On Grog’s birthday, Pike and Scanlan took him on a vacation.
It was Grog’s favorite kind of vacation. The kind where they camped out in the forest because they heard about some nasty creature picking off livestock or snatching a traveller or two and hunted it down to kill it.
They didn’t do a special birthday thing every year. Grog had gotten better with numbers over time, but he still didn’t do too hot with really big numbers like more than thirty or seven-thousand, especially when it wasn’t gold. He didn’t totally know why things that weren’t gold needed to know their number. But Pike and Scanlan kept track of most of the numbers for him including his years, even though none of them knew the real number of age Grog was.
This was the year Pike and Scanlan said he was probably about forty, so he could just say he was forty if he wanted. That was the highest age he’d ever heard he was and he liked the sound of it.
Scanlan was eighty-seven years and Pike had sixty-one years in age for that year. He kept track of the year numbers pretty good nowadays and only had to be reminded sometimes, even if he didn’t really know what more years did than less years or whatever.
When the numbers were little, like with Vex and Percy’s kids, that made more sense. They changed with the little numbers and got bigger as each number went up. Higher numbers were more difficult to see happening. He’d never seen any difference in any years on Pike or Scanlan, and for a long time he never saw it on himself. Until recent years.
One day some months or days before the forty-birthday, Grog was trimming his beard so food wouldn’t get stuck in it so much, so he borrowed a little mirror, and he saw a bunch of the hairs were lighter colors and he didn’t know when it happened. Maybe the skin around his eyes was a little softer. And his stomach muscles weren’t as strong anymore--he thought because he didn’t fight as many fiends and monsters as he used to, but maybe it was because he was old now.
Scanlan was next to him, shaving his face like he did almost every day--another thing Grog didn’t understand, Scanlan didn’t need a magic belt to have hair on his face and shaved it off anyway--and shrugged. “You’re almost forty, big guy. That’s a big deal. For tall people, at least. Not really sure for goliaths. If you were a gnome, though, I’d still be calling you kiddo.”
Scanlan was double that many years and he’d always looked the same, so Grog didn’t get what that meant for him.
“I’m old?” Grog asked.
“You’re distinguished,” Scanlan said with a frown, wiping shaving soap off his cheek. “And more handsome than ever.”
Grog didn’t realize until later that Scanlan didn’t actually answer the question, but Scanlan couldn’t really help himself when it came to being tricky with words.
Not long after he overheard Scanlan ask Pike how long goliaths live. Pike said she didn’t know but with a frowny face. Another weird question. Grog didn’t really know. Most goliaths didn’t just live the way smaller races did, the way Grog was living now. He didn’t raid or seek out battles anymore. He was civilized now, and he didn’t know how civilized goliaths lived, but maybe they lived longer than goliaths from the herd. Less violence seemed to do that. Still not as long as gnomes though.
If it was bothering the little bits, he might have to think of some way of living forever like Keyleth.
For Grog’s forty-birthday, they picked a day to travel north of the Bramblewood to find a beastie that was killing off people from a nearby settlement. It was a few days of travel and tracking, but they found a chimera and killed it in the morning. Pike and Scanlan stayed back a little and Grog handled most of the fight with his Blood Axe. He figured that was part of his birthday. That was fine because he got to keep some feathers and the big hairy mane for himself.
Once they cleaned up a bit and harvested a few unsquishy parts of the chimera, they started their hike back to Westruun and stopped in the middle of the day for a picnic meal.
Scanlan and Pike brought stuff that was too nice for camping and must have even saved it for the way back after defeating the chimera, as if there’d ever been any doubt they would. But there was a meat pie and smoked turkey and apples and honey bread. Scanlan brought a blanket they all sat on--well Pike and Scanlan sat on and Grog sat his food on. Grog made some ale from his jug. It was the kind of thing Grog liked most about being with his family.
It felt like old days, except better because Grog knew more things now and no one acted like such a twat anymore.
In their recent discussion about why being older was better and why Grog was distinguished now, Scanlan explained that when people are young they can act more like twats, but it’s not good when you’re as mature and responsible as Scanlan and Grog were now.
While they were eating, though, Pike seemed a little nervous. She kept looking at Scanlan like she had a question but in a secret way. Scanlan kept smiling at her but in a secret way. And he played on his lute, singing little rhymes at Pike to make her giggle.
It was gross, but in a way Grog was used to and kind of liked because it meant they were happy. It was embarrassing but also familiar.
Then Pike said quietly in a way Grog thought he wasn’t meant to notice, when she was leaning against Scanlan, “Do you think it’s time to tell him now?”
Scanlan nodded and stopped playing. Pike took a deep breath. “Grog,” she said.
She looked at Grog for for a while like she was already talking, but then only said, “Grog.”
“Grog,” she said stopped. She bit her lip and made panic eyes at Scanlan.
“Grog,” he said.
Scanlan put his lute aside. “We have some news. Big news. And I’ll say the same thing to you I said to Kaylie. It’s important for you to know that we love you very much and that isn’t going to change. Pike and I--”
“Baby!” Pike yelled. “It’s gonna be a baby!”
Grog was confused but glad Pike interrupted him. He didn’t like that thing Scanlan did where he talked about the thing he was talking about before he said what the thing was about.
Pike’s fiddled with the laces of her boots until Scanlan touched her hand. “We’ve, uh, been talking about it for a while and decided to, um, do it. And we did it. Well we did it a lot before but I mean with an end goal in mind then. And it did. I’m pregnant.”
Words tried to come out, but Grog only choked on them.
“I know it’s a big change,” Scanlan said. “We’ve lived a certain way for a while now. And it’s definitely a scary new thing, but--”
“Baby?” His voice made that up sound he couldn’t stop sometimes. “For my birthday? You’re making a baby gnome friend for my birthday?!”
Scanlan and Pike looked at each other for a long, making idea faces without saying anything.
“Yeah, you’re going to be an uncle, Grog,” Pike said, her eyes going a little soft. “I love you!”
“Happy Birthday, big man.”
Grog lunged for them and scooped his gnomes up and squeezed them against him. This was the best birthday thing anyone had ever given him. He was feeling weak all over his body, but, disgustingly, not in a bad way. It was like he was so happy it was pushing out of his bones.
When he put the gnomes down, they all pretended they hadn’t just cried, which was a part of their friendship Grog really appreciated.
Grog sniffed at looked confusingly at Pike’s middle. She was so small, but he couldn’t see her being pregnant, which he knew was a visual condition. And he’d never ever seen a gnome baby-- or a pregnant gnome now that he was thinking about it. Could it be that gnome babies were even smaller than he was thinking? Vex’s babies had all been real small at the beginning. Grog thought a gnome baby ought to be smaller than that, and if Pike’s incoming littler bit was even smaller than that was small… that was really small.
“When is it gonna happen? When can I hold it?”
“Not for a while yet. Months.”
“How many months?”
“Seven or eight,” Pike said.
Grog panicked for just a moment. Seven or eight weren’t big numbers, but months were made up of lots of numbers of days and those were more important. Grog tried to count, but he got confused. “But that’s… almost a year,” Grog wagered.
Scanlan considered it and shrugged. “Sort of. Not quite. But babies tend to make the rules about these things. Can’t really do anything about it.”
“But it’ll be,” Grog pointed around Pike’s middle, “all made and ready close to the next birthday. Birthdays happen every year. I can hold it for my birthday?”
“The baby will be a few months old by next summer,” Scanlan said.
Grog cleared a whining sound from his throat. Whoever put all these little number days inside of medium number months inside of one big year-- that wasn’t even that big if Grog had forty of them inside him-- should have been made into dragon food.
“Can’t you just make my birthday be the thing when I get to hold it?”
“Sure thing, Grog. You can move your birthday up to the baby’s. That way you’ll remember it better.”
Pike and Scanlan laughed, but that was a really good idea. Grog would be good at keeping track of something that important.
Grog didn’t really understand parents.
Mostly how parents wasn’t really a thing the way everyone he knew talked about them.
Grog didn’t have parents. Not like Percy and Keyleth and Vex and Scanlan used to. Not like Percy and Vex became. In the herd, a mother and father gave you a name and a history. Outside of the herd, it seemed like mothers and fathers kept babies around for a long time and did just about everything for them. Grog didn’t remember that. Sometimes he remembered watching the nursemaids feed the little ones and teaching them how to spear rabbits. He assumed that must of been what they did for him too, but outside the herd parents did that type of thing and a lot more complicated things too.
Outside the herd, in the civilized world he lived in now, there wasn’t only one way to be parents.
All of the others in Vox Machina had parents in different ways and hated them or loved them in different ways and it had always been confusing to Grog. He didn’t know why not having a mother seemed to only bother Keyleth a little bit, but not having a mother was the most important thing to Scanlan. Maybe it was because even though they didn’t have mothers, Keyleth had a backup father, but Scanlan didn’t. He knew Percy had kinda gone crazy when he didn’t have either anymore, so that made a bit of sense to Grog.
But he also knew sometimes parents didn’t have to be a mother and father. He and Pike didn’t have parents and it was never much of a big deal, until he realized that Uncle Wilhand had sort of been a parent, doing the things parents do in the civilized world, making sure they had food and setting them right from wrong. And Grog missed Uncle Wilhand a lot, so it made sense that everyone else missed their families when Grog hadn’t missed his.
See, his family had never really been his family. Then Vox Machina became his family.
Family was a lot more confusing when he got civilized, but also a lot more.
So maybe he did understand it a bit after all.
For a long time after Scanlan and Pike told him about the baby, nothing really happened. Nothing changed and whenever Grog asked when the baby would be there the answer was still months.
Scanlan and Pike talked more in secret after, quiet voices like when they were arguing and Gnomish when they were being romantic. Scanlan got real jumpy about everything. Pike started getting cranky and tired more than usual. But that was it mostly.
Until one day, the cot was brought into the house.
Percy and Vex wanted to give away one of theirs, but they were all too tall for the gnomes to reach into. Scanlan took Grog with him into town to look at what the craftsmen might have to fit a gnome-sized cradle. Even with Scanlan’s way with people it took a long time to find one because he had to befit it for a pet agree? Something like that. And Scanlan just said nevermind when Grog asked what a pet agree was.
Also they had to find a cot that wasn’t so big a dozen baby gnomes could fit in it. On Scanlan’s hunch, they went to a toy shop.
Grog was distracted looking at a wooden horse with wheels-- he didn’t know if that was supposed to be a joke, horses didn’t have wheels but if they did it would be pretty funny--when he heard a thud in Scanlan’s direction.
He turned around to Scanlan kneeling on the floor by some turned over dolls, sort of smaller than Vex’s new babies, touching a wooden doll bed. There was carvings of leaves and branches at the head and walls on the side. It rocked when he touched it. It was very pretty so far as Grog understood what pretty was. He didn’t have much use for pretty himself, but Scanlan always did and that’s something you pick up about a guy after more than many years.
Except Scanlan just knelt there for a really long time, touching the lines molded into the headboard, not saying anything.
Grog cleared his throat. “That, uh, looks like a good one. Is it fancy and everything?”
Without facing Grog, he nodded and sniffed, and then stood up with the cradle. Against Scanlan it was kind of big-looking but he carried it up to the store clerk and didn’t even bargain down the price.
When they got home, Scanlan tied a bow around the crib, but left it in the parlor while he went upstairs to play music. Grog needed time to be alone and sort out brain things too and he’d lived long enough with Pike and Scanlan to know when they were doing that. Grog walked out by himself in the woods; Pike went to the temple or worked in the garden; Scanlan shut himself in the music room.
So Grog stayed downstairs while he cut little pieces of leather and sad fiddle sounds sunk through the house.
Pike came home through the gnome-sized garden door, so Grog had a second to hide the little leather bits and his needle and awl back in satchel before she saw him.
She pointed up through the ceiling where Scanlan was doing his melancholy music. “What’s wrong? Did something happen?”
Grog shoved the leather cord in his satchel. “Um, no. Nothing. He’s, uh…” Grog didn’t actually know why Scanlan got sad and quiet all of a sudden, but Scanlan could be very mysterious sometimes. Grog just pointed to the cradle to have something to say. “Got a baby bed.”
“We could’ve gone together, I don’t--Oh, it’s beautiful!”
Pike yelled about the crib for a little while, but in a very good-yelling voice. She even cooed, which she had started to do with babies and baby things sometime in few recent months that she had never done much before.
“It’s perfect! It’s the right size! And so detailed! Is it gnome-craft? Where did you find this?”
“At Grimaulkin’s toy shop,” Grog said, thinking she might not like the idea of her baby’s bed to be made for a tall people toy as he said it.
But Pike just made a sighing sound and pushed down on the pillow in it. “I can’t believe it’s so fine.”
Scanlan must have magicked his way down because he was suddenly right in the doorway to the parlor before Grog had noticed the music had stopped. “Some poor rich human child is going to be deprived a doll cot, but I figured we could use it more.”
Pike grabbed onto the top of the headboard and ran over to Scanlan, nearly bowling him over into the hallway. She yelled, “It’s perfect! I love it!” into his face a few times and kissed him. “It’s so pretty. What are those flowers? They look familiar.”
Scanlan looked less quiet after being kissed, but he did that thing where his smile looked like a frown. “Junipers.”
She started hugging him again and touching his face but softer than before. Grog heard Pike whispering, “You did real good, old man. Everything’s gonna be okay, okay?”
Grog knew he wasn’t supposed to hear that so he stayed quiet until Scanlan could pretend he wasn’t sad. After they said a few more quiet things to each other, Pike went upstairs to change into comfy clothes.
Scanlan made a soft smile at Grog.
“Is it okay that it’s your mum’s flowers on the cot?” Grog said.
He didn’t say anything for longer than Scanlan usually didn’t talk. Scanlan usually wasn’t a fan of not talking. Then he nodded. “I just wish she could be here instead.”
Grog rubbed a little piece of leather between his fingers. “I’m sorry about your mum. Is it like you’re sad the littler bit won’t ever meet her?”
Scanlan sighed and looked into the fire. “That isn’t the happiest thought, but no, not really. I’m afraid… I’m afraid of my kid having a life like I had. I almost did it to Kaylie. I’ve never been able to find… I didn’t really think the possibility was on the table again.”
Grog shifted uncomfortably. He never really thought about it since they told him for his birthday. “D’you knock Pike up on accident?”
Scanlan’s head jerked up and at least he didn’t look so sad all of a sudden. “Er, no. We actually… We talked about it for a long time.”
Grog sighed. So many things meant a long time. “How long?”
“Six years almost.”
“How can anybody talk about anything for that long?”
“Well, when we first got together neither of us thought it would be a good idea to have kids. At least that we should wait a good long while to think about it.”
Grog gawped a little at him. This was never discussed with him. He was really looking forward to the littler bit and was annoyed he might’ve had to wait even more.
“So you’re having one now. Are you upset about the baby?” An even more bad idea sat on top of that one. “Are you dying? I thought you were gonna live forever like Keyleth!”
Scanlan hopped up on the arm of the sofa next to Grog, so they were mostly eye level. “Pike and I decided that even if we have a long, long time to live, a lot of the people we love don’t. And if we ever wanted to have a baby, we’d want them to know all of you. As for the other part... I’m not gonna die. Not soon, at least. I don’t plan on it. Though, I’m sure my mom was pretty surprised about what happened too. And it’s not like we’re facing down death every day anymore. I know it’s not likely that Pike and I will die suddenly and this baby will have to live on the street and beg for food but, what can I say? I worry a lot more than I let on.”
“You’re very good at keeping cool,” Grog said, even though Grog figured out he wasn’t many years ago. Scanlan was pretty tricky with words but Grog had known him long enough to know some of his tricks.
“So you’re just sad about that because it might happen?”
“I know it probably sounds stupid to you. To let something that hasn’t happened bother me so much, but I was never happy before I met you guys. I was never safe. I was always afraid. I don’t want any… I don’t want my baby to live like I did. And even if I know I probably won’t die, I still think about it all the time.”
Grog thought about it for a second. “It’s not that stupid. Just a little. I don’t know what having a mum like that is like but know she was real important to you and it makes you sad the same thing might happen… but you know you won’t be alone, right? Even if you die. Even if Pike dies. I’ll take care of the little bit. And so will Percy and Vex and Keyleth. So you don’t need to worry so much.”
Scanlan nodded and sniffed. “I’m lucky I have a smart guy like you to let me know.”
Grog nodded. “That’s true.
With a weird look in his eye, Scanlan clapped his hand on Grog’s shoulder and started to grin suspiciously.
“Sorry, Poobah. I’ve just gotta do this.”
Before Grog could ask what, Scanlan grabbed Grog’s beard and kissed him. On the cheek and the mouth. Then Scanlan slapped the side of Grog’s face and laughed.
“I love you a lot, big guy.”
“Yeah,” Grog said cautiously. He nodded because Grog did too, but didn’t say anything because Scanlan was unpredictable and you could never guess his next attack.
Case-in-fucking-point, Scanlan’s mouth was just on his face a second ago.
“You’re smarter than anyone gives you credit for.”
Grog relaxed a little bit. “Well, yeah,” he said with a shrug. He’s always known that.
Pike walked in wearing one of Scanlan’s robes over her night clothes and her soft indoor shoes, she’d taken to wearing a lot more lately.
“Pike!” Grog said. “Scanlan kissed me!”
“Oh? I’m sure you deserved it.”
Scanlan nodded, pushing off of Grog’s shoulder to the ground and walking over to hug Pike. “Yeah, he did.” They started kissing again like they’d just seen each other for the first time all day even though it was just a small number of minutes. That could be annoying sometimes. They weren’t very touchy all the time, not in front of Grog, but when they were it took a while for it to be over.
Then Scanlan said to her, all quiet like, “He’s gonna be the best uncle in the world.” And Pike laughed and agreed.
Grog preened to himself and leaned towards the hearth and prodded the logs with the gnome-sized fire stoker, while the little bits were kissy. He decided to go easy on them now and tease them about it later was the best course of action. They were family, after all.
Grog had got to learn pretty much everything about babies after Vex and Percy had their kids.
New babies weren’t as fun as when you could throw them around a little bit, or when they could climb around and talk back. New babies just pooped and made sounds and were kinda scary because they were so easy to damage. They don’t know how to do anything for a long time. Once they did it was really funny because they were really bad at it.
Grog had learned when it’s okay to poke them to make them laugh and how vigorously to do it. He learned what sort of smells and liquids they emit that mean it’s time to hand them back to someone else.
He also learned that he liked Vex’s kids a lot more than random other people’s kids. Grog figured that was because he was part of this family and the kids were part of it too.
In the herd, babies didn’t really belong to families. They belonged to the herd. So when Vex had her first baby, Grog was a bit surprised to feel like it was sort of his in some way. The same way he felt with Kaylie. The same way he felt with Vox Machina. Because they were family.
And if that meant he liked Vex and Percy’s babies before they even did anything good, it stood to reason that he would really really love Pike’s baby as soon as it was born.
It turned out it started before.
Grog got back to the house as fast as he could.
In winters he got all twitchy when he was cooped up in the house too much. So he liked to go out of town, do some wandering, hunting. Fight a few monsters. He didn’t feel the cold as bad as the gnomes and the snow didn’t slow him down, so he did a lot his winter journeys on his own.
Except no other winters were times when Pike was pregnant. And he didn’t want to leave, even though he really wanted to leave.
But Pike insisted and said it would do good for him and everyone else. So Grog only stayed away for a few days, determined to at least bring home some game.
He didn’t want to be gone long in case the baby happened. He was really confused about when it would. Pike’s belly was baby-sized now and all winter everyone had been saying closer and soon but also a few months. But also that it could happen at any time, and that could be very bad or maybe fine, but there was no way to know until it did, which no one wanted to happen too soon. The most reliable information was Scanlan and Pike telling him it would be ready to come out in early spring. Even so Grog knew that spring came earlier some years than others.
It was very stressful.
Grog came back and put his deer and the brace of rabbits he caught in the cold shed before even going to the house.
He went round to the front--he had to; he was too big for the garden door--and walked into a very quiet house. There was nothing in the sitting room but the fire. The dining room was empty too and when he called upstairs no one called back. Finally he headed to kitchen, where Pike was sitting at the worktable, which was covered in little plants, some out of their pots and some looking pretty dead.
Pike was frowning at them and then looked up at Grog like she was caught by surprise.
“Oh, oh, you’re back! Grog!”
Grog kneeled down to hug her before she could get up and she huffed into the side of his face. He told her about the trip. There wasn’t much to tell but she kept asking if he saw anything dangerous or exciting. She seemed a bit disappointed when he said the most exciting thing he saw was an eagle.
“Could’ve been a harpie,” he said. “Maybe. Uh, Pike? Why’re there plants everywhere? Don’t they need to be in pots or the ground or something?”
Pike’s face dropped again. “I was trying to rehabilitate them. These were my winter plants. They were all along the windowsills in the kitchen and the parlor and it’s been so cold. Some of them froze a little bit the other morning. Then I set them by the fire to warm and they got dried out. I think I ruined them.”
Grog picked up a dead leaf that fell of a flower. “I think so.”
Pike laughed a little, but then frowned. And her eyes started to look big and soppy. “I killed them, Grog.”
“It’s okay,” Grog said confused. “Plants are supposed to die. It’s all they do, really.”
Pike put her hands on her belly and looked at Grog like he said something very bad. Her lip wobbled and she started crying.
“Pike? What’s wrong?” Grog said, starting to panic. If Pike was ever upset, he usually knew why.
Pike shook her head. “This is so stupid,” she said, but didn’t stop crying.
“What is?” Grog started looking around, hoping Scanlan would just appear and fix it with words. It felt like a tricky, fiddly situation that needed very particular words. Grog wasn’t good with words let alone particular ones.
“This!” Pike said, her arms flying out and pointing everywhere, at herself and the room and the plants on the table. “I shouldn’t be sad, but I am! And I hate it! It’s just plants! But I killed them, Grog! There were helpless and they needed me and I killed them!”
Grog touched his earring and whispered out of the side of his mouth. “Er, Scanlan? Scanlan, you’re needed in the kitchen.”
Pike let out a wet sniff and wiped her cheeks with her thumbs. “He’s gone.”
“He left you here all alone when you’re gonna pop?”
Pike groaned with her head in her hands for a second. “I’m not going to pop, Grog.” She sniffed again, sounding less wet and panicky than before. “It should be another 6 or 7 weeks and there’s no sign of anything… popping. Besides, someone was trying a new spell at the Cobalt Reserve, something about interdimensional storage space. And apparently a room disappeared. They came down looking for help and I told him to go. He’ll be home later.”
Grog nodded. “So, er, why… are you sad about the plants?”
Pike pouted at the little piles of dirt on the table. “They’re supposed to be easy to take care of. How am I going to handle a baby?”
After another moment of confusion, Grog dawned the realization. “Oooh, this is one of them things that’s about another thing. Pike, babies aren’t like plants at all. Plants are stupid.”
“I know! Babies are more difficult! Babies are so much more complicated than plants and if I fuck up with a baby it’s going to be much, much worse. How am I supposed to be ready to be a parent if I can’t watch over plants correctly?”
Grog frowned. None of this made any sense, and he was pretty sure it was Pike who was not making sense, not him screwing up a thought. “But… you’re not a plant. The littler bit is going to be like a little-you?”
Pike looked at him strangely. “I still don’t… What if I’m a bad mom, Grog?”
Grog had to stop himself from making fart sounds with his mouth because he’d never heard Pike say anything as stupid. Instead he just, “Because of the plants?”
Pike tried to cross her arms, but there was a lot of belly and boobs in the way so she just sort of wrapped her arms around her belly. “No, but… you see, it’s stupid.”
“Yeah, it is. You’re gonna be a great mum, Pike. The greatest.”
“I dunno. My parents weren’t great. They,” Pike bit her lip. “They weren’t good people. I was just thinking if I had a good mother I could ask her advice. It’s such a hard thing to figure out on your own. With plants if I’m not learning to take care of them right, it’s just plants. But if it’s a baby… I just don’t know how to be a mom and the plants were a little, a little test, I guess.”
“Aw, Pike,” Grog said across the table to hug her and pat her hair. “That’s real dumb.”
Pike laughed into his arm. “I suppose.”
“You’re going to be a really good mum. It has nothing to do with your mum either. You’ve taken care of us all these years. Why won’t you be good to the baby? And, and if you really thought that you couldn’t be a good mum,” Grog stopped for a second, really feeling things move into place, like that time he learned how to blacksmith. He leaned back from Pike and felt smug. “I don’t think you’d go and have a baby, if you didn’t think you could do it right. You’re real smart like that and Scanlan already told me you thought about it for years so you probably already thought of this and now you’re just having… you know those d-thoughts other people have.”
“Doubts?” Pike said.
“Yeah. Are you?”
Pike shrugged. “A little, I guess. Doubts about myself. Even if you think I’m wrong, I still feel like I’m not prepared enough.”
Grog scoffed a little. “Vex and Percy started having babies so many years ago the oldest one is all grown up almost. And if they can do it, you’re gonna be way better at it.”
Pike covered her mouth but giggled. “I know it’s kind of silly. Vex has been helpful about telling me baby things. There’ve been healers I’ve talked to and the midwife to help. It’s just between Scanlan’s wonderful mother who can’t be here, and my terrible mother who won’t… I just feel a bit like I don’t know where to start.”
Grog chewed on the inside of his lip. His words didn’t seem to totally work--even though this time he felt more sure they were good words than most times. He’d been saving this for later when the littler bit was actually born, but he reached down into his travel bag and took out the boots he’d been working on.
He slid them in front of Pike’s hand and next to her hand the pair of them looked a bit big and he was worried if he’d done them good enough this time. But he supposed they were better a bit bigger than otherwise. Gnomes are small but even they don’t grow down.
It had taken as many tries as he had fingers--nine--, on his trip away he finally finished what he guessed to be the right size little boots for a baby gnome. Grog knew how to work leather, but for his size. Adjusting to baby-size-but-even-smaller had been taxing even to his considerable skills. Along the way he realized he needed softer leather, fluffy warm insides, smaller tools, and even one of Percy’s wonky glasses that made everything bigger to cut the tiny strips and sew them together.
Pike paused in front of them, then picked them up and held them in the palm of her hand.
“Maybe you can start with these,” Grog said. “Everybody needs boots before they can go anywhere.”
Pike didn’t make a peep, but she didn’t look away from the boots for a really long time. She turned them around in her palm and felt around inside with her fingers.
“It’s mink,” Grog added, feeling nervous. “So it’ll be real soft as to not hurt their feet and warm on the inside.”
“You made this?”
But she didn’t even give him room to answer because she was already pushing up out of her chair--Grog intercepted her because it was starting to take a while for Pike to get out of chairs-- and threw her arms around him.
“Oh, Grog!” She said sort of into his bicep. He could tell she was crying again. “You’re so amazing, Grog,” she said all muffled by his arm. “I love you. You’re the best big brother ever.”
Grog’s lip started to wobble. This was sort of more what he expected. “I love you too, Pike!”
When Pike let go and wiped her eyes, she held the boots up in her palm again. She caught Grog’s eyes and smiled. “Having you around is the best start any gnome could hope for.”
Grog didn’t cry, but he did--That was a lie. Grog kneeled on the floor to hug Pike and cried a lot. The sound of the front door opening and closing, and whistling and boots knocking against the hall was a good excuse to sort himself out.
Grog didn’t want Scanlan to see him like this.
Scanlan announced himself in the hallway and swung into the kitchen. “I have returned to your sensual embrace, sweet apple dumplin--Oh Grog! It’s Grog! And… plants?”
“Hello, dumpling,” Grog snickered.
Scanlan kissed Pike on the cheek. “Hello to you too, I guess, Pikey-pants.”
Pike giggled and held up the little boots. “Look! Grog made us boots!”
“Hmm, I don’t think they’ll fit either of us.”
Pike pinched his side and scolded him. He jerked aside towards Grog, taking the boots from Pike. “Wow, Grog, you really made these yourself?”
Scanlan elbowed Grog’s arm propped on the table as he started looking at the boots and touching them. “You did such a good job! They’re so… little and perfect, Grog... This is really, really amazing.” Scanlan put the boots on the table very softly, and started reaching up for Grog’s head.
Grog sighed and leaned down, pushing his chin out.
Scanlan chuckled. “Yeah, that’s right. You know what you get, Uncle Grog.” And kissed his cheek above his beard. And then pinched his cheek. “Such a good boy.”
Grog frowned to keep from smiling. He didn’t want to encourage Scanlan too much in whatever this touchy-feely-ness was since they’d announced the baby, but Grog was alright with it mostly.
Once everyone started saying the baby would be coming soon-soon, everyone got jumpy. Scanlan stopped pretending he wasn’t nervous all the time and stopped leaving Westruun. The midwife stopped in a lot more. And Pike didn’t leave the house much and got angry about things she never got angry about before and also say she was happy when she was crying. It was confusing and Grog just tried not to comment on anything that might set her off. When clerics from the temple came by to ask her questions, Scanlan would talk at them until they left.
At nights they all sat by the fire together. Grog was working on carving little wooden toys for the baby. Scanlan played music or sang, occasionally stopping to write it down. And Pike usually fell asleep, but sometimes called Grog or Scanlan over to feel her belly when the baby kicked. Grog hadn’t known that they kicked inside their moms, which you could feel from the outside and then the inside, which was really fucking crazy when he got to thinking about it.
The first time Grog was walking around town and noticed the snow starting to slip from eaves in wet puddles, he ran home to see if Pike was gonna finally pop.
Pike looked up at him weird. She was sitting in Wilhand’s old arm chair trying to knit while Scanlan sat on the floor, massaging her feet. She was rounder than ever so he thought it must be soon.
“Not anymore likely than it was this morning when you left,” she said. “What’s the hurry for?”
Grog groaned and pointed at the window, where another dollop of snow slid off the roof onto the porch. “It’s spring! You said the baby would get done at spring.”
Pike snorted. “There’s probably almost a month to go yet, Grog. I’m sorry.”
“A month?” Grog yelled. That was even more days!
“Don’t complain to me. There’s no way you want them out more than I do,” Pike said putting her knitting on top of her belly.
Without letting go of Pike’s foot, Scanlan said, “The date is not in charge of the baby. The baby is in charge of the date.” He pointed over his shoulder at Pike’s belly. “More powerful force of nature than spring.”
Pike touched Scanlan’s head, like she was petting him, curled a piece of his hair in her fingers. And they both looked at him like that was that. So that was that.
So Grog went back to waiting.
In early spring, a ways before his usual birthday time, Scanlan woke up Grog very early. Scanlan looked tired but had wildness in his eyes as he stood near Grog’s head.
“I need you to go fetch the midwife.”
He thought that was a weird thing to want, but then Grog let his brain work for a second. That startled him all the way awake.
Scanlan pulled at his loose collar. He was just wearing a robe and looked confused, but he nodded. “Looks like.”
So Grog got up and ran.
He returned not long later with a very angry dwarvish woman, who’d spent the better part of her ride on his shoulders telling him he was a rude half-giant clown and ought to slow down because he was scaring children. He brought her to the sitting room where Pike was walking around but looking real mad about it, and Scanlan was talking over her shoulder. She and Scanlan and Pike told him he probably should’ve put on pants before he left because it wasn’t that necessary that the midwife get there so fast.
Once the midwife was around Pike though, she didn’t seem to care about the naked goliath anymore. She put one hand on Pike’s shoulder and turned to Scanlan with a frown. They both had hair all over the place and looked like they’d stayed awake all night.
“I assume you’ve put yourself to good use, Master Bard, so’s I don’t have to ban you from the premises. How many fingers?”
Pike looked very tired and was leaning on a bureau like she couldn’t stand up straight, but she laughed. The midwife had said she didn’t like having the fathers around during “the event,” but Scanlan convinced her he had to be there because he was a gnome and knew some healing, even if the midwife didn’t like it.
“How long between the last pain and the one before it?”
“Four versions of The Milkmaid’s Lament.”
The midwife narrowed her eyes at him.
“I was singing a little fast though, so… No more than twenty minutes.”
The midwife sighed. “Well, we’ve some time for now.” She pointed at Grog. “You’re in charge of making sure I’ve got heated water all day, and for fuck’s sake, put your trousers on, man.” She pointed back to Scanlan, “You and I will get the bedroom ready.”
They walked up the stairs to do whatever that was, while Pike stayed holding onto the bureau. She breathed in really hard and closed her eyes.
“Are you okay?” Grog said quietly. Grog had seen animals be born, but no people. He’d only been at Whitestone during one of Vex’s labors and heard her yelling from the hallway. So he knew it was pretty grotesque. Now that it was finally actually gonna happen all he could think about was how small she was and he just didn’t feel good about it.
But Pike smiled when she opened her eyes. “Yeah, Grog. I’m okay.”
“Does it hurt a lot?”
“Not at this very moment, but… yeah, it does.”
“Would punching me help?”
She laughed a little and that made Grog feel better. “No, that’s okay.”
“What does that mean about what the midwife asked about fingers? Everybody’s got five fingers.” Grog held up his hand when a once on one of his walkabouts he got surprised by a bulette and lost one of his less useful fingers because he wasn’t wearing The Knuckles. “Well, mostly.”
A short annoyed look flashed on Pike’s face and she breathed heavy again. “Just go put pants on, Grog. I’m the only one allowed to not wear pants right now.”
Grog put on his trousers and got to work watching the fire and getting hot water and fetching things when he was told to fetch things.
It was hours before anything really happened and it felt a longer time than the past months.
Kiki and Vex and Percy showed up because Scanlan had messaged them with magic. Pike insisted on walking around instead of laying down yet so everyone followed her around very slowly to keep her company. Vex kept telling everyone really gross things and saying how normal it was and Grog was beginning to wonder why anyone had babies at all. For the first time Grog could ever remember Scanlan wasn’t talking. He just held Pike’s hand and did whatever the midwife told him to do. The only thing he said was apologizing to Pike whenever she had a pain. When that happened she would stop everything to groan and wince or double over and look like someone just suckerpunched her.
But Grog reminded her she was a monstah and it seemed to help.
Eventually Pike had to go the bedroom. The time where she wasn’t having a pain kept getting smaller and she kept getting lower to the ground like she didn’t want to stand anymore. And Vex, Scanlan, and the midwife took her upstairs.
Grog didn’t fit very good upstairs.
Years ago Scanlan had spelled the inside of the house bigger than it was on the outside, like the mansion, so Grog didn’t need to hit his head all the time. When he’d stayed with Pike and Wilhand when he was younger, he mostly stayed in tents in the garden. But since he got civilized he started to like sleeping on beds and under roofs, so he didn’t ask him to but he was secretly glad for it. The… embiggening or whatever it was had taken weeks to do, but Scanlan explained there was only so much he could bend with magic before nature started bending back. And it was fine that he didn’t need to go upstairs for anything. The sitting room and the kitchen and the big privy, and even a bedroom they made for him, were all downstairs.
Except now Grog really needed to be upstairs.
He waited in the hallway with Keyleth and Percy, who both scraped the top of the ceiling when they stood. Grog had to sit on the floor, but his knees came up to his chest and he took up the whole hallway. Sometimes he could hear Pike yelling from behind the shut door.
At one point Percy looked at him with a screwed up face from the small gnome-sized bench he and Keyleth were sharing and almost falling off of. He took off his glasses and started wiping them with a handkerchief. “We could go downstairs to wait more… comfortably. I swear the dimensions of this house give me vertigo.”
Keyleth scoffed. “Why would it be any better downstairs? That’s where most of the magical effects are.”
They sort of elbowed each other and then Percy looked at Grog and then Keyleth leaned around Percy to look at him. “Ooh, I mean, sure! We could do that.”
“I’m gonna stay right here,” Grog said, staring at the door.
Grog didn’t like it when he couldn’t do things. And he didn’t like waiting.
But his family was full of people who could make amazing things appear out of nothing, just by thinking about it or saying the right words. He’d seen the air crackle and change around them lots more times than he could count.
So he concentrated.
He concentrated on Pike being okay, and the baby being okay, and everyone being happy. He concentrated on stopping how the time felt so slow, like a dragging a mountain by his neck. And everything around him like sound and air and the feel of the building.
Until a piercing cry cut through everything. Kind of like a bird’s shriek but warmer and wetter and stronger.
Grog looked at Percy and Keyleth. “That’s a baby!”
Percy smiled. He looked older than Grog remembered, like he was actually old enough to have white hair, but happy. “Unmistakable.”
Grog wanted to get up or go see it but the door was still shut and the baby was still crying. That was his, that was his… littlest gnome!
It took a second but the crying quietened down and Grog was waiting for the door to open so he could see his niece or nephew. And waiting, and waiting. There was still sound coming, floorboards creaking and mumbles, but the door was still shut.
“What’s going on? Is something wrong?”
Kiki worried her lip, but Percy shook his head. “You’ve got to be patient, old chap. It’s only been a few minutes. There’s still, er, a lot to be tidied up.”
Kiki nodded. “I’m sure everything’s alright, but it, you know, takes a while. Even after the baby is born. Not everything is,” Keyleth made several gestures with her hands that just looked like different kinds of waves, “finished.”
“You mean, like, the plessa. The plassern, plaster? You know, the blood thing the baby lives in?”
Percy made a choked sound, while Keyleth laughed strangely. “The placenta,” she said.
They were looking at him weird and he huffed. He was frustrated from waiting. “I know how babies work. I’m not stupid. You can say those things to me. Just didn’t know that word. Must be the human word or something.”
“You’re right.” Keyleth nodded and smiled in a serious way. “You’re not stupid. And you’ve probably heard of it more often as afterbirth.”
Grog nodded quickly, because he had, but sometimes he just forgot words he didn’t hear all the time.
“And it takes a while to deliver that, and then make sure that Pike and the baby are healthy. And if anything is going wrong, I’m sure someone will tell us and I’m sure there’s enough healing between me and Scanlan and the midwife to fix any problem that might occur.”
His body sort of relaxed at that. He hadn’t really noticed he’d been tensing up, like before he got angry. But when she said that he breathed easier. He looked at Keyleth and wanted to thank her for saying that, but the words were caught in his throat. She seemed to know and reached over to grab his hand.
Even Percy clapped him on the shoulder and said, “You see? There’s no need to be nervous… Not to be overbearing about it, but…” He cleared his throat and spoke a little softer. “You’re an excellent uncle to my children, and I know you’ll be an excellent uncle to this child. It’s a very daunting moment, when a child is just born, but you’re more than ready.”
Grog didn’t say anything for a second because he knew his voice would do that squeaky emotions thing if he did. He pulled them down a little in a hug, because it was easy to reach for both of them and he wouldn’t need to speak if he did that instead.
After he let go of them, they all sorted themselves out and went back to being quiet again except for the occasional ‘waahhh’ noise from the baby Grog really, really, really, really, really wanted to see.
“I bet you didn’t know,” Grog said, trying to make the time less slow again, “that the plass--afterbirth makes gardens really… real good.”
Percy both looked at him in that blank way that still was not blank, but Kiki smiled real big. “That’s true.”
Percy snapped back to her to give Keyleth the same look. “What?”
Grog said, “Mrs. Drazc down the street has like nine little sprogs. And she told me she puts ‘em in her vegetable patch. Makes it grow faster.” And he sat up straighter. “See? I know things.”
Percy said, like he was kinda angry about it, “You talk to neighborhood mothers about afterbirth and garden allotments?”
Grog tried to do that thing with his voice Percy did when he was being a real knob. “I have a wide and varied social circle.”
The door opened and Vex walked out. Her eyes were real big and her face was flushed and she was smiling. “Pike is going to be just fine. And the baby!” Her hands fluttered around like she didn’t know what to do and her voice got real high. “She’s so tiny! She’s just the tiniest, cutest thing I’ve ever seen!”
Grog stood up, a bit too fast and hit his head on the ceiling. “I want to go in! Can I go in?” He looked at Vex. She was the decider on all things babies and birth. Though he supposed maybe Pike could decide some things now.
Vex nodded and grabbed onto his arm. “Of course. Pike wants you to meet the baby.”
Grog’s heart was pounding in his neck, almost like he was about to rush into battle, which was not a good thing at the moment. So he took a deep breath and looked around the room because he couldn’t immediately see the baby. He thought it would be pretty obvious, but he had to look around the room twice to notice. And there she was, a tiny little wrapped up bundle with a wrinkled face between Pike and Scanlan.
Pike was reclined on her side, her hair all fallen out of her braids, looking all flushed and tired. Scanlan was sitting on the edge of the bed next to her. They both were touching the bundle and whispering over her in Gnomish.
Then Pike looked up and smiled. “Come here, Grog.”
The room was small and Grog was looking down with his shoulders to the ceiling, so it only took a step and a half to come up to the bed. The littlest bit was so, so small between them, just wriggling in the blanket she was wrapped in. Grog didn’t like being wrapped up either. He wanted to just reach out and hold her but she was so much smaller than even Pike or Scanlan he was afraid of doing something wrong.
The midwife, who was gathering bloodied cloths in a basket, clucked at him and pointed at him. “You will be careful with the wee babe.”
“He’s my brother, Drina,” Pike said. “He’ll be careful.”
She gave him another warning point but walked out the door with the cloths and a pot of afterbirth.
Scanlan waved him closer. “Why don’t you sit on the floor for a second? And hold out your hands.”
Grog did it immediately but not so immediately the floor shook. He knew he had to be careful about these things now. And Scanlan even knew he had to too, because he picked up the baby slowly and softly. It squawked a little and Scanlan made a little humming song. But then Scanlan set the baby in one of Grog’s hands.
Pike said, “This is your niece, Juniper.”
She felt like she weighed nothing at all. And he couldn’t tell at all what she looked like other than to say she was mostly head with lots of dark hair. Her face was squished, eyes closed and little tongue sticking out like it didn’t fit in her mouth. There was a little bit of a bloody smudge on her forehead. Her nose was so small Grog couldn’t see how she breathed with it. And maybe she wasn’t yet because she snorted and stretched on his palm and yelled really really loudly.
Grog almost panicked. He hadn’t really done anything so he didn’t know what he did wrong.
“You’re doing fine,” Scanlan said. “Just hold her like this.” And he made a motion with his hands like cupping water from a stream.
“She’s a little too little for you to hold in your arms,” Pike said, “but she wants to feel held securely.”
So he did. She was still so little that she didn’t fill up the whole space of his hands, but she started to settle down, and yawned like she was gonna curl up for a nap right there.
Grog could feel that warm, heavy feeling in his eyes like he was gonna cry and tried to stop it. “I didn’t know she could yell that loud. She’s so little!” But it didn’t really work and he cried anyway.
“Well,” Vex said, “they are rather good at that. And she’s a child of Scanlan Shorthalt, so I would expect a good set of lungs.”
Pike was looking at him from the bed, her eyes a little wet looking too. “She’s gonna be a monstah, isn’t she, Grog?”
He nodded in agreement but couldn’t speak, like his voice was locked up tight because the rest of him was too busy trying to keep up with his head. The longer she sat in his hands the more happy he was and didn’t know how to say anything about it.
Eventually, Keyleth and Percy came in and they wanted to hold Juniper. And then Vex did again, for a really long time. And then he did. And then Scanlan wanted to, which was fair he supposed. And then Pike said she wanted her baby back and everyone had to get out because she had to learn how to feed her.
Grog didn’t want to see that so left the room, but he stayed upstairs for the rest of the night to keep checking in on Juniper. Eventually the midwife left. Everyone took turns getting cleaned up, bringing Pike more blankets and food, teasing Scanlan about how quiet he was being, or admiring probably the tiniest baby in the world and holding her a few more times. She slept a few times, cried a few times, and pooped once and had to be changed into the tiniest nappy in the world. But once when Grog was holding her she farted and it was really funny.
He gave up his room for Keyleth, while Vex and Percy stayed in the human-sized guest room.
Grog slept on Pike and Scanlan’s floor that night.
He was ready to argue about it. That since the baby was born it was his birthday now because of their agreement and they had to let him. He wanted to protect her but he also felt like he should be nearby, at least for the first night. To help, and, well, to just be there.
But there was no arguing. Scanlan looked at him weird but brought him a cushion and a blanket. Pike just nodded and fell back asleep a few minutes later. Scanlan fell asleep a few minutes after that.
Grog wasn’t so tired.
For a while he waited for something, some sound that might be dangerous that he could put into effect his new Uncle protecting powers, but he doubted that would happen. Nothing had sought them out to attack them in years, and definitely not in the middle of Westruun.
Since there was nothing to immediately protect her against, Grog sat up a second to talk to her. He’d been lying right by her cot and she was still asleep, surrounded by blankets and a tiny soft bear toy Vex had brought for her.
He whispered as quietly as he could, “Just so’s you know, I’m gonna be your protector now, okay? Like a bodyguard. It’s not because your mum and dad can’t do the job. They can. And if you’re anything like them, one day you’ll be able to do it yourself just fine. But for now you can’t. And I know your mum and dad can, but I wanna do it for them. They’re really, really powerful people and really, really smart people, so they can take care of that. And I wanna protect you for them because they spent so long protecting me. And I would do anything for them, so it’s important you know I’d do anything for you because I love you because I love your parents.”
She didn’t do anything but make a soft snorty sound, so he figured that probably meant she’d heard.
“Good night, little bit,” he whispered. “Happy Birthday.”
Grog was going to try to count his birthdays better from now on, even though above forty was a big number. Because this was the best birthday ever and he suspected they were only gonna get better.