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 did not know how long she had been sleeping when the door opened and a red-haired dameling entered, carrying a steaming water pitcher. Grit propped herself up on one elbow, her dagger ready.
The dameling looked over her shoulder as she closed the door. Her voice was high and soft. “She’s downstairs. A band of warriors from the Eastern Plains just arrived. I won’t hurt you. Please, will you put that knife away?”
Grit loosened her grip on her dagger and lowered her hand. She did not sheath her weapon, but tapped the flat of the blade on the side of her leg as she studied the dameling. She was taller than Grit and slightly thicker. Had she been in the habit of sparring, as she obviously was not, she might have been a formidable opponent. Instead of firmly toned arms, her short, puffed sleeves revealed a thin layer of softness beneath smooth, unmarked skin. They’d put her on one of Thresh’s innermost rings, among the pitiable women whose strength of body and will childbirth would surely erode.
Yet the dameling seemed unmindful of the dishonor she should bear. She smiled broadly, an inextinguishable light in her green eyes. Her thick, wavy, red hair hung loose to the middle of her back. Around her neck, she wore an elaborate necklace unlike any Grit had ever seen. Three stones like carved ice hung from the center of the silver chain, with smaller red and blue gems hanging in matching pairs on either side. What sort of girl was she?
“You must be Grit,” she said. “I’m Scarlett. I understand you’ve been treated most harshly. I do apologize for Vell. He is overly zealous at times, but he’s still learning. He means well, anyway.”
She poured the steaming water into the basin, dipped a cloth in it and waited a moment, passing the cloth from hand to hand. At last, she held the cloth out to Grit.
“What?” Grit stared at the cloth.
“Your face is covered with filth.”
Grit shrugged. “It often is.”
“Would you like me to wash it for you?”
“No.” Grit sheathed her dagger, snatched the cloth from Scarlett’s hands, and dabbed her face with it. There was no way she’d let this girl touch her. “Is that sufficient?”
Scarlett’s brows drew together as she studied Grit’s face. “For now. Do you feel well enough to eat?”
“Of course I do. Where’s the food? I was told this Harth would give me a meal.” Grit threw her legs over the side of the bed. She felt weak still, but hoped a meal would steady her trembling muscles.
“Slow down.” Scarlett placed a hand on Grit’s shoulder, but removed it when Grit drew back. “Do not attempt to rise yet. Save that for tomorrow. Tonight, you have the luxury of dining in bed.”
She smiled warmly, as if she did not know Grit had never slept in a bed, let alone eaten in one. It wasn’t as strange as she’d thought it would be, sleeping in a bed with a frame and mattress like Dame Berth’s rather than on a mat on the floor. She could get used to it. The girl, however… Grit squirmed under Scarlett’s pitying gaze. What did she want?
“Do not look at me like that. I am not to be pitied,” Grit said.
“You are very much to be pitied.” Scarlett pulled the chair away from the wall and sat several feet from Grit.
She folded her hands in her lap. “You are unaware both of your strengths and of your weaknesses. You have yet to learn that it takes more courage to stay than to flee. I tell you this now because, though you pretend you could run downstairs for dinner, you would not make it two steps before falling flat on your face.”
“When I am well—”
“When you are well, you may send me from your room or leave yourself. If it suits you, you may scream all sorts of obscenities at me. I only ask that you not harm me physically.” Scarlett nodded toward Grit’s dagger. “Pain doesn’t suit me at all, and it would only reinforce Vell’s unflattering opinion of your temper.”
Grit snorted. “Vell knows nothing of my temper.”
Scarlett leaned back in her chair. “Do you like stories, Grit? I could tell you of Port Colony’s infamous cousins. I don’t suppose their tale is widely told where you come from.”
“I don’t suppose it is.” Perhaps all Scarlett wanted was a victim upon whom to unleash her tongue. With any luck, the story would be short.
Scarlett sighed. “I’m not at all surprised. Many villages have completely forgotten the tales of their origins. But long ago, this land was not ruled by savagery and greed, as it is now. Dames cradled their offspring tenderly, children had no fear of hunger, and sires sheltered all. Into that beautiful age, the cousins Thresh and Koradin were born.”
Grit started at the name of her village, but quickly recalled Sire Stone’s lessons in feigned disinterest. She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling.
Scarlett chattered on easily. “On opposite sides of the tiny village that would become Port Colony, the boys were born to the sisters Spring and River. The babes’ first cries echoed through the village as one, filling its residents with joy.
“Thresh and Koradin grew up side by side, the closest of allies. Then she came into the village, a beautiful young woman, who captured their affections and planted havoc in their impressionable hearts. They quarreled over her, a dreadful creature who harbored no affection for either of them. The dispute became so violent, the council of Port Colony banished Thresh and Koradin. Such feuds can poison an entire village.”
Grit propped herself up on her elbow and looked full into Scarlett’s earnest face, anxious to hear the story’s end. She’d never considered Thresh and Koradin could ever have been anything but enemies.
“The council hoped the banishment would give the cousins opportunity to forget their feud, but it didn’t turn out as they’d intended. Bitter, angry, and resentful, Thresh and Koradin parted ways at the base of a promontory on the Western Sea. Koradin headed east. Thresh struck out to the north. The cousins founded that region’s most prominent villages, the seaside village of Thresh and the fortified village of Koradin.”
“But what about the young woman? What happened to her?”
“Havoc?” A troubled expression crossed Scarlett’s delicate features. “Havoc thrived on chaos and left no corner of Chasmaria untouched by misery and confusion.”
“Why do you tell me this story?” It made no sense. What was she to do with a history lesson of a place she’d sworn to forget?
Flustered, Scarlett shook her head and straightened her skirt. “I don’t know. I thought… I thought…” Her green eyes, wet with tears, met Grit’s steady gaze. “I thought you should know that the world wasn’t always so unkind. I believe it will not always be so cruel.”
Scarlett wrapped a loose thread around her finger, her gaze darting from Grit, to the ceiling, to her darkening fingertip.
Grit leaned back on her pillow. “You forget I am not to be pitied. The dameling had it right. Best to leave Koradin and Thresh to themselves. Wipe your eyes and bring my dinner.”
“Do you miss anyone?” Scarlett asked as Grit dropped her spoon into her bowl.
“I don’t understand your question,” Grit said through her last mouthful of stew.
Scarlett set down her spoon. “I mean, do you ache to see anyone from your home? Are you troubled by your absence from your dame, your sire, your siblings, or any others with whom you often spent time?”
“Oh.” Grit swallowed. “No, I don’t miss anyone.”
Sorrow flooded Scarlett’s eyes as she leaned forward in her chair and took Grit’s empty bowl.
Grit let out a deep breath and fiddled with her fingertips in a manner familiar, but not her own. She’d said something shameful, but had no idea how to correct her error. What did Scarlett want her to say? She didn’t miss Dame Berth’s rod or the rumors about Sire Stone. She’d had to save her sibling’s thieving, meddling skins too many times to count. And Coil, who taunted her at every chance… She turned her attention back to Scarlett.
“I miss my dame when I am at Castle Concord.” Scarlett twirled the spoons around in the top of the two stacked bowls. “We used to live together at the castle, but when her sire died, he willed this inn to my dame. She left the castle to ensure Kinsmon’s scouts would always find a safe harbor here. I miss her sorely when we are apart, which is one reason I visit whenever I’m able. Port Colony has grown less safe in recent years, and I fear it will grow increasingly dangerous for Kinsmon’s scouts and friends.”
“Where… What is Castle Concord?”
“Castle Concord is Kinsmon’s base in the Southern Realm. It’s a wonderful place, white and lovely, and situated in the heart of a lush valley. You must come see me there when you are well.”
Grit shifted herself in the bed. “Do you have a sire?” She hoped Scarlett would not pursue the subject of visiting Castle Concord.
“I did.” A note of deep sadness entered the dameling’s gentle voice. “I miss him, too, though I hardly recall his face. My dame tells me I look just like him. I wish I could see him and decide for myself.”
“You’re of age, aren’t you? Why do you not go to him?”
“He died when I was young. He’d never been well. It was his illness, in fact, that cost him his test. When the village council banished him, he traveled to Port Colony and collapsed in the doorway of the inn. There my dame found him. She was just a dameling then, but she nurtured him back to health, and they spent four happy years together. The fifth year of their time together, his illness returned to consume him. Not long after his death, my dame’s sire sent us to Castle Concord. He felt it best I grow up somewhere gentler than an inn in Port Colony.
Scarlett smiled, but sadness remained in her green eyes. “What about your sire, Grit? Was he a kind man? Do you miss him?”
Grit focused more intently on her hands. She rubbed her fingertips together, as if to cleanse them of indelible dye. With a quiet shock, she recognized her fingers mimicking the motions Coil of Dara used to rub away the pink stains of his berries. She clapped her hands together and concentrated on holding them still in her lap.
“I miss no one.”
“Hmm.” Scarlett cocked her head. She stood beside Grit’s bed, hesitant to leave. “You might not miss anyone now, but I’m sure you will someday. I miss Dagger something awful when he goes away.”
“Who’s Dagger?” The name intrigued Grit.
“Dagger is my friend.”
Grit looked blankly at the dameling, not understanding her words.
“You don’t know what that means, do you? It means simply that I have known Dagger several years, share many good memories with him, and enjoy his company. When my dame and I came to Castle Concord, I was four, and he, seven. That was,” Scarlett calculated quickly, “twelve years ago. I’m eager to see him again, though no one knows when he might arrive. That is how it always is with Dagger.”
Grit barely listened to Scarlett. Head bowed, eyes intent, she slid her left thumbnail under each of the fingernails on her right hand, dislodging tiny bits of dirt and dead skin, as if she might, by copying his actions, dislodge Coil of Dara from her memory.
Scarlett placed a soft hand over Grit’s. “Stop. Your hands are clean.”
Grit clenched her hands in fists to restrain their movement and looked at the dameling. “Why have you stayed with me all this time?”
“For many reasons. First, because Vell is still a little terrified you will plant your dagger in his side. Second, because Whisp is concerned you might somehow harm yourself. Third…” Scarlett hesitated.
“Third,” Scarlett said with quiet finality. “Third, I have come to wish I might count you among my friends.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
Scarlett squared her shoulders. “Because in all the time I have been here, though you have been less than gracious, you have neither screamed for me to leave nor attempted to leave yourself. I suspect you like me more than you care to admit, even to yourself.”
Scarlett turned and left the room before Grit had time to respond. She threw herself against her pillow and cursed her slowness of mind. She glared at the door through which the dameling had left. What would it mean to count Scarlett as a friend?
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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.