Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity
Svald strode through the door of his family’s cabin. Dull orange embers glowed across a thin layer of gray ash within the cabin’s fireplace, which was made from smooth river stones, near the center of the wall opposite the door. Toward the left wall was a large bed big enough for an entire family to sleep in, with both the head and footboards made from polished spruce boughs. Then at the opposite end of the cabin lay the kitchen. At the center of which stood a circular wooden table ringed with chairs, and running across the wall were shelves with glass jars filled with medicinal forest plants. His eldest son, Donovan, sat at the table and standing beside the bed was his wife Helen folding clothes.
Two days back, Svald found the footprints of someone unfamiliar around his home. It was apparent whoever they belonged to was a thief because no one in the village would ever sneak around someone’s home unless they intended to take something. Thievery was rare around the village, but it did still happen from time to time. Then Donovan found the remains of a dead wolf not far from their home. The carcass was too far-gone for anything useful, and it infuriated him someone could kill a wolf then leave a perfectly good pelt to rot on the body. There was absolutely no excuse for such wasteful behavior. And whoever was responsible was also threatening his family’s lives by leaving the animal’s body so close to their home that it could attract a predator. That fact above all else, made him want to apprehend the perpetrator as soon as possible.
Before the sun had risen this morning, starting at the wolf carcass, Donovan and he had followed the thief’s faded tracks toward the mountain. Near the mountain’s foot, a short distance from a creek, the two of them found a choke point where it seemed the thief would pass through again. Using a large net concealed under a bed of leaves, and a small deer carcass as bait, because he assumed it would be hard for the thief to pass up a free meal, they set up a trap and waited for the thief to fall into it. And a few hours later, the thief had done just that. Then right after subduing him, Svald’s world turned upside down when he discovered the thief was not what he was expecting.
The thief looked normal enough from a distance, but up close, Svald realized beneath the person’s clothing was fur, and his head resembled what appeared to be a wolverine. Svald wondered what kind of person would wear such a mask and stick so much animal fur beneath their clothing during the summer. His wonder quickly turned to shock when it became apparent everything was attached.
Memories of the necromancer, memories he wished forgotten from ten years ago, reentered the forefront of his mind. He remembered vividly the nightmarish scenes of bodies – some of which belonged to people he once knew – walking around trying to strangle anyone they came across. He had grown up hearing stories of witches and forest monsters, and he had sometimes seen strange things while out hunting, but he had never really believed any of them until that day. Once the initial chaos caused by the arrival of the walking corpses abated, the villagers got themselves organized to fight off the dead. When they had finished with their grim task, they found and killed the person responsible. Anyone capable of such a terrible deed deserved no pity.
The thief he had captured was obviously some unnatural thing; there could be no other explanation for its appearance. After what the village went through ten years ago, he knew killing him was the safest option. But he felt an awful wrongness toward the very thought. There was something strange about the way the thief spoke; it almost reminded him of his son Donovan. Killing him oddly felt akin to killing a child, and he could not bring himself to do it. Confused, he decided to bring the thief back with him and turn him over to the village elders. They would be able to better judge what should be done; he was out of his depth.
Then when the three of them arrived back at his home, to his astonishment, he learned from his daughter Elsa that not only did she know about the thief, she had actually met him days earlier. He was furious at her for not telling him. Keeping the thief’s presence a secret was bad enough, but merely being associated with such an aberration, she ran the risk of being exiled from the village. With his little girl’s future hanging in the balance, he needed to try and preempt any troubles headed her way, so he attempted to glean whatever answers he could from the thief. The following conversation with the thief only served to deepen his confusion. The thief explained he was sneaking around their home in order to learn how to tan animal hides. Svald assumed the thief was lying, but he could find no trace of a lie in the thief’s words. If what the thief said was the truth, it hardly was what he expected a bloodthirsty monster to want to do. That was basically what he and his family were doing. With his mind reeling, he entered the cabin to try and make sense of what the thief had said.
Using his thumb, Svald pointed over his shoulder through the door at the furry creature he had captured, who was apparently named Hyroc. “Donavan, keep an eye on –” he waved his hand, searching for an appropriate word for describing the Hyroc creature “– on – on our catch. I made sure I tied up his hands good, but I don’t want him getting away while my back’s turned.”
Donovan gave him a reluctant look, then said, “all right,” and headed out the door.
Svald swept his eyes around the cabin, suddenly noticing his daughter was nowhere to be seen. “Helen, where’s Elsa?” he said, anger seeping into his voice. “I told her to stay in the cabin.”
Helen turned her head toward him with a pair of pants folded around one of her arms. “I sent her out to put Grettle in the barn,” Helen said, neatly setting the disentangled pants on the bed. She made her way over to him. “And I told her to stay there until one of us comes out to get her. That way, the two of us could talk, alone.”
Svald nodded his understanding. “I suppose she already told you about what happened,” he said, glancing out the door.
“Bits and pieces; she seemed very upset with you.”
“That doesn’t surprise me. She doesn’t understand I’m trying to prevent her foolishness from hurting her. If anyone finds out she knew about that thing, she could be implicated in all of this.”
“I know.” Helen looked out the door, watching the Hyroc creature. “He looks scared,” she said, sounding somewhat puzzled.
Svald turned, joining his gaze with hers. There indeed looked to be a tremendous amount of fear in the Hyroc creature’s eyes. He was unsurprised; it should be scared. It had been captured. Whatever powers it held whilst going unnoticed, he and his son had robbed the creature of them. It had plenty to be scared of. But even as he thought that something about the Hyroc creature made the thought seem callous. As if he had wished harm upon someone’s child. Puzzled why he should feel bad about making the Hyroc creature afraid, he pushed the feeling from his mind. This creature was a danger to the village. There was nothing wrong with eliminating danger.
“I would too, if I were in its position,” Svald said.
“I see you found a new pet,” Walter said, entering the cabin with his pipe in hand.
Svald smirked, wishing the Hyroc creature was just an animal. That would at least make the whole situation simple. He knew how to deal with animals, not whatever he and his son had found this morning.
Walter shook his head ruefully. “Creatures like that need to be put down like a rabid dog. They’re just not natural.”
“A rabid dog?” Helen said indignantly. “We might not know what it is, but I haven’t seen anything about him that suggests he’s crazed, have you?”
Walter cocked an eyebrow at her. “Does it really matter?”
“Of course it matters!”
Walter waved his hand dismissively. “Bah, there’s only one way to deal with things like that.”
Helen’s expression hardened. “There will be no killing here as long as I have anything to say about it.”
Walter shook his head in disbelief. “That’s no better than what it deserves.”
“Walter, get out!” Walter gave her a shocked, almost hurt look.
“Fine, my advice obviously isn’t wanted here, even though I know I’m right.” Walter turned and headed for the door.
“And I swear if anything happens to him while he’s here, I’ll smother you in your sleep.” Walter paused a moment before continuing out the door. Svald smiled at her, repressing a laugh. Helen gave him an unamused glare. “What are you smiling at? You were about as helpful as a pine cone.”
“You had it handled just fine,” Svald said. “There really wasn’t anything for me to say.”
“A likely excuse coming from you.”
Svald’s smile broadened. He leaned over and kissed her on the side of her face. Helen smiled, now showing only a hint of annoyance at her husband. She returned her gaze back out the door.
“Do you know how old he is?” she said.
Almost without thinking, Svald studied the Hyroc creature more closely, trying to discern the answer. His eyes slowly wandered over to Donovan who sat nearby on the edge of the porch. Shifting his gaze back to the Hyroc creature, he noticed it was slightly smaller than his son. It reminded him of the size difference between two boys separated by only a few years of age, but something about the difference was troubling. He wondered why such a trivial detail about the Hyroc creature would feel that way to him. If anything, it made the creature easier to deal with. He remembered how the creature had sounded when it spoke. Its voice wasn’t as deep as he had expected, and he thought he caught it cracking at times. It became apparent the creature possessed many of the same characteristics as a normal teenager. If that were true, then he had essentially captured a scared child. He shook his head. That couldn’t be what he was seeing. He knew practically nothing about witches and from what little he had been able to gather, they were never quite what they appeared to be. For all he knew, this thing was playing some sort of trick on his eyes, something to make him show pity toward it. He had to focus. This thing was dangerous and it needed to be dealt with accordingly. His family was not safe so long as it remained here.
“He doesn’t seem like he should be that old,” Helen said. “Does he?”
“No, he doesn’t,” Svald said, shaking his head slowly.
She paused. “He looks like he hasn’t been eating very well.”
Svald felt a twinge of guilt cut through his determination as he remembered hours ago he had used a deer to bait the trap that inevitably captured Hyroc. For some strange reason, the fact the Hyroc creature may be starving put a bitter taste in his mouth. He forced the impression from his mind. That was just another one of its tricks.
He walked over to the kitchen table where the creature’s things lay and removed one of the arrows from the quiver. Maybe its equipment would reveal something about its intentions. Shallow chips in the wood ran the length of the shaft, and the feathers were split and bent in places. He knew the marks were caused by the arrow skipping off things; he had often noticed the same damage on his own arrows while hunting small game.
“He’s been hunting rabbits,” Svald said, setting the arrow down on the table. Helen turned from the door, walking over to join him at the table. “There’s lots of them up near the mountain where we captured him. But you can’t live off those alone.” Helen began examining the arrow he had been looking at.
Svald unsheathed the creature’s hunting knife, examined the blade a moment, and slipped it back into its scabbard. Next, he picked up the bow. It was a beautiful hunting tool made from rich cherry wood, and he couldn’t help wishing his own looked half as nice. Other than a few scuff marks where the arrow shafts had rubbed against the wood, it seemed very well cared for. This level of care was not what he expected a depraved creature to be capable of. Carefully, he set the bow back down.
“This doesn’t feel right,” Helen said, setting the arrow down and turning toward him. “I feel like we’re looking at this whole thing wrong. If he meant anyone harm, why would he save Elsa from that wolf?”
The wolf attack was the strangest detail of the whole situation. In none of the stories Svald had heard was the forest monsters ever depicted saving people. In fact, they usually devoured or dismembered anyone they came across and were always in need of killing by a brave soul, not something to be helped. He wanted the attack to be untrue; a lie would be easier to deal with. An unplanned wolf killing accounted for the dead wolf, and a wish to remain hidden explained the wasted carcass. And to further complicate the issue, if saving his daughter from the wolf was true, there was a chance so too was everything else it had said.
“That’s for the elders to decide,” Svald said.
“I know, but –”
Donavan stuck his head in the door, interrupting Helen. “Harold’s here,” he said eagerly. Svald nodded, and Donovan disappeared back outside.
“I just don’t think he’s done anything wrong,” Helen said. “He kept Elsa from getting hurt. That has to mean something, doesn’t it?”
Svald shrugged. “Harold knows more about these kinds of things; let’s see what he has to say about this. Maybe we’re missing something he’ll see.”
“Maybe,” she said, agreeing, but the skepticism was clear in her voice.
Harold and three others stopped at the front door, staring in disbelief at the Hyroc creature. The three others whispered to one another in alarmed tones. Harold seemed unfazed, almost curious. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with black hair tinged by strips of gray.
“Harold,” Svald called out in greeting. “Please come inside. We need to talk with you.” Harold slowly turned away from the creature toward him. He said something to the three others, who nodded in response before heading inside the cabin.
Harold indicated the Hyroc creature with his hand as he came through the door. “I assume that’s why I’m here.”
“Yes, please sit,” Svald said, indicating a chair at the table.
“How’d you come across that?”
Svald briefly explained the thief’s tracks, how he had captured him up until the three of them arrived back at home, leaving out the wolf carcass and his daughter’s involvement.
“Well, I’m glad you brought this to my attention first,” Harold said gratefully. “Wouldn’t have done any good to cause a panic.”
“Do you know what he is?” Svald said.
Harold scratched his chin thoughtfully. “There are some types of witches I’ve come across that he might be. How did he act when you captured him?”
“What do you mean?”
“Was he aggressive, any snarling, growling, roaring, biting, that sort of thing?”
“He struggled a little to get free, not that I can blame him much for that, but nothing like what you just described. Once I got him back here, he answered a few questions.”
“He can talk?” Harold said, taken aback.
“Yeah, I was just as surprised when he did.”
“Did he growl or slur his words or speak in a manner that reminded you of animal noises?”
“No, nothing like that. He pretty much sounded the way we do now.”
Harold rubbed his chin in contemplation. “You probably got a better look at him than I did just now, but how were his clothes when you found him? Were there any noticeable gashes in the material, were they dirty, or have any large spots of dried blood.”
“I saw nothing out of the ordinary with that.”
“Did he stink?”
“Well, I didn’t go out of my way to figure that one out,” Svald said, repressing the urge to laugh. “But now that I think about it, he did have a little bit of a smell to him. It reminded me of that soggy fur smell you get from a wet dog, but it was subtle. Nothing like the stink you get from a bear.”
“Did he walk hunched over or on all fours?”
“He walked like a normal person as far as I could tell.”
Harold shrugged. “That doesn’t match any of the kinds of witches I know about. Whenever they resemble an animal, like our friend out there does, it always affects more than their appearance. They act and sound like an animal, walking on all fours, dried blood all over their clothing from eating live prey, a stench from not bathing, and so on. They never lack any of those characteristics. Our friend must be something I’ve never seen before.” He indicated the Hyroc creature’s things. “Did you find those on it?”
Harold unsheathed the sword, turned the blade over, carefully examining it, then slid it back into its scabbard, doing the same with the knife. When he looked through the quiver, he pulled out several arrows that appeared to be steel-tipped and two with heads made of silver.
“This is for piercing armor,” Harold said, holding up a steel-tipped arrow. He set it down and picked up a silver-tipped one. “And this is a Shadow Killer arrow.”
“Shadow Killer?” Svald said.
“They’re for killing undead creatures and what most people would call a shadow demon. I know for a fact these are not his. Only witch hunters carry these.”
“So he stole them?”
Harold nodded. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he stole everything we see here. Has anything gone missing from around your house lately?”
“Nothing as far as I know.”
“I haven’t noticed anything either,” Helen added.
Harold stared thoughtfully at the arrow. “It probably took the Shadow Killer’s for the silver in their arrowheads, and that also tells me it’s not a demon; they wouldn’t even touch those.” He set the arrow back down. “But it seems like it stole everything else because it thought it might need them.”
“With all the bears and wolves around the mountain,” Helen said. “I know I’d feel better with a sword.”
Svald and Harold nodded.
“How long do you think it’s been up there?” Harold said.
“As far as I can figure, less than a month,” Svald said.
“If he hasn’t stolen anything by now, I doubt he’s going to,” Helen noted.
“Or he just doesn’t have a reason to yet,” Harold said.
“Or he knows it’s wrong.” Both Harold and Svald raised a questioning eyebrow at her.
“Wait, are you implying someone taught it that?”
She nodded. “Why else would he refrain from stealing from us? He’s had plenty of opportunities to do so.”
“Fear is an excellent motivation to avoid going near something dangerous.”
“Then why would he save my daughter from a wolf?”
Svald cringed; he trusted Harold, but he still wanted to keep the wolf a secret if he could.
“Wolf? What wolf?”
Svald sighed. It was out now. “Elsa told me she was attacked by a wolf,” he said. He indicated the Hyroc creature with his hand. “And he killed it. We both know she would never make something like that up.”
“I don’t understand; if he was trying so hard to stay hidden, why kill a wolf right on your doorstep when there’s nothing to gain from it, and risk being discovered.”
“Because he knew it was the right thing to do,” Helen said. “He wasn’t thinking about himself. Does there need to be any other reason?”
“Morality is never a strong characteristic of these things, and I find the creature’s actions with the wolf baffling, but why was it hanging around your cabin in the first place? It must have needed something.”
“Well, when I talked to him, he told me he was trying to see how we tan our hides because he didn’t know how to do it himself.”
Harold gave him a bewildered look. “That has to be a lie; it has to be something else.”
“Why is that so unbelievable?” Helen said. “He was scared of us, and he needed to learn something, so he watched us to learn that thing. It makes pretty good sense to me.”
Harold shrugged. “Even if you’re right, and that’s really what he was doing, I doubt the other elders will see it your way.”
Helen’s expression hardened. “So that’s it, you’re just going to let them decide his fate. He did something to help somebody – my daughter – and now you’re going to pretend it never happened.”
“I never said I wasn’t going to help him,” Harold said indignantly. “I’ve seen plenty of people being wrongfully convicted of witchcraft. And from what the two of you have told me thus far about our friend out there, I don’t think he’s deserving of punishment. I will do my best to show the others there’s a good chance he’s not going to hurt anyone, but I cannot make any promises. In the end, it may not matter what I say. The rest of the village may not want him here at all. And after what happened the last time a situation like this arose, I wouldn’t blame them.”
Helen nodded, but her expression was still unhappy. Harold stood up from the chair, as did everyone else. “Svald, you should come with me since you’re the one who found him. The others will want you to explain your experience with the creature.”
Svald nodded. “I’ll be out in a moment,” he said. Harold nodded and headed out the door.
“You have to help him,” Helen said. “He protected our daughter. That’s worth something. If he could do something selfless, I know he must have a good heart. I think he deserves to stay.”
“I’ll try my best.”
“For his sake, you need to.”
Svald kissed her on the cheek before heading outside after Harold.
With a movement of his chin, Harold indicated the three villagers he had brought with him. “I’ll leave them here to keep an eye on our friend until the town elders decide what to do with him.”
Svald nodded appreciatively at the thoughtfulness toward his family. “Donavan, Curtis,” Svald called out to his boys, who promptly joined him. “I’ll be back in a few hours. Keep your guard up, understood.” Donavan and Curtis nodded their understanding. Then he and Harold headed off toward the road.
Harold wore a troubled look on his face as they walked. “You saw it too, didn’t you?” Svald said. “In his eyes.”
Harold sighed. “He looked like a damn scared kid,” he said. His expression saddened. “And I – and I’ve only seen that once.”
Svald nodded understandably. “When I talked with him earlier, a few times, I thought I was scolding one of my kids. And he – he called me sir.”
Harold gave him a strange look. “He addressed you as sir?”
“Yeah, I thought I was hearing things the first time he said it.”
“So, now you’re telling me he’s also polite and respectful?” Harold shook his head in disbelief. “Your wife might have been onto something after all. This doesn’t feel right, none of it.”
“Then maybe we should try and make it right.”
“You make that sound so easy.”
“…I then sent my son Curtis to get Harold, and once he arrived, we came to the village to notify everyone here,” Svald said, finishing his account of his encounter with the Hyroc creature for the second time, making sure to leave out his daughter’s involvement.
A large fireplace, with a stuffed boar’s head, mounted above the hearth, cast dancing orange shadows across the long center table and the tables scattered throughout the emptied Black Spruce Tavern. He, Harold, and four village elders sat gathered at the end of the center table, with a pint of beer in front of them.
There was a long pause. “So we have another witch,” Anton said. He was a portly man, with a bald spot on the top of his head. Svald had always thought Anton was a little on the shaky side, but despite that, he usually had the best interests of his fellow villagers in mind.
“I wouldn’t exactly call him a witch,” Harold said.
“What else would you call that thing? You don’t get that way on your own unless you’re dabbling in something dark. We should notify The Ministry and let them deal with it.”
Harold’s expression hardened. “That is a terrible idea, Anton. If they find him here, sure, they’ll deal with him for us, but how do we know they’ll stop there and won’t think one of us was participating in whatever arts the creature was. Before we know it, we’ll have people throwing accusations at each other for fear of being suspected. And it’ll be all the more damning when they find out we said nothing about that little incident with the necromancer. I’m telling you, we’re better off dealing with this ourselves.”
“I agree with Harold,” Yary, the owner of the tavern, said. Yary was a tall, burly man with black hair and a large bushy beard. “We dealt with that necromancer without anyone’s help; we can deal with this creature.”
“And that is why we have come together this day,” Luna said. “What to do about our new arrival?”
Luna was a slender older woman with long strands of silvery gray hair falling down to her shoulders. Svald thought she was the wisest person in town, often coming up with solutions to problems no one had ever thought of.
“All right then, if we’re going to deal with this ourselves,” Anton said. “I think the best solution is to kill it and be done with it.” Svald cringed at Anton’s words. Hyroc had saved his daughter from a wolf. Why did he deserve to die for keeping her from harm? But if he said anything about it, then they would know about his daughter’s involvement. Was Hyroc’s life more important than hers? No, he had an obligation to her. She would hate him for it, but he could handle that. He would remain silent for her.
“I agree with Anton,” Kipen said. Kipen was a skinny man with thinning hair. “This thing poses an obvious danger to the village.”
“That seems the safest option,” Yary said.
“I am in agreement,” Luna said. “Harold, what say you?”
Harold shifted uncomfortably in his chair, unsure how to respond.
A trickle of doubt began creeping through Svald’s mind. What if his decision had no bearing on his daughter’s safety? What if she was safe regardless of his choices? In which case, he was allowing someone to essentially be killed because they did a good thing for another person. That didn’t seem like justice. That was him letting fear drive his judgment. His daughter would never forgive him for that, and frankly, he would have a hard time living with himself. The guilt would never leave him, and a part of himself, probably the best part of him, would wither and die just because he couldn’t bring himself to tell the whole story. He would never be the same, and what would it have all been for? No, he was making the wrong choice. If Hyroc had any evil intentions, he would’ve simply stood by and let his daughter be mauled.
And what was he worried about? Every one of the elders knew his daughter. They would never exile her from the village simply because of her involvement in all of this. They were all good, understanding people. He didn’t have to worry about them making a decision to harm her. They would see the truth in all of this. She was safe. It wouldn’t harm anyone to tell them. If he did that, no matter what they decided, his conscience would be clear. He took a big drink from his pint.
“Why does he deserve to die,” Svald said, just as Harold opened his mouth to answer the question of the elders. “What has he done to deserve that?” Everyone in the room fixed their eyes on him in a mixture of odd expressions.
“Have you gone mad?” Anton said in bewilderment. “You’ve seen firsthand what that thing looks like. It is clearly something unnatural. Who knows what kind of depraved and sinister thoughts go through its mind? You’re not seriously suggesting we let it stay, are you?”
“Svald does have a point,” Harold said. “Yes, I agree his appearance is startling, but what has he done that is deserving of death?”
Luna turned to Svald. “You have spent the most time with the creature. When you captured it, did you find anything about the creature’s actions when you captured it dangerous?”
“I can’t say I wouldn’t have reacted the same way as he, but when I talked to him, he acted no different than you or I.”
“How do you know it’s not faking it?” Yary said. “What if that’s just an act to get you to let it go free, and as soon as you do, it’ll turn on you.”
“I honestly don’t think he’ll do that.”
“What makes you think you know what it may or may not do?” Anton said. “How can any of us know that?”
“What proof do you have to support your claim?” Luna said.
Svald took a deep breath. “There was more to that dead wolf than what I told you.” Harold sighed. Everyone gave him a surprised look. “Our goat got out of its pen and wandered off into the woods. Elsa went after her, and while getting the goat, she was attacked by a wolf. But before the wolf could hurt her, the creature killed it.”
“The creature killed it?” Luna said, taken aback. “Why did you not bring this up sooner?”
Svald shrugged. “I was afraid for my little girl. I didn’t want anything to happen to her because of this.” Everyone nodded their understanding.
“It was obviously a trick,” Anton said. “She got lucky, that’s all.”
“How can that possibly be a trick,” Harold said. “I know firsthand these things never do that under any circumstances. The result is usually something grievous and, oftentimes, fatal. I’ve gone over the situation several times in my head already, and I can find no other reason for the creature’s actions other than to protect her.”
“Wait, are you saying it knows right from wrong?” Kipen said.
“There seems no other explanation.”
“Are you now saying it isn’t dangerous?” Anton said skeptically.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Svald said. “But he seems no more dangerous than any hunter in the village.”
“Okay, hold on, let’s just say for a moment we let the creature stay,” Kipen said. “What good will that do for any of us?”
“Well, when I talked with him, he said he was here for the pelts.”
Anton made a disbelieving cough sound.
“Do you believe what he said to be the truth?” Luna said.
“I do; everything it said seems to fit.” Luna nodded. “Anton, you’re always running out of pelts to work with. And the way he killed that wolf, he could very well solve that problem for you. Would that not be worth him staying?”
Anton stabbed his index finger down on the table. “Perhaps, but I would not jeopardize the safety of my fellow villagers just to earn some extra coin,” Anton said. “And if that were truly its intentions, why hasn’t it come into town to sell any of them?”
Svald gave him a flat look. He had thought the answer seemed pretty obvious. “Because he knew this was how we would react,” he said, indicating everyone with his hand. “And now that I see it, I don’t much blame him.”
“What about the disappearing livestock? Surely you haven’t forgotten about those.”
“He arrived after those started up, if I’m not mistaken,” Svald said.
“Besides,” Harold interrupted. “If he were responsible for those, why hasn’t any of Svald’s chickens gone missing? Or better yet, why didn’t he try to steal their goat when it got out. His family is the closest home to him.”
“What about the fact he lives in the very same cabin as the necromancer?”
“I found nothing of a dark nature in that cabin before we boarded it up,” Harold said. “But disregarding who the past owner was, it makes perfect sense the creature would move into it. It’s abandoned for one. It’s on a fairly secluded part of the mountain and close to some decent hunting grounds. That sounds like a pretty good spot to go if you have no home.”
“That makes a lot of sense to me if you put it that way,” Yary said.
“Harold,” Luna said. “You know more about these matters than any of us here. Do you honestly think it safe to allow this creature to stay?”
“I cannot say with absolute surety, but I believe so.”
“And what of The Ministry?” Kipen said.
“We’re too far from their power center for there to be much of a chance of their coming here.” He gave Anton a suspicious look. “So long as no one tells them it’s here.”
“I trust your judgment, but what say the rest of you? Should we allow the creature to stay?” There was a long pause.
“I trust Svald and Harold,” Yary said. “If they think it’s a good idea, I believe them.”
“As do I,” Kipen said.
Everyone turned their attention to Anton. “If that’s what everyone wishes, I will not object,” he said, a note of angered reluctance in his voice.
“Then it is settled, for the time being at least, the creature will be allowed to stay,” Luna said.
Svald breathed a silent sigh of relief.
“But I’m sure everyone will agree with me when I say this arrangement only stands if the creature does not become dangerous and if no objects of a dark nature are discovered in its possession.”
“When we release the creature, I will examine it, its belongings, and the cabin for any of those traces,” Harold said.
“And I will leave it up to you and Svald to explain to our guest what will and will not be tolerated in this village.”
“Agreed,” Svald and Harold said.
“There is one more thing? Since the two of you vouched for the creature, should it turn dangerous, both of you will be held accountable. Do the two of you accept this burden?”
Svald and Harold gave each other a quick uncertain glance before individually saying, “I will.”
“Very well. Does anyone have anything else they would like to say regarding this matter?” Luna paused, looking through the faces of all in attendance. “Then I now leave this matter to Svald and Harold. We’re done here.” With that, the rest of the town elders began filing out of the room.
Harold leaned over toward Svald with a smirk on his face. “Well, we got what we wanted, or at least what your wife and daughter wanted,” he said smugly. “Now, what the hell do we do?”