Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity
Over the following days, Hyroc settled into a routine of checking his traps in the morning and then spending the rest of the day hunting. He saw the mountain cat he shared the mountain with, watching him from a distance on numerous occasions as he performed his daily chores. The sightings made him wary, as he knew she was probably trying to figure out if he would make a tasty meal. Despite his fears, she always seemed to keep her distance and avoided wandering near the areas where he set his traps. He in turn was careful to stay away from any of her hunting grounds and kept himself from cresting the rise leading to her cave. Slowly he lost some of his distrust toward her, giving her the name Huntress, but he never forgot she could kill him if she were so inclined. Still, as she was the closest thing to company he had had since leaving Forna, he felt an odd sort of attachment to her.
One day, just after checking his traps, which had frustratingly remained empty since the deer rabbit, he came across deer tracks within the ravine. They led him off the mountain into the forest below. After tracking the animal for most of the day, he found a small doe. The deer stood in a gap between the trees, facing away from him with a single pine covered in thickly clumped branches at its back. He crept toward the tree, keeping its trunk between him and his quarry. Peeking through the branches, he nocked one of the steel arrows. He silently lined up his shot through a space between two branches.
Another arrow whistled through the air from his right, striking the deer in the chest. The deer took two steps before collapsing onto the ground. Hyroc lurched back, dropping down behind the cover of the tree’s bottom branches as two boys came into view. He recognized them as the two boys from the family of hunters. The older boy carried a bow and wore a leather quiver on his back, while the younger one only carried a single sheathed hunting knife on his belt. Hyroc watched helplessly as the two boys approached the dead deer to claim it as their own. He hated the happy looks on their faces; those feelings should have been his. He was so close to killing the deer. It didn’t belong to them!
He very much wanted to contest the fact this was his deer, but that seemed like a very bad idea. He could only imagine how they would react if he showed himself. The oldest boy was liable to put an arrow in him the moment he came into view. Then even if he managed to survive the encounter, everyone in the village would know he was here. It would be better to stay hidden until the two of them left with his stolen kill and resume hunting.
“Donovan, I thought I saw something,” Hyroc heard the youngest boy say. He felt a surge of dread at the words. For an instant, he saw himself getting skinned; his head mounted on a wall. His heart pounded away inside his chest as he frantically looked for an escape route.
“There’s no one here,” the oldest boy said in an annoyed tone. “If this was someone else’s game, they would’ve come out and said so by now.”
Peeking through the branches, Hyroc saw the younger boy step closer to his brother as he pointed at the tree he was sheltering behind. “Do you think it was that monster?”
The oldest boy sighed, “I already told you it’s not real. Grandpa was just telling you that story to frighten you into behaving. You know how he is.”
“But when I was in town with mother the other day, I overheard Harold say something about people’s animals going missing.”
“Father told me livestock get lost in these woods all the time or taken by wolves. It’s unfortunate, but there’s nothing unusual about it. It just happens. You know this area as well as I do; I wouldn’t worry about anything happening to either of us. But we should be more worried about Jägerin smelling this kill. She hunts down here sometimes. So, you need to help me skin this carcass because I don’t want to get between her and a meal.” The youngest boy stared at Hyroc’s tree a moment longer before turning toward the carcass.
Hyroc was somewhat disturbed by the mention of a monster, and people’s animals were disappearing. His thoughts turned to the shadowed thing he had seen at the hill with the dead rabbit. Could it have been the monster the boy was talking about? He felt a cold shiver run up his back at the thought. His luck couldn’t possibly be that bad. How could he have found the one place on his map where there were actually monsters. He shook his head. No, it was like what the older boy said. It was just a story to make the younger one behave. Adults say things like that to young children all the time. Why would this place be any different? It was just a story. There wasn’t a monster. But then what killed the rabbit? He stiffened a little but pushed the thought aside. He had more important things to worry about for the time being.
The oldest boy drew his knife and slit the deer’s throat, releasing a steady stream of blood from its neck. Preoccupied with the carcass, the two boys were no longer looking in Hyroc’s direction. He saw his chance to escape but realized this was also an opportunity to see how to properly deal with a deer carcass. Though he could probably figure it out on his own, it would make the process much easier if he watched someone do it.
At least I could get something useful out of losing my deer, again.
Settling into a more comfortable position, he attentively watched the two boys work. By now, the blood had almost stopped flowing. Starting at the deer’s rear end, the oldest boy cut down along the belly, continuing up through the chest, stopping at the chin. Then he and the youngest boy began removing the innards. Once finished, the two of them made a cut down the inside of each leg. Then they made a circular cut above the hooves. After the legs, starting at the belly, they began cutting the hide free of the carcass, slowly working their way up to the neck. At the base of the skull, they simply pulled the remaining dermis off the head like a fleshy sock. The oldest boy draped the hide over a branch with the fleshy side out, removed a hatchet from his belt, chopped off two long limbs and several branches from a tree. Using the limbs as a base, the two boys set the branches across them, forming what appeared to be a ladder, then they tied it together with twine. The oldest boy rolled the skinless deer onto their sled, and the youngest boy set the hide alongside the carcass. After tying a length of rope to the ladder, the two boys grabbed hold of it and started dragging the ladder away.
At least now, Hyroc had some idea of what to do with any deer he killed. He waited until he was sure the two boys were out of earshot before stretching his legs and resuming his hunt. On his way back up to the mountain, he managed to kill a grouse and then a deer rabbit before dark. As he picked his way across the mountain slopes with the animals dangling from his belt, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of a dark shape moving through the trees below him. Turning his head in the direction of the shape, he saw nothing. Cupping a hand over his eyes to block out the setting sun, he studied the spot where he thought the shape had been. He started when he heard the distant shriek of a dying rabbit behind him. Wheeling around, his hand flying to the hilt of his sword, he saw Huntress farther up the mountain holding a lifeless rabbit in her jaws. She stopped to look at him. He slightly relaxed Yas she slinked off toward her lair. When he turned back to look at the spot below him, he froze as he saw a shadowed shape through a gap between the trunks of the trees. A shiver ran up his back when it felt as if many eyes were suddenly watching him. He blinked, and the shape was gone, but the feeling remained. Worried, he rapidly made his way back to his cabin. It seemed his luck might be that bad