All Christopher Fredrico wanted was to be a peaceful scholar who could spend a lot of time with his friends. Now, falsely accused of stealing a magical artifact, he is forced to leave the only home he knows.
But as he and his friends travel towards the coast, they find a riddle that may save a kingdom — or cost them their lives.
Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One by homeschooled teen author Teresa Gaskins, is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. The full novel is available in ebook or paperback format on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.
Chris hadn’t lasted long. He was no sword genius, and he didn’t get much practice. Two of the adult harpies had taken turns fake-diving at him, and he had been kept on his toes, making sure they didn’t make a real try for him.
Then a child had joined in. It had flown at his face, screeching. He had jumped to the side, trying to make a strike for the monster. But he was used to human opponents, and the child’s speed and ability to maneuver had messed up his timing.
A third adult had grabbed his shoulders and started to fly off with him.
It was then that Marc had come out and reared. The adult had dropped him and scattered, but one of the others grabbed Marc and carried him away.
Chris had made a good strike at the leg of another adult, but then the child returned and grabbed him. He hadn’t seen much as they’d lifted off, only that Terrin was shooting from the mouth of the cave.
Then they had been over the back of the hill, and he couldn’t see the hollow any more. They flew towards the mountains. In a different situation, he might have been awed by the beauty. From here, he could see the range stretching out in both directions, in its odd, curving, scar-like way. As they got closer he saw hints of dark and light green blurred together. This was the forest that the people of Xell lived in, Terrin’s forest tribe, though there were other tribes there as well.
But mostly he noticed the mountains: From the ground, the mountains really did look like a horrid scar among the green fields and woods that North Raecans loved. But from here, he saw what the harpies must see every day of their lives. In the noon sun, the mountains gleamed silver, and the waterfalls sparkled, blue and glorious. Rivers and streams wound between the treacherous cliffs. He saw patches of color that must be mountain flowers, and then, in the deep gulches in the mountains, which he was sure no man had ever seen, there were gold fields of something that moved a bit like grass, waving and twisting like the sea, with small dots of white or larger dots of brown, which were probably animals, like rabbits or deer. And rising up around the gold, cascading from every crack, crevice, and cliff, and bushing on the ledges, was a purple and green that seemed to glow.
They flew towards the highest mountain, and Chris saw the real scar of Scar Range. This particular mountain was very steep, and no one had ever climbed it successfully. Most people avoided it, because harpies were a common sight around it.
But now that he saw Scar Mountain from the top, he noticed a wide gash in it, which reached down to a plain that looked like it was underneath the mountain. Here the gold grass was almost blinding, and there was no gray to be seen, only purple and green. In the center of the plain was a small lake of sparkling blue. But the animals here were different, more numerous and of a wide variety from rabbits to wolves all milling around peacefully, as if without a care in the world.
The harpy carrying him floated down in spirals towards the golden plain below. As they flew inward, he looked up to see that two other harpies were also descending into the mountain. One carried a deer, the other Marc.
Below him he heard a chorus of screeching, and five harpies rose to meet them. His harpy dropped him a few seconds before they landed. He saw that Marc was set down gently several feet away.
They herded Chris towards a shadowy corner. He looked about him. It seemed like the entire mountain must be hollow, and it all glowed. The purple flowers, he now saw, had feather-like petals, and the green vines and leaves around them were covered with thorns. He reached out to touch one of the flowers, but one of the harpies grabbed his shoulders and jerked him to the ground with a screech.
He was forced to watch from that position. His horse was allowed to wander. He saw that it stayed far from the walls, but nibbled gently at the grass.
He looked at the grass, which seemed thicker than normal and was feather-like, as the flowers were. He realized with a start that it looked like a brighter version of the brownish-yellow feathers on the harpies’ legs. He wondered if this valley was the home of the harpies, and if their coloring took after their home.
When he touched the grass with his hands, it pressed down like a cushion, and for some reason, he found that he wanted to stay in this beautiful place. The soft, glowing grass, if it was really grass, reminded him of his childhood bed. It had been one of the few places where he felt safe, where he could rest without worrying about anything. And the warmth that the canyon seemed to hold, it reminded him of—
He heard screeching, and saw that more harpies were arriving. One swooped towards him, and he was surprised to see that it held an unconscious Arnold. The feeling of peace snapped, and he suddenly felt anger rising against these beasts.
The harpy landed backwards, in a way that allowed Arnold to be laid back in a restful position on the grass. He almost looked like he had simply lain down there at the end of a hard day.
Chris pulled his knees to his chest and put his arms tightly around them. He wished that he could attack the harpies, but he wouldn’t even get to his feet before they were on him, so he tried to hold in the anger. It was hard. No longer did he let the golden grass comfort him. He was sure that he would find some way to stand up to these beasts.
Then suddenly, Nora crashed into him in a tight bear hug, and he realized that in his anger he hadn’t noticed the screeching that signaled her arrival.
Terrin joined them shortly, her face drained and ragged, her hands scratched from her clenched nails. She whispered hoarsely, “Nora.” Then she saw Arnold and fell to her knees beside him. “Arnold,” she said in an even more urgent tone.
Nora released Chris, and he unbent himself and looked them both over.
“Are you two okay?” he asked.
“We’re fine,” Nora said. “Terrin lasted quite a while, as it was mostly a distance fight, but after Arnold was caught, there were too many of them for her to handle. They didn’t hurt her too bad, though. I was completely useless, and they didn’t hurt me at all. It looks like Arnold got the worst of it.”
Nora continued to tell him what she had seen of Arnold’s fight. Harpies were almost impossible to beat, unless you had at least one well-trained fighter for every one or two harpies, and it was always good to have extras. There had only been three of them, as Nora had no way to fight back — with only Arnold really trained for that sort of thing — against a large group.
The three huddled together over Arnold until mid-evening. During that time several more harpies arrived, carrying various wildlife and bringing in the other three horses. The horses joined Marc in grazing on the strange grass.
A knot of harpies gathered next to the lake, and more joined them as they brought the animals. From time to time, the harpy who was standing guard over the humans would screech, and a new harpy would come to relieve it.
Finally something interesting happened. Three new harpies landed, and instantly all of the other harpies gathered around them — all except the one guarding the humans, and it looked extremely depressed about being left out. Its expression reminded Chris of his sister Trill when she was told she couldn’t do some boyish thing. But he turned away from it to watch the scene.
There was a lot of low screeching going on. Then the three new harpies appeared, walking towards them.
The first two were obviously middle aged. One had long hair, the other short. They were both tall and slender. The long-haired one wore her hair in cascading curls that somehow reminded him of the flowers. She, for it was obviously a she, also wore purple eyeshadow, which made her eyelids look heavy, and in her hair was a circlet with brass wings.
The male had a pale face, and wore his hair straight, and it fell in pointed ends. He too wore a circlet, this one with silver wings.
Then there was the youngest, and she was the most surprising. She had a pale, shy face. Her hair was short and curly, more blue than purple, and her eyes were sea green. Her eyes were wide, and her hands lightly clenched, one pressed to her mouth. She wore a circlet with gold wings.
There were three things, though, that set these new creatures apart from the other harpies. The first and least important was that their wings were feathered. The second that they had human feet, which were barefoot. The third was that they had human arms.
Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover art copyright © Anton Tokarev / DepositPhoto.com, and Christian Joudrey / Unsplash.com
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.