Kalya hoped the barkeep could hear her stomach growling as she shined away nothingness on one of the spotless tables at the Spotted Pig Tavern. For 12 hours, she had swept floors, changed sheets, and emptied chamber pots at the Denerim manor of one of the lesser-known nobles in the capitol, and after being denied a job because of her race at the Gnawed Noble, the elf had begun waiting tables at the Spotted Pig a few nights prior. Sick of her aching hunger keeping her up all night, Kalya took a chance working late into the night with the hope she could nick a few scraps from customers' plates, or at least get a free drink or five out of the deal and actually fall asleep once in a while.
But scraps and rewarded-booze required customers, of which there had been 5 total in the nights since she'd started. Nolan the barkeep hadn't even asked her to change the linens in the paltry rented room in the back, even though it was supposedly the height of the traveling season. And although the capitol could be as bustling in the evenings as during the day, the Gnawed Noble had plenty of space and spirits for townspeople and tourists alike. There was almost no need for the Spotted Pig, save for the one thing that set it apart from its competitor: a loyal three-piece band (or six, when everyone showed up) whose members liked to blow off steam after a day at the Arl's estate by playing upbeat versions of the dignified songs. Of course, they get their drinks for free, even without customers, thought Kalya. The barkeep is probably grateful they're here to keep him awake.
"Oi," Nolan bellowed. Kalya jolted upright, afraid he'd noticed she'd been wiping the same corner of one table for almost 10 minutes now. "Ya think ya can make yourself useful?"
She scanned the small room trying to conceal the bemused expression that sometimes got her into trouble around humans. The only thing worse than an elf was a sarcastic one, it seemed. Her gaze finally fell on the tray of three steins of beer on the bar in front of Nolan, and she could hear his foot tapping impatiently.
"Oh," she stammered, "Sorry, ser. Right away." She nearly tripped on one of the high-legged stools as she rushed to grab the glasses.
"Yeah, no need to apologise. That table will dirty right back up the moment ya turn your back on it."
Kalya placed all three steins under the chairs of each of the musicians -- a flautist, drummer, and mandolin player -- and they nodded in appreciation without losing tempo. When she returned the tray to the bar, one more large stein sat before her.
"Go on. Have yourself a drink. We're bound to get a rush soon, and skittish elves are bad for business."
He wasn't unkind. In fact, Nolan was infinitely more tolerant than the humans at the manor who barely spoke a word to her unless it was a barked order -- and even then, it was barked to the head maid about her as if she weren't standing right there. Nolan treated Kalya like a human, but he was still a businessman, and the past few nights had been anything but lucrative, especially when it came time to split tips with him. Still, it was an extra copper to buy some day-old bread from the elf-hating baker who was surely going to throw it away anyway.
Kalya grasped the stein and tried not to down it all in one gulp, especially on an empty stomach, but, Maker, the dark ale tasted good.
"I was thinking ya might be able to... drum up some business."
"Me?" Kalya squeaked, nearly spitting out a mouthful. Nolan was clearly uncomfortable at the proposition and couldn't keep eye contact.
"Yeah, ya know. Nice girl like you -- maybe a guy would look twice and come in for a drink.
"Yeah, I get it. Do you see many other birds around here? Maybe they'll think a bar with elves is exotic. Look, let's not get weird. Will ya do it or what?"
"I-I can try."
"That's all I ask," Nolan said, in an exaggerated bow.
The musicians, who had been quietly vamping in order to eavesdrop, now kicked up a rowdy rendition of "The Royal Courtesan," which Kalya assumed was intended for her. She narrowed her eyes toward them in mock anger, and the drummer gave her a wink of encouragement she slunk out the door.
The Spotted Pig was situated near the Alienage, which was not the safest area of the capitol, but Kalya hoped it was early enough that the true vagrants had yet to begin prowling the streets. She shivered a bit in her robes, unsure how to stand in such a way that looked inviting and warm to potential patrons. Propping the door open with a rock, she hoped the upbeat music emanating out would draw people near. An older couple hobbled past, and she caught a scowl on the man. Yes, she thought, a warm tavern, a night of merriment -- who would want such a thing? Didn't want your grumpy old face in here anyway.
Half an hour passed, and Kalya began leaning on the outdoor sign, straightening up whenever anyone came near. Largely, the cobblestone traffic were groups of young elves with no money returning to their homes, but there was the occasional lower noble who gave a reverent nod as they passed by.
She was about to abandon her post and beg for another bit of ale to replenish her resolve, when she heard a joyful commotion rounding the corner. At first, she was worried the rowdy laughter signaled a group that had either already had their fill of spirits and would pass by, or one that would become a potential danger by continuing the evening at such a pace. But when she saw the group of five men in full armor, she recognized them as Grey Wardens and straightened herself up. One or two gave the slightest of stutter steps as they made their way towards her, and Kalya imagined they had left their previous engagement -- likely at the crowded Gnawed Noble -- to keep up respectable appearances, rather than because the night was over.
Trying out her best "come hither," Kalya locked eyes on one of the Wardens, one with sandy blonde hair and the faintest hint of freckles peppering his face. Drawn deep into her eyes, she found herself frozen, unable to look away, and the Warden sheepishly smiled back at her and dipped his head in greeting. Blinking to regain her composure, she scanned his companions, searching for the right moment to invite them in.
"What have we here?" said the shorter Warden leading the crew, reading the sign propped on the cobblestone. "The Spotted Pig?"
"We're stopping," said the man next to him with a smile. "It's not even midnight. We can't end the celebration yet!"
The sandy-haired man jabbed the only one in their group without a smile in the ribs playfully. "I don't know. Riordan has an early bedtime."
Riordan uncrossed his arms and a faint smile crept across his face. The final Warden, an older gentleman with a dark beard, smiled warmly at his compatriots. "We're celebrating you, Alistair. It's a rare evening to welcome such a skilled warrior into the Wardens, and even rarer we have a moment to celebrate."
"Then the Spotted Pig it is!" Alistair exclaimed. He bowed deeply to Kalya. "My lady, would you do us the honor of showing us into your establishment?"
"Y-yes, ser. Please come this way."