Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity
Hyroc sat on the grassy shore beneath the cool shade of an oak tree’s canopy, with a fishing pole in hand. Resting the side of his head on the knuckles of his free hand, he watched the faded brown bobber attached to his line float on the calm water’s surface. He gently waved his pole from side to side, slowly dragging his hook through the water, hoping to attract the attention of a fish. He liked fishing; he just hated how much waiting it involved. Sometimes hours would pass without a single bite, hours filled with nothing more than the sleepy murmur of the creek, the occasional chirp of birds or the chittering of an angry squirrel. It was easy for his concentration to wane at those times, but he knew he could get a bite at any moment and if he weren’t paying attention, the fish would escape. And those hours of boredom would have been spent in vain. Still, fishing, even with all the waiting, was more enjoyable than sitting around and listening to his teachers talk all day.
The boarding school had closed down for the summer two weeks ago. Just as Marcus had said, Hyroc had no other incidents with a bully. But that was about the only good thing regarding his lashing out at Billy. Miss Duncan had continued her practice of indirectly pointing out through her lessons Hyroc was a dangerous monster, which made his fellow students distrust him even more. Whenever he sat down at a table, the gap between him and the nearest student seemed to grow. Then there were the looks he started getting. These weren’t the gawking looks of curiosity mixed with a subtle amount of fear he had become accustomed to; there was something new in them. He couldn’t identify what the new thing was, but whatever it was made him incredibly uncomfortable. Knowing the behavior was unlikely to disappear, he eventually learned to ignore it, though sometimes it proved impossible to do so. Thankfully, his first year at the school had ended not long afterward and he was free of it for a time.
The bobber dunked down into the water, and Hyroc felt a sharp pull on his line. He set the hook then began dragging the fish in. After a brief struggle, he landed a small trout. He held the slippery fish onto the ground with his foot until it stopped breathing. Once he was sure his catch would remain on dry land, he tossed the fish behind him, then baited his hook with another worm stored in a mud-filled wooden cup beside him and cast his line. Almost an hour later, when he began contemplating heading home, he got another bite. This fish put up more of a fight, but he still landed it relatively easy.
When it too stopped moving, he tied his line around both fish, then slung his pole over his shoulder and headed up a trail past the oak tree. The trail entered a thin stand of trees, terminating into a gently sloping broad grassy hill.
Marcus’ house sat near the top of the hill. It was a medium-sized, two-story building crafted from light brown brick with a dark gray thatched roof and two chimneys at the center of the structure. A fenced off garden sat at the back containing neat groupings of cabbage, carrots, parsley, rosemary, radishes, potatoes, three strawberry plants, a well, single alder with branches that hung over the fence and a crabapple tree. Sunflowers, red lupine, foxglove, and grass punctuated with clover patches surrounded the house.
Hyroc walked through the garden gate, closed it behind him, then, careful not to step on any of the garden plants, made his way to the open backdoor that leads into the kitchen. After kicking mud interlaced with smashed grass from his shoes, he took them off and stepped inside.
A finely polished oak table sat to Hyroc’s right, with a light-colored cabinet toward the end opposite him and a stepped doorway leading into the living room. To his left, a black wooden counter ran the length of the wall, curving around an adjacent corner of the room ending at a brick hearth. Cupboards separated by shelves covered with glass jars containing herbs sat above the counter. A bundle of sage, parsley, a garland of garlic, and various cookwares hung from the hearth.
Stepping into the living room, Hyroc found Marcus at his desk in the back corner of the room beneath a window, thoughtfully looking over scrolls scattered across it.
“Did you catch anything?” Marcus said without looking up from his desk.
“I did,” Hyroc said, proudly holding up his two fish. Usually, he only caught one.
Marcus looked up from his desk to see Hyroc’s catch. A smile crested his lips. “Glad to hear it. We can have those for lunch. Just take them back into the kitchen and give me a few more minutes to finish these.”
Hyroc nodded, then went back into the kitchen. Untying the fish, he set them on the counter. After waiting for what Hyroc thought was far longer than a few minutes, Marcus entered the kitchen. He pulled a stool up to the counter and bade Hyroc to sit on it. Once Hyroc had taken his seat, Marcus placed a scale-removing tool in front of himself and slid another in front of Hyroc before placing a fish in front of him. When Marcus began scaling his fish, so did Hyroc.
“Make sure you get all of them,” Marcus said.
“I will,” Hyroc promised, remembering how a scale had cut into his gums when he bit into a piece of fish with one.
“Did you lose any?”
Marcus nodded approvingly. “See, you’re getting better at it.”
When they finished scaling and gutting their fish, Marcus placed a fresh piece of wood inside the hearth and, using a tinderbox, got a fire going. He put a grate over the fire, then put a pan on it. When the pan reached a proper cooking temperature, he carefully placed each fish on the hot metal. The fish erupted into popping and sizzling, sending a delicious aroma wafting through the room. When the fish had finished cooking, using a thickly padded cooking glove, Marcus removed the pan and shook each fish onto a waiting plate. He set the pan on a flat stone at the other end of the counter and removed his glove. Marcus added salt and herbs to the fish, then set the plates on the table. Once their meal had cooled, they ate.
“Now, let’s take care of the garden,” Marcus said. Hyroc groaned unhappily. Digging in the dirt was the last thing he wanted to do. He despised the dry, scratchy sensation of dirt scraping between his skin and the underside of his claws. “I let you go fishing this morning instead of working in the garden because I was busy. But now that I’ve got everything done, we have time.”
Grumbling in annoyance, Hyroc walked into the garden. Gardening didn’t seem like much of a reward for his catching lunch. Marcus handed him a hand spade and Hyroc reluctantly got to work weeding the garden. When he had finally finished his work, to his dismay, it was too late in the day for him to do much of anything else.
“But I’m not even tired,” Hyroc protested.
“You need to sleep,” Marcus said obstinately. “Now, get yourself ready for bed. I’ll be up to tuck you in, in a minute.”
With a shrug, Hyroc headed up the house’s staircase to the hall leading to his room. There were three rooms in the hall; the first was aunt June’s, but she had taken a trip to a neighboring town and would not be back for several days. She didn’t talk to him as much as Marcus, but he didn’t mind it, and she never seemed overly concerned with his behavior. And he couldn’t help missing her a little for it. The second room was his and the last was Marcus’. Hyroc opened the door to his room and went inside. His bed sat in the corner of the room, with a small dresser beside it, and a single window overlooked the garden.
He dressed into his pajamas and climbed into bed. Marcus arrived just as he laid his head on his feather-stuffed pillow. Marcus tucked him into bed, told him good night, then blew out a candle and made his way to his own room. Not long afterward, Hyroc was fast asleep.
He reentered consciousness when a diffused shaft of morning sunlight full of particles of dust flitting in and out of existence like tiny fireflies shone through his window. Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes, then climbed out of bed and began getting into his day clothes. As he dressed, he saw Marcus walking through the garden in a displeased manner. Hyroc racked his memory from the day before for anything that might get him a scolding this morning. Nothing came to mind; he hoped it meant he was in the clear. He made his way to the garden to see what was going on. When Marcus saw him, he waved him over. Hyroc cautiously made his way over. He had to have done something he wasn’t supposed to do?
Marcus indicated one of the strawberry plants. “Were you out here playing yesterday?” Marcus said. Hyroc shook his head. “Did you leave the gate open when you came back from fishing?” Hyroc shook his head again. Marcus studied Hyroc’s face a moment, then nodded. “Then I think something got in here last night. Take a look at this.” Marcus crouched down beside one of the strawberry plants. Moving closer, Hyroc saw with dismay its stalk severed just above the ground and the upper part lay limply across the soil. He felt a twinge of anger as he looked upon the doomed plant. Whatever had gotten into the garden had decided upon killing the plant with the tastiest things in the yard.
“Probably a rabbit,” Marcus said as he stood up. “I might be able to get another strawberry plant in town from a gardener friend of mine. There’s not much we can do about it right now but keep an eye out for any pests wandering around out here. Anyway, I should get started on breakfast before it gets too late.”
Marcus made two acorn pancakes and a few strips of crispy bacon. Afterward, Hyroc was forced to work in the garden and sweep out both the hearth and fireplace before he could do anything else. It was after lunch when he finished all his chores and was free to go fishing. He got several bites but caught nothing.
Hyroc awoke that night to a faint scraping noise coming from outside. Silver shafts of moonlight lit the room, bleaching everything an eerie white. Bleary-eyed, he walked to the window. In the garden, he saw the glint of white fur. Focusing on the shape, he saw a rabbit. So, you’re the thief, Hyroc thought to himself. He slipped on his shoes, then, careful not to make any noise, made his way to the back door. Heart thumping with excitement, he quietly propped the door open a crack. After a moment of searching, he spotted the long eared sneak. He walked away from the door and silently grabbed a knife. With his weapon in hand, he crept out the door. He made it no more than three steps from the door when the rabbit’s ears shot into the air, and the hare darted into the shadows. Hyroc heard the rustling of leaves, then silence. Disappointed with himself, he went back inside.
At breakfast, he was just about to tell Marcus about his nighttime discovery, but at the last moment, he decided against it. He wanted to be the one who caught the rabbit. He could imagine how grateful and proud Marcus would be if he were the one who caught it. Maybe he wouldn’t have to work in the garden anymore.
That night, Hyroc waited impatiently at the window for any sign of his quarry. Once the fullness of night had descended, he saw the rabbit in the garden. He went into the kitchen, collected a knife, and stealthily headed out into the garden trying much harder to remain undetected. Despite his best efforts, just like the night before, the rabbit fled before he could even get close. The third night was no different. He then decided his current strategy was seriously flawed.
The day after his third failure, he searched the fence surrounding the garden for any possible entry points. To his astonishment, he found none. Was this a flying rabbit, he thought, suppressing a smile at the idea when he imagined it jumping on Miss Duncan’s face. Confounded, he double-checked the fence, but he still found nothing. As he considered admitting defeat and telling Marcus, he noticed the low hanging branches of the alder. He had completely forgotten to check under there. After an initial struggle with the flimsy woody branches trying to snap back into position, he found a small space at the base of one of the fence posts where something had dug under it.
He had found the entry point, but he was unsure how this information could help him. Marcus called out; lunch was ready. Still pondering a solution, Hyroc stepped away from the shrub, brushed the dirt from his clothing and went inside. Just as he finished his meal, it began to rain. Irritated by the uncooperative weather disrupting his investigation, he made his way into the living room. He grabbed a book he had started reading from off the top of Marcus’ desk, sat down in front of the room’s fireplace and began reading.
The next few hours passed in this manner, and the rain showed no sign of stopping anytime soon. As Hyroc read, he came across a story in his book where a boy was trying to get rid of a troublesome mouse. No matter what the boy tried, the mouse would still manage to nip some cheese from his grandfather’s cellar. Eventually, the boy outsmarted the clever mouse by using a trap baited with the very cheese the rodent was stealing.
A sudden inspired thought entered Hyroc mind, filling him with a pleasant warm feeling. The rabbit was too fast for him to get to, so he needed to set a trap for it. Other than Marcus teaching him some basic knot tying techniques, he knew nothing about trap making. Closing the book, he rushed over to a nearby bookshelf and fervently began searching for the book Marcus had used to teach him those knots. He found the book and began pouring over the various knots contained within its pages. Toward the end of the book, he found a brief section detailing the construction of two simple types of snares. Searching through the house, Hyroc found a length of the twine Marcus used to make his fishing line.
By now, the rain had stopped. With the book and supplies in hand, Hyroc went back under the alder, and following the book’s instructions, carefully set up his trap. It took him several attempts before he finally made the snare into something similar to what the book described as a snare. Excited by the prospect of finally capturing his strawberry-destroying foe, he had trouble sleeping when his bedtime arrived.
The following morning, after quickly getting dressed, he flew down the stairs and out the back door to check his traps. To his utter disappointment, the trap had come apart. Annoyed with himself, he reset the trap and waited for another agonizing day. The next morning he was frustrated yet again. The rabbit had tripped the trap, but the snare loop had closed incorrectly, creating enough slack for the rabbit to escape. The next morning was also a failure, as were the next three. But from each failure, he learned something new, slowly getting better at making his trap. After about another week of failure, he was suddenly thrust awake one night by a horrendous rabbit scream emanating from the garden. When he entered the hallway, a sleepy eyed, somewhat alarmed Marcus stuck his head out his bedroom door.
“What is that?” Marcus said. “It sounds like a dying rabbit.”
Hyroc smiled eagerly. “I sure hope so,” he said excitedly before rushing down the stairs. He found the rabbit thrashing beneath the alder branches with a loop of twine wrapped firmly around its back legs.
Marcus arrived a moment later. He turned toward Hyroc with a curious look in his eyes. “Did you do that?” Marcus said, pointing toward the struggling hare. Hyroc nodded happily. A proud smile spread across Marcus’ mouth. “Great job.” He affectionately ruffled the hair on top of Hyroc’s head. Another high-pitched scream shattered the happy moment. Gritting his teeth, Marcus said, “why don’t we get him out of there? I don’t want to listen to that all-night.” He grasped the rabbit by the back of the neck while Hyroc untied its foot. “Could you get me a knife?” Hyroc nodded and brought Marcus the sharpest knife he could find. Marcus walked away from the house before slitting the throat of the troublesome animal. Hyroc felt a strange sadness as he watched. After having been bested by the hare for nearly two weeks, he felt an odd sort of attachment to his opponent for outsmarting him for so long. Once the blood stopped flowing, Marcus shook the rabbit, then made his way back to the house.
“We can have him for lunch tomorrow,” Marcus said, holding up the rabbit.
“I’ve been trying to get him since I found him,” Hyroc said gleefully.
Marcus paused, some of the happiness drained from his expression. “You’re grounded!”
“WHAT!” Hyroc yelled. “But I got the rabbit.”
“Of course, I’m thankful for that, but I lost two cabbage plants because you never told me you had found where the pest was getting in. So you’re grounded for a week.”
Marcus turned toward Hyroc. “Do you want it to be two weeks?”
“No,” Hyroc said in a subdued tone.
“Good. Now go back to bed.”