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
<< Chapter 14 | Chapter 16 >>
Grit woke with a start. She snatched her dagger from under the blanket and scanned the corners of her moonlit room. Laying still in her bed, she listened. Muffled sounds came through the floorboards, as if someone were moving furniture in the room below. What was going on down there? Who rearranged a room in the dead of night? She strained her ears and heard voices. This was more than an innkeeper preparing for the morrow’s crowd. A distinguished guest? A clandestine meeting? What could warrant such activity at this hour?
Grit swung her feet over the edge and waited to see if her head would tolerate being upright. Vell’s poison no longer clouded her mind. She stood, her legs stable as ever.
With light steps, she crossed the room. She eased the door open a crack and peered into the dark hallway before squeezing between the door and its frame. With a hand on the wall, she tiptoed to the head of the stairs and descended into the main dining hall. The muffled sounds became louder and clearer. She turned toward a door behind the stairwell.
Standing beside the doorway, Grit pressed her body against the wall. She didn’t wish to be discovered, not with her heart racing like this. How Slate managed to eavesdrop on the council’s secret meetings, she’d never understand.
Inside the room, which appeared to be a smaller dining hall, several people sat around a table that ran the length of the room. Among the strangers were Vell and Whisp, as well as two men and a woman she saw in the main dining hall when Whisp had first brought her to the inn.
At the head of the table sat a young warrior, his elbows on the table, his face covered by his pale, long-fingered hands. Deep in thought, he seemed oblivious to the soft chatter of the others settling into their seats. Though none of the room’s occupants appeared armed, Grit felt for her dagger. If it was foolishness to approach a stranger without a ready weapon, it was stupidity to linger unarmed outside a room full of them.
On the other side of the wall, a sharp cry arose. Grit slid her hand around the doorjamb and peered into the room. A woman with long, untamed curls sat in a chair in the corner, her head bowed over a squirming infant. As the babe settled to nurse, the dame turned her gaunt face to the ceiling.
“You. Come in.” The voice of the young warrior at the table’s head startled Grit.
She turned her head toward him, her hand still gripping the doorjamb. Piercing blue eyes under a shock of straight jet-black hair met her gaze. His pale, angular face was the face of Sire Stone, twenty or so years younger.
Grit gasped and drew her dagger. “Who are you?”
He rose from his chair and crossed the room to meet Grit. Even his gait was similar to Sire Stone’s. She pushed herself away from the wall and stood squarely in the doorway. She’d fight him if need be.
On the other side of the table, Vell pulled the silver tube from his pocket and twirled it between his fingers. “Perhaps she should be under guard.”
“Put it away, Vell.” The sireling continued toward Grit. “See her necklace. Kinsmon trusts her.”
Vell narrowed his hazel eyes. “You don’t know her like I do. There’s a little devil in her.”
“She is one of us.” The sireling’s tone was sharp. He looked from Grit to Vell, and his expression softened. “As are you, Vell. From this moment, you are to defend this girl, though it cost you your job, your status, your very life. Do you understand me?”
“I don’t need his protection.” Grit glared at Vell. She’d been a fool to think he approved of her. Here he was, calling her a devil in front of all of them.
The sireling whirled to face Grit. “I didn’t ask if you needed his protection. It is yours, whether you want it or not.” He turned back to Vell. “Do you understand me, man?”
After a wary glance at Grit, Vell nodded and sank into his chair. His pipe clanked as he set it on the wooden table. The dark-haired sireling turned back to Grit, who remained in the doorway. Tightly wound, that’s what Berth would have called this sireling, and that’s where his similarity to Sire Stone ended.
He stepped forward and extended his right hand. “Grit of Berth and Stone, I presume. I’m Dagger. I arrived just a short while ago, but Whisp has informed me of your situation. It is my pleasure to meet you.”
So now he was attempting pleasantries. Grit stared at his extended hand, her lip curled into a scowl. “I’ll make no alliance with a stranger.”
“Ah, you have indeed been plucked from a Chasmarian village!” A soft, almost scornful laugh escaped with Dagger’s words. “I don’t offer my hand as an alliance, but as a pledge of trust. I’ll not harm you, nor will any in this room.” He shot a meaningful look at Vell.
Grit couldn’t tell whether it was his resemblance to Sire Stone or the challenge in his eyes that made Dagger seem familiar and emboldened her to take his hand. Though she itched to pull away from him, Grit willed herself to stand firm. Dagger’s pale hands were soft and smooth against her darker, more calloused skin. She measured his character by the firm steadiness of his grip and the unwavering studiousness of his clear blue eyes as they met hers. He was over-confident, but she liked his boldness. He wasn’t afraid to mock her, yet when he called her Grit of Berth and Stone, it sounded as natural, as right and honorable as when Kinsmon said it. It sounded as if she were still herself.
He tightened his grip. “You may be just plucked from some humble village, but you are among friends. Join us.”
He released her hand and gestured toward an empty chair. It might be a trap, but she had to know the nature of this odd gathering. She pulled the chair from the table and sat, comforted by the open door just a few feet away. A quick escape never hurt.
A young warrior she hadn’t seen before watched as she settled into her chair. He shook his sandy brown hair out of his eyes and frowned. “Why don’t you sit at the table?”
Grit crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. One hand drooped so that her fingertips rested on her dagger. The warrior shrugged and turned back to the table.
As Dagger resumed his seat, Harth entered, carrying a wooden tray loaded with various cheeses and several sliced loaves of bread. Scarlett followed with a silver pitcher in each hand. Harth distributed food, and Scarlett poured magenta liquid into glass mugs.
A murmur of thanks rose from around the table, and they ate. Though Grit had eaten only hours earlier, she savored each bite. By now, she’d swallowed enough of Harth’s food to fear no ill effects from it. If they wanted her to die by poison, they’d have let Vell have his way. Grit glared across the room at him. He picked his silver pipe off the table and slid it into his pocket.
Though she ate freely, Grit drank cautiously, resisting memories of Coil with every sip of Kinsmon’s special brew. It was enough to see his golden pink curls in her dreams. She didn’t need to be reminded of them during her waking hours. She focused on the discussion at the table, which seemed little more than a recounting of past events at Castle Concord until Dagger set his hands on the table and turned to the broad-shouldered man seated on his left. “Tell me, Oak, what have you discovered in your travels?”
Oak, a massive man with a thick, graying beard, set down his empty mug and spoke in a voice as strong as his appearance. “There is great unrest in the Northern Mountains. Many of the sirelings have abandoned their villages. It’s rumored they’ve allied themselves with a native, long-absent warrior of Summit Colony. No one’s named this warrior, but I have my suspicions.”
For a moment, Dagger seemed drained of energy. Regaining his composure, he answered, “Your suspicions are correct. Strike of the Northern Mountains has been reported in that region in recent months, with many cruel and foolish sirelings in his service.”
“It is the same in the Eastern Plains,” said the warrior who had spoken to Grit. He bit off a chunk of bread and continued. “In the beginning, we assumed our youth had failed their tests, but when so many never returned, we began to suspect some sort of interference. It had to be more than mere weakness on the part of the offspring. They’d all been diligently trained.”
Dagger nodded, a grim expression on his face. “Accustom yourselves to such news. We will hear of many more youth, as well as men and women, sacrificing themselves to Strike’s twisted ambitions. Fools, all of them, but it is sure to happen.”
The babe wailed. The conversation at the table paused, but was taken back up by the woman Grit had seen in the inn earlier. She strained to hear the woman’s report, but the fussy infant distracted her.
“Shh,” Scarlett whispered over the babe’s head. She placed a hand on the young dame’s shoulder. The dame shifted in her seat, as if she didn’t approve of Scarlett’s touch, and patted the screaming babe’s back more vigorously. The child burped, then threw his face against his dame’s shoulder. When he raised his head, a wet spot marked her gray dress.
Grit gave up on following the conversation at the table and studied the dame closer. She was slightly built, but with a rare strength in her diminutive form, a strength that had been pushed far beyond its limits. High cheekbones accentuated her gaunt face, and dark circles underlined eyes that seemed to take in every detail of her surroundings.
She turned her gaze on Grit, and Grit sat motionless, allowing the dame to take stock of her as the babe continued to squirm in her arms. It is only fair to allow her to scrutinize me as closely as I have her.
Scarlett followed the dame’s gaze. “Perhaps… Perhaps Grit might soothe the child.”
Grit shook her head. She’d only held her younger siblings out of necessity. It had never crossed her mind to touch an infant not thrust into her arms by her busy dame. She’s mad if she thinks I’ll touch a stranger’s offspring. The dame wrapped her arm protectively around the babe’s arched back.
“Grit,” Scarlett said in a constrained voice, “it is a small thing to hold this babe, but by doing so, you may give Laurel a moment’s rest. Laurel, look at Grit. She is as afraid of holding that babe as you are of letting him go. You needn’t worry she’ll steal him.”
“I’m not afraid of a babe.” Grit realized too late what her words committed her to do.
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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.
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