“Modrad,” a muffled voice called out.
The dwarf thought it was a dream, but the pain felt real enough. Putting a hand to his head, Modrad rolled onto his back, letting out a groan. He felt the unforgiving wood beneath him, the noticeable discomfort still no match for the throbbing inside his skull. Modrad lifted his eyelids, but the intruding light of a nearby lantern forced them closed again.
“Modrad!” The visitor put fist to door this time.
His eyes shot open but not because of the banging. Something moved up through his throat, demanding to be released. Modrad quickly turned over and got to his knees. The dwarf vomited, the contents spattering the floor. Modrad never did make it to bed after arriving home from the tavern. That much had become certain.
A dwarf rarely needed incentive to drink, but the prior day’s events begged to be washed away, so Modrad had taken on that challenge with a vengeance. Somewhat relieved, he managed to get his feet under him, though he stood with a clear lack of confidence. Another bout of door pounding ensued.
“Enough already,” Modrad rumbled.
Brushing past a clothes line, he made his way to the front of the house. Modrad grabbed a lantern, which hung along one of the walls, and opened the door. A male, one old enough to be his father, stared back at him.
“I know,” Onoir said. “It’s been too long.”
Modrad gasped. “Not long enough if you ask me.” He turned his back to Onoir and walked toward the fireplace.
“May I come in?”
“You might as well,” Modrad replied, snatching a stool and taking a seat. “You’ll only wake everyone by staying out there, and I have enough problems to deal with.”
Onoir entered, gently closing the door behind him, the elder’s face becoming more apparent in the light. Heavy wrinkles weighed the skin beneath his beady, blue eyes, and Onoir’s once youthful beard, shaven only at the chin, had turned a whitish gray. He even required a wooden staff to help him walk.
“Why are you here?”
“I have news.” Onoir temporarily looked away, apparently spotting the puddle in the far corner of the room. “Not feeling well?” He glanced back at Modrad.
“You’re very observant,” Modrad said, meeting his gaze.
“I anticipated this.” He pulled a small flask from his sack and held it out. “Take it.”
“As tempting as it is, the last thing I need is more ale.”
“Does this look like ale?”
Modrad squinted, taking hold of the bottle to get a better view. “Honey.”
“This should help.” Modrad hesitated to spit out the words, especially when they were aimed at a hill dwarf. “Thank you.”
“Some honey tea will do you good. Allow me.”
Onoir found a mug and other utensils on the fireplace mantle. Using a ladle, he scooped hot water from the massive fire pot and dropped some honey into the cup. He placed the tea at Modrad’s feet.
“Give it a few minutes to cool,” Onoir said.
“You said you have news.”
Onoir bobbed his head. “Yes. It travels fast around these parts.” He paused. “The council has already voted.”
Modrad’s muscles tensed. “How do you know?”
“I still have connections here, even after the death of your father.”
Though Modrad didn’t like to think about his father, and would rather forget him altogether, Onoir had always been a trusted confidant. He would never admit it when growing up, or even now for that matter, but Modrad often had more faith in Onoir than his own flesh and blood.
“I gather the news isn’t good if you’re paying me a visit.”
“I’m afraid not,” Onoir said, shaking his head. “They’ll summon you first thing in the morning.”