The Riddled Stone

Banished Chapter Nineteen

Banished

All Christopher Fredrico wanted was to be a peaceful scholar who could spend a lot of time with his friends. Now, falsely accused of stealing a magical artifact, he is forced to leave the only home he knows.

But as he and his friends travel towards the coast, they find a riddle that may save a kingdom — or cost them their lives.

Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One by homeschooled teen author Teresa Gaskins, is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. The full novel is available in ebook or paperback format on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 19

Christopher

Chris turned towards the girl. She looked familiar, but if he took time to remember why, it might be too late. She was going to kill the two men behind him, and it was his responsibility to protect them. He strode towards her across the courtyard. She backed away to the gates, but they were closed. In a moment he was next to her, wrapping his hands around her neck and squeezing.

He wouldn’t kill her — he didn’t have time for that — but he had to put her out of action. She gasped and kicked at him, trying to say something. Behind him someone started screaming, but he ignored the sound. He knew the girl’s two partners were also a threat, but she was the greatest danger. He had to take her out first.

Water splashed over the back of his head, and he kicked backwards. Someone gasped in pain, and the screaming stopped. He moved farther away, dragging the girl with him. Her eyes went wide, and she kicked at him, trying to twist away. Someone grabbed at him, but he tightened his grip. She was going limp now, her strength almost spent.

Then a blade cut at his shoulder. He dropped the girl and turned around, ready to fight, but there was nothing there, just whiteness. It seemed as if the girl had been his anchor, for now he was weightless, detached from the world. Even the hands that had grabbed him were gone. He kicked, as if trying to swim, but he was losing control, falling through a white mist.

Then he landed, and pain lurched through his arm. He gasped and blinked. Nora was scrambling away from him. Terrin dropped a bloody dagger and grabbed Nora’s arm, helping her up. Arnold was running towards them from the lake, his hand on the hilt of his sword.

He looked around to see what the problem was, but saw nothing that indicated danger. What he did see was that there was a knife wound in his shoulder, and he felt it, too.

Arnold crouched beside him. “It’s all right, now,” he said. “He’s awake.” Then he helped Chris up, careful not to touch his wounded arm.

Chris asked, “What happened?”

Terrin was the one who answered. “You tried to strangle Nora, that’s what. You nearly killed her!”

He stared forward without seeing more than a blur. He realized that he must have been acting out the dream, and Nora had gotten in the way. In fact, everything happening in the dream had been semi-real. Near his feet, he saw a deflated water skin on the ground. Terrin must have dumped it on him when she saw what was happening. And the invisible arms, the cut, the bloodied dagger — it had all been Terrin trying to get him to let go of Nora.

And he had nearly strangled her.

The world spun around him, and he lurched free of Arnold.

Terrin was talking again. “What has gotten into you, Chris? Ever since the harpies, you’ve been off in your own world. You need to let go, and we need to go back to our original plans. You’re on a goose chase. This whole thing smells of magic, and that’s never good.”

He looked at the ground, his thoughts reeling through his head. Terrin was right, even if he continued following this thing, which he somehow knew he had to, they shouldn’t be here. Why had he let them come in the first place? Why hadn’t he fought them harder?

“Go home, now, all of you,” he said. “Nora, go get in that college of yours, Arnold, go slay some dragon. Terrin, we all know you belong in a forest. Go home. Terrin’s right, this is my quest. You should have never come.”

Nora ran into him with a force that made him stumble backwards. He looked down and was surprise to see she had her head buried deep in his chest and her arms tightly around his waist. Her shoulders shook, showing that she was crying.

Terrin stood frozen in place. Arnold’s mouth was slightly opened, and his eyes more so.

Chris looked down at Nora, and his mind felt like a muddled mess, and he didn’t know what to do. He had never seen Nora cry before, none of them had that he knew of.

A half minute of stillness passed, and then Nora’s arms loosened and she moved away, her face tear-stained. She rubbed at it with her sleeve, then said, louder and clearer than he would have suspected, “I’m okay now. It’s Chris we should be worrying about.” She gestured to his reddened sleeve.

Terrin nodded slowly, and picked up the water skin, going to the lake to refill it, grabbing her dropped blade as she went, seeming a bit in a trance. Arnold hovered for a second, while Nora dug in her pack for bandages, then he drifted away, to watch from a distance.

Chris tried to take care of the wound himself, brushing Nora away. But after it became evident that using his left hand to awkwardly bandage his shoulder wouldn’t work, he gave up and let her tend to it.

Deep in thought, he argued with himself. It was too dangerous, dragging his friends along on this quest. Had he really been so desperate not to be alone that he had only made a show of protesting?


Read Chapter Twenty…

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 Eighteen

Banished

All Christopher Fredrico wanted was to be a peaceful scholar who could spend a lot of time with his friends. Now, falsely accused of stealing a magical artifact, he is forced to leave the only home he knows.

But as he and his friends travel towards the coast, they find a riddle that may save a kingdom — or cost them their lives.

Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One by homeschooled teen author Teresa Gaskins, is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. The full novel is available in ebook or paperback format on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 18

Nora

Arnold stepped forward and slashed to his right. Nora danced out of the way, spinning to bring a blow down on his back. He twisted, bringing his wooden sword up to block hers, and then bounced his sword off to point at her throat.

Nora ducked before the tip of his sword reached her, then sprang up almost as soon as she was down, pushing the flat of her sword against his.

He slid to her left, but she angled her sword up so that if he had continued, his sword would have been too high for any good. So he quickly sidestepped the other way, and his blade darted in and pressed lightly against the side of her neck.

“You’re better at this than I would have thought,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said. “I used to practice with my brother quite a bit. But still, I didn’t last long enough to mean much, and you were going easy on me, weren’t you?”

“What did you expect me to do in a friendly training match? If I had done my best, you wouldn’t have had time to strike.”

Chris walked up and slung his arm across Arnold’s shoulders, saying, “Yeah, right. You couldn’t hurt a flea.”

Nora laughed as Arnold shoved him off, and then she handed Chris her wooden sword.

“If he’s that bad, you should be able to handle him.”

Chris tried to refuse, but Arnold cheered him on, and soon they were dueling. Nora picked up a light short sword from the ground. It was Arnold’s extra, which he had let her borrow. She started to practice different blows, building arm muscle and speed as Arnold had shown her, though she was careful to stay well out of the boys’ way.

It had been Chris’s idea for them to whittle out a couple of wooden swords so that Nora could learn, and she couldn’t say she disagreed. Arnold had been working on them in the evenings at the first lake, but had only just finished the day before.

After a couple days’ travel, they had reached a small and shallow lake, and Chris had decided they’d camp there a few nights, and dry out whatever they could before the rain began again.

She stopped her practice when Terrin appeared through the trees, holding up a pair of rabbits. Quickly, she sheathed the sword and ran to prep a pot with water. She cut up some roots while Terrin chatted with the boys and skinned the rabbits she’d caught. They were a nice size, though not the fattest.

Soon the stew was simmering, and Nora sat with Chris near the fire.

“Where do we go next?” she asked.

He glanced around the lake. Two other streams flowed into it in addition to the one they had followed. One came crashing down as a waterfall from a steep slope. The other flowed out of a high cave and meandered steadily down the side of the valley until it met the lake. At the far side of the lake, the river flowed on towards the forest below.

Chris pointed to the gentler stream. “Looks like that one will be the easiest to follow, and there’s a cave. We’re pretty sure the riddle was referring to a cave, so we’ll try that way first. If it’s a dead end, then we’ll come back and try the steeper one. But I’m not sure if the horses will be able to make the climb.”

“Why do I have a feeling I’d be the one left behind to take care of them? Just remember, I grew up in the north, near mountains. I’m good at climbing, and cold doesn’t get to me.”

“But someone has to stay with the horses.”

“And so you leave me behind because you think it’s the best way to protect me?”

He grinned and shoved at her shoulder a bit. “When did you get to know me so well?”

“About three years ago, when you appeared before me as a wide open book.”

“What do you mean a wide open book? It took you three months to figure out I was the earl’s son, and that was only because I told you.”

“Yeah,” she said, “but that was because you were using all your power to keep the school quiet, you dictator.”

“Well, as dictator, I decree that you are very unruly subjects who don’t act at all like you’re under a dictatorship.”

“Hey, I didn’t say you were still a dictator.” She shoved at him and added, “Though even if I thought you were, I wouldn’t say it.”

“Eh, I miss the you I first met,” he said. “You were so shy then. Now you’re the one who acts like a dictator.”

“The cook’s the dictator in his or her own kitchen. Currently my kitchen has no walls, so I’m apparently dictator of the whole outdoors. And with great power comes the great responsibility to check on the stew.”

“Never heard that one,” he said. He stood up and bowed, motioning toward the fire. “By all means, check away.”

She chuckled and went to stir the pot.

But he was right, she knew him well. And Nora knew that he was the type to treat his friends over-protectively. If he thought that following this trail was going put any of them in too much danger, he wouldn’t hesitate to leave them behind.

She would have to keep an eye on that.


Read Chapter Nineteen…

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 Seventeen

Banished

All Christopher Fredrico wanted was to be a peaceful scholar who could spend a lot of time with his friends. Now, falsely accused of stealing a magical artifact, he is forced to leave the only home he knows.

But as he and his friends travel towards the coast, they find a riddle that may save a kingdom — or cost them their lives.

Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One by homeschooled teen author Teresa Gaskins, is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. The full novel is available in ebook or paperback format on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 17

Christopher

Chris looked around, surprised to find himself beside the gazebo in his father’s garden. Nora motioned for Chris to follow her. He took a step after her and almost stumbled.

Glancing down, he saw the path ended in a steep cliff at his feet. He reached out his hand towards Nora as she disappeared behind the hedge.

She was calling his name.

Then the ground crumbled. He tried to step back, but he couldn’t move.

Chris gasped and opened his eyes. Nora was shaking him. She turned and called, “Terrin, he’s awake. Really, for someone who is so determined to find this place, he sure is lazy.”

For a second he couldn’t understand what had happened, and then he realized he’d been sleeping. Rain plastered itself to his face, and he shivered. He pulled himself out of his soaked blanket.

Nora took his blanket and handed him a small bundle. “The rain started around midnight. Terrin was right: We’ll have some treacherous footing today.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t want to risk losing sight of the river and getting lost,” Chris said. “We’ll just have to lead the horses.”

He unwrapped the bundle to find one of the flowers. They had stocked as many as they could for the trip, but the harpies were right. Already the sweet taste seemed almost to burn. But it was still filling, and when he let it soak in the rain, it seemed to taste a bit better.

They hiked all morning along the edge of the trees, as close as they dared to the rushing waters. The river had, predictably, flooded, and the horses were obviously restless. As they stumbled through the mud, Terrin ended up walking beside him.

“You know,” she said, “we sure picked a great time to be wandering around in the mountains. This is only the first of the rains, and who knows how long they’ll last?”

He scowled. “Yeah, yeah, I don’t need you to tell me that.”

“By the way, what was that this morning? I’ve never known you to sleep in.”

“Just a bad dream. It was… I don’t know.”

He frowned. Already the images of the dream seemed to be blurring together — parts of his past, events at school, the headmaster, the day he had met Terrin — but their details were fading. The one scene that seemed most real was something he couldn’t remember ever happening. He had never known Anthony to cry. It probably was nothing, but it had made him want to run. When he’d first woken, he had thought the wet rain was sweat.

Terrin looked at him for a second longer, then turned her gaze forward. “You should be more relaxed. Something about that riddle is getting to you. And I know this all probably has to do with the Riddled Stone, which has to do with the Shards, which has to do with why you were banished. But do you really think this will help?”

He tilted his head forward and murmured, “I can’t help but do this, Terrin. After all, I’m the one that can read the words.”

But he didn’t think she heard him.


Read Chapter Eighteen…

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 Sixteen

Banished

All Christopher Fredrico wanted was to be a peaceful scholar who could spend a lot of time with his friends. Now, falsely accused of stealing a magical artifact, he is forced to leave the only home he knows.

But as he and his friends travel towards the coast, they find a riddle that may save a kingdom — or cost them their lives.

Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One by homeschooled teen author Teresa Gaskins, is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. The full novel is available in ebook or paperback format on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 16

Arnold

Coren had summoned four of the harpies who could talk to carry them out of the valley. When Arnold asked about it, Andrea explained that she’d been trying to teach human language to the other harpies. Most could understand, but only a few had the talent to speak it well.

Arnold couldn’t remember the name of the young harpy that was carrying him. Currently he was worried about staying still so that the creature would not have to tighten its grip. He wasn’t big on heights, and after a while the wind got a bit chilly.

But at the same time, the view was absolutely amazing.

He was just about to relax and enjoy the flight when a large cloud rolled into them. He glanced up at the harpy above him, who said, “Sorry, I didn’t pull up quite fast enough. I’m not used to carrying humans.”

Arnold sighed and brushed a few of the droplets off his sleeve, though it only rubbed them in.

No, he definitely did not like flying.

Ahead of him, Nora looked much more excited about the experience and was constantly pointing something out to her harpy. He could hear the murmur of their voices. A bit to her left was Terrin, who had her hands clasped around her harpy’s legs, no doubt to its distaste, and to the right was Chris. Arnold couldn’t guess what he thought of it all. Behind them, other harpies were bringing their horses and baggage.

Coren had decided that they should be carried to one of the larger mountain lakes where they could begin their search. Their main concern was that they would go to the right lake, but not find what they were looking for. After all, if the entrance really was underwater, it would be hard to see, and the mountains were large. Whatever they needed to find might not even be in Scar Range, for all they knew.

In fact, Arnold was slightly worried. Chris was obviously serious about this whole quest thing, but he could not imagine the reason why. King Miles already found the Riddled Stone and carried it away ages ago. What good would it do to follow in his footsteps?

Suddenly, he felt himself dropping.

The weightlessness was horrid, and with it came the feeling of weakness. The wind seemed to suck all the strength out of him as it rushed past. Then it slowed, and he was gliding across the ground.

He glared up at his harpy. “You could have given me some warning, you know.”

The harpy looked down at him, full of childlike innocence. “Sorry. We have arrived, young master.”

Arnold grimaced. “Don’t call me young master. If you must title me, at least say knight or sir or something like that.”

The harpy laughed lightly, then said, “Knight or sir young master, I’m going to drop you now. Farewell.”

True to its word, the harpy dropped him barely a hundredth of a second after it said ‘now’, and Arnold stumbled, falling on his face and barely catching the last word.

As Terrin helped him to his feet, he spat at the ground and said, “That’s it. Those harpies are just as bad as humans, especially the children. It mocked me! What did I say to it to make it dislike me?”

He heard Nora giggle, and Terrin laughed out loud as she pulled him to the side so Chris could land.

He stumbled after her angrily. “What’s so funny?”

Nora answered, “I think she liked you. As you said, they are like humans, and children often show affection through teasing.”

Terrin rolled her eyes, and Arnold cast her a glance.

“Well, the children you’re used to might tease,” she said, “but where I come from, children are very respectful and would never do such a thing.”

Arnold punched at her shoulder. “Hey, if that’s true, why were you always so mean to Chris and me?”

“I meant we wouldn’t tease adults,” Terrin said. “Of course we teased other children, especially ones like you. Chris just happened to pick up some of the affects.”

Chris jumped in. “Wait a minute. Are you saying you were so desperate to be mean to Arnold that you were willing to hurt an innocent civilian like me?”

Nora gaped. “Terrin used to be mean to you guys? Terrin? But I thought she was there to take care of you.”

Arnold turned on her. “Are you saying we need taken care of?”

“Yes,” said the two girls in sync, though Terrin sounded much harsher than Nora.

“But, guys, really, we need to get settled,” Chris said. “I think we’ll camp here tonight. I bet the horses are a bit shaken after that flight. We can start checking out the lake tomorrow.”

The next five days, Nora usually stayed at the camp to watch the horses and prepare their meals. Terrin did some hunting, keeping an eye out for caves around the lake, while Chris and Arnold took turns diving into the water to search for underwater caves.

Only when Chris was sure that they had checked every nook and cranny did they leave the lake. They followed a shallow stream down towards the valley. By noon they entered a forest, and the stream had gathered strength, turning into a small river.

By the time they found a suitable place to camp, the clouds had turned dark and thickened considerably. Arnold groaned. There had been many nights over the last year when he’d slept under the rain, sometimes even under snow or sleet. However, early spring rains tended to be the worst.

That night they settled down to sleep restlessly.


Read Chapter Seventeen…

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 Fifteen

Banished

All Christopher Fredrico wanted was to be a peaceful scholar who could spend a lot of time with his friends. Now, falsely accused of stealing a magical artifact, he is forced to leave the only home he knows.

But as he and his friends travel towards the coast, they find a riddle that may save a kingdom — or cost them their lives.

Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One by homeschooled teen author Teresa Gaskins, is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. The full novel is available in ebook or paperback format on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 15

Terrin

Terrin awoke to pale morning light and yawned. The night had been restful. Andrea had joined them for dinner, and she and Nora had talked about what had happened since they last met. Nora had constantly called on the others to help her remember minor details, thus making certain that Chris didn’t have time to bring the argument back up.

Terrin hated to admit how much she was curious about this whole riddle thing, how right Nora was, or how homesick she herself was. It seemed much longer than it really had been since she had walked in the forest, joked with her family, hunted the fleet-footed deer, or tracked the daring wolves that raided their food supply.

She remembered the first night on their journey, when Arnold had approached her with his worries. He asked what they would do when they reached Diamond Isles. She had acted so self-assured when she answered.

“Well,” she had said, “you can become a traveling warrior. That’s what you were trained for, pretty much. I’ll be a hunter, or a ranger, or something like that — perhaps guide travelers through the more treacherous parts of the Isles.

“Nora will get a job at a nice little inn and eventually settle down with a big family. And Chris can become a courier. He’s so good on horseback that he’ll do quite well at it.

“We can easily settle down in the capital or some city, so we can stay close to each other.”

Yet even then, she had wondered if they were doing the right thing. They had stuck together so faithfully since they were younger that it seemed like the natural thing to do. Wasn’t it time to start making their own way?

Argh! The whole situation gave her a headache.

She wasn’t about to let the others leave without her. Chris would choose to go running after the riddle, and Arnold would surely follow — he seemed to think of himself as Chris’s guardian. And Nora was as sure of these riddles as Chris, so she would join him, too.

Well then, Terrin had to go. Arnold was a fighter, not a decision maker, and he and Chris were usually too likeminded. Nora was intelligent, and had good instincts. However, she would rarely speak up. Chris would need someone to point out where he was wrong.

Besides, having an archer on hand was often helpful.

Set in her decision, Terrin stood up and walked over to where the others knelt by the lake. Nora looked up and handed Terrin her leather water bottle and backpack, saying, “I filled these for you, and packed up some flowers for the trail. Andrea says the whispers want us to hurry.”

Terrin scowled. She might as well try one last time to stop this idiocy. “Chris, please.” She said. “You’re not seriously thinking of following the riddle? It’s suicide.”

“How do you know that? I’m going, whether you do or not. Though I hope you will come, too. You and Nora were right when you said we were all chosen. Without you three, I’ll probably take too long to figure everything out.”

Terrin threw up her hands and humphed. “Well, you’ll need someone to take care of you until you see sense. So I guess I’ll go, just to keep you from getting yourselves killed.”

“Great,” Arnold said. “Then we’re all ready. So, where do you suppose we should look? The first line said, ‘Where walkers cannot tread and seekers lose…’ What kind of clue is that?”

Chris’s face lit up. “A lake or a large river? Something deep enough you can’t wade in it? You can’t walk in deep water, and it washes away tracks and scents that a seeker might use to find things. Isn’t that true, Terrin?”

“Oh, great,” Terrin said. “So now we just have to search all the rivers and lakes in the mountains. It might not even be in the Scar Range. Besides, what if the clue means something else? You can tread water, you know.”

“Hmm, yes,” Chris said. “But not if it’s under water, and you have to swim down.”

“What if the riddle means a forest?” she asked. “Forests can be like labyrinths. If you’re not careful, you’ll lose you way and whatever you’re looking for.”

“But people walk in forests all the time. It doesn’t fit that.”

“Some mountain forests can be hard to exactly walk in. You have to do more of a scrambling or climbing. And it’s hard to tread quietly. So that’s two ways it could fit.”

Nora broke in. “We’re forgetting one thing. The riddle says that the way is easy. Those forests certainly aren’t easy. Sure, swimming under water wouldn’t be all that easy either, but it makes more sense. So I think we should concentrate on water.”

The two looked at Nora. Then they nodded, and Terrin said, “I suppose that’s the best we can do.”

Arnold chuckled, his eyes looking back and forth between the three of them. “Can we go now? Andrea’s probably getting impatient.”

Terrin rolled her eyes.


Read Chapter Sixteen…

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 Fourteen

Banished

All Christopher Fredrico wanted was to be a peaceful scholar who could spend a lot of time with his friends. Now, falsely accused of stealing a magical artifact, he is forced to leave the only home he knows.

But as he and his friends travel towards the coast, they find a riddle that may save a kingdom — or cost them their lives.

Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One by homeschooled teen author Teresa Gaskins, is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. The full novel is available in ebook or paperback format on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 14

Christopher

Chris lay on the soft grass, gazing up into the late afternoon sky. Around him the others rested, as he was supposed to be doing. Instead he was thinking about the writing on the stone.

It was the last line that worried him most. What did the riddle mean by, “Until the hidden are retrieved, you cannot be free”? Was it a trap? Or did it have a deeper meaning?

He shook his head. It was nonsense. They were all free. Just because he had been banished from North Raec, that didn’t mean anything. They would be perfectly free once they got to Diamond Isles.

But that had been bothering him, too. He was sure someone had framed him. He’d had that particular brooch after he left the temple. That meant it had been put there later.

Who would want to frame him?

And who would want to steal a Shard? And why had King Miles wanted to protect them so much, placing the Shards in separate towns, and setting up caretakers and guards, unless they were more important than they were made out to be?

And this valley, with its hidden cave and the carved stone, wasn’t this where King Miles’s search for the Riddled Stone began? That much he could guess from the story Janley had told.

He sat up and glanced at the others. Terrin propped herself up on her elbows, gave him a wry smile, and whispered, “You’re awake, too. I should have known.”

He whispered back, “I think I’ve decided to follow the riddle. I think… I think it will explain why the Shard was stolen. I don’t know how they are connected, but I’m sure they are.”

Terrin’s smile turned downward. “Chris, it doesn’t matter. They banished you. It’s not your job. If we try and solve this, you’ll run out of your month and get caught, and the prince said that your life would be forfeit.”

He glanced over to where Arnold lay. It wasn’t himself he was worried about. He didn’t really want to go to Diamond Isles anyway. He’d visited there once, and he hadn’t seen any reason to call it Diamond Isles. Sheep Isles would have been a better name.

No, he was worried about Arnold, Nora, and Terrin. Nora, he supposed, would probably be fine. She could just promise never to leave Yorc territory again, and then the prince’s law couldn’t touch her. But the others, if they were found with him after the month was up, would be under the ban.

And the riddle had mentioned death.

“You’re right,” he said. “You should go back to the city, or to your forest, or even to Diamond Isles. This is my task, alone.”

“No way, Chris. You can’t face this by yourself.”

“I have to. Didn’t you hear what Janley said? This whole thing is like what happened to King Miles. I was the one who read the stone — even Andrea said she couldn’t read it — so I’m the one who has to follow it.”

“How do you know that King Miles traveled alone?”

“Well then, where did his companions go? Did he take all the glory for finding the Riddled Stone and shove them into the shadows? Or did they die in the process? Because either way, it doesn’t really encourage me to bring you guys along.”

“But you can’t do it alone. The harpy, Andrea, said that the whispers told her to find four people! Besides, this whole whisper thing is crazy, and if King Miles has already followed the riddles, then what could we achieve by following them?”

“I don’t know, but that’s what I have to do. Anyway, for all we know, the riddle has changed since King Miles’s time.”

“How would it do that?”

“There is such a thing as magic in this world, you know. Think about at this place, and the cave. Everything just echoes of magic.”

“Look who knows so much about magic.”

“I’m going, and I’m going alone.”

Their voices had risen. Chris’s was now a loud whisper, while Terrin was obviously having a hard time not coming straight out and shouting.

Suddenly Nora sat up beside them. “Guys, weren’t we all chosen? Chris, there are bound to be more riddles. Don’t you think it’s likely some of them will contain things that one of us would understand more than you? For example, I think the second line, ‘Beneath the surface, and yet high above,’ means we need to look for a cave in the mountains. I’ve lived near mountains most of my life. Did either of you think of that?”

Chris hated to admit it, but he hadn’t. And from the annoyed look on Terrin’s face, she hadn’t either.

He sighed, then said, “We’ll decide in the morning. Whatever we do, we should all rest now.” Though he doubted he would be a very good example for them.


Read Chapter Fifteen…

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 Thirteen

Banished

All Christopher Fredrico wanted was to be a peaceful scholar who could spend a lot of time with his friends. Now, falsely accused of stealing a magical artifact, he is forced to leave the only home he knows.

But as he and his friends travel towards the coast, they find a riddle that may save a kingdom — or cost them their lives.

Banished: The Riddled Stone Book One by homeschooled teen author Teresa Gaskins, is being serialized freely on this website at the pace of one chapter per week. The full novel is available in ebook or paperback format on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.


PART TWO

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 13

Christopher, 14 years earlier

Chris’ eyes were wide. Beside him Trillory held out her hands, cupping water from the small stream into them. The gardens around them were bursting with life, and they made Chris feel safe.

“See, watch,” Trill said, and she blew on the water. It rushed up her fingers and then curved back like a wave. Then a hole appeared in the middle, and the water curved back on itself, making a donut shape.

Entranced, Chris reached out in awe to touch the water. But Trill blew again, and the water lifted out of his reach. The two giggled.

Then a large hand reached out and grabbed the water. It dissolved immediately and splashed down onto Trill’s face and lap. She squealed and scrambled away, grabbing Chris’s arm to pull him with her.

He was glad she did, for he went numb as his eyes settled on the face of his eldest brother, glaring down at them. However, Trill pulled them only to the edge of the path, and then she turned to give a quick half curtsy.

The older boy suddenly smirked, blinking once, slowly, like a cat that knows it has its prey entrapped. “Well, Christopher, why aren’t you bowing? Your sister may be full of tricks,” he glanced at the stream, “but at least she has manners.”

Quickly Chris snapped to attention, arms tight to his side, eyes straight ahead, he bowed as low as he could. Trill nudged him with her elbow after he had been in that position for a minute, and he straightened. Anthony’s smirk had widened.

“Now, I shouldn’t keep Trillory from her duties as a young lady. I’m sure there’s something she should be doing. Run along now, girl.”

Trill grabbed Chris’s hand, and the two began to scurry down the path, but Anthony called after them.

“Ah, I said Trillory could go. But Chris, I really do want to talk to you. Stay and walk with me, little brother.”

Chris felt his stomach quake as he looked back, up at his brother’s face. He felt Trill turn with him, and she said, “I’ll stay with my twin.”

But Anthony frowned.

“I only want to talk to Chris, little sister. Besides, you need to get dried off. I wouldn’t want anything to dampen that little fiery spirit of yours. Though so unfitting to a young lady of your status.” The last was but a murmur, but Chris heard, and anger rose in him, though his wide-eyed fear did not melt away.

Trill gave his hand a quick squeeze, then she let go to curtsy quickly.

“Yes, brother.” Then she was gone.

“Walk with me,” Anthony said again, but it was an order, not a request. Then he turned and went down the opposite path from the one their sister had taken.

Chris followed behind and slightly to the side of his brother, eyes down. Suddenly he could feel the chill of early May, though it hadn’t been there before.

Anthony spoke. “You know, Father’s quite proud of the way I’ve been advancing. So young, and already a knight. Duke Grith was telling Father just the other day that I was quite talented, that he saw much in my future. The duke has told me things that he’d have never told any of the other squires — not even some of his knights.

“And you know, Christopher, Father would be quite sad if you, his last son, were to prove to be the weak link in his family. Of course you’ll never be as good as me. After all, I’ll be earl one day, maybe something more.

“Anyway, brother, what I’m trying to say is that Father would be very disappointed, we all would be, if you showed your repulsive cowardice in front of everyone at my knighting ceremony tonight. Especially the ambassadors from Diamond Isles.

“Maybe if you make a good enough impression on the duke, he’ll invite you to be a page at his manor — might do you some good.”

Anthony turned and leaned over to look Chris in the eye, grabbing his arm as he started to back away.

“Now brother, you really must go and prepare. I’d be quite upset if you embarrassed the family. I just don’t know what I’d do.”


Read Chapter Fourteen…

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 Twelve

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 ONE

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 12

Nora

Nora awoke and rubbed her eyes. She propped herself up and saw that, besides herself, only the animals were awake. They were all at the lake, drinking the water and eating the flowers, which the breeze had blown to shore. She looked at the wall of the canyon and saw that the flowers had already been replaced by small purple buds with a frosty white glaze over them. The harpies were gone.

She looked around. The grass was bright, and the peaceful scene made her want to relax and forget the world.

Then a voice whispered behind her, “Wake the others, then go: drink and eat your fill. There is enough for all. After that, I will tell you why it is you were brought here.”

Nora turned to see Andrea, her eyes sparkling and a soft smile on her face.

Nora had met Andrea when they were young. She had found the harpy in the mountains above North Yorc, unconscious and with a badly cut wing. She had, perhaps foolishly, gone to her aid, and the two had become friends. She had never told anyone about Andrea, but harpies had always been a touchy subject for Nora after that. Maybe that was why she had reacted so meanly when Terrin asked — old habits.

“There is much to tell,” Andrea continued, “and you must leave tomorrow. And rest today.”

Nora nodded and eagerly woke the others. Before they could ask anything, she told them that they could drink and eat from the lake.

When Nora took her first bite of the pressed flowers, a wonderful feeling went through her. The feathery petals were slightly crunchy, and they were sweet, like honey except there was some strange flavor in the background that slipped away right before she could name it. The flowers’ centers melted like they were made of little crystals that dissolved in her mouth.

Then she tasted the water. It was lighter than normal water and tasted delectable, much like the unidentifiable taste of the flower. It filled them quickly, and then she longed to fall back asleep on the feathery softness of the golden grass.

But Arnold’s reddened shirt and stiffness as he leaned over the lake reminded her sharply that his wounds needed tending.

The gashes were not as bad as they had looked, though he still felt slightly dizzy from blood loss. Nora sponged the dried blood off his back and applied some anti-infection herbs from her saddlebag, and then wrapped bandages around his back and shoulders. After that, there wasn’t much she could do, but she didn’t think the cuts would reopen.

When she had finished, Andrea approached them from the shadows and spoke softly, “Come. I have much to tell you, and I fear we haven’t much time.”

Nora followed her back into the shadows. The others came, too, though more reluctantly.

Andrea pulled aside some of the vines to reveal a cave. The other two unusual harpies were sitting inside. On the wall were a dozen or so candles, set in notches in the rock. Andrea led them to the center of the room, where she sat cross-legged on the floor next to the other female harpy. Nora sat next to her, then Chris, then Terrin, and last Arnold.

Andrea spoke, “This is my mother, Janley, and my father, Coren. There is much to tell, but first I feel like we should explain harpies to you. Mother?”

Janley spoke in a low, soft voice. “The valleys in these mountains have been home to our clan for generations. We have been taught that while many humans would care for these paradises, there are more who would harm them.

“So, for a while we kept all humans away. Then, several hundred years ago, a man came into the mountains, wounded from battle and fleeing with his family in tow.

“They came at the same time of year that you have come, during our annual ceremony. The ceremony protects this valley from ruin, for the flower’s sweet juice in the water is what makes the golden grass grow. At this season, it is custom that each harpy shall bring an animal to drink of the waters, and some of the younger harpies took pity on the wanderers and brought them here.

“The man found mysteries here, secrets that we are about to show to you. He left, saying that he must find a way to end the war. And eventually the man brought peace.

“Our family has lived in this valley since, guarding its secrets. We are rulers, of a sort, for our clan. Among our people, each family of harpies has its own valley, and once a year we perform the ceremony that you saw last night. But this valley is too large for the three of us to handle alone, which is why the whole clan gathered.”

For a while there was silence.

Then Arnold spoke, “Tell me then, why do you kill humans?”

Coren answered, “We wish we didn’t have to. We try to scare them away by flying overhead, or by causing mountain rockslides, but humans are very persistent. Those who discover our valleys have no will to stay, for the water and flowers become bitter to any who taste them for long. But if we let them escape, our homes would be in danger.

“In the end our only choice is to fight. We are strong, and we have to protect our paradises. Do humans not also fight to protect what they love and cherish in the world? Do they not also die to defend their homeland?”

He did not say this in a questioning tone, but as a statement of fact. Again they sat in silence.

Andrea broke it. “There is one more thing you need know about us. I am what you’d call a fortune teller, or seer. We call it listener. My type is rare, born only when something terrible is about to happen in the world. As a listener, I walk these caves and hear whispers, hints of famine, floods, life, and death. Sometimes the whispers speak of what has passed, other times of what is to come. I believe it is my responsibility to share what I hear with any it concerns, even humans.

“I listen, but the whispers are broken — they jump around, and the message is unclear. Recently, I heard of four young humans who would read the stone.

“And then you come into our mountains, including one who is known to me. You come alone, walking separate from your race, as those who have read the stone before have done. I believe you are the humans of whom the whispers spoke.”

The harpies stood, and Coren turned towards a small, shadowed passage while Andrea said, “Follow us, please.”

Nora was the first on her feet to follow. The passage was cold and dark, almost completely round. The wall was smooth, and the candles sparse. Coren said, “Water used to flow through here, ages ago, and wore the rock smooth. It makes for treacherous walking. Step carefully.”

Janley spoke from behind them. “Normal harpies have trouble walking here. The stone is too smooth against their claw, so it is hard for them to grip. And claws are not the best for walking, as it is.”

The passage opened out into a wide room with an indented ridge all around and plenty of unlit candles. Andrea went to the single torch on the back wall and used it to light the smaller flames.

“This is where I hear the whispers,” she said quietly.

Nora felt Terrin shrink back, a bit unsure. Knowing her friend’s fear of spirits and magic in general, Nora caught Terrin’s hand and squeezed. No doubt the fact that this was where these ‘whispers’ originated made her uneasy.

Chris stared intently at the stone in the middle of the room, its surface covered with carved lines and shapes. With the brighter light, he blinked rapidly, then his eyes widened as they flickered over the stone. Andrea walked behind him and held the torch high.

Nora looked at the stone, but all she saw were squiggly lines.

Terrin spoke, perhaps a bit louder than intended. “Can you read it? What does it say?” She glanced towards Andrea.

But it was Chris who pulled in a deep breath, and then spoke:

“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.”


Read Chapter Thirteen…

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 Eleven

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 ONE

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 11

Terrin

Terrin had never seen a real harpy before, only the ones in books at school, though she had sometimes seen strange great birds in the distance when traveling from the forest to the city. They terrified her — so human-like, yet so inhuman.

She heard a moan beside her and saw that Arnold was stirring. She went to support him as he sat up. She couldn’t really tell him to lie back down, considering all that was going on. He deserved to see this, too, before they died.

Just as she got her arm around Arnold, she heard Nora cry out. At first, Terrin thought Nora was in pain or terrified. But when she turned her head to look, Nora was hugging the youngest of the new harpies. For a second she thought that the monster had used some foul magic to confuse Nora. Then she saw Nora’s expression. Nora was smiling, and so was the harpy.

The older harpies smiled as well, but the male said softly, “We understand, Andrea. But not now.”

Nora’s cry had been a cry of joy. As she broke away from the harpy, she spoke in a rush: “Andrea, please tell me what’s going on. Why did these other harpies capture us and hurt my friend so bad? Why are we here? Where is this? Is this the valley that you used to tell me about? It has been so long—”

Andrea held up her hand and said, “I’ll explain soon. But you must understand that this is of utmost importance, so it’s best you just watch and stay silent. Go back to your friends.

“Kao, you may leave your post.”

This last phrase had been directed at the harpy who guarded them. It knelt before the three and then went to join the others.

Nora returned and sat next to Terrin with a lighter expression than usual.

Terrin whispered, “But wait, I thought harpies could only screech? And Nora, why are you so friendly with that one?”

Nora suddenly scowled, and muttered back, “There’s obviously a lot not known about harpies. And it’s a long story. I’d rather not tell it right now.” Then she pulled her knees up to her chest and laid her chin on them to watch the proceedings.

Terrin shrank back in silence. In nearly four years, she had never seen that sort of anger from Nora. She felt Arnold flinch from it, too. A glance at Chris told her that he also was surprised.

The three strange harpies turned away from them and began to sing, swaying gently from side to side. The red light of sunset filled the valley, and the other harpies rose and flew to the walls. They bit their purple flowers off and carried them down, dropping them in a pile next to a small trench that Terrin hadn’t noticed. As the pile grew, the young harpies swooped down, picking up the flowers in their talons and squeezing them over the trench. It was hard to see, but a juice flowed out of the blossoms, filling the trench and overflowing into the lake.

After squeezing the flowers dry, the child harpies flew to the lake and dropped the pressed flowers onto the water. Meanwhile, the adults kept adding more and more flowers to the pile, and all this time, the three continued to sing. Andrea’s eyes seemed to glow. The red light gave their pale faces a strange, distant look.

Curiosity made Terrin glance at her companions’ faces, and she saw that they, too, glowed red and distant. She turned back to watch the ceremony, wondering if it was an effect of the light or some sort of hypnotic magic — hoping the former. She nibbled at the inside of her lip, shifted herself into a less comfortable position, and forced herself to stay alert.

The adult harpies had landed and were standing just beyond the trench. She realized that all the flowers had been picked, even the ones behind them. Finally, the lake was absolutely covered in flowers, and the trench held a large puddle of juice, though much more had run into the lake. The song ended, and the canyon felt eerily silent. The three singers approached the puddle. Each took a single mouthful of juice.

Then the other harpies did the same, one by one. As they left the trench, they walked around the edge of the lake and the three once again took up the strange song, and the normal harpies joined in. And this time, as they sang, they cried.

Now Terrin realized that their song was an altered version of an old forest song, one often sung at funerals. She hated it — it made her tremble and feel strange inside.

When the song was finished, she felt relieved. As the harpies all rose to the sky, a tiredness came over her. She fell onto the soft, feathery grass and couldn’t help falling asleep.


Read Chapter Twelve…

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 Ten

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 ONE

Click here to read from the beginning.

Chapter 10

Christopher

Chris hadn’t lasted long. He was no sword genius, and he didn’t get much practice. Two of the adult harpies had taken turns fake-diving at him, and he had been kept on his toes, making sure they didn’t make a real try for him.

Then a child had joined in. It had flown at his face, screeching. He had jumped to the side, trying to make a strike for the monster. But he was used to human opponents, and the child’s speed and ability to maneuver had messed up his timing.

A third adult had grabbed his shoulders and started to fly off with him.

It was then that Marc had come out and reared. The adult had dropped him and scattered, but one of the others grabbed Marc and carried him away.

Chris had made a good strike at the leg of another adult, but then the child returned and grabbed him. He hadn’t seen much as they’d lifted off, only that Terrin was shooting from the mouth of the cave.

Then they had been over the back of the hill, and he couldn’t see the hollow any more. They flew towards the mountains. In a different situation, he might have been awed by the beauty. From here, he could see the range stretching out in both directions, in its odd, curving, scar-like way. As they got closer he saw hints of dark and light green blurred together. This was the forest that the people of Xell lived in, Terrin’s forest tribe, though there were other tribes there as well.

But mostly he noticed the mountains: From the ground, the mountains really did look like a horrid scar among the green fields and woods that North Raecans loved. But from here, he saw what the harpies must see every day of their lives. In the noon sun, the mountains gleamed silver, and the waterfalls sparkled, blue and glorious. Rivers and streams wound between the treacherous cliffs. He saw patches of color that must be mountain flowers, and then, in the deep gulches in the mountains, which he was sure no man had ever seen, there were gold fields of something that moved a bit like grass, waving and twisting like the sea, with small dots of white or larger dots of brown, which were probably animals, like rabbits or deer. And rising up around the gold, cascading from every crack, crevice, and cliff, and bushing on the ledges, was a purple and green that seemed to glow.

They flew towards the highest mountain, and Chris saw the real scar of Scar Range. This particular mountain was very steep, and no one had ever climbed it successfully. Most people avoided it, because harpies were a common sight around it.

But now that he saw Scar Mountain from the top, he noticed a wide gash in it, which reached down to a plain that looked like it was underneath the mountain. Here the gold grass was almost blinding, and there was no gray to be seen, only purple and green. In the center of the plain was a small lake of sparkling blue. But the animals here were different, more numerous and of a wide variety from rabbits to wolves all milling around peacefully, as if without a care in the world.

The harpy carrying him floated down in spirals towards the golden plain below. As they flew inward, he looked up to see that two other harpies were also descending into the mountain. One carried a deer, the other Marc.

Below him he heard a chorus of screeching, and five harpies rose to meet them. His harpy dropped him a few seconds before they landed. He saw that Marc was set down gently several feet away.

They herded Chris towards a shadowy corner. He looked about him. It seemed like the entire mountain must be hollow, and it all glowed. The purple flowers, he now saw, had feather-like petals, and the green vines and leaves around them were covered with thorns. He reached out to touch one of the flowers, but one of the harpies grabbed his shoulders and jerked him to the ground with a screech.

He was forced to watch from that position. His horse was allowed to wander. He saw that it stayed far from the walls, but nibbled gently at the grass.

He looked at the grass, which seemed thicker than normal and was feather-like, as the flowers were. He realized with a start that it looked like a brighter version of the brownish-yellow feathers on the harpies’ legs. He wondered if this valley was the home of the harpies, and if their coloring took after their home.

When he touched the grass with his hands, it pressed down like a cushion, and for some reason, he found that he wanted to stay in this beautiful place. The soft, glowing grass, if it was really grass, reminded him of his childhood bed. It had been one of the few places where he felt safe, where he could rest without worrying about anything. And the warmth that the canyon seemed to hold, it reminded him of—

He heard screeching, and saw that more harpies were arriving. One swooped towards him, and he was surprised to see that it held an unconscious Arnold. The feeling of peace snapped, and he suddenly felt anger rising against these beasts.

The harpy landed backwards, in a way that allowed Arnold to be laid back in a restful position on the grass. He almost looked like he had simply lain down there at the end of a hard day.

Chris pulled his knees to his chest and put his arms tightly around them. He wished that he could attack the harpies, but he wouldn’t even get to his feet before they were on him, so he tried to hold in the anger. It was hard. No longer did he let the golden grass comfort him. He was sure that he would find some way to stand up to these beasts.

Then suddenly, Nora crashed into him in a tight bear hug, and he realized that in his anger he hadn’t noticed the screeching that signaled her arrival.

Terrin joined them shortly, her face drained and ragged, her hands scratched from her clenched nails. She whispered hoarsely, “Nora.” Then she saw Arnold and fell to her knees beside him. “Arnold,” she said in an even more urgent tone.

Nora released Chris, and he unbent himself and looked them both over.

“Are you two okay?” he asked.

“We’re fine,” Nora said. “Terrin lasted quite a while, as it was mostly a distance fight, but after Arnold was caught, there were too many of them for her to handle. They didn’t hurt her too bad, though. I was completely useless, and they didn’t hurt me at all. It looks like Arnold got the worst of it.”

Nora continued to tell him what she had seen of Arnold’s fight. Harpies were almost impossible to beat, unless you had at least one well-trained fighter for every one or two harpies, and it was always good to have extras. There had only been three of them, as Nora had no way to fight back — with only Arnold really trained for that sort of thing — against a large group.

The three huddled together over Arnold until mid-evening. During that time several more harpies arrived, carrying various wildlife and bringing in the other three horses. The horses joined Marc in grazing on the strange grass.

A knot of harpies gathered next to the lake, and more joined them as they brought the animals. From time to time, the harpy who was standing guard over the humans would screech, and a new harpy would come to relieve it.

Finally something interesting happened. Three new harpies landed, and instantly all of the other harpies gathered around them — all except the one guarding the humans, and it looked extremely depressed about being left out. Its expression reminded Chris of his sister Trill when she was told she couldn’t do some boyish thing. But he turned away from it to watch the scene.

There was a lot of low screeching going on. Then the three new harpies appeared, walking towards them.

The first two were obviously middle aged. One had long hair, the other short. They were both tall and slender. The long-haired one wore her hair in cascading curls that somehow reminded him of the flowers. She, for it was obviously a she, also wore purple eyeshadow, which made her eyelids look heavy, and in her hair was a circlet with brass wings.

The male had a pale face, and wore his hair straight, and it fell in pointed ends. He too wore a circlet, this one with silver wings.

Then there was the youngest, and she was the most surprising. She had a pale, shy face. Her hair was short and curly, more blue than purple, and her eyes were sea green. Her eyes were wide, and her hands lightly clenched, one pressed to her mouth. She wore a circlet with gold wings.

There were three things, though, that set these new creatures apart from the other harpies. The first and least important was that their wings were feathered. The second that they had human feet, which were barefoot. The third was that they had human arms.


Read Chapter Eleven…

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.