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
Inside the forest, where Coil’s prying stare could not reach, Grit slowed. Her injured right arm cradled the bowl of berries against her stomach so none spilled. The bulky leather pack kept sliding from her left shoulder. As she raised her arm to reposition the pack, a small, white hen strutted onto the path. It stopped and clucked at Grit.
“Get back, feathered wretch.” She bent and picked up a heavy stick. “I don’t have time for your kind today.”
The bird cocked its head.
“Go, I said!” She stomped her foot, sending a jolt of pain through her arm. The chicken looked at her with one beady orange eye.
What is the awful beast doing? Why won’t it go? Wouldn’t it be something to lose my test to a chicken? She’d never met anyone who’d been attacked by a chicken, let alone seen a chicken attack. She’d collected their eggs since she was a babe, even killed a few grown birds for dinner. They seemed harmless enough. They bobbed their heads, made funny sounds, and scampered around pecking at the ground. Sometimes they sat on the ground and fluffed up a tiny dirt storm, but they never did anything truly threatening. Still, the old dames had told enough stories, and so Grit jabbed her stick in the direction of the chicken. The bird fluttered its wings, but soon settled to watch her again.
“What do you want?” She poked at the chicken once more. Her arm throbbed. She dropped the stick. “Stay out of my way then, will you?”
Grit kept her gaze on the chicken as she devoured the remaining fruit. She swallowed the last berry and examined her arm. Her wounds no longer oozed, but the ache continued.
“Come on, stupid berries,” Grit muttered, shaking her leg as if it would speed the process. “Get to work.”
She rolled her eyes and threw her head back to look into the treetops. She waited, breathing deeply, for the pain in her arm to ease. The berries never healed her aches as quickly as she wanted them to do. Surely Coil could have spared a few more berries. This was taking too long. She tensed her muscles. The pain remained, diminished only slightly, but she was running out of time. She studied the chicken a moment, then, glancing beyond it, spied something white under a shrub.
Skirting the chicken, Grit made her way to the shrub and knelt in front of it. Her right hand remained in her lap, holding Coil’s bowl, as her left fingers wrapped around the small object. The egg, still warm, fit perfectly in her small hand.
“Hello, dinner,” she whispered. She wrapped a few large leaves around the egg, placed it in the wooden bowl, and tucked the egg in its makeshift case carefully into her pocket. The wood knocked against something hard. Grit pulled Sire Stone’s tiny dagger from her pocket, slid it from its case, and examined its smooth white hilt and silver blade. Its blade was no longer than her finger. How could it be useful? Remembering her sire’s instructions, she twisted the hilt and looked inside. A semi-transparent substance filled the hollow handle of the small knife. She dipped her finger into the ointment and sniffed it. It smelled of rain, earth, and something entirely foreign to her senses. The scent sharpened her mind. She touched the ointment to the first of her brands.
A pang of cold pierced her wounded arm like the Western Sea engulfing her body on the first swim of summer. Grit drew in a sharp breath, but let it out slowly as comfort washed over her. As healthy skin grew over raw flesh, it consumed the pain along with all traces of her injury. She dabbed the salve on the each of her burns, the cold initial sting less severe with each brand. By the time she’d covered the sixteenth brand, the second and third had healed. One by one, her wounds closed, revealing clean, smooth skin.
Her fingertip brushing her fresh skin, she traced two lines down her arm, the memory of her scars so clear she could almost see them still. But they were gone, and all she felt was the tender caress of skin on perfect skin. She tensed her muscles and pressed harder on her arm with all four fingers. No remnant of pain remained in the thin layer of firm muscle under her skin. She raised her arm and traced a large circle in the air. No doubt remained; her arm was restored to full strength and functionality. Even Coil’s berries, marvels that they were, had never healed so quickly or so completely. Grit tilted her head and studied the tiny dagger in her hand. What is this aid Sire Stone has given me? She sealed the dagger to protect the extraordinary ointment. She might need it later.
The hen clucked again. Through the trees, she could just make out the village of Thresh. Even now, her hunters prepared to pursue her.
“You never saw me, bird.” She returned the dagger to its case and wedged it safely beneath the bowl in her pocket. She studied the woods, turning in every direction but the one from which she’d come.
“South,” she said. Her legs obeyed.
She ran for hours, leaping obstacles, but never slowing. Her only goal to place herself as far from Thresh as possible, she pushed her body harder than ever. As the orange glow of the setting sun filtered through the leaves above, Grit grunted and increased her speed. Sage Brakken releases the hunters at sunset. They’re coming for me now. I must keep going.
When the forest grew completely dark and weariness threatened to overwhelm her, Grit stopped. Bending over with her hands on her knees, she took ten deep, slow breaths. Rest or die. I cannot go on like this. Rest or die.
Unused to being still, her legs twitched. Hunger pangs stung her sides. She fumbled in her pocket and retrieved the egg. No fire to cook it. I haven’t time, nor do I care to show my hunters where I am. She cracked the egg and poured its slimy, uncooked contents into her mouth. She tilted her head back and swallowed hard, the raw yolk filling her throat as it slid toward her stomach. She cleared her mouth of the last of the egg’s ooze and willed it to strengthen her for the strenuous night to come.
She reached into her pack, pushed aside Dame Dara’s blanket, and pulled out a flask of water, a portion of her Dame’s Aid. She sipped twice. Who knew when she’d be able to refill it? Numerous streams wound through the forest, but she had to outdistance her hunters. She dared not stop too often. She swished the cool water around her mouth before swallowing. Her thirst remained, but at least her mouth was not as dry as it had been. She tucked the flask into her pack and ran again.
She did not sleep that night. Surely the hunters had rested during the afternoon and pursued her with vigor. She’d need more than a few hours head start. She slowed her pace, but kept on.
She ran south, angling east or west periodically to throw the hunters off her trail should they discover it. She did not retrace her steps, as some do when fleeing through wild territory. Instead, she moved always away from the village and the hunters who pursued her. She stopped only when her body grew too faint to continue; when she did pause, it was never for long. She rationed the provisions Dame Berth had given her, taking only a few bites of bread or cheese and a few sips of water before continuing.
Her stomach craved a full meal. Her head spun from exhaustion. She tripped over her blistered feet, crashing into a tree. She clutched the trunk, breathing deeply. Prey had been caught on the second day. Caught and sentenced to the Inner Ring at best. Servitude to her hunter and death were options she didn’t care to consider. She had to press on. The trembling in her legs would stop once she started running again, and it wouldn’t be so hard to keep her eyes open.
The second night, Grit spied the entrance to a cave at the base of a hill. She climbed the hill and scanned the surrounding forest. Far to the north, smoke rose above the treetops. Her hunters couldn’t be fools enough to light a fire, but the sight comforted her. If it was them, they were far enough away for her to rest soundly. She returned to the bottom of the hill and inspected the cave, only to find it offered no escape. Should the hunters track her to the cave’s entrance, she’d be trapped. She found a fallen tree trunk nearby. In the dim evening light, she built a makeshift shelter against it, taking care to arrange branches, twigs, and leaves to look as though they’d fallen naturally into their chosen places. When she was satisfied with her handiwork, Grit wrapped herself in her blanket, wriggled into her shelter, and closed her eyes. As sleep overcame her, she saw a fleeting image of Dame Dara shivering in her simple bed.
The fool woman should have known better than to leave a nice blanket unattended. It was a wonder Coil grew up with any sense. She pulled the blanket to her chin. It scratched against her bare arm and stank of sour milk despite its recent washing, but it was finer than anything she’d slept with in Dame Berth’s hut.
On the third night, Grit tucked herself into a narrow space between two towering gray rocks and pulled Dame Dara’s blanket over her head. Having traveled far, hard, and late that day, she fell quickly into a deep sleep. She dreamt she was floating in the Western Sea, its waves rocking her body as Coil laughed nearby. When she awoke and removed the blanket from her face, the sun was high in the sky.
Emerging from the shadow of the rocks, Grit surveyed her surroundings. The trees had thinned. In the west, water shimmered in the brilliant light of late morning. A warm breeze brought the scent of saltwater.
The Western Sea. She strained her ears to hear the lapping of the distant waves, an echo of her dreams. Grit shook her head as she looked over the glistening waters. She pictured the coastline in her mind, trying to remember where it curved in and jutted out. She had a rough knowledge of Chasmaria’s geography, enough to know her situation was grim.
All would be lost if they drove her into the water. No prey ever came back from the Western Sea.
She chewed a dry crust, sipped from her flask, and stuffed the blanket into her pack. Before leaving the rocks, Grit pulled out her dagger and etched a notch in the rim of the empty berry bowl. Three notches now marked the edge of the wooden dish. Three notches for three nights. Only thirteen more to go.
Leaving the Western Sea behind, Grit headed into the forest in a southeasterly direction. She maintained a steady pace through the thickening underbrush. The terrain sloped upward, and she pumped her legs harder. Early in the afternoon, she knelt by a stream to refill her flask.
She sensed him coming a split second before she heard the twig snap.
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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.