The tavern smelled stale. Old beer and sweaty men. A fire provided most of the light, though every other pillar boasted a lantern that gave the area directly below it a faint glimmer but nothing more.
Fangrel's eyes had adjusted to the darkness. Five hours in the same spot ought to do it. Yet still, he struggled to see much beyond the chair opposite him. Empty, just as it had been for the previous four hours and fifty-nine minutes.
The bar wench waddled over to him, the same cherubic smile on her face. She had great bulbous cheeks, rope-thick lips. A cross between a fish and a pig, Fangral thought. Like too much person squeezed into too little skin. Despite the gloom, her face sparkled. Oils, he thought. fancy living.
"Leave me alone!" Fangrel had suffered her all day. He couldn't contain it anymore. His lips pulled back from his teeth, granting him a lupine visage he knew would help deliver his message if his words failed to do so.
The wench pulled back, startled. Though it was not fear that washed over her face. It could be fear, Fangrel mused to himself. He'd seen all the ways fear could contort a face. But perhaps he had missed one.
No. This was not fear. There was too much surprise in it. Startled. That's what it was. The way even a man might react if something had leapt out at him. It didn't matter. Fangrel wanted her gone. Had he been in the tavern enjoying himself, a dozen mugs of ale deep, perhaps he would have tolerated it. Hell, he would have welcomed her into his arms. Big gals always appealed to him. And he would have made her feel welcome. But five hours in a pub waiting did terrible things to a man's urges. Soured them. He could no more enjoy the brew before him than the woman. And so he hated them both.
He watched her walk away, her wide behind swaying like the bow of ship in heavy seas. A growl escaped his throat.
Too long, he thought. Been too long. How many hours had he spent waiting on Vespen to deliver his package? They had met in Hotterhelm three months prior and the thief had promised him a new fur-lined curass as reward for a little trouble Fangrel had helped him out of.
"A little trouble." That was how he'd put it. Five heads smashed through with his axe. Two after having taken an arrow to the arm. And at least one of the men had been skilled, fighting in short, focused thrusts. The mark of a soldier's training. Still, Fangrel had dispatched the entire gang out by Moonskull Rock. As part of his payment, Vespen told him he could help himself to whatever he found in the ruins they called a camp, but very little worth anything lived there, including the gang.
Thieves. A detestable lot. Ever since the fall of Yorgenheim and the death of his Earl, Fangrel had had to consort with them simply to make it from day to day.
Marked Ones struggled to find employment even in the lowest of places. Fangrel had hoped his prowess on the battle field would earn him acceptance into another Earl's army but none would host him. From there it the various guilds. But one look at his eye, and the scar beside it, and they turned him away. It did not matter that he wielded the biggest axe in the realm. Once marked, apparently, he would never wash the stink away.
And all because of Siffron. That the fate of a piddling little fishing village would so come to dominate his life was a shame he struggled to face.
A cry went out from one of the far tables. A man had leapt up from his seat and was dancing about, a drunkard's grin on his face. The men around him howled in laughter. The merriment proved to be contagious. One by one faces turned toward the man as he made an ass of himself. An old man by the hearth had been playing his fiddle earlier, but the heat from the fire and the waning hours left him slumped in a puddle. A woman stumbled over to him and plucked the instrument from his lap. Taking her place beside the drunk, dancing fool she struck up a song. It must have been a popular one in these parts, Fangrel surmised, because the crowed was quick to react. Stomping their hands and clapping their hands in rhythm, they urged the drunkard on. He was all too happy for the encouragement and before long, he started buying his most ardent supports drink. Beginning with the pretty young musician.
"Wench!" Fangrel cried.
The buxom bartender whipped her head around toward him. Her curls bounced off her face and in the firelight and joy of the evening, she looked younger.
Fangrel waved his hand, beckoning her over.
"Who is he? The drunk?"
"Gil?" Her head turned to the crowd then back to Fangrel. Again her curls sprung to live around her face, giving her a youthful, almost playful aura. "He's the local mortician."
Fangrel grunted. "What's he have to be so happy about? There a plague in the city?"
He laughed at his own joke.
The wench scanned him with her eyes. Lowering them, first, to his hands as they rest on the table to the top of his head where they lingered for a moment as she probed into his eyes. Whatever she was looking for, she didn't appear to find it though it managed to silence Fangrel as he eyed her back.