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.
When Chris had awoken after the flood, he found himself in a smaller cavern. Thomas had been lying nearby, and for a second Chris thought him dead. Then he saw the gentle rise of his chest. Looking around, he saw Marc, half in the river that flowed through the cave, half out.
He hurried to get the horse up, worrying that it might have broken a leg, but Marc was fine.
Unfortunately, his supplies had washed away, and Thomas’s bag was also missing. He turned to help the old man, who was unhurt, though a bit disgruntled.
Together, they walked over to investigate the stone.
As before at the harpy’s cave, Chris was able to read the carvings. This time, however, the stone’s words seemed meaningless:
“Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho.
Twiddle your thumbs and dance.
Winter winds freeze away.
And sun doth rain its golden heat.
And I will laugh all day with
Ho ho he he ha ha ho ho,
And I will laugh all day!”
Was the magic taunting him? He remembered painfully what Nora had said, that he would need the others because they might be able to figure out things that he couldn’t.
But he ignored that feeling. It was better that they went home, where they would be safe.
Thomas could neither read the stone nor interpret what the words might mean. They searched the walls and floor for more clues, but found nothing. The room was barren except for the stone.
After a short discussion, they exited through the other passage. It came to a dead end, but when Chris pushed at the stone blocking their way, it easily rolled aside. They stepped out into a clearing, where Thomas was surprised to find his horse tied up. He had been keeping his horse in this same clearing for months, during his visits to the mountain, but he’d never seen any hint of an opening.
They decided it was best to leave the passage open, in case they ever needed to come back.
They had ridden down the trail at a hard pace in order to reach Thomas’s cabin before it got too dark to safely traverse the mountain terrain.
Now Chris gazed out the one small window as he chewed on a chunk of bread, trying to decide how to phrase what he had to say. He knew now was the best time to tell Thomas. After all, he was still within his month, so Thomas couldn’t turn him in yet, and the longer he put it off, the harder it would be to explain.
He turned his eyes to the older man, who was watching him with interest. Chris took a deep breath and set down his bread. He leaned back and began.
“I need to tell you more about me. You see, I am — was — the honorable Christopher Fredrico, recently banished for suspected theft of one of the Shards.”
Thomas jerked a bit, setting his bowl of soup down on the table with a bang. He stared at Chris, and Chris gazed steadily back, but underneath the table his hands fidgeted.
Taking another deep breath, he continued. “I was heading to the coast when I encountered the first riddle, and I decided to follow it. That’s why I was in the cavern. I’m hoping that I can find something that will help me prove my innocence.”
Thomas thought for a moment, and then said slowly, “I can’t really complain. I’ve saved the lives of more dangerous people than you. But still, do you have any proof of your innocence?”
“If I had any solid proof, I wouldn’t be here. I just hope you’ll trust me. But if you won’t, then I’ll leave now.”
“Nonsense. It’s not safe to leave at night. The mountain is steep and full of dangers. Tell me more of your story.”
So Chris told Thomas everything that had happened since the night of the party: he spoke of his friends coming with him, of the riddles, of his dreams, and of leaving his friends behind.
When he finished he looked expectantly at the man.
Thomas tapped his chin. “I suppose, then, that I should tell you about myself. I grew up in Charlon, where I became a healer. Unfortunately the Healer’s Guild kicked me out after they decided I healed too impulsively, willing to help criminals even if I knew what they were. I returned to Charlon eight months ago, where I discovered I had recently inherited a large sum of money. I used some of that fund to move out here to these mountains. I’ve always been interested in history, and so I decided to indulge that hobby. I’ve been searching for the trail of King Miles since.”
“So you’re a natural healer,” Chris said. “That was my sister’s name for people who couldn’t resist using their gift, who would help people automatically, no matter who they were. That explains a lot. I was wondering why a healer would be out in the mountains, so far away from society.”
“And about you being banished — ” Thomas started again, but Chris cut him off quickly.
“Please, take your time to think about it,” he said. “I understand why you’d be reluctant to travel with me. In your place, I would probably refuse. But I promise you, I’m not the one who stole the Shard. Please, at least give me supplies enough to get to North Yorc.”
Thomas gave a short chuckle. “I’ll decide tomorrow. Now, we sleep.”
Lying awake that night, Chris laughed at himself. No sooner had he left one group of friends than he met another — at least, a potential friend. And here he was, all too willing to endanger this new acquaintance just so he could have company.
But Thomas surely wouldn’t go with him. He wasn’t blind to the dangers, and he knew Chris’s story in full.
Chris awoke the next morning from another of his dreams. He had seen five people riding downhill, into the rising sun.
What could that mean? he wondered.
Then Thomas patted his shoulder.
“Come. Have some bread, boy.”
As they ate, Thomas asked, “Where will we be heading now, Christopher? You said yourself that you didn’t understand the riddle.”
“Then you’ve decided to come with me?”
“Aye. There’s not much more for me here. I found what I’ve been looking for, and I can’t even read it. Might as well travel with you as anything else.”
“Please, call me Chris. I’ll be heading east. I had another dream last night where I saw a couple people going downhill into the rising sun. I think it may mean it’s time for me to leave the mountains. There’s no other hint as to what I should do, so I guess that’s my best choice.”
Thomas nodded slightly. “Suppose so. Not much to go on, but it’s something.”
Chris finished his breakfast in silence, thinking about the other dreams. The one with Duke Grith had seemed exceptionally vivid. It made him almost certain that the duke was up to something.
And when Chris remembered how Anthony had accused him of stealing the Shard, he couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps it was one of those two — or perhaps an associate — who had taken it. If the duke really was a magician, then it might have been easy for him.
Then there was the dream with Trill. He had almost forgotten her magical ability. As children, they had dismissed it as unimportant. When they’d grown older, Trill had been reluctant to tell anyone, so it had remained their secret. But Anthony knew. And if Anthony told Grith, how would the duke react?
He shook those thoughts from his head. Trill could take care of herself. He would worry about his twin after he proved his innocence.
For now, he had to focus on his quest. If these riddles and dreams were indeed magical, then no doubt the magic would find some way to show him what he needed to do.
Not the End …
The Riddled Stone is a four-book serial. The adventures of Chris and his friends continue in Hunted: The Riddled Stone, Book Two. Look for it at your favorite online bookstore.
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.