Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity
Beams of morning sunlight streamed between the branches of the trees as Hyroc trudged toward the back of the valley to check the spring snare. A bolt of excitement shot through him when he saw the sapling standing upright, and there was something dangling from it. He had hoped he would catch something with it, but he hadn’t really expected to on his first attempt. At the trap, he found a rabbit hanging helplessly in the air; at least, he thought it was a rabbit. The rabbit was brown with white spots and two small antlers protruded from its head. Unsure if sleep was clouding his vision, Hyroc rubbed his eyes. The creature’s appearance remained unchanged. He pushed one of his claws into the side of his snout to see if he was dreaming. Pain was supposed to reveal that. It hurt so, no, he was awake. Shaking his head, feeling as if a small part of his world just stopped making sense, he unsheathed his knife and stabbed the rabbit in the head. When it was dead, he moved a few yards away to slit its throat. A stream of blood spattered onto the ground before slowing to a few red drips. He gave the rabbit a hard shake, tied it to his belt, then reset the trap.
The rest of his snares were empty. When he finished with the last one, he made his way to the incline leading to the cliff face where the mountain lion’s lair was. He knew this was not one of his best ideas, but he saw a good spot to set a snare when he was up here yesterday. Keeping a close watch on his surroundings, he made a final trap using the last of his heavy twine. He hoped he wouldn’t end up catching the big cat or any of her cubs putting a trap here.
Once finished at the incline, he made his way back to the cabin. Making sure to preserve the animal hide, he got to work skinning and gutting the strange rabbit. While the rabbit cooked in his fireplace, he studied the fresh hide, trying to figure out what he could do with it. Selling it in town would be the obvious option, but letting the villagers see him still seemed like a terrible idea. He didn’t need to rush into a potentially hazardous experience. He could wait a little longer. Since selling the hide was out of the question, he knew he needed to figure out a way to use it or any future hides he obtained. He was confident he could figure out how to utilize any he got, but from experience, he knew the hides would eventually rot, and he had no idea how to prevent that.
Thinking back to the family of hunters, he remembered the father and son skinning animals. Much of their clothing looked homemade, which must mean they had a way to preserve those hides. Maybe sometime he would go see what the family did with their animal hides. By now, the rabbit had finished cooking. Biting into the meat when it had cooled, it had the same gamey texture as a rabbit, but it tasted strangely like the venison he had occasionally had for dinner in Forna. After lunch, he headed out to hunt. Whatever he needed to do with the hide, he knew it could wait for a while; food was a more pressing concern.
From the cabin, he made his way to the creek where he had found deer tracks the day before. Following along the shore, he headed in the opposite direction as yesterday. After about an hour of walking, he settled down in the shade beneath a birch tree to rest his feet. As he sat there listening to the relaxing murmur of the creek, he caught sight of a weasel poking its head out of a hole in the tree’s trunk above him. With his nearly disastrous encounter with the big cat still looming in his mind, he welcomed the presence of this small creature.
Slowly he reached into his pocket, removing a piece of meat from his leftover deer rabbit, and held it up to his beady-eyed guest. Cautiously, the weasel took it before dashing down the tree and off into the forest. The weasel reappeared a few minutes later. Hyroc put a tiny piece of meat in his palm, resting his upturned hand on the ground in front of him. The weasel came over to his hand, tentatively sniffing, recoiling several times as it slowly drew closer. Once the weasel had a hold of the meat, it ran a short distance away before stopping to eat its prize.
Hyroc put another piece of meat in his hand. Having downed the meat scraps, the weasel stood up on its hind legs to sniff the air. It dropped back on all fours, coming toward his hand without showing much trepidation. The weasel touched the end of his fingers with its nose and pulled back. Hyroc remained motionless as the weasel leaned forward toward his hand again. It snapped up the meat then surprised him by dashed up his arm. The weasel jerkily worked its way to the top of his head. Hyroc felt a tickle on one of his ears as the animal sniffed it. Without warning, it sank its needle-sharp teeth into his ear. He yelled out in pain as he threw his hand at the top of his head. The sound startled the mischievous creature, and it leaped from his head before disappearing into the tree. Touching his ear, Hyroc was irritated to see a globule of blood on the tips of his fingers.
Not wanting to risk another ambush by the evil weasel, he ventured to the opposite shore of the creek via a rocky crossing not far from where he was attacked. He found some yarrow on the edge of some trees ringing a hill. He cut off the yarrow’s white flowers and held them on his ear. As he stood there waiting for the plant to stop the bleeding, he noticed a rabbit lying at the base of the hill to his right. He gently let go of the yarrow, which was now delicately stuck in place by congealing blood, and silently nocked an arrow. Right before he let it fly, he realized the rabbit wasn’t moving or breathing. It looked dead.
As he cautiously walked over to the dead rabbit, he saw a strange silvery moss covering its back legs. When he touched the moss, it stuck to his hand, pulling uncomfortably on his fur. He had never heard of this kind of moss. When he grabbed the rabbit by the midsection, it was squishy, like someone had filled a water skin full of cheese curds and a whitish-pink substance began oozing out of every orifice. Startled, Hyroc dropped the rabbit. The carcass hit the ground with a wet slap. As he resisted the urge to be sick – he got the eerie feeling something was watching him. Grabbing hold of the hilt of his sword, he scanned the surrounding terrain. He saw nothing but the disturbing feeling remained. Stealing a glance at the rabbit-curd-sack, he realized he had probably scared off whatever was feeding on the rabbit, and it was probably watching him right now. It seemed wise to avoid incurring the wrath of whatever could do this to a rabbit. While keeping an eye out, he unsheathed his knife to cut off a piece of the moss. He was a little surprised how tough it was; it was harder than cutting through the heavy twine he made his snares out of. When he moved his knife in a sawing motion across its surface, the moss began to come apart more easily. After a few more tense seconds, he cut a chunk off. Sticking it in his pocket, he hurriedly left the area the way he had come, listening for any sound of pursuit.
At the edge of the ring of trees, he stole a glance at the rabbit to see if he could spot the thing that was feeding on it. The rabbit carcass was missing, but he caught a glimpse of a dark shape disappearing behind the rise of the hill. The shape moved in a disturbing manner as if it had more than four legs. Disturbed, he decided fishing for the rest of the day at the cabin was a great idea and made his way back to the cabin with his hand on his sword hilt the entire way.