31 Days of Halloween #20

The Goosemother Scroll - Episode 10 Text below.

Their captors were beasts neither Pyg nor Leap had seen before. They looked like huge dogs but with peculiar rounded ears. They had blunt snouts and sharp teeth, and they punctuated their speech with eerie cackles that made them seem mad. Pyg had read about beasts like these before, but in writing, hyenas sounded so strange that she’d thought they were imagined. But once she had thought the Ghosts of Men were imagined, too, and she had now seen them for herself.

The hyenas bound Pyg and Leap and pushed them down a narrow, winding trail for at least three miles before they came to a clearing. In the clearing was a great tent of purple cloth, richly adorned with gold tassels and medallions. Two armored guards, one a cheetah and the other an ibex with enormous horns, flanked the entrance to the tent. Each carried bright yellow banners emblazoned with the same rhinoceros seal Pyg had seen in the traitors’ graveyard. Could it be? Had she been delivered to the rhinoceros king himself? She wanted to be happy, but all she could think of now were the ropes cutting into her flesh, and she’d have given up this whole mission for a crust of bread and some water.

“Halt!” said the ibex. “Who have you brought before the Horned King?”

One of the hyenas stepped forward and bowed.

“We bring trespassers, sir!” she said. (Pyg had not realized until now that the hyena was female.) “We heard the Shrieks and found them near the shore. They are strangers to our land.”

The other hyena spoke next, though he kept a tight hold on his prisoners. “We would have killed them,” he said, “but we thought His Majesty might take interest in them for it has been some time since anyone was able to sail the Wide Sea and live.”

The ibex looked to the cheetah who considered this for a moment and then nodded.

“We will take them,” said the ibex. He tossed a few coins to the hyenas, who cackled to each other, dropped to all fours, and scampered gracelessly away.

The rhinoceros king was the biggest animal Pyg had ever seen. He made a fierce sight indeed despite the delicate gold rings upon his forehorn and the many plush pillows upon which he reclined. He glowered at Pyg and Leap when they entered and said nothing for a time. Pyg wondered if he’d fallen asleep with his eyes open until he swatted away a servant antelope who’d come to offer him water.

At last he spoke. “Why,” he said in a very deep voice, “have you brought a wolf into my den?”

“The bounty hunters said they came from the sea,” answered the ibex.

“Did they now?” said the king with a short laugh. He narrowed his eyes and addressed the prisoners directly. “Who are you, then, that the Ghosts of Men would allow you passage?”

Leap started to answer, but the cheetah struck him. “If the wolf speaks again, he loses his tongue,” said the cheetah as if he had said it a thousand times before.

“Don’t you dare hurt him!” Pyg cried out. She almost received a matching blow, but the horned king held up a hoof, and the cheetah drew back.

“The Ghosts spare your life, and now you defend the wolf,” said the king. “Your resemblance to my enemies grows stronger with every word, Little Hog. Your next words had better convince me that you should live.”

“We were sent by Father Longtail of the Southtunnel Abbey to bring you a message,” Pyg answered boldly. “That wolf has saved my life twice, and his name is Leap.”

The rhinoceros king stood abruptly, his huge nostrils flaring.

“All who quote the eldermice with lying tongues are soon without tongues at all,” he boomed. “Prove your allegiance or you will have no tongue with which to plead for the wolf’s life.”

“In my cloak!” Pyg said hurriedly. “I have a parchment inside my cloak!”

The ibex reached inside her cloak and extracted a soggy roll of paper. But Pyg’s heart fell when the guard unrolled it.

“It says nothing,” said the ibex. “If ever it said anything, the sea has long washed it away.”

“Well, well,” said the rhinoceros king. “What an unlucky day for little hogs and their pets.”