Richard A. Knaak

Kaz the Minotaur

Chapter One

They sat huddled around a small campfire, twelve and one. The distinction was important, because, although the twelve followed the one who was their leader, they despised him as much as he despised them. Only necessity and a matter of honor threw them together and somehow held them together for so long.

The one was an ogre, a coarse, brutish figure well over six feet tall and very wide. His face was flat, ugly, with long, vicious teeth, good for tearing flesh from either a meal or a foe. His skin was pasty and mottled, and his hair was flat against his head. He wore only a dirty kilt and belt. In a scabbard strapped to his back, he carried what would have been, for a man, a two-handed sword, but for the ogre was just fine for one: a trophy of war.

Stuffed into his belt, seemingly insignificant compared to the huge blade, were two knives. The ogre’s name was Molok, and as he used his huge, bloody claws to tear meat from his portion of the kill, he surreptitiously eyed the others.

Most of the others, when standing, were a full head taller than the ogre, not that the fact disturbed Molok. He tore another piece of the nearly raw meat from the bone in his hand and jammed the morsel into his mouth while he watched the dozen minotaurs eat their own meals. Unlike the ogre, the minotaurs ate more slowly, carefully, albeit still with a certain savageness that would have unnerved humans or elves. There were nine males and three females, and all were armed. A couple had spears and three others’ swords, like those their unwelcome companion carried, but the remainder carried huge, double-headed battle-axes. The males had horns more than a foot long, while the females’ were a bit shorter.

The minotaurs were too at ease, Molok decided. That did not suit him. He wanted them agitated and anxious to be done with this task, if only so they would not have to travel with an ogre much longer.

“It’s been near a week, Scarface, since you found any trail.” Molok picked a piece of meat out from between two yellowed fangs. “Is it maybe that the coward is craftier than you? Be he your better?”

At the sound of his gravelly voice, all twelve of the minotaurs looked up, the fire giving their eyes a burning, haunting look. One minotaur, whose ravaged features bespoke many fierce combats, threw his meat down and started to rise. A smaller one, female, grabbed hold of one arm.

“No, Scurn,” she said quietly. Her voice was deep, but for a minotaur, it would have been considered quite pleasant.

“Release me, Helati,” the one called Scurn rumbled. His voice was like the low, rolling thunder before a great storm. The battle-axe he used, which lay next to him, was huge even for one of his kind. Molok had seen it wielded most effectively, but was not concerned. He knew how to manipulate this band. Had he not kept the chase alive for over four years now?

“Easy, Scurn,” muttered another minotaur next to Helati. These two bore a strong resemblance to one another. Hecar was sibling, brother, to Helati. They were the weak links as far as the ogre was concerned. Over the four years, they had gone from dedicated pursuers to abject admirers of the renegade the band sought. The renegade that these minotaurs could never return home without.

The scarred minotaur settled down, but Molok saw that he had already accomplished his purpose. He had stirred things up. As always, the band began to talk about the latest setback.

“Cannot deny that Kaz is crafty.”

“Even cowards have minds!”

“Coward? He survived the lands of the Silvanesti!”

“Scurn said that was just a rumor, didn’t you, Scurn?”

The ravaged head tipped forward briefly. His horns, even in the light of only a single moon, Lunitari, were quite plainly worn from action. Scurn was a fighter, one who, if his mind had been as strong as his body, would have been leader of his people by now. Scurn was headstrong. He was perfect for Molok’s purposes.

“Kaz never journeyed into the lands of the Silvanesti,” Scurn snorted in derision. “He’s a coward and dishonorable. Just another ploy to throw us off the trail.”

“Which he be doing all too well,” added Molok casually.

Scurn glared at him with blood-red eyes. He wanted to take the ogre by the neck and squeeze until the life was gone. He could not, however. Not, at least, until their journey was over and Kaz was either dead or captured. “You’ve been of little help to us, Molok. All you are good for is telling us how bad we are. What have,you done to speed up this Sargas-be-damned quest? We are as sick of staring at your mongrel face for the past four years as you are of staring at ours.”

Shrugging disinterestedly, the ogre bit off another chunk of meat. “I was told that you be great trackers, great hunters. I see nothing so far. I think you be losing your edge. Does your honor mean so little to you? What about Tremoc? Would you be less than him?”

The ogre liked to bring up Tremoc at times like this. It was a favorite minotaur tale. In the name of honor, Tremoc had crossed the continent of Ansalon four times in his quest to bring the murderer of his mate to justice. The pursuit had lasted more than twenty years. It was a useful story for two reasons. First, it reminded his bull- headed companions of dedication and what was most important in their lives and, second, it urged them to renewed efforts. None of them wanted to be doing this for twenty years.

He had stirred them up enough. Now it was time to get them thinking about the hunt. “If not among the elves, Scurn, where be he?”

It was Hecar who answered. “Whether or not Kaz journeyed to the lands of the Silvanesti elves-which he could have-he probably turned west.”

“West?” Scurn glanced at the other minotaur. “Qualinesti? That’s as foolish as entering the lands of the Silvanesti!”

Now it was Hecar who snorted. “I was meaning Thorbardin. The dwarves are more likely to leave him alone. He can go from there to the land called Ergoth.”

Studying them both, the ogre said nothing. He was interested in hearing what the scarred minotaur’s response would be.

Scurn rose, tore off a piece of fat and gristle from their catch, and tossed the piece into the low flames. The fire shot up, a sizzling, spitting sound erupting where the fat melted away. The disfigured minotaur laughed, an ugly sound.

“You are either growing stupid or you have come to admire Kaz so much for his ability to run and hide that you are trying steer us away!”

Hecar started to rise, and it looked as if the two creatures would come to blows. Many of the others began to grow agitated, snorting loudly in their excitement. Helati, once more trying to be peacemaker, quickly rose in front of her brother, facing him.

“No, Hecar!” she hissed quietly.

“Out of my way, female,” her brother muttered through clenched teeth.

“Scurn will kill you,” she whispered. “You know that!”

“My honor-”

“Your honor can take a little punishment. Remember, it is the wise minotaur who knows when to pick his battles. Another time, perhaps.”

“I will not forget this. The others-”

Despite their difference in height, she somehow managed to look him straight in the eye. “The others know full well that you can defeat any of them any time.”

Hecar hesitated. He glanced briefly toward the ogre, who appeared to be busy examining the bone he held on the off chance that it still held some shred of meat, and snorted quietly. Nothing is certain about that one. Finally he nodded and sat down. Helati joined him. Scurn gave him as much of a triumphant grin as a minotaur’s bovine

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