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How Saeter Robbed the Underworld

Less Than Three Press LLC

Heat Rating: SWEET
Word Count: 20,000
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The day before his coming-of-age ceremony, Eirik has a fight with his best friend—who had pointed out that, adopted by a pair of traveling warriors as Eirik was, how can he know who his ancestors are to celebrate them? Embarrassed and angry, he's not in the mood for the story his fathers insist on telling him.

Despite himself, however, Eirik becomes engrossed in the tale of the son of the god of Love who has never felt pain, and the son of the god of Envy who always does, how they struggle with each other and their community, and how, ultimately, they trick the underworld out of a very special prize.

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“A bedtime story’s only going to rile them up more,” Father said, his tone fondly chiding as Papa scooped Geir, the youngest, up in his arms.

Eirik watched in tired annoyance. As always, it was becoming a production immediately, as Geir began to laugh helplessly, kicking his feet and flailing his arms. Papa, flexing his muscles more for show than necessity, responded to that by turning him upside down, which only made his squeals more enthusiastic.

“It will not,” Ingrid protested, but despite her words, her cheeks were bright with anticipation, her small fists clenching her shift dress over her knees. Older by several years, she fancied herself far more mature than her younger brother, and tried her best to act like it. “Tyr, Keld, please do tell us a story. We’ll behave.”

Eirik found himself frowning. Unlike Geir, Ingrid had been old enough to remember her own family when Father and Papa had found them both hidden in a chest in a burned out building, so she always used their names. Most of the time, Eirik was fine with this. He had been too young to remember anything before Father and Papa. He had been the first child Father and Papa had decided to bring along with them, though, and so didn’t have anyone to tell him about anything that had happened before.

Most of the time, he didn’t care how Geir or Ingrid addressed his parents, but tonight, on the verge of becoming a man and having already preemptively ruined his own coming of age ceremony, he resented the reminder that they weren’t related.

Papa managed to haul Geir around the central fire pit without accidentally setting any of his flailing limbs on fire and triumphantly tossed the small boy onto his bedroll, sinking down to sit beside him. “A story won’t do any harm, Tyr,” he said, laughing. As always, his laughter was lighter than air and lifted Eirik’s heart, although he slightly begrudged the feeling. “Besides, perhaps it’ll make Eirik smile a little.”

He wasn’t going to be smiling tomorrow when Leif didn’t show up to his ceremony, not after the things they’d said to each other earlier today. “I’m fine,” he said sullenly. “Do what you want, I don’t care. I’m going to sleep.”

It was impossible to sleep yet, though, with the younger two giggling, the fire pit still lit in the room and the wood burning scent thick in his nostrils. Nevertheless, he rolled over in his bunk to face the wall.

“Just don’t tell it too loudly, Keld,” Father said dryly. “Eirik’s sleeping.”

Eirik heard the creak as Father sat on the bed he and Papa shared. He didn’t need to look to see that Father would be doing much the same thing he was, lying back with his eyes closed and obviously awake.

“Ah, me,” Papa said with false ruefulness. “Let me see then, what story to tell—well, since it’s Eirik’s big day tomorrow, why don’t I tell an exciting story of tricksters and adventure, of friendship and love lost and regained?”

Papa didn’t deserve any unkindness, but Eirik almost couldn’t swallow around the rush of bitterness filling him for a moment. Of course Papa knew what had happened already. Everybody loved Papa, so the news that Eirik and Leif had fought would have already reached him.

But then, if he knew, he would surely also know what Leif had said about Eirik’s parentage—he wouldn’t tell a story to make Eirik feel bad about discarding a friend who had snubbed Papa and Father too, would he?

“You’ll do what you want,” he said, hating the sullenness in his own voice. “You always do.”

“He has you there, Keld!” Father said, with a bark of laughter.

“Story! Story!” Geir chanted.

Ingrid let out a whine. “Geir, hush, hush! He won’t be able to talk over you!”

Geir hushed, and Papa chuckled softly, then cleared his throat. Even Eirik found himself holding his breath a little. Papa was the best storyteller.

“So!” Papa began. “It came to pass that a woman who found herself unable to make children with any of the men of the village prayed to the gods that she might give birth. The God of Love, Furrär, heard her plea, and sympathy filled his heart, so he brought life to her womb. When the child was born, he was the most beautiful child any had seen. As he learned to talk, everyone came to love him at once—he had taken after his father, you see, and was given a gift besides that: nobody who loved him would be able to do him harm. Since everybody loved him, he was thus safe from pain forever.”

“Boring!” Father heckled. “Tell us about a more interesting boy, Keld.”

That won him another laugh. “I suppose I shall! There was another woman in the same village, you see, who had also failed to bear a child, and she saw the good fortune of her village-sister. She, too, prayed to the gods, and the God of Envy, Lukår, planted a child in her womb.”

Ingrid gasped in shock. “Lukår! Oh no…”

“I’m afraid so,” Papa said solemnly. “This child was born ugly and rough, and everyone who looked at him felt distaste. But he soon became lovely to their eyes—he too had gained a gift from his father, that of shapeshifting! As time passed, he became almost as popular as his friend, though never quite as much. He slowly won his fellow children over with his ability to transform and entertain them, usually by playing tricks on the adults. Understandably, they still felt some dislike of him.”

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