@Copyright E. Charles Tucker, all rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without the expressed written consent of the author.

Shaping of a Minotaur

"I should be there with you, father!" he roared, his young voice booming across at his sire. The Minotaur clentched his thick fists, angry at the prospect of being left behind. "Let C'Toyhn mind the herd!"

His father growled deeply, a sound the young M'Kowhthis At'hor knew posed trouble for him. The older bull lashed out, striking his son across the snout. "Mind me, M'Kowh, you are still but a calf!" The youth staggered at the blow, biting his lip in defiance. His father - T'horaus Ak'arn, soldier of the Valdemyr militia - glowered at his firstborn, supressing a smile at the calf's fortitude. He'd intended to send the boy sprawling to his feet; instead young M'Kowh (Kowh, as his younger brother insisted on calling him) stood his ground, causing his father's chest to swell with pride. By the gods, this boy will do me proud!

Barely thirteen summers old he was, and already his horns curled elegantly upwards. Lean and muscular, the youth stood just a head below his father's shoulders. Aye, thought T'horaus; he'll be a strong one, indeed! He frowned, his thick brow tight as he considered his son. Strong, yes; but strong-willed, as well. Too strong-willed. Still, he sighed, it'd be yet a few summers more before the lad would take his rite of passage - plenty of time to shore up the boy's spirit!

"C'Toyhnysir is but nine summers, as well you know!" he growled. "Would you have me leave my home in the care of a child? Or do you not consider yourself worthy of the task?"

M'Kowh bristled at the implied insult, his eyes blazing a deep crimson at his sire's words. How dare he! he thought. My worth is not in question! What right has he...

The boy paused in mid-thought, realization washing over him. He has every right, he concluded. He is my bloodsire, and he honors me with this. M'Kowh knelt, his horns lowered in shame. "Sire, I beg of you - forgive me!" he cried, touching his forehead to the ground. "I dishonor you!"

T'horaus smiled, placing a thick hand upon the boy's head. "No, boy; you let the fire in your blood overwhelm you." He tapped lightly under M'Kowh's chin, prompting his son to rise. "I am bound to the V'lalek, Lords of Valdemyr, by my wordbond. I serve them, as did my sire K'Arnostan; as will you, someday. They have called; I must go." His voice deepened at the last, his sharp gazing focusing on the boy's face. "I leave you here to guard my home, until this Human uprising is undone. You will honor me."

M'Kowh nodded; his father's final comments were an order, expected to be carried out. He looked up at his father, suddenly seeming taller and broader than ever before; the boy felt like a newborn, fresh from his mother's womb under that penetrating gaze. "I will honor you."

His father considered him a moment more; nodding his approval, he spun on his hooves and strode towards the antechamber. "Woman, my armor!" M'Kowh dug his way through the brush, ignoring the rose thorns that ripped at his side. He could hear the clash of metal upon metal, ringing out across the square from the tower walls. His father was there, somewhere; his father, fighting valiantly against the Human invaders! He ducked suddenly, keeping low to the earth as a band of Trollics thundered past him towards the battle. "Smelly beasts" he muttered, glancing quickly about to ensure he wasn't heard.

He frowed, looking back through the underbrush he'd travelled through. Was that movement? He growled, his thick hands clutching a bone knife he'd made from a horse's rib. He tensed, ready to thrust the knife home as a small brown head poked through a clump of brush, heading his way.

"C'Toyhn!" he hissed, watching his younger brother crawl towards him. The younger calf looked up, his snout turning up in a grin. "I found you, Kowh; I'm a good tracker!" he beamed. C'Toyhn's eyes spread wide at the sight of the bone knife, his brow raising in envy. "Can I have one?" he asked, crawling up beside his brother.

M'Kowh frowned; damn the gods! He'd already be in enough trouble if his father knew he'd left the house, sneaking a look at the battle. Now here was C'Toyhn to worry about - and the little foal would never be able to keep his mouth shut! He sighed, resigned to his fate. "Alright then, come along" he whispered. "Just keep quiet!"

The younger boy nodded, eager to follow his brother closer to the fight. The pair darted from alley to alley, climbing over a small stone wall which M'Kowh knew led around the combat area. From there, he figured, they could sit at a close enough distance to catch all the fighting - but not so close they'd be in any danger.

Some twenty minutes later, the two boys stared wide-eyed out at the scene along the western gate. It was incredible! M'Kowh was awestruck; his father's tales never came close to describing the wonder of this scene! His eyes darted from group to group, his mind etching the scenes into his memory. The boy snarled involuntarily, watching a group of Trollics swarm over a Human warrior, tearing the man's flesh from his bones. "Why do we ally with such beasts?" he wondered aloud, turning to watch a group of Ogres at work. Work, he mused? More like play for this monsters! The gigantic yellow-skinned fighters threw themselves at their victims, using their massive bulk to pin their opponents to the ground. He watched as one incredibly ugly brute based a human's skull into the ground, stopping only to lick the gore from his club with a foppish grin!

The boy nearly retched at the sight. Animals! We ally ourselves with animals! He considered the dark city he lived in; Valdemyr, little more than a fortress home for the depraved V'lalek - the Vampires, as the Humans called them. This was no place for a Minotaur! M'Kowh thought wistfully on his father's tales of their island home, Tiikur's Labyrinth; how he wanted so to see it! He hated this place; he hated the blood-leeches, the decaying Trollics, the misshapen Ogres. Most of all, he snarled inwardly, he hated the Felzur - furred tree-dwellers with no honor!

A loud roar caught his attention, drawing him to a battle closer to the gate itself. A group of armored Humans pressed inward, trying desperately to fill the courtyard with their ranks. The boy's chest filled with pride, watching the gate's defenders - Minotaur! There, fighting close in - sword to sword, hand to hand, against the humans, were his own people! He leaned in closer, searching for a glimpse of his father; he would be there, with his fellow guardsmen, skillfully protecting his charges!

So caught up in the fighting was he, he never looked around for C'Toyhn - not until movement drew his attention back towards the opposite wall. There, climbing upon a parapet was his brother - the bonecalf! What in the gods did he think he was doing? That ogrebrain was only a few yards from the fighting!

M'Kowh scrabbled over the stone wall, darting across the open square even as his brother hopped over a high hedge, out of sight. Gritting his teeth he charged, launching himself up and grasping the lip of the parapet with his fingers. Faster, he prodded himself; he had to get to C'Toyhn before he was spotted.

Pulling himself up, he quickly leaned over the opposite edge to search for his brother - only to see the bullheaded child running eagerly for the battle at the gate! M'Kowh looked further; he could see his father now, his great axe slashing down on the upraised shield of the armored Human. If he could see his father from here, that meant...

"C'Toyhn!" he called, diving over the edge in a desperate scramble to catch his brother. He could see Human archers now, darting through the openings in the gate and firing at the city's defenders. "C'Toyhn!" he shouted again, desperating cracking his voice. The child didn't hear him, or ignored him - he ran on, heading straight into the heart of the fighting.

M'Kowh watched as a bowman spied his brother; his heart sank, bile rising up his throat as he realized the Human's intent. "No!" he cried, willing his legs to move as never before. Life moved ever so slowly, then; later he would recall the next few second with shocking clarity. Each step brought him closer to C'Toyhn, yet not quickly enough; he watched helplessly as the archer let fly, watched the shaft spinning through the air unerringly towards it's target. The sounds of battle seemed duller now, the fighting another world away; there was only the arrow and C'Toyhn, clutching at his face in agony as the shaft thudded wetly into his eye. Another step, M'Kowh yelling in despair over the roar of combat; another step, and he watched his father turn, recognition in his eyes as he watched his lastborn fall to the arrow of a Human archer. His father seemed to move, ever so slowly, towards his sons; M'Kowh's own feet seemed trapped in molassess, his eyes forced to watch the grisly scene as the Human brought his sword across, cleaning swiping at his father's unprotected neck.

Time froze as boy kneeled over his fallen brother, taking the screaming youth in his arms and wailing over him. Nothing else existed for M'Kowh, as he stared helplessly in horror into his father's dying eyes, the head rolling closer to him accusingly even as the body flopped to the ground some few yards away. He howled, a long and mournful wail to the gods to end his miserable life; he could not live with this on his soul!

His prayers seemed answered; the archer approached, his bow slung across his shoulder as he pulled a sword from his hip. M'Kowh watched, his eyes hard and cold; kill me, he prayed, and end this horror! The human paused, seeing something in the boy's eyes, perhaps; grinning, he came quickly, sword upraised.

A glare of silver flashed across M'Kowh's eyes, blocking his view; he blinked, his mind snapping out of his stupor. A human stood there, tall as his father and nearly as wide. He wore striking silver armor, the metal scored in several places from sword strikes. Still, he thought, there was something noble in the man's bearing; something unlike the malicious intent he'd seen in the eyes of the archer. The man kneeled before him reaching for C'Toyhn, no longer moving in his arms. M'Kowh snarled at him, brandishing his knife - how dare this human think to take his brother!

The man held his position, locking eyes with the boy; M'Kowh was taken aback by the intensity of it, momentarily letting loose of his brother's body. Holding the gaze a moment more, the man bent down and quickly snapped the shaft in half, tossing the piece aside. He removed a small cloth from his waist, holding it over his brother's blood-gorged eye; with a deft movement he yanked, pulling the shaft from the boy's face in a splatter of fluid. C'Toyhn woke then, a howl of pain straining his throat; he was alive!

M'Kowh had no words for this man; a Human, and he'd saved his brother's life! He bent over, dipping his horns low in respect for this strange adversary. "Sir, please...I don't know what to do!" he cried, unashamedly letting the tears fall from his eyes. He jerked slightly, feeling a hand upon his head - much as his father did; the thought sent daggers shooting through his heart. Eyes wet and blurred, he looked up at the man.

"Keep this over his eye" the man barked, holding out a small white cloth. A poultice of some sort covered it; M'Kowh sniffed it cautiously. The man cuffed him across the ears, gaining a glare in response. "His eye, boy, not your mouth!" the man cried, rising to his feet. "He'll live, tho' the eye is done for." He turned, making to charge out across the square.

The boy reached out, grasping the man's armored calf; the Human looked down, glaring at him. "What more, boy?" he growled in annoyance. M'Kowh looked up, his brow furrowed. "Why?" he asked, his voice raspy. "I am Minotaur; you are Human."

The man's gaze softened then, warmth filling his eyes. "Aye, boy; I am, and you are." He sighed, offering a slight smile. "But, first and foremost - I am a Knight." Saluting the young Minotaur with the flat of his blade, the man thundered off into battle - leaving the gaping youth on his own.

M'Kowh watched him for another moment, his heart filled with a new respect for these Humans. "A Knight", he muttered, pulling himself up from the ground. Clutching his brother in his arms he turned, moving steadily from the battlefield. His father was dead, his brother wounded. The family was his responsibility now; his days of childhood were finished. "I will honor you, father" he whispered, saying a silent prayer for his sire's soul as he carried his brother home.

-fin-