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.
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Grit of Berth and Stone
First book of Chasmaria
“Fool!” Dame Berth’s voice pierced the darkness. Grit opened her eyes, but the light was too much. She squeezed them shut. Easing one eye open, she tried to focus on the leather slipper in front of her face. Her vision blurred as a small shape fell from above. A puddle of spit settled into a deep, freshly cut groove in the floor. Had the woman spit at her? Her head spun as she rolled from her side onto her stomach. She pressed her forehead against the floor to shield her eyes from the light and stop the incessant throbbing. The spit wet her temple. Voices above set her brain whirling.
“Almost in the village…”
Does he need to yell? She fought back the urge to vomit.
“Regardless… defeated… Turf…”
Turf, Turf, Turf…
“A grave mistake… even a babe knows…”
A babe knows what? What is this? Where am I? There was a woman… Grit strained to remember, but she saw only blackness, and all she heard was a high-pitched screech.
She opened her eyes. Harsh reality had to be better than whatever that nightmare held.
“She was on the Koradin-Thresh Highway.”
I was on the highway. The highway is safe. I passed. Grit opened her eyes wide, and this time they remained open and focused. She ran a mental inventory of her body. Her head, though throbbing with pain, seemed to be in one piece. Her shoulders dug into the hard wood floor. Her arms, twisted behind her back, refused to move. They were bound together at the wrists. She skipped over her legs quickly, frantic to determine whether her ankles bore a matching restraint. They did. Grit fought the urge to resist her bonds.
Stay calm. Don’t move. Wait. Wait. Wait… Listen.
“An infant’s folly, I repeat.”
Grit closed her eyes and hoped Dame Berth wouldn’t spit at her again.
“Still, she did survive. That’s something to consider.”
No one answered Sire Stone. Grit sensed them watching her, waiting for her to either refute or vindicate their judgments. I must rally what little strength I have. She inhaled deeply and, willing away the pain in her head and the weariness all over, twisted her body and sprang into a crouching position.
“Bring water.” She rose, with as much grace as one can have with one’s wrists and ankles tied together, and shook her tangled hair out of her face. “I’ve returned from my test, and I thirst.”
Dame Berth laughed. “Ho, the mighty infant cries for refreshment!”
“Sit, child.” Sire Stone swept a chair underneath Grit’s rear end as she lost her balance. She toppled backward and landed in the chair with a thud.
The twelve members of the council stood in a circle around her on the low stage of Thresh’s meetinghouse. Beyond them, two others sat in chairs to the left of the stage, one erect and eager, the other slouched and disinterested.
Grit scowled at Sage Brakken. “Why am I bound?”
“You are bound to prevent your attempting another act of extraordinary stupidity,” he said.
“An infant’s folly. The first lesson we teach our bubbleheaded offspring is never to approach a stranger without a ready weapon. You failed your test, Grit, where an infant would have succeeded.” Dame Berth spat at Grit’s feet and turned to pace the edge of the low stage.
“Failed?” Grit stomped and struggled against her bonded limbs to rise. “Failed? What rubbish is this? I survived my sixteen days! I sustained my body and preserved my mind. I eluded my hunters when they could have dashed me to my death. I outran and outwitted those you deemed most capable of defeating me. I am alive! I have passed my test, and you cannot say otherwise!”
“Grit.” Sire Stone pushed her back into her seat with a firm hand on her shoulder.
“You were wheeled into the village unconscious.” Sire Pierce stooped to stare into Grit’s eyes. “You were wheeled into the village by one of the hunters you claim to have outrun and outwitted. Tell me, foolish girl, how you can claim to have passed your test?”
“I’d like to hear this myself.” Turf of Elna and Bord rose from his chair and sauntered into the circle of council members. He stopped beside Dame Berth. “I’d like to hear how my dainty, empty-headed, little prey thinks she defeated me.”
An ugly smile spread across Turf’s asymmetrical face as he drew closer to Grit. Slowly and gently, he twisted a lock of her hair, twigs and all, around his forefinger. She glared at him, her top lip curling in the beginning of a snarl. He yanked. Hard.
Grit spat in his face. “I climbed a tree, coward! Shall we tell the council about that?” Only Sire Stone’s restricting hand pressing harder and harder upon her shoulder kept her from hysteria.
“Shall we tell them how you made…” Grit checked herself just short of uttering Coil’s name and forced herself not to look at the disinterested sireling who remained seated beyond the council. “How you made a fool of yourself, cowering on the ground while your fellow hunter searched the treetops? Shall we tell them about that, you sniveling louse?”
“Mind yourself, Grit. Turf is not under scrutiny here,” Sire Stone said in a low voice.
Grit heeded her sire’s warning. To lose control of her emotions was to secure her demise. She might defend herself and so regain firm footing in the council’s opinion, but it would require measured words; quick, careful maneuvering; and perhaps a well-placed dagger. She fixed her gaze on Turf’s jugular and scooted into the center of the straight-backed chair.
Sire Stone’s hand relaxed and slipped from her shoulder. Turf looked at her uneasily and not at all kindly, but he said nothing more. She glowered at him as he slunk to Dame Berth’s side. Coward of cowards.
Slumped in his chair, Coil examined his fingernails with no hint of interest in the discussion. How many times had they mocked Turf? How often had they anticipated shaming him before the council? But now, when Grit threatened to expose the coward, Coil found the dirt beneath his nails more intriguing than Turf’s shame or his sparring partner’s survival. Why had he spared her in the tree if only to let her go down before the council?
Grit glared at him. He raised his eyes to hers briefly before becoming engrossed once more in cleaning his fingernails. She had vague memories of him, at the age of twelve, standing stock still and dead silent on the offspring training field while Sire Stone circled him, watching for the least movement, the slightest indication of alertness. She’d heard rumors that her sire had required the impulsive boy under his training to give detailed, accurate, chronological accounts of each day’s events.
I wonder how much Coil of Dara has observed with no one noticing. None of the council members look at him, much less ask his opinion of my case. He’s as insignificant to them as the dust beneath my boots. But perhaps that’s his intent….
“Can we reach a verdict? What do we do with the child now that she’s failed her test?” Sage Brakken asked.
Sire Stone frowned. “I’m not convinced she has failed. Her capture occurred after midday, and she was on the Koradin-Thresh Highway. My child, Oath, has testified Grit kept one foot on the road until the hag lifted her into the air.”
“Are we to trust the word of a thief? The entire village knows what that child is. Her word is unreliable at best, deceptive at worst.” Pierce smirked at Dame Berth.
“Whether we accept her word or not, there’s still the matter of whether her hunter acquired her by just means. Hunters aren’t permitted outside assistance.” Sire Stone leveled his gaze at Turf.
“Put her in the sparring circle. Let her fight warriors until she proves her worth or falls to her death,” Sire Flex said.
“Imprisonment might suit her better,” Sire Pierce said. “Lock her up with only the refuse of the village for food and drink.”
Council members tossed about ideas for Grit’s future, each suggestion less agreeable than the previous. The contest went on for several minutes while Grit sat quietly, studying the council members’ faces. Only Berth and Sire Stone contributed nothing. The dame nodded or grunted at each plan of action, but committed to none. Turf stood beside her, arms folded. He, too, was quiet, though he whispered now and then into Dame Berth’s ear. Sire Stone stood to the side, watching each speaker in turn. Coil appeared to be taking a nap.
“Historically, captured prey has become the possession of the victorious hunter.” Sire Swot, a head shorter than Dame Berth, wrung his hands together.
“Ah, Swot, now I remember why we keep you on the council.” Sage Brakken pointed a crooked finger at the unobtrusive man. “Every now and then, your unnatural fascination with history proves minimally useful. So you tell us she is her hunter’s rightful possession?”
Dame Berth asked, “Who’d want such a shamed fool? I wouldn’t give her the honor of licking my floor.”
No one answered Berth. All eyes were trained to her left, and so she, too, turned to Turf. He glared at Grit with disgust, his lip curled into a sneer.
“I say we strap her to the top of one of those trees she likes to hide in and leave her there as an example to the babes of what happens to stupid children who lose sight of their goals and stop to help strangers.”
Grit leaned forward, licked her cracked lips, and smiled at Turf. “Only if you do me the honor of tying me there yourself.”
Grit sat back, immensely pleased with herself. None of the anxiety she suppressed seeped into her voice. Her smile widened, and she feigned a pleading tone. “Would you do that, Turf of Elna and Bord? Would you tie me to the highest branch? Or perhaps the better question is ‘could you?’”
Turf nodded in Coil’s direction. “Berry Boy would be more suited to the task, seeing how the two of you have spent so much time chasing each other around the treetops and all.”
“Enough of this foolishness.” Dame Berth stole a glance at Sire Stone. “In the absence of an uncontested victor, my final word as her dame is to insist on her banishment. If her sire concurs, there can be no more discussion.”
Sire Stone held Berth’s gaze a full minute, then nodded slowly. “It is acceptable to me.”
“Then banishment it shall be.” Sage Brakken leaned back in his chair. “Are there any objections?”
Sires Hawk and Palter squirmed, but neither objected.
“As a matter of procedure, does the second hunter have anything to contribute?” Sage Brakken asked. The council, Turf, and Grit turned toward Coil, whose head jerked up as if he’d just been startled from a light doze.
“Only this.” Coil rose to his full height, but remained in front of his chair. “I request the record reflect I had parted ways with Turf of Elna and Bord days before the so-called capture occurred. I suspect the council will discover that individual to have made a cowardly and illegal alliance. I desire to sever all connection with him lest I be included in his inevitable shame.”
“You realize by doing this, Coil of Dara, you surrender the honor that falls to you as Turf’s co-hunter?” Sire Pierce asked.
“I don’t believe his current honor will survive long. Let the record reflect all of this,” Coil said.
A murmur of complacent consent arose as the council agreed to Coil’s demand. Sire Swot scratched an official record on parchment.
“Well, there it is,” Sage Brakken mumbled. “Coil of Dara forfeits today’s honor to prevent tomorrow’s shame, and Grit of Berth and Stone leaves the village. It’s past midday now. She must be gone by this time tomorrow. I hunger. I’m going to find a meal.”
Grit shook her head at Brakken. “That’s right. Gorge yourself on the fat of Thresh. Whose pots shall you dip into today?” They were bold words, but she didn’t care. What could Brakken do to her now?
He turned in the doorway, his gray eyes stern. “You are no longer of Thresh, little girl. Where I satisfy my appetite is no concern of yours.”
He passed through the door with several council members in his trail.
“Shame to the rest of you, as well!” Grit didn’t care if all of Thresh heard her accusations. “Stay and let me tell you about Thresh’s council of fools. Swot, your offspring’s crippled dame walks with greater honor than you. Pierce, you vile man, let the damelings be. Can’t you see they despise you? Stone, Stone, Stone… Surely it’s a shameful man who sends his own offspring into exile.”
Sire Stone stopped, but did not face her. “Be still, Grit, before you shame yourself.”
“It’s too late for that.” Turf’s dark eyes shone with satisfaction as Sire Stone continued out of the meetinghouse.
“Try not to climb too high in Brakken’s esteem, Turf. He might eat you.” Too disgusted to look at his ugly face, Grit stared out the open door.
At this hour, the curving dirt road brimmed with busy villagers. A few passers-by peered through the door and moved on. She gazed over their heads, waiting for the meetinghouse to empty. A curly, golden head blocked her view for a moment as Coil left the meetinghouse and ambled into the street. Only Turf and Dame Berth remained.
Grit rolled her shoulders. “Will someone untie me now, or am I to travel through Chasmaria bound hand and foot for the rest of my life?”
“It’s tempting,” Turf said.
Dame Berth elbowed him. “Untie her.”
Grit stared out the open door. Turf twisted the rope around her wrists. The rough cords sawed into her flesh. He pulled them tight, tighter than necessary. The ropes slackened and fell away. A moment later, rope burned across her ankles. She felt the edge of his blade against her leg; she wouldn’t kick him. Let him treat her harshly. He wouldn’t get another chance, and she wouldn’t let him see her pain. His blade cut through her bonds, but she remained still.
She did not rise until Turf and Berth had departed, nor did she look at her wounded wrists and ankles. When she stood, she walked straight out the door and into the gentle bustle of the street. Two proud steps later, she stopped. She had no idea how to spend the next twenty-four hours, let alone the rest of her life.
Like what you read?
Check back Wednesday to read chapter 7
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.
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