Banished Chapter Twenty-Nine

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 29

Christopher

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.”

Chris smiled.

“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.

Or click here to read an excerpt.


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-Eight

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 28

Terrin

Terrin flinched away from the cold, stony wall of the passage. This whole place was filled with magic, and the farther they went, the stronger it got. The others walked ahead of her, though the horses seemed a bit uneasy.

She stopped. There was a tremor in the magic, rushing towards them quickly. The green mist responded to it, all seeming to gather into a giant wave.

Nora and Arnold stopped, too. Though they couldn’t sense the magic very well, they could see the mist. The horses pulled back a bit, and Minty whinnied loudly.

Terrin moved closer to Leaf, running her hand along her neck as the mist engulfed them. The ground shook, and a few loose pebbles fell from the wall, and the sound drowned out everything else, but it was gone quickly. Nora coughed a bit. Other than that it did no harm except that when it passed, it left them with only the one torch that Arnold held. The green light was gone.

Terrin shuddered. She hated magic. Often as not, stand-alone magic meant spirits. She had encountered a spirit once, its cold clammy fingers wrapping around her arms — just a wisp, and yet solid. And that wail, a bone-chilling wail that no doubt was calling other spirits. She was sure it would have killed her, had her father not showed up and chased it away. Since then, she had been afraid of the airy beings and anything related to them, including magic.

Nora shrugged. “Let’s keep going. Who knows what that was caused by? It could be perfectly normal. And if it isn’t, and if Chris is in here, then he could be in trouble.”

Arnold led them deeper into the mountain. They crowded close to the glow of the torch, which seemed even dimmer now that the mist was gone.

Soon the tunnel opened out into a large cavern mostly filled by a huge, bowl-like depression. Occasional trickles of water ran down its sides towards a large pillar in its center, topped by a statue of two dolphins. A bit of the green mist clung to the ceiling, and the magic felt thicker than mud, yet somehow fragile.

Rich snorted and pulled back, then shook his head and tried to plunge forward into the bowl. Arnold held him steady and said, “Shhh, Rich, shhh. It’s okay. Quiet, boy.”

However, the other horses now started to prance to and fro, mostly trying to go into the bowl. Nora gave the slope a cursory glance and started carefully down, leading Minty.

“Hey, Nora. Are you sure that’s safe?” called Arnold.

She glanced back and shook her head, then continued on.

Terrin hesitated a second, then started after her.

“Come on, slowpoke,” she called back, grinning.

But she kept a careful eye on her footing, as the side was pretty steep. She let Leaf go on ahead, and the horse easily found the safest path, which she cautiously followed.

At the bottom, the horses went to the pillar and snorted, pawing the ground. When she caught up, Terrin saw a staircase going further down. It was dark down there, but at least there wasn’t any magic on the stairs.

“Why not?” she said, and started down, knowing that Nora would have done it if she hadn’t.

She was comforted by the clop-clop of the horses behind her. Their horses might be well-trained and trusting, but they wouldn’t endanger themselves. And this had all been their idea in the first place. Right?

The stair wound down, but the turns were gradual enough that the horses could make them. Terrin’s biggest worry was that the tunnel would get too tight. If they reached an impasse, it wouldn’t be easy getting the horses back out.

Still, she thought, we made it over that horrid ledge. How much worse could this be?

Then a breeze blew through, and she flinched.

That couldn’t be natural, she thought. We’re too far beneath the surface of the mountain for any wind to reach.

She swallowed, her throat tightening. But there was no sense in stopping here and letting the magic pin them in. She plunged down the last few steps. A small but swift-flowing stream blocked her path, coming from somewhere in the darkness to her left and disappearing again to the right.

As the others caught up, Arnold’s torch lit the area beyond the stream, and Terrin gasped. The passage opened up into a chamber the exact same size and shape as the one in the harpies’ valley. Even the stone in the middle was the same, carved and looking mysterious.

But there was no sign of Chris. Her shoulders slumped a bit with disappointment.

She waded into the stream. The current was stronger than she expected, but she held steady. They crossed without trouble and gathered around the carved stone.

Surely they were on the right track — the stone was obvious proof of that. This had to be the place Chris had been trying to find. But had he come here? And if so, where was he now?

She looked at the words carved on the stone but could make no sense of them.

She glanced at the others. “Can either of you…?”

“No,” they both answered, looking at the text.

Then she lightened up a bit, pointing to a rounded tunnel on the far side of the room. It, too, looked exactly like the passage in the harpies’ valley.

“Come on,” she said. “There’s not much point to staying here. He probably went through that tunnel.”

She could see a hint of light farther down the passage — and not the greenish magic light of the cavern above, but a dim yet cheerful reddish glow, like the reflection of a sunset.

The tunnel led them to a cluster of bushes, with several rocks scattered around. Squeezing through, they stepped out into a clearing with soft, green grass and trees. They were about midway up the mountain, and they could see the sun setting behind the mountains to their left. Below them, the valley they had been camping in was deep in shadow.

To their right, a path weaved down the eastern side of the mountain. Terrin walked toward the path and saw hoof prints in the dirt.

“I’d say we’re on the right track,” she called to her friends. “It’s strange, though. There’s a pair of horses.”

Nora cocked her head. “Does that mean he picked up another traveling companion? Where?”

Arnold smiled. “Well, when we catch up, we can scold him for being over-protective of his friends and then picking up random strangers. How recent are these tracks?”

“Earlier today, I think.”

“Then we’ll catch up in no time.”

“But I suppose,” said Nora, “that we ought to make camp here and wait till morning to get started.”

The others reluctantly nodded.


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-Seven

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 27

Christopher

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 suppose.”

“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.


Read Chapter Twenty-Eight…

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-Six

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 26

Arnold

Arnold clambered carefully over the rocks. After a short debate, he had convinced the girls that the hoof print in the mud was too obvious. He was sure Chris had not gone into the cave they had been planning to investigate, and Terrin couldn’t find any tracks headed down the mountain, so they agreed to try the slope with the waterfall.

The path was rocky and jumbled. They didn’t expect to be able to follow Chris’s trail, but if they moved fast enough, they might be able to catch up with him.

They had been in constant travel since lunch. He hadn’t thought the horses would be able to make the climb, especially with the persistent patches of mist that hung in the valley despite the afternoon sun shining down, but Nora had found a narrow, switch-back trail to the top of the waterfall.

Now she was several yards ahead of him, following the small stream that gurgled down a narrow valley between high cliffs, easily finding the best footing where the horses were safe to go. Her boots were made of strong, flexible leather that protected her feet from the sharp rocks, and her loose pants could be tucked in, with the boots tightened around them.

The next time I decide to go hiking in the mountains, he thought, I’ll stop in North Yorc first and get some proper gear.

Rich balked at the rough footing, and Arnold pulled gently on the reins, clucking encouragement. Placing his hoofs with caution, the horse came along. Minty followed, tied to the other horse’s saddle with a loose rope.

Terrin brought up the rear, trudging along, sour and gloomy. Arnold knew that she hated the mountains. Though they had their own kind of amazing beauty, she would always feel much happier in the thick, green forests of Xell than in the thin, pine woods of the mountain. He wondered if that wasn’t the main source of her uneasy mood.

He picked his way around a patch of loose gravel, not trusting it to stay put under his feet. Then he noticed a break in the cliff to his left, and he paused.

The break opened into a passage from which a narrow ledge wound around the outer side of the mountain, with an abrupt drop to the forest valley below. The whole thing was only a yard wide, barely room for a horse to walk safely. But it reminded him sharply of something.

Chris’s dream — he had mentioned a ledge like this, and that he’d seen someone going along it. Knowing how he had been obsessed with riddles and dreams lately, no doubt he would investigate. It didn’t look like the ledge went anywhere, but perhaps Chris had found something.

“Nora, come back here,” Arnold called. “I want you to see this.”

She turned and headed back down.

By the time she arrived, Terrin was standing by Arnold with a puzzled look on her face.

“Why are we stopping here?” Terrin asked.

Nora went past them to pat Minty’s neck while she waited to hear Arnold’s answer.

He gestured at the ledge. “The other day Chris told me he had a dream that he was going along a ledge just like this. I think we should check it out.”

Nora contemplated it for a second.

“True. But it looks dangerous for the horses. Let me try it alone first. Then if there’s anything to see, we can all go.”

He nodded, but Terrin was more cautious. “Are you sure? There’s no proof that this is actually the stream he was following in his dream.”

Nora shrugged. “It can’t hurt to look it over. Besides, mountains can hold all sorts of secrets. If you’re not used to them, then you’ll probably never find them. And if you don’t look, you definitely won’t.”

So Arnold left the horses with Terrin. He followed Nora to where the ledge opened out on the side of the mountain, then watched as she edged along, pressing herself against the cliff.

She reached the end of the rock wall. Arnold half expected her to turn and disappear around a corner, but instead, she stood there with her hands on the rock, making small movements that made no sense.

Then there was a scraping noise, and Nora disappeared for a minute, and part of the stone wall shifted out. After a couple of minutes, she reappeared and started back along the ledge with a big grin on her face.


Read Chapter Twenty-Seven…

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-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.


Read Chapter Twenty-Six…

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.


Read Chapter Twenty-Five…

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.