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 came to the surface and gasped for breath. Marc watched him from the water’s edge, obviously restless.
After a short break on the pebbly beach, he had begun to explore the lake. First he swam out to the area around the dolphin statues, but he could discover nothing more about them up close. Now he was branching out a bit, looking for anything that might be hidden under the water. The lake was cold, and his arm hurt a lot, but he couldn’t help that. As long as it didn’t start bleeding, he would be fine.
This cave was the place the riddle had meant, of that he was positive. But the green light didn’t penetrate the water very well, which made seeing anything nearly impossible.
The shadowy half-darkness was starting to make him feel lonely, and he was worried about running out of food. He decided that if he didn’t find anything soon, he’d have to head north. The Yorc villages wouldn’t care whether he was banished, so he could stock up on supplies there. Now that he knew where to find the cave, he could easily come back for a more thorough search.
He dived again, and resurfaced, back at the dolphins.
That happened a lot. It was easy to lose his sense of direction in the cold deep.
He wondered how high up he was in the mountain. A cavern this size seemed like it would need to be fairly low. But the riddle had said high above the ground. Right?
He leaned his head against the statue. His memory had been getting more blurry the more he looked.
Then he heard the sound of footsteps from somewhere in the cave. He reacted quickly, swimming to the far side of the statues and staying low in the water, so that he could peek between the dolphins to watch the entrance.
He had not expected his friends to find the cave, hidden as it was by magic. Arnold might have remembered the dream and even found the ledge, but surely they wouldn’t have found the doorway.
Then, instead of his three friends, he saw a middle-aged man, slightly hunched, walk into the cavern carrying a lamp. As he entered the cave, he blew out the lamp and started around the lake, but stopped as soon as he saw Marc.
“Who’s there?” the man called. His voice sounded slightly rasping.
“A friend, I hope,” Chris called back, without showing himself. There was no telling why the man was here or how aggressive he might be.
“A friend for now,” the man agreed. “Come out of the water where I can see you.”
Chris let go of the statue and swam back to shore. He stood up and shook off the water, trying to appear like his arm was fine. No reason to let the stranger know he was wounded.
Now that he could see him better, Chris noticed the man was pale and had a willowy build. His hair looked brown, though the light made it hard to tell. At his belt was a knife, but he carried no other weapon. Besides his lamp, he had only a bag slung over his back. Nothing about him seemed too dangerous.
Still, Chris remained alert.
“I’ve never seen no one but myself here,” said the man. “Name’s Thomas. You?”
“Christopher. Do you come here often?”
“Often enough. You looking for the secret room?”
“Maybe. Do you know of one?”
Thomas shook his head.
“I know one exists, but I’ve never seen it. Tell me, son, why you looking for it?”
Chris wondered how much would be safe to tell.
“I followed a riddle I heard from a different place — and also some peculiar dreams I’ve been having lately — and it’s led me here. I’m not really sure what I’m looking for. Maybe just another riddle.”
Thomas’ eyes lit up a bit. “Yes, yes. I imagine we be searching for the very same thing, the lost trail of King Miles. Am I right?”
“I wonder if we shouldn’t look for it together.”
“We’ll see. Do you have any idea where this secret room might be?”
“I don’t. But I think I better do the searching, because it looks to me like your arm isn’t in the best shape.”
Chris looked over his shoulder and gasped. His wound had started bleeding again. Numb from the cold water, he hadn’t felt anything.
“Looks like a nasty cut,” the man said. “Let me help you with that.”
“You’re not going ask me how I got it?”
“I trained as a healer for a long time. It’s automatic for me to try and help people. But if you wish to tell me, that is your choice…”
“It’s not my favorite memory at the moment, so I’d rather not.”
“Wounds are rarely good memories, friend. Here, sit and let me tend you.”
Thomas made him sit quietly while he spread a green-gray salve over the cut, or perhaps the salve only appeared green-gray because of the lighting, and then wrapped a new bandage around the shoulder and upper back.
The way the man ordered him about while he was working reminded Chris of Nora, and he couldn’t help smiling a bit.
He missed his friends already, and he wondered if they would forgive him for leaving despite their wishes. How long would they try to find him before they gave up? Well, if the search here continued as it had been, they would probably be long gone before he found whatever he was looking for.
After Chris’s arm had been tended, the man started to wade into the water, towards the dolphins. Chris leaned back and watched him warily, resting with his back against the smooth wall.
The man’s arrival had surprised him. And now that Thomas had suggested they work together, he couldn’t really stop him. A companion would be nice.
Yet how would he react when he found out that Chris had been banished? He could probably keep it a secret for a while, but the man couldn’t have much food in that small bag of his. They would have to leave the cavern eventually, and then how would he explain that he needed to stay off the road and away from towns?
Thomas climbed up onto the dolphin statue and was holding something.
Chris opened his mouth to call out that he had already checked the statue, but before he could speak, he heard a rumbling.
Thomas fell back into the water, which began swirling wildly around the base of the statue.
He disappeared into the whirlpool.
Chris stood and dove into the water, completely disregarding his arm. He was a strong swimmer. Perhaps he could reach the man in time.
But the current was stronger, twisting him about until he found himself going feet first.
Behind him, he heard a whinny. He tried to call out to Marc, to tell him to get back, but the water cascaded over his face, filling his mouth. He forgot about the horse and focused on keeping his head above water.
For a second, he thought he would crash into the dolphins. He could see now that the statue stood on a pillar which reached all the way to the bottom of the lake.
Then the current swept him around the pillar and sucked him into a hole at its base.
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.