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
Grit raised a hand to shield her eyes from the midday sun. Villagers hustled past the meetinghouse and down the long road that led out of Thresh. Young children darted through the crowd, heading to the sea or into the woods to fill their empty baskets with fish, mushrooms, and wild fruit. Older children conducted themselves with a sort of bravado, wielding swords, daggers, bows, and spears. In another year or so, the strongest and most fortunate of them would join their sires on the offspring training field. With any luck, they wouldn’t spar each other for four years only to fail their tests because some of them can’t honor the hunter’s code.
She stepped into the street, narrowly missing a youth hurrying to the training fields. The quick-handed boy danced around a sour dame, relieving the distracted woman of her pockets’ contents. Several pairs of boys squared off for spur-of-the-moment wrestling matches. One bold girl leapt onto a sturdy boy’s back, threw her arms around his neck, and attempted to strangle him until he knocked her head against the wall of a nearby hut. She fell to the ground, laughing. Grit had seen the pair sparring on the training field. If Brakken pitted them against each other, would either let the other escape into the forest?
The dames watched, sometimes whispering to one another and sometimes barking instructions to their offspring. A few men walked the streets, but most were already in the training fields, sharpening their skills or awaiting their pupils. Grit stood in the middle of the street, soaking in her last taste of Threshan life.
Her head ached. She reached up to feel a crusty lump on the back of her head. The wretched hag had a wheelbarrow. Where’d she come from? Where’d she go? All I remember is her mouth and that laugh… It was like waking in the dead of night to the silence of forgotten dreams. Enlightened only by the sparse details she had learned through the council, she tried to piece together the events leading to this moment.
It was after midday on the sixteenth day. She hadn’t left the highway’s protection. She’d kept a foot on it; Sire Stone said Oath saw that much. So, she’d met the requirements of her test. Turf had no right to take her as captured prey. But he didn’t take her, and she hadn’t been captured. The hag had deceived her. Sire Stone said nineteen days had passed. Had it been three days since she saw the old woman? She was an idiot to have offered to help her in the first place. Why had she done that? Dame Berth was right; it was an infantile error. But who was that old hag, and how did Turf fit into all of this? Most pressing of all, what was Grit supposed to do now?
Only one thing was clear: Thinking hurt. Desperate for sleep, Grit traveled the familiar route to the Outer Ring. In a mental fog, she stood before Dame Berth’s hut. Its sturdy mud walls supported a thatched roof. For all the woman’s paltry meals, at least her roof never leaked. Grit paid little attention as Dame Dara passed her on the pathway to Dame Berth’s door.
“Thieving scoundrel.” Dame Dara hissed at Grit, never breaking her strident pace. The large bundle the dame carried under her arm bumped Grit, but she was too tired to care.
Dame Berth stood in the open doorway of her hut. “What do you want?”
Grit’s eyes widened in disbelief. “What do I want? I’ve spent the last sixteen days fighting for my life and the last sixteen nights sleeping—if I slept at all—on earth and rock, ever on the alert for hunters, human or animal. Tomorrow I face more of the same. You ask what I want? I want a few hours of rest on the comfort of my own mat, fool woman!”
Berth glowered at her eldest offspring. “You have no mat in this hut.”
Grit rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation. “My mat. Just give me my mat. I’ll take it somewhere else to sleep if you won’t let me enter your rotten hut.”
“The only mats in this superior hut belong to my youngest offspring. My eldest carried his mat to his sire’s hut two weeks ago, right after his Twelfth Branding. I had an extra mat, but I just sold it to Dame Dara. Apparently, she expects to produce yet another urchin.” Dame Berth crossed her arms.
Grit whirled around, but Dame Dara was nowhere in sight. Turning back to Berth, she narrowed her eyes. “You sold my mat to Dame Dara?”
“Oh, was it yours?” Dame Berth laughed. “I thought it belonged to an intolerable infant whose dame should have thrown her onto her sire’s mercy at her first breath.”
As Berth slammed the door, Grit realized with a sinking feeling that her dame had disowned her. Fifteen years and nineteen days past Grit’s First Branding, Dame Berth left her offspring to the mercy of her sire. It meant nothing to Grit. She wasn’t a babe who would perish if her sire rejected her as well. Yet Grit of Stone sounded so bare, so empty. It was bad enough to lose both her honor and her home. Berth might have left her name alone.
Grit of Stone, Grit of Stone. She tried to accustom herself to her new reality.
The wide expanse of grass on the south side of Thresh teemed with warriors and youth. Arrows whizzed through air, metal clashed against metal, and wood thudded against wood. The deep bellows of men, and of boys pretending to be men, rumbled over the fields, punctuated by the shrieks of raging girls and a few exceptionally fierce women. Sires and seasoned warriors walked among the combatants, harassing them into better form. The smell of sweat and blood hovered in the air above the fields.
Grit plodded westward along the edge of the warrior field, where older warriors practiced and sirelings and damelings vied for apprenticeships with the most renowned warriors. She fixed her gaze on two sirelings sparring skillfully in the corner of the warrior field. As she approached, the taller of the two held up a hand. His opponent lowered his sword and turned around.
“Ho, Grit!” The first sireling shook his shaggy brown hair out of his eyes. “I heard you’re leaving, so I’ve stolen your partner.”
Grit looked from the sireling to his sparring partner. “How unfortunate for you, Talon. I’m afraid Coil might kill you. It seems almost shameful to destroy the only solid thing Sire Swot ever produced, but there it is.”
Talon blushed under his tanned skin, but did not respond to Grit’s insult to his sire.
“He’s in no danger. If anything should happen to Talon, I’d need to find a new sparring partner. With my luck, Turf of Elna and Bord would apply, and I’d have to shame my sword with his foul blood.” Coil held his sword up and admired the thick blade. Touching its tip to Grit’s chest, he said, “I wish you weren’t going. My sword and I will be exceedingly bored in days to come.”
Grit directed Coil’s blade away from her heart. “You could always expose Turf’s shame. Better yet, you could track down an old woman who can’t handle her wheelbarrow and kill her. She’s as much responsible for all of this as Turf.”
Coil planted the tip of his sword in the earth and looked Grit in the eye. “I could and I will expose Turf as a coward, Grit, but I’m not sure Sire Stone would approve of the second part of your plan.”
Grit snorted. “Sire Stone has never been wheeled unconscious into his village by a dishonorable hunter, though, has he? Believe me, the experience changes one’s outlook.”
Coil tapped his fingers on the hilt of his sword as he studied Grit with a stern expression. When he spoke, his voice came low and unflinching.
“I will bring down that wretched hag and any who stand in the way of my doing so. Talon has borne witness to many sparring matches. Now, he will bear witness to an alliance.”
His eyes shone with wild energy. Grit’s heart quickened.
Coil turned to the sireling at his side. “Talon of March and Swot, you’ve heard my vows to shame and destroy Grit’s enemies. If I do not keep my word to Grit of Berth and Stone, she may pierce my heart with her dagger.”
“What does Grit of Berth and Stone bring to this arrangement?” Talon asked.
What could she bring? What could she give Coil if he brought down Turf and the hag? She’d give her very blood to see the pair destroyed.
“Nothing.” Coil scanned the warrior field, as if looking for an individual among the crowd. “It will be my pleasure to keep this vow. I’ve long anticipated Turf’s fall, and my esteemed sword has acquired a taste for hag’s blood.”
“You will soak the earth with that woman’s blood and number Turf among the lowest of Thresh’s lowest?” Grit’s fingers danced over her dagger’s hilt as she studied Coil’s face for any sign of faltering.
“I will give my very blood to bring them down, if that is what you wish.”
Talon frowned. “It’s uncommon to vow aid without condition. In fact, it simply isn’t done. Perhaps you might reconsider the terms of this alliance, Coil, as well as the possible outcomes.”
“These are the only terms I offer.” Coil ran an admiring hand along the central ridge of his sword. He spat in his hand and held it out to Grit.
With a solemn nod, Grit spat in her palm and gripped Coil’s hand. “I accept all terms offered by Coil of Dara.”
Talon shook his head. “I don’t like it at all, but as I have borne witness to your sporting skirmishes, I now bear witness to your peculiar alliance. Coil of Dara will pour out his blood while Grit of Berth and Stone does nothing.”
“You can stop using that name. I have no dame,” Grit said.
Both Talon and Coil raised their eyebrows. Coil sheathed his sword.
“Berth disowned me.” Grit dug her toe into the soft earth. Surely admitting it would get easier in time. “It’s no big matter, so don’t look so alarmed. I’m not the first to leave Thresh in shame. I wager I won’t be the last.”
Talon took a sharp breath, turned his head to one side, and studied Grit with his lips pursed.
Grit said, “What is it, Talon? Have I said something shocking? Stop looking at me like that.”
“It’s nothing. Just something I read last night, a story of sorts. It spoke of a time when the outcast would be freed from shame. There were other parts, darkness and blood and pain… ”
“You should spend less time with your sire. You sound as befuddled as Swot. It hardly suits you. I’m tired and must speak with Sire Stone, in the chance he hasn’t decided to disown me as well. Good luck with the hag, Coil. I want her blood to drench the earth.”
Leaving the sirelings, Grit walked the perimeter of the offspring field, where sires trained twelve- to sixteen-year-old offspring in the arts of combat. In the middle of the field, her sire stood with his arms crossed in front of a black-haired boy of twelve who struggled with a sword too heavy for his young arms.
“Hmm. I think a lighter sword, Slate, or perhaps a dagger might suit you better.” Sire Stone took the broadsword from his hands.
Over the boy’s head, Sire Stone’s gaze met Grit’s. “Go, boy. Fetch a lighter weapon from the armory. Swing it around before you bring it back to make sure it balances well in your hand. This,” he hefted the sword, “is ridiculously large for you. You must not think you are greater than you are when selecting a weapon, or you will fall by your own hand.”
“But I will grow into it,” Slate said.
“Not today, you won’t. Now go.”
Slate took the broadsword from his sire’s outstretched hand. Fumbling with the heavy weapon and finally dragging it along the ground, he left for the armory without noticing Grit standing with her head bowed several feet behind him.
“Grit,” Sire Stone said when Slate had gone. “Grit, meet my eye and speak to me.”
She looked into her sire’s bright, blue eyes.
“I would very much like to sleep, Sire Stone, but I am no longer afforded the privilege of a resting place.”
“Berth has rejected you, then, has she?” Sire Stone clenched his square jaw.
“And sold my mat to Dame Dara.”
“Well, that’s just like Berth.” He shook his head. “Never mind. Whatever the council says, I’m not entirely convinced my offspring failed her test. You’ll stay in my hut. Here’s the key. Go now and sleep. You look horrendous.”
Grit trudged to Sire Stone’s hut. With one hand on the timber doorframe, she slid the key into the lock and turned it until she heard a soft click. Pushing the heavy wooden door open, she entered the dim hut. A bed and one mat were the only sleeping accommodations. She couldn’t take the bed. Offspring never did, and she didn’t want to risk losing more of her name by offending Sire Stone. Slate’s mat was as thin as she remembered it, but the blanket rolled inside was thicker than the one he’d used when he lived with Dame Berth. She rolled the mat out, pulled her sibling’s blanket over her sore head, and slept.
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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.