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 spun ninety degrees, sidestepped, and slashed the air in front of him. Then he turned to Nora.
“Practice that move for a little while. Remember, hold your sword lightly, but make sure you can’t drop it. And tighten your grip just before you strike, and put force behind it. When you jab, twist and pull, and—”
“She knows, Arnold, and she’ll never get any practice done if you repeat yourself and make her stand around listening,” Terrin said from where she watched, sitting on the ground with her legs crossed.
Nora, who had been watching and listening to Arnold intently, giggled. She pulled out Arnold’s spare sword and made a shooing sign at him.
He sighed dramatically. “Oh, poor me! Everyone’s a critic.”
Terrin rolled her eyes at him and looked the other way.
They had decided to stay at the lake for a few days to let Chris’s injury heal. He said his shoulder was still sore, and it hurt to move his arm, but Nora had performed wonders after one short trip into the woods to pick herbs. She told them that she had an herbalist aunt with whom she had often stayed as a child, and so she’d learned many salves and mixtures. Arnold thought she had a natural talent, and if she ever finished her education, she should become a healer. Both he and Terrin knew some simple medicines, but she seemed to know a lot more.
Arnold headed off towards camp. He found Chris, grooming Marc with his left hand. He watched for a second, wondering what Chris could be thinking about as he mechanically performed his self-assigned task. Probably torturing himself over the episode with the dream. Even Nora had seemingly forgotten it after her cry — and considering it had been her attacker she was hugging while she cried, she had been over it even before that.
Why does Chris have to be like this? he wondered. And more importantly, what can I do to make him stop?
He watched silently as Chris rubbed his curry comb in circles across Marc’s back.
After a minute, Chris said, “I know you’re there.”
“How’s your arm feeling?”
“Better, but not up to the tiring work of making circles on a horse’s back, as you can see.”
“My right arm is never up to it. My sword teacher used to make me brush the horse with just one arm, to make me stronger. I got to where I could groom the whole horse without resting, and then he let me do whatever I wanted. Of course, it wasn’t that my arms didn’t feel like they were about to fall off, but I just learned the will to act as if they didn’t. Maybe that was what he wanted, after all.”
Chris ignored him.
Not the response that Arnold had been going for — a low laugh, even just a small grin would have been better. He walked around to lean against the other side of Marc and get a better looked at Chris’s face. It was stony still, and he could see the pain in his eyes.
Arnold tightened his face, doing his best to mimic Chris’s own look.
Chris blinked at him. “What are you doing?”
“Showing you what you look like. What else?” he said, attempting to copy Chris’s voice.
Chris raised his eyebrows. “I know that, I meant why are you doing it? You’re no good actor, nor have you ever been, nor will you ever be.”
Arnold gave up on the face. “You’re right, I am not a good actor. I’m a great actor!” He waved his hands in the air. “And do you see that source of water, called a lake despite being more a pool? Well—”
He stood on his toes and swung a punch at Chris’s head. Chris ducked. As Chris was straightening, Arnold set off running towards the lake.
About halfway there, he realized Chris wasn’t following. He stopped and spun on balls of his feet. Chris dropped the curry comb and picked up a brush, then continued to clean Marc. The horse, being used to their game, kept munching grass, not interested in the fact his master had been attacked.
Arnold frowned and plodded back to Chris. “Christopher Fredrico—”
Chris turned and said, “I’m not a Fredrico anymore.”
“Chris, don’t say that. We chose to come with you because to us, you are still a Fredrico. Never say you aren’t, or I’ll drag you to the lake and dunk you, and then I’ll give you a black eye. And after that I’ll feed you on bread and water.”
“Then you don’t think of me as a Fredrico. Because if I was, you wouldn’t treat me like that.”
“Of course I would, and so would Terrin. In fact, only Nora wouldn’t treat you that way, and that’s just because she’s too quiet and peaceful. I’d bet she wants to, sometimes.”
Chris looked around. The girls were nowhere in sight. “Arnold, you’re the best friend I have. So if you promise to keep it a secret, I’ll tell you something.”
“Fine, I’ll keep a secret this once,” Arnold said, pulling his best sad face.
Chris didn’t smile. “It’s that dream I was having when I nearly strangled Nora. It was different than normal dreams. And I had another one like it that had the same vivid feeling. I was on this ledge, leading Marc. It wasn’t the way I would have chosen to go, but I was taking it anyway. And, Arnold, if these dreams continue, if something like before happens—”
“Is that what’s worrying you? Chris, I trust you. Nora trusts you. You may be crazy, but we’re with you because you need us. Besides, they’ve probably already figured out that we’re with you and banished us, too.”
Chris turned back to brushing Marc.
Arnold furrowed his brow, deemed that for now it was a hopeless cause, and went to check on Nora.
But as he walked away, he heard Chris mutter, “That’s what I’m worried about.”
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.