(Author's Note: Italics indicates that the characters are speaking in Zandali, the language of the trolls)


"What do you have there, Jenxa?"

Jenxa looked up, instinctively closing her hand around the pearl. Mama was lying on her bed in the corner of the hut, the fur coverlet pulled up over her head. Only her eyes, dull and red for lack of sleep, were visible beneath the mountain of furs. "Nothing, Mama. Please try to get some rest. Dinner will be ready in a little while." Dropping the pearl in her pocket, Jenxa picked up another oyster and scraped the meat out into the pot. She offered her mother a smile. "The village boys brought in oysters today."

Mama pushed back the coverlet and sat up. She was naked. Her once toned muscles were wasted down to the bone. Jenxa could count the number of ribs in her stomach. Purple-black bedsores gaped on her lower back. Her wounds oozed blood. Tiny rivulets of black spilled down her spine, staining the cot beneath her a nasty red. "You had something. It was shiny. I saw it." With an agonizing groan, Jenxa's mother shifted to face her. The troll woman's red eyes stared out from their deep sockets. Mama's face was skeletal. Jenxa quickly looked away. "Come here, show it to me." Slowly, mother reached out one of her bony hands.

Jenxa dutifully rose, dropping her knife in the oyster bucket. Fishing the pearl out of her pocket, she dropped it in her mother's hand. "It's just a little pearl. I found it in one of the oysters." Jenxa tried again to smile. "Isn't it pretty?"

Mama peered at the pearl, eyes foggy with exhaustion and sickness. The pearl gleamed in her hand like a tiny fragment of starlight. "It's very pretty." Mama answered in her soft, wheezy voice. "I hear there's a goblin merchant in town. You should go sell it to him. He might give you good money." Shakily, she handed the pearl back.

Jenxa frowned, plucking the pearl from her mother's palm. "I was thinking about keeping it…if that's all right with you." She paused, staring deeply into her mother's sunken face. "It's just that…it's just a small pearl, you know, not worth much anyhow."

Mama's face was expressionless. She was too weak and tired to waste energy on expressions. Still, Jenxa could feel the heat emanating from her. "Don't be stupid, girl. Go sell that pearl and buy me some more of the witch doctor's red potion. My bedsores are getting bad again." She waved Jenxa off. "Get back to your pot. You want the oysters to burn?"

"No…" Jenxa's hand closed around the pearl.

"Then get going and don't bother me anymore." With that, Jenxa's mother slumped down on the bed, pulling the fur coverlet back up over her face. Her body gave off the tangy odor of sweat. Their hut was like a sauna. Mama demanded a fire going at all times and the thick mud walls kept the heat in. Jenxa wiped the sweat off her brow.

The Sen'jin village witch doctor didn't know what was wrong with Mama, only that she was very sick and very weak. 'She probably won't live for much longer, Jenxa. You be a good daughter and do what she asks of you.' The witch doctor had whispered to her back when Mama first started getting ill. That was four years ago, back when the trolls had first come with the orcs to Durotar. All Mama asked for was a little hut and a fire at first. Then came the demands for furs and special potions. Every day, it was something new. Jenxa sliced open another oyster and dropped it into the pot.

"Jenxy…" Mama moaned from her corner, muffled by her pile of furs.

"Yes, Mama?"

"Jenxy…get me my red potions. I'm hurting." She whimpered, peering at Jenxa from her fur nest.

"I'll go sell the pearl and get you some. Hold on." Wrapping her hand in a cloth, Jenxa pulled the boiling pot of oysters from the fire. Setting it on the floor, she walked over to her mother's cot. Gently, she placed a hand on the breathing mound of furs. "Mama?"

"What, girl?" The shivering troll woman hissed, pulling her furs tighter around her. Jenxa could feel her mother's body beneath the piles of hides, as fragile and tiny as the pearl in her pocket. Her body used to be plump and healthy. She used to have iron muscles. She used to bang swords and drink with the men, confident and powerful and loved by all. Four years ago, though, some odd poison had gotten into her blood and reduced her to the spindly creature lying here in the bed. Be a good daughter, the witch doctor had said. Just keep her comfortable until she dies, it won't be long. Four years. Sometimes, Jenxa found herself wanting to smother the old woman. Just grab a pillow and choke her, or take a knife and slit her throat. It would be easy, like killing a pig. Hell, it would be an act of mercy at this point!

She hated herself for thinking such things.

"Mama, I just want you to know…I still love you." Jenxa whispered, stroking the fur coverlet. "Do you hear me, Mama? I love you."

"Don't say stupid things, girl. Hurry up and get me my potions."'

"Yes, Mama." Slowly, Jenxa rose to her feet. For a few seconds, she stood there unmoving, frozen in time. Her mother stared back at her, red eyes glowing like cinders in her skull-face. As if in a dream, Jenxa turned and left the hut. The pearl suddenly felt heavy in her pocket. Pulling it out, Jenxa turned it over in her hand. The light played across it in shimmering patterns, seducing the eye with its subtle waves and swirls. Jenxa had no more money. All their gold went to buying furs and potions and food, all the things to help Mama die in comfort. How much money would one tiny pearl bring?

Jenxa gripped the pearl. It was hot against her palm, like a tiny beating heart. Breaking into a run, the troll girl stampeded toward the beach. She skidded to a halt at the edge of the water. The ocean frothed and burbled, churning all the way up to the horizon. With one sweep of her arm, Jenxa flung the pearl into the sea.