Hyroc – Chapter 30


Sentinel Flame Book One

By Adam Freestone

Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity


Thin lines of rain streaked downward, disappearing silently into the ground as Hyroc stood beneath the spindly canopy of a birch tree. In front of him lay the first scattered buildings marking the eastern edge of Elswood. The way his frightening encounter with Elsa’s father had turned out still puzzled him. Her father and brother were shocked by his features, treating him as if he were some terrible beast. Then hours later, when he had convinced himself coexisting with people was impossible, he was released and informed he could come into the village. Elsa’s father obviously thought he was dangerous. Why else would he restrain him and summon guards, not to mention threatening to turn him into a blanket? After such a strong reaction, it made no sense for them to simply let him go, least of all in such a polite manner. For as long as he could remember when somebody feared him, that fear never subsided; it often got worse. Maybe his actions with the wolf had somehow changed the mind of Elsa’s father. He did seem suddenly conflicted when he learned of that. Whatever the reasons, he was thankful for how everything turned out, no matter how strange it seemed. Now he needed to figure out if what the two men told him regarding the village was actually true. It would make his life tremendously easier if it was. He really couldn’t think of a reason why someone would deceive him with that.

He pulled his hood up as far over his face as it would go. He didn’t know how many of the villagers actually knew about him, so it seemed a good idea to try and conceal at least some of his features on his first trip there. Maybe then, it wouldn’t be as much of a shock for those people.

Reaching down, he untied the pelt of a deer rabbit hanging from his belt. He had caught the horned hare during the morning, and despite having cleaned it as best he could, it still smelled of blood. He didn’t fool himself into thinking the villagers would treat him any better than the townsfolk of Forna, but if he brought something to trade, maybe they wouldn’t be as inclined to think he was a mindless monster. Trading seemed a very odd thing for a monster to do unless it was for human skulls or something. Though, it still seemed prudent for him to bring his sword. Having it gave him a measure of confidence, and if things did not go as he hoped, the villagers might think twice before trying to harm him.

After ensuring his sword was properly secured to his belt, with the deer-rabbit pelt in hand, he headed toward the village. The buildings grew steadily closer together as he walked down the muddy street path running between the structures. He lowered his head, turning away as he passed a group of three villagers gathered at the entrance of a side path between two homes, talking to one another. The group’s conversation paused as they regarded him but resumed once he was out of their sight. He felt an increasing number of eyes on him the farther he ventured into the village. The street path widened into a circular space with a well where a smaller path cut through at an angle, forming what appeared to be the village center.

Across the space, he saw a building with a carved sign naming it the Black Spruce Tavern. The smell of freshly baked bread wafted over from somewhere to his right. Turning, he saw a bakery and the edge of a butcher shop. On the other side of the village center, opposite these two buildings, were what looked to be a mercantile, a tailoring shop, and a third shop with what looked to be kitchen aids. To his immediate left, judging from a fur mounted on a rectangular rack inside the building, lay a furrier. That was the shop he was looking for.

Taking a deep breath, steeling his nerves for the shopkeeper’s inevitable response, he walked inside. The shopkeeper, a portly man with a woolen cap mostly covering a large bald spot on the top of his head, stood at a bench near the right wall of the shop with his back to the door. Hyroc anxiously waited inside the door for the man to take notice of him. The man did not turn; in fact, he didn’t seem to have noticed he had a customer. Hyroc smiled to himself, seeing how quiet hunting in the forest had made him. He opened his mouth to make his presence known but wondered if that would startle the shopkeeper. The man would then be surprised again when he saw his face. Startling this man twice seemed a bad way to introduce himself, so he stepped back and knocked on the doorframe instead.

“Good afternoon,” the man said kindly, setting something down on the bench and turning toward him. “I just finished a…” the man cut off mid-sentence, startled by Hyroc’s face. Hyroc shrugged. Knowing it was coming still didn’t make it feel any better. ”Oh, it’s you,” the man said in a far less kind manner. Hyroc raised a puzzled eyebrow. The man almost sounded as if he already knew about him. That worried him a little. Had word of his presence already spread through the village? He expected that to happen in a few more days, but not this fast. Now more eyes would be on him, people gawking to get a look at the strange thing venturing into their village. He quickly pushed his thoughts from that. They couldn’t hurt him by looking at him. If people weren’t trying to kill him, simple stares were nothing.

“I guess it was too much to hope for that you had left. What do you want?” he said acidly.

Hyroc held up the deer-rabbit pelt, eliciting a perplexed look from the shopkeeper. Unsure how exactly to phrase his query, he said, “I want to sell this.”

The man’s sighed, holding his hand out. “Let’s get this over with,” he said under his breath. Hyroc handed him the pelt. The man held it out in front of him, examining it with what seemed mild interest. “It’s in surprisingly good condition; I’ll give you five Flecks for it.”

That seemed a reasonable amount. “Okay,” Hyroc said. Reaching into his coin sack, the man removed the coins and warily dropped them into his hand, doing his best not to actually touch his hand. Without another word, the man walked backward to his bench without taking his eyes off him. Taking that as his cue to leave, Hyroc headed out the door.

He looked from the bakery and the three shops across from it. His hand drifted down to the bag of coins hanging from his belt. The bag only contained a small number of coins, but it should still be enough for him to buy a few things. He needed twine to make more traps, a needle and thread would be nice for patching up his clothing, a proper ax for chopping wood, and it was probably a good idea to get a collar for Kit. The mercantile was the first one he headed for.

A tiny bell rang as he pushed the door open to enter the shop. The shopkeeper and two women standing together stared at him once his face came into view. He tried saying hello, but the word caught in his throat, causing him to make a sound more like a burp. Mortified, he quickly turned from the three people and began looking through the shop’s wares.

“That’s the thing the Shackleton’s found out near their place,” one of the women said in a whisper.

“It’s hideous,” the other woman whispered in response. Hyroc felt warmth creeping through his face as he continued his search.

“I hear it drinks the blood of the animals it kills and sucks the marrow from their bones.” He paused, caught off guard by the comment, though not entirely surprised by it. He was used to hearing uncomfortable details about the things he supposedly did. But it was still incredibly irritating.

“That’s disgusting.”

“Well, look at it. That shouldn’t surprise you.”

There was a pause. It felt as if their eyes were creeping over every inch of his body. “I thought it would be bigger.”

“Let’s just be glad it’s not.”

“Why on earth would the elders let that into the village?”

“Too much ale, I suspect,” the woman said with a laugh.

Hyroc found coils of heavy twine and wood axes at the back of the shop. Ready to be rid of the women’s gossip, he grabbed the smallest coil of twine, a wood ax, then went to the shopkeeper. The women stopped whispering, taking a step back when they saw him approaching.

“How much for these?” Hyroc said, using his eyes to indicate the items in his arms.

As expected, the shopkeeper seemed even more disconcerted seeing his features up close. After an awkward moment of being stared at from an uncomfortably short distance, the shopkeeper said, “Eight Flecks for all that.” Hyroc fished the appropriate amount out of his coin sack, laying it on the counter in front of the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper’s eyes flickered down to the coins. Then he resumed staring. Hyroc waited for the shopkeeper to indicate their transaction had ended. The shopkeeper continued to stare and seemed to become more nervous with every passing second. Hyroc looked from the two women to the shopkeeper. All three continued to stare. Hoping it was now okay for him to leave, he hurried out the door.

Next was the tailoring shop. Inside he found a slender older woman with long silvery gray hair down to her shoulders, working on a loom. She regarded him in a somewhat surprised manner but seemed more curious than afraid. She looked at him as if he were some interesting bird she had never seen before. It was somewhat disconcerting being looked at that way, but it was much better than being awkwardly stared at. It reminded him of how the school cook had reacted upon their first encounter. Maybe the same sort of thing could happen with this woman eventually. Sweeping his eyes around the shop, he located the spools of sewing thread.

“It’s five Flecks for every spool,” the women said.

Hyroc walked over to her with the spool in hand and paid for it. “Where are your needles?” he asked politely. She pointed to a pincushion on a nearby shelf. He extricated a needle. “How much for this?”

“No charge, it’s yours,” she said with a smile. He gave her a surprised look, then felt a smile creep across his face in turn. He nodded gratefully. “Good day,” she said as he headed out the door.

From the tailor, he made his way to the shop with the kitchenwares. Feeling a little better about his situation, he walked through the door. A brown-haired woman and a younger woman, who appeared to be her daughter, turned to greet him; both immediately gasped when they saw his face.

“HEATHEN!” the oldest woman yelled, lunging for a broom propped up against the back wall. Wielding the broom like a halberd, she rushed toward him.

WAIT, I’m just here to….” Hyroc managed to call out before the hard part of the broom that held the bristly parts slammed into his face.

“OUT, YOU HIDEOUS BEAST, OUT!” the woman yelled. Hyroc threw a hand up as the woman struck him again even harder. Turning to flee, he took another hit to the back of the head. “YOU WILL NOT TAKE MY DAUGHTER!” The woman got another three hits in on his head before he darted out the door. “YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE BEAST,” the woman shouted from the door, brandishing her broom menacingly.

Every villager present in the square stared at him with a myriad of interested expressions. With a frustrated sigh, he angrily rubbed the back of his head as he wandered down the nearest street path to escape the unwanted attention.

He hated people always staring at him and talking about him behind his back, but at least none of those caused him actual pain. Why had the first three shop owners treated him the way they did while that woman tried to beat him senseless with a broom. “YOU WILL NOT TAKE MY DAUGHTER!” she had said. It was true nearly every parent lashed out at him if he got too close to their children. That usually involved nothing more harmful than some unkind words and a lot of shooing, never an attack. None of them ever made any indication they feared him stealing their children. Maybe his size frightened that woman. Maybe he was big enough to seem capable of whisking small children off into the woods. It wasn’t a reassuring thought. Reaching up, he ran his hand across his face which had gone from a throbbing sting to an uncomfortable hot sensation. He felt no noticeable difference in his features. If he looked scarier, what was there to do about it? He couldn’t exactly get a new face, well, at least not in any way he wished to explore. He could only make the best of it, as he had always done.

Tearing himself from his thoughts, he realized he was nearing the edge of the village. A pungent odor drifted on a light moisture-laden breeze. There was something familiar about that odor. Following the smell, he saw what looked to be a shop several yards from the last buildings of the village. The pain of the broom strikes flashed through his mind as he looked upon the building. Then the memory of the old woman’s smile made him forget the pain for a moment. Not everyone in the village thought he was a monster. Elsa definitely didn’t think he was. Taking a deep breath, he pushed his worries aside and walked over to the shop. Inside he found a variety of leather goods. A burly blond haired man entered the shop through an open backdoor. The man paused, taking in Hyroc’s features. He didn’t seem alarmed, but there was mistrust in his eyes. His expression seemed to say, “take one step out of line, and I’ll make you pay for it.”

“Do you have any collars, like umm, for a dog?” Hyroc said tentatively.

The man gave him a strange look. “I have a few,” the man said in an unexpectedly deep voice. He walked over to a shelf behind a counter with a pair of leather gloves laid across its top, removing three dusty collars of different sizes. Unsure exactly how big Kit would get, Hyroc pointed to a medium-sized collar with a loop for attaching a leash.

“That’ll be eight Flecks,” the man said. Hyroc reached into his coin sack, pausing with dismay feeling only eight Flecks left. With an effort, he removed the last of its contents and set them on the counter. “Anything else?”

“No,” he said with a quiet sigh.

“Pleasure doing business with you.”

Unsure which part of the village this was in relation to his cabin, he reluctantly headed back toward the village center. Hopefully, everyone’s interest in the broom incident had subsided by now. As he reentered the circular space, most of the earlier onlookers had left. The Tavern caught his attention. He remembered the teachers at the boarding school and even Marcus mentioning going to one in Forna. It seemed an important place from the way they always talked about it, but beyond drinking beer, he had no idea what went on inside. Curiosity piqued, he headed inside to have a look. The inside smelled of what he assumed was beer, along with a few aromas somewhat more pleasant. Tables were scattered throughout the structure, with a long table toward the middle in front of a fireplace with a tusked boar’s head mounted above. Behind a counter at the right wall stood a tall, broad shouldered man with black hair and a bushy beard of matching color, absentmindedly wiping down the flat wood in front of him with a cloth. Men in separate groups occupied tables scattered throughout the Tavern, all with a pint of beer in front of them. Beyond an initial glance, no one seemed to pay much heed to his entrance. Hyroc had to admit he was disappointed by what he saw there didn’t seem to be anything remotely interesting about this place.

Catching a snatch of a conversation between a group of men talking about hunting spots and some references to what other people were doing, he covertly slipped into the chair of a nearby table to listen with his back toward the men. As he listened, it slowly donned on him why it seemed people came here. There wasn’t anything special about the tavern. People came here to talk to friends and to find out what was going on around the village. This place might be useful after all.

The men said their goodbyes after a few minutes and dispersed, leaving behind their beer steins. Looking at the unattended steins, he wondered what beer tasted like. Every patron he saw had a stein, and he could only assume they contained something tasty. Stealing a quick glance around, no one was looking in his direction. He snatched a half-full stein off the table. Heart pounding with the thrill of his theft, he darted over to a shaded corner, away from the tavern’s occupants. Carefully tipping the stein to his mouth, he eagerly took a drink. He frowned. It actually wasn’t close to something he wanted to drink. Why was everyone drinking this? I’ve drunk better tasting water than this. Disappointed, he set down the stein and snuck out the door.

As he headed toward the street that led toward his cabin, he heard a familiar voice call his name. Turning, he saw Elsa waving as she made her way over to him with a basket in her arms. Nearly forgetting what the appropriate response was, he waved back after a long pause.

“I’m glad you’re still here,” she said, relieved. “I was worried they had scared you off.”

“It’ll take a little more than that to scare me off,” Hyroc said proudly, though that wasn’t anywhere close to the truth. Her father and brother had almost done exactly that.

“I’m sorry for not coming to see you, but my father was angry with me for not telling him about you, and he wouldn’t let me leave the house until today.”

He gave her a strange look. That hardly seemed something worth apologizing about. “Why are you sorry, it was only two days? It’s not like you abandoned me for months.”

“I know, but after what you went through, it seemed the kind thing to do.”

He smiled gratefully. “Thank you; kindness isn’t something I’m used to.”

Elsa frowned sympathetically. “Mother, over here,” she said, with a beckoning gesture towards somebody.

Looking in the direction she had indicated, Hyroc saw Elsa’s mother coming over to join them.

“I’m sorry about how we first met,” Elsa’s mother said, with a look of displeasure. “You must think we’re terrible people. We thought – we thought you were something else.”

“I understand,” Hyroc said, reluctantly keeping his anger from appearing.

“I want to prove to you we’re not as bad as you think. My name’s Helen, and though you probably already know her name, this is my daughter Elsa.”

“I’m Hyroc.”

“It’s good to meet the one who saved my daughter, Hyroc.”

“See, just like I told you, he’s like everyone else,” Elsa said with a smile.

“Indeed he is,” Elsa’s mother agreed with a smile. She paused. “I have a wonderful idea. How would you like to come over for dinner tomorrow, love?”

Hyroc gave her a surprised look; no one had ever dared to invite him over for dinner. What was with this place? “You umm really want me to come into your umm home?”

“Of course we would. With us being neighbors and all, we should get to know each other properly and put the past behind us. It’s the least my family can do after what you did for my daughter.”

“I – I would like that.”


“You won’t be disappointed by my mother’s cooking,” Elsa said, beaming.

“Anyone’s cooking is better than mine,” Hyroc admitted. The only two recipes he seemed to know were burnt meat and dirt-crusted meat.

“Well, it was nice meeting you, but we should be getting to our errands,” Elsa’s mother said kindly. “We look forward to having you over tomorrow night.”

“As do I.”

“Good day,” Elsa and her mother said in turn before heading off toward the shops. Hyroc headed home to put a collar on what would no doubt be a very upset mountain lion.

That night, he waited until Kit had dozed to put the collar on. It went around his neck easily enough, but an instant later, the cub had slid the collar back off. Hyroc growled in frustration. As soon as he came in for another attempt, Kit growled angrily and started swatting at Hyroc with his razor sharp claws. Hyroc backed away, put on his gloves, and ran at the cub. Startled Kit, recoiled leaving an opening in his stance for Hyroc to immobilize him by seizing the scruff of his neck. He lightly placed a foot on Kit’s back just to be sure, then put the collar back on. This time he made sure it was on tight enough.

He laughed triumphantly, releasing his grip on Kit. The infuriated cub flipped over onto his back, latched onto Hyroc’s leg above the boot, and began biting it savagely. Hyroc yelled out in pain and detached the cub’s claws and teeth from his skin. With a hiss, Kit fell onto his side, scratching at the collar. Looking down to examine the extent of his injury at a safe distance from his attacker, Hyroc found a tear in his leggings. He pulled his pant leg up. He didn’t seem to be bleeding but the scratches were deep enough to hurt like he was. Kit struggled to get the collar off for a few minutes without any success. Once he realized it wasn’t coming off, he flopped down on the floor glaring at Hyroc and began making a very irritated growling noise.

“Oh, it’s not that bad,” Hyroc said.

Kit glared at him more severely, and the fiery look in his eyes seemed to say, “Then why don’t you have one?”

“At least I didn’t hit you in the head with a broom!” Hyroc said, reaching for the needle and thread.


Adam Freestone is an Alaskan author and writer of the Sentinel Flame series. He writes fantasy stories but also has a talent for the unexpected. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering he has been coming up with stories his whole life. But apart from his writing skills, he isn’t quite what most people would expect. He is a near quadriplegic man afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy, confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator, but despite everything he has going against him, he never lets it stand in his way. He is a go-getter, animal and nature lover, MDA participant, and smart minded writer. Everything that goes into his stories is carefully considered, nothing he writes goes down casually. His stories are never quite what they first appear to be.