Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity
“That one kind of looks like a bird,” Hyroc said, pointing toward a cloud overhead as he laid on the grass a few steps from the school’s apple tree. It was a sunny day, but a fragmented cloud front was steadily drifting in from the east. If the disjointed front coalesced into a solid mass, it would rain the next day.
Lying beside Hyroc, Thomas squinted as he focused on the indicated cloud. “It does a little bit, I guess,” the boy said.
“Your turn,” Hyroc said.
There was a pause. “This is kind of boring.”
Hyroc sighed in agreement. Cloud watching had seemed like a much better idea before they had actually started doing it. He sat up. “What do you want to do?” Thomas shrugged his shoulders. Hyroc removed the wooden bear from his pocket and held it in front of his friend. “Do you have an animal; we could make them have wars?”
“No, not yet.”
Hyroc shrugged and stuck the bear back in his pocket. Beyond reading, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot for the two of them to do for fun. If Marcus wasn’t better by the end of the next week, then the boredom of the last two days was what he had to look forward to.
Thomas sat up and began staring off into space with a thoughtful expression on his face. “Did you think of something?” Hyroc asked hopefully. Anything would work at this point.
Thomas was quite a moment. “We could go out into the woods where we went yesterday.”
Hyroc shot him a look of disbelief. What was his friend thinking? Their plan had almost ended badly! “You want to do that again? We almost got caught!”
“No, you almost got us caught.”
Hyroc narrowed his eyes at Thomas. “Well, I’m not sneaking my bow out again. That was too close. Besides, Marcus is in there with the healer.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
Hyroc’s expression turned puzzled. “It’s not? What else can we do out in those woods?”
Thomas grinned enthusiastically. “There’s sticks out there; I saw lots of them yesterday.”
Hyroc gave him an even more puzzled look. “You usually find sticks around trees. That’s where they come from. What’s so good about that?”
Thomas shot him an odd look. “We can use the sticks as swords, and we can fight each other.”
Thomas’ words stirred up a long forgotten memory inside of Hyroc. He remembered seeing boys playing a game where they fought each other with sticks on a few occasions when Marcus brought him into town. It had looked like a lot of fun, but as with every game, none of the boys would let him join them.
Hyroc smiled excitedly. “You’ll really do that with me?”
“Yeah. You’ve never done that before?”
Hyroc shrugged. “No. Other than Marcus, you’re the first friend I’ve ever had, and even with him, we never did anything like that.”
“It’s a lot of fun. We just have to go get some sticks.”
Hyroc’s smile faded a little. “Won’t we get in trouble?”
Thomas smirked mischievously. “Only if we get caught. But this isn’t like what we did yesterday. We’re not taking anything with us, so we can’t get into trouble that way. And it’s not like we’re going to be gone all day. We’ll be back before anyone even knows we’re gone. And what else are we going to do?”
Hyroc sighed. He had a point there. With an agreeing nod, the two of them got to their feet. They swept their eyes around; there wasn’t anybody in sight. They walked behind the trunk of the apple tree. Stealing another glance around the tree, they climbed over the cold stones of the wall and hurried off into the woods. The two of them then began their search for sticks. Hyroc spotted a promising stick half buried beneath a pile of dry leaves, but when he pulled it free, centipedes covered it. With a startled yelp, he threw it to the ground and rapidly moved away. The next stick he came across was lying in the crotch of a tree. Shaking off a brown spider, he found no other creatures calling it home. The stick curved awkwardly in the middle, making it a little unwieldy. With the stick in hand, he made his way back to Thomas.
He frowned when he saw the weapon his friend had discovered. Beyond a bumpy knot a third of the way from its end, Thomas’ stick was almost completely straight. Glancing toward his stick, Hyroc sighed.
“So, when do we –” Hyroc said before Thomas lunged forward and jabbed him in the shoulder. “HEY, I wasn’t ready,” Hyroc yelled as he lurched backward. Thomas laughed, then poked at him again. Hyroc deflected the strike with a quick swing of his stick. He found himself grinning gleefully. “I’ll get you back for that!” He took a fast step toward Thomas and struck toward his friend’s shoulder. Thomas blocked the attack then took a step backward. Closing the distance between them, Hyroc took a hard jab at Thomas. Thomas sidestepped the attack, narrowly avoiding a hit to his chest, and tagged Hyroc in the back as he passed.
“Got you again,” Thomas said with a smile.
Hyroc turned and gave him a malevolent glare. He had an idea how he could get even the score. Grasping his stick with both hands, he raised it above his head. With an exaggerated yell, he ran forward. Thomas excitedly yelped as he tore away from his pursuer. He darted behind a tree. Hoping to surprise him, Hyroc dashed toward the opposite side of the tree where Thomas had gone. The boy emerged in the hoped direction, but he looked over his shoulder, and Hyroc tagged him in the arm without any resistance.
“Got you,” Hyroc said smugly.
Thomas jumped away and brought his stick up to hit Hyroc. Hyroc blocked the strike. The two of them exchanged a series of blows, with neither managing a strike on the other.
“You’re pretty good at this,” Thomas said as he jerked his upper body out of the way of an oncoming jab.
“Thanks,” Hyroc said, stepping in a circular motion away from his friend.
“This is a lot more fun than looking at clouds, isn’t it?”
Hyroc nodded before taking a hard swing at Thomas. Thomas blocked the strike, but the force of it wrenched his stick far enough sideways to leave an opening. Seeing this, Hyroc made a twisting motion into the opening with his stick and poked Thomas in the shoulder.
Hyroc smiled. “Now, we’re even,” he said.
Thomas sighed. Glancing through his surroundings, he saw a short incline beside him and jumped onto it. Using his height advantage, Thomas struck at Hyroc. Hyroc parried the blow, retaliating with several strikes in rapid succession. He struck so fast Thomas had no time to counter as he barely managed to stave off the flurry of strikes. Hyroc steadily drove Thomas to the top of the incline. He held his hand up, signaling his request for a break. Panting a little, Hyroc lowered his stick and took a step backward.
“Where did you learn to do that?” Thomas said breathlessly.
Hyroc shrugged his shoulders. “Nowhere, it just seemed like a good thing to do there,” he said. Thomas nodded his understanding. A moment later, he reentered a combat stance, and Hyroc did the same. “Are you ready?” Thomas nodded.
Hyroc jerked forward, coming in for a strike. Thomas stepped back, but his foot landed on nothing, and he stumbled. Realizing what was happening, Hyroc rushed forward, stretching his hand out to catch Thomas. He was too far away and couldn’t reach his friend in time. Thomas began tumbling down the incline. Feeling a thrill of fear, Hyroc rushed after him. Thomas’ stick flew from his hand as he came to a stop a short distance later and lay in a heap at the bottom. Hyroc called out, but Thomas gave no response. Fearing his friend may be seriously injured, he moved even faster toward the bottom.
“Thomas, Thomas, are you all right,” Hyroc said as he reached down to shake his friend’s shoulder. Right before his fingertips made contact, Thomas rolled onto his back and lightly poked Hyroc on the shoulder with a tiny stick he had in his sleeve
“That’s three,” Thomas said with a smile.
Hyroc rolled his eyes, putting his hand down. “I thought you were hurt, dummy.”
Now smiling, Thomas sat up. “That little fall didn’t hurt me.”
Hyroc shook his head and stood up. Glancing through their surroundings, he was a little surprised to find they had ventured far enough into the woods that the boarding school was no longer visible through the trees. He spotted a trail of smoke rising above the trees not far away and figured it was coming from the school. Then he began to wonder if they had been gone long enough for someone to notice their absence. They hadn’t snuck anything out of the school, but they weren’t supposed to be out here, and they could still get into trouble if someone discovered their absence.
He turned back toward Thomas, who was already standing and brushing himself off. “Thomas, maybe we should –” he stopped talking when he saw something moving through the trees in front of him. The thing resolved into four shapes that walked on four legs. As they drew closer, he realized they were dogs. Three of the dogs flanked a bigger dark-colored one with patches of ugly matted hair. A ring-shaped bite scar marred the side of its snout, and half of one ear looked like it had been bitten off.
Thomas turned to see what he was looking at. His eyes widened excitedly. “Hyroc look dogs,” he said eagerly. He began patting his leg and calling out to them in a friendly voice.
Hyroc felt a wrongness with the way the dogs were acting. They weren’t barking. Whenever he had seen a dog, they were always barking. He had never liked those beasts because of those annoying noises. Cats had been much more pleasant animals to be around because they didn’t make any noise unless he tried getting close to them. At which point, they often made some terrifying noises and acted as if they were preparing to rip into his face. He didn’t understand why the lack of such aggravating noises from the dogs would bother him. Then he saw the look in their eyes. It was even more disconcerting than the dog’s silence. They were looking at him like he was a piece of meat. He felt a thrill of fear. These were feral dogs. He and Thomas needed to get away from them!
“Thomas, I think they’re feral,” he said out of the corner of his mouth.
The excitement faded from Thomas’ face, and he shot Hyroc a frightened look. “What should we do?” he said in a fearful tone.
Hyroc’s first instinct was to tell Thomas they needed to run, but he didn’t because he knew running was probably the worst thing they could do. Marcus had explained to him once if a dangerous dog ever cornered him, he should not run away from it. “Dogs love to chase things, and if you run, they will chase you, and you will get bitten because dogs can run faster than you can. You slowly walk away from them without exposing your back.”
“Okay, Thomas –” Hyroc barely managed to say before Thomas turned and took off running. The big dog immediately bolted after him. Hyroc darted into the path of the dogs and slammed his stick into the big dog’s head. With a yelp, the hound jumped sideways. All four dogs abandoned their pursuit of Thomas, turning their attention on Hyroc. They moved into a half circle around him, bearing their teeth and growling savagely. Hyroc swatted his stick from side to side across the ground, throwing up some of the leaf litter as he began yelling. Two of the dogs lurched away in a startled motion. The remaining dog lunged at him from the direction of his offhand.
Before he could bring the stick up to whack his attacker, the dog bit into his arm. Its teeth tore through his clothing and sank into his skin. Gritting his teeth, Hyroc rammed the stick into the dog’s head. The dog yelped, releasing its hold and springing backward. Hyroc could now feel hot blood trickling down his arm. The big dog rushed toward him. Hyroc lifted the stick over his head and brought it down as hard as he could on top of the big dog’s head. The dog grunted as it staggered sideways from the force of the blow. Hyroc then kicked it in the nose. With a yelp, the dog jumped back to join its companions. The three smaller dogs began edging forward. Hyroc growled and began flinging the stick from side to side. The three dogs shied away. Hyroc felt as if he were a bear fighting off a pack of wolves. He was too big and strong for them to have any hope of defeating.
The big dog’s tail drooped down as it turned and began heading off. The three smaller dogs gave Hyroc an uncertain look before following after the larger dog. Arms burning and breathing heavily, Hyroc brought his arms to rest beside him. He grimaced as pain flared through the bite in his arm. When the dogs disappeared from view, he dropped the stick and rolled his sleeve back so he could get a good look at his injury. Despite the amount of blood coming out of it, it didn’t seem to him like it was a serious bite.
“Are you all right,” Thomas’ voice said from behind.
Hyroc glanced over his shoulder and held up his injured arm as he spoke. “I’m fine,” he said. “One of them bit me.” The casualness of his reaction surprised him. He had expected getting a bleeding hole bitten into his arm by a dangerous animal would bother him a lot more.
Thomas came up beside him and grimaced as he got a closer look at Hyroc’s arm. “I can’t believe you fought them off all by yourself. Why did you do that? Weren’t you scared?”
Hyroc shrugged. He wasn’t entirely sure why he had done it either. “I don’t know why I did that; it just sort of happened. I saw them running after you and – and I knew they were going to hurt you, so I attacked them.”
“That’s the bravest thing I’ve ever seen anybody do.”
Hyroc smiled. It felt good hearing that. “We’re friends, and we’re supposed to look out for each other.” He grimaced again as his injury reminded him it was still there. He flicked the blood from his fingers onto the ground.
“I know how to help with that. Follow me.” Hyroc followed his friend as he searched for something around the trees. He uprooted a green plant with tiny white flowers, snapped the flower part off, and held it out to Hyroc. “Put this on your bite.”
Hyroc gave Thomas an uncertain look but took the flowers and pressed it against his injury. “What is this?”
“It’s Yarrow. My father uses it whenever I cut myself at my house. It helps to stop bleeding.”
“I thought that was only used for tea.”
Thomas gave him a surprised look. “Really, you can drink this?”
“Well, only if you’re sick, but it’s pretty nasty.” Thomas gave him a look of agreement. Hyroc paused. “Let’s get back to the school before anything else happens.”
Thomas nodded. “I don’t want to run into those dogs again either.”
They snuck back onto the school grounds, coming over the wall near the apple tree. Blood had soaked through the Yarrow, and Hyroc began bleeding again. He needed to get something else to staunch the flow, and he knew the safest place to find something to do so with was Marcus‘ office. The two of them then separated – so Hyroc was the only one who risked getting into trouble if he got caught – before he made his way to Marcus’ office. Rounding the corner of the hallway leading to the headmaster’s office, he found June coming out the door. She was three years younger than Marcus, with auburn hair and stood just shy an inch of her brother. Hyroc spun around on his heel but June saw him and called his name before he could step out of sight.
“Where have you been?” she said.
Hyroc turned toward her, making sure to keep his hurt arm behind him and out of sight. “Nowhere,” Hyroc said innocently.
“I’ve been trying to find you for the last hour.” Her eyes narrowed as she focused on something on the floor. “Hyroc, let me see your arm.” Feeling a wave of panic, he held up his uninjured arm, hoping it was the one she wanted.
“No, the other one.” Hyroc sighed and held his other arm up. He was caught. June’s expression turned shocked, and she began examining his injury.
“I fell,” he added quickly. June might believe that. People fell hard enough to bleed all the time.
She cocked an eyebrow. “You fell?” Hyroc nodded. She spoke with a disbelieving tone. “Did you fall on something with teeth? You went outside the wall, didn’t you?”
“I’m sorry, please don’t tell Marcus,” he pleaded.
June sighed. “I’m not going to tell Marcus. He shouldn’t be bothered with this right now.” Hyroc breathed a sigh of relief. “But we need to get that arm taken care of; we can’t have you bleeding all over the place. Come with me.” She headed back into the office, and he followed. Once inside, she scrounged through the drawers behind Marcus’ desk, removing a handkerchief from one of them. She held it out to Hyroc. “Keep that pressed down onto your wound.” Hyroc took it and did as instructed. June pointed toward the bench beside the fireplace. “Sit there; I’ll be right back.” She turned and headed out, returning with a damp rag and a bandage. After using the rag to clean the bloodied fur around his injury, she began wrapping on the bandage.
“Did you at least learn not to do whatever you were doing that caused you to get hurt?” she said, without taking her eyes off his arm.
“I did,” he answered. He wasn’t going to do anything like that again, no matter how bored he got.
Hyroc sat on the bench in Marcus’ office, reading a book. Over the top of it, he saw a small dark mass emerging slowly from under the door to the sleeping quarters. He recognized it as a leech. When he had gone in to check on his father not long ago, the healer had a jar full of the blood-sucking slugs sitting on the small table. Marcus had explained they would help make him better. It seemed strange to Hyroc something so repulsive could accomplish anything good. He had had frequent encounters with them crawling into his boots and latching onto his legs, but if Marcus said they would help, then he had no reason to doubt their usefulness. And if they could help Marcus, the healer probably couldn’t afford to lose a single one.
He set the book down beside him on the bench and got to his feet. After identifying which part of the leech had the mouth, he picked up the slippery creature by the back end. The leech doubled back on its self and tried to grab onto the fingers holding it. Hyroc shook his hand, dislodging the leech’s mouth before it could stick to his skin. He had to continue doing so as he opened the door. Marcus was lying in bed with his shirt off, and several leeches spread across his chest, their long bodies pulsating as they fed. His face was flushed, and he still looked as pale as he did the day before. The healer reached in the leech-jar with a pair of wooden tongs as Hyroc pushed the door open.
“Hyroc, I told you to stay out there,” Marcus said sternly.
Hyroc held up the leech and shook it as it tried to drink his blood. “I found a leech on the floor,” he said proudly.
Marcus smiled. “I see that, and thank you very much.” Hyroc returned the smile. Marcus pointed to the jar. “Go ahead and put it in the jar then.”
The healer gave Hyroc an uncertain look before carefully sliding the jar closer. Standing on the tip of his toes, Hyroc reached over the jar and dropped the leech into the wriggling mass of blood-hungry black bodies within. The healer nodded his thanks as he moved the jar back into position.
Hyroc turned toward Marcus, trying not to look at the swollen leeches on his chest. “Are they helping?” Hyroc said.
Marcus looked down thoughtfully at the leeches. “I believe they’re doing their job quite well,” he said. “It doesn’t feel very good having them on me and knowing that they’re drinking my blood, but it’s not so bad when you know they’re taking the bad blood away.” Hyroc nodded happily. That was a good thing. “I’m glad you brought the leech back. Now, please go back out and sit.”