A Scientific ReQuest

by

Astrille

Chapter Six: The Minotaur That Broke the Camel's Back.

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Jess stopped in her tracks, jaw dropping open. All thoughts suddenly ceased as she stared wide-eyed at the shopkeeper standing behind the counter. He was stood with his back to her, showing long dark hair that fell down his back in several thick plaits. He wore a dark grey-green woollen tunic with sleeves that ended just above his elbows and, most notably, had large curving horns that swept upwards and outwards like those of highland cattle. A furred, bovine ear lifted and Jess noticed that it was sporting two golden hooped earrings.

The shop keeper turned to face Jess and he swept his heavily muscled arms outwards, gesturing to the shelves around him. “Welcome Adventurer! Thank ye for choosing to visit Toleron’s Trinkets. I’ve got the finest wares in the land!”

“M-Minotaur,” Jess stammered.

The minotaur dropped his arms and his palms landed on the countertop with a dull thump. “Oh, sorry Love. Didn’t mean to startle ye. Thought ye were one of those adventurers.”

“M-Minotaur?” repeated Jess.

The minotaur shuffled and cleared his throat. “Yeah, Lass. Name’s Michronius Toleron. I own this shop.” He rested one heavy hand on his hip.

Jess could only stare, mouth still agape, enraptured by the beast before her. He tilted his head and regarded her with narrowed eyes. Chocolate brown eyes, Jess noted. They matched his chocolate brown coat. He had a darker coloured nose with large, flared nostrils. I’m staring. Stop staring, Jess thought absently.

“Are ye alright, Love? Ye seem a bit lost,” he asked.

“I… err… I’m being rude. Sorry,” Jess apologised awkwardly. “I was told that… I’m sorry. You’re a minotaur and this is your shop?”

“What of it?” the minotaur replied curtly.

“I just… I never…” Jess started before letting out a nervous titter of laughter. “I’m talking to a minotaur!”

The minotaur nervously looked over Jess towards the door and then back at her before crossing his arms across his chest. “Are ye supposed to have somebody with ye? Looking after ye, I mean.”

“I’m sorry. This has been a very long day and I know I should have expected it after the giant elf lady and adventurer people just running around and the ridiculous alchemist requests but… wow. A minotaur. An actual minotaur,” Jess ranted. She could tell by the look on his face that she was worrying him with her outburst, but it felt like a dam had broken and she just couldn’t stop the words from flowing. “I started this morning teaching teenagers. Don’t get me wrong, they act like little gremlins sometimes but am I supposed to deal with actual gremlins now? I didn’t ask to be here. I shouldn’t be here. I’m supposed to be teaching my students about the carbon cycle. People will be wondering where I am… They don’t know I’m here…” she trailed off weakly. She could feel pinpricks of tears forming, threatening to overflow. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here,” she admitted to the minotaur earnestly. That last thought was enough to allow the tears to run freely down her cheeks. She raised her hands to her face and sobbed, unable to present a brave face any longer.

It was at this moment that Nevin arrived, rushing through the door with an excited look on his face. One that was quickly replaced with concern. “Mr Toleron, what did you say to her?”

The minotaur gave a sharp snort in response. “Don’t be ridiculous, Lad. I didn’t cause this.”

He stepped around the counter towards Jess and rummaged in the pouch at his waist. An ivory-coloured handkerchief was pulled free, and he gave it a rough shake before offering it to Jess.

“Here, Lass. Dry those eyes. I don’t understand much of what was said earlier, but I’ve a feeling it’s best if ye both start from the beginning,” he said with a kind smile. “Everyone around these parts just calls me Mike. Less of a mouthful.”

Jess gingerly accepted the handkerchief. She was surprised by how crisp and white the small square of fabric was. It was also surprisingly cute with a repeating pattern of pale blue flowers and bull’s heads and horns repeating around the outer edge. “Thank you, Mike,” she said with a weak smile. “I’m Jess.”

Mike gave a warm nod and left her to dry her tears and blow her nose on the offering. In just a few quick strides, he moved to pull the curtain on the door’s window closed and slid the heavy metal bolt to lock the door. Nevin was shooed roughly behind the countertop to ahead of Mike and Jess could hear faint whispers, but they were not loud enough for her to make out the words. She stood in the middle of the room, close enough to the exit to provide a little reassurance but far enough that she hoped that she wouldn’t offend the minotaur.

Mike stood behind the countertop at a respectful distance. He seemed awfully worried for a guy who was twice her size. The noise of rattling china upstairs seemed to exacerbate his concern.

“Nevin’s just making tea. Something to settle ye nerves.” His ears flattened at the sound of screeching as something heavy was dragged across the floor. “Now I ought to warn ye. I don’t often have guests.”

How bad can a minotaur’s bachelor pad be?

“There’s a couple of rules if ye don’t mind,” he said. “First off. Ye’ll need to take off yer shoes.”

Jess blinked in surprise. “Oh. Ok?”

“Don’t put anything directly on the table. It stains,” he continued. “And don’t move anything you don’t need to.”

Jess gave a small nod and Mike moved behind the counter to where Nevin had previously disappeared. Nervously, Jess removed her shoes and allowed herself to be led up a short flight of wooden stairs into an airy kitchen. The room was impeccably neat. Glass jars of preserves sat in uniform rows, polished copper pans caught the light from the small window and the sturdy wooden table sported delicate lace doilies with empty cups sat upon them.

All in all, Jess was quietly impressed.

They took a seat each and, between Jess and Nevin, the story was retold in full. Jess was relieved by the disgusted look on Mike’s face when they recounted the meeting with the druidess.

“Out of all the people in the six Kingdoms, ye decided to take her to the druidess? That blasted woman is the only person I know that immatures with age,” Mike said with an angry snort.

“I guess, in hindsight, she’s not very Tolkien,” replied Nevin, shaking his head knowingly.

“She’s not Tolkien at all,” Jess sniffled in a thick voice. Mike looked from one to the other but then shook his head, banishing his confused expression.

“But she is still a druidess. She knows a lot about plants and things,” said Nevin.

“So does Farmer Hewitt! Does being an expert in turnips makes ye a blasted sage now?” Mike exclaimed.

“We tried to get in to see Master Darkhault too, but I can’t without the livers,” said Jess in a resigned tone. She was feeling a little less overwhelmed now that she’d had chance to rant about her situation and though she still felt helpless, there was comfort in sharing her story with someone.

Mike grunted a wordless response and the trio sat in silence as he processed this information. The atmosphere was heavy as they sat together. Nevin twiddled his thumbs nervously. Eventually, the silence was broken by Mike’s simple question. “So where does my shop come into this whole mess?”

Jess sighed heavily and ran a hand through her hair. “I need livers,” she started, but then gestured to herself, “but I’m not what you’d call a hunter… or a warrior.” She was thankful that Mike had the good sense to stay quiet after that statement.

“I thought that if I can’t hunt them myself, there must be a butcher or a local hunter that I can pay… right?” she asked, before reaching to her neck with her hands. She carefully undid the clasp of the chain to pull out the full length from beneath her collar and with it, she also revealed the heavy silver ring that was threaded upon it. She wasn’t sure how much the silver would be worth. Maybe the delicate chain would be considered more valuable in this yesteryear setting?

“This is the only thing I have that’s worth anything. I was hoping that I’d be able to sell it here for enough to cover my expenses so that I can get home,” she finished, holding up the chain and offering it to Mike. He reached out and gingerly accepted the jewellery, lifting it up to examine in more detail. To Jess’s surprise, he seemed considerably more interested in the ring rather than the chain itself. In Jess’s opinion, it wasn’t worth more than its weight. A trinket that she had picked up on a holiday abroad somewhere. Truthfully, she couldn’t even remember when or where she had bought it. It didn’t even fit her fingers well, which is why she wore it on the chain. It had never seemed worth the effort to have it resized.

“So… What do you think?” she asked nervously.

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About the author

Astrille

  • United Kingdom
  • Chipper Cosmonaut

Bio: Just another new author writing in their spare time. Aiming to entertain myself and hopefully a few others while I'm at it.

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