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.
Terrin had never seen a real harpy before, only the ones in books at school, though she had sometimes seen strange great birds in the distance when traveling from the forest to the city. They terrified her — so human-like, yet so inhuman.
She heard a moan beside her and saw that Arnold was stirring. She went to support him as he sat up. She couldn’t really tell him to lie back down, considering all that was going on. He deserved to see this, too, before they died.
Just as she got her arm around Arnold, she heard Nora cry out. At first, Terrin thought Nora was in pain or terrified. But when she turned her head to look, Nora was hugging the youngest of the new harpies. For a second she thought that the monster had used some foul magic to confuse Nora. Then she saw Nora’s expression. Nora was smiling, and so was the harpy.
The older harpies smiled as well, but the male said softly, “We understand, Andrea. But not now.”
Nora’s cry had been a cry of joy. As she broke away from the harpy, she spoke in a rush: “Andrea, please tell me what’s going on. Why did these other harpies capture us and hurt my friend so bad? Why are we here? Where is this? Is this the valley that you used to tell me about? It has been so long—”
Andrea held up her hand and said, “I’ll explain soon. But you must understand that this is of utmost importance, so it’s best you just watch and stay silent. Go back to your friends.
“Kao, you may leave your post.”
This last phrase had been directed at the harpy who guarded them. It knelt before the three and then went to join the others.
Nora returned and sat next to Terrin with a lighter expression than usual.
Terrin whispered, “But wait, I thought harpies could only screech? And Nora, why are you so friendly with that one?”
Nora suddenly scowled, and muttered back, “There’s obviously a lot not known about harpies. And it’s a long story. I’d rather not tell it right now.” Then she pulled her knees up to her chest and laid her chin on them to watch the proceedings.
Terrin shrank back in silence. In nearly four years, she had never seen that sort of anger from Nora. She felt Arnold flinch from it, too. A glance at Chris told her that he also was surprised.
The three strange harpies turned away from them and began to sing, swaying gently from side to side. The red light of sunset filled the valley, and the other harpies rose and flew to the walls. They bit their purple flowers off and carried them down, dropping them in a pile next to a small trench that Terrin hadn’t noticed. As the pile grew, the young harpies swooped down, picking up the flowers in their talons and squeezing them over the trench. It was hard to see, but a juice flowed out of the blossoms, filling the trench and overflowing into the lake.
After squeezing the flowers dry, the child harpies flew to the lake and dropped the pressed flowers onto the water. Meanwhile, the adults kept adding more and more flowers to the pile, and all this time, the three continued to sing. Andrea’s eyes seemed to glow. The red light gave their pale faces a strange, distant look.
Curiosity made Terrin glance at her companions’ faces, and she saw that they, too, glowed red and distant. She turned back to watch the ceremony, wondering if it was an effect of the light or some sort of hypnotic magic — hoping the former. She nibbled at the inside of her lip, shifted herself into a less comfortable position, and forced herself to stay alert.
The adult harpies had landed and were standing just beyond the trench. She realized that all the flowers had been picked, even the ones behind them. Finally, the lake was absolutely covered in flowers, and the trench held a large puddle of juice, though much more had run into the lake. The song ended, and the canyon felt eerily silent. The three singers approached the puddle. Each took a single mouthful of juice.
Then the other harpies did the same, one by one. As they left the trench, they walked around the edge of the lake and the three once again took up the strange song, and the normal harpies joined in. And this time, as they sang, they cried.
Now Terrin realized that their song was an altered version of an old forest song, one often sung at funerals. She hated it — it made her tremble and feel strange inside.
When the song was finished, she felt relieved. As the harpies all rose to the sky, a tiredness came over her. She fell onto the soft, feathery grass and couldn’t help falling asleep.
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.