The Riddled Stone

Hunted Chapter Fifteen

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 15

Terrin

The wraith turned away from Chris, and Terrin pulled back another arrow. Even as the beast charged, she forced herself to take a second to breathe. Focus. Release. The arrow struck just above the wraith’s right eye.

The creature pulled up short, throwing its head back. Rising on its hind legs, it howled.

Terrin quickly nocked another arrow. This time, she struck just where the beast’s leg met its body.

The wraith quickly flattened itself, then hissed as the movement drove the arrow in deeper. She heard the shaft snap and began to nock a fourth arrow. Yellow eyes glared at her for a moment, then the beast turned and ran, staggering each time it landed on the wounded leg.

Smiling, Terrin turned her bow to where two more wraiths were circling an older man.

“Hey!” she shouted.

Both wraiths spun toward the sound, and she released her arrow. The point only nipped her target’s ear, but the beast stepped away from the man, hissing.

And bounded towards Terrin, stretching up to full height as it did so.

Christopher

Chris watched as Terrin released another arrow, which struck the hard scales and deflected. Then he heard Thomas give a small cry. He turned and saw the older man still in battle with one of the monsters. Bright red scratches streaked his arm.

Chris jumped up and ran towards him, looping out of reach of the beast’s tail. He came in from the side and struck its flank. The blow was too weak to break the armored skin, but the wraith turned to face this new attacker.

Thomas darted forward, slashing at the side of its head. The creature pulled back, hissing, tilting its head from one man to the other. Then, as Chris stepped forward to strike again, it turned and fled.

Chris couldn’t help giving a long sigh of relief.

What about Terrin? He turned, raising his sword for one more fight.

She had circled around the third wraith and crouched only a couple feet from the cliff’s edge. She slipped her bow around her quiver without looking away from the charging beast.

Chris froze. He would never get there in time.

Then Terrin moved. Just as the wraith took its final leap, she dove sideways, rolling smoothly and bouncing back to her feet. The wraith landed and slid, scrambling for purchase. Then it went over the edge. Its scream fell away into silence. Terrin stood and stepped back to the cliff, looking down after it.

Chris let out another sigh, and moistened his lips. Then he knelt to clean his sword before sheathing it.

When he stood, he saw Terrin still standing at the cliff’s edge. She was swaying slightly, as if in a trance. She shivered, and then she put out one arm as if to catch something.

“Uhm,” said Thomas softly from behind him. “That doesn’t look like a good idea.”

“Terrin?” Chris called.

As soon as he spoke, it was as if something snapped. She spun around to face him, all traces of the trance gone.

Terrin

Chris was staring at her, and Terrin couldn’t help glaring back. She hated the tingly chill of magic, and she was slightly in shock — not from the fight, but that she’d just reenacted her dream. She could still feel prickles from the four spirits below.

She glanced around the clearing. The old man was also staring at her. A dented pot lay several yards from the dying fire.

“Where’s the other wraith?” she asked, throwing off the last effects of the spirits’ magic.

“Gone.” Chris waved his hand vaguely toward the forest. “Are you okay? Why are you here?”

Terrin’s lips quirked into an almost-smile.

“Apparently I’m here to save your life. But don’t suppose I expect any thanks.”

“Er, thank you, Miss, uh, Terrin?” said the older man, glancing between Terrin and Chris.

Terrin almost laughed at his confusion.

Almost.

“But why were you here in the first place?” Chris said, frowning. “You’re not supposed to be here.”

“You are so…” Terrin pulled in a deep breath.

Then she crossed the clearing in a few long steps. As she took the final step she pivoted on the ball of her left foot, tightened her right hand into a fist, and struck Chris hard across the jaw.

He stumbled back automatically, raising his hand to rub the spot, and winced.

Terrin stood there breathing heavily for a second, until Chris met her gaze.

Then she finished her sentence.

“…frustrating! Entirely and completely frustrating. And irrational, and stupid and—”

He dropped his gaze.

“—bratty and childish and, and, and—”

“I’m sorry, Terrin,” he said.

Terrin glared at him for a moment longer, but her mind had suddenly gone blank on insults. So instead, she hugged him as tightly as she could.


To be continued…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Fourteen

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 14

Nora

“How are you feeling today?” Nora asked as she entered the healer’s hut.

Arnold had shifted himself to be sitting up in the hammock, leaning into the wall. His left forearm lay across his lap, the stump wrapped in white linen.

“Fine,” he said. “Am I allowed to get up yet?”

“Patience, sir knight! Let’s take a look.”

She set down her bowl of water and reached for his arm. Gently she unwrapped the outer cloth and pulled at the dressing, sponging it with water where it stuck. Arnold watched her, clearly trying to look nonchalant. He had slept through the last time she checked his wound, so this would be the first time he saw his stump.

“We need to soften the dressing, so it won’t pull at your skin,” she explained.

The more he knows, she thought, the less helpless he will feel.

“You might as well pay attention, so you can tend to this yourself. I don’t plan on being your servant.”

Arnold gave a short laugh, but his jaw clenched.

Nora tugged again at the dressing, and this time it came off cleanly. The skin looked bruised but not inflamed. Good. She picked up a new cloth and dipped it in the water.

“Don’t scrub hard when you wash. Rub gently, to clean and stimulate the skin. And check for drainage, redness, or new swelling.”

She put a clean dressing on and wrapped the outer cloth around, pulling it snug to reduce swelling.

“You need to tuck in the ends to hold it in place, like so.” She pulled the cloth back off and held it out. “Would you like to try?”

He reached over and fumbled with the cloth, then dropped his hand in frustration.

“My fingers are too thick for such work.”

“No, but it does take practice.” She fastened the wrap again. “You’ll learn. How is the pain?”

“I can handle it.”

She smelled the sticky-sweet tang of a healing brew. Koresh came into the room, tea mug in hand.

“Of course you can handle it,” he said. “But do not be stupid. Untreated pain will only lengthen the healing process. Here, drink.”

Arnold scowled at the cup.

“Will it make me sleep? I’d rather have the pain.”

“He wants to walk around,” Nora explained.

The healer nodded.

“Surgery strains the entire body system,” he said. “But no one ever listens until they feel it for themselves. One-half hour only, and stay with him.”

He handed her the tea and left.

Nora turned back to Arnold and placed her free hand on her hip.

“So,” she said, “if I let you get up, do you promise not to run off and search for Terrin?”

The day before, when he had woken up after the operation and heard that Terrin was gone, Arnold had been worried she was pulling a Chris and abandoning them.

He snorted. “As if I would even know how. I never had to take tracking classes. Besides, Terrin can take care of herself.”

“Then, sure. Drink this first, and you can walk. Just don’t put any pressure on your wound.”

“Finally!” he said, swinging his legs to the side of the hammock. He stumbled a bit, but Nora grabbed his right arm and helped him get his balance.

“That hanging cot will be the death of me,” he said, “with all its bouncing about. Do you know how hard it was just to sit up in it?”

He reached for the cup and drained it, grimacing at the taste.

Nora pulled back the doorway to let him escape into the sunshine.


To be continued…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Thirteen

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 13

Christopher

Great. How had he forgotten that there was a waterfall here? Was there even supposed to be a waterfall here? Chris shut his eyes trying to remember back to geography lessons. But all he could see, or rather hear, was a little voice saying, Terrin would know.

He glared inwardly at himself. Terrin was exactly where she should be — on her way home, away from danger.

Besides, of course the waterfall was supposed to be here. It wasn’t like someone could magically move a river this big, just to block his way. Still, he was beginning to wonder if Nora had been right when she said all four of them would be needed for this quest. He had not had another dream since just after finding the second riddle, and the riddle itself made no sense to either him or Thomas.

It’s too late now, he thought. I’ll just make the best of it.

“We’ll rest here for a while,” he said. “Then we can head upstream to find a ford.”

“Very well,” Thomas said, and they both dismounted. “I’d say it’s about lunch time, wouldn’t you?” he added as he bent to hobble his horse.

Chris glanced at the sun. “A bit past, by the time it’s prepared. And this is as good a place to stop as any.”

“Best we hurry then. I’ll fetch the firewood.”

Chris stared across the river. The water shone as it rushed along towards the drop, and he imagined the fall must look beautiful from down below. Fetching their water skins, he knelt to fill them while Thomas gathered wood for a fire.

“I’ll make a stew,” Chris called over his shoulder.

Cooking wasn’t a talent of his, but the old man had decided he should learn. He cleared a spot for the fire and set up the pot holder Thomas had brought with him. He pulled some jerky from his saddlebag and began to cut it into bite-size chunks.

Thomas dropped an armful of wood and came to look over his shoulder.

“Looks tasty,” Thomas said. “I saw a bit of a pool upstream. Should be able to get some cattail roots. Not quite potatoes, but they’ll do.”

Chris nodded without looking up.

Ha, he thought. Here he was: banished, traveling off-road, avoiding towns, knowing that anyone he met could hand him over to be locked away or worse. Yet he had time to be schooled in the ways of cooking. That would have made Arnold laugh.

He turned his attention to starting the fire.

The stew had just started to simmer when he heard a low growl and looked around. Thomas stood at the edge of the clearing, his feet covered in mud and his arms filled with roots. He was staring west, the way they’d come, where something moved in the undergrowth just inside the forest.

Three somethings.

Chris gasped as the beasts crept into the light, crouching low in the long grass, the tips of their thick tails twitching back and forth. Yellow, cat-like eyes caught the light, almost glowing against the black skin.

“Wraiths,” he said, remembering the name from his time at school.

The middle one paused, drawing in a long breath. Then it let out a growl.

Slowly reaching down to grab the sword at his waist, Chris stared back at the creatures and swallowed. He wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of stabbing through those scales.

The middle wraith seemed to be the leader. It glanced at Thomas for a moment, and then turned back to Chris, once again pulling in a long breath.

Then it leaped.

As the beast sailed through the air, front legs stretched out to show long, curving claws, Chris dived away from the fire. The wraith landed where he had been. It snarled and turned towards him, showing its sharp white teeth.

Chris’s sword had landed beneath him when he fell. Before he could free it, the wraith lunged at him, claws lashing towards his face.

Thomas charged into the wraith with his shoulder, knocking it off balance, buying Chris enough time to get to his feet. But little more, for a second wraith was racing towards them.

Chris tugged his sword from where it had stuck in the ground and spun to face this new attack. The creature was almost on him, and as he turned, his sword hit it across the nose. It barely made a scratch, but the wraith pulled up short, shaking its head.

He struck again, this time aiming for the eye, but the beast ducked surprisingly flat to the ground and then lunged forward. Chris dodged left and swung his sword at its neck. The sword bounced off the hard scales, and in return the beast’s tail whipped around and struck him in the side, knocking him back to the ground.

His side throbbed as he scrambled to a crouch, turning towards the wraith. The wraith was standing over him, its paw posed to strike. The claws were clearly visible, as was a thin webbing between the toes. Chris struck quickly, cutting at the webbing.

The wraith pulled back and hissed, and Chris rose to his feet, striking again across the nose with all the force he could muster. It backed away, stumbling and shaking its head, spraying drops of blood.

Scanning the clearing quickly, Chris spotted Thomas in battle with both of the other wraiths, showing amazing nimbleness. But he was being pushed back toward the river, and Chris could see a bad scratch on his cheek.

Then one of the wraiths stumbled into the fire, and as it flailed in pain, its tail struck the stew pot, sending it flying towards Chris.

He dodged away from the scalding liquid and found himself once again face to face with the wounded wraith. It snapped at him, and he stepped backward. It swung its claws and again he moved back. When the beast lunged again, he jumped to the right, but he had forgotten the flailing tail, which caught his legs and knocked him sprawling to the ground.

Momentarily stunned, he lay gasping on the ground, unable to lift his head more than a few inches. A clawed paw pressed against his right shoulder, pinning him down. Pain shot through his arm, and he was sure his old cut had reopened. He could feel the wraith’s breath as it sniffed at his left ear. He jerked his left arm back and felt his elbow connect with the beast’s great head. The weight of the wraith’s paw lightened just enough for Chris to drag himself free.

As he slid, he twisted back and struck his fist against the beast’s jaw. It reared its head, hissing. Chris scrabbled backward. The beast shook its head, but the dazed look passed quickly. Its muscles tensed to lunge again.

And then an arrow struck the soft, loose skin that Chris supposed was part of its ear.

The wraith made a loud sound, something between a hiss and a howl. Its head whipped around to face the new attacker, and Chris couldn’t help following its gaze.

And choked.


To be continued…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Twelve

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 12

Terrin

Standing at the edge of a cliff, Terrin stared down on green trees that faded into the distance, so thick that you could hardly tell they were leaves and not grass. From up here, it didn’t look too spooky, but she knew this was the very edge of the Dark Forest.

To her right, a river rushed over the cliff and crashed down into a small clearing, but the sound seemed dull, muffled by a steady, buzzing hum. Below, a stream from the waterfall’s base flowed away into the trees.

Beside it lay a black body, cruelly twisted.

She was locked to the spot not by fascination with the body, but by the strange prickling sensation along her back. She had felt that cold tingle before.

Magic.

Four spirits moved out from the trees, pale figures gliding towards the carcass. They formed a half circle around it. Then they looked up at her.

Even from this distance, she could tell they were smiling.

Terrin put her arm out, trying to reach something to steady herself against, but found nothing.

She couldn’t tear her eyes away, and though there were no words in the strange humming, she knew they were calling to her. They were pulling her forward, closer to the edge.

She felt her body sway forward.

Her mind screamed.

* * *

“Terrin. Terrin?”

An insistent voice pulled her away from the cliffs and out of the dream. She woke to a headache and sore neck.

“It’s morning,” said Nora. She moved past Terrin, set a shallow wooden bowl on the small table, and then turned to Arnold’s side. Slowly she started to pull back the bandages, her every move filled with intent. “Good to see you both got some sleep.”

Terrin blinked, pushing away the dream — ineffectively — and rubbing at her temples.

“Not sure that was really sleep.”

Using her hands she popped her neck, and then moved to rolling her shoulders. The dream was still vivid behind her eyelids, but the movement seemed to help.

Nora pulled the last of the bandages away, dropped them across Arnold, and turned to the bowl. Terrin watched with minor interest as Nora pulled a half-submerged cloth from the thick liquid.

Sighing, Terrin stood and walked across the room, swinging her arm up as high as she could into the air. She paused in front of the door and concentrated on stretching. As she finished getting out her kinks, she turned back towards Nora.

The Yorc girl was holding Arnold’s arm in one hand, and the washcloth in another, but she stood stiffly, her eyes locked on the wound.

“Nora?” Terrin asked, quickly stepping back to Nora’s side. “What’s wrong?”

Nora shook her head with quick short jerks, then turned her head to look at Terrin.

“I think it’s infected.”

Terrin arched her neck to see the wound clearly over Nora’s shoulder, and immediately wished she hadn’t. Though the light was dim, she could see the heavy bruising around torn skin that opened to red, live flesh. Bile rose in her throat.

The cloth at the door rustled as Healer Koresh stepped into the medicine hut. Terrin backed away from the hammock to give him room. She felt the wall behind her and leaned against it, glad for the support.

Arnold flinched as the healer took his hand and ran a finger over the skin. Koresh lifted Arnold’s other hand off the bed and held it next to the wounded one, turning them to examine all sides.

Nora put a hand on Arnold’s forehead. “You have a bit of fever,” she said. “Your body is trying to fight the infection.”

“There is definite swelling here,” Koresh said. “We are fortunate, however, in that the redness has not spread far above the wrist.”

He bent over, holding Arnold’s hand near his nose.

Nora watched him, frowning.

He straightened up, met her gaze, and nodded.

“We have two options,” he said. “We could remove his hand now, and lose the minimal amount.”

Terrin squeezed her eyes shut.

“Or we could try to clean out the infection,” Koresh continued, “but risk losing more of the arm. In my own opin—”

“Do it now,” said Arnold, and even without seeing him, Terrin could tell there was fire in his eyes.

She turned and stumbled outside, but she couldn’t bear to go far. Clutching the doorway with one hand, she pressed her head against the wall of the medicine hut. The rough wood scraped her cheek.

“As I was saying,” continued the healer, obviously annoyed, “it is my opinion that, since our medicines have failed to stop the infection from setting in, we can hardly expect them to remove it. I understand that this might be hard to acce—”

This time, Nora interrupted him. “Okay, let’s get it over with. I’ll tie off his arm. Where is your bone saw?”

Terrin almost smiled as she imagined the healer’s frozen face. After all, it was one thing for an eighteen-year-old girl to have healing knowledge, quite another for her to be willing without hesitation to cut off her friend’s hand.

Then her stomach flipped.

What would happen now?

What if the operation went badly?

Or—

No, she thought. Just assume it will go well, and concentrate on the practicalities.

But those thoughts were no more encouraging: Once Arnold lost his hand, who knew when he’d be able to travel? How much could he do without a left hand? He was trained as a warrior, but how would he hold a shield?

Dyani came around the hut and took in the situation at a glance. She took Terrin’s arm and pulled her away.

“Come on, you should eat breakfast,” she said softly. “They will be busy, and you would be in their way.”

Terrin walked in a daze to Dyani’s cottage. She stared out the window while the forest woman fixed her a plate of steaming eggs and sliced venison and poured them both a cup of cool water. Her thoughts kept turning to what was happening to Arnold. Every time, her imagination pictured something worse.

“Arnold is obviously important to you,” Dyani said.

“He was my first friend among the plainsmen.”

“I see.”

Terrin met Dyani’s eyes and saw her concern.

The older woman reached across to pat Terrin’s hand. “Koresh knows his craft. He will take care of the boy.”

They sat in silence. Dyani sipped her drink while Terrin picked at the food.

“Koresh’s sleeping draught is strong,” Dyani said. “Arnold will sleep for several hours after they are done. You need to distract yourself. Maybe you should hunt, or—”

Terrin’s dream popped to mind, and she straightened up.

“I’m going to the cliff — the one by the Dark Forest.”

Dyani cocked her head. “I thought you hated it up there?”

“I’ve been having dreams about it, that’s all. I just … I have to go see. And it’s not like I’m needed here.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of visiting your parents. But if you feel this is important—”

“Will you tell the others where I’ve gone?” Terrin asked.

Dyani’s eyebrows rose, but she gave a slow nod. “Very well.”

Terrin shoveled the last bite of eggs down her throat and took a long drink of water. The thought of going near the Dark Forest, and the spirits who lived within, sent shivers down her spine. But the idea of investigating her dream gave her a sense of purpose, and she clung to that.

As she reached the door, she paused and turned to look back at Dyani. “Don’t mention the part about the dreams. Please.”

“Worried that they’ll think you’re insane?” Dyani smiled. “I will merely say that you felt inclined.”

Terrin returned the smile, but didn’t voice the thought that immediately crossed her mind: No, I’m not worried about what they will think. I’m worried because I think I’m insane.


Read chapter thirteen…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Eleven

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 11

Trillory

The chorus of farewells filled the air, and the carriages started pulling away. Trill wished she was in one of them. She’d sent a letter to Father asking that she might go home, as many of the nobles were doing. Her father had refused. Of course, he was trying to do what was best for her. The duke’s manor had once been a castle, and it could still be defended if the war came to them. And her older brother Anthony, as one of Duke Grith’s knights, was staying here in Charlon, though the duke himself was still with the king.

Trillory frowned. Anthony was Father’s favorite, but he had a cruel streak, and she always did her best to avoid him. That would be harder than ever, now.

Lady Joline waved from the carriage window, finally on her way to join the duke in Coricstead. She had complained about having to wait for instructions from the Isles. As an ambassador, it was her job to be in the middle of things, and she worried that by the time she reached the capital, all the interesting stuff would be done and over with.

Joline was sure that if the Diamond Isles took sides in the coming war, it would join with North Raec, but Trill thought they would keep themselves out of the fray.

If there was a fray to join.

Which Trill hoped there wasn’t.

The last carriage went through the gate and disappeared into the streets. Now the castle really did seem empty. Only the duke’s knights remained, and a few of the ladies like Trill.

Perhaps finally there won’t be a ball, thought Trill wryly, as she walked away from the courtyard.

She entered the garden. She’d rather be there than in the stuffy castle, quiet as it would finally be. She wished she had some clippers so that she could trim the small hedge maze. It would be nice to do some work she could really appreciate.

There was a cough from behind her, and she turned around to face Eric.

“Sir Eric!” she said, dropping a quick curtsy.

“Honestly,” he said, “if I am to call you Trill, then you should drop the sir.”

She smiled. “Just Eric then.”

“No, Eric. No ‘Just’ about it.”

Trill was confused. Had it been Arnold, she would have known it was a joke, but it was hard to tell with Eric.

Eric waited for a second, then sighed.

“Never mind. Shall we walk?” He gestured broadly to the whole garden. “I find if one stares at a single patch of flowers too long, one begins to see every little flaw. And I would hate for you to see all the flaws of our garden. Especially when you already think less of it than your own.”

Trill resisted shrugging. She was sure Eric was trying to put a lighter mood on things, but she couldn’t decide how best to respond.

“I suppose you’re too late for that,” she said. “I was already thinking of trimming your hedges. But we can walk.”

He grinned. “Then I had best distract you. Our gardener takes a lot of pride in his hedges.”

He offered his arm. She accepted it, allowing him to lead her away from the maze. She watched his face out of the corner of her eye. She couldn’t help wondering why he kept going out of his way to talk to her. Perhaps he was just trying to be friendly. After all, when he was duke, he would want good relations with the other noble families.

They walked in silence for a minute.

Then he spoke again. “I should apologize.”

“Whatever for?”

Trill stared at him, struggling to keep her mouth from falling open. She tried to think of something he should apologize for.

“For being so forceful about you leaving the north wing. I had my reasons, but they weren’t enough to excuse my rudeness.”

Trill considered this for a second. She agreed that he had seemed rather insistent. But she hadn’t really thought of it as needing an apology. But he had offered one, so she nodded.

“Apology accepted.”

Again there was a minute of silence.

Then he continued. “I’m also sorry I didn’t seek you out earlier. I knew that I’d have to befriend you at some point, but I waited. And I’m sorry I did. I mean, what kind of duke am I to be, if I won’t save a damsel from torture.”

Trill arched an eyebrow. “You consider it torture to go without having met you?”

“No, I consider it torture to be Lady Joline’s constant companion.”

“You almost sound like you speak from experience.”

“I do.” He winced.

Trill couldn’t help laughing a bit at his expression. He laughed, too, and something about him looked relieved.

“Well,” Trill continued, “she is gone now. Though I feel sorry for the queen and her ladies.”

He nodded.

Trill had not realized how long it took to walk around the entire garden, though she had seen all but the maze from a bird’s-eye view. But she was beginning to see that Eric was a bit like Chris or Arnold, a potential friend. She had expected him to be more serious, bordering on angry, like Anthony.

Now that the laugh had put her at ease, she needed to clear the air.

“But we shouldn’t make fun of Joline, you know. She can be a prattle, but she has good intentions.”

Though as she said this, she couldn’t help remembering that momentary gleam in Joline’s eyes the day the king’s messenger arrived. The woman had almost looked excited — but no, that was just her overactive imagination.

Eric nodded solemnly.

They walked for a while in silence, coming back around to the start of the path.

“Perhaps we should go in,” she said. She was beginning to feel tense again.

“As you please,” he answered. “By the way, I was thinking of organizing a small hunt. Nothing big, mostly a reason to ride around the countryside.”

“I should like that, if you have a horse you can lend me. I’m afraid I left mine at home.”

“I’m sure we can find one to suit you. Would you like to look at the options?”

Trillory’s stomach twinged, and she glanced up at the sun, surprised at how much time had passed. “Perhaps after lunch.”

Eric glanced up as well, and then nodded.

“Yes, after lunch would be good.” He smiled. “Well then, I look forward to it, Trill.”


Read chapter twelve…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Ten

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 10

Brayden

“This is the chance to prove you are not a total klutz. Don’t waste it.” The words of his tutor rang through Brayden’s head.

He had realized about four years ago that Mason really did want the best for him, but sometimes that fact was hard to remember. And, of course, what Mason thought was best, and what Brayden thought was best, were often two very different things. Now, though, they were agreed. Brayden had a chance not only to prove himself, but also to prevent a war. This trip could save lives and keep the peace his father and grandfather had worked so hard for.

When the king had announced that he would not be sending his eldest, but instead his youngest, to speak with the South Raecan king, Brayden had been ecstatic. He wasn’t sure what had led his father to that decision, though Duke Grith had been the only noble who’d seemed at all pleased by the situation.

Outside a carriage awaited to carry him to the river where a ship would take him post-haste to South Raec.

Where the ambassador would no doubt order — unofficially, of course — that Brayden remain unobtrusive for the entirety of his stay.

Not that I care, Brayden told himself, tossing a simple white shirt into his bag.

He grinned. Had Mason been present he’d have scolded Brayden for not calling a servant to do ‘such a menial task.’ That was definitely a place where they disagreed — how much he should do for himself, and how much he should have servants do.

He quickly scanned his room for anything else he might need. Then he hoisted the bag onto his shoulders and walked out into the hall.

Where he nearly collided with Tyler.

Both the princes quickly moved back — Tyler with a single long step, whereas Brayden hopped back quickly, banging his elbow against the door frame. He gripped his elbow, grinding his teeth.

Tyler took a short breath and started talking as if nothing had happened. “Are you sure this is wise? If the South Raecans are planning to attack us—”

“Then they will not want to be rushed into it by killing me or the ambassador. It would be nigh impossible to keep news of that sort from getting back here.”

“But they will want to be pushed into a treaty even less. If they were to break a newly-signed treaty, then even their closest allies would be reluctant to offer friendship.”

“Neither will they dare to kill me in cold blood. If they are trying to start a war, they will either declare it openly or send me back without agreeing to anything.”

“Brayden—”

“Tyler, please. I want to do this. It’s what is best.”

“It’s what you think is best, but if you die…”

“Which I won’t. Unless, of course, I catch some sort of exotic disease.” Brayden tilted his head, letting his eyes glaze over, and considered this for a moment before continuing. “I suppose that is possible, since Colyth does quite a bit of trading. Do you think I’ll have much time to—”

“It’s not funny.” Tyler’s brow creased, and his hands gripped the edge of his shirt, rumpling the cloth.

“Tyler, please. If war breaks out, many will die. At most, I’m risking my freedom. And if I have a chance to stop a war, I don’t mind risking that. If my trip turns out for naught, if the Raecs fight anyway, and … and Father dies—”

Brayden swallowed and started down the hall.

“I’m done arguing,” he said. “Everyone is probably thinking I’ve fallen down the stairs and am out cold. I know you care, but this is good for me.”

Tyler shook his head and followed.

“I want peace as much as you,” Tyler said, “but this isn’t the only way. Probably not even the best way — You’re only sixteen, Brayden. Don’t act like you know what’s best.” His voice was rising.

Brayden ignored him.

Tyler followed behind, but before he could come up with another argument, they were interrupted. Earl Diard Fredrico rose from one of the small benches placed sporadically around the castle. As soon as he was up, he bowed deeply, and Brayden nearly missed seeing the paper he held.

The two princes bowed their heads in return. Then Tyler spoke. “Earl Fredrico, how nice to see you.”

Brayden repeated a similar greeting.

“I had not expected the honor of meeting both of you, my lords,” said Diard. “I, uh…” He glanced at the elder prince, then carried on. “I merely wished to wish you good luck on your journey, Prince Brayden.”

“Thank you,” Brayden said, smiling at the Earl.

“I know I shouldn’t ask, but the current ambassador is one of my sons. And I was wondering if you could pass along my greetings?”

Brayden realized the Earl had intended to ask this favor privately, not in front of the crown prince. And the boy couldn’t help but notice him fidget with the paper.

“Of course. I’d be glad to deliver that and any other message you might have for him.”

“I do happen to have a letter. I had meant to send it on the next mail carrier, but if you’d be willing … I happen to have it right here.”

Beside Brayden, Tyler gave a slight twitch. Brayden sent a quick glance at his older brother out of the corner of his eye, and was not surprised to find him smiling.

“Of course, Earl Diard,” Brayden said. He accepted the letter with a formal nod. “Would you honor us with your company down to the courtyard?”

Of course the Earl could not refuse, and the three set off again. Now there was silence except for the tap, tap of Brayden’s boots against the stone floor. The others wore soft leather shoes that made barely any noise.


Read chapter eleven…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Nine

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 9

Trillory

Trill silently slipped out of the dining hall into the garden and away from the music of the party. She’d never been one for dancing, and this had become her usual retreat. She had thought the near-nightly socializing would end when the duke left last week, but Eric seemed determined to continue the tradition. Many of the remaining courtiers, including Joline, were to depart the next morning, for home or for the capital. But tonight they were all enjoying the party.

The last hints of sunset lingered over the town, evidence of the approaching summer. But the lamps in the garden were already lit, and some of the flames sparkled on the small pond. Trill had always enjoyed water, the smooth way it flowed, the crystal sounds, the way a rainstorm could change from calm to vicious and then fade away. Even the air seemed fresher around water.

Someone tapped her shoulder, and Trill spun to face the intruder. She was surprised to see Eric.

She dropped a curtsy.

He bowed his head. “Would you join me in the next dance?”

“Will it make you stop sneaking up on me?” She grinned.

Eric laughed. “Maybe you should pay more attention to your surroundings. But I suppose that I could make an extra effort.”

He extended his arm, and she took it.

As they entered the room and waited for the music to start, she realized how short she was next to him. She was tall for a woman, matching Chris in height, but Eric was nearly a head taller.

“I feel like I know everyone here but you,” he said. “We’ve talked, what, twice? The first day that you joined us, and then this afternoon.”

“I suppose I’m used to the country life. There have been so many people to meet since I arrived, sometimes it seems overwhelming.”

“It’s hard to believe you didn’t get through meeting everyone in the first week, with Joline as your guide. Though I do hear that you are a bit of a loner.”

The music started, and she let him lead her into the dance. “I’m just not used to all the people and their gossiping. At my father’s court, there was rarely anyone but family, servants, and a few soldiers.”

“I hear your mother has been very ill.”

Trill raised an eyebrow. “Surely Anthony has kept the duke informed of our mother’s health.”

“Sorry,” he said.

Trill immediately regretted her tartness, and they danced in silence for several minutes.

She nibbled the edge of her lip, then spoke. “Mother has been ill for a while, now. We have one of the best healers constantly at her side, and Father hopes that one day she might recover. But she has little strength. I’m afraid I don’t expect much change.”

“And how did she react to the news of her youngest’s actions?”

“We thought it best not to tell her.” Trill tried to control the sudden chill in her voice and hoped he would not pursue the subject of Chris.

“Surely she’ll notice his absence?”

Of course not, she thought sadly. “She sometimes goes for several weeks without seeing us, even if we visit daily.”

“I see. I’m sorry.”

Trill took the short pause to change the subject. “Do you remember your mother?”

“No. Though my father often tells me that I take after her.”

“In looks or in personality?”

“I’m not sure. I do have her eyes, but beyond that it is hard to tell.”

Trill glanced up into his hazel eyes. She didn’t know what his mother’s eyes were like, but Eric’s were most certainly not like his father’s dark ones.

“And as to her personality,” he continued, “I’ve been told very little. You have seen the picture of her?”

“I’m not sure. I haven’t had much chance to look at the artwork, though what I have seen has been very well done, like the rest of the manor.”

He chuckled. “With Joline as a guide, I’m not surprised. She does her job well and knows everyone, but she never has time for art. But that’s beside the point: the best portrait of my mother is in the private section of the west wing, in the middle of the gallery between my father’s chamber and mine. But there is also a very good tapestry to the immediate right of the grand entrance.”

“Then your mother was indeed very beautiful.”

“Hmm. Do you weave tapestries?”

“I must admit I never took much to needlework of any sort. I’m more of a gardener.”

He nodded. “Of course, I cannot say I would enjoy needlework. But I have always found the use of colors interesting in all kinds of art. The way minute changes in the shading can make a scene look so realistic. Unfortunately, I have little talent with a brush.”

“Yes, art can be fascinating to study. But I suppose I have always preferred natural things.”

“Well, I hope you have enjoyed our gardens.”

“Your fountain is very nice, and the arrangements are fine enough. Your men have certainly put a lot of work into the topiaries.”

Eric narrowed his eyes at her. “You sound like you have seen better.”

Trill blushed. “Well, I am probably biased, but I can’t help but compare them to the gardens back home.”

“Well then, hopefully one day I will see them and decide for myself.”

He spoke the last part in a rush as the music ended and he guided her to the edge of the room.

“We should talk again soon, Lady Trillory.”

“Please, call me Trill,” she said impulsively.

They exchanged a bow and curtsy, and she watched as he walked away. She found herself pleasantly surprised. She had expected Eric to be haughty, like her brother Anthony, but now she wished she’d befriended him sooner.


Read chapter ten…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Eight

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 8

Christopher

The Dark Forest loomed before them, the trees crowding close to each other, surrounded by deep shadows. Marc snorted as Chris urged him closer and pawed the ground when they stopped a few feet away.

Thomas gazed into the woods. Chris watched him out of the corner of his eye, wishing he could read the man’s expression.

Finally Thomas spoke. “Certainly a cheery looking place. We aren’t going through there, are we?”

Chris shook his head. “Of course not. We need to go farther south, to the boundary of Xell. We can cut east there.”

Thomas half smiled. “Good. The stories are probably far-fetched, but who knows what’s in there.”

Chris shrugged.

“I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss the stories,” he said. “The tales of King Miles are true. Why not these ones?”

“King Miles is a historical figure. Dark Forest stories are myths. Who ever heard of trees that can read minds or drive people insane?”

“Maybe. Who ever heard of riddles that can only be read by certain people, or dreams that offer guidance?”

“Actually, there are many versions of the King Miles story that say he was the only one who could read the riddles. Most dismiss this, since the idea of magic that can ‘choose’ people seems … unlikely. Also, since he supposedly traveled alone, how could he test it? But there are never any mentions of dreams.” Thomas paused. “I suppose we know the truth now.”

“Perhaps when this is over, you can go correct the stories,” said Chris, turning Marc southward.

“I would like that,” murmured Thomas.

Chris glanced over his shoulder, and saw Thomas smiling and absentmindedly rubbing his horse’s neck.

“We should get going,” Chris said, nudging Marc into a trot.

Chris had considered going through the Dark Forest, simply to avoid the risk of being seen. His month of grace was running out, probably already gone — he had lost track of days in the mountains. But no one would find him in there. After all, even the forest people refused to enter those woods.

The legends varied from telling to telling. Some said giant monsters roamed in the darkness, others warned of trees that came alive, and still others told of an aura that drove men crazy. What the tales did agree about was that people who entered that forest never came out again — except for the occasional “brave and pure knight.”

Whatever was beyond the shadows, Chris didn’t feel like testing those stories right now.

They rode in silence. As the ground rose, they slowed the horses to a walk. The trees sank below them. They found a narrow path headed east through the forest of Xell, following the edge of a cliff that towered over the Dark Forest.

When the path widened into a grassy clearing, Thomas nudged his horse forward to walk beside Marc.

“Did you know that King Miles didn’t originally live in Coricstead? During the war, his parents died, and after the war his sister married someone from a small town — nobody even remembers what it was called. Since she was the only family he had left, he moved there with her. But then, because he was a hero and their new king, they changed the town’s name, and it became the new capital.”

“I didn’t know Miles had a sister,” said Chris.

“She never got involved in court life. It’s quite possible, though, that there are still some of his sister’s descendants living there.”

For a few minutes, the air was quiet except for the thumping of the horse’s hooves against the ground.

Finally Chris twisted to look at Thomas and said, “Why did you tell me that?”

“Well, if I was following Miles’s footsteps, I’d like to know more about him. And I always thought that knowing he had a family he loved made him more human.”

“Oh.”

“Also, I admit I was trying to distract you, and perhaps coax you out of your shell. The only words you’ve said since we left my house are things like, ‘We’ll camp here,’ and ‘We’ll go that way.’ You have a lot on your mind. You just met me, and I doubt you want to share your problems with an old man, but mulling on your own thoughts for too long is never good. You should talk more, or at least listen.”

Chris reined his horse to a stop.

Thomas did the same beside him and caught his gaze.

They stood there for a moment, then Chris’s shoulders slumped, and he said, “It’ll be dark soon. We can talk over supper.”

A smile spread across Thomas’s face. He said, “You know, being a healer isn’t all herbs and physical sickness — that’s just the easy part.”


Read chapter nine…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Seven

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 7

Nora

“Pleasure to meet you, Dyani Xell,” said Nora, studying the willowy woman before her.

“And you, Nora of Yorc.” Dyani returned a quick appraisal, and then turned to Arnold, who was leaning back against a tree trunk. They exchanged greetings.

Then Dyani’s eyes fell to his wrist, which was covered in blood-stained cloth. “We should take him to my village. Is it safe to move him?”

Nora nodded. “It sh—”

“It’s not my legs that are hurt!” Arnold said, pushing himself to his feet with his good hand. He stood tall, broad-shouldered, with his eyes flashing a challenge.

Nora could tell exactly why he made such a good knight. She couldn’t help smiling as she said, “As I was saying, it should be fine.”

Dyani also seemed pleased — and amused — at his reaction.

“Good. I’ll help pack up your camp.”

Arnold

As Nora and a forest man carefully cleaned the wound, applied a fine paste, and bandaged his wrist, Arnold couldn’t help feeling like a child being fussed over by his mother for a skinned knee. Then the two healers made him drink a thick, bitter tea, admonished him to rest, and left him alone in the dim hut.

It was dry and comfortable, and a breeze moved in through the hanging cloth that sufficed for a door. The building was small and looked old, but as far as he could tell it was sturdy. The air smelled strongly of the herbs that lined the shelves.

He shifted slightly on the hanging cot, which bounced up and down, making him stiffen. He most definitely preferred sleeping on solid ground to this swaying monstrosity.

He considered slipping out of the hut to explore the village. But the town was small, and he had a feeling the sharp-faced healer would not approve. He turned his thoughts instead to Terrin.

Best he could tell, this was one of the nearest villages to Terrin’s own, and Terrin had visited it often as a child. The woman, Dyani, appeared to be an old family friend. He smiled. Terrin must be happy to see familiar faces, he thought. She had been the least keen of them to travel with Chris. Arnold wondered vaguely where she was, as he shut his eyes. Probably catching up with her friends.

“I expected you to be pacing like a caged lion.”

Arnold opened his eyes to see Terrin standing over him. He stared up at her for a moment.

Then he said, “Have you ever seen a caged lion?”

“Well, no.”

“Then you can’t know that it would pace.”

“Maybe,” she said dryly. “But the point is, I expected you to be pacing.”

“And face the wrath of your healer friend? No thanks,” he said with a small chuckle.

“I thought you were the one who was going to go off and face dragons without so much as a blink. This wound must be serious.”

“Yes, well, dragons are mythical. You forest folk are just as fierce and quite real.”

“Well, then, perhaps you had better obey orders and rest.”

She pulled the room’s only chair over next to the cot and settled herself in it.

“And of course, it falls to me to make sure you behave. You never can trust a caged lion.”


Read chapter eight…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

Hunted Chapter Six

Hunted-600

She tried to warn them. They wouldn’t listen.

As a child, Terrin of Xell barely escaped a spirit from the Dark Forest. She knows better than to rely on magic. But with her schoolmate Chris accused of a magical crime he didn’t commit, she couldn’t let him face banishment alone.

So Terrin gets caught up in Chris’s quest to recover an ancient relic, with only magic to guide them. Naturally, everything goes wrong.

What lurks in the shadows, hunting Terrin and her friends? Or did the magic itself turn against them?

Hunted: The Riddled Stone Book Two is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. You can buy the full novel at my publisher’s store or in ebook or paperback format at your favorite online retailer.


PART ONE

Click here to read from Chapter One. Or go back to the very beginning in Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One.

Chapter 6

Brayden

Brayden jumped to his feet as the library door opened. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed the book on dragon myths he’d been reading to the table. The book flew, spinning once, and struck the stack of unread books, sending them to the floor. He glanced at the scattered books, then looked back up into the surprised, though quickly turning to frustrated, face of Mason. Mason was the king’s chamberlain, Brayden’s tutor in all but the art of war, and far too easily annoyed by the young prince’s clumsiness.

Brayden dropped to his knees and started to pick up the books, keeping his head down to hide his strawberry cheeks.

Mason was a second cousin three times removed, or something of that sort. But he’d been selected for his post not for his blood, but for his authoritativeness and orderliness. His eclectic knowledge helped, too.

“My lord. Stand yourself up properly this moment. The servants can take care of that mess — bah, how you manage it, I do not know. Nearly a man grown, you should be dignified, self-confident, displaying poise suited to your position. Regardless, you are wanted in the council chamber this moment. I’ll take care of this, you must hurry. Straighten your shirt before you go in. Pity you haven’t time to change it.”

Brayden stood and smoothed out his shirt. He bowed deeply, and Mason opened his mouth to start again, thought better of it, and merely said, “Go.”

Brayden had avoided the council room since he was eight, when he had somehow — even he wasn’t sure what he’d done — torn down one of the tapestries of King Miles, burying himself and several nobles in its heavy folds. Now he kept far away, except for special occasions.

He ran down the hall, managing to avoid any real mishaps, though he did nearly knock over a suit of armor rounding a corner in haste. Upon arriving at the door he straightened his shirt once more, brushed his moppy brown bangs out of his face, rubbed his hands together, and stepped into the room.

All of the major landholders were either there or had sent a representative. Currently they stood in small groups, talking quietly to one another. At the head of the room, his older brother Tyler stood on Father’s right, tall and proud — the type of proud that demands respect, not the haughty kind — though a furious scowl covered his face. The queen sat in her smaller throne to the king’s left, and her gaze latched onto Brayden as soon as he entered. A warm smile spread over her face.

Taking a deep breath, Brayden marched forward to the half-moon of clear space in front of his father, and bowed deeply. He raised his head just enough to see his father, but held the bow.

The king nodded.

“Come here, Brayden,” he said, gesturing to his direct right.

Brayden frowned. It felt awkward to step between his father and Tyler, but he obeyed.

“Brayden, tell me what you think of the incident with South Raec.”

A hand seemed to tighten around Brayden’s throat.

He forced himself to breathe, running everything he knew of the incident over in his head, painfully aware that all attention had turned to him.

Why would his father ask a question like this, here?

“I think,” he started slowly, but quickly sped up, “that though the evidence seems to show that it was an attack by South Raecans, we should not be too hasty to assume that the government of South Raec means to pick up hostilities.”

One of the nobles started to protest, but Brayden ignored him and continued, his eyes squeezing shut against the watching faces.

“It would be best to send an envoy of peace to the king of South Raec, someone who would show your trust in his good nature. To ask what they know of the attack.”

Brayden opened his eyes again and stared back into his father’s stern eyes.

The king turned to look over the nobles.

Brayden followed his gaze. Duke Grith was the only noble who stood out — the only one ignoring the whispers that ran around the court. His face was smooth, expressionless, watching the king.

“And,” the king continued, turning his gaze back to Brayden. “Who would you send on this important, but rather risky, mission?”

Brayden’s head swung back to face his father quickly. Perhaps too quickly, as dizziness set in. Please don’t stutter. He swallowed.

“My lord, I would send—”

Tyler’s voice exploded from nowhere as he stepped forward to address the king. “Father, you — It’s far too dangerous to send anyone of importance. A normal courier would be more than adequate. Let the current ambassador make inquiries. We dare not risk such a loss if anything should go awry!”

Brayden almost jumped at his brother’s outburst, which set his skin to crawling. A sudden silence settled over the room, leaving Brayden feeling more claustrophobic than before, though he knew their eyes were no longer on him.

The king, however, seemed slightly amused. “And do you see no good in your brother’s thoughts?”

“I see that any envoy important enough to show our trust would make a great hostage, should that trust be ill-founded. And South Raec’s reaction might go the other way. They may take our action as a threat.”

Brayden saw concern on his brother’s face and realized that Tyler was pleading with their father.

The queen reached out and gripped her husband’s arm.

The king nodded at her, then stood and needlessly raised his hand for the attention of the nobles.

“I thank you all for joining us today. I value all your opinions and advice,” he started.

Only Brayden heard Tyler say one last pleading, “Father,” under his breath.

“I have made my decision,” the king continued, “and I trust that all of you will respect it.”

Brayden scanned the nobles. Though they kept their faces straight, Brayden could sense anticipation. The duke smiled grimly.

“Prince Brayden shall be sent as emissary to South Raec, to assess the situation and to serve alongside Ambassador Gillian Fredrico in negotiating for peace.”

Brayden almost fainted.


Read chapter seven…

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Gaskins
Published by Tabletop Academy Press.
Cover and layout copyright © 2016 by Tabletop Academy Press
Cover Photo Credits: “Girl with bow” by Yeko Photo Studio via DepositPhoto.com and “Forest, untagged” by Lukasz Szmigiel via Unsplash.com.

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.