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.
Arnold stepped forward and slashed to his right. Nora danced out of the way, spinning to bring a blow down on his back. He twisted, bringing his wooden sword up to block hers, and then bounced his sword off to point at her throat.
Nora ducked before the tip of his sword reached her, then sprang up almost as soon as she was down, pushing the flat of her sword against his.
He slid to her left, but she angled her sword up so that if he had continued, his sword would have been too high for any good. So he quickly sidestepped the other way, and his blade darted in and pressed lightly against the side of her neck.
“You’re better at this than I would have thought,” he said.
“Thanks,” she said. “I used to practice with my brother quite a bit. But still, I didn’t last long enough to mean much, and you were going easy on me, weren’t you?”
“What did you expect me to do in a friendly training match? If I had done my best, you wouldn’t have had time to strike.”
Chris walked up and slung his arm across Arnold’s shoulders, saying, “Yeah, right. You couldn’t hurt a flea.”
Nora laughed as Arnold shoved him off, and then she handed Chris her wooden sword.
“If he’s that bad, you should be able to handle him.”
Chris tried to refuse, but Arnold cheered him on, and soon they were dueling. Nora picked up a light short sword from the ground. It was Arnold’s extra, which he had let her borrow. She started to practice different blows, building arm muscle and speed as Arnold had shown her, though she was careful to stay well out of the boys’ way.
It had been Chris’s idea for them to whittle out a couple of wooden swords so that Nora could learn, and she couldn’t say she disagreed. Arnold had been working on them in the evenings at the first lake, but had only just finished the day before.
After a couple days’ travel, they had reached a small and shallow lake, and Chris had decided they’d camp there a few nights, and dry out whatever they could before the rain began again.
She stopped her practice when Terrin appeared through the trees, holding up a pair of rabbits. Quickly, she sheathed the sword and ran to prep a pot with water. She cut up some roots while Terrin chatted with the boys and skinned the rabbits she’d caught. They were a nice size, though not the fattest.
Soon the stew was simmering, and Nora sat with Chris near the fire.
“Where do we go next?” she asked.
He glanced around the lake. Two other streams flowed into it in addition to the one they had followed. One came crashing down as a waterfall from a steep slope. The other flowed out of a high cave and meandered steadily down the side of the valley until it met the lake. At the far side of the lake, the river flowed on towards the forest below.
Chris pointed to the gentler stream. “Looks like that one will be the easiest to follow, and there’s a cave. We’re pretty sure the riddle was referring to a cave, so we’ll try that way first. If it’s a dead end, then we’ll come back and try the steeper one. But I’m not sure if the horses will be able to make the climb.”
“Why do I have a feeling I’d be the one left behind to take care of them? Just remember, I grew up in the north, near mountains. I’m good at climbing, and cold doesn’t get to me.”
“But someone has to stay with the horses.”
“And so you leave me behind because you think it’s the best way to protect me?”
He grinned and shoved at her shoulder a bit. “When did you get to know me so well?”
“About three years ago, when you appeared before me as a wide open book.”
“What do you mean a wide open book? It took you three months to figure out I was the earl’s son, and that was only because I told you.”
“Yeah,” she said, “but that was because you were using all your power to keep the school quiet, you dictator.”
“Well, as dictator, I decree that you are very unruly subjects who don’t act at all like you’re under a dictatorship.”
“Hey, I didn’t say you were still a dictator.” She shoved at him and added, “Though even if I thought you were, I wouldn’t say it.”
“Eh, I miss the you I first met,” he said. “You were so shy then. Now you’re the one who acts like a dictator.”
“The cook’s the dictator in his or her own kitchen. Currently my kitchen has no walls, so I’m apparently dictator of the whole outdoors. And with great power comes the great responsibility to check on the stew.”
“Never heard that one,” he said. He stood up and bowed, motioning toward the fire. “By all means, check away.”
She chuckled and went to stir the pot.
But he was right, she knew him well. And Nora knew that he was the type to treat his friends over-protectively. If he thought that following this trail was going put any of them in too much danger, he wouldn’t hesitate to leave them behind.
She would have to keep an eye on that.
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.