friendly as possible. 

Skal, hjelpe.” (Will, help) she said slowly as it’s large frightened eyes observed her. The troll looked down, to all it’s family nodding vigorously (quite a laughable sight indeed) up at them, and nodded once, then crawled onto her back. For such a small size, the troll must have weighed 50 kilos, so going down was a slower ordeal than the journey up. She reached the ground, bent down to let off the troll, and realized it had been her turn to be transportation. Her eyes almost laughed. She looked to the trolls, who had finally stopped nodding, and the one at the front, the leader, she supposed, said in a faintly feminine voice, “Hverr eru þú?”, which, after a moment, she realized was “Hvem er du?” (Who are you?). 

She pointed to herself and said simply, “Thea.”

“Thé.” the troll repeated. She did not correct it. The trolls began their chorus of “Thé”s. 

The lead female troll gestured to her. “Koma. Munu visþúr.”

She didn’t get that last part, but Thea understood the ‘come’. She expected them to shuffle slowly on their stubby legs, but they hobbled with startling speed and she truly smiled as she ran after them. They lead her back toward the lake. 

The troll pulled out a small, crystal whistle from beneath it’s mossy shawl. It blew, a sound that resembled a dying bird emerged, and to her surprise, the form of a one came out of the whistle, flying over the lake and away. A few moments later, the ground rumbled, and birds began fleeing the trees from across the lake. It was the mountain troll, who had come to the call of it’s descendants. It ran as it walked; as if in slow motion, with it’s back stooped and it’s arms dragging near its feet. It was hardly five minutes before the beast loomed over the group, it’s small eyes apprehensive. The small troll must have said something reassuring, because the large troll relaxed, then turned its head toward Thea. They communicated with the large troll staring, the small one talking in it’s strange tongue and gesturing to Thea, and finally, the large troll nodded, setting off a Rube Goldberg of nods from the small trolls. It scooped up Thea, who’s eyes widened, and it set her on it’s back. It stepped into the lake, and the fierce heat burned Thea’s skin again, and finally she was returned to the mirror side from which she originated. 

Tusen takk.” (A thousand thanks) she said, patting her island. Her kayak came floating back across the water, pushed by a silver figure of a bird, who disappeared as soon as her hand touched it. 

Across the lake, Thea’s mother called, “Thea! Time for dinner!” and she kayaked back in the dark, the welcome cold burning her skin.

January 21, 2021 18:23

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53 comments

Lavinya K
18:01 Feb 26, 2021

Nice! It was entertaining to read and very well-written. It is interesting to compare the norsk expressions to German... similar but not at all similar 😂

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Diana Quill
09:13 Feb 27, 2021

Thanks! Norwegian actually has quite a few similar or identical words to German, but the way sentences are formed, words are spoken, etc. are consistently recognizable as Germanic, but very different. I tried to put a little bit of Norwegian in the story, but not enough to e confusing, just to add to the aesthetic, and I believe I did put more Old Norsk than Bokmål. One last thing that I've noticed is that while in German, most words can be read close to exactly how they're written, but in Norwegian, the relationship between pronunciation an...

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Lavinya K
16:41 Mar 03, 2021

Ah, indeed. I can't think of anything else to write... so I suppose I will just leave it at that.

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Diana Quill
09:13 Feb 27, 2021

Thanks! Norwegian actually has quite a few similar or identical words to German, but the way sentences are formed, words are spoken, etc. are consistently recognizable as Germanic, but very different. I tried to put a little bit of Norwegian in the story, but not enough to e confusing, just to add to the aesthetic, and I believe I did put more Old Norsk than Bokmål. One last thing that I've noticed is that while in German, most words can be read close to exactly how they're written, but in Norwegian, the relationship between pronunciation an...

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Diana Quill
09:14 Feb 27, 2021

Thanks! Norwegian actually has quite a few similar or identical words to German, but the way sentences are formed, words are spoken, etc. are consistently recognizable as Germanic, but very different. I tried to put a little bit of Norwegian in the story, but not enough to be confusing, just to add to the aesthetic, and I believe I did put more Old Norsk than Bokmål. One last thing that I've noticed is that while in German, most words can be read close to exactly how they're written, but in Norwegian, the relationship between pronunciation a...

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Nainika Gupta
13:53 Feb 12, 2021

Aw, this was such an amazing story!! i absolutely loved the Scandinavian inserts you added - really brought the story together! And the trolls? So magical, so playful, and really just a job well done! -N

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Diana Quill
09:10 Feb 13, 2021

Thank you! I had to cut some parts short due to word count, but I think I got the basic elements of the story across. I live in Norway, so using some of the folklore in my writing is always interesting. Thanks for the feedback!

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Nainika Gupta
13:14 Feb 13, 2021

No problem! :)

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