Disclaimer: the characters and themes from Norse Mythology are not mine, I claim only the words.
"A Promise Made is a Promise Kept" by karrenia
The seasons had swung round as they had done year after year for as long as the people could remember and the time had come for sowing the seeds as the people had been taught to by the goddess of the hearth, home and harvest.
Everyone, from the eldest to the youngest sallied forth with sacks of meal and grain gathered up into canvas bags tied up around their waists and walked up and down the fields dribbling grain seeds from their hands onto the furrowed ground.
The sky above was a curious shade of gray-blue shading to indigo with clouds scudding across the inverted bowl like a ship coasting across the ocean. It might have been taken as an bad omen for a planting day however the villagers were much too preoccupied with their task to pay attention to clouds.
However, there was one who did notice the bad omen, one whose attention was not focused on the task at hand, a boy of about eight or nine years old by the name of Gerd lay on his back near the hay rick with his back leaning up against the pleasantly scratchy surface, his legs extended out in front of him, and the sun slanting across his upturned face; and thought he was not missed.
Alf was day-dreaming, eyes closed ins blissful reverie, imagining the landscape of lands beyond the one he knew, of rolling hillsides and green grass, and thus, as a result did not notice when the sing-song rhythm faded away along with the last light as night came on and the villagers returned to their homes.
At the outskirts of the village hidden in the shadows of a tall stand of pine trees, eyes watched the activity with keen and even perhaps malevolent interest. The hidden watcher had no interest in the adults of the village, other than to ascertain that their attention were focused elsewhere. In fact, the watchers could care a less about these overly tall, scrawny, and fearful beings that had come into the Middle World; humans, they referred to themselves.
"Whatever that means," thought the trolls' leader with more than a little contempt. `What are they to me. Nothing," the leader of the trolls muttered aloud, and turning to its companions said:
"I have given the matter much consideration, and after all, these creatures that have come into our valley, our territory as nothing more than upstart intruders."
"Then we kill them," one of the trolls companions asserted an eager gleam coming into his dark gimlet and beady eyes. He rubbed his hands together and eyed the dwellings of the villagers with anticipation of a hungry wolf.
"Fie on that," replied the leader while he reached out and smacked the other on the top of his head nearly flattening the hapless troll who rocked back on his heels with the force of the blow, his head nearly snapping back on his thick neck. "I have thought of a much better idea.
"We won't kill them," another troll asked.
"No. Not just yet." The leader barred his very sharp teeth in a feral grin full of calculated malice as a plan flickered to malevolent life in his brain; a plan that he savored as he would savor the taste of meat or bones crunching between those very same teeth. The boy had just become an ever-so sweet and easy target, but instead of killing him outright, they would steal him away.
Turning his head on his thick neck the leader issued curt orders: "Take him! But I want him alive! Do you understand me, you hind-ends of mules!"
"Alive," the other trolls stammered.
There were the usual grumblings and mutterings, but orders were orders, and the trolls surged forward in the dying light of oncoming night; swept up the young boy in their arms and no sooner had one of the trolls tossed him unceremoniously over their broad shoulders. Pivoting on their heels, they ran back into the sheltering darkness of the forest.
If any passer-by had chanced to witness this, they would have noticed not just the boy's disappearance, but other, odder event, lying underneath the trampled ground, damp, disturbed earth and the commingled footprints of boy and trolls, another figure now occupied that very same space; The figure corresponded roughly to the boy's size and shape, but there was something very odd about his appearance.
For instance the coloring of his hair, eyes did not match, and when he stood up and turned to return to his home and family his eyes shone as a smile turned up the corners of his mouth, it did not quite become reflected in his eyes.
The following morning the boy's family realized that their son did not come home the previous night. There were tears and recriminations, but in the end, the boy, or what everyone in the village believed to be the boy welcomed him back with open arms.
Deep in the pine-needled moss-covered stony cave of the trolls the boy, the real one, had been tied up with vines and river-reeds to the back wall and feed gruel and water,. He was young, and had resolved not to cry or beg, no matter what the cruel creatures did to him, but he was young and alone and very much afraid. The trolls for their part, after satisfying their curiosity as to the nature of their captive, no longer seemed as keen to kill or eat him as they had upon first taking him captive.
It was difficult to count the passing of hours, let alone days in the fitful light of the damp cave especially when he could not see the sign. If they were planning on keeping him alive, reasoned Gerd,'Why go to the bother of giving me food and drink, if sparingly.
If they were hoping to ransom him, the village while moderately prosperous certainly was not wealthy in anything that the trolls might value such as jewels or gold; it did not make any sense.
His captors had gone out, hunting most likely, and left him alone, without a guard. In the back of his mind Gerd wondered if it was they simply did not care, or if they considered valuable enough to keep alive, but not a risk that he might escape. Hah, that was a laugh, Gerd, struggling in his bond eliminating yet another escape plan as futile.
He had been dreaming again, he wondered if this was some sort of punishment for his tendency to drift off into day-dreams and imaginary adventures, and resolved that if he survived this ordeal and were rescued, he would leave off such things, for once and all.
Just outside the cave, seated on a branch of an lightning-blasted oak tree was a raven, its yellow beady eye glittering with intelligence.
It was in fact not a raven at all, but the one of the Aesir; Loki who had been coursing through the sky, intent on studying the events in Midgard, and ascertaining for himself what manner of creatures had come more and more populate the world. It heard the boy Gerd's unspoken promise, and in Loki's quicksilver mind, even encased as it currently was in the skull of a raven, resolved that he would see to it that Gerd would live to fulfill that promise.
It simply would not do to alert the trolls to not only his presence but also his plan. Cawing Loki shimmered and shivered and as the coal-black raven feathers melted away, they became the pelt and four-feet of a sleek brown furry back of a river otter. It barred its sharp teeth and darted into the cave.
Gerd had fallen into an exhausted half-slumber with his head bowed down and resting on his chest when he felt a tiny something butting his side. At first he ignored it as just another among the many discomforts and irritations he had sustained since his capture, but the butting and bumping became more insistent and he could no longer ignore it.
When he opened his eyes he saw an otter, he had seen many playing and splashing along the bank of the river that ran near the village and Gerd what the animal was doing inside this dank troll-cave. It was only when the otter, much bigger than he had ever recalled seeing before, sat up and eyed and said. "Do you have a name, or will thou settle for easy prey?"
"You can talk!" exclaimed Gerd." This otter was far bigger and it far glossier fur than any he had ever seen before.
"Of course I can talk," and if you have any sense in that addled head of yours, thou whilst do exactly what I say," replied Loki out of the otter's mouth.
Gerd slowly nodded. "I will."
"Then do not move and I will chew through thy bindings, and then you and I will spirit away from this foul place." With that he proceeded to bite and chew and rip away the vines until at last
Gerd was free. Yet, they still had to escape from the cave without alerting the trolls.
"Can you walk?" asked the otter.
"By this time Gerd had realized that this otter was no ordinary otter. As he staggered to his feet, nearly falling over backwards from lack of decent food and water, he wondered if this was yet another bizarre dream, but he really had no other option. "Yes. I think."
The otter nodded. If not, climb onto my back and I will carry you home. Where do you live?"
"The village by the river that runs parallel the east-ward facing forest."
"We must go before thy hosts return and discover what has occurred here."
Gerd nodded, the transition between his mind sending the command to his body and the action seeming to be as slow as snow-melt in the early spring thaw. He staggered forward one slow step at a time. Loki, still in the otter's body, saw this and shook his head. `this will never do." He strode forward and getting his body in between his own and that of Gerd, bumped and humped until the boy was awkwardly seated atop of his own, grasping his fur with his hands.
"Do not fret so, we will travel faster in this manner."
"I still do not know your name, friend otter, or to whom I owe my life."
"Otter will do for now," replied Loki. "Once I return you safely home, I might tell you more. Quiet now."
With that the otter with Gerd on his back ran and ran, seemingly tireless and Gerd asked, as instructed as no more questions, the speed and the excitement of actually encountering a magical creature, enough to satisfy even his boundless curiosity. At one point in the journey, he even feel asleep and for the first time since the entire ordeal began, actually got a decent, peaceful sleep. *** The following morning, when he woke up in his own bed, Gerd, at first he was disoriented, gasping, imagining himself back in the dank troll-cave. But as awareness of his surroundings gradually returned he discovered that the anxious, concerned faces that looked upon belonged to none other than his own father, mother, elder brother and the village healer. "I am fine. Do not worry so."
It was only then that he noticed something odd at the foot of his bed; a single raven feather and a tuft of brown fur still tangled up in his left hand. He smiled, and this one touched his eyes as grateful tears that he tried to hold back trickled down his dirty pale face. "Thank you," he muttered under his breath to his now departed and as yet unspoken identity of his mysterious benefactor. "Thank you."