Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity
Hyroc’s legs ached as Elsa’s father and Donovan continued leading him through the forest by the rope around his neck. He had walked about this same distance every day while checking his traps, but Elsa’s father was forcing him to walk at a much faster pace than he was used to, and after tripping several times, the journey was starting to take its toll on him.
“I need to take a break,” Hyroc said.
“You’ll get a break when we get where we’re going,” Elsa’s father growled. “Keep moving.”
Hyroc sighed irritably; he needed a break. If Elsa’s father wouldn’t give him one voluntarily, he would force that break out of him. He looked at the ground passing beneath his feet, it was devoid of protruding roots, and green tufts of soft moss lay in the path before him. He smirked. This looks like a good spot. He purposely made his legs give out, careful not to hurt himself when he landed.
“Get back up,” Donovan said, stepping closer.
Turning his head, Hyroc noticed Donovan’s shin was within kicking distance. He had a strong temptation to exact some sort of revenge upon his captures, but that seemed a great way for him to get his ribs kicked in or worse.
“I told you, I need a break,” Hyroc said indignantly. He sat up into the most comfortable position he could manage with bound hands. “And if you don’t give me one, you can carry me the rest of the way.”
Elsa’s father glowered. “Fine, you’ve got two minutes and not a second more.”
“Thank you,” Hyroc said halfheartedly. As he sat there, he saw a flash of white fur in the trees in front of him. This was the third time he had seen the creature since he left the clearing where he had been captured. The only thing that made sense was Ursa following them. But he was becoming concerned she hadn’t rescued him yet. Surely being captured by the two hunters was considered dangerous.
“I thought I saw something,” Donovan said, looking in the direction Hyroc had seen Ursa.
“Where?” Elsa’s father said, walking over to him.
“Just over there,” Donovan said, indicating the general area of his sighting.
“What color was it?”
“It looked white.”
“Probably just a coyote or lynx following us, hoping we’ll drop something it can eat.” He turned back toward Hyroc. “Okay, that’s long enough, back on your feet.” Hyroc shrugged and arduously got to his feet.
The lakeshore came into view, and not long afterward, the three of them arrived at the cabin. Almost as soon as they entered the clearing, a cacophony of excited barking sounds filled the air as the families’ dog came rushing over. The hound gave its masters a quick greeting before moving on to Hyroc. Catching his scent, the dog became more agitated and began to growl.
Elsa’s father led Hyroc over to the fence post of the pen, where their goat and a donkey lazily munched on a mouthful of feed. On the porch, the older man sat smoking a pipe on a stool with his back against the side of the cabin. Donovan’s younger brother sat nearby with a whetstone in one hand and an unsheathed knife in the other, curiously watching their approach. Elsa’s father unbound Hyroc’s hands, retying them to the post in an even more uncomfortable position behind his back.
“Curtis,” Elsa’s father called out to the youngest boy as he finished securing Hyroc’s hands. After slipping his knife back into its sheath and setting the whetstone on the porch, Curtis made his way over, never taking his eyes off Hyroc’s face. “I need you to go into town and tell Harold we found something unusual in the forest and he should get here as fast as he can. And to bring a few others who can keep their mouths shut.” Slowly turning his attention from Hyroc, Curtis nodded and headed off toward town at a quick pace.
“Oh, you’re back,” Elsa said as she stepped outside the house. Hyroc snapped his head in her direction, a wave of relief washing over him. She could explain everything. “Mother wants –” she stopped talking the moment she saw Hyroc, her eyes widening in shock.
“Elsa!” Hyroc called out.
“Hyroc!” she said in alarm.
Her father, brother, and the older man snapped their attention to her with dumbfounded looks on their faces. “How do you know his name?” Her father and brother said simultaneously.
She paused. “Well…because…he…told it to me,” she said tentatively.
“He what,” her father exclaimed, his face flushing. “You’d better explain yourself right now, young lady!”
Elsa hurriedly recounted the events of the morning of the wolf attack, how Hyroc killed it, her search for him, and then their meeting.
“You’re telling me you knew about him this whole time, and you never told anyone,” Elsa’s father said as she finished her account.
“I didn’t tell you –” she angrily indicated Hyroc with her hand “– because I knew this was how you would react.”
“That’s not your place to decide! You’ve put everyone in this family in danger.”
“If he wanted to hurt me or any of us, why did he save me from that wolf?”
Else’s father squeezed his eyes shut, pinching the bridge of his nose between his index finger and thumb. He thrust a finger at the open door of the cabin. “Go back inside, and stay there. I’ll deal with you later.”
He opened his eyes, affixing a fiery gaze on her. “Now,” he growled. She bowed her head a little and, after giving Hyroc a worried glance, stormed back into the cabin. “Donovan, you too.” Donavan obeyed without question. “She’s going to put me in an early grave,” Elsa’s father grumbled to himself almost too quiet for Hyroc to hear.
He turned his attention back on Hyroc, giving him a severe look that made him stiffen in alarm. “You’re going to tell me everything right now! And if I think for one instant that you’re lying, I swear I’ll use your skin to make a blanket for our goat. What did you want with my daughter?”
“Nothing,” Hyroc said. Elsa’s father furrowed his eyebrows in a look of deepening mistrust. The back of Hyroc’s head prickled as the horrifying image of being skinned alive appeared in his mind.
“Then why were you sneaking around our cabin?”
“I – I was trying to see how you tan hides.”
“You expect me to believe such a ridiculous lie,” Elsa’s father scoffed. “That goat’s going to be warm tonight.”
“I don’t know how to do it myself,” Hyroc quickly added. “And I – and I thought I could learn it by watching you and your family. But I swear that’s all I was doing, sir. I never took anything.”
Elsa’s father raised an eyebrow giving Hyroc a strange look. “Give me one good reason why I should believe that’s what you were really doing?”
“I –” he slumped his head down “– I can’t,” he said gloomily.
“Why did you kill that wolf?”
Hyroc looked back up at him. “It was going to attack her – your daughter – and I killed it. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you see someone in danger, isn’t it? Keep them from getting hurt?”
Elsa’s father hesitated, a deeply puzzled expression coming over his face, then said, “Yes. Why did you come to this place?”
Hyroc shrugged. “This looked like a good place for – for trapping.”
“Trapping?” Elsa’s father said in a surprised tone. Hyroc nodded. “For food?”
“Mostly that, but also for the hides…if I can figure out how to keep them from rotting.”
“What were you going to do with those hides?”
Hyroc sighed. “I was hoping to maybe sell them until I figured out what I was going to use them for.”
Elsa’s father gave him another even more confused look. “You were going to sell them?”
“Then why hasn’t anyone seen you in town if that was what you wanted?”
Hyroc bowed his head. “I – I was afraid someone would try and – try and kill me.”
“If you felt that way, then why would you come here?”
“I didn’t think that far ahead, and my only other option was the wilderness.”
“Isn’t that where you came from?” Hyroc shook his head. “Then where did you come from?” Hyroc opened his mouth to answer but quickly closed it, returning his gaze to the ground, causing Elsa’s father to frown. He watched Hyroc for an uncomfortable length of time before asking, “Where do you live?”
Hyroc grimaced. That was the one thing he hoped to avoid answering. Though it seemed doubtful letting the man know such a thing would really make much of a difference at this point. After a long moment’s contemplation, Hyroc reluctantly said, “in a cabin, I found in a valley at the foot of the mountain.” He indicated the general direction with his chin. The expression on the face of Elsa’s father hardened. Hyroc began to wonder if he had actually made the correct choice.
After a long pause, Elsa’s father said, “Why did you go there?”
“Well, when I first arrived here, I found a trail leading off from the road into the trees. I followed it and – and that’s how I found that cabin.” Else’s father studied his face impassively. After an uncomfortable and worrying length of time under his gaze, Elsa’s father turned, heading off toward the cabin.
Hyroc slammed the back of his head against the fencepost in frustration. He berated himself for not trying harder to make Elsa’s father believe he was not some evil creature and he had failed. It felt as if a cold pit of despair had opened beneath him, and he was plummeting uncontrollably into its lightless depths. Suddenly, he saw the image of Kit’s face materialize in his mind. The look in the cub’s eyes seemed to be saying, “If you give up, I die too.” Hyroc shook his head, throwing off some of the weight he felt trying to crush him. I won’t abandon you! He felt a surge of anger toward Ursa. Everything she had said was clearly a lie. And he had started to believe her. She had no intention of helping him or she would have done it by now. He had squandered numerous opportunities to escape waiting for her to rescue him. If he was going to find a way out of this mess, he would have to do it himself. He couldn’t count on anybody else’s help and he was done expecting it.