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.
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.
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.
dragons all laughed. “This is dragon hopscotch. What did you
think it would be like?”
frowned. “How am I supposed to play this? I’m not fire-proof and
I can’t fly.”
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.
but we call it boulder, tree, spear,” the same dragon said sweetly.
it’s played the same, right? Rock, paper, scissors?” Goff
demonstrated the signs. “Paper beats rock, rock beats scissors,
and scissors beat paper.”
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!”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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?”
is how we’ve always done it. It worked fine before. I’m sure you’ll
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.”
fine with me,” Goff said. Everyone else agreed.
then all the dragons loved him. They even agreed to play the games
his way sometimes. He always won, of course.
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.