For the Weird Tales contest.
Oreh, Captain of the Guards, stood upon a great root of an ancient tree. Tonight was the one in a moon that the beauty of Nevele, the bat witch, graced the Enclosure of Felicity. He was not the only one eager to win her attention.
The doors opened and the matron witch, Neves, appeared. Long ago, she had been nearly as beautiful as Nevele. Age had taken its toll, yet one could glimpse what had once been. She raised her arms and announced, “The one you have come to see shall appear. Line up with your gifts.”
Oreh craned his neck as the merchants shoved each other. When Nevele stepped past the curtains, a gasp escaped the lips of all. Nearly naked, her black tresses were a striking contrast to her milky white skin and the short, loose fitting silk gown that outlined her young breasts.
One by one the richly clad suitors lay down their gifts and touched the hand of Nevele. Last was Oreh with no ornament but the silver star of his rank on his breast. When the matron saw this, she grimaced and spit out, “How dare you come with empty hands!”
Oreh looked into Nevele’s eyes and said, “I come with the greatest gift of all, my pledge of true love.”
Nevele's ruby lips parted. "Gold and jewels have timeless value. Love’s worth wanes.”
“Yet, love cannot be purchased or stolen.”
“Spoken like a romantist. This rarity rouses my curiosity. Make these men leave, and I will give you a kiss.”
Oreh turned and withdrew his sword. “Do as she wishes, or I will swing my sword.”
A cacophony of protest was all the challenge offered and soon he was alone with Nevele.
Nevele smiled. “Come forth and claim your prize.”
Oreh stepped forward and raised his arms to embrace her.
Nevele shouted, “Stay!” With that said she lightly kissed Oreh on his cheek.
“What? Is that my reward?”
“If you want all, you must do much more.”
“State the task and it will be done.”
“There resides, not far from my cave, in the the Forest of Guile a beast with a bull’s head and a man’s body. I am never safe as long as it exists. Bring me his head and I am yours for one night."
Dread filled Oreh’s heart, for many more mighty than he had fought the Minotaur. Their armor and weapons rusted beneath the trees. Yet, he spoke without a tremor, “I will toss his head at your feet.”
Oreh departed to seek his employer, The Mage of Singularity, for he knew he could not accomplish his task without his help.
Hours later, the massive tree of the wizard’s home came into view. As he stood at the entrance a voice rang out, “Welcome Captain.” The doors swung open and the interior, impossibly long, and lit with the pulsing, dancing light of fireflies, swooshed into being.
Oreh proceeded up the inclining hall and entered the massive throne room of the Mage. He knelt and bowed to the seated wizard clad in a vermilion robe adorned with the stars of Elbat and pleaded, “I need your aid to slay the Minotaur.”
The wizard fingered his braided white beard. “I have seen all, so know of your desire, but you will never win her heart. Nevele's heart is for the treasure of the Minotaur.”
“She will see that love is the greatest treasure of all.”
“Bah! Her beauty has fogged your mind and hidden her rotten soul. Besides, the Minotaur functions as a bulwark to any intrusion to my domain from the Forest of Guile.”
“Is it not true that the Minotaur is your creation? After its slaying, you may merely cast another spell to conjure another.”
“That is true. But, Nevele would then neglect her promise.”
“If you desist from casting the spell for a day and night, I will win her heart."
“Fool! I tire of this conversation. I will not grant your wish.”
Expecting the refusal, Oreh said, “Then provide me the Potion of Repose so that I may fight fresh after the sleep of babies."
With a frown of exasperation, the Mage answered, “In light of your service I will. However, be warned that ingesting beyond a drop will induce a deep sleep that lasts days.”
Oreh bowed, thanked the wizard, and left for the Forest of Guile.
The next day, at the border of the forest he rubbed the potion on his face. As he tread deep into the forest, a rustle of dead leaves behind him foretold the encounter. He turned. A hand gripped his throat and raised him till his feet kicked air and his eyes stared into ones burning with an orange flame.
The Minotaur smiled. “What foolishness brings you here?”
Hearing only a gargle, the Minotaur loosened his grip.
Gasping, Oreh spoke, “I come here on...the wish of Nevele the Fairest...to bring her your...head.”
The beast roared with laughter. “So, she still hopes to steal my treasure. I will feast upon your flesh and marrow and add your silver star to my treasure.”
“Do so and you will die, for I have imbibed the Elixir of Dawdling Death.”
“That is a ruse I haven't heard, though easily tested, for I've heard the taste is of the likeness of monlas eggs.” The Minotaur lashed out his tongue and licked Oreh’s face. “It is as I thought. You lie...”
The Minotaur reeled. They crashed onto the ground with the beast deep in sleep. Grabbing his sword, Oreh sliced through the throat and raised the head by the horns.
Chest high, Oreh arrived before the cave of Nevele with the heavy head strapped to his back.
The burden vanished in a magical distortion of space and time followed by a scream for help within the cave. Then, the deep bellow of an enraged bull ruptured his hopes and dreams.
Cursing, Oreh hastened his retreat, as the mirthful laughter of the Mage of Singularity echoed through the Forest of Guile.