John Bray strode through the delapidated gate way. Towering wrought iron gates clung to what was left of the supporting pillars, entwined with all manner of bramble and bracken.
The gates were wedged open, looking as though they had not been shut in many years.
The gravel crunched underfoot, and still the rain beat down. Drumming in to his skull with the precision of a metronome.
He looked toward what appeared to be the main entrance of the castle. In various windows on the castle front the welcoming flicker of firelight shone out, like a beacon in the night.
Reaching the porch, Bray leapt up the stairs two at a time, and breathed a sigh of relief as he reached the top, and the relative protection of the roof.
As he wrung his sodden clothes, he heard the far off cry of a wolf. In quick response an answer was called, this time somewhat closer. Bray shuddered and stepped forward, facing the huge oak doors.
He grasped the heavy, wrought knocker and slammed it down hard.
The sound created by the huge ornamental door knocker was no where near as loud as Bray had expected. As he contemplated whether to knock again, the ring dropped to the floor with a deafening clatter, missing his toe by fractions.
Footsteps, slow and heavy from within, began to approach the door.
Unsure whether to kick the ring in to bushes or throw it away, Bray bent down and picked it up. Just then the footsteps stopped. The distinctive clunk of a key rang out, and the door, heavy in it's frame, creaked open.
Stood in the doorway was a four foot tall, bald headed man-child. Patches of hair covered his face, like a beard that wasn't sure where it wanted to grow. Thick bottle-bottom glasses sat uneasily on his podgy nose, giving his eyes a saucer like appearance. Buck-teeth jutted from his mouth, like a rocky outcrop in the Nevada desert.
"Yeeess?" came a whiny voice.
"Uh, hi!" said Bray, "It's a bit wet tonight, huh?"
"Why are you holding my door-knocker?" said the dwarf.
"Oh, this?" said Bray, realising it was too late to hide it "it, uh, came off in my hand!" he spluttered.
"You broke my knocker?" the dwarf half asked.
"Well, it was rusty, and besides.." Bray said.
"That knocker has been on this door since the early 1700's," said the dwarf, staring intently at the iron ring in Bray's hand, "and you appear from nowhere and just pull it off!"
"It wasn't like that really...I, uh...oh dear.." he stuttered.
Just then a booming voice echoed out from the depths of the castle.
"Who is it, that disturbs my rest?"
The dwarf, turning away from Bray, called out "some wet git whose broken our door-knocker!"
The coach came screeching to a halt outside the Mountain Lodge and Hunter's Tavern.
Dropping down from the drivers station, the tall coachman threw a blanket across his shoulders, and headed in to the tavern.
Inside a wave of sound hit the coachman, babbled talking, chinking of glasses and the muted singing of revellers in unseen rooms deeper within the complex.
"Charlie!" screeched a rotund woman, as the coachman caught her eye.
"Ullo Bertha," he replied "give us an ale! Bloody wet old night out there."
Grabbing an already poured mug of ale, Bertha made her way across the bar and embraced the coachman with a bearhug.
"Where you been then Charlie?" she said, showing her yellow teeth from inside her ruby red painted lips.
"The castle," he said. A stunned silence instantly hit the room, like the mute button being pressed at a football match.
"Whatever did you go up there for?" Bertha said beginning to tremble. When she did this, it always put one in mind of a plate of jelly on a washing machine.
"I had to take a guy up there," he replied "said he needed to see the occupier about some business."
"And you took him?" she said accusingly.
"Only as far as the crossroads, I know better than to go all the way!" Charlie said.
"And you left him? Well that's just great," said Bertha, spinning on her heels and heading back to the bar.
"What? It was money! He offered me a lot, too!" said Charlie defensively.
"You know what you've done Charlie Higgins, you know full well!" said Bertha, reaching for a scrap of paper and a quill.
"What're you doing?" Charlie said, a worried expression etched across his face.
"I'm writing a note," said Bertha, beginning to scribble furiously on the paper, "and you're taking it to Dr Von Haelstrom in Carlsberg, and you're taking it tonight. So put down the beer and go and start the horses."
"You stupid idiot Charlie," she said shaking her head, "you stupid bloody idiot!"