Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity
A cacophony of voices surrounded Hyroc as he opened the door to Miss Duncan’s dreaded class. He seated himself as usual at one of the front desks, intentionally set apart from the others. Miss Duncan seemed to think he would attack anyone who came within his reach. How she had come to this conclusion was beyond him. She had to know none of his other teachers had any of the problems with him she seemed to expect. Considering the scolding he received whenever he acted out, there wasn’t any incentive for him to be anything but a good student. There just didn’t seem to be anything he could do to convince his teacher that none of her expectations held true. He hated her thinking such absurd things about him. The only thing he could do was keep it from bothering him and trudge through this class.
With a sigh, he propped his head upon one of his knuckles, and, doing his best to ignore the sidelong glances from the teacher, he watched his fellow students file into the class. Most of them acted as if he weren’t even there and the few who seemed actually to take notice of his presence watched him warily to their seat and whispered cautiously to one another.
Thomas entered the room with the last few students. He looked around the room, showing a subtle hint of the nervousness new students often displayed, eventually settling his gaze on Hyroc. After a moment of contemplation, he walked over to Hyroc’s desk. Hyroc dropped his hand down to the desk, giving Thomas a look of surprise. That was the first time another student had dared enter the forbidden moat of space surrounding his desk. Why did this boy act so differently with him? Not that it was in any way a bad thing. Marcus and June treated him well, so it probably made sense there were others like them.
Thomas made to say something discreetly but was interrupted by Miss Duncan. “Thomas, that seat is clearly taken,” Miss Duncan said pointedly, quickly taking notice of the boy’s proximity to Hyroc. “There are plenty of empty desks near the other students. Take one of those.”
Thomas shrugged, giving Hyroc an apologetic look before he headed off toward the nearest seat. Hyroc felt himself smiling a little. His smile vanished when he saw Miss Duncan glaring unhappily at him. He diverted his gaze down toward the dull brown wood of his desk. The displeased look on her face gave him a strange sense of satisfaction. He definitely liked Thomas.
Pulling her gaze from Hyroc, she picked up a large book from her desk at the front of the room. “Today, we will be learning about Life Sapping Witches,” Miss Duncan said. She walked toward the other students and set the book on Thomas‘ desk. “Thomas read the first paragraph.”
“Life Sapping Witches,” Thomas read. “Are witches that drain the life force of people or animals and use this life force. Most commonly, witches use this life force to gain strength, vitality, reverse their age or vainly increase their beauty. When the victim is drained of their life force, they suffer greatly and always die in agony. Due to the nature of the utilization of life force, any beneficial effects are temporary, and for the witch to maintain their abilities, they frequently harvest life force.”
“Thank you, Thomas,” Miss Duncan said, picking up the book. She walked to the front of the room as she prepared to continue reading. She glanced in Hyroc’s direction, and in that tiny movement, he knew something bad was coming. She was about to read something to make everybody think he was a monster. Taking a breath, he braced himself for what lay next. “The witch can also use the life force of the victim to sculpt their features into whatever shape they wish. Although primarily used in beautification, some witches instead use it to give themselves monstrous features.” She paused, glancing in Hyroc’s direction. “These features include a tail, claws, predatory teeth, fur, horns, and any number of such unnatural and abhorrent features.”
And there it was. Out of the corner of his eye, Hyroc saw most of the class now focusing their attention much more closely on him. He blew out an exasperated breath. His day had been looking like it would be somewhat enjoyable until now. For the rest of the day and likely the next week, he could look forward to many more eyes scrutinizing his features. Everyone would be searching for evidence of him having a tail and horns. He was thankful he didn’t have a tail. As many times as his extra appendage would get yanked on, it would be a miracle if it didn’t get ripped off.
Thomas’ hand slowly rose into the air. “Yes, Thomas?” Miss Duncan said.
“When they cover themselves in fur,” Thomas said. “Does it help them stay warm?”
Miss Duncan shot him a look of disbelief. “It may, but considering the suffering another living thing would endure for the witch to acquire that extra hair, a coat would accomplish the same thing just as well. And wearing a coat would not harm anyone.” She made to call on another student when Thomas spoke again.
“Could they do that to someone instead of themselves?”
“So that person wouldn’t have hurt anyone.”
“What if it’s really cold out, like during a winter night, and that witch was trying to help someone?”
She gave him a stunned look. “Witches care nothing for others and do not help anyone but themselves,” she said pointedly.
Thoma’s expression turned puzzled. “But I heard a story where a witch healed someone.”
Miss Duncan’s expression hardened. “These are lies; falsehoods meant to soften our hearts toward their evil ways.”
“How can doing something good be bad?”
“Your story probably did not explain how the person was healed. Do you know what innocent person paid the price for that person’s restoration?”
“Then your story was a lie, and you would do well not to spread it. Feygratha was known to use such deceptions during his rise to power.”
Thomas flushed with frustration. “Hyroc’s mother was a witch, and she protected him!” Hyroc shot Thomas a dumbfounded look. Challenging Miss Duncan never ended well for anyone.
A shadow passed over Miss Duncan’s face. “Thomas, that’s enough. We’ve wasted enough time today on this subject.”
Thomas gave her a hard glare. “And Hyroc’s nice; he gave me an apple the other day. He’s not a monster. He’s just like everyone else!”
With a thunderous look in her eyes, Miss Duncan slammed her book down on her desk. “That’s enough! I will not tolerate you mouthing off to me in my class.” She thrust a finger at the door. “Go to the headmaster’s office.”
“But I –”
“NOW,” she growled.
Thomas stood, sparing a glance in Hyroc’s direction before heading out the door. Hyroc made sure he was staring down at his desk before Miss Duncan turned to face him. Her eyes bore into the side of his head, and he felt as if he might burst into flames. She scoured the room with her gaze for other, rebellious students. After an uncomfortable moment, she regained most of her usual calm demeaning composure and continued her lesson. While she read from her book, taking her eyes off Hyroc, he couldn’t help smiling. It felt good seeing someone make his teacher uncomfortable for once.
At lunch, Hyroc spotted Thomas walking with a mild limp and rubbing his rear. It was obvious Marcus had used the paddle on him. Hyroc frowned, feeling a surge of irritation toward his father. Thomas asked a simple question and did not deserve punishment because Miss Duncan didn’t like what he said.
“He used the paddle on you, didn’t he,” Hyroc angrily said as Thomas seated himself.
Thomas looked around; then, an odd smile crept across his mouth. “He didn’t use it on me.”
Hyroc cocked an eyebrow. “Then why were you limping and rubbing your butt?”
“When I told him what happened, he didn’t want to punish me for standing up for you. So, he told me to pretend like he had paddled me. But after that, he warned me not to make a habit of it, or I would be hurting.”
Hyroc smirked. That sounded more like Marcus. “In the class, why did you say those things?”
Thomas shrugged. “She was making me angry and, well, I didn’t like how she treated you like you were a –” he paused, giving Hyroc an uncertain look.
“Like a monster?” Hyroc interjected.
Thomas nodded. “Yeah, like that.”
“Sorry for calling your mother a witch.”
“It’s okay. I know what you meant. It was a lot better than how people usually talk about her.”
Thomas paused before speaking. “I’m glad we’re friends.”
Hyroc gave him a look of surprise. He had almost forgotten friend was a word. “Really, you’re – you’re my friend?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Nobody else has ever wanted to be my friend.”
“Well, they’re stupid.”
Hyroc arose eagerly the next morning. The school week had ended, and not only was he free from the torment of his classes for the next two days; he was going hunting. He quickly dressed out of his pajamas and into his hunting clothes. Marcus was just sitting up as Hyroc pulled the door to the sleeping quarters open. Hyroc stopped when a coughing fit struck Marcus. His cough sounded a little worse than it had the day before. Still holding the door handle, Hyroc gave Marcus a concerned look.
Finishing his fit with a hard cough, Marcus gave Hyroc a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, I’m just feeling a little under the weather,” Marcus said. “It’s nothing for you to worry about. Go ahead without me. I’ll be right there.”
Hyroc nodded and pushed through the door. Some part of him felt he should stay with Marcus, but Marcus said he was fine. If anyone could tell there was something wrong with them, it was Marcus. Pushing the urge aside, Hyroc continued onward to the dining hall.
Students were already trickling into the space for breakfast when he arrived. A handful of boys stood looking out the windows on the rightmost wall as they talked to one another about their plans for the day. Hyroc couldn’t help smirking. What he was doing today could easily surpass whatever plans those boys could come up with. Looking toward his usual spot at the table, he was surprised to see Thomas resting his forehead on the tabletop.
“Morning,” Hyroc said to the side of his friend’s head as he sat down.
Thomas turned his head to look at Hyroc and gave a sleepy nod. “I can’t believe they still want us to get up this early when there aren’t even any classes,” Thomas said, yawning.
“I guess it’s just easier this way,” Hyroc said.
“For them, maybe.” Thomas narrowed his eyes and began studying Hyroc’s hunting clothing curiously. “Why are you dressed like that?”
Hyroc smirked happily. “Marcus is taking me duck hunting.”
“Is it really that fun?”
Hyroc gave him a stunned look. “Of course, it is!”
“How can standing around doing nothing for hours be any fun?”
“We don’t stand around for hours doing nothing. We’re doing something the whole time. You have to make sure the ducks don’t see you or hear you coming while you get into position for a shot. Otherwise, they fly off, and you don’t get anything.”
“Still doesn’t sound like anything that exciting?”
Hyroc threw his hands out in complete disbelief. How could that possibly not sound exciting? “There’s plenty of excitement when you hit a duck midair. Do you know how hard it is to do that?”
“Well – well, it’s hard.”
Marcus entered the room walking with an unusual sluggishness, and his face seemed more worn than it had looked earlier. He coughed twice as he made his way to his seat at the far end of the hall. Hyroc felt a subtle wave of renewed concern as he watched Marcus pass but pushed it aside, reassuring himself with Marcus’ words. There was nothing to be worried about.
After breakfast, Hyroc returned to Marcus’ office and removed his bow and quiver from a box beneath Marcus’ bed. He laid them out on the floor in front of Marcus’ oak desk in the other room and started examining his arrows for any signs of damage that would alter their flight through the air. Marcus entered the room, coughed, and put a teakettle on a hook in the fireplace. He turned toward Hyroc with an unhappy look on his face.
“Hyroc, I’m sorry to have to do this,” Marcus said. “But I’m not feeling up to taking you hunting today; we’ll have to cancel the trip.”
Hyroc stared at Marcus with a crushed look in his eyes. For a moment, he thought Marcus was being unfair and nearly started arguing with him, but as he looked at Marcus’ warn face, he knew it would be selfish to do so. People got sick. It wasn’t anybody’s fault; it just happened sometimes. When it happened, people couldn’t always do the things they wanted to, and it was wrong to be upset with them because of it. Hyroc sighed quietly then reluctantly nodded his understanding.
“I’m glad you understand,” Marcus said sympathetically. He coughed. “I know how much these trips mean to you, and you know I wouldn’t cancel them unless I had a very good reason, right?” Hyroc nodded again though he didn’t want to. The teakettle began to scream at a steadily increasing volume. Marcus pulled it from the fireplace and poured the steaming water into a waiting cup. He turned his head as he coughed, then set the kettle beside the fireplace and added some Yarrow to his cup.
Irritated by the situation, Hyroc gathered his equipment, replaced them into the box beneath Marcus’ bed, dressed out of his hunting clothing, and back into his school uniform. He left the room in search of Thomas. He found his friend in the library, between two aisles, searching for a book.
Thomas gave Hyroc a questioning look. “I thought you were going hunting,” he said, puzzled.
Hyroc sighed. “Marcus isn’t feeling very good.”
Thomas nodded. “What are you going to do since you’re not going?”
Hyroc stared thoughtfully at the floor a moment. “Do you like to fish?”
“That’s even worse than duck hunting,” Thomas said, frowning.
Hyroc shrugged. His friend had a point. Fishing was kind of boring, especially when nothing got caught. “Well, what do you want to do? I don’t want to sit around here reading all day.”
“Can I see your bow?”
Hyroc raised an eyebrow and stepped closer to Thomas. “I’m only allowed to have it when I’m with Marcus,” he said quietly. “I can get in a lot of trouble if someone sees me with it.”
“But we’ve got nothing else to do for the rest of the day. Does he lock it up or anything?”
Hyroc gave him a look of astonishment. “Are you crazy? I am not sneaking it out of his office. He’s never used the paddle on me, but I know he will if he catches me doing that.” Even Marcus had his limits on leniency.
“Does he keep it near his desk or beside his bed?”
“Underneath his bed.”
“Does that room have a window?”
“Then you can just open the window and hand it to me outside.”
Hyroc studied Thomas’ face weighing his options. That wasn’t an altogether terrible plan. Maybe there was some merit to this. It would give them something to do. “That might work. But if I get in trouble for doing this, I’m blaming everything on you.”
“We won’t get caught. It’ll just be for a little bit.”
“Okay,” Hyroc said. Thomas smiled appreciatively. “But this will only work if he didn’t latch the window this morning and if he isn’t laying down in the room.”
Thomas shot him an annoyed glance. “Of course, I’m not going to make you do it if he’s in the room. I’m not stupid.”
Making sure they weren’t being watched; they snuck out of the library and around the outside of the building to the window of Marcus’ sleeping quarters. Stealing a glance into the room, Hyroc found it empty, with the door closed. He slowly pushed on the window, and it opened. Thomas looked at him excitedly which seemed to give him a sudden burst of courage. Taking a breath, Hyroc slipped into the room. He stepped over to the bed and silently slid the box out from under it, listening intently for the sound of approaching footsteps. His heart thumped furiously and he felt as if he might explode if he didn’t leave the room soon. He removed the bow and his quiver full of arrows. Careful not to scrape anything against the windowsill, he passed his equipment out to Thomas’s waiting arms. When the transfer was complete, Hyroc closed the box, slid it back into its spot beneath the bed then stepped outside. He closed the window behind him and relieved Thomas of his bow. The two of them dashed toward the wall, throwing the bow and quiver over the mossy stonework before scrambling over it. They peeked over the stonework for anyone pursuing them. Finding nobody, the two of them darted into the woods not far away. Once safely in cover beneath the mottled shade of the trees, the two of them burst out laughing from the exhilaration of what they just did.
A chickadee alighted onto a branch in front of them. Thomas pointed at the tiny bird. “Do you think you can hit that from here,” he asked.
Hyroc raised an eyebrow. “I’m not going to eat that,” he said.
Thomas gave him an odd look. “Why would you want to eat that?”
Hyroc smiled half humoredly. “No, I don’t want to eat that. Marcus told me only to kill something if I was going to eat it or if it wants to attack me. It’s wasteful otherwise.”
“Oh, all right,” he said with a sigh. The chickadee took to the air, disappearing farther into the trees. “What about leaves? Can you kill those?”
Hyroc rolled his eyes. He picked up a strip of leather that acted as an arm guard against the painful rebound of the bowstring and wrapped it onto his arm. Selecting a leaf from the same tree where they had seen the chickadee, Hyroc nocked an arrow, aimed, and let it fly. It whizzed through the air, striking the leaf with a papery clack.
“Can I try?” Thomas asked.
“Sure,” Hyroc said. Thomas pulled his sleeve up and accepted the bow. Hyroc gave Thomas a quick rundown on the basics of bow shooting Marcus had taught him.
Hyroc pointed to a nearby tree. “Aim for the middle of the trunk.” Thomas nodded eagerly, nocked an arrow, carefully and slowly drew the bowstring back, then let it fly. The arrow glanced off the bark of the tree, landing a few feet away.
Thomas dropped the bow, his face flushed red with pain, and he clenched his teeth. Hyroc stared at him in a mix of alarm and complete confusion. It didn’t make any sense how Thomas could have possibly gotten hurt just from shooting the bow. He caught sight of the leather arm guard tied to his arm and realized he had forgotten to give it to Thomas.
“Thomas, I’m sorry, I forgot to give you the arm guard,” Hyroc yelled, mortified. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Thomas said through clenched teeth. “That really hurt.”
“I told you this was a bad idea. If either Marcus or June sees that mark on your arm, we’ll both be in a lot of trouble.”
“Don’t worry about that.” Grimacing, Thomas pulled his sleeve over the angry red mark on his arm. “I can just keep it covered with my sleeve.”
“Make sure you do. We should get this stuff back where it belongs before somebody notices that we’re gone.” Thomas nodded his agreement. “Help me collect the arrows.”
The two of them gathered the arrows and rushed back to the school. Entering through the window, Hyroc replaced the bow and quiver in the box. He got a start when he heard Marcus’ voice emanating from the other room. Panic gripped him as he stared at the door, expecting it to fly open. When it didn’t, after a tense moment, he took a deep breath. Just as he turned toward the window, he heard the door leading from the hall into Marcus’ office open, followed by Marcus welcoming someone into the room. Marcus used a name Hyroc didn’t recognize. Curious, he crept over to the closed door, ensuring his shadow didn’t pass over the opening beneath it and pressed his ear against the wood.
“What are you doing?” Thomas said in a loud whisper. “Get out of there!”
Glaring irritably at his friend, Hyroc raised his hand pointedly, telling him to be quiet. Thomas threw his hand up in frustration but didn’t say anything. Hyroc returned his attention to listening to the conversation in the other room.
“…I wish you would have sent for me sooner,” a man said.
“Well, I didn’t think it was anything I needed to be concerned about until this morning,” Marcus said. “I thought I was just pushing myself too hard.”
“That’s a common enough mistake, but no matter, I should have you feeling good as new in no time. Now let me have a look at you.”
“Do you want me to lay down?”
“You should be fine where you’re at.” There was a long pause. “You’re a little warm to the touch, so you’re experiencing a slight imbalance of humors.”
Hyroc racked his brain, trying to remember what humors were. He had overheard Marcus discussing them with a teacher once. He had mentioned something about the four elements and how they were concentrated in a person’s body. These concentrations were something called humors. If there were an imbalance in any of them, they would make a person sick. The imbalance could then be treated with things with opposite qualities to the imbalanced humors. If a person was feverish and hot to the touch, they should eat cold food, and if they were cold, they should eat hot food.
“Slight?” Marcus said with a questioning tone. “I almost couldn’t get out of bed this morning. That seems a little more than a slight imbalance.”
“A slight imbalance of any of the humors can still have drastic effects on your strength. Everybody’s different.”
There was a pause. “What are you prescribing for it?”
“Make sure you get plenty of rest, of course, and eat plenty of cold things. I’ve also got a regiment of herbs you should take that should help.”
“I appreciate this, Robert.”
There was a pause. “I’ll be back tomorrow to check on your progress.”
“Thank you again for this….”
Hyroc pulled away from the door and crept back toward the open window. He climbed through and closed the window behind him just as the door opened. In a wave of panic, he threw himself sideways below the window. Thomas shot him a fearful glare. Moving on their hands and knees, the two of them headed away from the view of the window. When they were safe, the two of them collectively took a deep breath.
Thomas punched Hyroc in the shoulder. “What was that for?” Hyroc said indignantly.
“You almost got us caught!” Thomas said pointedly.
Hyroc rubbed the spot where Thomas had hit him. “Sorry.”
Thomas shrugged. “What was so important that you needed to hear?”
Hyroc’s expression brightened. “Marcus was meeting with a healer.”
“Is he okay?”
Hyroc nodded. “That healer sounded like he was good at it, and he’ll get Marcus fixed up fast.”
“That’s good.” He paused. “So now what?”
Hyroc shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what do you want to do?”