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About Varied / Hobbyist Lindsay28/Female/United States Group :icongrievances: Grievances
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Even though the pocket was dry and the enormous body just on the other side of the fabric was very warm, Jae shivered uncontrollably. He wavered between soundless, body wracking sobs to bouts of anger and misplaced bravery.  

‘I’ll wait till he puts me down and run’ said the braver part of his brain. ‘And if he tries to grab me again, I’ll find something sharp and stab him in the eye! Both eyes even!’

Then the other side would rear its head and whimper in a small shattered voice, ‘No, don’t do that! They’re so much bigger than you. They’ll just squish you with their feet, with those ginormous boots. Don’t cause trouble and maybe they’ll let you go. Maybe they really wont eat you...like they said.’

‘Yeah right! They’re liars and murderers. Even if this one doesn’t eat you, the bigger one sure will!’

The braver voice was becoming more quiet as the giants walked along, insouciant about their little captive. After all, why would they pay him much mind? They knew they had him trapped. One of their steps was a dozen of his own and he was very high up. If he fell, Jae was sure to break some very important bones and most certainly his skull.

‘Even if you ran, they would catch you. The big one caught you right off earlier without even trying. You can’t run. You’re caught. And when you’re caught...’

‘...you’re lunch.’ The once brave voice answered. Fresh tears poured down Jae’s face.

He was regretting not drinking the water when he had the chance. He recalled how he had pulled himself from the cart after it flipped with an earth shattering crash. It had been the first sound before the ox’s dying wail. And then silence. Everyone was laying down on the ground oddly. He called for Tebard, the oxman. But he didn’t answer. He just lay still on the ground beside the pond. Eyes open and mouth agape. He called for Rita and Horrand, for their daughter Senny who he had played tag with just yesterday. Before it rained and they had to climb into the cart and huddle beneath blankets. Their mothers didn’t want them to catch a cold.  

Mother.

Father.

He called for them too. And like the rest, silence was the only answer he received. For hours he walked about the pond, looking at the faces of his dead companions. He found Senny curled up with her mother, Rita. Horrand was near by. He found his parents laying close to one another. They were dead.

They were dead.

All of them.

Dead.

Dead.

DEAD!

Jae could not rightly remember what else had happened. Hours surely must have passed, but all he really recalled was crying. Hard and fast, the cold chill in the air burning his lungs. He screamed. For anyone. Someone. He called out to every God he could remember and begged and pleaded. Please don’t let this be real. Please let them wake up. They had survived for so long, been through so much. This couldn’t be how it ended. He couldn’t be all that was left. He couldn’t be alone.

“I don’t want to be alone,” he told the sky.

Please.

Please.

I don’t want to be alone…

In the throws of his grief, he slammed his fists into the muddy earth and his hand caught something, the force of his blow causing it to skitter away. It was a cup. Hand carved. Well worn from years of use, but cared for. He did not have to be alone, he thought in a daze. He could join them.

Drink the water...

He approached the water with slow and careful steps, minding the dead. He tipped the cup into the cold clear water, careful not to let it touch his fingers. An odd precaution, but it seemed important. His hands trembled as he brought the cup close to his face and the water inside jiggled and sloshed.

Jae looked to his left and to his right. He was the last one. He was alone. And above all else, he did not want to be alone.

So he raised the cup…

“Over this way,” came a loud voice.

The sound startled Jae and he dropped the cup and it fell into the water, disapearing into the shallow depths. He looked towards the voice and watched in horror as two towering figures emerged from the thick fog.

Giants.

Far in the back of his mind, Jae recalled something about being careful what you wish for. Because you might just get it. He had begged the Gods to send someone. Anyone. And one of those smartasses sent a pair of giants.

The Fucker.

……………………..

He didn’t remember falling asleep, but waking up was not very pleasant. His neck hurt, his eyes were sore, and his head thrummed with a headache. Curious as to what it was that woke him, the boy shifted and stretched, but froze when he realized his bed was moving. His breath caught in his throat when he looked about him and everything came crashing back. Jae was still sitting in the giant’s pocket, swaying lightly with the large man’s movements. He was walking down the largest hallway that Jae had ever seen. The floor was dark flagstone with a carpet of deep rich crimson running down its length and covering the impossibly high walls were huge tapestries.

The other giant from before was walking alongside Jae’s captor, dressed in a long blue coat. Unlike the dark haired giant of whose pocket Jae was currently occupying, the other giant was taller and a bit thicker bodied with long greasy red hair and an unkempt beard. His sharp green eyes, as though sensing that he was being watched, shifted to peer at Jae. The boy was quick to duck further into the pocket, but he kept his eyes on the huge man. When Jae did not look away, the man just smirked in response.

The pair was silent as they walked along the hall until they came upon a set of double doors. The red haired giant pushed the left door open and held it open for his companion who stepped through wordlessly. The room beyond was huge. Shelves upon shelves of books and tomes and scripts of all imaginable varieties stretched up to the ceiling. At one end of the room was a large window staring out onto the expansive lands beyond and in the middle of the room, dominating the space, was a long table. Heavy wooden chairs with plush red cushions lined each side, enough for twenty giants to sit comfortably. A jug as tall as Jae sat in the middle of the table on a platter with several goblets made of the same metal as the jug.

“Don’t suppose you’ve got any of that wine a’ yers left, Warren?” asked the red haired giant.

Warren, Jae recalled belatedly. That was the giant’s name. The King. The King of Vhasshal. The boy gripped the edge of the pocket tightly until his knuckles turned white. The pain between his temples throbbed and he felt sick.

“Help yourself,” the King, Warren, told his friend as he made his way to the far end of the table. “I have a feeling we’re going to be needing it.”

The red haired giant walked over to a wall of books just at the level of his head and reached out as though to pluck one of the books from the shelf. However, when he pulled, an entire section of books pulled away to reveal a false door, behind which sat a large decanter filled with dark red liquid. He pulled the container of wine out and closed the fake books back into place.

Jae bristled at the sudden movement of the King reaching up to his pocket, little heart hammering. Fingers reached in and wrapped around Jae’s chest, pulling his up and lifting the little boy free of the fabric.

Jae squirmed, breathing hard as panic began to set in.

“Easy there,” murmured the King. He sat Jae down on the table, but did not release him. Instead, Jae found himself being held somewhat loosely between the giant’s hands. “No need for that, now.”

Despite trying to keep as still as possible, Jae could not keep from shivering. He stared ahead of him, but not focusing on anything in particular. It was too much too quickly. He had just lost everything mere hours ago and suddenly he was sitting on a giant’s table, cradled in the hands of one. One of the large hands gently patted his back. There was the very real urge to bite him.

The red haired giant sat the decanter on the table with two of the table’s goblets in his hand. As he poured the dark liquid into both, his gaze flickered over to Jae for a moment.  

“Dismissin’ the council’s gonna be messy,” he was saying. “Captain Baynor won’t like it either.”

“Probably.”

“Might not be the most reliable fella if things get thick. His son was apart of the garrison at Riftside.”

“Aye, I remember,” Warren replied, his tone grave. “Mourin died there too.”

“If you’re thinkin’ of clearing house, you may be forced to keep some folks you’d rather hang.”

“And I suppose you have some ideas?”

“A’course.”

“Let’s hear them then.”

……………..

The two giant’s conversation wafted over his head.

Jae stared at the lines in Warren’s hands, the way the flesh pressed together where his fingers bent and the pattern of the faint ridges and lines of the skin. The smell of the room reminded him of the tax office back in Silvaara. Lots of paper and ink and oddly enough, wine. Jae remembered the clerk who would file his father’s business license always seemed a bit over-watered and red faced. He wondered where the clerk was now. If he was dead. Where had he died? Had he been captured when the capitol fell? Had he been eaten like so many others? He was vaguely aware of the sound of a door opening and words being spoken. Someone entered.

More giants.

‘How many giants are in Vhasshal?’ Jae wondered absently. Or just in the castle. Was he even in the castle? He had to be, everything was huge. Even to the towering men that spoke above him. Everything was so big. So much bigger, more powerful. In control. It was all too much too soon, too fast, too much. Too much.

After a moment, the human boy heard the giant speak and it was another moment before he realized he was speaking to him.  

“Jae,” said the King gently. The boy looked up, the visage of the giant blurred by the tears pooling in Jae’s eyes. “This is Matron Dana, she’s going to get you cleaned up.”

His head whipped around he saw a lady giant standing to the side of the table, dressed in a black gown with a matching scarf covering her head. She was older, the lines at the corners of her mouth making it look as though she were perpetually frowning. Her eyes were gray and void of warmth.

“Be gentle with the boy,” the King said, lifted Jae up and holding him out to the woman giant. “He’s still quite scared.”

“I’ll see to it that he is taken care of,” said the woman lowly. Her hands were shockingly cold despite the warmth of the room. She held him awkwardly, her fingers twitching as she seemed to struggle to find some way to hold him without letting a good portion of him dangle in open air. “Shall I have Jerrard bring up some dinner, sire?”

“Yes, that would be good,” replied the King. “And some more wine. We shall be here a good while.”

“Very good, sire,” the woman replied, bowing slightly, and turning to leave the room.  

………………


The moment Matron Dana stepped out of the room, the door closing behind her, her entire demeanor changed. Her placid face turned into a disgusted snarl and her hands that has been cupping Jae shifted and he found himself held aloft in the air by his shirt. When he cried out in fear, she shook him.

“One sound and I’ll snap your filthy neck,” she hissed. The woman stomped down the hall. “Wash it? Wash it?! No amount of soap could clean the filth from you, disgusting little rat. You’ll be lucky if I don’t drown you.”

Jae fought the urge to kick and scream, very aware of how precariously the woman was holding him. His shirt was big on him and he feared he could slipped through even without the woman’s help. The red carpet flew passed below his feet at a frightening speed. He chocked back the bile rising in his throat.

The woman continued to mutter angrily as she weaved through corridors and hallways.

“Matron Dana,” called a deep voice. The woman paused and turned, catching sight of a tall giant dressed in a white and gray tabard, a black shirt, and black breeches. A sword hung at his hip. Matron Dada immediately dipped into a curtsy. Despite himself, Jae yelped as the motion swung him about. The woman scowled at him and shook him again.

“What did I say?” she growled down at him. “Sir Baynor, good evening, sir. How may I be of assistance?”  

The giant caught sight of Jae and matched her scowl. “What have you there, madam?”

“The King brought this rat from his hunt,” she spat, shaking Jae again. He clamped down on the scream rising from his throat. “Ordered me to have it washed.”

The man snorted and shook his head. “Our King has lost his mind. First that old archivist, now this pathetic creature? How many humans does he plan on allowing in the castle?”

“Filthy vermin, the lot of them.”

“My concern lies more in the fact that we do not know these creatures,” said the large man. “Bringing in random waifs and strays. What happens when one of them makes an attempt on the King’s life?”

“I would never allow that to happen,” said the woman sternly. “I have served the royal family for decades. I helped raise the Princes and Princess when their dear mother, Gods preserve her soul, passed. Now our King has lost his mind in grief! Taking in strays and rats. My Son was disfigured by a Silvaaran mage, good sir. I’d gladly see them all burn. But by the Gods, I’m to wash one.”

Captain Baynor appeared thoughtful for a moment and then his lips curled back into a wicked grin.

“I believe, my good woman,” said the giant, reaching out and plucking Jae from her grip. She did not resist. “...that it would be in our King’s best interest to learn that this behavior cannot stand.”

“What do you suggest?” she asked, crossing her arms.

The giant gripped Jae around his chest, one of the large fingers pressing to his face and muffling any cries.

“That perhaps it best if this little one,” said the man, raising Jae up and poking at the child’s flailing feet. “...was to simply disappear.”

The boy feared his heart would burst from his chest or perhaps it would simply explode. The adrenaline in his system felt like lightning striking his extremities and he struggled. He kicked and tried to bite, but the man’s glove was too thick. He couldn’t breathe.  

“That’s all very good and all, good sir, but what do I tell the King?” asked the woman. “He’s expecting the rat be returned to him.”

“You’ll tell him that you did as you were supposed to and when you went to fetch a towel or some such thing, the human had disappeared. No where to be found. Run off, let’s say. Such as an ungrateful little mite is want to do.”

The woman smiled, her teeth were yellow.

Jae’s struggled were ignored for the most part and it was beginning to become very difficult to breath. The finger silencing his cries blocked both his mouth and nose. No matter where he tilted his head to free either, the finger followed. It kept him silent. After a short period of time, the edges of his vision began to blur and gray. The pure terror and lack of oxygen took its toll on the poor boy’s body and blackness overtook him.

…………………..


“And just what are you expectin’ me t’do with ‘im?” asked a gruff voice. The blackness retreated and Jae found himself draped over the side of Sir Baynor’s gloved hand. The air was thick with the smell of herbs and spices, making his already tender head even more so. He shivered and shifted, moaning when the fingers around him tightened.    

“What you do with captured humans,” snapped the voice of Sir Baynor and Jae was pushed forward. “Cook it.”

“Is that what ya do with ‘em, eh?” growled the other voice with a warning edge. “King outlawed it, Baynor.”

“You’ll address me as Captain, cook. In any case, our beloved King should not be burdened with the minutia of lowly criminals or how they are dealt with.” replied Baynor. “Trespassers need to be punished.”

“Aye. But again. King outlawed eatin’ humans. Don’t matter if he knows about the runt ‘er not. Still outlawed,” said the other in the same voice before huffing a humorless laugh. “I’m sure ya remember well, Captain. Seem to recall ya were quite irked ‘bout it.”

“Careful of your words, now. It is in your best interest to do as I command, Farris.”

There was a frigid pause.

“Is that a threat, Captain?”

“Now don’t go mincing my words-”

“Because if it was a threat,” said the other giant, his voice low and hard. “Best be knowin’ it’s generally a poor choice to be doin’ such a thing when the one yer threaten’ has a very large knife.”

“I could say the same thing, my good man,” said the Captain, matching the other’s tone. “Or do you think this sword here is only for pageantry?”

Jae was roughly grabbed from the Captain’s hand. He lay limp and disoriented in the new giant’s hand, his frazzled brain desperately trying to reboot. His breath was ragged and quick.  

“Good man,” said Baynor, the smugness of his voice easily discernible. “Nothing fancy, mind. A simple stew I think. Not much to the wee brat. Best use up what’s there. Hate for him to go to waste now.”

The other giant didn’t respond, but Jae could feel more than hear the angry growling. Still dizzy, Jae lifted his head just as Sir Baynor turned to leave through a green door. It shut behind him with a sense of finality.

The fingers around Jae’s ribs tightened marginally and he whimpered, expecting to be crushed.

“Gods piss on it!” snarled the giant and he turned swiftly. Jae saw the flash of metal and watched in horror as the giant raised an enormous cleaver in the air. Jae flung his arms above his head. The cleaver came down and plunged itself deeply into the wooden surface of the table set in front of them. Just as he felt the relief of knowing that the knife was not aimed at him, Jae was abruptly and unceremoniously dumped onto the same table. Two large hands slammed down on either side of him and Jae screamed, curling into a ball. “What the fuck are ya doin’ wanderin’ around and gettin’ yerself caught by the likes of that bastard, ya lil’ git? Ya stupid in th’head ‘er somethin’? Lookin’ t’be gobbled up are ya?”

All the terrified boy could do was whimper and whine. A large meaty finger poked at Jae’s side, hard enough to hurt. “Answer me, boy.”

“P-please...” Jae wailed. “Don’t cook me!”

“Well that fancy faced fuck’s expectin’ lil’boy stew,” the giant grumbled harshly. Jae could feel the giant’s hot breath along his neck and he could imagine how close the large man was, hovering above him. His voice dropped into a lower octave, his words but an angry whisper. “So what exactly am I supposed to be doin’ with ya then? Be doubtin’ the stockades come in miniature.”

“Please...” Jae was openly sobbing, chest and shoulders heaving. “I...I d-didn’t tres...pass. He took me, I p-promise! I didn’t do anything!”

“Took ya from where?”

“M-ma...matron Dana gave me to him. She said she was gonna drown me and...”

“And where might she have been gettin’ ya, then?”

Jae dared to peek up from his defensive curl. The giant was leaning over him, piercing green eyes staring down. “T-the King. He told her...ah, she was suppose to give me a bath or something. I don’t know. I didn’t want to come! But he brought me here and now...”

The giant’s already dark expression turned murderous and Jae curled back in on himself, fearing he said something wrong. “Please don’t hurt me!”

There was a heavy sigh and he heard the giant utter a guttural snarl. A hand, thick and warm, came to rest over Jae’s back, startling him badly and he tried to skitter away. The hand pressed down, pinning Jae to the table and the boy squirmed and whined in fear.

“Shush now. Ain’t gonna hurt ya, lad,” said the giant, his voice now quiet and soft. Sympathetic. A thumb gently rubbed his back as his other hand came down to meet Jae’s front and gently scooped him up, setting him back against his other palm and held him there, not unlike the way the King had. “Yer safe.”

“No where’s safe,” Jae mewled, shivering.

“Well. Down here ya are,” he replied. “Lots of big angry fuckers with knives to stand between ya and those who’d actuality wanna see ya dead and roasted on their plate. None of my boys would hurt a child.”

Jae, desperate for the smallest spark of hope, slowly looked up. The giant was watching him carefully and Jae felt his mouth fall open in shock. This giant and the red haired giant the King hung out with looked exactly alike. The differences were minute. Such as the other giant having long greasy hair and a short thick beard, this giant’s hair was decidedly non greasy and cut short with thick sideburns that extended down to his square jaw. But they had the same face and same sharp green eyes.

“Y-you look like...” Jae began, but stopped and looked away.

“Keral,” supplied the giant. “Big ugly fucker who never washes his hair? Aye, he’s my brother. I take it ya ran into ‘im too?”

“Uh-huh. He...he was with the King when he found me,” Jae replied, scrubbing at his eyes. “Actually...he found me first. And the King brought me here.”  

The giant opened his hands, releasing Jae. He bent down and rested an arm on the table, the other planted at his hip. Green eyes regarded the frightened youth curiously. “And why’d he do that?”

“Because...” Jae rubbed his hands together in a nervous fit and looked away. “Because...someone poisoned the pond and everyone drank the water but me and...they died and I was alone and...I guess he...”

Again, the giant sighed heavily, running a hand down his face and staring off at something along the far wall. A moment passed and he turned his green eyes back down to the waif cowering atop his table.

“How old are ya, son?” he asked softly.

“Almost eight...” Jae muttered.

“Cripes...” The giant pinched the bridge of his nose and cursed. “Gods piss on the lot of it.”

Jae swallowed hard, shifting so he was sitting cross legged and fiddled with the hem of his knitted shirt. “Y-you’re really not gonna cook me or nothing? Even though he told you to?”

“Not a chance,” replied the giant bitterly. “That fucker’s lucky I ain’t lacing his food with fuckin’ nightshade. He’ll get his stew, alright. But ya ain’t gonna be in it.”

“Won’t he notice?” Jae asked, worried.  

The giant straightened his back and crossed his arms as he smirked down at the boy. “Do I look like I give a fuck?”

Jae stared and blinked. “Uh...no?”

“That’s right,” he replied with a nod. “So here’s what’s gonna happen, boy. You are gonna stay in here til I can get a message up to the King explainin’ what you’ve told me. Baynor ain’t no little fish to be underestimated. There’s a reason he’s Captain o’ the Guard. But I ain’t no pushover neither.”

Jae nodded slowly, wiping at his red eyes, and the giant watched him for a moment.

“Got a name, boy?” he asked.

“Jae.”

“Name’s Farris,” said the giant. “I run these kitchens. Meanin’ what I says goes, got it? Listen good and ya just might get out a’ this shit with all’a ya intact.”

………


Jae was left on the table while Farris went to write the message to the King and whatever he had planned for duping Captain Baynor into thinking he was getting his little boy stew. Thankfully, Farris took the large cleaver with him. It did leave a formidable gouge in the wood, though.

The fragrantly scented room was much smaller than the rooms that he had seen thus far in the castle and it was quiet, an aspect he was very grateful for. It took several minutes, but Jae managed to calm his heart rate close enough to a normal rhythm, but he could not truly relax. There was the fear that any moment another giant with less than good intentions would slip in and get him. Every little creak or small noise had Jae jumping in fear and looking to the green door.  

The tears came back and he wiped them away with the collar of his shirt, sniffing miserably. His mother had knitted it for him, making it big so that he could grow into it. She was always complaining he grew out of his clothes too quickly.

The green door opened and Jae stiffened, waiting for death to walk under the lintel. Instead, Farris walked in with a swathe of clothe draped over his arm. One glance at Jae, and the giant easily picked up on the morose expression and the new tear stains on the boy’s shirt.

Farris walked over and scooped the boy up. Though Jae did tremble at the contact, he tried to keep still. He knew Farris was trying to help and the last thing Jae wanted was to seem ungrateful. Instead of grabbing him around his middle or chest as everyone else had, Farris cupped Jae in one hand and used his other hand to steady the boy and hold him to his broad chest. Wordlessly, the giant took Jae to the far corner of the room where there was a door way and a set of narrow stairs leading up.

“King’ll be getting my note soon,” Farris said, stepping into the room at the top of the stairs. Like the room below, it was small and it was noticeably colder. It appeared to be his personal quarters. There was a bed in the corner, a lit lantern on the wall, and a small table at the center of the room that was covered in books and scraps of parchment. The window off to the side was dark. Night had fallen. Only the light from the lantern lit the space, casting it in a dim golden hue. “Just sent a footman up with the food. Not sure what he’ll do, but it could get rough. Doubt his majesty’s gonna take the Captain’s behavior in stride. So we need t’be prepared fer shit to get thick. Here me, Jae?”

Jae nodded absently. “What...what do I do?”

“You, lil’un,” he said, carefully lowering Jae onto the bed. “Are gonna stay here and stay hidden. If anyone comes lookin’ fer ya I don’t feel has any business knowin’ where ya are, they won’t.”

Before Jae could formulate a response, Farris pulled the swathe of cloth from across his arm and wrapped it around Jae and tucking in the corners. He then reached into the pocket of the apron around his waist and pulled out three bright green apples. The fruit looked absurdly small in the giant’s palm and he tipped his hand to let the fruit roll in front of Jae.

“Here,” he told him. “Ya don’t look like yuv seen decent food in a good while.”

“Thank you,” Jae said, staring at the apples, but instead of feeling the urge to scarf them down, all he felt was nausea. All the adrenaline and panicking had left his tummy feeling sour. “But I’m not hungry...”

“If I come back and I don’t see at least one core,” Farris warned as he pinned Jae with an unamused look. “I’ll reconsider addin’ ya to the stew.”

Jae froze, looking up into the giant’s face to gauge the seriousness of the threat. Farris’s expression was stern and unwavering. Reaching for one of the apples, and bringing it to his face, Jae took a small bite to appease the large scowling man. Jae chewed the mouthful slowly. It was cold and crisp and sweet and tangy all at the same time. And so delicious. He took another, bite, bigger than the first and chewed faster. Then another, more fervent than the others, fat goblets of juice dripping down his chin. Within a minute, all that was left of the first apple was a meager core. His stomach did not protest the food and seemed perfectly happy with the turn of events and growled loudly, begging for more. Jae reached for another, pausing when he heard Farris laugh.  

“‘Not hungry’ my arse,” Farris chuckled before turning to leave the room and closing the door behind him.


………………………


The apples had been reduced to cores and what little flesh was left was quickly turning brown. Jae rolled them around some, tossed them in the air, caught them, and generally tried to find some way to occupy his mind. But after a while, all pretenses were put aside and Jae stopped ignoring the swirling miasma of his inner thoughts.

And he cried. Hard and long and proper.

He called out miserably for his mother and father, knowing they would not come. He cried out of fear for being where he was, in the situation that he found himself, and wished that he had been awake to drink the water with everyone else. Let whatever poison lacing the water take him into a dreamless sleep. He would have drank with the others, unknowing of the danger so close.

Here in this place, he was painfully aware of how much danger he was in. Everywhere he looked reminded him that he was small and helpless and very alone. Pulling the cloth tighter around his shoulders, Jae walked over to the large lump that was the pillow and burrowed underneath it and turned his body so his head just barely poke out so he could breath fresh air.

He stayed there for some time, happy to be warm, and slightly hidden should some hungry giant come strolling in to try and find themselves a convenient snack. So it was unfortunate that as such a thought crossed the boy’s mind that the door opened and a giant that he certainly did not know strolled inside.

The giant was younger than any other that he had met and was carrying a small metal platter. Jae froze under his cover, slowly easing back under the pillow and hoping the giant would not spot him. The giant was looking around the room, peeking at the table, under the table, and even lifting some of the parchment, ostensibly looking for Jae. The giant’s brown eyes wandered over to the bed and swept over the pillow, but doubled back. Jae had been spotted.

With a fearful squeak, Jae pushed himself all the way under the pillow.

“So, uh...” came the muffled voice of the giant. “Farris sent me up here to check on ya and keep ya company fer a bit.”

Jae remained where he was and did not answer the giant.

“Uh. So, m’name’s Kol,” he said, stammering awkwardly. “Ya don’t gotta hide from me lil’ guy. I ain’t here to hurt ya.” He laughed. “Shit, Farris’d skin me or worse. And he’d do it too! Ya never wanna piss Farris off. One time he got so pissed at a guard fer...uh, something, that he threw a carving knife at him! He missed, mind ya, but not fer lack a’ tryin’. The guy was a right fucker. Think he died at Riftside. Ah, anyway, uh...you gonna come out? Kind awkward talkin’ to a pillow, ya know.”

He still did not answer.

“Look,” Kol said. “I know ya gotta be scared outta wee head, but you’re safer here than any part a’ the castle. Save fer maybe with the King. He sent a note back to us by the way. Wants to us ta keep ya safe with us fer a bit till be can get things handled proper like.”

Slowly and carefully, Jae pulled himself out from under the pillow, just enough to meet the giant’s gaze. Kol was standing near the end of the bed, a healthy distance away as though he were trying his best not to frighten the already terrified child. When Jae emerged, the awkward half smile on Kol’s face faltered and turned sad.

“Fuck,” he muttered. “Farris said ya were a lil’ thing, but...cripes. Yer a just a babe.”

Jae did not protest the statement. Seeming unnerved by Jae silent staring, Kol glance around awkwardly and when his eyes caught onto the plate in his hands he smiled. “Oh yeah, brought up some more food in case ya were still hungry. Got some bread and cheese and some more apples.”

He moved closer to the where Jae huddled and sat the metal plate down on the bed. There was a hunk of bread almost twice his size and a hunk of crumbly white stuff of equally large proportions. There was a small ceramic bowl filled with more green apples. Jae’s mouth watered at the sight and shimmied out from under the pillow. It was enough food to feed twenty people easily. Possibly more. Certainly more. He thought back to all the times they had to ration meager portions of beef or rotting vegetables and it made him sad.

Kol was smiling at him though, encouraged by Jae willingly coming out, even though the little human was still eyeing him warily.  

“Said yer name was Jae,” Kol said. “That right?”

“Uh-huh,” Jae replied, scooting closer to the food.

“Well, like I said before, I’m Kol. Work here in the kitchens. Under Farris. As a baker.” He pointed to the chunk of bread. “Made that there myself. This mornin’. Well, me and couple a’ other fellas. We make all the bread fer the castle. Which is a lot. Oh, here.”

Kol, seeing the way Jae was staring at the plate, reached into his apron and pulled out a small knife and sat down on the edge of the bed. Jae froze, staring with wide eyes at the sudden flash of metal. But all Kol did was use it to cut off a small piece of bread and cheese and put them close to the edge of the plate where Jae could reach them before slipping it back out of sight. As though it were a normal thing to be hiding small knives about ones person.

Maybe it was a kitchen thing? Still a little shaky, Jae leaned forward and snatched the pieces of food, watching Kol at the corner of his eye, but the giant just watched him patiently.

There came a peculiar sound from outside the window and Kol was on his feet in an instant, genial expression flashing to a more sternly concentration. Pressing himself against the wall, the young giant leaned carefully to peer out at the world below through the dirty glass pane. He did not look happy.

“...what is it?” Jae asked, ready to dive for the shelter of the pillow given the word.

“Nothin’ ya gotta be worryin’ about,” Kol told him gently as he pulled the drapes closed. “We’re just gonna stay up here. Let the big guys deal with it.”

“It’s because of the Captain right? The...one who wanted to eat me?”

Kol walked over to the other wall where the lantern hung on old brass anchors and pulled it up and off the bracket, setting it down on the floor and the room became darker. “Sir Baynor is a very powerful man, but no one who defies a direct decree from the King and should be expectin’ there to be no recompense fer it. I’m not much of a mind fer politics, but it doesn’t take a scholar to figure out trying to eat a human for the fuck of it is beyond the pale. Personally, I hope they hang the bastard.”
Kol looked absolutely enraged. “We finally be gettin’ beyond all that shit and he comes strutting up trying to get on with it, on the side like? Farris should’a ripped the fucker apart.”

He sighed then.

“A’course it’d have just made a bigger mess.” he paused, seeming to recall who his audience was. “Sorry. Don’t mean to be talkin’ ‘bout all that nasty business. Like I said, though. Yer safe as can be up here.”

“Thank you,” Jae murmured. “For the food too.”

“Think nothin’ of it,” Kol replied.

The night stretched on and Jae wondered if it really was too much to hope to see the sun rise again.
Despite the run in with the four blue Rangers, Nenani ended up learning quite a lot that afternoon. Most of the herbs and spices that the new Queen had brought over with her were either for tea or pastries. Once Yale had the lot labeled and inventoried, they migrated into the kitchen to see if the bakers, Quinn and Kol, were in need to any of the newly named ingredients or help in general. And if their expressions of pure exasperation were any clue, the answer was yes. Please, yes and thank you.

Kol was a face she recognized as he was the giant who had spoken to Farris before Rheil had taken her to see the King. He was the shorter of the pair with chestnut brown hair and eyes to match. Quinn was a tad taller than Yale with hazel eyes and a mop of dirty blond hair. Curiously, Quinn was the only giant she had seen with blonde hair. Both seemed nice enough, sparing her a smile when Yale sat her down on the table.    

“What is marzy payne?” asked Kol, running his hands through his hair and staring at the list in his hands. There were several bowls of proofing dough on the table, covered in white towels, while the table was dusted light with flour after having finished with making the regular roster of breads. Aside from the proofing dough there were several containers of various nuts and dried fruits and jams as well as a large crock filled with more butter than Nenani had ever seen in her life. She walked around the large container, eyes wide in wonder. She was battling with the very strong urge to stick her fingers into it.

Without even looking at her, but somehow seeming to know where her little mind was wondering, Yale reached over to lay his fingers on her shoulders and gently turned her around. Ushering her away from the butter, he pointed to a spot on the table closer to him in a wordless command. She obligingly sat down, a little embarrassed at being almost caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Or butter jar, as it were.    

“Marzy...payne? Sounds disgusting,” remarked Yale, looking over Kol’s shoulder. He snerked. “You git, that says marzipan, not marzy payne. Can’t you read?”

Nenani’s ears perked up at the name. She knew what marzipan was. She opened her mouth to say something, but Kol’s voice drowned her out.

“Ah, come off it. Still haven’t a clue what it is,” Kol sighed, looking towards Quinn as he was scanning a small shelf near a work table close to where the many various knives and cleavers were hung. There were several books there. “Don’t we have anythin’ about Ibronian cuisine? Anything at all?”

“Nope,” Quinn replied. “Nothing.”

“The Queen’s expectin’ these pastries tomorrow, so work them brains boys,” Yale added.  

Nenani tried several times to interject, but the three of them just talked over each other until they all huffed in frustration. Quinn started knocking his forehead against the table while Yale and Kol were staring at the list as though their displeased expressions could will the answers they sought from the parchment. It remained steadfastly silent.  

“Um...” Nenani raised her hand.

“Hm? What’cha needin’ there, Dumplin’?” Kol asked, glancing at her from over the top of the list.

“Uh...welll. M-marzipan’s just another name for almond paste,” Nenani told them. The three giants looked down at her with blank expressions that slowly melted into ones of incredulity. Nenani frowned at their skeptic looks, crossing her arms defensively. “...What?”

“How do you know that?” asked Quinn, one eyebrow raised critically. “Yer just a babe.”

The girl huffed. Just because she was young did not make her stupid. She knew lots of stuff. And she was not a baby! Eleven was not a baby.

“Because,” she replied, “There’s a stall on the docks that make fried dough filled with it. Lots of the ships that come through port are from the northern plate and they’re all crazy for it because almonds don’t grow up north. They call it something different, but the Beastmen always called it marzipan.”

Yale suddenly scooped her up, bringing her close to his face, and nuzzling her cheerfully. “Well aren’t you just a well of useful information!”

Quinn and Kol were looking at them with amused grins, tilting their heads to touch as they clasped their hands together. “Awww...” they chorused mockingly.

“Ah, shuddup, you fuckers,” Yale replied. Nenani blushed and whined for Yale to put her down. “So...do we even have any almonds?”  

It took a good three hours to decipher all of the Queen’s pastry list, involving several ultimately useless books, and finally sending someone to ask the Queen herself about some of the breads. The bay laurels were stewed into a very strong tea that was then added to eggs and flour and yeast, proofed, braided into a spiral, and then baked in glazed ramekins with copious amounts of butter and topped with coarse sea salt. Then there was another braided pastry filled with three types of jam, two kinds of egg tarts, and something called a treasure pouch which Nenani was able to help put together. She took four whole apples and placed them at the center of a large square of yellow pastry that Quinn had rolled and cut for her. Then a mound of butter and a large portion of ground spices were added before the four sides were pinched together, rolled in sugar, and baked. She may or may not have licked her fingers clean of lingering butter when no one was looking. When Kol pulled them from the ovens a while later, they did indeed look like pouches of treasure. If treasure was butter spiced apples. Which after several hours of work, they might as well have been to Nenani.    

They only took a small break to quickly scarf down some lunch and by the time all the bread and pastries were finished and cooling, Nenani had decided that Quinn and Kol had the worst jobs. Baking was very hard and exhausting. And all she did was help with a few of the pastries and still it left her drained. By the end of the day, she was leaning against an empty jar as the three giants started cleaning the tables, bowls, and tools. The rest of the kitchen staff filtered in as well, going about the end of day cleaning. Footmen and other servants had already come down and collected the food for the upstairs dinner service, large silver trays filled with whole sides of beef and venison, stacks of fresh bread and rolls, and large crystal decanters of dark red wine.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle when Bart, Herit, and Gjerk come in smelling of Lipper eels and were hurriedly shoved back outside accompanied by angry demands they all go wash and change. Saen and Kol started on getting the kitchen’s dinner prepared. It was a far more humble meal of onion and venison soup with bread, but no one seemed to mind or care.

As Yale was wiping out a bowl, he caught sight of his human charge as she began to nod off. Quinn caught the look on his face and nudged him with an elbow.

“Ah, leave ‘er be,” he said, voice quiet. “She did a good job. Let her sleep a bit before everyone comes bargin’ in fer supper.”

……………………………..

She was small again, watching her parents argue as she pretended to sleep.

“I don’t care what they say,” her mother cried. “I won’t do it.”

“I don’t want it either,” said her father. “But you can’t pretend like it won’t happen. One day, she’ll bloom. Then they’ll be no hiding her. The seal can’t last forever. One day you won’t be around to fix it when it cracks. He will find her. It might be better if we just...”

“No. We’ve survived this long, we’ve kept her safe. I will be there for her. That...beast won’t touch her.”

“By pure chance we have survived. We’d have been dead already if those Rangers hadn’t...”

“Don’t talk to me about them,” her mother sneered. “I don’t want to remember that smug bastard’s face. I should have roasted him!”

“But you couldn’t. Not without revealing everything and bringing their whole army to us. You’re just lucky he thought you were just a noblewoman and that he handed her over and then they’d have know who we are, who she is. Who you use to be.”

“I never stopped being that person, Hayron. His daughter,” the woman said bitterly. “I will never stop being his daughter. I will always love my family. I don’t care what some old fart wrote down in a book. I don’t care even if he died hating me. His blood is my blood.”

“And her blood. The last flower falls to our daughter. If it blooms, he’ll come for it. For her. Like he tried to come for you.”

“So long as the seal holds, it will never bloom. No magic that exists this side of the border could break it.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“I am,” she said, suddenly sad. Tears began to fall. “The only thing good about this whole mess. Nenani will never know the fire’s bloom. I just pray I live long enough for it to wilt and that she may be granted a peaceful life. Away from all this madness.”

……………………………………

“Ah, should have seen Keral’s face when I told him too!” Bart’s voice broke through the fog of sleep and Nenani’s eyes blinked open. She looked up and saw the underside of Farris’s jaw. She was pressed close to his chest. One of his arms cradled her, her shoes were pressed into the palm of his hand, and his fingers curled around her feet, and his thumb absentmindedly stroked her calf. For a moment, she was scared, but the feeling passed soon enough. She remembered what Yale had told her that morning, about taking care of their own, and was surprised to find herself believing his words. Especially after coming face to face with a giant like Thrist and how Bart had swooped in to stop him from making a meal of her. And how silly Yale had acted when he thought she might have been hurt. It was sweet really...  

From where she lay, Nenani could smell the lingering scent of fresh baked bread and a fresher scent of something savory and aromatic. She shifted a little, causing the Spice master to peer down at her.

“And so the dead arise,” said Farris. “Thought you were gonna sleep all the way through supper, Dumplin’.”

Nenani wiggled a little, trying to sit up.

“Food?” she asked weakly. She was famished. Farris chuckled and obligingly setting the girl on the table. He reached over her head to the plate of warm bread, pulled off a chunk, and handed it to her. She ate with relish, pulling out the softer white insides first before tearing pieces of the crust and eating them. He pushed a small ramekin full of soup into her field of vision, still steaming. They seemed to eat a lot of soup, she had begun to notice. But she was not going to complain. Food was food and even better if she did not have to sneak and steal for it.    

“The lads were tellin’ us about yer run in with a few of our boys in blue,” Farris said with a smirk as she ate. “Thrist’s a nasty piece a’ work when Keral’s not round to keep his leash short. Best avoid their sort. He could a’ hurt ya Dumplin’.”

“He did drop me,” Nenani replied, dunking her piece of bread into the soup and bringing it to her mouth. Wincing when she found the soup to be a bit too hot, she huffed a few times in an attempt to cool down her burning mouth. She ignored Bart’s snickering. One aspect of her current living situation that she did not think she would ever tire of was the abundance of fresh bread. All the bread she and her family ever had around were hard crusty loaves meant to keep for weeks at sea. Vhasshal breads were a marvelous thing. Soft and plentiful. And their apparent devotion to butter was a godsend. Kol and Quinn were masters of their craft.

“After ya threw a pepperseed in his eye!” Herit laughed from further down the table, waving his spoon in the air. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Ranger cry before.”

“It’s no laughing matter,” Yale growled, glowering over his mug. “That fucker could have killed her. And you three were just watchin’!”

Bart just waved a hand. “I was really expectin’ Dayne to stop Thrist before it got outta hand. That boy’s usually smart enough to end a joke when it stops being funny. Can’t say I’m surprised to find he’s a disappointment too. Guess he wouldn’t be a Ranger if he weren’t.”

“Aye,” Farris added with a growl and pinning Yale with a critical eye. “And where might you have been when all this was going on? Ya had Dumplin’ duty, lad. Orders to keep ‘er outta trouble and the like.”

Yale’s sour expression shifted into one of mild shame. “I was getting a crock from storage. I was gone for only a bit.”

“And ‘only a bit’ does it take fer things to go to shit,” Farris said shaking his head in exasperation before plucking Nenani from the table, hands beneath her arms, and holding her up in front of everyone at the table. For Nenani’s part, she just sat still, confused and passive in the Spice Master’s hold, and munched on her piece of bread.      

“Listen good, lads. See this lil’un here? When humans are young like this one, they got all the self preservation instincts of a damn lemming,” Farris stated simply. Several of those present laughed and snickered and Nenani made a muffled noise of protest, her mouth still full of bread. “All curiosity and no caution. Take yer eye off of ‘er fer a moment and she’ll be neck deep in trouble before you can spit. That marker may have my seal, but I expect all ya to keep an eye on ‘er, aye? As fer you, Dumplin’...”
He turned Nenani around to fix her with a clearly unamused expression. “...no more throwin’ pepperseeds into peoples’ faces. Ya need help, ya scream fer one a’ us. Got it?”

She nodded, taking another bite of bread. Farris sighed, not seeming convinced of her understanding.  

“Haven’t even been here a week an’ already makin’ trouble fer yerself,” Farris grumbled as he sat her back down onto the table. Her attention was drawn back to the soup. She was more interested in food than a lecture. After a moment, she tilted her head up to look at Farris who just raised a questioning eyebrow at her.

“What’s a lemming?” she asked.  

Farris chuckled, a warm deep sound from his throat, and his hand came up to playfully pinch at her arm before ruffling her hair. “You are, gal.”
Maevis and Barnaby
Maevis (big guy) and Barnaby (small guy). They are bestest buds and enormous dorks. Both are characters in my story DUMPLING. Maevis is a pacifist magician and Barnaby is the former royal archivist of Silvaara. He was the first human that King Warren gave refuge to following the War of Blood and Fire which left the human Kingdom of Silvaara destroyed.

As decreed by the King, all humans living on castle grounds is assigned a Vhasshalan guardian who is responsible for that human. Maevis is Barnaby's guardian. Though some feel as though it's more of a reversal. Both harbor dark pasts, which they both dearly wish to forget and find solace in their mutual shame with each other's company. They both understand the price they paid during the war and their friendship is all the stronger for it. 


Maevis wears gloves at all times to hide the scars and burns covering his hands and wrists.
 
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Nenani stood on the wood table that had been set up on the far edge of the courtyard. Thankfully upwind of Bart and his helpers who were at their own table. Bart would reach down into a large barrel of water and pull out a long black wiggling creature that was easily eight feet long with a bright yellow stripe down its belly. As Yale had described, the eels had distinctly large puffy lips. They looked rather comical if they were not so huge and did not frame long sharp teeth. Bart and his ever trusty cleaver would dispatch the creature and then he would hand the twitching body to Herit, a mousy brown haired giant, who had the task of actually skinning the smelly thing and then gutting it before passing the carcass to his fellow helper. Gjerk, a red haired giant with large ears, had the task of butterflying it and flattening it before adding it to a layer of other previously processed eels. Once a layer inside the crate had been made, it was covered with copious amounts of salt. Then the process repeated.

It looked like a rough job and it certainly was not smelling that great. Even upwind, Nenani was still able to smell the stink. Even surrounded by bags and jars of spices and dried herbs, the stench persisted.

“I have no fuckin’ idea what the hell this is s’pose t’be,” muttered Yale, riffling through a bag of dried leaves. “The Queen could have had her people label this shit.”

Nenani walked closer to the bag and looked in. The leaves were small compared to a giant, looking like little flecks of green in Yale’s palms. To her, they were normal sized leaves.

“Can I see?” Nenani asked.

“Sure,” Yale said, bringing a small palm-full of the leaves down to her level. She reached out and plucked up a few of them. She lifted them up to her face and breathed in. “Don’t suppose you have any idea what these are? Just look like garden clippin’ t’me.”

“No. But they smell nice, though,” she said with a sympathetic shrug.

“Aye, that they do,” he replied with a defeated sigh. Beside him he had a book opened that he was flipping through, looking between its words and illustrations and the leaves. “I may have to ask a footman to get the Queen to identify these.”

Nenani twirled one of the leaves under her nose, enjoying the unique smell. The more she breathed it in, she began to feel as though she knew the smell. It was vaguely lemony, but also...not? She had so little exposure to herbs and the like besides whatever worked through the ports.

“...could it be Pepperwood?” she asked, the word popping into her mind. She vaguely recalled seeing some sort of herb on the docks and the Beastmen had called it Pepperwood. It had smelled lemony too.

“Pepperwood?” Yale asked. “Never heard of it. Might be.”

He flipped through the pages of the book before settling on a section almost at the very back. “...No, not Pepperwood, the veins are all wrong. But let’s see...”

He turned to a different page, studied the leaves, then the book and broke out into a wide grin. “HA! It’s Bay Laurel!”

“Bay Laurel?”

“Yep. It’s a cousin of Pepperwood,” Yale grinned, dumping the leaves in his palm back into the bag before vigorously ruffling Nenani’s hair. She had given up trying to put the blue ribbon back in her hair and her braid had come undone. So her hair was a bit of a mess. “Ya got a bit of a knack fer this, Dumplin’.”

“So...what now?” she asked, walking up to the bag and tossing her leaves back inside as Yale as done.

“Now, we label and catalog it in the inventory roster. With leaves like these, we usually put ‘em in a jar. But with this many, we’ll use a crock. Stay here, I’ll need t’go grab one from storage.”

As Yale went off to wherever the crocks were stored, Nenani walked along the table, looking at the other bags and small barrels that they would be going through and labeling. A good many spices she recognized, but didn’t know the names. The Beastmen port was an active stop for many spice traders. On hot days, the docks would smell spicy and floral, drowning out the scent of the ocean and briny seaweed along the beach. One of the open bags held large seeds the size of apples. She reached inside and picked one up. It was not as heavy as it looked like it should be, feeling hollow, but the shell was extremely hard. She lifted it to her nose and sniffed and was greeted by a deep and intense pepper like smell, but there were no floral undertones. It made her sneeze and eyes water.

A growing noise grabbed her attention and she looked up to see four giants dressed in long blue coats stride into the courtyard. They were laughing and pushing at each other, but a few steps into the square space, they all jerked as though slapped and covered their mouths and noses.

“Oi! The fuck is that?”

“Somebody die out here? Man that’s rank!”

“Fuckin’ Hells...”

Bart and his two helpers, hearing the commotion, looked up with sly grins.

“Oh, what’s the matter, lads? Thought ya liked Lippers!” Bart hollered. “Don’t much care fer how it makes it to yer plate, I take it?”

“C’mon, we can show ya how to do it yerself if ya like!” Herit jeered, waving a Lipper’s gutless body in the air.

“Don’t tell us the worse ya ever smelled was some stupid Lipper!” laughed Gjerk with a taunting wave of his hand. “A few weeks out with you boys and I bet these beauties start smellin’ pretty nice, eh?”

Bart laughed haughtily at that one, reaching over to slap the smaller giant on the back. The four blue clad giants threw angry sneers and snarls at the kitchen workers.

“Fuck off with ya stupid Lippers,” snarled one.

“Wave that thing at me again, boy, and I’ll hang ya over the walls.”

Gjerk just grinned. “Try again, Thrist. Lolly’s already used that one on us.”

“Fuck off with ya y’cheeky little shit,” replied the blue coat.

“Aye, careful now. Best watch yer words,” Herit said, setting the eel down and wiping his bloody hands on his apron, gesturing towards Nenani with his head. “We’ve got orders not to teach the Dumplin’ any bad words and all. She’s all impressionable like, y’know.”

“Th’fuck are you on about?” asked one of the blue coats. However, two of the guards had followed Herit’s head gesture and looked over to where Nenani was standing, breaking out into their own sly grins when they caught sight of her. They tapped their fellows’ shoulders, pointing Nenani out. “Oh-ho-oh! So you’ve got yourselves some new meat, eh boys?”

They started towards Nenani’s table. Behind them, she saw Bart smack Herit over the head and hiss something at him before calling out to the four blue coats. “Best leave the lil’un alone, boys. That one belongs to Farris.”

Two of them paused, sensing the grave warning in those words, but the other two were already at the table, looming over the small girl who could only stand there in nervous fidgets. She remembered the King’s words and felt the weight of the marker around her neck. They wouldn’t hurt her.

She hoped.    

“And what’s a little thing like ya doing down here, hm?” asked one of the giants, bending down close and making Nenani scramble back. He just laughed at her. His breath was foul smelling and his teeth were a sickly yellow. “Ah, now. Ya scared a’me, lil’lass?”

“No,” she replied definitively, trying to keep any clue to her fear from her voice.

He chuckled, brows narrowing, and lips pulling back further into a grim smile. “Ah, now that’s a lie. I can see ya quakin’ in yer little skirts there.”

“And ya should be. Know what these colors mean?” asked the other giant, pulling on the collar of his blue coat. “Ya don’t be seeing any a’the guards wearin’ it, eh? Blue’s for th’Rangers.”

“And us blue Rangers are a quite the ruthless bunch,” said the other, face still uncomfortably close. “Know what our jobs use t’be when the old King was still kickin’?”

She shook her head, fear squirming in her belly and wishing Yale would come back. She clutched the round seed in her hand, knuckles turning white. A faint memory prickling at the back of her mind. She remember a cold night, a blue coat giant, and bright green eyes...

The giant with yellow teeth suddenly rose up, one hand sweeping in and grabbing her up from the table, paying her alarmed squeaking no mind. He held her up, watching her kick and beat at his hand with sick glee. His eyes bore into her and in there depths was a predatory hunger that sent waves of dread through her.

“We use to hunt you little buggers down fer the King. Kept a few of ya fer ourselves, a’course,” he said, licking his lips with a long draw of his tongue, and clearly enjoying the girl’s fear. “What’ve ya got to say about that, my little morsel?”

He opened his mouth wide and started lowering her down.

Her mind went blank. She beat the seed against the giant’s hand, desperate to get away, and pulling at the fingers around her chest as he pulled her closer. She huffed, glared at the giant, and yelled as loud as she could manage, “FUCK OFF!”

The giant paused and he glared at her in slight confusion. And then she threw the seed at the giant’s face, hitting him square in the left eye.

“AUGH!”

The fingers around her disappeared and she felt the wave of sickening weightlessness as she plummeted downward. She bounced off the giant’s chest, rolling and flipping and landing on a decidedly not hard surface. Green leaves exploded around her and the world disappeared. The smell of Bay Laurel let her know where she had landed, but her heart was hammering in her chest and her head was spinning.

“O-oi! Thrist, ya okay?!”

“AUGH! YOU FUCKING LITTLE SHIT, I’LL KILL YA FER THAT! YOU’RE FUCKING LUNCH!” The table shook as large angry fists pounded onto the wood. Nenani fought her way out of the leaves that buried her in time to see the angry and red faced blue coat, Thrist, lock onto her. His mouth twisted into a snarl, spittle flying, and suddenly all Nenani could see was the large hand reaching for her. She froze…

Bart appeared at Thrist’s side and grabbed the blue coat’s arm and shoulder and twisted. He pinned the arm behind the Ranger’s back and pulled him away from the table. “I told’ya t’leave the lil’un alone, boy,” he said, voice deceptively calm. “Should have listened. I know you Rangers are a tad unorthodox in yer dealings and all, but surely Keral’s trained ya mutts on how to take orders now?”

“LET GO A’ ME, YA FUCKING SCAB! I’LL RIP YER FUCKING BALLS OFF!”

“Wrong answer, lad.” Bart jerked his grip on Thrist’s arm up, making the man practically squeal for mercy. “Now, I’m gonna give ya back yer arm. And you and yer boys are gonna go back to yer boss and tell him yer all in some dire need of a good arse kickin’. And ya can be sure I’ll be askin’ ‘im about it later. Now do as the lil’lass suggested...” he trailed off for a moment before sneering and growling into the blue coat’s ear, “...and kindly fuck off. Before I take your suggestion and rip yer balls off.”

Bart released his arm, pushing back and away from the table before putting himself between Nenani and the blue coats. He only moved away once the four had rounded the corner and out of the courtyard. Bart peaked back over his shoulder, expression curious. “Still in one piece there, Dumplin’?”

“...uh-huh,” she replied weakly, still shaken. “T-thank you...”

Bart spared her a smile. “Just do us all a favor and save our ears from Lolly. Don’t let ‘er hear ya talk like that, eh?”

Nenani nodded, trying to will her heart back to a normal rhythm.  

“There’s a good girl,” he replied before walking back to Herit and Gjerk and the Lippers. Yale reemerged from from the kitchens, a glazed crock under one arm, just as the blue coats left. He jogged back over to the table as Nenani was trying to gather the spilled Bay Laurel.  

“What was that all about?” he asked, putting down the crock and looking concerned. Nenani paused with an armful of the leaves, trying to think of something to say. Yale raised an eyebrow.

“Uh...I said a bad word,” she said. “Don’t tell Lolly.”

Yale cracked a confused smile. “And the Rangers?”

Nenani frowned. “...they’re the reason I said the bad word.”

Yale’s bemused look turned sour and he turned to Bart. “Do I need to get Farris, Bart?”

“All taken care of,” Bart replied, going about his task. “Dumplin’ got one hell of a throwin’ arm on ‘er.”

Yale looked back down at Nenani, unamused. “I’m not getting the full story here. And I’ve getting the impression it’s gonna end with Farris ripping apart a blue coat.”

“Better than that,” Bart called back. “Gonna be gettin’ Keral on their tails.”

Yale laughed darkly. “Well, I’m satisfied with that. You’ll still be owin’ me a story, though, Dumplin’. What’d they do?”

She bit her lip, avoiding Yale’s gaze. “...one of them tried to eat me.”

“WHAT?!”

……………………………….

After Bart had calmed Yale down, physically having to restrain him from running off after the Rangers, Bart assured him that whatever he had planned was nothing compared to what this Keral person could manage. After a moment, Yale conceded and returned to his work. But not before making sure Nenani was in fact whole and unharmed, free of any bite marks.  

“I’m okay!” she told him after the third time he demanded she turn around. “I promise!”

“Don’t care,” Yale grumbled, gesturing for her to turn once more. “Lift your arms.”

She sighed and did as instructed, but as she raised her arms, Yale’s dour expression became murderous. He reached out, gently grasping her left arm between his fingers. She had a bruise just above her elbow.

Yale growled at the sight, but his tone was soft when he spoke. “Does it hurt?”

“Nope,” she replied. “That’s an old bruise.”

“Where’d you get this one?”

“A port master tried to throw me off the docks,” she replied causally. The morning that she had fallen into the persimmon basket, she had spent looking for unwatched goods that she might sneak for a snack. One of the beastmen had caught her sniffing about his cargo and had grabbed her arm and tossed her away. She managed to keep herself from falling into the water, but only just.

“What?” Yale asked. “Why?”

“I was looking for food,” she answered. “I got caught.”

Yale sighed with a displeased scowl.

“And no one from yer village took ya in or nothin’?” He asked. “After ya were left all alone?”

She shook her head. “No. They...thought it was my fault. The fire.”

Yale’s somber expression turned incredulous. “What now? Why would they think that?”

“They said I was cursed,” she replied with a sad frown. “And I was bad luck and dangerous.”

“Well, yer village sounds like its full of right stupid gits,” Yale scoffed.

“You don’t think I could be cursed?” she asked.  

“You?” he asked with an incredulous grin and a laugh. Yale put his hands on his hips and titled his head in amusement. “Sorry to laugh, Dumplin’. But yer a lil’ small fer me to be considerin’ ya anythin’ close to dangerous. Gonna have t’forgive me if I ain’t tremblin’ at the sight of ya.”

Oddly enough, that made her feel better.
Her dreams were strange. She was smaller than she remembered being, held tightly to her mother’s chest, traveling in a group through a dark forest. It was cold and she could see her breath leave her mouth in a thick mist.

“Don’t move,” said her father, pressing a hand to her mother’s shoulder. He ran a calloused hand down Nenani’s head when she began to babble at him in confusion. Her mother pulled the blanket over her little face. Around them, the forest was silent and strange. No crickets chirped. Even the wind was still. The others of their group were silent, hunching into their cloaks, and looking around the dark trees.

The air smelt wrong.    

“What is it?” someone asked. “Are there giants?”

“Shhh,” her father hissed. His hand gripped the hilt of the sword at his belt, the emblem of thorns adorning the guard, before the world exploded in a horrendous crash of sound and trees. The blade drew from the sheath with a flash.

“RUN!” Her father bellowed. Voices as loud as thunder roared above them. The people screamed as they bolted.

They were running. Her mother’s breath was heavy in her ears, desperate and terrified whimpers escaping her as she ran, her arms clutching the child to her breast. Suddenly, she paused and changed direction. Something behind her crashed.

“No use in runnin’, love,” boomed a voice from above. “I can smell the fear on ya.”

She ran further through the brush and leaped down an embankment, running along a narrow stream, the overgrowth hiding her from anything above. The loud stomping of the monster's walk passed by, paused, and continued on. Above them, he cursed.

“Stupid girl...”

Nenani could hear her mother’s breath become ragged, could feel the fluttering pulse of her heartbeat under her little hands. Abruptly, her mother fell hard to her knees at the foot of a large tree. She shoved her young daughter into its roots, pulling the blanket around her to shield her from the moons rays and from hunting eyes.

“Keep very still,” her mother told her, cupping her chubby little face. “And be very quiet.”

“Mummy,” she cried, little hands reaching out for her mother. The woman’s vibrant scarlet hair framed her face as a light breeze passed. She smiled through the tears dripping down her face.

“I love you, my sweet,” she said. “Be brave for me.”

The woman kissed her cheek even as the little girl babbled something unintelligible in the manner of a babe. Her mother just smiled once more, but it looked so sad. And then was gone.

No, please don’t go...

The tiny child sat in the dirt, wrapped in the wool blanket and waited. She could hear the sounds of the forest and the crashing and screams that faded as they moved further and further away. And still she waited. And waited. The chill began to creep in, and the little child wobbled to unsteady legs and ambled out into the night.  

“M-mummy?” She called, her thumb pressed to her lips. “Mummy? Dah-duh?”

When no one answered, she started to cry as she tottered about, dragging the wool blanket behind. Something behind her snapped loudly and the girl looked back at the noise and found herself staring at a pair of very large boots, scuffed with mud and forest debris. She tilted her head up and up and up and found piercing green eyes staring at down her. A large gloved hand descended from above and the little girl gave a startled cry and tried to run.

“Oi, now, lil’un,” rumbled the giant. “Where might ya think yer waddlin’ of ta? Not gonna get very far on them little legs.”

The young child only manages a few wobbly steps before tripping and falling face first into the dirt. She lay there, crying more from the shock of the fall than any pain. Large fingers encased her little body, plucking her tiny form effortlessly from the ground and cupped her into a warm palm that brought her up higher and higher. The same large fingers curled around around her slightly. A giant face loomed ahead, lips parting in a grin, and flashing his terrible teeth. Green eyes as sharp as knives cut into her as she stared back, her bottom lip quivering as she whimpered in fear.    

The giant chuckled, a deep throaty sound, and said, “Hello there, my little sweetling...”


…………………………………………


Nenani opened her eyes slowly as words, sensations, and smells from long ago echoed in her head. Her mind buzzed with the strange dream, but the more she tried to recall it with more clarity, the more it seemed to slip away from her like so many grains of sand through her fingers. Until at last, she could not remember it at all. All she was left with was a feeling of longing for her mother and the memory of those sharp green eyes...

It was then that she noticed with belated realization that her bed was breathing. She shifted a bit, pushing herself onto her arm and looked up to see Yale’s large sleeping face, tilted to one side. His mouth was open and he was drooling a little. She was curled up on his chest, a deep green wool blanket pulled over her and him alike. She didn’t remember falling asleep, let alone falling asleep on Yale. It was a bit of a startling thing to find oneself asleep on top of a giant first thing in the morning.

Was this something she was going to have to grow accustom to?

She remembered eating quietly while everyone else spent their evening indulging in the dark brew of the house ale and discussing various things. The most popular being how grateful they all were now that the Wedding feast was over and their work load would return to normal. Several of the kitchen staff had to be forced to bed after they had seemingly indulged a bit too enthusiastically in their beer. Farris barked at the drunk giants to ‘fuck off’ before he put them all on pit duty. Whatever pit duty was. Regardless, the threat was real enough to penetrate the haze of alcohol because they all begrudgingly toddled off to wherever it was the staff slept. And not too long after, it was only Farris, Bart, Yale, and Nenani left at the table.

Yale spent most of the evening fussing over Nenani and trying to make her laugh by poking her sides and telling awful jokes and generally trying to get her to not be so scared of him. He was marginally successful. It was hard to be afraid of someone who kept making weird and funny faces like that.

Until Bart barked at him to knock it off, the loud noise of his voice startling her.

“Stop coddlin’ ‘er ya git,” the large man said.

Yale just grinned in response and leaned forward onto the table, wrapping his long arms to encase Nenani in a loose embrace and startling her a bit as well. “I’m not coddlin’ ‘er. I’m just happy she made it through the Reap. And the King. And Lolly for that matter.”

“Ya act like yuv never seen a human pup before,” laughed Farris.

“It’s been a while,” Yale replied, pulling Nenani closer, ignoring her protests, and nuzzling her with his nose. His hair tickled her face, making her giggle. She pushed back against his cheek, but Yale wouldn’t let go. “Ya forget how cute they are when they’re young.”

Bart just rolled his eyes and took a long drink from his mug.

“Ya were around when the King found the brat,” Farris pointed out. “He was a scrawney little bugger too.”

“Yeah, but he was such a crybaby,” Yale replied. “He would burst into tears if you looked at ‘im wrong.”

“HA!” Bart laughed. “Aye, he was a blubbery wee thing...before he found his mouth, that is. And that one there’s been soppy eyed since ya caught her. Shakin’ like a three wheeled wagon.”

Farris and Yale chuckled at that.

“I thought you were gonna eat me,” Nenani murmured quietly in her defense, shifting a little where she sat.

Yale shook his head slightly. “Nah. Like I said. Ain’t much to ya. Not worth the hassle.”

Seeing the worried look on the little girl’s face, Yale laughed and pulled her a little closer to him, rubbing her arm with his fingers. “Oi now, don’t go on with that long face. I’m only pullin’ yer leg, Dumplin’. No one down here’s gonna be gobblin’ ya up.”

“So long as ya behave, that is,” Bart added, running his hand over his beard. Farris was shaking his head, but smiling.  

“Never stopped the brat,” Yale replied with a grin.  

“Only ‘cause ya could never catch the little rat.”

“I won’t be blaming ‘im fer being scared of our ugly mugs. Had every right to be scared and more,” Farris replied. “Surprised he ever warmed up ta anyone really. That first year was pretty rough fer most a’ us. That one certainly.”

“Who?” asked Nenani, leaning back into Yale’s shoulder, his large head resting on his crossed arms. If he insisted on cuddling on her, she might as well be comfortable. She had finished her stew and was now contently munching on a chunk of bread Yale had broken off from the larger loaves in the middle of the table.  

“Jae,” replied Yale, tilting his head to fix the little girl with a single eye. “He’s another human. The King found him when he was a kid and just kind of kept him.”

Nenani could not say she was hearing much many good things about this Jae person.

“Aye,” said Farris, staring into his mug. “Off in the moors on a hunt. Few days after the Blood King died, if I recall.”

Bart sneered and turned his head to spit on the floor. “Greatest day of m’life when those boys shoved that bastard full of steel.”

Both Farris and Yale made noises of agreement.

Nenani looked at Bart confused. Rheil had said the Blood King died. Not that he was killed. It felt strange to know that a figure so empirical to the stories she had been told all her life was dead and had been so for most of her life. Had her mother known? Had father or her Uncle? Did it matter? A dead boogeyman was not as terrifying as a live one, she supposed.  

Luckily, the others did not seem to want to speak of the dead monarch either and the topic turned to other things. It was sometime after that that she must have fallen asleep. She remembered gentle hands gathering her up and feeling warm and oddly safe. A feeling she had not experienced in many months.

As these thoughts and memories filtered through her mind, a loud voice broke through the morning quiet and startled Nenani badly.

“WAKE UP YOU LAZY FUCKERS!” Farris strode into the room, shoving aside the curtain that separated the barracks from the main kitchen, and slapped his palm along the wall. And a few of the sleeping workers’ heads as they lay in their bunks. Around her, the sleeping kitchen staff all groaned and stretched from their beds. Beneath her, Yale started awake and sat up without warning. Nenani tumbled down into the tangle of blankets and onto Yale’s lap with a startled squeak.

He looked down, his sleep laden eyes suddenly clear and sheepish. “Ah, sorry ‘bout that. Forgot ya were there, Dumplin’.”

“Verhn will be brewing today so we’ll be using the yard fer prep,” barked Farris, standing in the center of the room. There were several wooden bunks all stack along the walls, three bunks tall. Yale’s was the bottom bunk on the left side of the room. Farris was holding a list in one hand as he began barking out orders. “Saen, you’re off pit duty. Five crates of potatoes are waiting on ya. Get ta peelin’...”

Someone cheered.

“...and Avery, yer on pit duty. Call my Mum anything other than a blessed saint again and you’ll be the one on the spit and not the one spinning it.”

Someone else groaned. “...fuuuuuck you too.”

“Shuddup and get to it, ya arse. Quinn, Kol, your list is waitin’ fer ya on your stations,” said the Spice Master. “The Queen’s added a few...things. I hope you fellas are up for a challenge.”

“Always, boss,” quipped a sleepy giant as he leaped down from the top bunk.

“Half them pastries I haven’t ever even heard of,” Farris added. “And she’ll be expectin’ the dinner rolls tonight and the pastries tomorrow.”

“Sounds like fun!” came the sarcastic reply. “I love learning new shit with a hangover.”

“That’s yer own fault. Herit, Gjerk, yer with Bart today,” said Farris. He looked up from his list towards the bunk to his right and the two smallest of the kitchen workers. He grinned maliciously. “Got a fresh delivery of Lippers this morning.”

Both of the workers seemed to deflate. “Ahhhhhh, Seven Hells.”

“And that means you two’ll be sleepin’ in the yard tonight!” quipped a worker as he passed.

“Fuck that,” snapped one of them. “I’m gonna be covered in fucking Lipper stink and you’re all gonna suffer too!”

“Y’come in here stinkin’, Herit, and I’ll toss ya in Gurney’s manure pile! Hog tied and head first.”

As everyone around her bickered, Nenani was valiantly trying to untangle herself from the thick wool blanket that seemed to entrap her the more she fought. And she was not making much headway. Yale seemed content to just watch her struggle in lazy amusement.

Nenani sighed in defeat, looking up into the giant’s face. “Help?”

“Since ya asked so nice like,” he said smiling and pulled one side of the blanket. Nenani rolled, landing on the bare mattress with a ‘oof’.  

“Yale,” Farris said. “I need ya to go through all that new shit the Queen’s folk brought with her. I don’t recognize half of it, but I’m sure Quinn and Kol will be needed a good bit of whatever the fuck that shit is. Ya got Dumplin’ duty too. Keep ‘er out of trouble and out of the way. Maybe see if ya can’t teach ‘er somethin’ useful.”

“Aye,” said Yale, throwing his long legs over the side of the bunk. “But I’ve got half a mind to start shovin’ cloves up my nose now if they’re gonna be saltin’ Lippers out there.”

“And I’ve got half a mind to break that nose a’yours,” growled Farris before turning to stride out of the room. “NOW GET TO IT YA BASTARDS!”

Yale seemed to be taking his sweet time getting up, stretching and yawning. The rest of the staff were all up and filtering out of the room. Several shooting jealous glances his way. Yale just smiled and waved at them. Nenani laid down on the mattress next to him, feeling like she could easily go back to sleep. How early was it? Who in their right mind would be awake at this hour? It was still dark outside!

Yale turned his head down at her. “I’m not kidding about th’ cloves, neither, Dumplin’. Lippers are foul buggers.”

“What are they?” she asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes and yawning. “Fish?”

“Nah. Fresh water eels with big ol’ lips. They got this thick skin that excretes this nasty stuff that smells like death took a shit then lit it on fire.”

“...yuck,” she replied. “Then why bother?”

“Once they’re skinned and salted, they’re really nice. Fried in butter over some mash. And the skin’s pretty damn dough tough, makes fer some great leather work,” he replied. “Pretty versatile lil’ fuckers. It’s just a shit to get ‘em to where they’re worth eatin’. Not that anyone upstairs cares how they get it, just that they do. S’the only job worse than pit duty. S’why we shove it off on the tenderfoots. And Bart will pretty much do anything so long as he gets to chop something’s head off.”

With a grunt of effort, Yale got to his feet and stretched, and walked forward a few steps and back around to face the little human girl still laying sleepily on his bed. He crouched down next to the bed as Nenani pushed herself up.

“So what about you, Nenani?” he asked, voice quiet. His use of her actual name surprised her.

“Hm?” She sat up, crossing her legs and regarding the giant curiously.

“I didn’t scare you too badly did I?” He asked, reaching towards her. He pinched her face between a thumb and forefinger playfully, a small smile on his lips as his thumb lightly rubbed her cheek. “Y’know I was just playin’ with ya right? The whole, eatin’ ya thing? Ya seemed pretty rattled.”

“Yeah,” she admitted meekly. “It was scary. And I’m still a little nervous...about being here. Everything’s really big and...”

“Probably heard a lot of stories about this place, huh?” he asked.

She nodded.

“Well, can’t say they weren’t true at some point,” he told her. “Things were pretty bad during the war. Lots of folks did some terrible stuff, just tryin’ to see another day.”

“I don’t wanna be eaten...” she admitted weakly, shrinking into herself a bit.

“Ya won’t be,” Yale assured her gently and shifted so he was kneeling at eye level with the girl. The fingers at her face moving up to stroke her head affectionately. “Ya never have to worry about any of us hurting ya. And that’s a promise. We ain’t like them border guards. Right bastards, the lot of ‘em. S’why the get the worst postin’s. But don’t worry though. That little trinket around yer neck? It don’t just say that you belong to Farris or that you have the King’s permission ta be here. It means yer one o’ us. And even in the pits a’Hell, we take care of our own. Understand me, Dumplin’?”

He winked at her bewildered expression.

Something in his words struck a spark somewhere deep in Nenani’s mind. She recalled the days after her Uncle died. Her fellow villagers never offered a helping hand when he never came back. Not even a kind word of condolence. They spat at her, called her cursed. The Beastmen were cruel to her whenever she was on the docks asking for work or food. They would try to kick her when she passed. A few tried to grab her, threatened to sell her to slavers. For months she had to sneak and steal and scavenge and in the process she had received her fare share of slaps or beatings. She was no good at living on the streets and had lost a good bit of weight. She’d grown use to being filthy and sleeping in dirt. No one wanted a gutter rat around. Even the other wretches seem to disdain her. She was a small, needy little girl. A burden. It was as though they were waiting for her to just die already. It had been so hard and lonely...

There was a tightness blossoming in her chest at the recollection. It caught her off guard enough that she was only barely aware of the tears pooling in her eyes.

She was being welcomed openly by people who she had grown up believing to be man eating monsters. It was almost a cruel joke and not one that she felt like laughing at. But at the same time, she felt a profound sense of gratitude and relief in that moment. A weight she had carried for months. The fingers at her head were then at her back, stroking down her spine. Yale’s expression was oddly knowing.

“Rheil told us about how you ended up here,” he said. “Pretty rough goin’ there, lil’un.”

“IT’S GONNA GET A LOT ROUGHER IF YOU DON’T MOVE YOUR ARSE, YALE!”

“Ah, well. Let’s get to it then,” Yale said, scooping her up. A finger gently tapped her nose, earning him a watery smile from the girl as she scrubbed her eyes. “You’ll be alright, Dumplin’.”
Yeah. All I gotta say is that life had a big stick and used it to beat the ever living crud outta me. Nothing to worry about though. But it did mean that my art and time for it suffered in a big way and I am trying to slowly get back into it. I also have a tumblr now where I'm going to be posting some G/T related art and stories. Check it out, I'd love to see you all there: diddlesanddoodles.tumblr.com
  • Listening to: Last Podcast On The Left and Moana
  • Reading: The Moth and The Bear
  • Watching: Rogue One
  • Playing: Candy Crush Soda
  • Eating: Breakfast tacos
  • Drinking: COFFEE!!!

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Transformergirl
Lindsay
Artist | Hobbyist | Varied
United States
Lindsay is a fried dough food and is popular in many countries and prepared in various forms as a sweet (or occasionally savory) snack that can be homemade or purchased in bakeries, supermarkets, food stalls, and franchised specialty outlets. They are usually sweet, deep-fried from a flour dough, and shaped in rings or flattened spheres that sometimes contain fillings. Other types of dough such as potato can also be used as well as other batters, and various toppings and flavorings are used for different types...oh wait, that's a doughnut.
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:iconjasperinity:
Jasperinity Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016
Happy birthday! :D
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:icontransformergirl:
Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
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:iconjasperinity:
Jasperinity Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016
No problem! :3
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Morgatron84 Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist Artist
Happy Bday L Pikachu Emote - PEACE 
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Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
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StrikerBloodBlue753 Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist Artist
Happy bday!
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Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
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Star10 Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Happy Birthday :la::iconcakeplz::icongiftplz::iconrainbowbummiecakeplz::iconballoonplz::iconballoonsplz:
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Transformergirl Featured By Owner Dec 23, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you. :)
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SilenceIndustries Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Just wish to say Happy Birthday
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