Hyroc – Chapter 15


Sentinel Flame Book One

By Adam Freestone

Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity


Hyroc pushed aside the spindly branches of a bush in front of him to peer at the trail beyond. He swept his eyes up and down the path to see if there was anyone within sight. Finding nobody, he walked through the underbrush. Farther to his right up the trail, he saw the distant roofs of the boarding school. He knew venturing so close to it wasn’t the smartest thing for him to do, but he had to do it regardless. There was one last thing he needed to do. Pulling his eyes from the structure that had been his home mere hours ago, he headed in the opposite direction down the trail. The murmur of a stream whispered through the air as he approached a pile of rocks marking his mother’s grave. Crouching down, he brushed away an accumulation of dead leaves from the stones. He felt a pang of sadness as he looked upon them. She was his mother, and he didn’t even know the sound of her voice or her name. All he knew was she loved him and had died to protect him.

And even with her sacrifice, his story had nearly ended along with hers. He was very fortunate a man such as Marcus had stumbled upon him. If it had been anyone else, he would have been killed immediately, and that would’ve been it. And even with Marcus possessing such a demeanor, his life would have been snuffed out by The Ministry once they found out about his existence. Luckily Marcus was favored by The Ministry through long years of service with them and his reputation offered him protection. Because of this, The Ministry was reluctant to take any actions against him. So long as no one got hurt. But one punch had nullified the stipulation. Now, none of that mattered.

Wiping away a tear, he rose to his feet. He walked over to a rose bush and used his knife to cut off a flower. Reverently, he deposited the red flower upon his mother’s grave.

“I have to go now,” Hyroc whispered to the stones. “And I won’t be coming back.” He paused a long moment. “I just wanted to say thank you for everything you did for me. I know you loved me. I just – I just wish I knew what you were running from.” He took a breath to subdue an upwelling of emotions. “But I know one day, I’ll find out.” He took a deep breath. “Goodbye, and I love you, mother.” He stood and walked across the stone bridge spanning the stream, heading into the trees beyond.

Staying far enough within the thicket to remain out of sight but still close enough for him to see the trail in front of him, he followed it. The path gently curved through the trees before running onto a wide area of open ground. Toward the middle of this, the trail connected to the road leading to and from Forna. As the road led west away from town, it arced off toward the thicket Hyroc stood in and disappeared from view behind it. Past the road intersection, at the end of the open area, grew another thicket. Hyroc couldn’t see its end, but it led east away from Forna, and it seemed he could follow it for the rest of the day without encountering another opening. There was just the problem of getting to it. There was a lot of open ground for him to cover. Other than grass and some knee-high shrubs, he would be exposed if he tried to cross over to it. He could continue following the thicket he stood in, though he would be following the road if he did so, and that was exactly what June had warned him against. Then if he happened to run into an even worse spot, he would have to turn back. By now, The Ministry was aware of what he had done and was organizing to find him. Coming back would be more dangerous and by then, it might be impossible for him to cross through this opening unnoticed. The safest option was to do it now.

Taking a step out of the thicket, he glanced around. Nobody was in sight. He took a breath and started across. He froze three steps later when he thought he heard the sound of a horse snorting. Listening closely, he could hear the sound of hooves, and it was getting louder. Someone was coming! He bolted back into the thicket. He ran as far as he dared before getting behind a tree. Slowly, he looked around it. The shapes of two men on horses came into view at the tree line. Hyroc yanked his head back behind the trunk.

“I thought I saw something,” one of the men said.

There was a long pause before the second man spoke. “You sure? I’m not seeing anything,” he said skeptically.

There was another pause. “I don’t know, maybe I just saw what I wanted to see,” the first man said.

“I would assume that thing isn’t stupid enough to stick this close to town. It would’ve run straight for the wilderness, and it’s got a few hours start on us.” The man paused. “The road would be quicker, just like what Keller said, so I say if we ride hard along it, we’ll catch him before sundown.”


With a snap of the reins, the men rode off. Hyroc breathed a sigh of relief. He waited until the sound of the horses had died away before venturing out to the tree line. Tentatively, he stepped into the opening to have a look. The area was clear. Working up his courage, he started running toward the thicket as fast as he could. Every second spent out in the open felt like he was one second closer to being discovered. His legs seemed to move agonizingly slow as if he were running through mud. Hours seemed to pass before he reached his destination. He stopped just beyond the concealment of the trees to catch his breath. Stealing a glance across the opening, he was relieved to see there still wasn’t anybody there. He had done it. When his breathing returned to normal, he took one final farewell glance at the school and toward his home before continuing on his way.

As the fading orange light of dusk shone through the trees, he had yet to spot the end of the thicket. It was what he had hoped for. He didn’t stop walking until the night fully enveloped him. He slipped off his pack and settled down into the crook of a tree with his back against its trunk. Reaching into his pack, he felt around inside until he found what felt like a loaf of bread. After having his fill, he put the loaf back. He covered himself with his cloak and closed his eyes to sleep.

Everything seemed fine at first, but he quickly became aware of how uncomfortable the tree and ground beneath him felt. Keeping his eyes closed, he repositioned. No matter what position he tried to sleep in, there always seemed to be a rock or something hard in one inconvenient place or another. It didn’t take long before he yearned for the plush comfort of his bunk. An aggravating length of time passed before he found a position comfortable enough for him to ignore it. Then the night seemed to close in around him when he closed his eyes. He felt a tremendous sense of vulnerability as if there was something unseen in the darkness creeping upon him. Listening closely to his surroundings for a few long minutes, all he heard was the distant hoot of an owl.

He sighed irritably. He needed to get some sleep, and he was too busy being scared of the dark. Only children were scared of the dark. In all of the stories he had read, none of those characters were ever scared of the dark. It seemed ridiculous he should either. He could see better at night than anybody else. If anything, that should make it bother him less, not more! How was he going to get anywhere if he couldn’t sleep at night? He might be able to make it through the next day without being too fatigued, but not much longer. He needed to find a way through this!

He reached into his pocket, withdrawing the green courage stone. He ran his thumb over its cool smooth surface and onto the etching at its center. The memory of his escape from the tree Simon hung him from flowed through his mind. He had been scared then, more scared than he ever remembered being, and he had gotten through it. In comparison, this was nothing; all he had to do was fall asleep. He smiled, nodding determinedly down at the stone. There wasn’t anything out there for him to be afraid of. It was just him, the trees, an owl, and probably some squirrels. He closed his eyes and eventually floated off to sleep.

As he ate his breakfast, he removed the map from one of his pack’s side pockets. He frowned when he rolled it open, discovering the thicket he had entered wasn’t shown, nor were any of the familiar landmarks around the town. Thankfully, the road leading into Forna was. All he had to do was figure out where he had crossed it, and then he would know about where he was in relation to it. He put his finger on Forna and ran it north how far he guessed the boarding school was from town. From the boarding school, he continued north where his mother’s grave should be, out to the road. When his finger found the road, he moved it east to where he should be within the thicket. Looking to the southeast of his presumed location, he spotted a river. And if he remembered correctly, to his north lay plains. On the plains, he would be as exposed as he was on the road crossing. Barely a day away from Forna, he was still uncomfortable with the idea of going where there wasn’t anything to hide behind. If he followed the river, there seemed a higher chance of things to conceal him. It wasn’t ideal, but he knew he didn’t have a choice in the matter. He had to get away from the town as fast as he could no matter what he encountered. Once he was a day or two out, just as June had said, he should be safe. Maybe then, he would have time to figure out an actual destination.

Nodding to himself, he rolled up the map and packed everything up. He resumed his easterly march through the trees. The trees began to thin as the coolness of morning burned away into the warmth of noon. Then he arrived at the edge of the thicket. Beyond, to the north and east, was the expected plain, and it stretched to the horizon. Following the edge of the thicket, he turned south. The thicket terminated not long afterward, and the river came into view. At the tree line, Hyroc swept his eyes through his surroundings before making for the river. The ground dropped a little near the shore and as he had hoped, the plants here were high enough for him to crouch down into and have a decent chance of being hidden from any onlookers.

For the rest of the day: the river maintained a relatively straight easterly course as it meandered across the flat plain. When night arrived, Hyroc settled down to sleep away from the river at a small angular bolder. The darkness would keep him hidden until morning. He put his back against the flattest part of the bolder and attempted to sleep. In place of the disconcerting sensation of vulnerability appeared an empty, lonely feeling. This was the farthest he had ever been from home. He suddenly missed everything about it. He missed the woody scent of his room, sleeping beneath warm wool covers, crackling of fresh wood in the fireplace, the relaxing murmur of the stream where he caught fish, but most of all, he missed June. She was someone he could go to with his problems. Her words were often the only source of comfort he could find. She always seemed to have a solution. Then whenever a situation arose she couldn’t help with, she got frustrated. For some reason, seeing her being frustrated always made him feel a little better. It reminded him someone wasn’t happy with how people treated him; that someone cared about him. Now, he had left it all behind.

He suddenly wanted all of it back. He didn’t care what the consequences would be. He wanted to jump up and take off running back toward his home. Then the words “forget we ever existed” chimed in his mind. “I need you to promise you will do this.” Hyroc felt a stab of cold shoot through him. There was no going back. All that mattered now was getting away.

Hyroc leaned back against the bolder. Above, stars shone brightly through the indifferent black void of the sky. For a moment, he was seven years old again, sitting outside of the garden, staring up at the twinkling pinpricks of light as Marcus pointed out the constellations. Hyroc found himself using his eyes to trace the familiar lines between stars. Marcus had once explained when someone died, their spirit went into the sky, becoming stars, and from there, they watched over their loved ones, alongside the Hallowed Knights. His relationship with the deified knights was a strange and confusing one. They were said to proclaim things such as stealing, murder, and other harmful behaviors were intolerable acts and punishment would follow the perpetrator. And they were also said to protect the virtuous, along with helping them in their times of need. But at the same time, they were also said to smite evil hearted people and things of darkness. Often, he wondered if the latter applied to him. Pretty much everybody thought he was evil and it did seem like sadness and misfortune followed him. However, Marcus nor June seemed to think so. “They judge you by what’s in your heart,” Marcus had said. “Not by what’s on the outside. There’s nothing you have to fear from them.” And assuming that smiting meant something a lot worse than what he had gone through, Marcus’ words seemed more than a simple attempt to make him feel better. He stared up at the glittering spots wondering if Marcus and his mother were watching him at this very moment. The thought was comforting and seemed to lessen the lonely sensation. He yawned and a sudden wave of weariness struck him. Offering the urge to sleep little resistance, his eyes grew heavy and he slowly went to sleep.

The following day, Hyroc continued along the river. The afternoon came and went with barely a change in its course. As the day began to wax toward dusk, the air took on an unpleasant smell like rotting autumn leaves. Then the river bent off toward the south. As he moved along the shore, the smell steadily grew in strength. The ground began to soften, and stagnant patches of water began appearing in his path. Soon, the isolated patches merged into a webwork of thin waterways. When he stepped into one, his foot sank deep enough for the dirty water to flow over the tops of his boots. He stepped back onto dry ground and dumped out his boots. When he looked further ahead, the waterways seemed to widen as they headed off toward a swath of swampy land. The swampy area ran beside the river for as far as he could see. If he continued forward, he would likely be walking through waist high water and his food would get soaked. From the unpleasant smell permeating the air, he could only assume all his provisions would get ruined. This wasn’t a good place to pass through. He slipped his boots back on and began retracing his steps. When he reached the swamp’s edge, he headed north, moving away from the river. He hoped he was now far enough from Forna to do so safely.

When he stopped at dusk, the only thing of interest he found was a lonely clump of thistle growing out of the side of an indent in the ground. He laid down where he seemed most shielded from the wind.

The next morning, a gray sky greeted him. Shortly after eating his breakfast, it began to rain. Hyroc angrily sighed when he saw nothing to shelter beneath. Aggravated, he pulled his hood up and continued onward. As the day went on, the rain only got worse. It was still raining hard when dusk arrived. He bowed his head and groaned. He would be sleeping in the rain if it were even possible for him to sleep at all. The deluge continued well into the night. The rains had slowed when he awoke in the morning. It surprised him he had even managed to fall asleep. Then almost in what seemed mockery, the storm returned to its previous intensity. Then the wind started blowing, driving the cold rain sideways into his face. Just as he began to dread spending another cold, miserable night in the rain, the downpour ceased and he saw spots of empty sky above.

When he eventually settled down for the night, he was glad to find a concentration of bushes with woody branches. Four days out from Forna, he expected he was far enough away to make a fire safely. The branches of the bushes wouldn’t make a very good fire, but he didn’t care. It would give him warmth. Using his wood hatchet, he chopped off the thickest branches he could find and made a pile. Kneeling beside it, he used his tinderbox to get a fire going. The sparks fell on the wood, but nothing happened. Perplexed, he scratched the back of his head and tried again. The wood still didn’t take a flame when the sparks fell. After several more attempts, he realized the wood was too wet to light. Groaning out in frustration, he smacked the ground with his hand, and a sudden bolt of heat shot through it. The pile of wood burst into a blue flame. Staring baffled, he watched the flame turn from blue, to green, to orange. With a disturbed look scrawled across his face, he held his hand out in front of him and turned it over, searching for anything that might explain what had just happened. His hand looked and felt as it always had. He shook his head. I must be more tired than I thought. I need to get some sleep before I imagine something really strange. Forcing the memory of what he thought he saw out of his mind, Hyroc went to sleep.

In the morning, he saw strips of grey clouds stretched across the sky, but they were far enough apart that rain seemed unlikely. The day passed with barely any noticeable change in the surrounding terrain. Hyroc’s ceaseless footsteps were the only thing that told him he was even moving. Then as the sunlight began its shift toward dusk, two structures came into view. Placing one hand over his eyes to shield out the sun, he saw what appeared to be a farmstead with a house and barn. He breathed a small sigh of relief at the sight of the barn. Maybe tonight he wouldn’t be sleeping outside. He would be sleeping in a barn, and it would smell like a barn, but at least he would have walls to keep out the wind and a roof over his head. He just needed to make sure he left before anyone saw him. The only thing that might prevent him from going there was if there was a dog. A dog would start its irritating barking when he got near and everyone within earshot would know he was there. From the way everyone treated him at Forna, he didn’t expect any better of a reception from anyone out here. They would still think he was some monster. And it wasn’t difficult to imagine what they would do to a monster. The safest option would be to wait until dark before attempting to enter the barn. Even if the farm had a dog when it started barking the people that lived there wouldn’t be able to see him. And when he moved off no one would be the wiser.

Hyroc moved closer to the farm before settling down behind a patch of bushes to wait until dark. When night arrived, he warily made his way toward the barn. As he drew near to the structure, after every step, he listened carefully for any sounds of barking. He reached the barn without any sounds of alarm breaking the silence. Breathing a sigh of relief, he crept around the back of the barn until he came across a back door.

A single cow startled him when it lowed at him as he stepped through the threshold. The beast studied him with large lazy eyes, then deciding it was in no danger from him, turned back to stare at the boards of its stall gate. Letting out a breath, he began gathering some of the barn’s unfettered hay into a bed. He happily sighed when he dropped onto it. It seemed impossible bare hay could ever be so comfortable.

When he sat up to eat his dinner, he heard a small meow. Turning his head, he saw a group of kittens wandering toward him. He held his hand out, and the group cautiously sniffed the ends of his fingers. After a long moment of sniffing, the kittens moved on to investigating the rest of him. Hyroc petted the only two kittens interested in his attention before picking up a long piece of straw and playfully poking at them. The two kittens swatted fiercely at the hay. Hyroc played with them until one yanked the piece from his hand. He pulled his pack closer to find something for dinner. When he opened it, he was dismayed to see how little food he had remaining. The last two nights had been so miserable he had forgotten to check on the amount of food he had. Beyond the bag of cold-flour, he only had two more days left with his provisions. He shrugged unhappily. He had enough money to buy more, but only if anyone he bought from would tolerate his presence without trying to kill him, and that seemed extremely improbable. He wondered if he was ever going to be able to use his money. Hunting or stealing food seemed about his only two options. Stealing was, of course, wrong, and he would only ever consider it in a dire emergency, so he had only one choice.

He ate his dinner, and making sure his pack was closed tightly to avoid the kittens getting into it, he laid down to sleep. As he stared at the ceiling, trying to slow his thoughts, eerie shafts of moonlight appeared through a hole near the barn’s rafters. He studied the silver light, then reached into his pack and removed the map. With the illumination, this seemed as good of a time as any to figure out where he was going. Similar to what he had done in the thicket outside of Forna, he guessed his position. If he was correct, there was a town nearby named Flatwood. The town didn’t mean anything to him. It was just another thing he needed to avoid. Moving his eyes past Flatwood to the north, the plains turned to forest. He glanced toward his pack, thinking of the heavy twine within. June had suggested he use it for trapping and a forested area would be best. Continuing north through the forest, he spotted what looked to be a small village named Elswood at the foot of a loan mountain. The village sat on the outskirts of the kingdom at the edge of the wilderness. The remoteness of the town would likely prevent The Ministry from having a hold there – if the things he had been able to gather from some of the school’s library books he had read regarding outskirt-settlements held – and it was far enough away they probably wouldn’t come looking for him there.

He marked the town with a piece of straw then moved his gaze back to his current location. To the east lay more plains, and it ran for a considerable distance before encountering forest. The forest stretched to the coast near the edge of the map and the only place he saw was a dot labeled Garathol. Whatever that place was, he didn’t have the supplies to reach it, so he moved his eyes back. A large swath of plain also lay to the west, but no towns or villages were nearby, just a hilly spot. North seemed the best option. He just needed to get past the town. He brushed the hay from the map, rolled it back up and placed it in his pack.

When he got into a more comfortable position to sleep in, the kittens clambered on top of him. He scratched the closest kitten under its chin, and it began rumbling happily.

“Do you think I’m a monster?” Hyroc said to the kitten. It stared at him with sleepy eyes, then lowered its head onto its paws and went to sleep. Hyroc smiled as he shook his head. “Well, at least you don’t bark.” After giving each member of the group some attention, the kittens laid down on or beside him. Blanketed by their warmth, he quickly drifted off to sleep.

The shrieking morning call of a rooster woke Hyroc. Knowing the arrival of the barn’s owner was not far behind, he pushed a sleeping kitten off his chest. The kitten yowled in protest, digging its claws into his cloak. After dislodging the snagged feline, he collected his things and left the barn, quietly closing the backdoor behind him. Using a stand of scrubby brushes behind the barn as cover, he made his way behind an incline. He stopped to eat his breakfast while taking another look at his map. Farther to the east lay a river. Following it north with his finger, it eventually flowed around the eastern side of the town like Forna’s river. Farms would undoubtedly line the sides of the river close to the town, so unless he wanted to get soaked swimming across the river, east was out of the question. Looking to the west, he found a road running toward the town. He would need to cross it to get around the town. He felt some apprehension at the thought, but he knew at this point, there was little chance of running into anyone from The Ministry. Or at least he hoped not.

Re-placing the map, he made his way around the farm until he found a path that should lead to the road. Keeping an eye out for people, he made his way down it. When he arrived at the road, he followed it until the angular structures of the town came into view. Just as he had expected, numerous buildings lay near the river. He sighed. It would be so much easier if he could go there to buy some food. He wondered if he was ever going to taste anything baked once his provisions ran out. Shaking his head gloomily, he left the road and started navigating around the town.

Short lumpy grass covered hills came up in front of him, along with sporadic groupings of trees and bushes. By the time dusk arrived, he had about made it past the town. Close to when he was about to stop, he spotted a rabbit foraging at a grassy knoll. In the fading light, he silently slipped off his pack, strung his bow, and crept into position for a shot. He nocked his arrow and let it fly. It whistled through the air, catching the unsuspecting hare between the shoulders. The hare collapsed without a sound. Hyroc breathed a sigh of relief. Hitting things on the ground was about the same as shooting ducks. At the carcass, he bled and gutted the hare the way he remembered seeing Marcus do it to the garden thief years ago. After collecting his pack, he stuck his kill on a spit made from alder branches and got a fire going on the side of the hill facing away from town. When it finished cooking, he eagerly bit into the meat. He ate as much as he could nibble off the rabbit, then a piece of bread before settling down for the night.

The morning sky arrived with a wavy film of white clouds and a front of thicker ones coming in from the west. A breeze carried a hint of the familiar scents of a town. Hyroc felt a pang of loneliness as the memories of his home in Forna washed over him. He quickly pushed them aside. That wasn’t his home anymore. He stamped out his fire and resumed his journey north. Coming over the rise of one hill in the distance, he saw the edge of a vast forest. He smiled at the sight. Once he reached those trees, he would be safe from The Ministry. Then somewhere within, he would make a new home.

As he stood there, he became aware of movement off toward the northern edge of the town. Looking toward it, he got a start when he saw a crowd gathered around a large tree. He quickly backpedaled behind the top of the hill. Glancing ahead, he was dismayed to see a gap in the hills directly in front of the crowd. If he tried moving through it, someone would see him. He would have to wait for them to leave. With nothing else to do, he settled into a more comfortable position to see what the crowd was doing. Beneath the tree, he saw a woman sitting atop a horse with a rope around her neck. Several members of the crowd were waving their arms angrily through the air. They were unhappy with the woman. Hyroc suddenly realized they were going to hang her; she was a witch.

A man standing beside the woman at the tree slapped the horse on its rear. The horse jerked in alarm and took off running. The noose went taught, and the woman was pulled off the horse’s back by her neck. Hyroc felt sick as he watched. For an instant, he saw Marcus’ lifeless body lying in the bed at the boarding school. Hyroc knew this probably was what would have happened to him if The Ministry had found him. That was what June was protecting him from. She knew it would be hard on him, but making him leave was the only choice she had if he was to have any chance of staying safe. And his safety was the most important thing to her. That was the only reason she could make such a choice.

The crowd began to disperse back toward town, leaving the woman’s body behind. Hyroc waited until they were gone before running through the gap in the hills. The woman getting yanked off the horse repeatedly appeared in his mind’s eye. Eventually, the images faded enough for him to concentrate on his surroundings. In front of him lay a small clear stream. He took a deep breath. Checking his waterskin, it felt about half empty. Crouching down at the water’s edge, he began filling the skin. A sloshing noise caught his attention. Looking in the direction of the sound, he froze when he saw a young girl on the opposite shore, filling a container with water. Quietly he slung the skin over his shoulder and slowly rose to his feet. Then the girl looked up at him.

Adam Freestone is an Alaskan author and writer of the Sentinel Flame series. He writes fantasy stories but also has a talent for the unexpected. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering he has been coming up with stories his whole life. But apart from his writing skills, he isn’t quite what most people would expect. He is a near quadriplegic man afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator, but despite everything he has going against him, he never lets it stand in his way. He is a go-getter, animal and nature lover, MDA participant, and smart minded writer. Everything that goes into his stories is carefully considered, nothing he writes goes down casually. His stories are never quite what they first appear to be.