Banished Chapter Twenty-Five

Banished

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.


PART THREE

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 25

Nora

When Nora woke up, the first thing she noticed was the silence. The second thing was the light gray fog dampening her blanket. The third was that it was already mid-morning, and Terrin had not woken her.

Terrin was supposed to have the last watch, but now it was long past the time for all four of them to be up and about. A quick glance at Terrin told her that the other girl was still asleep.

Nora sat up and looked around.

Arnold was asleep, and Chris was gone — only this time Marc was also missing.

“Shoot. He did it,” said Nora loudly.

Arnold snorted and muttered something.

Terrin sat up straight as a post. It took her only a couple seconds to grasp the situation. “Arnold, why didn’t you wake me for my watch?”

Arnold grumbled, slowly pushing himself up with his left arm, and rubbing his eyes with the right. The only bit Nora caught was, “Chris… watch.”

Nora whirled. “Chris is not watching or being watched by anything. Chris is gone.”

Arnold twisted and fell back onto his stomach.

Terrin kicked off her blanket easily and was on her feet in a second. She walked over to where Chris had slept.

“The idiot!” she said. “How does he think he can get by on his own?”

Nora turned away and knelt by her bag, roughly pushing her belongings in. She was glad she had packed it part way the night before.

She heard Arnold say, “This is my fault. I shouldn’t have let him take my spot.”

“It’s not your fault,” Terrin said. “He’s the one who did it. And by the way, I thought you were a knight. Surely you have to be better at getting out of bed than this?”

Nora finished her own bag and moved on to Arnold’s.

Arnold said, “Hey — ” but Terrin cut him off. “Nora, why are you packing Arnold’s stuff?”

“Well, you two were taking so long that I figured it would be quicker if I did it.”

Arnold once again made a sound of protest and snatched his bag away. For a second, his bottom lip puckered in a sulky expression as he shoved his belongings in, but his expression quickly changed to a grim frown.

Terrin humphed loudly. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t just go home. It’s what Chris wanted us to do. And he left us — he deserves whatever trouble he gets for it.”

Arnold glared at her. “Harpies aren’t the only dangers out here, even if they’re usually the worst. Not to mention he has a bad arm. And most of all, he’s our friend. You’ve known him nearly as long as I have. You should know that we can’t leave him. The fact that you’d even think of it — ”

Terrin whirled, her mouth open, and brow furrowed. Arnold instantly silenced and looked away, no doubt preparing himself for an angry torrent of words. But before Terrin could begin her rant, Nora heard something scrambling in the rocks. She turned to stare into the gray fog.

“What’s that?”

She started walking towards the sound. A second later, Terrin passed her with long, quick strides and disappeared into the bushes. Nora saw something go over a ridge on the mountainside.

“Just an old rabbit,” Terrin said from where she was crouching. “Maybe it accidentally slipped down here, plenty of loose stones on the mountainside. Caused a shower of them trying to get away from us.”

“Well, you are kind of scary when you’re in a mood,” came Arnold’s voice from behind Nora. Terrin twisted and Nora got out of the way as she stormed back towards Arnold, who ducked, holding his bag up as if it were a shield.

Terrin’s face twisted between a glare and a smile. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll come with you. I’m not going let all three of you run off and get in trouble.”

“Sometimes I don’t know how we put up with her crazy notions and moods,” said Arnold, looking after her, half serious.

“Arnold, you are the one person I know who can really put up with anyone,” Nora said.

“Naw, you can put up with anyone. It’s just that you’re shy. I bet if we put you in a room of maniacs, you would just sit quietly in a corner and read, if you had a book. And you’d be real nice if anyone tried to talk to you. Me, I would probably end up knocking them all out, or maybe killing someone. And who knows what Terrin would do.”

Nora rolled her eyes, and went to bury the ashes of the camp fire.


To be continued….

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.

Banished Chapter Twenty-Four

Banished

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.


PART THREE

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 24

Christopher

Chris stared at the empty, swirling mist. The path ended here, dropping off into a cliff that, but for the fog, would have given him a fine view of the forest far below. He turned and looked back along the narrow ledge they had been following. It would be impossible for Marc, who was trailing faithfully along behind his master, to turn around. And it would be difficult to walk the horse backwards without one of them falling to his death.

The mist had moved in on their camp the evening before, and he had thought it would dissipate when the sun rose. But it was now late morning, and the fog’s cold, slimy arms still dampened his clothes and spirits. It had been so thick that he almost missed the ledge from his dream.

He had risen at around midnight last night. Arnold had been on guard at the time, and he convinced his good friend to go to sleep. After fifteen minutes, when he could hear rumbling snores, he quickly packed his bags and strapped them onto Marc, whom he signaled to remain silent. He placed a light horse print into the mud near the cave that they had planned to explore in the morning. Then he headed around the lake and followed the other stream back up the mountain, until he came to the base of the steep waterfall.

He hoped the others would finally take his advice and go home.

Chris had to wait for the morning light before attempting the climb. Then it had taken longer than he had hoped to find a safe path for Marc, but they finally reached the top of the waterfall. From the steepness of the mountain in his dream, he had guessed this would lead to the ledge he needed to find. Now he wondered if it had all been a mistake, for he could see no way to continue.

“Or, the dream was simply a trick to lead us to our deaths,” he said, glancing back at his horse. Marc twitched one ear in a way that reminded him of a raised eyebrow.

Terrin was right, he was going crazy.

Still, if he wasn’t supposed to be on this quest, why would he have been able to read the stone? So that was encouraging, because if he was meant to be doing this, then the riddle must lead somewhere.

Unless, maybe, his craziness had already begun by the time they entered the harpies’ cave. Maybe the whole thing had simply been his imagination.

Chris bowed his head and leaned sideways against the wall.

Then he blinked. Was there a thin crack in the side of the cliff? He touched it, tracing the indentation with his finger. As he looked at the rock face, he could see that the crack went from his hand down to the path at his feet. He took a half step back and followed it with his eyes. It went up above his head and then turned along the direction they had been going and went on nearly to the edge, where it disappeared.

He looked at Marc and laughed — a dry laugh, not of humor but despair.

“I’m even so crazy that I thought a crack might lead to something,” he said, leaning back against the wall. “Oh, Marc. What are we going to do?”

Then the world seemed to shift, causing his insides to twist in protest. It felt like the whole mountain was moving. His first thought was that he must be dreaming after all. Didn’t his dreams always end with falling? And that would explain the persistent mist. All his dreams had been made of mist.

Marc let out a whinny as he nodded his head, pawing nervously at the ground. Chris reached out to steady himself. Instead of the flat face of rock he had expected, he found a ridge. He grabbed it and pulled himself straight. As he did, the handhold became easier to grip. And as he took a quarter step back, he found that a wedge of rock had twisted around, protruding onto the path and exposing a dark hole.

Marc snorted, dancing backwards and forwards, not wanting the leave his master but startled by the moving rock. Chris, who was on the wrong side of the rock wedge, edged carefully around to Marc’s side.

He rubbed his horse’s forehead and muttered softly, “Look at that, boy. The crack actually was important.”

He fumbled in the pack behind his saddle and pulled out a torch. Lighting it, he gave a tweeting whistle as a signal that Marc should continue following him and headed into the cave. It quickly widened out, so he left Marc to wait and went back to push the rock slab shut.

He had not forgotten that he had told Arnold about his ledge dream. If his friends tried to follow him, he didn’t want them to find a gaping entryway.

The rock slid slowly into place, sending up small dust clouds. There was a slight trench, so that it could only be opened one way, and when it was shut, the cracks were barely visible from outside. Satisfied, he returned to Marc.

As they continued into the cave, his torch became less and less necessary. There was a strange, pale, green light. He wasn’t sure where it came from, and he found it rather spooky — but at the same time, it seemed lovely and peaceful. It was a place where, if you stood still, you could practically hear the silence.

They must have walked along the twisting passage for at least a half hour, possibly longer. By the time they reached a large chamber, he couldn’t guess how high up or low down the place was. The smooth roundness of the chamber reminded him strongly of the cave where the harpies lived, but it was obvious that nothing had lived here for ages.

The walls of the chamber were tall, and its roof shrouded in mist. This mist, however, was green and glowed. At first glance, he thought it some type of moss or fungi, or even some sort of green bug. He was sure that either the mist or something hiding in the mist was casting the light. The glow was so bright here that it might well have been light coming into a thick forest on a sunny day — only greener, green enough to make everything appear a varying shade of green.

A large lake took up most of the room. In the middle of the lake was a shadowy stone statue of two dolphins dancing in a circle, nose to nose and tail to tail. He knew at once that the statue was ancient, though he wasn’t sure how he could tell. The dolphins didn’t appear worn down by time. They looked well made, and of some unfamiliar material.

Around the lake was an amazingly uniform shore, about three yards wide, covered with something pebbly — rocks or small shells, in the green light it was hard to tell. It made a crunching sound as he walked. As for the torch, its orange light mixing with the green only made it harder for him to figure out anything’s true color.

Marc whinnied, loud and shrill, a sound that echoed through the cave. Then he clomped away from Chris, around the lake. Chris hurried after him and then walked next to the horse’s head.

“Well, boy, this is it. Maybe Terrin was right to be cautious. There’s so much magic here that I can’t imagine anyone missing it. And when I compare it to how I’ve been feeling since the harpies, maybe even since I left home, I’m sure it’s magic that lured me here.

“So, either I’ve fallen into a trap, or I’ve been right, that this is important. Say, fellow, do you by any chance know what is so important about all this? Hmm, as if you could tell me.”

They stopped about a quarter of the way around the lake. Chris doused his torch in the lake and put it back into his pack. He pulled out one of the last harpy flowers, snapping it between his teeth. He ate half and offered the rest to Marc, then gave them both a drink from his water skin.

Then he sat down on the pebbly shore. He wondered what time it was, and what he should do next, and how hard it would be to find whatever he was looking for.

He repeated the riddle to himself:

“Where walkers cannot tread and seekers lose,
Beneath the surface, and yet high above,
Death stalks.
The path is simple, yet will it be found?
Until the hidden are retrieved,
You cannot be free.”

This place fit the second line, beneath the surface and yet high in the mountains. And he was sure he couldn’t walk on the lake, so that sort of fit, too. But if he was the seeker, what would he lose? Could leaving his friends behind count as losing them?

More important, who was Death stalking, and how could he protect them? And what hidden thing did he need to retrieve? The stolen Shard, or something else?

Well, he thought, the magic has led me this far. I suppose it knows what it’s doing.


To be continued….

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.

Banished Chapter Twenty-Three

Banished

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.


PART THREE

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 23

Christopher, 14 years earlier

Chris wandered the cool stony halls, glad that the knighting ceremonies had finally ended and that his father had allowed him to leave. Of course, there was still dancing going on. Everyone was in the ballroom, leaving the halls empty, dark, and refreshingly peaceful. He still wore his party finery, and he pulled his brown woolen cape closer, wishing it had a clasp so he didn’t have to hold it.

As he approached a small balcony he heard voices.

“Do you promise to serve me with your life, bound as my servant?”

“I do.”

“Then be bound.”

There was a flash of red light.

Chris stopped, intrigued by the flash of light. He thought the first, deeper voice had been Duke Grith, his father’s friend who had come for the knighting ceremony. The second voice, though rather empty and barely recognizable, belonged to his eldest brother.

He had never heard Anthony sound like that before. Was his brother getting sick?

He looked around the corner. Anthony stood like a statue, staring blankly at the duke. The duke reached forward and touched Anthony’s brow, then quickly pulled his hand away as Anthony twitched and then let out a deep breath.

“What was that?” Anthony asked, swaying a bit.

“Just a check that we weren’t being spied on. I’m sorry, but it does sometimes have a fogging effect on people. Still, it proved useful.” The duke turned towards Chris with an intense scowl on his face. “Come here, boy.”

Chris back away fearfully, but the duke was quicker and grabbed him by his arm. Chris cried out, but it was quickly silenced as the duke touched his brow, and he found he couldn’t move.

The duke turned back towards Anthony, who gaped at his younger brother.

“What did you do to him, my lord?”

“I just wiped his memory. I don’t want him to tell anyone of this meeting. Don’t worry, he won’t be harmed by it. At least, not now. The memory might eventually return to him, but I doubt it, especially at this age.”

“But, but, but that would mean you were—?”

“Yes, I am a magician of some great power. Very few know, and I would like to keep it that way.”

“Of course, my lord.”

“Good. Now, you please me, Anthony. You’re ambitious, and, if I’m not mistaken, willing to do some rather — shall we say — unorthodox things to fulfill that ambition. I would like to think that you will be a very handy asset.”

“What do you mean, my lord? What is it you’d require of me?”

“Oh, I cannot tell you the full extent. Who knows what the future may bring? But I would find it rather handy for you to be well connected. And at the end of it all, it is possible that I’d be in a good position to make you — if you served me well — duke in my place.”

“But what of Eric, my lord? Surely you would want your son to be the duke after you.”

“Ah, but I plan something much greater than a dukedom for him.”

“You mean… Do you plan treason?”

“Let us hope it does not come to such harsh words as that. But tell me, are you willing?”

Anthony’s face twisted, and he glanced at Chris. And suddenly Chris felt fear for his brother’s life. Then Anthony turned back to the duke.

“I am willing, my lord.”

“Good answer.”


Read Chapter Twenty-Four…

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.

Banished Chapter Twenty-Two

Banished

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 22

Trillory

Boring. The Dukedom of Grith was completely boring. Perhaps if she could escape the duke’s manor house and explore the city of Charlon, she might find something of interest, but she was sick of parties and fancy dresses. She had been perfectly happy at home with only the occasional feast and with plenty of time to run and play.

The duke had hosted a party every week so far. There were plenty of courtiers, and everyone insisted on dressing so finely that even her best gown — a pale pink color with a darker pink pattern of flowers, and a blue silk underskirt that matched her eyes — looked childish next to the other nobles. Clothes seemed of utmost importance here.

Lady Joline, who almost always stayed with Duke Grith during her visits from Diamond Isles, had immediately set to ordering some fine cloth, which she then cut into the latest fashion and was now helping the ever-reluctant Trill sew it into a lovely gown of a bright green, which the lady said would make her eyes stand out, and add a trim of deep red accents.

After Chris had departed, Anthony had convinced their father that the dukedom would be the best place for her.

“It is high time that the poor dear is exposed to courtly society and learns to make her way in the world,” he said. “She’s become too much of a boy under her wild excuse for a brother, and the influence of ladies would surely do her well. Indeed, that is partly why I came here, though I knew not how bad Christopher really was.”

Perhaps Anthony was right in saying that Trill enjoyed acting like a boy, but she saw no problem in that — in fact, she found it much preferable to the ‘influence of ladies.’ But her father had a weakness for Anthony, and so here she was, gazing out the window on a perfectly sunny day into a lovely green garden.

And from here she saw the messenger arrive, riding a majestic black stallion. Across the rump of the animal was a white cloth with the messenger’s coat of arms, a snake swallowing a sword hilt first and holding a feather in its tail.

Her brother was out near the garden gate and met the man as he came through. Anthony stepped quickly to the messenger’s side, and they talked for a minute before walking towards the castle.

Trill watched with interest, for she could clearly see the worried expression on both men’s faces.

She stood quickly and turned to Joline, who sat nearby, adding a golden embroidery of peacocks to the new gown.

“Joline, I do feel ever so bored in here,” she said. “And while I know it would be nice to have the new gown finished before the night of the next dance, I simply cannot bear sitting still for another minute. Couldn’t we take a walk down to the hall, at least?”

Joline looked up and then smiled brightly. Normally, Trill preferred to sit in her room away from the hustle and bustle, and the lady no doubt thought her desire to visit the hall represented great progress. She set down her work and said in her sweet voice, “Of course, Trillory. Come on, now. That dress will do for simply visiting the hall. My, after we’re done with your ball gown—”

Trill followed Joline quietly, only replying when necessary. They reached the hall quickly, and she was glad to see that the messenger was not there yet. She started up a conversation with one of Joline’s many friends, while watching the door out of the corner of her eye.

She had but a minute’s wait, then Anthony entered with the messenger beside him. The whole hall quieted at the sight of the messenger’s arms, embroidered brightly on his sleeves.

The two walked halfway up the hall. Anthony bowed deeply, and the messenger knelt. Next to her, she sensed Joline stiffen, and she was sure that she saw a gleam in the lady’s eyes, for a second. Then Joline regained control of her expression, and the clueless look returned.

Duke Grith was a handsome man in his late fifties. He was tall, had short neat black hair and eyes nearly as dark. He wore a gold suit with a silver robe over it. On his head was a thin silver circlet, and he wore a silver ring on his finger with a ruby in it.

The duke stood. “Rise, Sir Anthony, come to my side. Rise, Messenger, and tell me what news you bring and from whom.”

This all sounded very grand, but Trill wished he would skip the formalities. She thought it very well that her father never bothered with this proper stuff.

Anthony walked quickly to his lord’s side. There he stood, very tall and proud looking. It was no secret that he was one of Grith’s favorites.

The messenger stood and began his tale. “From the king I come, bearing ill tidings. A messenger arrived three weeks ago at the king’s court, bearing news that the South grows weary, and that their merchants seem restless.

“This alone worried my lord, but three days past, Crown Prince Tyler was out on a hunt and discovered the remains of a North Raecan caravan. Their carts were stripped clean and all valuables taken, the rest burned. At least ten North Raecans were found dead. There was an eleventh of the dead, thoroughly burned, but not thoroughly enough. The prince found on him a piece of cloth emblazoned with the Southern arms.

“From this we have concluded that South Raec has attacked one of our caravans. It appears that the Southern merchants knew the attack was coming. We think it would be wise to prepare for war, though the king seeks your opinion. Also, we ask that you make sure that no Southern merchants leave your lands until the matter is settled.”

The duke turned to the courtiers. “Quickly, you heard him. We have long been expecting South Raec to rise against us again. Ride now to your homes, and to all the villages within our district, and there imprison any Southern merchants. Give them comforts, but do not allow them to leave.

“Anthony, go to the captain of the guard and give him orders to shut the gates. No merchants or commoners are to leave the city until all the South Raecan merchants have been secured.

“Messenger, pray stay and rest tonight, return to the king tomorrow. Tell him that I positively agree. We cannot delay. We must prepare for war.”


Read Chapter Twenty-Three…

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.

Banished Chapter Twenty-One

Banished

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 21

Terrin

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.

Terrin sighed.

“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.


Read Chapter Twenty-Two…

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.

Banished Chapter Twenty

Banished

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.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 20

Arnold

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.”


Read Chapter Twenty-One…

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.

Book 1 of 100: Cal Newport’s “How to Become a Straight-A Student”

Book 1: How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal NewportIn preparation for the coming semester, I started the year off by reading Cal Newport’s How to Become a Straight-A Student, a book about earning good grades while still having free time, and not pulling all-nighters. The tips he gives are pulled from the techniques of himself and other students, who he interviewed via questionnaire, who managed to do just that.

To sum up the theme of the book: “Plan ahead and don’t procrastinate.”

The book is broken into three sections, the first being on how to plan your day and avoid procrastination. The second section is specifically on how to schedule your study sessions in order to prepare for tests, and the third breaks down how to write papers. Each section ends with an example story to illustrate the method.

Now, I haven’t had the time to really test any of the techniques, but they make sense on paper, though he might lean towards optimistic time estimates.

Newport tended to hammer home the point that everyone he got quotes from were straight-A students. It felt like at least eighty percent of the time when he quoted someone, he would say they were a straight-A student, which felt excessive when he’d already stated that he only questioned straight-A students.

I wish he had added a few chapters on variations to the plans he laid out. I don’t how much he tested the various students’ plans, or if he just tried to pull out the common threads from their answers to his questionnaire. Either way I feel like it would have been interesting to see plans besides his, and seems like it would have only needed an extra chapter per section.

But as it is, the book is kept as a short, easy read, and I would recommend it to anyone in or soon to be in college, who is looking for a way to improve their grade. Whether they use any or all of the plans, the book is at least proof that it is possible to avoid last minute cramming.