She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.
As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.
So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.
What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?
Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.
Terrin exhaled sharply, creating a hissing sound. Nora looked up. Terrin jerked at Chris’s sleeve and nodded to a clump of bushes several islands away.
And to the skinny girl that was crouched there.
The girl didn’t seem to mind being seen. She stared back. A frown was etched in her face, and — though Nora couldn’t be sure — she thought that the girl’s eyes were focused on Terrin.
“Hello, there,” Chris called.
The girl glanced at him, then disappeared with a swish of her hair.
They sat in silence for a while. Nora, at least, felt slightly in shock.
“Good to know we’re not being watched, or anything,” said Arnold.
Terrin and Chris shook their heads.
“No, this is good,” he said. “It’s swamp custom for visitors to be watched. Unless they decide we’re a threat, they shouldn’t harm us. And if they decide to trust us, they might even guide us to where we need to go.”
And where’s that? Nora wondered.
“Oh. Then what could go wrong?” Arnold said lightly, though his smile was weak. “There’s obviously nothing threatening about us.”
* * *
The tuft of brown grass squished under Nora’s feet. She winced as one foot slid forward several inches beyond where she intended to step. The ground had been getting steadily wetter since they entered the swamp. The trees around them had, at first, been mostly on dry ground, but now each trunk sank a few feet under water.
Why would someone want to live here? The trees looked stunning in the half-light created by their canopies, but every step made her feel like she might sink into the murky waters.
“I’m never going to get these boots cleaned,” muttered Arnold behind her. Then louder, “Chris, if we don’t find this next riddle or whatever here, you’re buying me new boots—”
“—In fact, I think you should buy me new boots anyway.”
“Nonsense.” Terrin shook her head. “Cleaning them will build character. After all, a knight should always clean his own boots, no matter how hard it is. Unless he has a squire, of course.”
“Drat. I knew I should have accepted that crazy kid’s offer.”
“Maybe you should have,” she responded. “He would have at least matched you in brain power.”
Nora laughed, nearly losing her balance as her foot splashed into cold water instead of mud. Knights were not permitted to have a squire in their first year, or until they had earned their own coat of arms. Arnold had been made a knight barely two weeks before Chris was banished, and he certainly didn’t have arms. For someone to have asked to be his squire — Nora had to hold still for a bit to let the laughter pass.
They trudged up a hill that rose out of the water like a small isle. Nora paused to enjoy the firmer ground. Arnold and Terrin slogged past, but Thomas stopped to talk with her.
“You know, swamps might be muddy, but there are many herbs that don’t grow anywhere else in North Raec. Like moon’s-honey.”
“What’s that?” Nora asked, smiling.
Thomas enjoyed sharing information in a way that would have made him a great teacher, and she had an equal interest in learning.
“For one thing, it does wonders for burns, but mostly it cures magical wounds.”
“Yes, it increases one’s resistance to magic. Of course, it can’t undo what the magic has already done, but it keeps it from worsening. I’ve never actually had need of it, magicians being so rare any more. But one can never be too prepared — especially healers.
“The flower’s easy enough to recognize. Its petals are white. Normally it’s closed up in a bulb, but under moonlight they spread out.” He illustrated with his hands. “Thus the name.”
“How do you use it?”
“That depends on the type of magic. For a physical injury or burn, you use the leaves to make a paste, which you then apply to the wound. It sucks the magic right out. Normally one coat will do the job, but if it doesn’t, then you apply a new coat once an hour.”
“However, there are spells that affect one’s mind. For those, you have to find the flower in moonlight and collect its pollen. Fix it as tea, and it’ll cure most any magical ailment. It’s a rare herb, though, quite hard to gather, and there’s also the danger that if overused it will cause sickness, even resulting in death. And if a magician were to drink it … well, it’s quite possible they’d lose use of their magic.”
“Permanently?” asked Nora, frowning.
“I don’t know for sure,” he said, thoughtfully tapping his chin. “The pollen absorbs magic, so I think once the pollen had moved through the system, the magic could return in time. There are a couple of herbs that might speed the process. However, I’m afraid it’s quite untested.”
“Then how do you tell for sure if your patient needs the pollen? And what if they don’t know whether they are magicians?” pressed Nora.
“That is the interesting, and hard to answer, question. Since, outside of magicians, people can only sense magic that is either very powerful, or used on themselves, it is largely left to the patient’s discretion. But there are a few signs, such as…”
The conversation continued for several minutes. Then the ground thinned out, and they had to walk single file.
It wasn’t till Nora nearly slipped again that she realized how effectively the lesson had distracted her from her displeasure with the swamp. Too bad it couldn’t have continued.
* * *
As the light began to fade, they set up camp on the biggest isle they could find. Even so, there was not much room to lay out their bedding. Bushes were rampant on any isle that could support them. This also meant that Arnold couldn’t practice swordplay. He’d been working with Nora daily for a month, and though marching through the swamp was definitely exercise, it was not nearly as satisfying.
Just as well he had the first watch. He felt wide awake. Knowing that someone was spying on them didn’t help, either.
Then Nora settled beside him, lowering herself carefully to the ground.
“Not tired?” he asked.
“Something like that,” she said. She pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, and stifled a yawn. “But more like so tired I can’t sleep. Never thought I’d experience that.”
“I know that feeling,” he said.
“As I recall, you and Chris used to get into quite a bit of trouble when you had that feeling,” said Nora.
When they were children, Chris had requested that he and Arnold stay in the school dormitories. While there, Arnold had taken him, and occasionally Terrin, on many night escapades, often to the kitchen. Eventually, the earl grew fed up with their behavior and had them return to his manor.
This was surely what Nora was referring to, but he faked a hurt expression — though in the dusky light he wasn’t sure it had any effect — and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m sure you don’t.”
“Besides, most of that happened before you got to school, so how would you even know?”
“Well, I’m pretty sure that counts as a confession. But Terrin told me all sorts of stories of your ‘adventures.’”
They sat in silence for a while, and Arnold wondered if she’d fallen asleep.
Then there was a loud creak.
They both jumped, and their eyes searched the swamp. But the sound did not repeat.
Nora drew her legs tighter, her face looking nearly as pale as the swamp girl’s in the poor light. For the next hour or so that she sat with him, she did not yawn again.
To be continued…
Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via 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.