Lore of the day #22: The Picklings

The latest from my online epic, Lore of the Underlings.
Chapter 3 continues:

“By now, even the lumbering boven beasts had left us behind, dropping unwelcome memories of earlier grass in our path as they went. So we climbed the sides of our cart and leapt, up to your withers and hip, and rode vell-back the rest of the trip. Our chevox knew enough to follow with the poor abandoned cart in tow.

“We caught up to the slowest of slow folk and made our way woodward with them. They were the timeworn, the crippled and weak, but the wiliest ones at cheating death. Of these a few were Picklings, or what remained of them. The first folk heroes, chosen ten by each elder when the Treasured were formed from across the land. They were marked, it is said, for heart or head, for brawn or might, or out of spite. But no matter how or why, they survived. For near forty winters of withering bitter, enrobed in ice, entombed by snows, buried but alive… under two score summers’ devil sun, aswamp in stinking muck too thick, half drowned, all sick, swallowed by an evil hot, a heat that but hell knows… they thrived against even these awful odds — of oddcats and malaphants, reek frogs and flyrats, hungry snarl hogs by the pack, giant stingle wings, prick gnats, skyfire storms and blood snake rains, hollow fever in the veins, brain flukes, foul, leaking pus, and canker pox to eat the flesh — the only sleep, eternal rest, caught in corpse vine, skinworm mesh, or if you liked a dirt nap best, devil’s moss or sucker grass, depending how you’d rather pass. Although for a lad, the swamps were the test, where lurked it was said a siren lass who led men to wade into bogs too deep, to slip to the depths of marsh madness.

“So that’s how these salty old Picklings were brined — a fight to the death with death and time. Though bent by their struggles, never to fall. They were the most alive of us all.

“A wizened man, barefoot and draped in rags, stepped aside us from out of nowhere. He carried a young girl on his back and had a desperate look, a stare full of want that would not let go. The pair kept pace for a while that way before the poor soul finally spoke.

“‘Please… I know you are Huryx’ sons… good like him I’m sure of it. My grandchild, she can walk no more and I grow weak… I beg… may she ride with you… just the rest of the way?’

“‘Of course!’ said Ayrie. ‘Hand her up.’ And we squeezed the girl in between us.

“‘My name is Hannyn Lyll,’ she smiled. The prettiest thing I’d ever seen.

“As you pranced away with the three of us, I glanced back and saw her grandfather falter. Then he fell to his knees and wept.

More to come. To read this chapter from the start, click here.

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