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Erik had been cleaning ale off the demon skull mounted behind the bar when the stranger walked in.
The Demonsbane Inn and Tavern didn't usually get much by way of tourists. Rare was the day when Erik didn't know the face of one of his patrons. More common was when he didn't know their names he only remembered their faces due to repeated exposure. Erik didn't much care who came into his tavern, as long as they had coin and a thirst.
Sitting down at a table, the stranger seemed to be either waiting for something or looking for something. He wasn't looking at the dark wooden walls though you could barely see them, seeing as how the Demonsbane had no windows and illumination only from a couple of torches or at the small round wooden tables and stools that festooned the floor. Erik never bothered to arrange the tables in any particular pattern, since folks would just go and move them around to suit themselves anyhow.
After a minute, the stranger got up and walked up to the wooden bar. "I'm trying to get some table service."
"Don't have none," Erik said. He never saw the sense in paying good money for waiters. If folks wanted a drink, they could walk up to the bar. If they were too drunk to walk up to the bar, he didn't want them to drink anymore anyhow, since folks who were that drunk were like to start fights. Erik ran a quiet tavern.
The stranger plunked a silver piece on the bar and asked, "What's the most expensive drink you have there?"
"That'd be the boar's grog from the north. Orcs make it, ferment it in "
The stranger's nose wrinkled. "No no orc drink."
Erik shrugged. People had weird considerations when it came to alcohol. He'd seen folks argue about the relative merits of beer versus corn whiskey with more intensity than they brought to political or religious disagreements. If this gentleman didn't like orc drinks, that wasn't Erik's lookout. "Got corn whiskey fresh batch made last month."
"Sold." The stranger smacked his hand on the wooden bar, disturbing some of the nut shells, berry seeds, and other detritus that had gathered there. Erik only cleaned the bar about once a year or so unlike the demon skull, no one could really see the bar, and he never saw the need to clean a surface that wasn't visible.
One of the regulars, a soldier who always drank the grog, turned to look at the stranger. "Mind tellin' me what you got against orc booze?"
The stranger shrugged while Erik pulled the glass bottle of corn whiskey off the shelf and poured some of its contents into a mug that was mostly clean.
"I have nothing against orc drink, good sir it's orcs themselves I have issue with." The stranger held out a hand. "My name is Margoz. I'm a fisherman by trade, and I have to say that I'm not well pleased with how my nets have filled up this season."
Not bothering to shake the hand or introduce himself, the soldier said, "All that tells me is you ain't no good as a fisherman."
Lowering his hand upon realizing that the soldier wasn't feeling friendly, Margoz took his corn whiskey instead. "I'm a fine fisherman, sir I thrived in Kul Tiras, before circumstances forced me to move here."
On the other side of Margoz sat a merchant who sputtered into his ale. "Circumstances. Right. Got conscripted to fight the Burning Legion, did you?"
Margoz nodded. "As I'm sure many were. I tried to make a new life for myself here in Theramore but how can I, with the damned greenskins taking all the good fishing waters for themselves?"
Erik found himself nodding in agreement with the first half of Margoz's statement, if not the second. He himself had come to Theramore after the Burning Legion was driven off not to fight, as the fighting was over by the time he made the journey, but to claim his inheritance. Erik's brother Olaf had fought against the Legion and died, leaving Erik enough coin to build the tavern Olaf had dreamed of opening after he finished his service. In addition to the money, Erik was bequeathed the skull of a demon that Olaf had slain in combat. Erik had never particularly wanted to run a tavern, but he'd never particularly wanted to do anything else, so he opened the Demonsbane in honor of his brother. He figured, rightly, that the community of humans in Theramore would gravitate toward a place with a name that symbolized the driving off of demons that led to the city-state's formation.
"I ain't standin' for this," the soldier said. "You fought in the war, fisherman you know what the orcs did for us."
"What they did for us is not what distresses me, good sir," Margoz said, "but rather what they are doing to us now."
"They get the best of everything." This was the boat captain at one of the tables behind the soldier. "Up Ratchet way, them goblins always favor orcs for repairs or dock space. Last month, I had to wait half a day 'fore they'd let me dock my skiff, but some orc boat come by two hour after me, and got a spot right off."
Turning to face the captain, the soldier said, "Then go somewhere other than Ratchet."
"T'ain't always an option," the captain said with a sneer.
"'S not like they always need the repairin', neither," the man with the captain Erik thought it might have been his first mate, since they dressed similarly said. "They got oaks up in mountains above Orgrimmar, be makin' their ships from them. What we got? Weak spruce is all. They hoard 'em, they do, keepin' all the good wood. Our boats'll be leakin' all over thanks to the marshy garbage we gotta work with."
Several other voices muttered in agreement with this sentiment.
"So you'd all like it better if the orcs weren't around?" The soldier slammed his fist on the bar. "Without them, we'd be demon-food, and that's a fact."
"I don't think anyone's denying that." Margoz sipped from his whiskey mug. "Still, there does seem to be an unequal distribution of resources."
"Orcs used to be slaves, you know." This was someone else at the bar whom Erik couldn't see from where he was standing. "To humans, and to the Burning Legion, if you think about it. Can't blame 'em for wanting to take everything they can now."
"I can if they're takin' it away from us," the captain said.
The merchant nodded. "You know, they're not from here. They came from some other world, and the Burning Legion brought 'em here."
The first mate muttered, "Maybe they oughta go back where they came."
"Makes you wonder what Lady Proudmoore was thinking," Margoz said.
Erik frowned. At those words, the tavern suddenly got rather quiet. Lots of people had been muttering assent or disagreement, either with the sentiments expressed or the people expressing them.
But as soon as Margoz mentioned Jaina Proudmoore worse, mentioned her in a disparaging manner the place got quiet.
Too quiet. In the three years Erik had been a tavern owner, he learned that there were two times when you expected a fight to break out: when the place got too loud, and when it got too quiet. And the latter times usually brought on the really nasty fights.
Another soldier stood up next to the first one this one was wider in the shoulders, and he didn't talk much, but when he did, it was in a booming voice that made the demon skull behind the bar rattle on its mount. "Don't nobody talk bad 'bout Lady Proudmoore 'less he wants to be livin' without teeth."
Swallowing audibly, Margoz quickly said, "I would never dream of speaking of our leader in anything but reverent tones, good sir, I promise." He gulped down more of the corn whiskey than it was advisable to drink in one sip, which caused his eyes to greatly widen. He shook his head a few times.
"Lady Proudmoore's been very good to us," the merchant said. "After we drove back the Burning Legion, she made us into a community. Your complaints are fair, Margoz, but none of it can be laid at the lady's feet. I've met a few wizards in my day, and most of 'em aren't fit to be scrapings off my sandals. But the lady's a good one, and you'll find no support for disparagements of her."
"It was never my intent to disparage, good sir," Margoz said, still sounding a bit shaky from his ill-advised gulp of corn whiskey. "But one must wonder why no trade agreements have been made to obtain this superior wood that these fine gentlemen have mentioned." He looked thoughtful for a second. "Perhaps she has tried, but the orcs would not permit it."
The captain swallowed a gulp of his ale, then said, "Perhaps them orcs told her to leave Northwatch."
"We should leave Northwatch," the merchant said. "The Barrens are neutral territory, that was agreed to from the beginning."
The soldier stiffened. "You're crazy if you think we're givin' that up."
Margoz said, "That is where the orcs fought Admiral Proudmoore."
"Yes, an embarrassment. As fine a leader as Lady Proudmoore is, that's how much of an idiot her father was." The merchant shook his head. "That entire sordid incident should be put out of our heads. But it won't be as long as "
The captain interrupted. "If'n you ask me, we need to expand beyond Northwatch."
Sounding annoyed though whether at the interruption or the sentiment, Erik neither knew nor cared the merchant said, "Are you mad?"
"Are you? The orcs're squeezin' us out! They're all over the blessed continent, and we've got Theramore. It's been three year since the Burning Legion was sent off. Don't we deserve better than to be lower class in our own land to be confined to one cesspool of a city-state?"
"Theramore is as fine a city as you will see in human lands." The soldier spoke the words with a defensive pride, only to continue in a more resigned tone. "But it is true that the orcs have greater territory. That is why Northwatch is essential it allows us to maintain a defense beyond the walls of Theramore."
"Besides," the first mate said with a laugh into his ale mug, "the orcs don't like us there. That's reason enough to keep it, y'ask me."
"Nobody asked you," the merchant said snidely.
The other man at the bar Erik had wandered downbar a bit, and now saw that it was that bookkeeper who worked the docks said, "Maybe someone should. The orcs act as if they own Kalimdor, and we're just visiting. But this is our home, too, and it's time we acted like it. Orcs aren't humans, aren't even from this world. What right do they have to dictate how we live our lives?"
"They have the right to live their lives, don't they?" the merchant asked.
Nodding, the soldier said, "I'd say they earned that when they fought the Burning Legion. Weren't for them..." He gulped down the remainder of his wine, then slid the mug toward Erik. "Get me an ale."
Erik hesitated. He had already started reaching for the grog bottle. This soldier had been coming into the Demonsbane ever since Erik opened the place, and he'd never drunk anything save grog.
But that three-year-long patronage had earned him the right not to be questioned. Besides, as long as he was paying, he could drink soapy water for all Erik cared.
"Fact is," the captain said, "this is our world, by right of birth. Them orcs are just guests in our home, and it's high time they started actin' like it!"
The conversation went on from there. Erik served a few more drinks, tossed a few mugs into the basin to be cleaned later, and only after he gave the merchant another ale did he realize that Margoz, who started the whole conversation, had left.
He hadn't even left a tip. Erik shook his head in disgust, the fisherman's name already falling out of his head.
But he'd remember the face. And probably spit in the bastard's drink next time he came in having only one drink and then starting trouble. Erik hated troublemakers like that in his place. Just hated it.
More people started complaining about the orcs. One person the bruiser next to the soldier slammed his ale mug on the bar so hard that it spattered his drink on the demon skull. Sighing, Erik grabbed a rag and wiped it off.
There was a time when Margoz would have been too scared to walk the darkened streets of Theramore alone.
True, crime was not a major concern in so closed a community as Theramore everyone knew most everyone else, and if they didn't, they knew someone else who did so criminal acts were rare enough. Those that were committed were generally punished quickly and brutally by Lady Proudmoore's soldiers.
Still, Margoz had always been small and weak, and the big and strong tended to prey on the small and weak, so Margoz generally avoided walking around alone at night. You never knew what big and strong person was lurking to show how big and strong he was by beating up on a lesser target. Many times, Margoz had been that target. He soon learned that it was best to do what they said and make them happy in order to avoid the violence.
But Margoz no longer had that fear. Or any other kind of fear. Now he had a patron. True, Margoz had to do his bidding, also, but this time the reward was power and wealth. In the old days, the reward was not being beaten within an inch of his life. Maybe it was exchanging one type of gut-crippling fear for another, but Margoz thought this was working out better for him.
A salty breeze wafted through the air, blowing in off the port. Margoz inhaled deeply, the scent of the water invigorating him. He spoke at least partly true in the Demonsbane: he was a fisherman, though never a particularly successful one. However, he did not fight against the Burning Legion as he claimed, but instead came here after they'd been driven back. He'd hoped to have more opportunities here than he'd had at Kul Tiras. It wasn't his fault that the nets were substandard they were all he could afford, but tell the dock authority that and see where it got you.
Where it got him, mostly, was beaten up.
So he came to Kalimdor, following the rush of people hoping to provide services for the humans who lived there under Lady Proudmoore. But Margoz hadn't been the only fisherman to ply his trade, nor was he anywhere near the best.
Before his patron arrived, Margoz was close to destitute. He wasn't even catching enough to feed himself, much less sell, and he was seriously considering just grabbing his boat's anchor and jumping off the side with it. Put himself out of his misery.
But then his patron arrived, and everything got better.
Margoz soon arrived at his modest apartment. His patron hadn't let him move to better accommodations, despite his pleading the patron called it whining, and unseemly regarding the lack of good ventilation, the poor furnishings, and the rats. But his patron assured him that such a sudden change in his status would draw attention, and for now, he was to remain unnoticed.
Until tonight, when he was instructed to go to the Demonsbane and start sowing anti-orc sentiments. In the old days, he never would have dared to set foot in such a place. The types of people who liked to beat him up usually congregated in large groups in taverns, and he preferred to avoid them for that reason.
Or, rather, used to prefer to avoid them.
He entered his room. A pallet that was no thinner than a slice of bread; a burlap sheet that itched so much he only used it when the winter got particularly cold, and even then it was a difficult choice; a lantern; and precious little else. A rat scurried across into one of the many cracks in the wall.
Sighing, he knew what needed to be done next. Besides the inability to move to better quarters, the thing Margoz hated most about his dealings with his patron was the odor he carried with him afterwards. It was some kind of side effect of the magic at his patron's command, but whatever the reason, it annoyed Margoz.
Still, it was worth it for the power. And the ability to walk the streets and drink in the Demonsbane without fear of physical reprisal.
Shoving his hand past his collar to reach under his shirt, Margoz pulled out the necklace with the silver pendant shaped like a sword afire. Clutching the sword so tightly that he felt the edges dig into his palm, he spoke the words whose meaning he'd never learned, but which filled him with an unspeakable dread every time he said them: "Galtak Ered'nash. Ered'nash ban galar. Ered'nash havik yrthog. Galtak Ered'nash."
The stink of sulfur started to permeate the small room. This was the part Margoz hated.
Galtak Ered'nash. You have done as I commanded?
"Yes, sir." Margoz was embarrassed to realize that his voice was getting squeaky. Clearing his throat, he tried to deepen his tone. "I did as you asked. As soon as I mentioned difficulties with the orcs, virtually the entire tavern joined in."
Margoz didn't like the threat implied in that one-word question. "One man was a holdout, but the others were ganging up on him to a certain degree. Provided a focus for their ire, really."
Perhaps. You have done well.
That came as a huge relief. "Thank you, sir, thank you. I am glad to have been of service." He hesitated. "If I may, sir, might now be a good time to once again broach the subject of improved accommodations? You might have noticed the rat that "
You have served us. You will be rewarded.
"So you've said, sir, but well, I was hoping a reward would come soon." He decided to take advantage of his lifelong fears. "I was in grave danger this evening, you know. Walking alone near the docks can be "
You will come to no harm as long as you serve. You need never walk with fear again, Margoz.
"Of of course. I simply "
You simply wish to live the life you have never been permitted to live. That is an understandable concern. Be patient, Margoz. Your reward will come in due time.
The sulfur stench started to abate. "Thank you, sir. Galtak Ered'nash!"
Dimly, the patron's voice said, Galtak Ered'nash. Then all was quiet in Margoz's apartment once again.
A bang came on the wall, followed by the muffled voice of his neighbor. "Stop yelling in there! We're tryin' to sleep!"
Once, such importunings would have had Margoz cowering in fear. Today, he simply ignored them and lay down on his pallet, hoping the smell wouldn't keep him from sleeping.
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