Plain ol' C (c_d_winters) wrote in amber_fiction,
Plain ol' C

A prologue of sorts... A Night Out

A Night Out
By Christopher Frank
     The fire roared in the hearth at the Deepwater Tavern. Having been well-tended by the barmaids, it filled the main room with a rich warmth that chased away the chill rain that lurked outside the doors. While not the only source of illumination in the room, the fire most certainly was the primary source of light; and the shadows that flickered with each lick of flame could almost be seen as dancing across the smooth wooden floor. The Deepwater was unusually quiet this evening. Being the only place of rest in the bustling port of Menethil Harbor, the staff of the tavern was quite used to every evening being a non-stop source of activity.   Time had been marching deep into the autumn months, however; and the oceanic trade lanes were being used less in preparation for the coming winter.
     There was one table in particular that was considered by many of the regulars to the Deepwater to be the perfect table. It was close enough to the hearth to ensure that those who sat at it would bask in the warmth of the fire yet it was also close enough to the bar to make sure that your cup never ran dry long enough for you to notice. It was here that a very relaxed dwarf with gray-blonde hair sat comfortably with his back to the fire, his feet up on the adjacent chair. There was a dinner plate that had been nearly completely cleared off on the table in front of him and a half-full tankard of ale in each of his hands. To even the casual observer, this was without a doubt a content dwarf. Across from him at the same table sat a dour-faced balding gnome who leaned forward, resting his chin upon his arms, which were folded on the edge of the table. He stared intently at a tankard that was directly in front of him. So intently that it seemed that he might carve intricate designs into the cup’s surface with his mere gaze. With a sudden display of agility, the gnome straightened quickly, reached out to the tankard, cradled it in both hands and drank all of the contents in one go. Just as quickly, he set the tankard back down in the exact spot, turned it so the exact spot he was staring at a moment ago was facing him once again and then returned to the position of resting his chin upon folded arms. 
     The gnome spoke quietly to himself, “Four… three… two… one.”
     By the time he had uttered the word “one,” one of the barmaids arrived to refill his tankard. A bemused smile played upon her lips.
     The gnome nodded in satisfaction and went back to staring intently at the tankard.
     The Deepwater’s main door opened and for a brief moment, the forces of nature threatened the threshold of the tavern. A hearty rain could be heard beyond the walls of the tavern and if it were not for the foyer wall it would probably have invaded the main room. A chill breeze filtered out from the foyer but failed to penetrate fully into the taproom and the door was promptly closed against the storm outside. A tall figure in a thick black cloak appeared in the main room. A few pairs of eyes glanced over for a long enough period of time to register the existence of this newcomer; but fewer seemed to care or lingered long enough to try to figure out who it was. The stranger pulled back his hood to reveal a haggard human face with unkempt dark hair and a face that had not seen a razor in quite some time. He looked around the room with great interest as if searching for something of vital importance. Apparently he found what he was looking for when his eyes found the most perfect table in the tavern. With a bearing that displayed a range of emotion that stretched from deferential hesitancy to great urgency, the stranger crossed the room and came to stand before the dwarf. 
     “E… excuse me, sir.”
     The dwarf, who had only a moment previous been studying one of the barmaids rather intently, looked up at the newcomer and smiled broadly. “Hullo!” he said enthusiastically. This exchange got the gnome’s attention and without moving in the slightest fashion, the gnome’s eyes shifted sharply away from the tankard before him and up to the stranger who had impinged upon his concentration.
     “I’m very sorry to interrupt you, mister dwarf, sir; but by any chance are you… uh. Are you… Uncus?” He said the last word quietly, as if with reverence. 
     Uncus grinned broadly and nodded. “That would be me!” He hoisted one of the two mugs, only just moments before refilled, and toasted the man before him. “Good eve, to ya.” 
     The man was startled by the warm reception but the hesitancy remained in his voice: “And you are… you are part of … the House of Amber?” Again, when reciting the name he spoke quietly. As if saying it out loud would betray something.
     Uncus nodded enthusiastically. “You’ve done your homework, I see.” The gnome squinted slightly and said: “We’re not signing autographs tonight.” 
     “Arthur,” Uncus said firmly, admonishing the gnome. The smile returned immediately and he regarded the man once again. “What can I do for you?”
     “I seek your Guildmaster, sir. On behalf of my village. We seek an audience with him to ask a favor.”
     “Cal? You want to ask Cal a favor? Really?” Uncus glanced over at Wee Mad Arthur and said: “He wants to ask Cal a favor.”
     “Probably have a tree they need hugged,” the gnome muttered.
     “Arthur,” Uncus admonished again. Quickly he returned his attention to the man and asked earnestly, “Do you have a tree that needs hugging?” And with no trace of insult in his voice, the dwarf added, “He’s very good at that, you know.” 
     Baffled, the man appeared more hesitant, “Uh. No, sir. None that I’m aware of.”
     “Oh. Well, that’s a shame. He could probably garden up a few of them for you, though. Quite the green thumb that one.” Uncus stopped abruptly and glanced over at Wee Mad Arthur. “Do you think he literally hugs trees? Or is it just a figure of speech?”
     The gnome almost imperceptibly shrugged. “Cynta hugs trees; but I think she does it for laughs.”
     Uncus became lost in thought for a moment, mulling over the literal and metaphorical differences between action and slang descriptions. He lingered in his own thoughts for a handful of heartbeats before he remembered that he had a guest. His eyes snapped up and he took a moment to set both of his tankards down on the table. “I’m so sorry. You were saying?”
     The man’s anxiety was palpable and he cleared his throat. “Yo… your Guildmaster, sir. The druid. I was hoping to speak with him.”
     “Ooooh yes!” Uncus said enthusiastically. “Right right. Well… he’s in Stormwind at the moment, isn’t he.” Uncus said matter-of-factly. “And you, my good man, have traveled a very long way to find that out. So you are going to sit down. You’re going to have something warm to eat and a good drink to help your nerves and you’re going to tell me what’s troubling you and tomorrow morning we’re going to get a message off to him. And knowing him, he’ll be here in Menethil by lunch at latest once he hears there’s someone in need.” 
     There was a sense of relief in the man’s bearing and he nodded his thanks. He reached out with a trembling hand to take hold of the empty chair and pulled it aside. However he stumbled slightly when he moved to sit down and bumped the table hard. This caused a minor eruption of movement and accidentally knocked two of the three tankards on the table over. Before the man could utter his apologies, Wee Mad Arthur leapt to his feet and exclaimed:
     “Zomigod, the cups!!”
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