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
Well-fed villagers trickled into the meetinghouse, and once more Grit stood before the council. Many Threshans had returned to huts, fields, and forests, but several remained to observe the Aids Ceremony. Sage Brakken said a few words, congratulating Grit on bearing her Final Branding well and admonishing her to choose her aid with prudence. Then Berth approached with a worn leather pack.
“The Dame’s Aid. One day’s provisions.” She thrust the bag toward Grit.
“I’ll use it well.” Grit took the pack, awkwardly slinging it over her left shoulder with the same hand. Her right arm throbbed with every shifting of her body, but her face remained placid. Dame Berth stepped back to make room for Sire Stone. He cradled a small dagger in his calloused hands.
“The Sire’s Aid.” His deep voice was barely audible. He leaned close to Grit’s ear and whispered, “When you are out of sight of the village, twist the hilt and apply the contents to your arm. It’s your best chance of survival.”
He laid the dagger in Grit’s hand. She said nothing, only cocked her head as he clasped her hand. His hands paled against the olive tones of her skin.
She looked from Sire Stone to Dame Berth. Her three siblings were unmistakably sprung from Sire Stone. He couldn’t have denied them, not with their straight black hair, sharp features, and piercing blue eyes, but she wasn’t sure about herself. Once, on the shore of the Western Sea, she’d studied her reflection in the blade of Coil’s sword. Dame Berth had the same large grey eyes, small upturned nose, and square jaw she’d seen in the polished steel. Even her light-brown hair, falling in wavy tangles around her shoulders, seemed a younger, less weathered version of Dame Berth’s.
I’m the spit and image of my dame. But what of Sire Stone? She pulled her hand from his, her gaze following him as he returned to his place among the council members. Nothing in me reflects him. He could’ve denied me unchallenged. Surely it was pride that kept me under Dame Berth’s care, but why did Sire Stone claim me? Why did he spend these four years preparing me for warriorhood? Why did he not refuse my request for training as so many sires do their female offspring?
“Have you selected an aid?” Sage Brakken’s voice drew Grit from her reverie.
She walked toward the tables and stopped in front of the broadsword and small bowl of berries. Sire Pierce nodded smugly. Wouldn’t it please him if she chose the broadsword he’d wrested from an enemy’s hand in his raiding days? That might be a greater humiliation to Dame Berth than the Inner Ring.
Grit picked up the bowl of berries and turned to face the council. “I choose these.”
Grit tightened her grip on the rim of the bowl. She refused to acknowledge the noise coming from the back of the otherwise silent crowd. She’d dealt with Coil enough for the day.
“B-b-berries?” Dame Berth shook her head and exhaled loudly.
“When you could carry the broadsword of a champion or any other number of deadly weapons or useful tools? The child is mad!” Sire Pierce looked upon Grit with his usual scorn.
She lifted the bowl to the level of her heart. “I choose these. If there is a problem with my decision…”
“There is no problem. She is of age. She has endured her branding. She makes her choice, and she lives with the consequences.” Sire Stone addressed his remarks to the council, but cast a glance at Grit on the word “lives.”
She searched the crowd for Coil. Had he told Sire Stone why her dagger left so few scars?
Sage Brakken turned to Grit, his bushy eyebrows drawn together in a stern expression. “Sire Stone’s right. The girl goes with a day’s portions, a tiny dagger, and a bowl of berries. Grit of Berth and Stone, you have the afternoon. We release the hunters at sundown. Your test ends at midday on the sixteenth day. If you manage to both survive the elements and elude your hunters, we’ll bestow upon you all the rights and privileges of a free dameling. If you fail…” He made a noise somewhere between a cough and a laugh. “Well, we’ll just see how you fare.”
He stepped from the dais and exited the meetinghouse. The other eleven council members followed. Grit waited for the room to empty of spectators, but one Threshan remained, slouched in a chair beside the exit. As Grit approached, he stood, moved to the door, and positioned himself with his back against one side of the doorframe and his booted foot propped against the other side, nearly level with his chest.
Grit had no choice but to deal with a little more Coil. She snorted at his leg. He scowled at her mangled arm. She flexed her arm, and a deeper pain cut through the raging sting of her wounds.
“You might be the stupidest creature ever to breathe Chasmarian air.” He shook his head and let out an irritated sigh. “If there’s anything of value behind your pretty face, I caution you to stuff it with those berries as soon as you can.”
“I intend to. Now would you move that scrawny leg out of my way? Your hair is pink, and I have places to go.”
“So do I.” Coil lowered his leg and sauntered out of the meetinghouse. His legs, far from scrawny, were lithe and muscular. They’d often carried his body from the center of Thresh to the sea faster than her legs could carry her. She hadn’t lied about his hair, though. Coil’s golden locks displayed a bright pink streak that had not been there before her Final Branding.
Only a fool would waste a head start lazing around the village. Grit waited long enough to see Coil amble down a side street just beyond Dame March’s forge before popping a berry into her mouth. She stepped from the meetinghouse porch and walked purposefully across the dirt road. The smells of bread and fish wafted from the row of crowded market huts circling the wooden meetinghouse, but she passed without pause. The Inner Ring merchants were always on high alert on test days, eager to knock their betters out of the village before they’d even had a chance to meet their hunters. Her Dame’s Aid and Coil’s berries were all the food she could take from Thresh, unless she wanted to forfeit her honor.
She checked her peripheral view as she passed through the Middle Rings. Dames and damelings swept their doorsteps, silently guarding their tidy mud huts lest Grit spy anything she might sneak into her pack. A few years back, Varlet of Dara had stolen seven jackknifes on his way through. He fought his hunters off, but returned home to seven angry damelings. Middle Ringers were proud of their little blades. Grit wouldn’t repeat his mistake.
She turned at the sound of her name.
A lean boy slowed to a walk as he caught up to her. Dirt and cobwebs dulled his straight black hair. “Two sirelings seek honor through the capture or death of their prey.”
“Why do you taunt me with the Hunter’s Commission, Slate?” She picked another berry from her bowl and rolled it between her thumb and finger to feel the tiny bumps on its surface.
“Because I know who your hunters are.”
“And?” She put the berry in her mouth, squished it with her tongue, and watched her younger sibling.
“And one of them is a well-grounded warrior.” He looked very much like Sire Stone as he waited for Grit’s reaction.
“Ha!” She nodded, satisfaction filling her heart as the berry’s sweet juice slid down her throat. “That will be useful. And the other hunter?”
“The other hunter is strong, fierce, and more than able to compensate for his partner’s weakness. He, more than anyone else in Thresh, stands a chance at defeating his prey. There was no dispute among the council members. Dame Berth will give him final instructions. Not,” Slate smiled impishly at Grit, “that this particular sireling ever demonstrates much concern for the council’s instruction.”
Grit stopped and studied the boy’s eager face. “How did you discover this?”
“It isn’t that difficult to overhear even the most secret of council meetings, if one truly desires to do so.” He pulled a cobweb from his hair and flicked it onto the street.
“You’ve been spying again. One of these days, you’ll get yourself killed, intruding on conversations of which you have no part.” Grit turned her oozing arm from a passing dame and spoke in a low voice. “I caution you to tell no one you’ve given me this information, Slate. It would nullify my test and shame us both. I won’t return before your Twelfth Branding. Take this, save it, and eat it directly after your branding. Don’t let Berth see it. I don’t think I need to caution you against Seal’s and Oath’s pilfering fingers.”
She pressed a berry into Slate’s hand. Frowning at his stained palm, she said, “Try not to crush that berry. They’re hard to come by.”
Grit made one stop before leaving Thresh. Seal and Oath had not lied. Dame Dara had indeed washed her blanket in the early hours of the morning. The blanket was nearly dry now. More importantly, it was unguarded. Seizing a priceless opportunity, Grit yanked the blanket off the line and crammed it into her pack, biting her lip against the burning in her arm as she made the necessary adjustments, and slung the pack over her shoulder again. The theft delayed her departure only a minute.
She looked neither left nor right as she left Dame Dara’s yard and jogged through the last of the middle rings and on past the Outer Ring. There, on the very edge of Thresh, she saw nothing but the forest she hoped would hide and sustain her for the next sixteen days; she sprinted toward its cover. As she approached the first line of trees, she glanced back.
Coil leaned against his back fence, methodically popping berries into his mouth. She stumbled, and pain such as she had never known shot down her arm and across her chest. Recovering her footing, she pressed onward. With any luck, Coil of Dara had not seen her falter.
Like what you read?
Read chapter 4 now
Get your copy of GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE
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.