Eggnog walked like a man on the very edge of losing the contents of his bowels. It was almost a tip-toed half stumble, with his buttocks clenched tight, arms flailing either side of him.
This man-child dwarf had serious medical issues, thought John Bray as he followed him along the dimly lit corridor. While trying hard not to stare at the whirlwind of arms and legs before him, Bray could pick out portrait after portrait, hung along the wooden panelled walls either side of him.
Presumably they were paintings of ancestors of the current resident of the castle, or even ex-occupants themselves. If this was the case, then the family had had a hard time of it. Gurning ladies, big bosomed and buck toothed, leered out at the passer by. Men that had obviously been beaten to a pulp with the proverbial ugly stick.
Then a portrait of a rather dapper looking gentleman caught Bray's eye.
Stopping momentarily to look at it, he noticed that the man was dressed in expensive looking finery, from his jacket to his top hat, all topped off with a monocle. The beautifully coiffured pencil-thin moustache sitting elegantly on his top lip, and a pointed, waxed goatee beard as sharp as the point on a spear. But the background didn't sit well. It was seemingly an interpretation of hell, various demons torturing souls amongst lapping flames.
Confused and a little unsettled, Bray turned away from the painting and quickened his pace to catch up with Eggnog, he was unaware that the flames in the picture flickered.
Falling in once again behind Eggnog, Bray spoke for the first time.
"I'm sorry about before," he said.
"Yeess," replied Eggnog, his voice lisping, almost snake-like on occasion.
"I didn't realise the knocker would be quite so unwieldy for a....man, of your....stature?" Bray fumbled for the words, not wishing to cause more offence.
After stepping in to the castle earlier that evening, Bray had apologetically passed Eggnog the wrought iron ring, from the door knocker he had broken. Grasping it with both hands, Eggnog, not realising the full weight of the ring, had been sent crashing face first to the ground. A mixture of teeth and blood covering the floor.
"You will pay," mumbled Eggnog under his foetid breath.
"Sorry?" said Bray.
"I said, what the hey! It's forgotten," Eggnog lied.
Stopping at a wide oak door, Eggnog raised his miniature hand to signal Bray's halt.
"Wait, I will signal master," he said, looking directly at Bray for the first time since the initial meeting at the castle entrance.
Bray noticed several chipped teeth and a bloodied nose, and couldn't help feeling a pang of guilt for the whole door knocker incident.
Two taps on the hard wooden door and Eggnog stepped back, as if the action may cause an explosion, but all that came was a sullen silence.
After what seemed an eternity, but in actual fact was no more than a few seconds, a deep, gruff reply followed.
Eggnog motioned Bray to twist the brass door handle and enter.
"Don't break it!" he said, with more than a hint of sarcasm.
Bray mustered a half smile, and taking a breath entered the room.
Stepping over the threshold, he was overcome by the sweet sickly scent of tobacco. But not any tobacco he could place. He had never been a smoker, but the friends who had smoked had never ingested anything like this. A think, dank smog layered the room. Almost blue in hue.
The room itself was dark, only firelight gave any impression of what was held within. Books, hundreds of them lined the shelves that enclosed the walls. A few small coffee tables were positioned about the space, like islands in a sea of learning. A single window hung in the one wall that didn't contain shelving. The glass itself opened a jar, the only real access for fresh air to enter the room.
The door closed quickly behind him, and turning, Bray noted that Eggnog had not followed behind him. He stood alone, the rear of a high backed leather armchair facing him.
"And you are?" said a gruff voice.
"Uh, I'm John Bray, sir. Pleased to make your acquaintance, and apologies for calling so late, only my coachman left me somewhat short, and the walk was a little further than planned!" he replied.
"And what business do you have here, Mr Bray?" said the voice, deep and measured.
"Well, I am from Edmont, Padget and Stubbs, insurers to the discerning, sir. And we were wondering if you are happy with your current service from your insurers? And to that effect, if there is anything we could help you with?" said Bray, realising how strange his patois must have sounded, in this situation.
"You have travelled this far to sell me insurance?" asked the voice, "do you know who I am?"
"You are Prince Vladimir Tepes Von Drugula, and I am honoured to be in your presence, sir," replied Bray.
"Honour is overrated," said Drugula.
The voice made Bray jump. He had been addressing the back of a leather chair until now, but this reply had come from behind his left ear. Spinning instantly, he came face to face with darkness. A noise from behind him made him spin around again to face the chair.
Standing in front of him were the thin, chiselled features of a strikingly familiar image. The flames from the open fire behind, framed the face of the person he had seen in the portrait hanging in the corridor.
This time, Bray noticed the flicker of the flames around it.