It wasn’t that Grog didn’t like spending time with the gnomes—far from it, he treasured every extended stay in Westruun, every moment with his best buddies, Pike and Scanlan. He was even coming to appreciate Kaylie, on the rare occasions their visits overlapped.
It was just…
It was just that, sometimes, Grog got bored. The goliath barbarian was neither bred, born, nor raised for a peaceful life, and while Vasselheim’s Trail Forge and Slayer’s Take provided a chance to stretch his legs when all the learnin’ and studyin’ got to be too much, Westruun offered no such alternatives.
Still, for the most part, he was content to spend the time in his former hometown shadowing one or both of his best buds, and they knew him well enough to keep him busy. But sometimes, Pike’s duties as a cleric took her to the temple, or to homes in town, to those in need of her aid, her presence. And sometimes, she asked Scanlan to come with her, a request he rarely (if ever) refused. (After one mess of an afternoon that took nearly a week to smooth over, they learned that some places it did not do to also bring their goliath friend.) The gnomes always did their best not to leave him alone, but sometimes circumstances were beyond their control.
Grog knew it wasn’t their fault. Grog knew Pike and Scanlan would be home soon. Grog didn’t really mind spending the afternoon with Kaylie.
Grog was also bored out of his skull.
And apparently, he wasn’t the only one: “Do they expect us to sit on our arses all day until they come back?” Kaylie grumbled about an hour after the other two gnomes had left. “Oy, Big Beard—you grew up here, yeah?”
Grog shrugged. “A little bit.”
“So, what’s the best pub in this place—you know: one of those dives a bard can earn some coin then break some noses? I need a scrap.”
Thinking and remembering weren’t his strong suits, but certain impressions lingered. “Dere was one, but the fights aren’t so good now. It’s like no one even tries anymore.” Grog scowled, and Kaylie’s expression mirrored his.
“Ah, all the bumpkins ‘round here have probably realized it’s just going to end with them getting’ their arses handed to them.” Kaylie flopped dramatically onto a couch. “It’s no fun winnin’ if they don’t try.”
He knew there was a reason he liked the gnomes in this—in his—family.
“Wanna go kill somethin’ in the forest?” he offered, and a grin bordering on feral was the encouraging response that he received.
At first, everything went great. There weren’t too many beasts about that would dare ti attack the hulking goliath, but the gnomish bard had already been skilled with illusions even before she’d resumed her studies in Emon, and it was almost as much fun seeing which baits worked as fighting the creatures that took them.
Grog had spent so much time lately fighting solo, and a part of him had almost forgotten what it felt like to be supported by a bard in battle. Not that Kaylie’s style was identical to her father’s—she was actually a lot more hands-on with her blade, in addition to her quick wit and personal twist on her spells.
The fights weren’t really challenging—it’s not like wolves, bears, and wild cats were particularly clever tacticians—and Grog didn’t bother with his Titanstone Knuckles, or even his rage. He’d fought a god—how could mere animals hurt him?
By taking advantage of his distraction, apparently.
But really—one stray bite that actually managed to take a small chunk of flesh out of his lower abdomen was hardly a matter for concern. It was embarrassing, more than anything else, so after bashing that forest cat’s skull in, Grog didn’t ask Kaylie for any healing, or if she thought they should head back.
If anything, Grog pushed himself harder to cover the pang of shame for having let so weak an enemy past his guard, and for all of their recent bonding, Kaylie did not yet know him well enough to realize that all was not well wit the barbarian.
So they kept hunting, kept fighting, and grog kept ignoring his bleeding wound, counting on his inhuman strength and stamina and a coming night’s rest to carry him through. But fighting easy fights for hours on end is a very different thing from taking on a dangerous foe in a comparatively short, desperate battle; and by the time the sun was going down and Kaylie announced she was out of spells, Grog was feeling not-so-great: sluggish and a little dizzy.
Still, he was covering it well enough, and Kaylie was distracted enough by the buzz of adrenaline and her own chatter that they made it almost all the way back to the house before the young gnome looked up at him and asked, “Hey, Big Beard—you alright? You’re even quieter than normal.”
Grog paused, considering his answer, but was spared having to find one by the arrival of Pike and Scanlan.
“And what have you two been up to—” the cleric began, only to cut herself off. “Grog! You’re bleeding—How old is that—” Again, Pike was her own interruption, scurrying over and inspecting the bite for herself. “Grog, this is hours old—why haven’t you cleaned it at least and put something over it?”
Kaylie paled beside him, finally noticing what the other woman had seen right away. “Oh, fuck. And I’m all out of spells—”
“So are we,” her father replied with a grimace as the four of them pushed their way inside. “There were a lot of people that needed help today. Still, he’s not dying, and bandages and the like do exist.”
So that was how, not an hour alter, Grog found himself sitting on the living room floor, wounds cleaned and bound, trying his hardest not to sulk or pout from embarrassment.
But, honestly, it felt kinda nice to be fussed over by all three gnomes, particularly when one of them got the idea to create and camp in a pillow fort in the living room all together, and then Scanlan brought in snacks, and the whole evening turned into something lighthearted and cozy that made Grog feel like he was glowing form the inside out.
Technically, Grog lived in Vasselheim for now. But this, this right here:
…This would always be his home.