We are excited to share the next installment of Grit of Berth and Stone by Lisa Dunn, the first book in the Chasmaria Chronicles. Follow along with us each week for new chapters!
If you’re new to this series, we recommend you start with chapter 1.
Banished for a foolish mistake, sixteen-year-old Grit scorns the loss of her home, her honor, and her only ally. Only the weak worry about such things.
Grit of Berth and Stone
First book of Chasmaria
The Final Branding was over. Grit’s eyes, as she had intended, were completely dry. Not waiting to be excused, she marched from the stage, pushing her way through the crowd with her good arm extended. She continued into the sparring circle, where tables and benches had been set up for the day’s festivities. On the far side of the fenced arena, Threshans lined up before several tables and served themselves from cooking pots, breadbaskets, plates of pastries, and various other dishes. They’d gorge themselves, even those who didn’t bother to attend the Branding.
Most wore tan and green tunics with trousers, though some of the dames and damelings from the Inner Rings wore dresses of cream or dull earth tones. Useless attire, but at least they’d brought food to share. Grit glanced at her tunic, tucked into her belt. In the past, she’d remained in a sleeveless white shirt for a few days to give her brands time to heal. Without the shelter of Dame Berth’s hut, she’d have to wrangle the tunic over her brands. She’d wait until she was out of the public eye to perform that feat of courage.
Grit held her throbbing arm close to her side, her left hand wrapped around her dagger’s hilt, ready to strike any who jostled her. They’d all taunted her as she traveled from Dame Berth’s mud and thatch hut on the Outer Ring to the wooden meetinghouse in the center of the village, but very few dared mock her now. No one was fool enough to touch her.
Sire Stone walked close by her left side. “Feed yourself, Grit. You have your test still.”
“Even fools know that’s where honor’s won.” On her right, Coil sneered at her mangled arm.
“If I didn’t know better, Coil of Dara, I’d say you were concerned for my well-being. Even fools know that’s where honor’s lost.”
“Leave her, both of you.” Dame Berth stepped in front of Grit. “What do any of you know of honor? You…” She poked a finger at Sire Stone’s muscular chest. “Do you intend never to sever your connection to your offspring? Why can’t you restrain yourself to attending their branding ceremonies, like the other sires? Must you speak to them in the streets and visit them in my hut?”
Sire Stone’s gaze dropped to his chest, where the long, gray key to Dame Berth’s hut hung on a leather cord beside a smooth, white stone. “Perhaps you would like your key back. Perhaps you would rather have bound yourself to another man. Pierce, perhaps? Or are you, after all these years, still afraid the council will discover your secrets and send you to the Inner Ring?”
His bright blue eyes shone with cold intensity. Berth opened her mouth as if to speak, but quickly snapped it shut again.
A flicker of amusement flashed across Sire Stone’s sharp features. “Leave it, little Berth. I doubt you regret our peculiar alliance any more than I do, and I don’t regret it at all. I suppose other sires don’t find their offspring as intriguing as I find ours. As for speaking with Grit or with any of the others, it is mine to decide how I treat my offspring. If you would disagree with me, let us take the matter before the council.”
As he watched Berth, tiny lines formed at the corners of his eyes. The woman shook her head almost imperceptibly, her lips pursed in a manner suggestive of deep irritation.
Grit hugged her throbbing arm closer to her side, farther from Coil’s stern gaze, and laughed to herself. None of this would go before the council. Sire Stone, as prominent on the council as Dame Berth, had made the woman mad on several occasions, but Dame Berth knew when to hold her tongue. Disputes over the upbringing of their offspring were never made public.
Dame Berth wasn’t fool enough to draw attention to Sire Stone. Rumors lingered of Sire Stone’s arrival into the village, his refusal to part with the white stone he always wore, and his acquisition of Berth’s key. Grit had watched Dame Berth’s muscles tense at the mention of Sire Stone wandering in the woods and mentoring sireless Coil. But, Dame Berth was shrewd. With an alliance of such long and exclusive standing, if any spoke ill of Sire Stone, they spoke ill of Dame Berth. She wouldn’t take this to the council. As she had done every time Sire Stone challenged her on Grit’s upbringing, Dame Berth yielded.
Sighing, she gestured toward the tables of food, already swarming with hungry Threshans. “Come, Grit.”
The dame marched on with her nose a little higher in the air than usual. Coil stared unabashedly at Grit’s arm. His lip curled in a sneer.
On an impulse, Grit placed her left hand on his shoulder, stood on tiptoes, and with his curls brushing her lips, whispered in his ear, “To Grit!”
She hurried to catch up with her dame, trying to put from her mind the feel of Coil’s shoulder beneath her hand and his hair against her lips. He’d be smiling that gloating smile now, the one that always told her she wouldn’t win as easily as she expected. Looking back would only feed his pride.
Dame Berth steered a dameling from their path. “You’ve officially left my protection, but I’ll caution you once more. You and Coil have played your game long enough. I have no doubt most of your little battles go ‘to Grit,’ but if you continue, the battle will go to neither of you. It isn’t prudent to ally yourself so closely with one sireling, especially an unclaimed like Coil. He’s already a laughingstock.”
“Ha!” The effort of the laugh sent a jolt of pain through Grit’s arm. “Clearly you haven’t been on the training fields in years.”
“I’m not the fool you take me for. Coil of Dara may be nimble on his feet and fast with his sword, but he has yet to earn the respect of the council.”
Grit frowned. “I’ve seen the council. I’m not sure I value their respect.”
Dame Berth let the insult pass. “There is weakness in him, grave weakness, and unless he eradicates it, he’ll never amount to anything. It’s bad enough none of the sires have claimed him, and there are many who could. His disappearing into the forest, though, and coming back covered in berry juice… Well, Dara’s mighty proud, considering she’s an unclaimed herself, but I don’t blame her for handing him over to Sire Stone.”
The throbbing moved from Grit’s arm to her head. “What’s the point, Berth?”
Dame Berth stopped and faced Grit. “The point is there is something disturbing about Coil, and it won’t serve you well to ally yourself with him any more than you already have.”
“But Sire Stone has trained him…”
“Exactly.” Berth swept her light-brown hair from her forehead. “Sire Stone has trained him, and we both know how delicate his reputation is. At least we can be sure he isn’t that ridiculous boy’s sire.”
Berth looked back the way they had come. Grit followed the tired gaze of the only woman with whom Sire Stone had allied himself. There might be something in her warning against a close alliance with Sire Stone’s protégé.
Coil stood where she’d left him, nodding his golden head as Sire Stone spoke. He had certainly attached himself too freely and too firmly to Sire Stone.
Dame Berth pressed a plate into Grit’s hand. “Stone was right in this: You must nourish yourself. You have a test to pass, and you’ll need all the strength you can get to outrun your hunters.”
“You’re on the council. Whoever my hunters may be, you know as well as I do they can’t catch me.” Grit frowned as Dame Berth heaped generous servings from each dish onto her plate.
“I warned you not to be a fool, Grit. If you continue to indulge such obstinacy as you demonstrated in your Final Branding, you will surely fail.”
“More shame to the dame who raised me.” Grit shrugged her good shoulder, took a salted potato from her plate, and crammed it into her mouth. “In sixteen years, you never gave me so much food. You’re going soft, Berth.”
A scrawny, black haired girl of seven squeezed between Dame Berth and Grit. A second girl, identical in every detail, stood behind the first, silently studying Grit through bright blue eyes as her twin spoke. “Seal saw Dame Dara washing her blanket this morning. I imagine by the time one takes it from the line, it might keep one warm on a cool night in the Northern Forest.”
Grit swallowed the potato and smiled at her young siblings. “Well done, Seal, Oath.”
Each twin grabbed handfuls of food from the table before darting away. Dame Berth set her plate down, leaned over, and removed her worn leather slipper.
“Cursed girl kicked sand into my shoe.” She shook out her shoe, but her gaze remained fixed on Grit. “You know why I named you Grit, don’t you?”
“You tell me every year.” Grit glanced around, seeking an escape from a story she didn’t care to hear again.
“Sand. Dirt. Grit. Call it what you will, it gets in one’s shoe, rubs against one’s foot, and would drive one to madness. That’s what you are, child, maddening for all your irritating ways. In your first year, I thought I would lose my mind, so insufferable a babe you were.”
Grit searched for a way through the crowd. “Perhaps you should have cast me onto Sire Stone’s mercy. He’s done an excellent job teaching me to spar these past four years. I’m quite sure he could have borne my squabbling.”
Dame Berth slipped her narrow foot back into its shoe and stood upright. “Don’t start thinking you overwhelmed me. As for handing you over to your sire, that would have been a shame worse than the Inner Ring.”
“Still, perhaps you should have,” Grit said.
Leaving Berth, Grit made her way through the bustling sparring circle and ducked into the meetinghouse to eat in solitude. She swallowed her pain along with her food and imagined each morsel traveling to a fingertip, a toe, an area in the middle of her back, in order to sustain that portion of her body over the sixteen days to come. She was a slender girl of average height, but when one measures a body bite by bite, one must eat a considerable amount to cover the entire thing.
As she bit into one of Dame Dara’s fruit pies, she realized she had something more important than the distribution of bites on which to concentrate. She had not selected an aid. Nibbling the fruit pie, she crossed the empty room to peruse the tables of aids. There were all the weapons, bandages, foods, and tools she’d studied so closely before the branding. There was something else, too, that hadn’t been there before. Her heart beat faster as she studied the small bowl of bright pink berries. Her arm burned as she reached to touch one of the berries with a finger. She laid her hand gently on the table instead, her fingertips curling around the hilt of a broadsword lying next to the berries. The choice would be easy, after all.
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Book 1 in the CHASMARIA CHRONICLES by Lisa Dunn
About Lisa Dunn
As a child, Lisa Dunn fell asleep to her father’s fanciful bedtime tales and played with her own story ideas during the daylight hours. She now resides in a small southern town with her husband, four children, and a Great Dane who rarely leaves her side. Local librarians habitually thank her for their job security.
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