Hyroc – Chapter 8

Sentinel Flame Book One
By Adam Freestone
Alaskan Writer of Imaginative Creativity

Hyroc watched indifferently as the procession of students, teachers, and large numbers of people he had never met move across the lawn of Marcus’ home toward the gravesite. Gray clouds pockmarked by openings letting through small amounts of sunlight drifted slowly overhead. A cool light wind stirred the leaves of the surrounding trees in erratic spurts, giving the air an unwelcomed chill. Hyroc barely even noticed; every part of him had felt cold ever since, ever since he had gone into that room. He thrust his thoughts from the memory. He couldn’t bear to even think about it.

June was at his side wearing a solid black dress and a dark veil over her face. The two of them stood behind the open coffin containing Marcus’ body. Marcus lay within with his arms neatly folded across his chest. He was dressed in an immaculate dark green and white robe bearing the embroidering of the raven that signified The Ministry. His eyes were closed, and his face bore a serene expression. Whenever Hyroc looked at him for the briefest of moments, he could think Marcus was sleeping, but then the harsh reality would quickly crush his spirit back down.

Hyroc stiffened, drawing closer to June when he saw several ministry officials approaching the grave. They were garbed in robes colored in their customary red and black.

“It’s all right,” June said in a reassuring whisper. “There’s nothing to worry about; I wouldn’t let them take you. You’re safe.”

The officials reverently studied Marcus’ lifeless face, showing subtle amounts of sadness on their expressions. Their eyes slowly drifted up until they were staring at Hyroc. Most of their number only looked at him with a passing interest, but one or two of them watched him in frightening and very disconcerting manners. After what felt like an eternity under their hostile gazes, the group stepped off to the side, allowing others to pay their respects. The other attendees stared at Hyroc, showing mixtures of curiosity, fear, and disgust. Thankfully, the majority were people who had seen him regularly and, excluding Thomas, only occasionally gave him an uncomfortable glance.

Two men approached the coffin and carefully secured the lid on top of it. Then they began lowering it into the grave. Cold dread washed over Hyroc as it slid out of view into the darkness. Deep down, he knew Marcus was gone, but he kept the thought at the back of his mind in the hopes that denying it would prevent it from becoming a reality. Now Marcus’ death was final and inescapable. There would be no more duck hunts, only an empty void nothing could fill. Hyroc’s eyes burned as tears rolled out of them. June’s hand came to rest comfortingly on his shoulder. He leaned into her arm as she began leading him away.

“It is unfortunate,” a harsh man’s voice said from behind. The two of them paused and turned to face the speaker. A bolt of fear shot through Hyroc as he recognized the man as Keller. Hyroc knew from the story Marcus had told him when he was younger, Keller was the man who had tried to take him away and would have killed him.

“One such as he could have fallen so far,” Keller continued, shaking his head as he gazed toward Marcus’ tombstone. “He did so much good once. But his is the fate of all who fall from the light to embrace the darkness.” He turned to face them, affixing Hyroc with a dangerous gaze. Hyroc sidled behind June, never taking his eyes off Keller. He had never been so thankful for her presence.

“You are not welcome here,” June said in a threatening tone. “Leave!”

“As you wish.” June reached behind her and held Hyroc protectively as Keller passed. He paused a few paces from them. “Without his blind commitment and cunning mind, it is only a matter of time before that thing by your side is just another forgotten memory. It may take me years still, but mark my words; I will eventually make others see what I see. And on that day, there will be no place where you can hide that aberration.” With that, he headed off. June held Hyroc’s shoulder, never taking her eyes off Keller until the man disappeared from sight.

“Don’t let what he said frighten you,” she said, looking down at Hyroc with caring eyes. “I might not be as good with words or laws as my brother, but I won’t let that man hurt you. Marcus had friends who respected him, and they won’t soon forget their loyalty to him or me, even if they didn’t always agree with him.” She reached down and wiped the tears from Hyroc’s eyes. “Now, why don’t we head inside and see what food everyone brought.” Hyroc nodded somberly, and the two of them made their way inside the house.

They passed empty stagecoaches, with their drivers milling around silently and staring dumbstruck at Hyroc when they spotted him. Taking notice of their unblinking eyes, June hurried Hyroc to the front door. Stepping through the threshold, Hyroc found the living room full of people. As June pulled the door closed behind them, several of the attendees made their way over to the two of them. They offered their heartfelt condolences to June, but they spoke without seeming to take any notice of Hyroc. His eyes began to fill with tears as they did so. He didn’t understand why their behavior stung him so much suddenly. He had grown to expect such behaviors and had even learned to ignore them. Why should they bother him now?

“Hyroc,” June said gently, her expression showing hints of frustration, frustration directed at her guests. For some reason, her frustration melted away some of his sadness. It made him feel better to see someone unhappy with how they treated him. “Why don’t you head into the kitchen to get yourself something to eat? Okay.”

Blinking away his tears, Hyroc nodded and walked into the kitchen. On the table and lining the counters, he found cheese wheels, fresh bread, different types of cooked or smoked meat and kippers, pastries with either jam or cream oozing out of them, and a cake. He slid a wedge of cheese onto his plate, then some of the meat, cream filled pastry, and a piece of the cake. With no room to sit at the table, he stepped out the back door. Outside he found a group of three women quietly talking as they ate. Their conversation abruptly stopped as they took notice of him and they began staring intently at him. Repressing another wave of tears, he went back into the kitchen. All he wanted to do now was be alone; he didn’t want to be around these strangers anymore. He didn’t want to feel their eyes on him. He hurried through the numerous watching eyes and up the stairs to his room, glad to see the hall there empty.

Closing the door tightly behind him, he made his way over to the window overlooking the garden and sat before taking a bite of the cheese wedge on his plate. His mood lightened a little as he did so, but the sadness of the day prevented him from feeling much at all. Without Marcus, nothing would ever be the same. Tears began streaming out of his eyes, and his breaths shuddered with sorrow. He didn’t want it to be true. With all his strength, he wished it to be false, though he knew what the truth was, and there was nothing he could do to change it no matter how much he wanted to. He was alone.

A knock came at his room door, slightly pulling him away from his pain. He was silent a long moment before he mustered the strength to answer. “Go away,” he said sharply in a strangled voice.

“It’s Thomas,” Thomas said, his voice muffled.

Hyroc wiped his eyes on his sleeve. He didn’t want his friend to go away. “C – come in.”

Thomas stepped into the room holding a half-eaten pastry with its jelly filled innards exposed. “These are delicious,” Thomas said, holding up the pastry. Hyroc nodded absentmindedly and returned to looking out the window. Thomas sat down beside him. “You doing okay?” Thinking that was an odd question to ask on such a dark day, he responded with a sigh. “I didn’t know him as well as you did, but he seemed like a good person.” Hyroc nodded appreciatively. There was a pause. “There’s something I wanted to show you.” Thomas stuck the remainder of the pastry into his mouth and, reaching in his pocket, removed a small polished stone with a greenish tint to its surface. Etched into the center on one side was a symbol Hyroc didn’t recognize. Thomas handed it to Hyroc. Accepting the stone, Hyroc ran his thumb across its cool smooth surface.

“That symbol in the middle, it stands for courage. After what I saw you do with those dogs, I thought you would like it.”

Hyroc gave him a gladdened look. “You got this for me?” Thomas nodded. “It’s – it’s really nice.”

“I don’t think I could ever be brave like you.”

“Don’t say that; you’re not a coward.”

Thomas shrugged. “I got scared and ran off, and you had to save me. I’m a coward.”

“I run all the time and hide in trees. So, if you’re a coward, then I am too. And a coward wouldn’t have smacked that dog in the head. You’re not a coward. Besides, you were brave enough to come and talk with me.” Thomas smiled thankfully.

“Be careful with that!” June snapped. She directed her anger at two men who carried the last remaining cabinet from Marcus’ office. “That’s made from oak, and it’s a family heirloom over a hundred years old.” The men nodded their apologies, then more cautiously continued on their way.

Hyroc turned his attention to the bookshelf June had instructed him to empty, grabbed a book, and placed it in a waiting box at his feet. It had now been two long days since the funeral. The bite of Marcus’ death had diminished somewhat, allowing him to again glean some small amounts of enjoyment out of his days. Even so, the loss of Marcus still haunted his every thought, preventing him from escaping the cold emptiness of sorrow for long. He and June were now clearing out Marcus’ office in preparation for the new headmaster, who was scheduled to arrive in a week, at which point the school would resume. Hyroc was hardly ready to continue with his studies, but it seemed he had little choice.

“When you’re done over there,” June said. “Go ahead and get the blankets off the bed in the other room.”

Hyroc nodded. He finished with the last book a moment later and headed into the sleeping quarter, hesitating briefly at the door. He slid the pillows onto the floor and carefully began removing the covers from the bed. As he finished rolling them up, he noticed the two boxes containing Marcus and his hunting bows. Kneeling, Hyroc pulled out the smallest box and opened it, revealing his bow. A single tear rolled out of his eye as the memory of his first hunting trip flashed into his mind. It still felt like those trips had only happened days ago. Before, all happiness drained from him. He didn’t expect ever to be happy again. Wiping away the tear, he closed the box, rose to his feet, and continued working on the bed.

It was well past midday by the time the two of them had finished with the room. Hyroc stopped at the door to look back into the now bare room, feeling a pang of sadness. He had had many good memories in this room, but now darkened and devoid of all of its familiar decorations, it felt like those things had happened in another place far away. Memories like those would never again happen to him in this room. He lingered at the door a long moment before turning and leaving.

A week later, June woke Hyroc earlier than he had ever been on a school day. He groggily got ready, then he and June headed out into the cool darkness, illuminated only by the rising dome of the sun on the horizon. At the dining hall, a tall man with black hair and a graying beard of the same color stepped up to the podium. He introduced himself as the new headmaster and briefly laid out his vision for the school, which seemed to Hyroc the exact things Marcus had been doing, just worded differently.

As Hyroc followed the throng of students heading off to their classes, one of the prefects informed him the headmaster needed to see him. Disconcerted by the new headmaster summoning him when he hadn’t done anything, Hyroc made his way to the headmaster’s office. He was surprised by the change the room had undergone. Adorning the walls, he found numerous paintings depicting scenes of men in battle armor fighting hideous shadow demons wreathed in clouds of darkness. A chill ran down Hyroc’s back when he saw the painting of a silver raven perched on a scythe atop a stony precipice, overlooking a field surrounded by rolling hills. Several new immaculately polished cabinets, with still bare shelves, had been moved into the room. An orange rug with yellow embroidery in the shape of wheat stalks along its edges ran from the door to the desk at the window.

The headmaster stood left of the window putting books on a bookshelf. When Hyroc closed the door behind him, the headmaster turned to face him. He pointed at the chairs in front of the desk. “Have a seat,” he said. Hyroc sat. “You’re probably wondering why I asked to see you,” the headmaster said, seating himself at his desk. He interlaced his fingers and affixed a piercing gaze upon Hyroc. “There are a few things I need to make clear to you. I’ve heard concerns expressed about your presence here, but to be frank, if you were a danger to the students, I wouldn’t expect that my predecessor would have allowed you to be here in the first place. And as such, I see no reason to change this. But keep in mind, unlike my predecessor, I have no binding agreement to keep you here, and if you should do anything to make me think you are a threat to the other students, you will be gone without question and in whatever manner deemed necessary. Is this understood?”

“Yes, headmaster,” Hyroc said.

“Good. And do not make the mistake of thinking just because my predecessor was also your parent, you will not be afforded any special privileges. To me, you are just another student, and you’ll be treated as such –” the headmaster’s eyes flickered intentionally to the paddle resting against the leg of his desk “– even in punishment.” He paused, letting his words sink in. “You will be housed in a dorm like the rest of the students.” The headmaster paused, thinking a moment. “Has everything been understood?”

“Yes, headmaster.”

“I hope indeed it has. That will be all then. You may go.” Hyroc stood and eagerly made his way out the door.

After dinner, a teacher led Hyroc to one of the student dorms and left him at the door holding a pillow stacked on top of a blanket. He felt a surge of apprehension as he stared at the closed door. He had never spent a night with so many people around him. And it disturbed him to even think about it. He liked being alone at night, not crammed into a room like dead fish in a barrel. He wasn’t going to like this. But he had to do it anyway. Gathering his courage, he pushed through the door.

As soon as he came through, the room fell silent, and every student inside stared at him. He very much wanted to dart back into the hall. Subduing the urge, he took a deep breath and walked farther into the room. Whenever he came to an unoccupied bunk, a student would slide into it and say it was taken. Just as he began fearing he would be spending his nights on the hard floor, he found a bed at the end of the room. By now, most of the students had tired of looking at him, but he still felt an uncomfortable amount of eyes watching him, and he heard the other boys whispering about him as he made his bed.

“This where you’re going to be?” a familiar voice said. Hyroc turned to see Thomas leaning against the bunk’s bedpost. Hyroc felt a wave of relief. At least there seemed one good thing about his predicament. “It looks like we’re going to be bunkmates then.”

“You’re on top?”

Thomas nodded. He shot Hyroc a mischievous smile. “And don’t worry, I don’t wet the bed.”

Hyroc smirked. “You had better not because I don’t think we could be friends if you peed on me.”

Thomas repressed a laugh. “I know it’s probably not as comfortable as the bed in your room, but they’re still soft enough to sleep on.”

“That’s good.”

“Anyway, I’ve got some studying to get done for Miss Duncan’s class.”

Hyroc frowned ruefully. “Yeah, it’s a bad idea to fall behind with her.”

That night it took Hyroc what felt like hours to fall asleep in the unfamiliar surroundings of the dorm eventually. He was violently shaken awake as he began drifting into sleep. When his eyes focused, he saw an older boy he recognized as the head prefect, Simon, holding him down. Behind Simon were three boys a few years younger than he was. The prefect released his grip, pulling back slightly, then the other boys moved closer.

“You don’t belong here,” Simon said coldly. Hyroc could smell his breath as he spoke.

“This is where they told me to go,” Hyroc said, confused, trying his best not to sound intimidated. Showing weakness would only make them think he was an easy target.

“Look at his eyes,” another student said. “He looks scared.”

Simon grinned. “And he should be. Do you know what The Ministry does to freaks like you? They burn them alive. But in your case, I bet they would burn your fur off to see what was underneath. Then they would skin you like a rabbit and then –”

“Leave him alone!” Thomas said from above Hyroc.

Simon scowled at the interruption. “Shut up, Thomas,” he glowered, smacking the side of the bed frame. “Anyone who shows sympathy to deviants like him will share in the punishment.”

“Will you shut up,” another student growled from a nearby bunk. “I’m trying to sleep here.”

“You’re not welcome here, and you never will be,” Simon hissed. He hovered menacingly over Hyroc a moment before shoving off from his bed and heading away with the other three boys following.

“Are you all right?” Thomas whispered, sticking his head over the side of the bunk.

“I’m fine,” Hyroc lied. Those four boys had frightened him much more than he was willing to admit. He was afraid if he showed any signs of fright, it might encourage others to harass him. He knew it would be better just to feign bravery, even to Thomas.

“Don’t let what those idiots said bother you. No one in town would ever do that.”

“I know.” Hyroc wasn’t convinced it was true even as he spoke. He knew some people would.

“You’re sure you’re okay.”


“Okay.” Thomas pulled his head back up.

A tear ran down Hyroc’s face. He missed Marcus now more than ever. He began to sob silently. Remembering the wooden bear he had placed in his pillowcase, he pulled it out. He clutched it tightly with both hands. Holding the bear made him feel better, and he was able to make himself stop crying. This will do me no good, Hyroc thought to himself. Marcus is gone, but I need to be strong, strong like a bear. They want me to cry. If I cry, it will tell them they’ve beaten me. Marcus would not have wanted them to beat me and I will not let them. From now on, I will be strong and not cry ever again. Hyroc closed his eyes and with his newfound strength, went to sleep with the bear still in his hand.

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.