The Road in the Wood

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The first installment in "The Forgotten Sentinel", a series of short stories, "The Road in the Wood" is a tale of unlikely friendship. Freddie and the Sentinel go on a quest to find where the road leads and are met with adventure, villains, and their own fears and prejudices.

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“What an unappreciative lot of bullocks,” he muttered as he hobbled to his post. “Not that there ever was any glamour or fortune to volunteer work.” His post was, incidentally, a job he made up and volunteered for without discussion with anyone outside of himself. A completely made-up need, and one he felt particularly obliged to fill. The bridge was the only connection to the world outside the village that was no longer routinely patrolled. The road across it ended in the woods, a forgotten path long laid in silence.

It had been ages since anyone had even thought about it. Though he was in no way connected to any organization of law and order, the safety of the village was his utmost concern, and his daily patrol of its rambling country borders led to the rediscovery of the ancient bridge. Such was his dismay and so adamant was his concern that he could not help from purchasing the chunk of land and building a hut on it to keep better watch of the potential threats that could arise from such lax border security.

Day after day, he stared at it out of his window as he ate breakfast and packed his lunch. Locking his small abode behind him, he made his daily trek to the bridge. In the early years, he would stand resolutely in the middle of the path, eyes alert to any movement in the forest. As the years passed, however, he slowly lessened his guard, moving first to the side of the path, and eventually to a comfortable chair on the side of the bridge. Never fully “under” the bridge, the brush grew up around him and like his post before him the sentinel passed into oblivion.

The town began to swell in those years--largely the result of urbanization, but to discuss that here would most certainly be a grievous digression--and push past its boundaries. The school children discovered the largely abandoned road, and to his agitation, the frivolous youngsters would routinely wake him from “resting his eyes” with cries of alarm. Although most inauthentic, the noise would startle him, and his yelling would elicit cries of delighted horror. He was given the rather fitting--albeit demeaning and not at all respectable--name of Bridge Troll. Certainly, he was grumpy and a little lower to the ground than most, but to be so mercilessly mocked while serving in such a valiant position was, understandably, almost unbearable.

Over time, the school children bothered him less and less as rumours about him began to float around. Choosing, in the beginning self-isolation, he was now shunned by the villagers. One dark Fall day, bitter with cold, he watched as a young stranger approached him, carrying a steaming tiffen and a thermos, The young boy gave him the food and tea silently, then sat on the ground beside him. The day was almost passed before the boy spoke.

“What are we watching for?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t rightly know, but I’ll know it when I see it.” He stole a glance at the boy. The boy was wearing faded jeans and a coarse sweater that looked like it had been unraveled and re-knit at least once, with odd bits added to enlarge it. The odd bits formed a fair-isle-esque design. The boy was still staring at the road. “Dangerous, though. I’m on guard against any threats to our peaceful village.“

In the years of isolation, he didn’t realize how noisy and boisterous his booming little village had become. The little boy nodded slowly, and asked,” Where does the road lead?”

Startled this time by his own ignorance, for he had never thought to patrol the road, he answered, “I don’t know. I’ve never walked it.” The sentinel pondered the atrocities that lay down the path ahead. He shuddered and stole a glance at the boy. What was he doing out here, spending the day with me? “It’s getting cold and the sun is going down. You’d best be getting home now.”

The boy nodded and grabbed the tiffin and thermos. “Goodnight.” With that he was off, walking through the woods toward town, not stopping to look back. The sentinel watched him walk away, thankful for the company and the hot meal. He made his own way back to his little hut.

The door was a solid piece of oak, with iron hinges and an iron door handle. Its sturdiness comforted the old man. Even while he was gone his shelter was being guarded for him. He stocked the fire and smiled at the warmth of the blaze. In the corner was a small bed. It was made by him, perfectly proportioned to his size and comfort, and a hand-stitched quilt decorated its top. A chest of drawers stood next to it, small and imposing, like its owner. He didn’t need much in the way of clothes, and all of it fit in the small dresser. On top of it was a small collection of books. He read through his entire collection every winter, when it was too cold and dark to do much work outside.

In the opposite corner of the small abode was a table with one chair. It was already set for dinner, although it had yet to be cooked over the open flame. Spanning the rest of the wall was a thick slab of oak counter, and some small fixings that amounted to a kitchen. It was rustic and primitive, but the sentinel lived in comfort and enjoyed doing things the old way. He got out his cast iron pot, and setting it on the table also grabbed his basket. Behind his small hut was a garden he planted and tended. It was fenced in with sticks and wattle to keep the deer out, but he often left vegetables and scraps out for the local fauna anyways. He gathered a few potatoes and carrots, and felt one small, cold snowflake on the back of his neck.

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By Terri: Grammar still needs work and I got a bit confused as to what was going on and who was saying what but over all it's very good! I've always been a sucker for a happy ending!

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