The Traveling Cabinet of Doctor Eid

Months passed in miserable solitude for the Minotaur, where he survived on berries and whatever he could manage to scavenge. He was avoided as a pariah wherever he went in Thedeo’s kingdom, for word had passed quickly from Alari of his downfall. No longer a god, but a mere beast, towns barred their gates to him and villagers rang bells to warn others of his approach. Children, tempted by the stories they had heard of his former deity, would follow him at a distance, throwing stones at him for fun.

Though he longed for death, and had expected it after what Velthar had done to him, the gods did not grant him release. His crimes were too great, he surmised. His wounds healed well, though he was left greatly weakened, with little of the strength he had once possessed, and his sides were still marked with scars where the whip had torn at his flesh. His visions had ceased upon leaving Alari, returning him to that darkness again, which he took as a small mercy. He often woke weeping and trembling, his mind empty, whatever dreams that had troubled him vanished into the aether.

In a sense he had died when Velthar and his followers had cast him from the temple, his false godhood passing from him, for in the long and empty days that came after not once did he think of what was to come. Such things no longer mattered to him. He lived on because he could not summon the courage to stop himself, scrounging and foraging, a pathetic figure on the fringes of the world. He hated himself for this weakness. No flame burned within him to keep on, nothing beckoned him forward, yet on he went, unable to stop himself.

Some days, when he had walked too long and exhaustion had overcome him, he would collapse, wherever he happened to be, and lie there insensible thinking about Galrice. He would imagine their escape from Alari and their child, a son he was certain, that they raised to be a proud man. All impossibilities he knew. Galrice would never have left the temple, perhaps not even at his command. She had believed, they had all believed, and when that belief had proved to be upon a foundation of sand, it could only crumble and ruin them all.

It was while lost in such despairing thoughts as these that he fell into the hands of Dr. Eid and His Traveling Cabinet. The Minotaur had passed beyond Thedeo’s kingdom and into another barbarian fiefdom where the learned doctor happened to be displaying his bestiary. Upon hearing from the locals of a strange half-bull, half-man who had once been a god, he sent two of his minions to capture the beast. It was an easy task, for by this time the Minotaur had fallen into a pitiable state. His ribs showed through his chest, his gums were bleeding and he had a tremor in one leg that made his gait unsteady.

The good Doctor’s minions found him lying and daydreaming in the middle of some country trail, muttering to himself in some strange language. They set upon him before he even realized they were present, knocking him senseless with a few sharp blows from a cudgel. They fashioned a length of rope into a halter and put it about his neck, running it through a ring they put through his nose, and with that they led him as they might any draft animal.

The Minotaur offered no struggle in the face of these new humiliations, submitting meekly to the two men as they led him back to the village where Dr. Eid had established himself. He could hear the gathered crowd murmur in consternation as he passed by. For a fleeting moment he thought they might act, turn against his captors and restore his freedom to him, but he quickly realized their anger was directed at him. In the months since his exile from the temple, Velthar had been careful to spread word to all and sundry that, not only had the god left the Minotaur, he was now an empty vessel who could be inhabited by any false devil or wizard.

Seeing him in the possession of this foreign doctor who sold various strange life elixirs and talked of the secret knowledge of science and philosophy that he possessed, they suspected the two of them of being in league. By the time the Minotaur had been thrown into a cage and thrown some hay, which he lay down on as a bed, the villagers had begun to gather, even calling the farmers and herders from the fields to stand against this invasion. The good Doctor, seemingly oblivious to the growing ire of the villagers, stepped out before them and in his best barker’s voice began to call for them to come and look upon their fallen god.

“My good friends. Come and see the god that has fallen to earth,” he said in his strange accent. “Once a god now a mere beast. But a singular beast. Part man and part bull. What terrible congress led to such a creation. Only the gods know and they have sent him from their care so that you may look upon him and the offspring of such a terrible act.”

The crowd had begun shouting at him before he had even finished his speech and several of them took up stones and aimed them at the Minotaur’s head.

“My good friends, my good friends. This is not necessary. The beast has been subdued. I have him in my grasp. He shall not escape.”

“Yes, he is under your control,” one man shouted. “We all know what that means. You’ll not be ruling over us.”

“My good friends, I have no designs upon your land or your hearts. I would never dare to usurp your gods or your rulers. I am a humble servant and I ask only for some of your time and your hard earned coin so that you may witness my wondrous menagerie. Creatures, each more marvelous than the next, from all corners of the earth, carefully gathered and tamed and brought before you.”

His words did little good, for the crowd had already decided against him, and he was forced to have his men hitch up the caravan and flee before the villagers turned violent. When they were safely underway he had the driver of his wagon pull alongside the one carrying the Minotaur’s cage so that he could study the creature more closely. He clucked his tongue in disapproval at the shriveled and ragged state of the beast, but soon he found himself nodding and smiling.

“Not some simulacrum here. The unvarnished truth lies before us,” he said to the driver, who spat in reply.

“You had better be worth the trouble you’ve caused me,” the doctor called to the beast. “I’ll have to leave these miserable lands now or they’ll have my head. And think of the coin I am losing because of it. If they believed you a god, they would have believed anything.”

The Minotaur had been dozing but he awoke at the Doctor’s words and raised his head, trying to discern the man’s tongue. “What words are these? Where are you from?” this said in the barbarian tongue he knew the doctor spoke.

“It speaks,” the Doctor said. “A truly wondrous beast. We hail from the magnificent and eternal empire Huiam, all praise its greatness. You have not seen its like in these miserable barbarian realms.”

“I see little as it is,” the Minotaur said. “And I am no barbarian. I am a patrician of Rheadd.”

“His tales grows even more fantastic. Well beast, I think we shall find use for you.” the Doctor laughed and slapped the driver’s shoulder so that he pulled the caravan ahead of the Minotaur’s cage, leaving him to shiver and wonder what the man meant.

from The Wondrous Beast

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