Contains: long-term weight gain, direct encouraging.
Hey, everyone. Been a while, hasn’t it?
A while ago, I posted about how the stress of quarantine and current events has made it hard for me to write, and I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to finish a story again. But life is funny, and often finds ways of making me eat my words. I genuinely meant it when I said in that journal that I didn’t know if I’d ever finish a gaining story again. But in the back of my mind, I wondered if posting that journal would mean I’d break my silence soon.
And then inspiration struck, in the form of this wonderful piece of art by BiggerIsBest7. In addition to being really hot, that piece reminded me of an idea that I’d long wanted to write a story about: a fat Viking. Or rather, a fat guy in a society that’s aesthetically similar to the popular image of Viking society. From there, however, it took me a very long time to figure out a plot I liked and wanted to write. That plot came with the help of my friend Ali, whom you can find on Instagram as chubmera.
Once I had that plot, I started writing, and blew past the 2,000 word roadblock where I seemed to always get stuck before. For some reason, I expected this story to be only about 7,000 words long. It ended up being twice that long. As it kept growing, I kept worrying I’d lose the motivation to work on it, as I had for so many stories before. But here we are, my first finished story since May. It feels so good to be posting for you folks again.
Does this mean I’m back? Let’s wait and see. Coming up with this idea was a three-person job, after all. It remains to be seen whether I can keep this momentum going into other ideas. Specifically ideas that I tried to write in the past few months and couldn’t, but want to give another chance. There’s more I want to share. More worlds I want to take you through. More characters I want you to meet. More I want to create. I can’t promise I will, but I intend to do my damnedest to make that happen.
As for the name of this story, you can thank Ali for that too. Since I gave the characters in this story Viking names, when I had trouble coming up with a name for the story, he suggested I do something similar. That is, take a title like “The Filling Voyage,” and translate it into the Viking language, Old Norse. Now, I loved this idea. But regrettably, I couldn’t find any online translators for Old Norse. And I wasn’t willing to buy and read books on the language just to name this story. So I did some research, and found that Icelandic is the most similar modern language to Old Norse. I then translated “The Filling Voyage” into Icelandic, and thus we get: Fyllingarferðin. According to Google, it’s pronounced “fill-LING-gah-fare-din”.
One more thing: I would like to give a huge, huge, huge thanks to my proofreaders, who’ve been helping improve the quality of my stories for over a year now. After such a lengthy period of silence, I was worried about whether they’d still lend their keen eyes to this story. Thankfully, both were still on board. You can find them on DeviantArt at thesirgalahad and justgiveme1username. Head on over and give them some thanks for helping to make my stories better.
Synopsis: Bjørn’s village has fallen on hard times, with persistent rain destroying many of the crops. After going to the tavern to nurse his sorrows, he meets a stranger named Trygve who tries to cheer him up with a drinking contest. After Bjørn wins the contest, Trygve gives him a map that he claims leads to an island that’s bountiful beyond belief, with as much food as one could want. Upon sailing there, Bjørn finds the Trygve’s promise to be truth, and also finds him living there. But the greatest surprises are yet to come.
(This story contains male weight gain.)
Bjørn shoved open the tavern door, causing it to bang against the wall with an audible thud. The hubbub of the crowd was just loud enough to drown it out, and the crowd continued their hushed conversations. The tavern was usually a lively place for the residents of Glaskoj to gather, but that day, it was beset by a more somber atmosphere. The people talked in anxious tones, hunched over from the burdens that weighed upon them. Where usually a few of the patrons would greet Bjørn as he walked in, now they were too preoccupied for pleasantries.
Bjørn strode silently to the bar, his exposed belly pressing on in front of him. He opted for a seat close to the fireplace, where he hoped he could dry off. His boots had been soaked by the rain that had ruined so many of their crops. His furs had fared better, but those hanging from his shoulders were damp enough to cling to the sides of his ample stomach. As he sat on one of the stools, he could hear his skirt squelch beneath him as it compressed under his weight.
“You’re going to catch a cold walking around in the rain like that, Bjørn,” the barkeep said as she approached him.
Bjørn looked down at his exposed gut with a smirk. “I’m not at risk of that until winter, Thia.” Winter was the only time Bjørn covered himself entirely. Whenever he could, he enjoyed walking around in a coat of furs that hung open in the front, showing off his impressive midsection. He loved showing off his gut, but that day, the rains had made his outfit less practical. He grabbed the furs hanging down either side of his torso and pulled them up to unstick them from himself. When he let go, they fell back on him with a wet slapping sound. Their moist interiors clung to his sides, undoing his attempt to get more comfortable.
“With how things have been, it’s risky to count on one’s usual hardiness,” Thia warned him. “But I suppose I can let it slide today. What can I get you?”
“Stein of your cheapest mead.”
“We’ve run out of that one,” Thia sighed as she picked up a stein to dry it off.
“Second cheapest, then.”
With a nod, Thia took the stein to the tap to fill it up, while Bjørn kicked his boots off and aired out his furs. With time, the fire warmed him up, but he was so soaked that rather than feeling comfortable, he just felt sweaty rather than clammy.
Thia soon came back with Bjørn’s drink. “Here you go,” she said more tenderly as she passed him the brew.
“Cheers.” Taking the stein in hand, Bjørn opened his mouth wide. He gulped the mead audibly as it went down his throat like a river after the spring thaw. Without pause, he gradually lifted the stein until it had no more mead to give. After putting the stein down, he let out a loud burp and a quiet sigh.
“Quite the guzzle,” a man sitting next to Bjørn commented.
“Just one of my many talents,” Bjørn snarked.
“You certainly look like a man who can put it away.”
“Damn right,” Bjørn boasted, leaning back to give his round gut a few hearty thumps.
“Is that why you buy the cheaper meads? Quantity rather than quality?”
“I usually favor a nicer mead,” Bjørn told the stranger.
“Why the stinginess now?”
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Nay, just traveling through. Needed a place to get out of the rain for the night.”
“Things aren’t so great around here,” Bjørn confessed. “Rain’s ruined many of our crops. Our children are growing sick. Glaskoj has been through its fair share of hard times, and we’ve always seen one another through to the other side. But this time, I don’t know…”
Bjørn looked down at the bar wearily while the stranger stared ahead solemnly. “I’m… sorry for your hard times.”
“Heh, no need for penitence,” Bjørn assured him. “Not like you’re the one who brought about our misfortune.”
“No, but at least I can offer sympathy.”
Turning his head to face the stranger, Bjørn beheld a man wearing a hooded cloak colored dull brown. His arms and legs, clad in dark green cloth and furs respectively, stuck out from within it, while a friendly face could be seen beneath the hood. His eyes shined remarkably bright for the dingy light of the tavern, and his smile gave Bjørn a sense of calm he hadn’t felt in many days.
Extending his hand, he said, “I’m Bjørn. Bjørn Njal.”
“Trygve,” the stranger returned as he took Bjørn’s palm in his. “Just Trygve.”
“Did your parents not give you another name?”
“I never needed one,” Trygve answered with a smirk.
After a pause, Bjørn chuckled. “What do you do, Trygve?”
“I’m just a wanderer,” he replied. “Going where the wind may take me.”
“That makes two of us,” Bjørn said as he fiddled with the handle of the stein. “I’m a sailor. Often for trade or transport, but when I have a moment free, I like to explore the seas. See what I can find, to bring our tribe glory.”
“Found anything interesting lately?”
“I’m afraid not,” Bjørn answered quietly. “With Glaskoj falling on hard times, I’ve had to take down the sail. I help however I can around town, mostly hunting so we don’t go hungry. I miss the seas, though.”
“There certainly is a thrill to them one can’t find anywhere else.”
Bjørn silently nodded, looking down at the bar as he recalled those days on the open seas, of hopping from island to island and expanding the tribe’s knowledge of the land around them. Without that thrill, the world felt so small.
“But, there are other ways to find a thrill. You a gambling man, Bjørn?”
“In better times,” Bjørn lamented, eyes still staring down at the bar.
“How about something a bit safer, then? Drinking contest. Winner buys the other’s drinks.”
Bjørn chuckled as he looked up from the bar. “And how do I know I’m not about to risk buying you the priciest ale this place has?”
“You don’t have to worry about that,” Thia chimed in. Pointing at Trygve’s stein, she continued, “That’s his first. It was the last drop of our cheapest mead.”
Trygve smiled at Bjørn and raised his eyebrows. After lifting his stein to his mouth, he raised it until it was nearly vertical. Once he’d drunk the last of it, he put his stein down with a sigh of contentment. “There. Now we’re on an even playing field.”
A smile slowly spread across Bjørn’s face, before he looked to Thia. “How much mead you got back there?“
“Enough,“ she answered with a smirk of her own.
Looking back to Trygve, Bjørn locked eyes with him. “You’re on.”
With a nod, Thia stepped back from the bar. “Second cheapest, I assume?”
“On his coin?” Bjørn asked while pointing to Trygve. “Third cheapest.”
“You sound rather sure of yourself,” Trygve teased, pulling his hood back to reveal a head of brown hair that went down past his shoulders. It was a stark contrast to Bjørn’s black mane, which was just long enough to turn shaggy when wet.
“Do I look like a man who loses drinking contests?” Bjørn asked, turning until he faced Trygve. With his belly resting proudly in front of him, he leaned back and pushed it out, the round expanse of heft jutting out halfway to the end of his thighs. It was stretched tight like tanning leather, and made a drumming sound as Bjørn patted it.
“Are you trying to intimidate me into forfeiting?” Trygve teased.
“Of course not,” Bjørn chuckled. “Then I wouldn’t get any free drinks out of you.”
Trygve returned Bjørn’s smile, before Thia came back with two full steins. “Try not to spill any, boys.”
“But of course,” Trygve promised. “That would be cheating, would it not?”
Bjørn raised his stein to Trygve, before swilling down the sweet brew. Trygve was quick to follow suit, though it took him a great deal longer to finish the drink. When Bjørn put his stein down, Trygve was only halfway through his, leaving Bjørn tapping his fingers until Trygve finished his drink. With a loud burp, Trygve put his stein down and shook his head side to side. “Oof. Well, hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long.”
“Not at all. Ah, Thia, two more, please.”
As Thia took the two’s steins away, Bjørn looked out over the tavern at the morose crowd. Usually a drinking contest could drum up some excitement in the place, especially when he was involved. But it seemed that day, the people needed excitement about as much as they needed any more rain.
Thia returned with round three, placing the two steins on the bar in front of them. Bjørn picked his up and drank it more slowly, matching his pace with Trygve’s. He preferred to drink more quickly when coin was on the line, but Trygve seemed to be more enthusiastic about gambling than he was about drinking. If he let on too early how outmatched Trygve was, he might indeed make the traveler forfeit the match. And with all that Glaskoj was going through, he’d take all the free mead he could get.
But Bjørn wasn’t about to let Trygve think he could get the best of him. As he saw the traveler raise his stein nearly horizontal, Bjørn raised his and gulped down the mead, which sank down his throat like a stone in water. Bjørn put his stein down a few seconds before Trygve, who let out a more labored sigh with his third drink down.
“Ready for round four?”
“Give me a moment,” Trygve gasped.
“Agh, where’s your fighting spirit?”
“I just… whoo…”
“You’ll get a moment while our steins are being refilled. Take some deep breaths and let’s get back to it!”
Bjørn was right, but the steins being refilled didn’t give either of them much of a break. Once Thia brought back the refilled vessels, Bjørn picked his up, before pushing Trygve’s toward him. “Cheers.”
Trygve already looked like he was regretting his choice. But he didn’t seem like the type to throw in the towel early. With a groan, he lifted his stein and knocked it against Bjørn’s, before he started chugging again.
Bjørn was starting to feel the three steins of mead building up in his stomach. But in spite of feeling mildly full, he could tell Trygve was having a harder time, meaning his free drinks were still in the bag. Once again, he kept his eye on his competitor’s stein, making sure he didn’t drink too much faster. With the extra time to savor the brew, he was glad he’d sprung for something a little better than his first drink.
As he took the time to enjoy the drink, Bjørn made sure he stayed ahead of Trygve. Once again, he placed his empty stein down a few seconds before Trygve did. As the traveler put his stein down, he breathed heavily as he stared at the bar, as if he’d just finished running a race.
With another stein in, Bjørn could feel the effects of all that mead as well. His belly swelled out just enough to force him to sit back in his chair, letting his gut push out in front of him. It was a familiar level of fullness, even a comfortable one. The kind which he often took with him as he left a feast, pleased with all the delicious foods he’d eaten. That day, his intake was not quite so decadent. But he still felt pleased with himself.
“You two still going?” Thia asked as she sauntered up to their end of the bar.
“I… I need a minute,” Trygve panted.
“Well, Bjørn needs to drink one more to win. How about you drink that now while our guest takes a break?”
“Would that really be fair to him?” Bjørn asked. “What chance would he have of catching up then?”
“About as much of a chance as I have now,” Trygve admitted. “I’m out. No point in you waiting.”
With a shrug, Bjørn passed his stein to Thia. “You want something a bit more lavish?” Thia asked.
“Nah, I’m not going to take advantage of my new friend like that.”
In spite of his haggard expression, Trygve managed a smile in response to Bjørn’s show of goodwill. “You sure? Might as well have something nice while you have the opportunity.”
“Nah. Besides, she’s already gone to get it.”
Trygve smirked as he breathed heavily through his nose, like he was trying to hide how out of breath he was by not breathing through his mouth.
“Hey, good show, there,” Bjørn told him. In truth, it was one of the easier times he’d had winning a drinking contest, but he wasn’t going to rub that in the face of a man who was about to pay for his drinks.
“You’re too kind,” Trygve told him. “Savor that last stein.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” Bjørn chuckled as Thia approached. “Many thanks,” he said to her as he took the stein in hand, before chugging it down. The brew poured down his throat like the rains pelting the tavern roof, and soon the last of the brew was gone.
Bjørn let out a lengthy burp, before smacking the side of his exposed belly with a groan. The rotund sphere was now sufficiently full of mead that it stuck out with its own presence, taught as a drum and wide like the seas themselves. As it rested on his lap, pushing against his thighs, he smiled at how much he’d been able to drink when he walked in expecting to buy just one stein.
“Well, I should probably get going before it gets too dark,” Bjørn said. “Trygve, good to meet you. Safe travels, and thanks for the mead.”
Trygve, still fatigued from getting handily shown up in a drinking contest, merely waved Bjørn goodbye as he walked past.
Bjørn felt full enough that his turgid stomach gave him a swaggering stride as he walked out. He quite enjoyed the way a full stomach affected his walk, making him move like a warrior carrying a heavy weapon he might use to decimate his foes. It made him feel powerful, even though the only power it demonstrated was a strong stomach.
Due to his shortened stride, Bjørn didn’t get far before Trygve called out, “Oh, Bjørn!”
Turning back to Trygve, Bjørn ambled back curiously.
“Here, you’ll surely have more use for this than I do.”
Trygve handed Bjørn a folded up piece of yellowed paper. Unfolding it, Bjørn beheld a map of what looked like the local coastline, with a familiar pattern of islands off the edge. One in particular was circled, and looked to be no more than a day’s trip away. “What’s this map lead to?”
“Supposedly, it leads to an island that’s teeming with food! As much as you could possibly want! Vegetation grows thicker than the densest fog, and the animals are docile due to having no predators. Makes for easy hunting.”
“Sounds far-fetched,” Bjørn said. “I’ve been sailing these seas for years, and I’ve never passed an island like that remotely close to where this map claims it is.”
“You said you haven’t been out to sea for a while. Maybe it’s recently flourished with all this rain.” Trygve pulled out a coin purse and passed Thia enough to pay for all nine steins of mead, with a bit extra. “Anyway, I’m not usually one for the sea. You’ll have more use for it than I do. If you find some time between helping with hunting, see for yourself.”
The islands by Glaskoj were near enough that one could easily navigate from one to the other without a compass or any stars in the sky. On that cloudy day, as Bjørn took his personal sailboat through the ocean, he was glad the coastal isles could be so easily traversed. Though the overcast sky gave him little idea of how much time had passed, it was surely still mid-day. And based on the map, he seemed to be closing in on the supposedly prosperous island Trygve had promised.
Bjørn still felt suspicious about the whole thing. As he passed by various isles, he recognized them from his previous trips out west. Though he wasn’t as familiar with that sea as he used to be, the islands all looked as he remembered them. And while some had their fair share of vegetation, none of them looked as bountiful as Trygve had described. Such abundance would surely be recognizable from far away, Bjørn believed. Either the island was very good at hiding its abundance, or the whole thing was one big hoax.
Of course, if it was a hoax, that would mean whoever created the map had cause to lure someone there. Perhaps they intended to ambush travelers and rob them of whatever they had. Perhaps there was a natural threat on the island, and the mapmaker merely delighted in sending hapless travelers to certain death.
But as the island came into view, Bjørn saw that it could be quite real. On the horizon was an island covered top to bottom with greenery. He pushed himself up off the seat of his boat, causing his gut to jiggle as it came to rest. Pulling out his telescope, he took a closer look, and was even more amazed by what he saw. Warm colors peppered the vegetation, surely fruits and other delicacies. Though he couldn’t make out much of what was on the island, he could see that the forest was dense and deep, and surely contained even more delectable wonders for him to discover.
Bjørn’s curiosity left him wanting to look through the telescope until he got close. But he was a better sailor than that, and put it away so he could navigate safely.
Granted, the sea was remarkably calm that day. There was enough of a wind for Bjørn to sail, but not enough to kick up waves that would make traveling difficult. The thick clouds above didn’t seem to have any rain in store. Still, he’d taken Thia’s advice and worn a leather tunic, pants, and boots, something less prone to getting soaked. A line of belts ran down the center of his belly to connect the two sides of the tunic and keep him covered. But at his chest, the tunic had a deep V. With his beard in braids and out of the way, he could feel the air rushing against his chest as he sailed toward the island.
As Bjørn drew closer, he could see with his own eyes the details his telescope had revealed. He could see an island teeming with plants with brightly colored fruit, fruit he couldn’t wait to devour. Movement in the forest indicated the presence of animals, as Trygve had described. Whether they’d be as easy to hunt as he’d claimed would remain to be seen. Either way, the closer he sailed, the more excited he was to make landfall.
Soon Bjørn was close enough to see more details. Beaches surrounded much of the island in a monochromatic expanse. They created a line of white below the greenery that covered the island. To the right of where the beach ended, Bjørn could see what seemed to be a cave. The forest floor was covered with undergrowth, before tall trunks rose to create a dense canopy, which only allowed a peppering of light in. This gave the forest a dusky atmosphere.
Once Bjørn landed on the shore, he hopped out and pulled his boat up to the softer sand that the ocean didn’t touch. He took his sail down and stowed it in one of the ship’s compartments, switching it out for a tarp. After wrapping the tarp around the mast, he secured it in place around the hull, covering the deck to protect it from the elements.
Bjørn’s first point of interest was the cave that the kink in the beach led into. If he was going to set up camp and stay awhile, it might be a good place to do so. It didn’t take much walking for him to reach it, for the cave had been carved out right where the beach met the cliff. As the sand tapered off, it turned to lead inside, allowing Bjørn to walk right in.
Bjørn beheld a cave high and deep enough that he could have sailed his boat into it and then dragged it well out of the water without its mast touching the stone above. Sand covered the cave floor, making for a pleasant surface to walk on. Rock walls curved up to the ceiling, creating a quiet echo as the waves crashed in.
Bjørn’s curiosity led him deeper into the cave, though he didn’t find much more. Some large rocks peppered the sand on the cave floor, which rippled in dunes that curled around the cave. It seemed the wind was able to make its way into the cave, carving the ground to match its journey. Bjørn’s feet sunk slightly into the soft sand beneath him. Once he lifted them, the sand flowed back into his footprint, obscuring it immediately.
As he passed the last large rock, Bjørn found a campfire pit behind it. At least, it seemed like a campfire pit: a circle of stones surrounded charred branches and pieces of wood. Upon further inspection, Bjørn found a layer of dirt beneath the pit. Perhaps to give it more stability than the arid sands would allow? Either way, it was certainly not a natural formation. Someone had been in that cave before.
Bjørn quickly turned to look toward the entrance to the cave, as if the previous occupant would be standing behind him. But the lack of footprints, even the indistinct ones left in the dry sand, indicated that whoever had been in the cave before him hadn’t been there in a long time. Odds were they had found other shelter, if they were still on the island at all.
Either way, Bjørn felt confident he’d found everything the cave had to offer. He walked out the way he’d come in, his second set of footprints indistinguishable from the first, until he was back on the beach. Once he returned to the beach, he took in the view yet again: the smooth sand extending around the island, the calm ocean surrounding him, the lush forest on his right, with smoke pluming above the canopy.
Bjørn blinked a few times when he realized what he was seeing. He certainly hadn’t noticed any smoke as he sailed up to the island, nor before he explored the cave. Whatever fire the smoke came from had been lit recently. Perhaps by the person who’d lit the fire in the cave.
Keeping his hand close to his knife, Bjørn walked up the beach and into the forest, toward the smoke. Once inside, he could see that the forest was just as deep as it had seemed from the outside. Looking anywhere except toward the beach, Bjørn saw no indication of the forest growing less dense. The dim lighting went on as far as he could see, and the dense vegetation didn’t leave much in the way of distinguishing features for retracing a path. Before proceeding any further, he pulled out his compass to orient himself. With the needle pointing toward the beach behind him, he felt confident he could get out of the woods again if he lost his way. With one hand free to navigate vegetation and the other gripping the handle of his knife, Bjørn pressed on.
Pushing his way through bushes and fronds, Bjørn moved toward where he’d seen the smoke. As he did, he heard several objects fall on the ground around him. While watching his step, he realized they were the various fruits and other edibles he’d seen from the water. It seemed they were all so ripe that they were eager to fall off their branches, regardless of the chances anything would come around to eat them.
Though it seemed those chances were high. Hearing a noise behind him, Bjørn turned around and unsheathed his knife. Upon looking down, he saw it was only a wild boar, following him and munching on the fruit that dropped in his wake. The boar was only as tall as his thighs, a puny specimen compared to the game he’d hunted for Glaskoj. Yet unlike those boars, it didn’t seem to fear him at all, walking right up to him to nibble on the food at his feet.
After sheathing his knife, Bjørn squatted down to take a closer look at the boar. The boar seemed to share his curiosity, as it approached him and sniffed his knees. With a grin, Bjørn rubbed the side of the boar’s head, causing it to grunt in glee. He ran his hands down the side of the boar’s mouth, finding no tusks. Perhaps it was a youngling, he wondered. However, the faded pattern of its fur made that seem unlikely.
As Bjørn quietly enjoyed his moment with the boar, he heard the sound of crackling, indicating he was close to the source of the smoke. Looking up, he could see it rising up to the treetops. Back on his feet, he kept his hand close to his knife again, and made his way through some more vegetation.
From behind some fronds, Bjørn beheld a small clearing in the woods, the first he’d seen since entering. In the middle of that clearing was a lit campfire, with a cloaked figure turning a spit with one of the boars on it. The fire was low but wide, big enough to provide heat for cooking without risking setting the whole forest ablaze. Looking more closely, Bjørn could see that the spit was made of metal, which left him with even more questions. The man turning the spit wore a dull brown cloak with his hood off, letting his shaggy hair fall onto his shoulders.
After emerging from the vegetation, Bjørn called out, “Ho there!”
A familiar face returned his greeting. Turning his head to look behind him, Trygve smiled upon recognizing him. “Bjørn! I’m glad you could make it.”
“Trygve? Well I’ll be damned. What are you doing all the way out here? I thought you said you weren’t much for the sea.”
“I’m not,” Trygve chuckled. “I don’t get off this island much if I can help it.”
“But you said you were a wanderer?”
“Ay. When I travel to the mainland, I rarely have any idea where I am, hence why I wander.”
“So you live here?” Bjørn asked as he walked closer to the fire.
“That I do.”
“Then why did you act unsure as to whether the island was as lush as you said?”
“Would you have believed me if I claimed it to be true for certain?” Trygve laughed. “By feigning uncertainty, I piqued your curiosity enough to bring you out here.”
Bjørn couldn’t help but smile, for Trygve was right. “I suppose so.”
“And you’re just in time!” Trygve enthused. “This roast should be ready soon.”
Bjørn took a seat on a log next to Trygve. A sense of calm fell over him as he watched the fire crackle and the boar cook. “So, why bring me all the way out here?”
“Why, I did no such thing. You came here of your own accord.”
“I know that,” Bjørn chuckled. “But why give me the map? Why try to pique my curiosity?”
“Why do you think?” Trygve asked, turning around to look at Bjørn with a friendly smile.
“You got lonely?” Bjørn answered cheekily.
“Not a bad guess,” Trygve admitted. “Boars don’t make very good conversationalists. But it’s not just that,” Trygve said as he slowly sat down next to Bjørn. “You mentioned your village going through a difficult time. And you seem like the type who appreciates a good feast.”
“We all do,” Bjørn said. “Usually there’s plenty of feasting in Glaskoj, but the rains have forced us to tighten our belts.”
“Even you?” Trygve asked, reaching over and patting Bjørn’s ample belly.
“Even me,” Bjørn chuckled.
“And that’s why I wanted to bring you here. When I go to the mainland, I like to find people who love food, who can appreciate just how much joy there is in eating. And I like to invite them here to share in this bounty.”
“Awfully thoughtful of you,” Bjørn said as Trygve stood up to turn the boar some more. “So it’s just generosity?”
“Isn’t that enough of a reason?”
“I suppose. Seems a strange way to share in your bounty.”
“You might not have noticed, but I’m a little strange myself,” Trygve told Bjørn with a grin.
“Heh, I suppose so.”
Before too long, Trygve poked the boar’s belly and nodded. With both hands holding the handle, he removed the spit from the stands and stuck the other end into a hole in a nearby stump, allowing it to stand upright. “What can I interest you in first?”
“Ribs, if you would.”
Pulling out a knife of his own, this one clearly intended for cooking rather than exploring, Trygve cut a slab of meat for Bjørn and gave it to him. While he cut a leg for himself, Bjørn took a bite of the meat. “Mmm… this is delicious!”
“Glad you like it.”
“How did you get it this tender?”
Trygve walked over to the log with a leg of boar in hand and sat down next to Bjørn. “The boars on this island have plenty to eat, and nothing to run from, leaving them quite plump. Cook them slowly, let that fat melt into the meat, and the meat will melt in your mouth.”
“That’s not much of an exaggeration,” Bjørn said, taking another bite of the meat, which came off the bone like clothes off of frisky newlyweds. “Thank you,” Bjørn blurted out, realizing he’d forgotten his manners. “Thank you for sharing this with me.”
“Oh, it’s the least I could do after you made the trip here.”
The two ate in silence for a moment, savoring Trygve’s cooking, before Bjørn spoke up again. “So… how long do you let folks stay here after inviting them?”
“Why, as long as they like, of course.”
Bjørn froze in surprise, staring ahead for a moment before he resumed chewing. “As long as they like?”
“I’m not going to banish someone from the island like there’s only enough food for me,” he chuckled.
“But what if their company becomes intolerable?”
“Then I wouldn’t invite them in the first place,” Trygve assured Bjørn, patting him on the back with his right hand before taking another bite from the leg in his left.
“So… you’re saying I could stay as long as I like?”
“‘Till the end of your days, if you so desire.”
Bjørn wasn’t sure about staying that long. But as he finished his first rack of ribs, only to see that Trygve had already cut the ribs off the other side of the boar for him, he concluded there wouldn’t be anything wrong with staying a while.
The two continued dining on the roasted boar as they watched the fire. Trygve was a slower eater than Bjørn, savoring the meat while Bjørn wolfed down the best meal he’d eaten in months. His teeth cut through the juicy meat like a scythe through wheat, making it easy to go through cuts of the pig at a rapid pace. The bones in the fire pit quickly piled up, charring before the black gave way to a pale hue that matched the hottest flames.
Trygve kept the fire going until Bjørn had thrown the last bone in. “Good, huh?” he asked.
“Amazing,” Bjørn replied, absentmindedly rubbing his swollen belly. The belts along the front of his tunic were extra taut, pulled tight by a belly that held nearly an entire hog’s worth of meat. But Bjørn was too pleased to notice, his stomach satisfyingly full with the wonderful dinner. As he leaned back, his hands slowly glided across his gut, gently pressing into it to relieve the pressure within.
The two remained seated a while longer, watching the fire burn down to coals. As Bjørn remained seated, Trygve picked up the bucket of water he’d kept next to the log. He slowly poured it over the fire, moving it in circles so the whole pit was doused. The logs hissed and steamed, before smoking peacefully once he’d emptied the bucket. Picking up a large stick, he mixed what was left in the pit, unfurling more smoke from what remained.
“You’re not making a stew out of the ashes and bones, are you?” Bjørn chuckled.
“No, no. Just making sure the fire doesn’t start up again once we leave.” Once Trygve was finished, he dropped the stick and looked back to Bjørn. “Now come on, there’s plenty more to show you around here.”
Not wanting to turn down his host’s generous offer, Bjørn pushed himself forward to try to stand up. It took some exertion, with his laden belly growing sore in the attempt. But after some contorting, he was standing once again. He found himself leaning back to compensate for how much more front heavy he was. But he scarcely minded, patting his belly for being such a good sport.
“Follow me,” Trygve beckoned, before descending into the underbrush. Bjørn quickly lost sight of him, and had to rush toward the rustling of Trygve pushing his way through the forest. As full as he was, he could only amble his way across the clearing, swinging his arms exaggeratedly to help himself move faster. He breathed heavily as he tried to catch up with Trygve. However, once he’d plunged into the foliage, he quickly found himself right behind Trygve, nearly colliding with him before stopping himself just short.
To Bjørn’s relief, Trygve moved at a pace he could easily keep up with. As Trygve carefully navigated the forest, gently pushing branches and fronds aside, Bjørn opted to plow his way through, letting his front-heavy mass force the plants to part for him. It seemed to be working, as Bjørn’s only trouble in following Trygve was the hog-sized mass of meat in his gut. Yet he didn’t hear much in the way of snapping or breaking, only rustling as plants moved to the side, before flicking back in place. It seemed they’d grown hardy enough to endure his march.
“Ah, here we are!” Trygve announced, stopping in place and forcing Bjørn to stop in his tracks yet again, lest he knock the poor man over.
Bjørn’s eyes darted side to side, but he couldn’t see what made this area special. “Where are we?”
Walking ahead, Trygve lifted his legs extra high, as if to avoid stepping on something. “See for yourself,” he said as he pointed to the ground.
Bjørn’s eyes opened extra wide at a vine growing along the ground, with some kind of melon bigger than his head attached. It had alternating stripes of a bright and dark green. Its bold colors would have made it stand out in any other environment, but in that forest, it was just one of many plants flourishing brightly. “These fruits, I take it?”
“Mmhm,” Trygve confirmed with a smile. “They’re incredibly juicy and sweet, and make for a good after-meal treat. I recommend cutting them lengthwise for easy eating. Assuming you have your own knife, of course.”
With a grin of his own, Bjørn unsheathed his knife and showed it to Trygve. It was twice as long as Trygve’s, and shaped for survival, not just cooking. “What kind of explorer would I be without one?”
“You’ll have no trouble, then,” Trygve chuckled. “Have at it.”
Bjørn’s grin grew into a toothy smile. Leaning on his free hand, he descended until he was sitting on the ground. Within arm’s reach were at least three of the large melons. He cut the closest from the vine before plunging the knife into the top and dragging it down. Making one more cut perpendicular to the first, he carved a quarter of the melon into a slice he could hold more easily. After digging the knife into the melon for safe keeping, he dug in.
The melon’s flesh crumbled beneath his teeth, crackling like the cooking fire. With every chew, a sweet juice flooded his mouth, while more juice dribbled down from the corners of his lips. Once he had a taste, he dove in mouth first, plowing through like a battering ram. The fruit disintegrated in his bite, juice splashing onto his chin and chest. By the time it was dripping into his tunic, he’d finished the first slice.
Without hesitation, he tossed the rind aside, sliced another quarter off the melon, and devoured it too. The remaining half was nearly as quick to go, after which Bjørn’s hands, face, and chest were a sticky mess. In the throes of his culinary trance, he immediately reached out for another.
But his stomach had other ideas. As he leaned forward to grab another melon, he felt his belly flinch in pain, the mass of food not wanting to be compressed. For a moment, he was taken out of his bliss, wondering if he should really eat more. That question quickly vanished from his mind, as he strained forward, pushing against the pain until he could grab the melon from its other side. Once it was close, he cut it off the vine, carved into it, and chowed down again.
As Bjørn smashed his way through the fruit, he was beset by an increasing awareness of just how full he was. To feel so full after one meal felt unbecoming for a man of his stature. But he reminded himself, usually he ate two cuts of meat from a boar during a feast, three at most. One was enough for a standard meal. He’d lost count of how many cuts of the boar he’d consumed, but it was certainly more than that. And now he was cramming this decadent fruit on top of it. Such light fare went through his stomach quickly when eaten on an empty stomach, but his stomach was the furthest thing from empty.
In all of these ruminations, the thought that maybe he should stop eating never crossed Bjørn’s mind. He sliced his way through the second melon and consumed it as intently as the first. Though his eating was slowed, it was not for savoring the treat or a sense of moderation. It was only because he was feeling increasingly full. But the fruit did not let him so much as consider stopping. Not until he finished it, anyway.
Once Bjørn dropped the last piece of rind from the melon, now stripped of its flesh too, he let out a groan as he was forced to contend with how impressively full he was. Slowly, his hands crept up to his abdomen, where they gently pressed on the leather covering his gut. Upon realizing how tight his tunic had become, he pulled at the belts keeping it together until each one came unclasped. He started from the top, pulling the straps until the prong fell out. Each time he let go, he felt a bit more relief, as his gut was freed from its restraints.
Once Bjørn pulled the last clasp open, he let out a lengthy sigh, gently patting the top of his belly. It was taut like a war drum, billowed out like a sail in a strong wind. His hunger yearned for more of the melons in front of him. Yet as he reached out for the third that was in reach, his hand fell short before being yanked backwards.
Bjørn landed on the forest floor, felled by his impressive appetite. Knowing he had nary a chance of standing back up, he lifted his hands again and placed them on the sides of his tight belly. He was too tired to be bothered by how sticky they were, rubbing them along his gut in the hopes of relieving the pressure underneath. Instead, the sensation pulled him deeper into a satisfied slumber visited by vivid dreams. His dreams were always at their most imaginative when he slept with a full stomach.
In his six days on the island–or had it been seven?–Bjørn had become much better at identifying fruit, nuts, bulbs, and other delicious parts of the island’s many plants. A stroll through the forest was like walking along a lengthy table set up with a feast just for him. Reaching out to the trees and plants around him, he picked fruits and vegetables with every step and gorged himself. When he was up for it, he’d hook his toes around a vine or root and pull it out of the ground, before tossing it up to his hands. Once he caught it, he’d shake off the dirt, peel it with his knife, and dig in.
Bjørn wasn’t entirely sure how many days he’d spent on the island, and he was even less sure about how much he’d eaten in that time. All he knew was, it was a lot. And all that eating was showing on his already ample frame.
When he arrived on the island, Bjørn’s outfit was loose enough to allow him to climb around and explore, but tight enough to keep him warm if the weather were not. That many days into his trip, it had become so tight that he couldn’t fasten any of the belts on his tunic. Instead, the sides of the top were pushed aside by his impressively swollen belly, jutting forward like it refused to be contained. The tunic was taut against it, clinging to the side of his gut like the tarp clinged to his boat.
Bjørn’s tunic wasn’t the only item of clothing struggling with his new size. As he strode around the island, his pants were straining to keep his expanding thighs inside. He could no longer tie up the laces in front. Even if he could reach around his growing belly, his waist was simply too wide for the pants to contain. This forced him to walk around with the flaps limp on either side, a look he might have been self-conscious about if there were anyone but him and Trygve on the island. The bulge in his underwear peeked out from behind the flaps, while his belly pushed down to press them farther open.
After some time, and plenty of eating, Bjørn found the clearing where he and Trygve had agreed to meet. “Ah, Bjørn!” Trygve greeted. “Enjoying yourself, I see?”
“Ahsowutewy,” Bjørn answered, his words garbled by his full mouth.
“Good! Come have a seat. We’ll be eating lunch soon.”
Bjørn swallowed the last of his appetizer before taking a seat at the log near the fire. Trygve was cooking five of the island’s plumpest birds. Rotating on a spit, they were a wonderful amber brown, and had Bjørn’s mouth watering. And if Trygve had planned this meal like the ones before, at least four of them were for Bjørn.
“These will be ready soon. I hope you brought your appetite.”
“When do I not?” Bjørn proudly patted the side of his belly, causing ripples to travel from one side to the other, like waves across the sea.
“Fair enough,” Trygve chuckled. “Ah, I think these are ready now.”
Trygve picked up the end of the spit to place in its designated stump. After removing the handle he used to spin it, he slid one of the birds off the spikes and handed it to Bjørn. “For you,” he said with a smile.
Bjørn wasted no time, ripping the meat off the wings before he stripped the legs similarly. Bones stripped bare flew into like fire like arrows in battle, as Bjørn wolfed down the tender meat. It was as juicy as a ripe melon, and went down just as easily. Soon Bjørn had consumed both the wings and legs, leaving the ample breast meat for him to gorge on.
“So, how are you settling in?” Trygve asked. “Do you mind sleeping in that sea cave?”
Bjørn had to chew and swallow a large mouthful of meat before he could answer Trygve. As packed as his mouth was, trying to articulate a response would have been a fruitless venture. Once he’d gotten down the last of it, he replied. “Not at all. The sand is softer than any straw mattress I’ve slept on in Glaskoj, and the sound of the waves is a wonderful lullaby. Besides, by the time I get back there to sleep, I’m too woozy from the day’s eating to notice any discomfort,” he said, before plunging his teeth back into his meal.
“I did wonder about that,” Trygve chuckled. “Seeing you waddling down to the beach after dinner, then across the sand to round the bend. It’s a wonder you could walk at all.”
“Might have to move camp to this clearing if we keep up like this,” Bjørn chuckled.
“You wouldn’t be the first,” Trygve commented quietly, grinning as he nibbled on the wings of the fifth bird.
“What do you mean?” Bjørn asked, his words barely intact after passing through a mouth full of meat. After swallowing, he realized it was the last bit of meat left on the first bird
As Trygve pulled another bird from the spit, Bjørn tossed the remaining bones and gristle into the fire. Trygve passed the second bird his way, before sitting down again. “Some of my other guests on the island have indeed made a sort of home for themselves near this clearing. You might have noticed the tree hollow a few paces north? The remnants of a lean-to just west of here? And those are just the ones the forest hasn’t cleared away with the passage of time.”
Bjørn had indeed noticed both shelters Trygve had mentioned, though he hadn’t thought much of either before. After finishing the first of the drumsticks, he asked, “Why not let them stay with you? Why not let them sleep where you sleep?”
“Oh, I don’t,” Trygve chuckled, nibbling the last bit of meat off a wing before throwing the bone in the fire and starting a second one.
“You… don’t sleep?”
“I don’t need it anymore than I need a last name,” Trygve said with a smirk.
“You sound like a mad man,” Bjørn remarked, hesitant to take another bite of his bird.
“A man would go mad without sleep, yes,” Trygve said with a smirk, looking off coyly into the woods. Once he looked back to Bjørn, he took on a more concerned expression. “Is the bird not to your liking?”
“Oh, no,” Bjørn blurted out, caught off guard by Trygve’s redirection. He took another bite of the second drumstick, quickly finishing it and tossing the bones into the fire. Upon watching the bone fly into the blaze, Bjørn realized that there weren’t many bones stacked up within the fire pit. Just the meals he’d enjoyed while on the island should have created a stack of them higher than the flames themselves. And yet, the fire seemed to have burned them down to ash at a rate much faster than any mundane blaze could.
Bjørn contemplated this observation and Trygve’s comment in silence as he ate the rest of his second course. With time, he resumed his previous ravenous pace, the oddities slipping away from his mind as he enjoyed the tender meat. By the time he finished the second bird, he once again had lost himself in the decadent meal. Without fail, Trygve had a third bird ready for him, passing it to Bjørn as he finished the last of his second wing.
Bjørn quickly stripped the wings of their meat as Trygve pulled a drumstick from the last bird. While he nibbled on the leg, Bjørn asked through a full mouth, “So, you said you let people stay on the island as long as they like, right?”
“Right you are,” Trygve assured him with a smile.
“So, how long do your guests usually stay?”
Trygve chuckled before he asked, “You’re not worried about overstaying your welcome, are you?”
“Maybe a little,” Bjørn admitted.
“I told you,” Trygve sighed as he patted Bjørn’s back. “You can stay here as long as you like.”
“Until the end of my days, if I so desire,” Bjørn repeated.
“Exactly,” Trygve assured him. “Now stop worrying so much, and let’s enjoy this meal while it’s still warm.”
Bjørn took Trygve’s suggestion and ripped into one of the bird’s legs, stripping it of all its meat before he swallowed. “But, have any of your guests stayed until the end of their days? Because I haven’t seen anyone else around the island.”
“Many have,” Trygve answered, slowly spinning his drumstick as he held it with both hands, staring at it like it would unveil some sort of wisdom with enough turns. “You can hardly blame them,” he added with a smile.
“So where are they?”
With a sigh, Trygve said, “Past the end of their days,” before taking a bite from the drumstick.
“If you want to be so direct, yes.”
Bjørn chewed slowly as he leered at Trygve through the corners of his eyes. “How long did they live on the island?”
“Oh, many happy decades. When you live a life without struggle or scarcity, that life will be long indeed.”
“Then, how come I’m the only one now?”
“Why, I only ever have one guest at a time if I can help it. Does this island seem like the natural abode of one who favors crowds?” he chuckled.
Rather than answer, Bjørn merely continued chewing, slowly pondering all he’d heard. Instead of taking ravenous bites, he ate more deliberately, too bewildered to lose himself in gluttony again. Yet he still kept up an impressive pace, for his distracted eating was nearly as impressive as his more gluttonous consumption.
After throwing the final leg bone into the fire, Bjørn turned and asked, “How long have you lived on this island, Trygve?”
Still staring into the fire, Trygve replied, “Several millennia, by now.”
“Now I know you’re a mad man,” Bjørn chuckled.
“I’d have to be a man to be a mad one,” Trygve said with a smirk.
Bjørn stared back with a quizzical look. Still smiling, Trygve motioned to the ground behind the log. The dirt was covered in smaller flora, nothing remarkable in comparison to the island’s bounty. Yet as Trygve raised his hand, several vines grew out of the dirt, before sprouting melons that ballooned in size before Bjørn’s eyes. It was as if months were passing in a matter of seconds. As soon as Bjørn finished letting out a gasp, the melons had grown to full size, and looked ready to eat.
Bjørn’s mouth hung open, remarkably not full of food. Looking back to Trygve, he saw a green glow coming from Trygve’s eyes, which was only slightly more surprising than the miracle he’d just witnessed. “Are you…” he started to ask, too astounded to finish his question.
“I go by many names.” Trygve’s words echoed as he spoke, his voice booming all around Bjørn. It was as if his words came not just from his mouth, but from the woods around them as well. Yet in spite of their grandeur, his voice was gentle, like a wind that blew through the forest and rustled the leaves. “Spirit. Maker. Force. Power. Demigod. Humans have gifted me with many titles, and I wear them all proudly and gratefully.”
Bjørn sat quietly, his hands shaking as he beheld Trygve’s true form. He’d certainly heard the legends of heroes who communed with demigods, who had a bit more time to spare for mere mortals than greater deities did. While he wasn’t precisely skeptical of those stories, he had wondered whether they were exaggerated. Now he found himself in one of those stories, not knowing where it would take him next.
“Of course, you may still call me Trygve.”
“Is… is Trygve actually your name?”
“One of them, yes, and more than adequate for our purposes. Do you worry it may be too informal?”
“I… I’m worried about a lot of things right now,” Bjørn hesitantly admitted.
“I just… don’t know the decorum for conducting oneself around a demigod.”
When Trygve laughed in his true form, it was as if the island shook, rocked by earthquakes and gales and all other manners of natural disasters. Yet only a few leaves fell from the trees around them, with no other signs of the island being ravaged. It seemed the island was more accustomed to Trygve’s power than Bjørn was. “I invited you here, Bjørn. You are not at my service, let alone at my mercy. You have the unrestricted freedom to enjoy all that the island of a demigod of bounty can provide. And I hope you will.”
Bjørn stared a while longer at Trygve, before looking back to what remained of the bird in his hand. “So I should probably get back to eating this, then.”
“I should say so,” Trygve confirmed with a grin.
In spite of the unbelievable events he’d just witnessed, Bjørn was quite content to continue with his meal. Digging into the bird again, he relished just how delicious the meat was. Though it had cooled to the point where it felt barely fresh off the fire, it was still juicy and decadent enough for him. Soon enough, the remaining meat from that bird joined the rest in his stomach, and the bones joined the pile in the fire.
As soon as Bjørn had tossed the last bone, Trygve motioned toward the fourth bird, at which it slid off the spit and floated into Bjørn’s hands. Having stayed closer to the fire, it was still warm, but Bjørn knew it wouldn’t stay that way for long. He hurriedly ripped through the tender meat, as if it were his first meal since he arrived on the island. Soon the fourth bird was nothing more than bones burning in the fire.
Bjørn let out an impressive belch, one that reverberated around them nearly as much as Trygve’s voice. With a proud “Mmm,” he leaned back to give his belly the space it needed to stretch forward. Already filled with the bounty he’d found while walking through the woods, it now held four roasted birds on top of that. He patted it gently, not wanting to disturb the contents within, but still quite pleased with himself and how much he’d eaten.
With that display of satisfaction out of the way, Bjørn took to rubbing his distended gut. The meal had left it solid and firm like the hull of his boat, and billowed out like his sail. His tunic was no match for the expanse of his abdomen, which had pushed the sides of it farther out of his pants. His belly had a soft surface that let his fingers sink in, but the core was firm like a stone, and heavy like one too. It was a triumphant feeling, like he’d conquered the meal, besting it in a battle of determination. It was the perfect level of fullness.
“Fancy a bit more?”
Looking to his left, Bjørn saw Trygve with his hand outstretched, the remains of the fifth bird floating above it. The breast meat and a drumstick were left, an amount that would not be trivial to eat. But Bjørn didn’t want to be rude, especially now that he knew Trygve’s true nature, and didn’t want to risk being rude to a demigod. With a smile, he took the bird in hand, ripped off the drumstick, and dug in.
The drumstick wasn’t quite as easy to eat as they had been for Bjørn before. His voracious bites of the meat had turned into more measured munches, for he didn’t want to bite off more than he could chew. Not after eating four other whole birds, anyway. As he bit through the crispy skin and the tender meat, the flavors were just as decadent as before. But his stomach wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about continuing the meal as he was.
But Bjørn pressed on. After a few more bites, the drumstick was taken care of, leaving him with just the breast meat. However, he was already starting to feel weighed down by just how much food his stomach was carrying. His eyelids, like his belly, were hanging lower, as he struggled against the pull of sleep. He dramatically brought the bird to his mouth, taking a big bite of the breast meat, and hoping the extremity of the motion would help him stave off his slumber.
“So, Trygve,” Bjørn said, his words slurred by sleepiness. “If I may be so bold. I’ve heard stories of mortals and their dealings with demigods, and it seems there’s always a catch. What’s your catch?” he asked, hoping the conversation could help keep him awake.
With a chuckle, Trygve answered, “There’s a catch when asking one of us for something. I offered something to you. There’s no catch in taking it.”
“So there’s a catch in refusing, then?” Bjørn mumbled, before ripping a giant piece of meat off the bird with his teeth.
“No catch in refusing either. I said you may stay as long as you like. You may also leave if you like.”
“If,” Bjørn repeated, convinced he was playing some kind of logic game against the deity. “So the test is whether I leave?”
“Are you going to eat that bird or not?” Trygve asked with an amused grin.
“I will,” Bjørn mumbled through a mouth full of meat. “And are you going to tell me what conditions I’m under?”
“Oh, a sunny sky, comfortably warm temperatures, fairly humid, a light breeze, though you can’t tell in a forest this dense. Looks like you’re in a condition of steadily increasing fullness as well.”
“Yeah,” Bjørn panted. Having eaten about half of the meat that remained on the breast, he stomach was stretched to a degree that made trying to lean forward painful. Instead he straightened his legs for balance and leaned back, breathing shallow breaths as he found his balance. Having become more front-heavy than he was used to, it was a process that took a few moments. “Of the mortals you’ve invited to the island, how many left?”
“Not many. I’ve had many guests on my island, and I could count the number that left on one hand.”
“Why did they leave?”
“You’d have to ask them that.”
“And what happened to them?”
“Why, they went back to happy lives with their relatives and companions, of course.”
“No unpleasant surprises?”
Bjørn felt no closer to solving Trygve’s riddle. Maybe it was just how tired he was, which was keeping him from thinking clearly. His thoughts cut off midway like a drunkard’s stammering, making piecing the riddle together an even more impossible task. What he was closer to was finishing the fifth bird, and to feeling like he’d pass out. It would only take a few more bites of meat to get him there.
“Why are you so worried about this supposed ‘test’ anyway?”
“I like to know the rules of… any game I play,” Bjørn panted, his breathing growing more labored as his stomach grew fuller.
“The rules of standard courtesy, for sure. If you pick a fight with me, I will certainly be less inclined to cook for you.”
With a sigh, Bjørn concluded that Trygve wasn’t going to give him a straight answer. He supposed it wasn’t in the nature of demigods to reveal the rules of their games so easily. He just hoped he could court Trygve’s good graces enough to have mercy on him if he broke one of them.
With one last bite, Bjørn ate the last of the meat on the fifth bird. As he chewed it, he wavered back and forth, struggling to keep his eyes open until he’d finished his meal, rather than fall asleep and choke. He chewed slowly until he could finally swallow his last bite, at which he let out a tired sigh. That was the last he remembered of that dinner.
Trygve extended his right arm to catch Bjørn, stopping him from falling back onto the forest floor. He held the tired explorer up while his head hung back, having succumbed to the tiring weight of his meal. Looking down, he could see that Bjørn had dropped the remaining bones from the fifth bird. He motioned toward them with his free hand, tossing them into the fire to join the rest.
With Bjørn leaning back, his belly stuck out even more than before, jutting up into the air like the island jutted out of the ocean. It rose and fell with his breath, marked by a quiet snoring. His arms hung limp at his side, still swinging from his fall, a stark contrast with his firm and steadfast gut. Bjørn was already fairly large when he’d arrived on the island, but watching him grow had been a real treat.
With a smile, Trygve put his left arm underneath Bjørn’s knees and lifted him up. For the demigod, even someone as heavy as Bjørn was easy to carry, like a feather, but slightly noisier. With his left hand, he motioned toward the fire and extinguished it, until nary a plume of smoking rose from it. With that taken care of, he turned around to bring Bjørn back to the sea-side cave.
Once Trygve had entered the cave, he walked to the back, where he knew a previous guest had left a fire pit. There he saw a long, shallow sunken spot on the ground. In the middle, the dry sand had been pushed aside to reveal the more compacted sand underneath. Closer to the edges, the dry sand around it had flowed back in. Kneeling down, he placed Bjørn gently into his makeshift bed, the dry sand shifting under his weight before settling around him.
Still kneeling, Trygve looked down at Bjørn, watching him sleep soundly as his stuffed belly rose and fell with his snores. “You wish to know the rules, Bjørn Njal?” he muttered, not wanting to wake his guest. “Very well,” the mischievous demigod said with a smirk. “I tempted you here with the promise of great bounty, a bounty you now know to be real. Will you hoard it to yourself, spending the rest of your days in selfish luxury? Or will you leave this place, to share its bounty with the people of Glaskoj? Will you simply disappear, assumed lost at sea by those you knew? Or will you return, bringing your good fortune with you?”
After standing up, Trygve looked out to the opening of the cave, watching the waves crash in. They softly echoed against the walls, clearly audible in the silence broken only by Bjørn’s snoring. He stared out a moment longer, closing his eyes to take in the sounds, before looking back down to Bjørn. Bjørn let out a snort before turning onto his side, eyes still closed as his arms stuck out in front of him, hands outstretched as well. Trygve smiled once again, before leaving Bjørn to his nap.
“Bjørn, get down from there!” Thurid demanded. “The ship can’t handle so much weight in the front!”
“It could if you stood farther back!”
With his arm around the boat’s figurehead, Bjørn leaned off the front like he was the wooden dragon’s husband, his arm stretched intimately around its shoulders. Leaning over the front of the boat, he reveled in the feeling of the air rushing past him. His beard braids, having benefited from several weeks of growth, were flapping around a bit more than before, as did the furs he’d draped over his shoulders. But ultimately, both were pushed back by the wind, allowing Bjørn’s bulging belly to show through.
As much as he’d grown, Bjørn thought, there was a distinct possibility that he could tip the boat if he moved too far to one side. The width of his gut rivaled that of their warriors’ shields. It was ample like a sack of grain stuffed to bursting, and just as firm. As he leaned off the front of the boat, he could feel it pulling him down toward the water, making it hard for him to keep his back straight. But it was worth it to feel the way it jiggled with the ship’s movements, bouncing as the ship crashed against the waves.
“Will you just get over here?” Thurid yelled.
“Alright,” Bjørn yelled back. He tried arching his back to slink back onto the ship. However, the weight of his belly gave him a harder time than he’d anticipated, leading to him leaning limp again, his belly pulling him down.
With a grunt, Bjørn tried again, flexing his arm as well to push against the figurehead. Though he got farther that way, it only led to him falling harder when his strength gave out and he went limp again. That time, his belly fell with enough momentum that his arm nearly slipped off the figurehead, bringing him perilously close to proving Thurid’s concerns true. As he caught himself, he could feel his belly bouncing beneath him, jiggling from the sudden stop before finally settling down.
After reestablishing his grip, he brought his free arm to the figurehead to pull himself up. With one final exertion, he was able to get his center of gravity over his feet again. As much as he’d grown outward, it was farther forward than he was used to, forcing him to push himself farther back to get back on his feet. But he succeeded, letting out a sigh of relief now that he knew this exploration wouldn’t turn into a rescue.
Bjørn took the time to readjust his outfit after it had been jostled by the wind. The furs he draped over his shoulders needed the most attention, having been blown askew by his shenanigans. He slung the right side of the outfit over his shoulder, before pulling it so it was centered. A thick wall of furs covered his back, while two smaller cascades of hides ran down either side in front of him. They were meant to cover his front, but his gut had grown too rotund for that. His skirt of furs, thankfully, had barely been jostled, with only a few needing to be untangled. Having outgrown every pair of pants he owned, the wrap-around garment was the only one that fit around his waist.
With his outfit adjusted, Bjørn strode back to join Thurid at the center of the boat. All his added weight left his walk a fair deal more ponderous than he was used to. His arms stuck out farther to the side than before, as if afraid to collide with his newly expanded gut. His stride was shorter and wider, more careful in his movements with more weight to carry. With his belly weighing so much more, his back was arched farther, another change for him to adjust to. As a result, his belly stuck out even farther, like it led him as he walked. All this made his movements more deliberate, while the pride with which he carried his new weight gave him a stately air.
“That’s better,” Thurid said. “No point in coming all the way out here if you capsize us.”
“I think you’re not giving this boat enough credit,” Bjørn chuckled.
“I’d rather not have to find out. Arne,” she said, looking at the navigator. “How close are we to the island?”
“We should be close enough to see it soon,” he called out, switching between looking at Bjørn’s map and pointing their sailor, Revna, in the right direction.
With a nod, Thurid looked back to Bjørn. “I wouldn’t have believed a person could grow so much in only a few weeks if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes. If one had asked me if it was possible, I would say for sure their stomach would be torn asunder.”
“With a demigod’s influence, I’m sure just about anything is possible.”
“Nor would have I believed you’d crossed paths with a demigod if not for your incredible growth.”
With a chuckle, Bjørn replied, “I wouldn’t fault you if you’d found me mad. I thought he was mad too until I watched him conjure fruit out of the forest floor before my eyes.”
“I’d heard tales about mortals who’d crossed paths with demigods, and the fortunes or tragedies they suffered. Usually both. But I can’t say I ever expected to know one of those mortals.”
“Imagine my surprise at being one,” Bjørn added, at which Thurid couldn’t help but chuckle.
The two sat down and made small talk as the crew continued toward Trygve’s island. It wasn’t long before a familiar speck came over the horizon, perfectly aligned with where the boat was headed. Bjørn was the first to notice it, standing up from his seat and rushing to the front of the boat. “I think that’s it!”
“Arne, did you not notice it?”
“I did, ma’am, but…”
“It doesn’t match Bjørn’s description,” he stammered out. “I didn’t want to call it out when I wasn’t sure it was the same island.”
“Let me take a look,” Bjørn said, striding to the back of the ship with loud footsteps. Taking the telescope in his own hands, he looked out toward the island and adjusted the lenses until it came into focus. Once it did, he beheld a very different image from the one he was expecting.
Bjørn beheld an island that had no color from top to bottom. The dirt around the base gave way to grey stone that made up the hill that gave it its height. Bjørn saw no trees or foliage of any kind, not even stumps or burnt trunks, no indication the island had even been flourishing with life the way he remembered. “It… can’t be. It can’t be the island.”
“It’s in exactly the spot the map indicates,” Arne told the crew. “And if the map is to be believed, there aren’t any other islands close enough to be confused for that one. Did you spot any, Bjørn?”
“No. It was the only landmass of any kind nearby.”
“Then that’s gotta be it.”
“Do you think you might have taken the wrong course and ended up somewhere else?” Thurid asked.
“Why do you assume I took the wrong course weeks ago and not that we did today?”
“Because I’ve sailed with this crew before,” Thurid answered dryly. “I’ve no reason to trust your sailing skills beyond your word, and I’ve yet to decide whether I trust that.”
Bjørn stared at Thurid with eyelids lowered, before he gave her a nod of concession. “All the other land masses we’ve passed so far are the same as those I passed on my way to the island.”
“So that must be it.”
“It can’t,” Bjørn insisted, looking through the telescope again, as if another glance would prove him right. But by then, they’d sailed close enough to the island that he could see the shoreline, the only part that he recognized. And when he looked at where the beach met a cliff face, he could make out a familiar cave. By all account, it was the cave he’d slept in while he stayed on the island. “Maybe it can,” he admitted, his voice quieter and more despondent.
“What changed your mind?” Revna asked.
“Landmark.” After slowly putting the telescope down, he handed it back to Arne. “I… I think that’s the one.”
Quietly, Arne leaned toward Thurid and asked, “Do you think we should–“
“Forge ahead,” she commanded, turning back to make sure Revna heard her. “Something made this man this fat, and that something had to leave a trace of some kind.”
“But what good is a trace? Were we not sent out here to bring back food for the village?”
“I’m not sailing all the way out here without stepping foot on that island,” Thurid said, her eyes unwavering from their destination.
The crew spent much of the rest of the ride in silence, watching the island as they sailed toward it. As they drew closer, Bjørn was able to get a better look at it, and what he saw didn’t make any sense. The island looked completely barren, as if it had never hosted any sort of life at all. No trees, no foliage, no animals frolicking around, not even the tiniest of plants taking root in its soil. Even on the rockiest of islands, something had managed to take root and give the island some color. Trygve’s island looked like all its life had been wiped out.
After some time, the crew made landfall, sailing the boat onto the sand. Bjørn had an eerie feeling being able to see so far into the center of the island, all the way up a hill that had previously been shrouded by trees. It looked too big without a forest to obscure its size. The featureless landscape gave him no way to find his way around, beyond using the mountain’s peak to navigate. It seemed the only evidence that there was ever life on the island now hung from his midsection.
“Is this the place, Bjørn?” Thurid asked.
“I don’t understand. Just a few days ago, this island was teeming with life, absolutely covered by a dense forest full of food. And now…” Looking back to the crew, Bjørn saw them looking back at him expectantly. “Well, now you must think I’m mad.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Thurid assured him, walking closer before patting his expansive gut. “I’m sure you didn’t get this big by eating dirt and sand,” she continued, while Bjørn’s belly let out an impressively audible noise upon impact.
“You mentioned a landmark, Bjørn,” Revna chimed in, looking at the featureless landscape with eyelids lowered. Looking back to Bjørn, she continued, “Where is it?”
“This way,” Bjørn said, motioning to the end of the beach. “It’s a cave I slept in while I stayed on the island. There was a fire pit in there, left by someone who’d previously stayed here. But maybe that’s been wiped from the island too.”
“Let’s go see,” Thurid said. “Not much else to see here, anyway.”
The crew followed Bjørn down the beach, approaching the cave’s entrance. Once they rounded the corner, Bjørn got a sinking feeling in his stomach as he recognized the cave immediately. The giant rocks were all where he remembered. The stone walls were rounded and tall as they were before. And the waves echoed through the cave in a familiar rhythm.
“Where’s the fire pit?” Revna asked.
“In the back,” Bjørn answered, before proceeding to where he’d slept. A small part of him hoped to find no evidence of a fire ever being lit in the cave, holding onto the hope that Trygve’s island had not suffered this apparent extinction, and their trip had not been in vain. But as they passed the last stone, he saw the circle of rocks surrounding charred branches right where he expected it. He also saw a divot in the sand exactly where he’d slept, not yet entirely erased by the winds. “And there’s where I slept,” he said, pointing to the dip with a shaky hand.
“So this is the island,” Thurid said, her voice sharing a hint of Bjørn’s disappointment.
“How could it have been cleared out this quickly?” Bjørn asked.
“You said a demigod was responsible,” Thurid chimed in. “Maybe he can clear the island as easily as he fills it with abundance.”
“But why would he do that?” Bjørn asked desperately.
“Maybe he doesn’t want to share with more than one person,” Arne suggested.
“Maybe only people he invites can see the island’s bounty,” Revna added. “And since you brought people he hadn’t invited, you can’t see it either.”
“That… would make sense,” Bjørn admitted. “I’d never seen an island that bountiful in all the times I’ve sailed through here before. Yet when I sailed after meeting him in the tavern, there it was, as hard to miss as the sun on a cloudless day.”
“Maybe your… invitation got revoked when you left,” Thurid proposed.
Bjørn paused for a moment and pondered Thurid’s point. In all his questions about the rules of Trygve’s game, he’d never asked what happened if he left and came back. Maybe he only had the one chance at enjoying that prosperity. “Maybe,” he said quietly.
“Well, do we explore more, ma’am?” Arne asked. “Or have you seen enough?”
“Let’s comb the island a bit. See if that soil offers any clues as to what might have happened. We might as well do something after coming all the way out here,” Thurid grumbled, walking past the rest of the crew to exit the cave.
Arne followed close behind Thurid, but Revna only walked a few steps before she noticed Bjørn wasn’t in tow. “Bjørn? Are you coming?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah,” Bjørn stammered, still staring at the fire pit wistfully. “You go ahead. I’ll catch up.”
“I think Thurid will want you to help with the search.”
Bjørn started at the spot where he’d slept so many nights for a moment longer. After letting out a sigh, he turned to join the rest of them, his gut stopping after the rest of his body and nearly continuing to spin. With slow, short steps, he followed behind the others, his arms swinging at his side with a bit less enthusiasm than before.
The ride back to Glaskoj passed more quietly than the ride to Trygve’s island. Without Thurid having to yell at Bjørn to get off the figurehead, there wasn’t much to talk about. Rather than cavorting around on the front of the ship, Bjørn merely sat on a bench as the crew rode back empty-handed. He’d previously joked that they’d have more room for food if he hung off the figurehead as they sailed back. Now, it didn’t matter.
As Bjørn slouched over, his belly and chest were compressed, and he looked like a rounded boulder with arms and legs. Yet his gut bounced as they sailed over waves, jostling him with each collision. But that was as much excitement as the crew got as they made their way back home.
The walk from the dock to Glaskoj gave Bjørn even more time to fixate on his disappointment. He was certain that part of Trygve’s game was to see whether he was selfless enough to share Trygve’s bounty with his village. And yet, when he’d try to do just that, he was denied the chance to bring back even a scrap of food.
“What do we tell them?” Revna asked as they drew closer to Glaskoj.
“We tell them the truth,” Thurid answered. “And we hope they have another idea for dealing with the food shortage.”
“I don’t think they’d have sent us out to a magical island if they had any good ideas left,” Arne sighed.
Bjørn wanted to retort Arne’s comment, but he couldn’t think of any way he could. After leading the crew to an island full of dirt, he knew he was the one who would look the worst after they had to tell the town they’d failed. As Bjørn looked up, he felt some relief when he saw that it was at least a sunny day. If he had to leave the village in shame, maybe he’d be able to find somewhere to stay before it started raining again.
Before Bjørn could think about where he’d go, the crew all stared ahead with confusion. Over the last hill that stood between them and Glaskoj, they heard quite the hubbub, like the whole village was out and about. But it wasn’t a cry of anger and grief. Rather, the village was celebrating.
All four members of the crew raced ahead to see what was happening, with Bjørn lagging a bit behind the others. He could still run just fine, but his belly bouncing as much as it did forced him to move with more careful consideration of his heft. He was still acclimating to moving with all his new fat, and running as quickly as the others wouldn’t be worth it if he fell on his face.
Once Bjørn made it to the top of the hill, he could see that the village was indeed celebrating. People filled the roads, galavanting about with steins and drinking horns. A wide fire in the town square was covered with spits and grills, roasting vegetables and meats, providing a feast the likes of which Bjørn had never seen.
“What are they doing?” Bjørn asked.
“Maybe they gave up. Decided things are never going to get better and we should go out with one final feast,” Arne suggested.
“I doubt it,” Thurid said. “We didn’t have enough food reserves left for a feast of this size. Come on,” she beckoned, walking toward the town square as the others followed.
As the four approached the massive fire pit, Bjorn was immediately taken by the many smells wafting from the town square. The aroma of several kinds of meats being roasted mixed with the smells of the charring vegetables, dancing through his nose so intoxicatingly that he nearly couldn’t keep up with the group. Even Trygve’s island hadn’t boasted an aroma that overwhelmingly delicious.
Once the four made it to the town square, they found the crowd nearly impenetrable, as everyone tried to get their hands on some of the food. Along with the many people cooking, Thia was passing out drinks, with barrels stacked on top of each other in the square. Bjørn beckoned the group toward Thia, as she was not quite as set upon as the cooking stations.
“Thia,” Thurid called out as the group drew closer. “What’s all this celebrating for?”
“Ah, good to see you all,” she beamed, motioning to everyone in the group. “But it looks like your voyage wasn’t necessary after all!”
“Where did all this food come from?” Thurid asked.
“Oh it’s a miracle. A real blessing from the gods. Not long after you four left for your journey, the rains stopped, and soon our crops were growing more abundant than we’ve ever seen! As fast as we could harvest them, they just kept sprouting more! Enough that we were able to trade our extra food with the nearby villages for some of their animals! Hence all the meat you see going around.”
“They just… started growing like that?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it. Wouldn’t have believed it if my Yrsa hadn’t taken me to help her harvest it.”
“You closed the tavern?” Bjørn asked.
“Aye. Wasn’t anyone to serve, anyway. Everyone who was able was out helping with the harvest, collecting all the food we could, as if this blessing would be snapped away at any moment. We could scarcely believe how much we collected in a day. And then, after a night’s sleep, it had all grown back! So after harvesting it all again, today was declared a day of celebration and feasting.”
“I can see that much,” Thurid said, looking around at all the merriment around them.
“Anyway, enough of my blabbering. Join in! There’s plenty to go around, for once!”
At that, the group split, with Thurid, Arne, and Revna heading for the center of the square. Bjørn, however, stayed with Thia, taking a stein of ale for himself. He’d enjoyed enough gourmandizing on Trygve’s island that he didn’t mind waiting for the crowd to disperse before taking something to eat.
Sipping from his stein, Bjørn ambled down the road away from the center of town. Walking with his back straight, his belly jutted out and led the way. Bjørn felt like he was getting the hang of walking around with his new weight, taking longer strides now that his balance was better. Now that he was taking longer and heavier steps, his belly bounced more noticeably than it had before. Though it took some adjusting at first, he felt like it gave him a more formidable presence. He smiled as he imagined the power such a frame could convey, then smiled even more widely when he realized what an advantage it would give him in any future drinking contests.
Bjørn took another gulp of his ale. When he put the stein down, he saw a figure standing on the top of one of the hills at the edge of town. He could make out their outfit, consisting of a dark green tunic, furs around their waist, and a brown cloak. He squinted for a moment, having a hard time making out the person’s face, though he was fairly certain the figure was staring at him.
Bjørn’s eyes opened wide when he recognized the figure as Trygve. At Bjørn’s recognition, Trygve smiled and raised his hand, waving at his former guest. Bjørn’s mouth curved into a smile of his own, before he returned the wave with his free hand. Trygve remained on top of the hill, smiling back at Bjørn with no apparent urgency to leave. But when Bjørn lifted his stein to take another drink, he lowered it to see that Trygve had vanished. Still smiling, he stared a while longer at where the demigod had stood, before continuing his stroll.