Engl and Inga by Elaine Betts

Far in the north, in the land of the linnorms, there once lived a pair of twins. Their names were Englhard and Ingahred. Now Engl and Inga were the envy of all who knew them. Inga was the fairest maiden by far in all the land. Her brother Engl was handsome and brave, the bravest lad their village had ever seen. Yet Engl and Inga were as wicked as they were beautiful.

Every Midsummer’s Eve, their little town held a festival near the forest, and their sixteenth year began like all the others. The young maidens wore ribbons in their hair, and the young men made flower crowns for their sweethearts. Inga received more than any of the other girls, and she reveled in their envy. Engl was strong and skilled with the sword, but as vain as his sister. He took great delight in beating all the other young men at their games.

Decked in her flower crowns, Inga skipped along the edge of the forest while her brother Engl had his fun. As she danced along, something at the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned and peeked around a tree just in time to see a small light flutter out from behind a bush.

“A pixie!” she exclaimed. Inga hiked up her skirts and ran to her brother.

“Brother!” she called. “Brother Dear, I saw a pixie! Come and help me catch it!”

Engl left his games and followed his sister to the edge of the forest. There was the little light, flitting through the tall, dark trees. Engl grinned.

“I shall catch it for you,” he vowed.

So hand in hand they went, chasing after the light and leaving the celebrations behind them. It darted along through the forest and led those vain and selfish twins deeper and deeper into the shadows. But as fast as they ran, they never got any closer to catching that little light. It danced in front of them, always just out of reach. If they slowed, it slowed. If they ran faster, faster ahead it would fly. Determined as they were to catch the little light, Engl and Inga paid no heed to where they were going.

The trees grew thick around the brother and sister, blocking out the light of the setting sun as they traveled deeper and deeper into the forest. They passed the standing stones that marked the border of Irissen in the growing twilight. Red eyes followed them from the long shadows. Somewhere behind them something growled. Then the little light disappeared, leaving the twins alone in the darkness. Inga clung tight to her brother.

“Don’t be afraid, Sister,” Engl said as he drew his sword. “I am the greatest swordsman south of Trollheim. Nothing frightens me!”

Engl led his sister down a winding path that stretched ever deeper into the forest. The sky grew darker and darker as they walked along. The glowing red eyes continued to follow them, sometimes from far away, sometimes so close the twins could reach out and touch them. Every so often they heard a low, threatening growl. First it was behind them, then to the left, to the right, and then in front of them. As night fell, the path they were following came to an end at a wall of trees. Engl and Inga stopped.

“Brother, what do we do?” Inga asked. “We’ll surely be eaten if we spend the night in the forest!”

“Don’t despair, Sister,” her brother answered. “I shall protect you.” Then they saw a little light flickering through the trees in front of them.

“What is that?” Inga whispered.

“I don’t know,” Engl answered. “Perhaps it is a hunter’s cottage. Come, let us see.”

The trees closed in around them as they walked toward the light. After a few steps, they could no longer walk side-by-side. Engl went first, with Inga close behind. At last, they squeezed through a tight ring of trees and into an open clearing.

In the middle of the clearing was, indeed, a small cottage. Smoke rose from the chimney, and flickering lights glowed in the two small windows on either side of the door. The tantalizing aroma of roasted venison, turnips, and freshly baked bread filled the air. Realizing how hungry they were, the twins ran to the cottage.

Inga pushed open the door of the little house and walked right in without so much as knocking. Engl sheathed his sword and followed after his sister. It was a tiny little cottage, just one room with a table in the middle and a fireplace set in one wall. Someone had set the table with a serving plate heaped with food, a large tankard filled to the brim with hot mead, and two plates and cups, forks and knives set before two chairs.
Engl and Inga immediately sat down and gorged themselves on the food before them. As much as they ate, serving plate never emptied. As much as they drank, the tankard never ran dry. After they feasted, Engl and Inga yawned. The little cabin was warm and comfortable, and they felt sleepy. As it was too late to try and find their way home, they decided to spend the night. No one seemed to be home, after all. Surely whoever lived there wouldn’t mind.

“Look!” Inga said. “I didn’t notice those before.”

On either side of the fire were two beds, and on the two beds were two sets of night clothes. There was a long nightgown for Inga on the bed to the left of the fire and a shorter nightshirt for Engl on the bed to the right. The twins changed their clothes and climbed into bed. It was then that Inga noticed something sitting on the mantle.

“What an ugly doll,” she said as she pulled her covers up to her neck.

Engl looked up and shuddered when he saw it. Above the fire sat the ugliest doll he had ever seen. It was a withered old crone with scraggily white hair and a large nose, covered in warts. It wore a tattered dress made from mismatched scraps of fabric and stained with blotches of what looked like dried blood. The doll stared down at them, its glass eyes gleaming red in the firelight. Engl got up and took the doll from the mantle. Then he threw it into the fire and smiled.

“Good night, Sister,” he said as he climbed back into bed.

“Sleep tight, Brother,” Inga replied.

The twins drifted off to sleep, while the fire slowly died in the fireplace. The room grew icy cold. Frost tickled their noses and their breath steamed in the air. Engl and Inga woke up shivering. They pulled the blankets tighter around themselves to keep warm. Then they heard a low cackle that seemed to come from the dead ashes in the fireplace.

“What was that?” Inga whispered.

“Nothing,” Engl answered. “It’s just a mouse.”

The twins sat up in their beds and listened, not at all believing that it was just a mouse. Engl heard a scrape and a clatter from the table in the middle of the cabin. He stared hard at it, trying to see through the darkness.

“Who’s there?” he demanded. “Show yourself!”

The scraping and clinking grew louder as the twins felt their night clothes twist about their bodies. Engl fought against the nightshirt as the sleeves twisted and tightened, forcing his arms behind his back. Inga shrieked as her nightgown bound her wrists and ankles. The twins watched in confusion and terror as the serving plate and tankard floated over to them through the darkness.

The serving plate stopped in front of Engl. Then the nightshirt jerked, and forced his face into the pile of food. Inga’s nightgown pulled her back down into a painful arch. She tried to lift her head as the tankard above her poured an endless stream of steaming hot mead down her throat. The evil cackle grew louder as the twins spluttered and gagged. Then the tankard and serving plate clattered to the floor. Engl and Inga fell back to the beds as the haunted clothes went limp.

Inga tried to sit up, but the nightgown held her fast to the bed. She tried to turn her head, but the pillow and blankets would not let her move. She heard a hiss and a gurgle from Engl’s bed.

“Brother?” she whispered. “Can you hear me?” Her brother did not answer.

Inga felt a small weight land on her feet. She shuddered as it slowly crawled up her body and sat on her chest. Inga stared in terror at the thing looking down at her with gleaming red eyes. She could just make out the fire-scarred face of an old crone in a tattered, bloodstained dress leaning over her. The doll opened wide its hideous mouth…

And that was the last of Engl and Inga in the land of the living.