It wasn't unusual to find Grog wandering about the woods near Westruun. Whenever the need to smash some things arose – which, in his years of retirement, was just as strong as it had been in his prime – he would leave home in the morning and return before supper, just like Pike had instructed him. Sometimes, he would return with gifts, depending on what he had killed. Direwolf teeth, owlbear feathers, even a bulette shell, once. Everyone liked those gifts, especially Juniper. The gifts that Pike and Scanlan didn't like were the living ones, like that time he'd brought back a griffin egg and it had hatched in the living room. Pike had made him promise no more living gifts.
On that bright spring afternoon, Grog was making his way home after having climbed into the hills to fight a giant, just because he could. The sun was shining through the trees above him, casting small shapes of light on the ground. Grog's hammer rested over his shoulder, slick with the hill giant's blood. He was thinking about whether he should stop on his way home to find a gift for Juniper. He knew she would be sad if he didn't bring her something. Maybe he could stop on his way back to pick a few flowers. They would whither more quickly than wolf teeth, but he would be back to the forest in no time, so he could bring her more if Juni was sad that her flowers died.
Something shone in the distance, reflecting the mid-afternoon sunlight. It almost blinded Grog.
"Oh, shiny," he said as he quickly made his way toward the shiny.
Once he was close enough, he noticed that the shiny in question was a large safety pin, keeping a bundle of cloth tightly together. Grog carefully pulled the safety pin out to look at it. He thought Juni might like it, so he placed it in his bag. Then, light babbles echoed from between the folds of the cloth, and he looked down.
There was a baby in the cloth. A tiny thing, but bigger than Juni when she'd been a baby. The same size as the quarter elves when they were baby, or close to it. But it wasn't a quarter elf, even though its ears were pointed. Its skin was pink, but not a normal sort of pink. A bright, flowery sort of pink, which reminded Grog of the sky at dusk sometimes. Pink like some of Scanlan's clothes, or pink like a slice of bacon before its cooked. Two tiny horns protruded from its forehead. Its eyes were a solid shade of gold as if two coins had been placed in its sockets. It barely had any hair on its head.
Confused, Grog looked around, wondering who could have left their baby in the middle of the forest all on its own. All he saw was a dire wolf, attracted by the sounds the baby was making.
"Go," Grog ordered as he tried to shoo the animal away. "Don't make me punch you."
The wolf flinched at the sound of Grog's voice, and after a moment of hesitation, it ran away. Grog kneeled beside the baby and picked it up. Where he'd been able to hold baby Juniper in the palm of his hand, he had to tuck this baby in the crook of his elbow to be sure not to drop it. The child's golden eyes were staring at him with wonder. It extended a tiny pink hand to reach for his face, but its arm was too short to reach Grog's beard.
Grog decided he couldn't leave the baby there, to be eaten by wolves. He had to take him home and take care of him. From now on, this baby would be his. After all, almost everyone else in his family had kids now, so why not him too? Then, he remembered what had happened the last time he'd brought something living home. Pike had said no more living things. But if he didn't tell Pike, then there would be no problem. It seemed like the perfect idea. Don't tell Pike and Scanlan, and he wouldn't have to ask for their permission to keep the baby.
Satisfied with his plan, Grog carefully placed the bundle of cloth in his bag. Once he was sure his new child was comfortable, he continued on his way.
By the time Grog entered Westrunn, the sun was already dipping over the horizon, setting the sky ablaze with orange and pink clouds. Grog stopped just in front of his home's front door to make sure his child was still comfortable. The baby had fallen asleep some time during the trip, but it was awake once again. It was a very quiet baby, Grog had noticed. Compared to the baby he knew best, Juniper, who'd cried so much when she was super tiny that Grog could barely sleep, this baby was very silent and contemplative. It was a smart one, Grog could tell.
"Now, and this is very important, you can't make any sounds, or they'll know you're here, and we don't want them to know you're here. Got it?"
The baby continued to stare at Grog, which Grog understood to mean it would keep quiet. Satisfied, Grog closed the flap of his bag and stepped inside the house.
He was barely inside that already Juniper was hugging his leg as she shouted:
"Uncle Grog! You're back!"
Grog picked up the small gnome girl and placed her on his shoulder with a chuckle.
"Did you miss me?" he asked.
Juniper hugged Grog's head, her tiny arms wrapping around his tattooed skull.
"I wanted to have a tea party but mama and papa were busy! Can we have a tea party now?"
Grog didn't mind Juniper's high-pitched voice shouting in his ear, and he could have kept her on his shoulder all day because of how light she was, but he didn't want her bumping her head on the chandelier, so he carefully placed her back down on the ground.
"Tea party!" Juniper shouted as she ran to the kitchen.
Just then, Pike walked out of the kitchen, carrying four plates in her arms. Juniper almost collided with her mother.
"Mama, it's tea party time."
"No, sweety, it's dinner time. It's too late for a tea party."
Juniper began to pout.
"How about tomorrow?" Pike suggested. "Grog, are you going back to the forest tomorrow?"
As Grog thought, he felt something wiggling in his bag. The baby. He needed to take care of the baby.
"Er... No, Pikey..."
"Well, we can have a tea party tomorrow."
Juniper jumped happily. Scanlan's head peaked out of the kitchen.
"Oh? Does that mean I need to compose a new tea party song?"
"Can I help you, papa?" Juniper asked. "I've been practicing my flute, I promise."
"Of course you can help me," Scanlan said as he moved to place a kiss on his daughter's head. "We're going to write the best tea party song the world has ever seen."
As the gnomes talked about the tea party, Grog tried to discreetly make his way to his bedroom, the door of which was right next to the kitchen. He could feel the baby moving in his bag, and with every passing second, the urgency of the situation made Grog's heart beat louder and louder in his chest. He was almost at the door when he noticed Scanlan make a strange face.
"What's that smell?"
Grog panicked as the baby continued to fuss in his bag. He threw his door open and said:
"It's me. I... bathed in my enemy's blood before coming home. I also ate. So I'm going to take a shower and then go to sleep. No one bother me."
He shut the door of his bedroom closed and sighed. He swiftly took the baby out of his bag, and just as it had feared, the smell came from the baby.
"That was close," Grog said.
Taking care of the baby was easy enough. Grog had the experience of taking care of Juniper, but this baby was bigger, so it was easier for Grog's big hands to change it. And so he also found that his new child was a son. While he had no clothes for him, he used an old pair of pants to change him, making a small hole at the back for his son's tiny pointed tail and threw the dirty cloth out of the window, so Pike and Scanlan wouldn't suspect a thing.
Once changed, the baby stopped fussing. Grog took him in his arms carefully and placed him on his chest. He remembered how Juni liked to fall asleep on his chest because he imagined it must have been like sleeping on a warm stone. He used to call her his little lizard whenever she did it. This baby wasn't immune to it either, and in no time, he had fallen asleep on Grog's chest.
Grog stare at the baby longly. By now he had figured that his son was the same race as Zahra, and it was also probably the reason why he'd been abandoned. But Grog wouldn't abandon him too. He would take care of him, and he wouldn't let anyone take him away. Also, he figured his son needed a name. For some reason, his first idea was to call him Bacon, but while it would make for a good nickname, Bacon wouldn't strike fear in the heart of his future enemies. He needed a strong name, one that would echo for generations, because he had a feeling his son would be great. His son would also be a nobleman, Grog realized, since he was a nobleman. That was how it worked. If he was Grand Poobah de Doink of All of This and That, then so would his son be. He would be a Small Poobah de Doink of All of This and That. The idea came to Grog then. Percy had named his son after himself because it was something that noble people did. And so his son would be Grog the third. Third, came after one, right? Grog wasn't too sure, but it wasn't like he could ask Pike for help.
Grog the third had already fallen asleep on his chest. As delicately as he could, Grog placed him on the bed beside him. He made a pillow box around him, just like he used to do for Juniper, and he lay on his side, staring at the little pink baby beside him.
Grog hadn't realized he'd fallen asleep. However, his amazing adventurer's senses woke him up when he heard Grog the third whimpering beside him. Grog rubbed his eyes and looked at the baby beside him. Grog the third was still laying on his back between the four pillows, but he'd began to fidget and throw his tiny fists against the pillows, his eyes close and face contorted in a grimace. Tiny snot bubbles had begun to emerge out of his nostrils.
"What's up, Bacon?" Grog asked as he sat up and carefully picked up the baby.
A shrill wail escaped Grog the third's lips, and his father was quick to attempt to shush him.
"We can't let Pike and Scanlan know you're here, okay? You have to be very quiet."
Still, another wail echoed in the silent home. Grog tried to shush his son by rocking him, though in his panic he was not as gentle as he should have been, and the pink baby jumped slightly in his arms. Meanwhile, Grog was trying to remember why babies cried. Pike had made a list for him, for when he was watching over Juni, and Scanlan had turned it into a song, so it would be easier for him to remember.
"If your baby's fussy and won't sleep..." he whispered under his breath, eyes closed as he tried to remember the rest of the lyrics. "maybe you should give it some milk. Milk," he repeated loudly, before shushing himself.
Grog placed Grog the third back on the bed, and the baby continued to cry. Grog hurriedly left his bedroom and picked up the Alchemical jar and one of Juniper's old baby bottles left lying at the back of a cupboard. Then, he hurried back to his bedroom.
"I need warm milk for the baby, please," he told the jar.
Instantly, the jar was filled with a white liquid. Grog plunged the old baby bottle inside, closed it off, and gave it to Grog the third. The baby suddenly stopped crying, and though his eyes were still filled with tears, he reached for the bottle and began sucking hungrily. Grog relaxed and let out a sigh. Then, there was a knock at his door.
"Grog? Is everything okay?"
It was Pike. Grog swallowed and glanced at his son who was still drinking.
"Hold on," Grog replied.
He left the bottle in his son's hands, not realizing that the baby couldn't hold it on his own yet, and went to open the door. He opened it just a crack and hoped that his frame was large enough to block the view of his bed. Pike was standing on the other side with a concerned look on her face.
"Is everything okay? I thought I heard crying."
"Oh, er... yeah, that was me. Cause, you see, I was hungry, and I tried to get to the kitchen, but I hit my little piglets on the foot of the thing over there, and it hurt really really bad. Like really bad."
"Poor Grog," Pike said. "Do you want me to make the pain go away?"
"Nah, it's fine, it's better now," Grog said, waving his hand and shaking his head.
He glanced back toward the bed and saw the bottle had rolled out of Grog the third's grasp, and he was beginning to fidget again. Grog turned back to Pike hurriedly.
"So, I'm gonna go back to sleep now. Sorry for waking you up. Bidet!"
Grog waited but two seconds to make sure Pike was also returning to bed before he shut the door and rushed to his bed. He got a hold of the bottle again and held it up for his son, who accepted it greedily. Grog sighed with relief. No one was suspecting a thing.
In no time the bottle was over but Grog the third was still fidgety, and Grog realized that perhaps a gnome-size baby bottle wasn't enough for a devil baby, so he gave him another one. Once his second bottle was finished, Grog the third let out a massive burp and fell back to sleep. Grog, very proud of his son, placed a tiny kiss on his forehead, right between his horns, and went back to sleep as well.
By the time breakfast rolled around, Grog the third had woken up a total of three times during the night, twice to feed and once to be changed. When he'd woken up his father a third time, just as the sun rose, Grog had decided not to return to sleep. He'd waited patiently in his bedroom for breakfast, watching his son fall back to sleep.
Though Grog was worried about leaving his son alone in the bedroom while he went for breakfast, he made sure Grog the third would be comfortable between his pillows before leaving. Juniper was already seated at the breakfast table, eating her strawberry jam toast hungrily. Scanlan was making Juni's second toast while Pike was drinking some juice. Grog sat into his chair and reached for his breakfast of choice, chicken.
"Good morning Grog," Pike said. "How are your toes?"
Grog was confused for a moment before he remembered his lie from the previous night.
"Oh, there's fine now, see?"
To prove his point, he lifted his leg and showed his toes to Pike, wiggling them all together.
"Scanlan and I have something to do this morning. We'll be back before lunch. Can you watch over Juniper?"
"Of course," Grog replied.
He then realized that he would have to juggle between Juni and Grog the third and that he also couldn't change his mind now, especially since he didn't have any good excuses for it.
"Uncle Grog, can we play Vox Machina again?" Juniper asked with her mouth full and her eyes beaming with excitement.
Juniper almost jumped out of her chair, and Grog realized that maybe this whole juggling two kids wouldn't be as difficult as he thought.
Juggling two kids was easy enough, so long as Grog the third slept. Juniper helped him do the dishes before they set out to play. Grog was the dragon. Juniper had borrowed her mother's mace from the shelf it was displayed on, and was trying to hit Grog with it. In the event that Juniper did land a blow on him, it was so weak that Grog had to pretend that he was hurt.
"Take this, dragon!"
Juniper tried to hit Grog's leg with all her strength, but the mace barely left an imprint on Grog's rough skin. Grog's laughter turned into a pretended shout of pain.
"Oh no, you're too strong for me," he said dramatically. "Who are you, brave warrior?"
"I'm Pike Trickfoot," Juniper replied while she tried to lift the heavy mace once again. "The Champion of Sarenrae!"
Even though Juniper struggled to lift her mother's mace, Grog couldn't deny that Juniper looked a lot like Pike. Scanlan liked to joke that Juniper was just Pike but with his eyes, and it was rather true. Even her dark brown hair, almost black, were closer to Pike's old hair color than Scanlan's.
Juniper gave another swing of the mace and it missed Grog entirely, but he still pretended to fall to the ground.
"No, I am dead now!"
Juniper let out a celebratory shout. The next second, it was echoed with another cry, this time coming from Grog's bedroom. Juniper frowned, and Grog jumped to his feet.
"I'll be right back, I have something very important to do."
He rushed to his bedroom, leaving Juniper alone in the living room. Juniper let go of the mace and went to Grog's bedroom door. Juniper was nothing if not curious. She placed her tiny pointed ear against the door and tried to listen in. She could hear small cries dying down, and Grog talking to someone else, though she couldn't quite make out the words. She looked up. The handle was too high for her to reach, even on her tippy-toes. She went to the dining table and pushed one of the chairs to Grog's bedroom door. She climbed on the chair until she was standing on it. Then, she reached for the handle. The door opened slowly, and Juniper jumped from the chair and pushed it aside just enough to walk into the room.
She found her uncle Grog hunched over his closet as he tried to change a baby from out of his dirty diaper. If she stood on her toes, she could barely see the little pink baby. Grog was so focused that he didn't notice her arrival until she gasped loudly.
"Is that a baby?" she asked excitedly.
Grog jumped in surprise.
"Juni? How did you get in here?"
"Through the door," Juniper replied. She knew sometimes her uncle Grog had troubles making sense of things logical, so she always tried to help him if she could.
"How did you get a baby?" Juniper asked as Grog turned his attention back to the baby.
Grog the third, upon hearing Juniper's voice, had been looking for the source of the voice, until his golden eyes had located her, her eyes peeking over the edge of the closet.
"I found him in the woods," Grog explained. "So now he's mine."
"What's his name?"
"Grog the third," Grog replied proudly.
"Like Freddie is actually Percy the fourth?" Juniper asked, remembering her cousin's confusing name.
"Hello Grog," Juniper said as she took the baby's tiny fist in her equally small hand and shook it lightly. "I'm Juniper."
Grog the third continued to stare at her with big, curious eyes.
"You can't tell anyone about him, okay?" Grog said as he finished changing his son, and threw the dirty diaper through the open window.
"Why not?" Juniper asked with confusion.
"Because do you remember what happened with the baby griffin?"
"I wish we could have kept the baby griffin."
"Me too. But if we don't tell your parents, then Grog the third can stay."
Grog picked up his son and returned him to the pillow box. Juniper was still frowning as she thought longly.
"Isn't that lying?"
"Sometimes you can lie for good reasons. Like that time Vex stole a broom and lied about it."
Juniper nodded in understanding. She came to sit beside Grog the third and looked down at the baby who was staring at her.
"He looks like aunt Zahra," Juniper commented. "And the twins too."
Grog nodded. Though he was certain this was the reason his son had been abandoned, he couldn't quite find a way to explain it to Juniper, so he decided not to say anything.
"Listen, Juni, promise me you won't tell your parents, okay?"
When Pike and Scanlan returned from the market place, just an hour before lunch, they found Juniper drawing in the living room, and Grog nowhere to be seen, though his bedroom door was closed. While Pike carried the heavy bags to the kitchen, Scanlan kneeled beside his daughter to look at her drawings.
"How was your morning with uncle Grog?" he asked.
Juniper's eyes sparkled as she explained:
"We played Vox Machina and I slayed the dragon."
"You slew a dragon?"
Juniper nodded excitedly.
She pursed her lips suddenly as if trying to keep the words from coming out of her mouth.
"What? What did you do?" Scanlan asked.
"It's a secret between uncle Grog and me," Juniper said, and then she returned to her drawing.
"Okay, you two can have your secrets. Where is uncle Grog?"
"In his bedroom. He said he was tired, so he's taking a nap, and you can't bother him."
Scanlan nodded. He looked up to see Pike standing by the dining table, listening in on their conversation. As their eyes met, he could tell she was as suspicious of the situation as he was. He looked back down at Juniper's drawing. She'd drawn their whole family like she usually did, but she'd added something this time. A little pink figure in Grog's arms.
"It's a beautiful drawing you made," he complimented her. "Who is that in Grog's arms?" he asked.
Pike came to stand behind them to get a glimpse of the drawing.
Again, Juniper pursed her lips.
"It's Grog," she said.
"Yes, I recognized Grog because you drew him so well, but you made him carry something, see? What is that?"
"It's Grog," Juniper repeated.
Scanlan sighed but placed a kiss on his daughter's head.
"Why don't you go wash your hands before dinner? We've got a surprise for dessert."
Juniper looked at her father with stars in her eyes.
"Is it a cake?"
"Maybe. You'll just have to wait and find out."
Juniper jumped to her feet and ran upstairs to the bathroom, shouting:
"I hope it's a purple jewel cake!"
Once she had gone upstairs, Pike and Scanlan shared another glance.
"I hope he hasn't brought another stray home," Pike said as she placed her mace back on its proper shelf.
"Only one way to find out."
They came to stand by Grog's door, and Scanlan knocked on the door sharply. Instantly, small wails came from the other side, very similar to the one Pike had heard the previous night. In her sleepy state, she hadn't quite been able to pinpoint what they were, but now that her mind was clear, she recognized them for what they were, baby cries.
"Grog, is everything okay?" Pike asked.
"Yes, yes," Grog replied hurriedly. "I just... hurt my elbow on the bed..." he replied.
"Can we come in?" Scanlan asked.
"No, you can't. It's my bedroom and I can do whatever I want in it."
Pike and Scanlan shared another glance. Then, Pike said softly:
"You know you can tell us everything, right Grog? Whatever you think you can't tell us or show us, we promise we won't be mad. We just want to help, okay?"
Grog was silent at first, though the soft wails continued.
"Promise you won't be mad?" Grog asked.
"We won't, even if you have a baby dragon in there."
The door was open slightly. Grog returned to sit by his bed, and the two gnomes walked inside. Very quickly, they both noticed the pink baby in Grog's arms.
"Grog, is that a baby?" Scanlan asked in disbelief.
Grog nodded. His whole body was frozen, and he barely dared to move a muscle, as if he were trying to disappear completely.
"Where did you find a baby?" Pike asked.
"In the woods," Grog replied. "I saved him from a wolf who wanted to eat him."
"And you thought you could keep a baby secretly in your bedroom and we wouldn't realize?" Scanlan asked.
Grog didn't like Scanlan's voice, and the gnome realized it immediately.
"I'm sorry, that's not what I meant."
He came to sit on Grog's bed beside him.
"What I mean is, why didn't you tell us?"
Pike moved to sit on the other side of Grog.
"I didn't want you to take him away, like with the baby griffin."
"There's a difference between a wild animal and a poor baby who was abandoned in the woods," Pike replied.
"Does that mean I can keep him?" Grog asked carefully.
Pike and Scanlan shared a glance. Finally, Pike said:
"You can. But you'll have to be careful. And don't ever hesitate to ask for our help, okay? We're here for you, Grog."
Grog nodded and sniffed, as the fear of losing his son dissipated out of his body.
"Did you give him a name?" Pike asked as she looked at the pink tiefling slowly falling asleep in Grog's arms.
"I called him Grog the third," Grog said proudly.
"What happened to the second one?" Scanlan joked.
Grog looked at him with confusion.
"What do you mean?"
"It's alright, big guy. Grog the third it is."
Small footsteps echoed into the house as Juniper ran back downstairs, only to find her entire family in Grog's room.
"Oh no, you found Grog. I promise I didn't tell them anything!" Juniper said.
"I know what you did, Juni," Scanlan said. "It was very clever."
He winked at her, proud of how she'd managed to fool them by saying the truth, even if the ruse hadn't worked for very long.
"It's true that having two Grogs is a bit confusing," Pike admitted. "How about we call him Junior instead?"
"Junior means that he's your son, and he has the same name as you."
Grog thought about it for a moment, then nodded.
"That's a good idea, Pikey. He can be Junior."
Thus began the tale of Grog the third Strongjaw, aka Junior, aka Bacon, Small Poobah de Doink of All of This and That.