Hill Giants and Heartaches
“Books. She’s reading books. Full books.” Ric leaned against the wall, eating an apple nonchalantly as Dwindel spoke. He glanced down at the gnome as he continued. “I can’t think of the last book that she had that she didn’t set fire to. I mean, I’m not saying that she can’t read, it just….it’s so flammable.” Ric nodded, looking bored – although, to be fair, Ric often looked bored. The glazed over appearance had never stopped Dwindel in the past, and this was no different. “I don’t even know where she got them, honestly.” Ric shrugged. “Bookstore, I would guess.” Dwindel just glared up at him. “I understand that, Rickard. I just wasn’t aware that she would have stopped at any of them.” The pair paused, looking up as Isabelle crossed the room in front of them, carrying two scrolls and another book. She glared over at them, and Ric raised his eyebrow in question before she hurried back into her room. Dwindel turned and looked up. “It’s kind of….unsettling.” A large shadow fell over the gnome before a voice chuffed in, deeper than his yet still feminine. “It’s kind of cute, really. She’s working hard on something, and nothing’s bleeding or on fire. It’s always good to diversify.” Dwindel nodded, glancing up at Ma Gog and then back to Ric. “I suppose.” It was another hour before Isabelle came back out. By this point, Ric and Dwindel were passing time playing a round of Liar’s Dice. They barely glanced up at her, engaged in a heated discussion about the scoring and accusations of improper marking.
Isabelle ignored them, peeking her head around the corner to find the large frame of Ma Gog in the small kitchen of the home that she shared with them. She waited for Ma to put more meat into the stew pot before speaking. “Hey, Ma, got a minute?” The half-orc made a solitary grunt, moving the stew pot to a spot above her cooking fire before turning. “Now I have a minute. What is it, mouse?” Isabelle smiled in spite of herself. The nickname had been one of the few that she had never gotten upset about – Gog used to catch her sneaking snacks out of the pantry and threaten to beat her with a Urgrosh. Ah, childhood. “Like, maybe away from the boys?” Ma raised one heavy eyebrow, then nodded. She stepped past Isabelle and into the other room, breaking up a near fistfight between Ric and Dwindle by grabbing them each by the collar. “Watch the stew, or join it.” The boys nodded before she set them down, taking the argument into the kitchen. Ma walked with Isabelle into her room. The room was a mess – open books and scribbled notes all across her desk, papers and information thrown to the floor alongside clothes and weapons. Ma sat down on the bed with a heavy creak.
Isabelle sat across from her in her chair, running a hand through her hair. “So, uh. Yeah. There’s the Ravens, right?” Ma just nodded placidly. “And there’s a bunch of them, and they all like to just be like ‘Isabelle, go burn that’ and ‘Isabelle, we need firepower’ and ‘Isabelle, get your friends and punch some faces.’ And that’s all pretty awesome and cool.” Ma nodded, waiting. “And then there’s a guy there from the River Talons, and he was like ‘Isabelle, you’re totally the smartest magic person we have.’ And then he wanted me to look up all this stuff and try to help him, and I really wanted to. So I did it, and I told him everything, and he was super nice to me about it. And…” Isabelle sighed, burying her face in her hands. “And it made me feel really good. Like, really important. And he was impressed, and he said it right in front of stupid smart Lena with all of her schooling – and she’s nice, she is, but she just, urrggggghhh!” Isabelle looked back up at Ma, half-smiling. “You know?” Ma nodded, grinning, a tusk popped out. “And he gave me all these compliments and he didn’t just talk to me like I was a weapon or whatever. And it made me feel really….I felt all happy for a second, and like I was this super important person, and it just meant a lot coming from him. I mean, other people there have complimented me and made me feel important, but it wasn’t as good. Because he’s – he’s like one of us, and he’s pretty smart sometimes, and he can fight, and oh gods.” She looked at Ma, her eyes wide. “No. Nope. Can’t. No way.” Ma laughed heartily before speaking.
“Little Mouse, you did all of this for a silly boy.” Isabelle shook her head in adamant refusal as Ma continued. “I once fought a hill giant to impress Dalgun Mastbreaker…” She stared off into the distance for a moment before sighing. “You have a crush, don’t you?” Isabelle laughed, a little too eagerly. “Nope. Not in the slightest. He’s crude, he has all these scars, he dressed up in this silly stupid doublet sometimes to go to noble things that looks goofy, and he’s clever, and he’s probably dating that stupid bakery girl with the eyepatch and the timid voice that looks like she’d run away if the lights turned out too fast and she isn’t going to be able to protect him in a fight. Besides, what’s she have that I don’t, some silly eyepatch and a stupid bakery?” Isabelle groaned and leaned her head back. “She seems really sweet though. Nice girl.” She lowered her head to look at Ma. “How did you get Dalgun to notice you, Ma?” The half-orc grinned wide, tusks gleaming. “I killed the hill giant and brought him its head, and we each ate one of the eyes. The tribe knew better than to touch what was mine. Orc society is a bit different – we are in charge. They fight the wars, then we let them come home. Dalgun was a good man, a bit simple, but good. You could simply fight this other girl – she only has one eye, you can beat her easily.” Isabelle shook her head. “No, Ma. She seems nice. I don’t wanna do that.”
Ma shrugged, only half-joking. “Then keep doing what you’re doing. He can see that you are the smartest, and the strongest. He would be a fool to ignore you then. And if he is a fool, then you move on without him. It is his loss. He clearly already knows that you exist, and that you are of greater use. In any tribe, those who are useful will always be more important than those that are not. You will win him over yet, Isabelle.” Ma stood, embracing Isabelle – her arms hiding the entirety of the girls head before releasing her. Isabelle sat at her desk, staring at the wall. “Liking people is stupid. And there aren’t any hill giants here.” She sighed, then turned back to her book. “Notice me, you stupid idiot.” She began to read again.