“Yes, Evadne, my dear? And what do we have here?” he said, turning to me with curious black eyes glinting in the dim hallway.
“Flavian, please meet Sir Shane of Bottlecreek. He’s here looking for our Lady, the Princess Tanith. Sir Shane, this is Flavian–”
“Duke, Evadne. Duke Flavian of Moors, never forget that, darling.”
The ogre rolled her eyes and huffed. “Fine. Sir Shane, this is Duke Flavian of Moors. He will lead you in a tour around our castle and you’ll eventually find Tanith.”
“Come along, Sir Shane of Bottlecreek.”
He turned and I took a tentative step towards him. Then the vampire turned abruptly and I stopped dead in my tracks, my eyes wary and my beige-encased hand resting on my empty scabbard at my hip.
“Oh, and Eva, the mouse blood this morning, sehr gut.” (very good, in German)
The ogre grinned shyly. “Thank you, Flavian. I just added a little cinnamon to your goblet.”
“Bon. Come, Sir Shane.”
He whipped out a handful of cinnamon sticks and turned, catching my arm in his hand. I held myself stiffly as he munched on the cinnamon and led me to the end of the hall towards a mahogany door.
“I simply adore cinnamon,” the vampire said conversationally as we halted so he could admire himself in the giant hall mirror. “Have you ever tried it? It’s delicious. I just can’t stop eating it. Oh, I know you’ve heard all the stories, but I find human blood terrible, absolutely horrid. Its sour and…just horrid. I can’t stand it. It’s horrible for my complexion. Makes me terribly blotchy. But, I must have a daily dosage of blood to keep my strength up. After some experimentation, with some nasty results to my digestive system, I assure you…”
The vampire continued on like this as we passed into a ballroom and as he peered at himself in every single mirror or shiny surface we came to, interrupting his own discourse to ask if his hair looked right, if he didn’t look just a tad tired, and were those bags under his eyes (no, it couldn’t be, could it?)? The gist of his explanation on his eating habits, though, was that he seemed to adore mouse blood, and the castle was absolutely infested with mice. He also enjoyed cinnamon (as evident), oranges, tangerines, and green bell peppers (“Love them. Just can’t get enough of them. Eva makes them so well, you know.”).
I followed him into the library, wondering what the heck I was doing, and wondering what those loud noises were coming from behind the heavy doors.
“I tell you, woman, it’s driving me crazy!” a high pitched male voice cried out off to my left.
That corner had been darkened, but I could clearly make out that the Princess Tanith was standing surrounded by two ghastly gray gargoyles and an incredibly pallid zombie chewing on his fingers as though frightened.
“It’s just a rosebud, Euclid!” Tanith shouted. “Gray, Gina did not, I repeat, did not switch the green and white china plates!”
“Stop being unreasonable, Tanith!” one of the gargoyles snapped back. “If I say Gina switched them, she switched them!”
“Tanith, the rosebud. The rosebud!” the zombie cried out, now tugging at her wide purple sleeve.
The princess looked just a lovely as usual. There was no loss to her rosy color. Her long black braid, though, just looked a tad untidy and her expression was clearly one of barely suppressed anger and frustration. I started to take a step to rescue her from the dreadful monsters, but Flavian latched onto my arm and wouldn’t let go. I turned to glare at him. He only lifted an eyebrow in Tanith’s direction and bit off the top half of a fresh stick of cinnamon. I turned back to Tanith, still trying to wench my arm away and failing miserably.
“The rosebud! The rosebud!” the zombie was still plaintively carping on.
“I did not, Gray!” one of the gargoyles snapped. “If anyone did it, it was you!”
“Don’t be absurd, Gina!” the other roared back. “Why would I want to touch those?”
“The rosebud! The rosebud!”
“How would I know? It’s just like you to deny everything! I’ve just got to accept it. You’re nature is one that is impossible to deal with!”
“It’s going to kill me!”
“I’m impossible to deal with!” the second gargoyle raged in a thunderous voice. “You’re the one who’s impossible! Why don’t you just admit it? You’re the one who switched the plates! Go tell Manny so he can get off my case about it!”
“Why should I when I didn’t even touch them? That’s such a ridiculous idea!”
“The rosebud! Its going to get me and kill me in my sleep. It’ll climb out of the greenhouse, wind its way up to the third floor, head down the hall, and burst through my door! You’ve got to do something about it, Tanith! Oh, please, please, please!”
“Would you all be quiet!” Tanith shrieked, her hands balled into fists and her face red. She yanked her sleeve from the zombie’s grasp and tossed her braid back over her shoulder, catching sight of me as she did so.