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 snapped a small twig between her fingers, then glanced over to where Nora was examining the leaves of a plant. They had gone into the forest to gather a full stock of herbs. Nora wanted to have plenty for treating Chris’s shoulder and any other wounds that might arise.
Terrin’s hands dropped to the hilt of her knife, which Arnold had bought for her from a trader. It was a simple, Yorc-style knife, well-balanced and sturdy. The handle went into the blade with no cross bar. Instead the handle got thinner at the center so her hand would not slide into the blade. Its leather grip shaped comfortably to her fingers. That very knife had cut Chris’s shoulder, and now their quest was delayed.
Their quest, what of it? All of the other three seemed bewitched by the idea of following that silly riddle.
She wondered if it wasn’t magic working on them. That would explain why she didn’t feel like they did about it. The forest people had a resistance to magic, one for which she was thankful.
Surely it was magic, and it was making her friends crazy. Chris tried to strangle Nora, and Nora apparently had a strange trust of harpies. And Arnold, who was supposed to be a defender of the people, acted like there was nothing wrong. If anything, he was being more like a clown than usual.
She felt a light touch on her shoulder and blinked, realizing that she had been staring at the broken twig in her hand for the last few minutes. She looked up to see Nora looking at her, a knowing expression in her eyes. Nora was intelligent and understanding, sometimes too much so.
“I’ve got enough of everything,” Nora said. “We can head back. And I think if we break camp tomorrow afternoon, Chris should be well enough for a half day of travel. Don’t you agree?”
Terrin nodded half-heartedly. Even though she distrusted this whole expedition, she had promised herself at the harpies’ lake that she would make sure they stayed safe, and that Chris didn’t make any stupid decisions.
Of course, she personally thought this entire quest was a stupid decision. How did they know they wouldn’t run into a dead end? Maybe the riddle had just been nonsense. But she had tried and failed to stop them, so she was stuck.
They trudged back towards the camp, Nora taking deep breaths and enjoying the fresh pine-scented air, made even fresher by the rain that had fallen late yesterday. Normally Terrin would have also been enjoying the air, but she found she couldn’t. It wasn’t the same as the forest around Xell, which was much thicker and boasted a richer variety of trees than these mountain evergreens.
Several minutes later, they entered their camp. They had moved into the forest two days ago, when they spotted the darker clouds moving in, so that there would be some shelter from the rain and wind.
Nora glanced at her. “I’ll tell Chris. I should check on him anyway. Can you pass on the news to Arnold? Thanks.”
Terrin groaned. “I wish you wouldn’t.”
“Thank you before you actually do it? Or be the one to tell Chris?”
“Both, but mostly the second. Even if he was asleep, he did try to strangle you.”
“Tried, Terrin, tried. He didn’t succeed, and it was an accident. I don’t see any reason to hold a grudge, and if I’m not, why should you? You don’t need to take care of me that much.”
Grumbling, Terrin headed off to find Arnold.
Arnold glanced at her as she approached. He patted the ground beside him and she sat down, accepting the harpy flower he offered. Terrin let the first bite melt away before she started to talk.
“Nora thinks we should head out tomorrow afternoon. I agree. We’ve wasted too much time, but south would be a much better direction. Arnold, you do realize that we won’t make it to Diamond Isles by the deadline, right? Not unless we get back on the main road and pick up the pace. And that’s assuming we aren’t attacked, or get sick, and the rains haven’t washed out the trail, or some other disaster.”
Arnold shrugged. “Chris knows, too. But I think he’s already made his choice. And we’re just following him, right.”
The last word was stated as a fact, not a question.
“You’re all bewitched,” she said, with an air that meant she didn’t want to continue the conversation.
She set to eating her flower as if it actually tasted good, and left as soon as she was done, without saying another word. She could feel Arnold’s eyes on her back.
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.