Chapter 12: Grit of Berth and Stone

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

TWELVE

<< Chapter 11 | Chapter 13 >>

Grit traveled southward from the promontory, following the curve of the shore. By early afternoon, sweat dripped down her back. She shed her linen tunic, revealing a black undershirt. As she tucked her tunic into her pack, she gazed upon her bare, unscarred arm. Sixteen brands, all gone. She glanced about the empty beach, discomfort creeping into her heart. What have I to show for sixteen years of life? A gentle wind blew across the beach, cooling her sweat-dampened skin. She turned from the sea and the memories carried on its breeze. 

“Humph!” She hoisted her pack onto her back. “If anyone doubts my strength, it’ll be their folly, not mine.” 

She put her flask to her lips and tipped it to the sky, but only a drop of water fell onto her parched tongue. Somewhere ahead—it couldn’t be too far—was a river. She marched forward, set on finding the river as quickly as possible. 

Within an hour, she spied the river in the distance and angled her course into the woods to meet it further from the sea. When she reached the river, she knelt on its bank with cupped hands, lifted a handful of cool water to her mouth, and drank. 

“Ugh!” Again and again she spat, trying to rid her mouth of the stinging salt. She kicked her pack, propelling it toward the river. Just before it fell into the swirling water, she scooped it up and tumbled onto the soft grass, hugging the pack to her chest. 

“This is foolishness, all of it.” She moved her cheeks in and out in a vain effort to produce enough saliva to ease the salt sting and quench her thirst. “Utter foolishness. I’m going to find water.” 

She rose and tromped eastward, stopping every half mile or so to test the water, careful only to taste a drop at a time. An hour inland, the river ran fresh. After gulping from her cupped hands, Grit filled her flask. 

She fastened the cap and surveyed the forest. Two figures approached from the east. Grit shoved her flask into her pack and darted from the riverbank. The figures hastened toward her, one several paces ahead of the other. It would be just like Brakken to send hunters after her, even in her exile. 

She looked into the needled foliage of the tree against which she stood. It would have to do. She wrapped her hands around the lowest branch and lifted herself into the tree. She climbed quickly, shutting from her mind the memory of her last time in a tree. Coil is not here to chase me. Or to spare me. 

“Wait, Zag!” 

The first figure, a dark-haired boy not much older than Slate, stopped beneath Grit’s tree. He whirled on the child who had called his name. 

“We haven’t time for dallying, Peril. The village burns, boy. Quicken your pace.” 

Grit sniffed the air. A trace of smoke mixed with the scent of pine. 

“But I’m hungry. I lost my basket when the army came.” 

“Quit whining. I’m hungry, too.” Zag turned and marched westward. 

As Peril passed beneath the tree, Grit shifted her pack. A small bundle of scraps she’d stolen from Kinsmon’s table remained of her provisions. One hand released the tree and clutched the strap of her pack. The boys would survive. If they didn’t, more shame to the dame who bore them. Grit had no duty to them. 

“I don’t want to leave.” The younger boy dropped his hands to his sides and glanced back the way they’d come. 

“Keep moving. I don’t want to die.” 

Blond head bowed, the younger boy followed his companion away from Grit’s tree. As they disappeared from sight, she climbed higher. 

Smoke rose in the east, darkening the late afternoon sky. A mounted army circled the smoldering village, trampling or swinging broadswords at any villagers who tried to escape. Inside the village, men, women, and children tossed buckets of water on flaming huts, their anxious cries muffled by distance. Between the forest and the village, a helmeted man observed the scene astride a giant white horse. A petite woman on a nervous pony watched at his side. She arched her back and turned in her saddle. Her gaze swept the treetops and fixed on Grit’s tree. 

As the branch upon which Grit stood swayed with the wind, she hugged the trunk tighter. Was this how Turf, coward of cowards, felt in a tree? 

Though too distant to distinguish more than the vague lines of the woman’s face, Grit stood transfixed, her awareness of the branch beneath her feet giving way to an overpowering sense of the woman’s presence. Grit closed her eyes and clung to the trunk, the edges of the pine bark cutting into her palms and scraping against her cheek. You cannot see me, woman. You cannot see me. She opened her eyes. The woman’s attention had turned to the village. Grit remained in the tree, mind alert and limbs trembling. 

As darkness fell, the village quieted. The man spurred his snow-white horse to a trot and rode through the shattered village gate, and the woman followed on her pony. The army ceased its circling and fell in behind the pair. Amidst a shower of pine bark, Grit shimmied down the trunk. She rubbed her palms on her thighs. Splintered bark pressed into her skin. 

The moon shone brightly as she stood on the edge of the riverbank. From this low vantage point, Grit could not see the village, nor, she hoped, could the woman see her. She heaved her pack across the river. It landed with a thump on the far back. Triumph surged through Grit’s spirit, and she lowered herself into the river. The water soothed her aching body. She opened her mouth to relieve her thirst, then dove beneath the surface and kicked off from the sloping riverbed. 

South again. She resisted the river’s westward pull. Her arms cut through the water, propelling her toward the distant bank. 

**** 

It had been Talon’s idea to pull out the maps. Sire Swot had shown them the chasm-cut mountains rising in the northwest, arcing almost to the eastern border of Chasmaria before turning and sweeping back down to the southwest. Swot knew nothing of the Southern Realm, but he knew of Port Colony. The city sat on the coast of the Western Sea midway between the Southern Realm and Thresh. It was a busy city, filled with traders and swindlers, and the people of Thresh had no need of it. 

Grit was no longer of Thresh. Her body poorly rested and her last morsels of food consumed for breakfast, she traipsed southwest through the forest. So what if Kinsmon was right about her going to to Port Colony? She’d find the city, benefit from its bounty, and be gone. Near midday, she reached the Western Sea and continued along its shore. Late afternoon, she spied the outline of a massive city that seemed to crawl from the water into the rolling, inland hills. 

With renewed vigor, Grit jogged south, arriving in the city near the dinner hour. The sights, sounds, and smells of Port Colony overwhelmed her as she walked through the crowded streets of Middle Chasmaria’s largest city. Booths heaped with fruits, vegetables, meats, cloths, and house wares lined the streets. Dirty vendors guarded anything one might wish to possess, awaiting only the proper payment to release the goods. They cried out to passersby, hoping to make customers of strangers. The fragrance of savory foods mixed with the odors of waste running in the gutters and stench wafting from unclean bodies. It was like the Inner Ring’s market huts, amplified a thousand fold and soaked in the dregs of a hundred villages’ waste heaps. 

As she passed a stall loaded with fruit, Grit placed her hand over a shiny, red apple. Her hand fit perfectly around the fruit. She ran her tongue over her front teeth. They’d fit perfectly into the apple’s side. Her mouth watered in anticipation. She glanced to either side. The vendor, a plump man wearing a shimmering violet shirt, was bargaining with a customer. 

Grit stood a moment longer, her hand resting on the apple. Then she slid both hands into her pockets and strolled away with drooping shoulders. 

“Thief!” 

Following the cue of all around her, Grit turned to look back the way she had come. The fruit seller shrieked, “Thief!” over and over again. His fat, shaking finger pointed straight at her. 

She drew her hands from her pockets and held them at shoulder level. “Why do you scream at me, old man? I have nothing that belongs to you.” 

“Grab her!” He shouted to someone on Grit’s left. 

A muscular man advanced. Grit ran, crouched over to duck between the people blocking her escape. Thick hands encircled her waist, hoisted her off her feet, and twisted her body midair. Her stomach lurched as she fell onto his broad shoulder. The guard wrapped a rock-hard arm around her body, pinning her arms to her sides. 

“Let me go!” Grit kicked at the man’s thighs. When her screams and her feet failed to secure her release, she sank her teeth into his sweaty back. 

“Oh, but you’re a lively one!” The man laughed and tightened his grip around her body. 

Grit turned her head and spat on his stubbly cheek. He set her down in front of the fruit vendor’s stall. He remained behind her, his arm hooked around her neck to prevent her from bolting. 

“What’d she snatch?” 

“Check her pockets, Vell,” the vendor said. 

Grit scowled as from behind, her captor reached his free hand into one pocket and then the other. He fumbled as the leather band around his wrist caught on the hilt of her dagger. 

“Touch my dagger again, even by accident, and I won’t hesitate to plant it in your heart,” she said, her voice low and menacing. 

The big man’s breath was hot on her ear, but he was careful to avoid her dagger as he took his hand from her pocket. “You’re in no position to bargain, girl.” 

In his right hand, Vell held the apple Grit had stolen. The gathered crowd glared at Grit. They would not come to her aid, but Kinsmon’s silver mirror might. 

Grit did her best to nod with Vell’s arm still around her neck. “That swindler should pay closer attention to his customers. Had he not been so busy trying to cheat that other fool…” She jerked her head toward the customer with whom the vendor had been arguing. “…He would have received full payment and more for his rotten fruit. I’ll pay still, if you’d be so kind as to grant me access to my pack.” 

Vell released her from his chokehold, but stood ready to pounce if she made any sudden move. He needn’t worry. She wasn’t fool enough to bolt, not now anyway. She kept her eyes on him. Gain his confidence. Eventually, hell relax his vigilance. She shrugged her pack off her back. 

“There’s no question of my ability to pay.” Holding her pack against her chest, propped on a raised leg, she rifled through its contents. “I can and will pay far more than the value of the entire stall.” 

She pushed aside Sire Stone’s blanket, grabbed the silver handle of Kinsmon’s mirror, pulled it out of the bag, and held it out to the vendor. 

“Here. Payment in full and more. Let it be a lesson to you not to show such disregard for your paying customers. You’re most welcome.” 

He snatched the mirror from Grit’s hand. Clutching it to his breast, he smiled a cruel, unfeeling smile. “Payment for stolen property accepted. Payment for the crime of thievery, to be determined. Take her, Vell.” 

Like what you read? 

Read chapter 13 now!

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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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