Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity
A damp orange leaf listed wildly from side to side as it drifted down from its branch, landing between Hyroc’s ears while he sat beside the stream with his fishing pole anchored into the ground, waiting for a bite. He promptly brushed the leaf away. Reaching behind him, he picked up his coyote pelt, which with the help of Helen, he had finished fashioning into a hat the day before. He thoughtfully regarded the folded skin of the coyote’s face as its eyeless sockets gazed back at him, then stuck it on his head. The fur wasn’t as soft as he would have liked, but it still fit comfortably, covering his ears without folding the ends of them enough to be a bother. He had only needed to use the part of the pelt above the shoulders for the actual hat, but a considerable amount of the hide remained unused. Not wanting to waste any of it, he decided to keep the remainder attached, and it hung halfway down his back.
He walked closer to the edge of the stream. Leaning over the water’s surface, he looked at his undulating reflection. He slowly turned his head from side to side. As far as he could tell, other than the unsightly part hanging off the back, it looked like a passable hat.
He turned toward Kit, who lay at the tree line, resting his head on his paws, lazily watching the fishing pole. “How does it look to you?” Hyroc said. Kit lifted his head and yawned. Hyroc shrugged. “Yeah, I don’t really like it either. But its –” his fishing bobber plunked down into the water. He jumped for the fishing pole. With two hard yanks, he pulled a small fish from the water. Smiling, he walked from the water’s edge with his catch dangling from his line. He set the flailing fish down, reaching for his knife. Kit bounded forward and snatched the fish off the hook.
“HEY,” Hyroc yelled, lunging forward to grab his catch. Kit dodged out of his reach, bolting for the trees with the stolen fish in his mouth. “GET BACK HERE WITH THAT” Hyroc dropped his pole and took off in pursuit. Kit was rapidly pulling ahead. A wrong turn around the trunk of a tree led him to a thickly grown alder he couldn’t easily pass through. Kit bobbed his head from side to side, trying to figure out how to overcome the obstacle. His hesitation gave Hyroc just enough time to grab him by the tail before he could escape. Kit yowled out angrily. “HA, I GOT –” Kit wheeled around and clocked him upside the head with his paw. The force of the impact threw him off balance, skewing his hat over to one side of his head and causing him to lose his grip. Kit scrambled up the nearest tree. Hyroc shook his head to focus his eyes, and when the world stopped moving, he readjusted his hat. He glared up at Kit who was now happily eating the fish on the branch of the tree. “I’m the one who caught that, you know,” Hyroc said pointedly. Kit looked down at him while licking his chops. Hyroc sighed, got to his feet, brushed himself off, and stormed back to the stream to try for another fish. And this time he was going to be more vigilant.
He landed another one not long afterward, but it was uselessly small. Why couldn’t Kit have stolen this one, he thought grudgingly? Knowing that turning the tiny fish into a meal would be more work than it was worth, he tossed it back into the stream. Too frustrated to try for another, he picked up his fishing pole and went back to his cabin. He propped the pole up beside the fireplace. From the cabinet, he retrieved a grain sack brimming with the feathers from all the ducks he had downed since arriving at the mountain. He set the sack outside the front door, settled down beside it, pushed any protruding feathers back in, threaded a needle, and started sewing the opening shut. It was a pillow. He excitedly smiled as he worked, knowing tonight he would be resting much more comfortably. Halfway through closing the opening, he ran out of thread. He squeezed his eyes shut, annoyed with himself, wondering why he hadn’t brought the entire spool out with him. He poked the needle in a crack in the wood around the doorway and went inside to retrieve the spool of thread.
When he came back outside, he was horrified to see Kit holding the pillow between his paws and kicking it savagely with the claws of his back legs. “KIT NO,” Hyroc bellowed, grabbing hold of the pillow. Refusing to let go, Kit bit into the fabric when Hyroc tried to wrench it from between his paws. Hyroc pulled even harder, causing Kit to respond in kind while growling. “LET GO – THAT’S – MY – PILLOW.” Mustering all of his strength, he yanked on it as hard as he could. A loud ripping noise emanated from the pillow as its middle was torn open, and it erupted into a cloud of feathers. Hyroc and Kit were thrown backward with the sudden release of tension.
Hyroc stared at the destroyed pillow in shock, seeing its innards littering the ground and floating gently through the air. Kit bounded forward, batting at the descending feathers. Hyroc covered his face with his hands, rocking his head from side to side, and moaned in frustration. After all the time and effort he had put into that pillow, this was his reward. Nothing ever seemed to be easy for him. He took a long deep breath before uncovering his face. He watched Kit play with a maelstrom of unpleasant feelings toward the cat swirling around inside his head. With a sigh, he got to his feet and walked over to assess the remnants of the pillow. Mourning its passing wouldn’t help him be more comfortable tonight. Seeming to sense his foul mood, Kit stopped his play, taking an uncertain step back. Hyroc smiled ruefully at his reaction. Yeah, you’d better watch out.
Picking up the pillow, he was dismayed – though not at all surprised – to see a large tear slashed across the middle, but it was still salvageable. He stuffed the feathers in his knapsack and set to work repairing the damage to the pillow, wary of keeping it away from Kit.
It took him the rest of the day and part of the night to complete his task. He reverently placed the resurrected pillow on the head of his bed. He happily sighed when he laid down on it as the plush cushion contoured to his head in its delightful embrace. Kit leaped up on the bed. Hyroc glared at him angrily. Kit countered with a look of supreme innocence. Hyroc couldn’t maintain his anger toward that. He rolled his eyes. Maybe what his companion had done wasn’t so bad. His pillow had still gotten finished. “Okay, I guess I forgive you,” he said with a reluctant sigh.
Hyroc leaned sideways in the yellow light of morning, trying to see around the trunk of a tree. “Kit,” he called out. His first three traps were empty, and he was just leaving the incline when a small furry something darted into a bush ahead of him. Kit immediately disappeared into the foliage after it. “Come on; I need to get to the other traps.” Hyroc sighed, heading in the direction Kit had gone. “Kit, get over here already.” He caught movement in the shadows out of the corner of his eye. He turned in time to see Kit barreling toward him from around a tree before his feet were knocked out from under him. Startled, he sat bolt upright, only for Kit to leap on him and knock him back down. Kit gripped his shoulder and neck with his paws and then playfully nipped at his face. Hyroc cringed at the painful wet pinch of teeth. He grabbed Kit around the shoulders and threw him off. Kit fell on his back but instantly righted himself, bounding back on top of him. Kit lightly nipped the side of his snout. He threw Kit off with an abrupt roll followed by a hard shove. Before Kit could recover, Hyroc threw himself at him and pinned him to the ground. Kit quickly wriggled out from his hold and lunged into his chest. Hyroc stuck his arms behind Kit’s neck as he was thrown backward, pulling the cat down with him. He realized he was laughing as the two of them hit the ground. A warm sense of joy washed over him. Kit backed out of his hold. Hyroc coughed as Kit bounded off his stomach sideways. He crouched; a ripple ran through the length of his body, then he took off back toward Hyroc. Hyroc threw an arm out toward the charging cat, causing Kit to veer away. He jumped to his feet and stood hunched forward with his arms extended, ready to intercept Kit’s next charge. Kit regarded him through wild eyes as he lurched left. Hyroc leaned in the same direction to block him. Kit then lurched right. Hyroc countered by leaning that way. The two of them repeated the same moves twice more. Kit straightened his stance, giving Hyroc an annoyed look.
Hyroc patted the ground invitingly. “Come on, get me,” he said excitedly. Kit regarded him before crouching and charging. He came at an angle to avoid the center of Hyroc’s reach. Hyroc playfully jabbed Kit in the side, causing him to tumble forward as he lost his balance. Snickering, Hyroc poked his hand at Kit’s belly. Kit swiped at his hand. Hyroc pulled his hand back. Coming in with the other, he ruffled the fur on Kit’s unguarded side. Kit rolled onto his back and swatted at his other hand. Hyroc alternated between attacking hands until Kit bolted out of reach. He patted the ground to insight another charge. Kit charged but ran past him. Hyroc ruffled the fur along Kit’s back as he darted past. The big cat then abruptly wandered over to the shade of a tree and laid down, panting heavily.
Hyroc sat down beside him, resting his back against the same tree. “Yeah, I think that’s enough for a while,” he agreed breathlessly. Reaching over, he smoothed out a patch of disturbed fur on Kit’s head. He drank several mouthfuls of water from his waterskin. Kit regarded him with tired eyes. Hyroc looked at Kit thoughtfully, lowered the end of the water skin to his mouth, and squeezed two squirts of water into it. Kit licked a few stray droplets around his mouth. Hyroc felt a stinging pain on his face and the side of his neck. When he touched the spot on his face, he grimaced. Pulling his hand back, he saw a thin coating of blood on his fingers. He laughed, not entirely sure why the sight of his blood should be humorous.
Once rested, the two of them continued on their way through the traps. Other than a deer rabbit, they were all empty. Hyroc regarded the animal’s small antlers curiously while he ate his lunch at the cabin. He pressed a finger experimentally onto the tip of the antler. It didn’t cut into his finger, but it seemed somewhat sharp. He wondered if there was a use for them. Svald would probably know. He grimaced, remembering the yelling at Svald had given him. That had happened nearly a week ago, and the mere thought of coming to him made Hyroc nervous. He shook his head ruefully at himself. He felt like he was being immature about the whole situation. All Svald had done was give him a warning, a warning he had obeyed. Besides, the whole time Helen was helping him make his coyote hat, Svald hadn’t acted like he was angry with him. It wasn’t as if he had punched Elsa in the face or anything. If he had done that, then he definitely would have something to be afraid of. All he had done was make a simple mistake, and no one had gotten hurt because of it. Like Ursa had said, they wouldn’t abandon him over something so small. There was nothing for him to be worried about.
As soon as he headed in the direction of the Shackleton cabin, he heard Kit’s claws scraping down the trunk of the tree. He bowed his head in mild annoyance, turning to see Kit sauntering toward him. “No, Kit,” he said calmly. “I’m going to the Shackleton’s; you can’t come with me there.” Kit regarded him curiously. “I won’t be long.” He took several steps, and Kit continued toward him. He held his hand up sternly. “NO, stay.” Kit took another step. “Stay!” Hyroc said more forcefully. “I’ll be right back.” Kit slowly sat. Hyroc continued on his way and to his relief, Kit remained where he was.
Helen, Elsa, and Curtis were in the garden extricating the last of their vegetables from the soil. After exchanging greetings and dodging an inquiry from Helen about the scratches on his face, they directed him to the back of the cabin where Svald and Donovan were working on a hide.
He braced himself for the possibility of reproach from Svald. The man showed no signs of remembering the scolding he had given. Relieved and feeling irritated at himself, he held up one of the deer rabbit antlers. “I was wondering if there’s some use for these,” he said.
Svald rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “I don’t know much about using those antlers,” he said. “But with deer antlers, you can make spearheads if they’re at just the right angle. Things like that, and I’ve heard you can make some kind of medicine from grinding them up into powder, but beyond that –”
A cacophony of urgent barks echoed from the other side of the cabin, interrupting him. Hyroc felt a shiver of fear run up his back. He remembered Dilo making those same kinds of noises when she spotted Kit in the field. He must have followed me! Svald and Donovan took off running in the direction of the sound. He took off in pursuit, desperately hoping he would get there first. The two of them beat him around the cabin. He heard Svald curse. A cold, sinking feeling pulled in his gut. He came around the cabin, fearing he would see Kit’s lifeless body lying on the ground with an arrow through his chest. Svald, Donovan and the rest of the family stood fixated on Kit with a mixture of odd expressions on their faces as he and Dilo rolled together in a flurry of movement. Despite the frenzy of activity, Dilo and Kit’s behaviors seemed strange for a fight. None of them had any visible injuries and they were showing an odd amount of restraint when it came to their attacks. There was something strangely familiar about the situation. He realized with amazement that Kit wasn’t attacking the dog. He was playing with her.
Hyroc turned toward Svald. “Svald, please don’t –” he pleaded. Svald silenced him with a raised hand. When he turned, instead of seeing a look of fury on his face, Hyroc saw humored interest.
“I’m not going to hurt him,” Svald said serenely. He indicated the playing animals with his hand. “Definitely not for this. What I said to you before still stands, but if he can behave himself, well, you’re welcome to bring him over to play anytime.”
Hyroc gave him a bewildered smile.