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Stray

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The road bends gently, weaving its way through the valley, and the howl of wind on his helmet is drowning all doubts he had when he set off from his flat this morning. The bike leans on the turn and the pleasant thrill of the ride erases the last bits of uneasiness, leaving it off the side of the road. The engine roars as he starts to climb a hill, the forest around him thinning, and not a minute later he reaches its top and the view of the fiord takes his breath away. He pulls to a stop and cuts the engine, his ears ringing with the noise for a while as he takes the helmet off and straightens, contemplating.

 The sun is low by now, and the village is already in the shadow of the mountain behind him,windows starting to illuminate, warm sparks in the deep indigo of the twilight. The evergreen forest on the other side of the settlement is dark, its expanse covering the space between the houses and the majestic mount in the background, its steep slopes lit fiery orange with the sun's last rays.

 On the other side of the fjord lies Camp Asgard, his destination. By now all tourists are gone and the owner with his family are packing their things, ready to set off to wherever they decide to spend the winter. Three days ago, they were more than happy to fill him in on his forthcoming duties. The old local, who had been taking care of the camp in previous years, was of too poor health to take them up, therefore the Odinsons had to hire someone else. Nobody answered their job offers for long enough to let them grow desperate and he suspected that was the only reason they agreed to leave the camp in hands of a tattooed biker with nothing to do with his life. The grounds of it are dark, only the main building, holding the family's quarters and several hotel rooms along with a restaurant, is brightly lit, visible even though partially obscured by trees. They must be awaiting him, but he doesn't feel like rushing. He silently greets the valley, tunes in to its serenity.

 His gaze rests on the fjord. The water must be frigid, but not repelling; he feels oddly allured to the dark teal depth and he drinks in the simple, unassuming beauty of it, and any remainder of the anxiety that he might have made the wrong decision dissolves into nothingness.
The evening chill bites at his ears and he finds himself smiling a tiny bit; a minuscule pull of the corners of his mouth, and the wrinkles around his eyes disappear. With a deep inhale of the air - so sweet and fresh, so unlike what he had been breathing for most of his life - he puts the helmet back on and starts the engine, heading towards the camp.

 He arrives some fifteen minutes later, stopping his motorbike behind the giant Land Rover packed to the brim. A blonde girl with grey eyes of about seventeen years, wrapped in a light, claret jacket stands up from the bench next to the hotel's entrance and pulls out the earbuds of her iPod as he dismounts and leans the bike on its support.

 "You must be mr. Laufeyson," she approaches him leisurely, wrapping the device with the cord and stuffing it in her pocket. "You do have perfect timing. We've just finished packing."

 "I am, ideed." He spares her a look before opening the luggage case he installed on the back seat of his bike to take all his necessary belongings in one trip. "It's good I didn't make you wait."

 He feels her gaze on his leather-clad back, but doesn't say anything more. He doesn't feel like he has to. She, on the other hand, must assume otherwise. Such is the curse of meeting bored teenagers.

 "You know, makes me wonder," she begins without introducing herself, "why a guy like you would agree to spend five months in this middle of nowhere."

 He finally ends fiddling with his things, seeing it will not save him from the girl's attempts at flirting. He pulls his helmet off and settles it atop the seat. "A guy like me knows the value of solitude. May I speak with Mr. Odinson?"

 "Father will come here in a few. You will get plenty of it here," she clearly hasn't got the clue, "even the Internet is shit here. Goes at the speed of glacier."

 "Thanks for the heads up," he doesn't growl, but the muttered words are as close to it as they can without passing as outright rude. "Mind if I get in?"

 He passes by her, not waiting for the response, but she says anyway, "Sure. You can take any of the hotel rooms or the apartment we usually live in, but Da's office is off limits, and so is my room, just so you know, I doubt you'd like it, anyway, but go and see for yourself."

 "Didn't you just say it's off limits, why would I go and see if I like it." No, he still isn't growling. He considers slamming the front door in her face, but she spoils his plans by eagerly pacing in front of him and opening the door first. She only giggles in return, holding the door for him.

 Relief washes over him as he enters the lobby and sees the camp owner and his employer walking down the narrow staircase behind the counter. "Ah, mr. Odinson-"

 "Wodan, please," interrupts the man, conjuring a polite smile on his wrinkled face, "Good to see you. I hope your journey was good? My wife will show you around. And thank you again for your trouble."

 "It's not a trouble, really. I will surely enjoy my time here," Loki offers flatly. Of course he will. If only they got away already. The serenity he felt on the hilltop is slowly drifting away, replaced with irritation. He turns to Frigga Odinson, an elegant woman with the ever-present warm expression and motherly air, a perfect manager of a small hotel like this. Against himself, he can't help but like her, as much as he is capable of liking anyone. She sends her husband out to the car and leads Loki behind the counter, where she briefly describes which key unlocks which door, and continues upstairs. Contrary to what the girl outside said, he is free to use the office, tastefully furnished with dark wood and glass and equipped with state-of-the-art computer probably worth twice any sum of money Loki is capable of earning in a year. They go to the kitchen, only slightly less impressive than the office; to the storage, supple with all sorts of frozen and tinned food; to the spacious garage, with more than enough room for his bike. Frigga finishes the tour by leading him along the driveway that encircles the building from the garage to the front yard where her husband has already started the engine. Before they circle the last corner, she grabs him by the elbow and looks up, slightly uneasy, and he raises an eyebrow, confused.

 "If you come across any problem, the people in town will help you. Idunn, the shopkeeper, is a good friend of mine, you can trust her with anything. When the fiord freezes, you can use the snowmobile to get across, and Njord will probably clear the road with his snowplough every few days if need be." She looks him in the eyes, for a briefest moment he thinks he saw something like desperation there, but she just smiles, squeezes his arm, and repeats, "Don't hesitate to ask for help."

 He puts his hand over hers and twists his lips in something like a reassuring smile, which seems to be enough to satisfy her. She nods and leads him back to the front of the hotel. Before getting into the car, she smiles at him and says, "See you in spring. Stay well."

 "You, too." he makes a small bow, which makes her let out a little laugh. "Goodbye."

 With that, she shuts the car door and they finally drive off. He waits until the rear lights of the rover disappear behind the gate and realizes he still hasn't removed his large rucksack. With a content sigh he stretches, feeling his stiff muscles ache after the long ride.

 Two hours later he is partially unpacked, having shamelessly claimed the owners' apartment, at least three times larger than his own, and lies on the double bed, dozing off. Tomorrow he will familiarize himself first with the camp itself, then with the people living on the other shore. Now he just needs to have a warm shower and sleep. The odd behaviour of Frigga leaves his mind for the time being.