The troll scratched his head and looked around in confusion. It was his normal state anymore, ever since his first day as an exchange student at the dragon school.
“I thought we were going to play hopscotch,” he said at last. “Trolls are good at hopscotch.” This was, of course because they cheated. Goff probably knew a thousand ways to cheat at hopscotch. It made the game more fun.
This was not like any game of hopscotch he’d ever seen. The squares were too far apart. Some were on random floating islands. Others were on patches of lava. Goff wasn’t even sure where to begin.
The dragons all laughed. “This is dragon hopscotch. What did you think it would be like?”
Goff frowned. “How am I supposed to play this? I’m not fire-proof and I can’t fly.”
“I guess you can’t play. That’s too bad,” one of the dragons said in a sweet, entirely insincere voice. “Maybe there’s another game you’d like to play?”
“Rock, paper, scissors?” Trolls were good at that too. They cheated, of course. Troll sleight-of-hand was legendary. It was a slightly-less-well-known rule of thumb to never play rock, paper, scissors with a troll. Maybe the dragons hadn’t heard it yet.
“Sure, but we call it boulder, tree, spear,” the same dragon said sweetly.
“But it’s played the same, right? Rock, paper, scissors?” Goff demonstrated the signs. “Paper beats rock, rock beats scissors, and scissors beat paper.”
The dragon smiled a wide, sharp-toothed grin. “Pretty much. But hand gestures are for weak little things like baby humans. Everyone go fetch your boulder, tree, and spear. It’s time for a battle!”
The dragons scattered. Goff watched a dragon wrench a nearby tree from the ground and sighed. He never got to play any dragon games. Why did he keep trying?
Life on Dragon Island continued, with everyone laughing at Goff and leaving him out. Classes were an exercise in strategic stage magic for the poor troll. He went through so many matches and hidden fireworks in flame-blowing classes.
Treasure hoarding was easier, because he just had to make things look sparkly to impress the teacher. A good coating of sugar syrup made even cardboard sparkle. Glitter was just icing on the cake, or rather added sparkle on the sugared cardboard.
It was gym class that was his personal nemesis. He had to focus all his energy and concentration in darting and avoiding and being somewhere else when flames and talons and giant, heavy, scary things were spinning in every direction. When he got home, he was going to be the undisputed king of dodge ball.
You many be wondering about the more academic subjects. Apparently, dragons didn’t read well. His host family said it was something about how the words on the page were just too hard to see. Dragons saw the world more with their heat sensors and sense of smell and such. So, dragons learned things like math and science and history by memory. At home.
Dragon parents didn’t want their darlings scorching everything in sight or ripping holes in the furniture, so they sent them away to school to learn those things. And it was always good to look at other hoards to get new ideas for their wish lists.
This meant that Goff, who was a wily, clever troll, never stood out at dragon school. And when the neighborhood dragons gathered to play games, he was left out yet again. Goff wondered who set up this ridiculous exchange program and what they were thinking.
And then it happened. Once a century or so, the negotiations with the magical creature council came up, and the residents of Dragon Island were required to send a representative. That was this year.
“None of us can read, dear,” Goff’s host mother said. “And all the contracts are written in teeny tiny words. We’re pretty straight-forward, and they’re always trying to trick us. That’s why we asked you to come. Can you get us a good deal?”
“You could have warned me,” Goff said. “I don’t know anything about international creature law. I’m still in school. Wouldn’t an older troll be a better choice?”
“This is how we’ve always done it. It worked fine before. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
And he was. Goff found thousands of loopholes and ran circles around the magical creature council. None of them had grown up as a troll, and they had no idea how to cope. Finally the head of the council snatched the contracts away. “Let’s just leave things the way they were. It’s been working fine so far.”
“That’s fine with me,” Goff said. Everyone else agreed.
And then all the dragons loved him. They even agreed to play the games his way sometimes. He always won, of course.
“I had no idea trolls had such hidden talents,” one of the neighborhood dragons said. “If we ever need help with rules or contracts, we’ll have to invite another troll to be an exchange student. This worked so well.” And thus history continued to repeat itself. Goff considered warning the other trolls, but then decided that the next troll might like a chance to play the hero. It was almost as fun as cheating at hopscotch.