Cigar smoke met him immediately but faded enough to mingle with the smell of whiskey. No one seemed to pay him any mind as he looked about. Everyone was busy drinking or gambling or singing around the little piano. Grimluk cut toward the bar in the back, passing by several poker tables, each covered in soft green or red or blue felt. Wooden chips clicked and clacked against each other while the players took their chances with bluffs aplenty. The smell of the place shifted near the bar, filling his nostrils with the scents of beer and, strangely, just a hint of flowery perfume.
The bar was long and well polished, covered in bronze accents and a fine stone top. Maybe marble? Grimluk didn’t really know much about rocks. If it’d been steel, he’d have had a better chance, but he liked the stone, whatever it was. It was dark and speckled with gold and silver.
Grimluk stepped up and waited his turn as several others gave their orders to the barmen on duty. He looked up at the mirror hanging behind the bar and noticed an orc talking with a human to his left.
When it was his turn, Grimluk ordered two tankards of the house brew and a shot of their best whiskey. The man talking to the orc bumped into Grimluk but didn’t seem to notice or care. The orc wore a dress of reds and golds, a similar color scheme as the barmen and a few others Grimluk had noticed, showing what some might describe as a generous amount of cleavage. She was frowning heavily, with hands on hips. The look and her stance made Grimluk pay attention.
“I said no, Roscoe,” she said.
“Think yer shit dun stink?” the man asked angrily. “Think yer better ‘n me?”
For a moment, it sounded like his words were slurred with drink but Grimluk realized the man’s accent was helping out as well.
The woman didn’t answer, which seemed to make the man madder. The human hauled back like he would slap the orc but Grimluk caught his wrist as the barman set his drinks down.
“Pardon, friend, but I reckon this might be a foolish course of action,” Grimluk said. The barman watched with a cautious glare.
The man ripped his hand free and spun on Grimluk. “The fuck you say, gerblin?”
Grimluk’s throat rumbled and he ran his tongue along one of his tusks. “Reckon I said your behavior might not be the best. Reckon that’s double now.”
“Ain’t your woman, goblin.” He made a clear effort to enunciate the word this time. “Ain’t no point in protectin’ her none, neither!”
Grimluk downed the shot of whiskey and turned to face the man proper. “Not protectin’ her, friend. Tryin’ to protect you. I reckon you could say I know a thing or two about orcs. Here’s what I know, friend. You hit her and she’s gonna break your hand. And you say that ugly word around either of us again, and I reckon she’ll break something else, too. Now, if I were you, I’d take a walk outside and let the wind cool me down a bit before somethin’ bad happened.”
The man opened his mouth to protest more but Grimluk cut him off with a growl. “Before something bad happened. Friend.”
A conflict of emotions warred on the man’s ruddy face as he weighed the situation. “Fah! Troll fuckers!” he shouted before wandering away to some dark corner, no doubt to tend to his wounded ego.
Grimluk nodded to the woman and turned back to his brew.
The barman set another shot of whiskey down. “On the house.”
Grimluk held the glass up in a small salute and downed it.
“Didn’t have to do that, stranger,” the woman said, moving closer to him. “Barrier spell in here prohibits violence. He’d have been turned away ‘fore he hit me.”
Grimluk shrugged and set his hat down. “He might be an ass, but there wasn’t a need even for that. He’ll either rethink his strategy next time or else the spell will do whatever it does and he’ll learn the hard way.”
She gave him a momentary laugh and a smile. He thought both were beautiful. Her tusks were clean and strong, if a little on the thin side, and framed by lips that were painted bright red. He couldn’t help but think of the now-dead demon, but he’d learned long ago to let thoughts like that slip away. He smiled back.
“Ain’t you a real sweetie,” she said, giving a wink. Her eyes were a dark red, made all the more striking with the help of her makeup. A pale green hand brushed Grimluk’s sleeve.
This close, he could see her eyes better. Among orcs, there were certain physical characteristics considered particularly beautiful. Grimluk saw such a feature in her eyes. Orc pupils were usually diamond-shaped, but sometimes, the points of those diamonds stretched out a little, resembling a shining star.
“Well,” he started, “I see enough violence.” He shrugged. “I figure a saloon should be a haven. Doesn’t always happen that way, but that’s my view all the same. Especially given my proclivity for travel.”
“Aaah, I bet you’re a cardsharp, ain’t ya? Clean house and then move on, am I right?”
He grinned again. “Sometimes. Speaking of travel, though, does this place have any free rooms? Given your presence, maybe even something comfortable for an orc? Deputy Amos told me to find someone named Emerald, too.”
She nodded and gave another smile. “Matter of fact, I’m Emerald, hun. And we do have a nice room for a fine gentleman like yourself. If you’d like, I could show it to ya. What’s your name?”
“Thank you kindly,” he said, gathering his hat and remaining drink. “Name’s Grimluk. Lead the way, Miss.”
Emerald led him through the throng to a stairwell he’d missed when he entered. She made her way down a long hall that connected both sides of the building, her hips moving rather exaggeratedly. Grimluk wondered if maybe she’d hurt herself at some point, but the thought drifted away. Wasn’t any of his business either way and he appreciated her kindness.
She stopped and opened a door before disappearing inside. “Illumo,” she said as he followed. The lamps around the room flared up, along with a small wood stove in one of the corners. It was easily the biggest hotel room Grimluk had ever seen in his travels, aside from one trip to Varnerton. He knew it was a modestly sized room, though. The type easily found in towns of this size. Still, it had a couple of high-backed chairs, a table, a dresser and chest, and, as he’d hoped, a bed that would fit him well. Soft wallpaper lined the walls and thick red curtains hung across the windows. Everything looked quite comfortable. Plush even.
“What do ya think? Nice enough?” Emerald asked after he finished taking in the room.
“It’s very nice. Only one nicer was in Varnerton.”
“You’ve been to the capital? Goodness, hun, you really do like to travel.”
He nodded once. “That’s the life.”
“Maybe you can tell me about it later. Now, it’s a bilt for two hours, three for the evening, and ten for the night.”
His throat rumbled as he frowned. “A mite on the expensive side, ain’t it? Ah, well. It’s warm and your drinks are damn good.”
“Expensive?” Emerald said, the sweetness draining from her voice. “Excuse me?”
“Reckon so,” Grimluk replied, unbuttoning his coat. “Usually get a night for a bilt, maybe two.” He slipped out of the coat and hung it up on a nearby rack along with his hat.
“Expensive? What a pile of troll shit. I’ll have you know I’ve gotten extra pay for a night!”
Grimluk’s brow furrowed. “Extra for the night?”
Emerald’s eyes narrowed and she marched over to Grimluk, every inch of her suddenly fierce and aggressive. “Cause I’m gods-damned worth it! And I don’t care how big your gun is, if you don’t agree, then get the fuck outta here, mister! Gun or no gun, I’ll whoop ya good!”
Realization struck Grimluk. “You’re a Companion?”
“The fuck else would I be? You asked for a room!”
Grimluk had to steady himself as the laughter rolled through him, heavy and sincere. Emerald looked at him like she would knock his head clean off. He held up his free hand in a sign of surrender. She looked at him warily but stepped back. Her own face lit up for a moment.
“Oh. Maybe you don’t like girls, then?”
“No, no, it’s not that. I like girls just fine. Don’t really have a preference one way or another. I really was just lookin’ for a room, though. I didn’t realize you were a Companion.” Another chuckle rolled out of him. “I’ve no doubt you’re well worth your prices, though.”
“Didn’t realize…” Now it was Emerald’s turn to laugh. “I’m so sorry! I just thought…”
“I know, I know. Reckon a little miscommunication goes a long way.” He sipped some of his brew. “Been a while since I seen another orc. How ‘bout I pay you for your time and we can just sit and talk? Still need a room, too, if these are actually for rent.”