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 16 | Chapter 18 >>
The sea filled Grit’s dreams, but this time it was not the Western Sea, but the Southern Sea. Its gentle waves upheld Grit as she floated in the salty water. Half awake, she curled her body and burrowed her head under the pillow to steal a few minutes more sleep. There was too much noise in the room next to hers. Dagger or some of the warriors who’d arrived the night before must be getting ready to leave again. The time had come for her to leave, too. The dream of the Southern Sea left an ache in her gut. She’d wasted too much time in Port Colony.
The dining hall bustled with activity when Grit descended. She wound her way through the crowded room, pack slung over her shoulder, taking care to avoid anyone who had attended the previous night’s conference.
“Oomph!” Turning from a table she’d been serving, Harth bumped into Grit. “Pardon me. I didn’t see you there.”
“It’s nothing.” Grit bowed her head and tried to move around the plump woman.
“Oh, it’s you,” Harth said. “Where are you going in such a hurry? And with your pack, too?”
“I’m leaving.” It was none of the woman’s business where she was going.
“Surely you can spare a few minutes for some breakfast. Let me pack you a lunch, as well. Wherever you’re headed, you’ll need something to sustain you along the way.”
Grit wished to object, but the opportunity for food was too tempting to refuse. She’d spent enough of her life hungry. Plus, if she ran into Peril and Zag… But foolishness. Dagger is mad if he thinks I owe those two boys anything.
Grit frowned at the innkeeper. “Fine, but make it quick.”
Harth disappeared into the kitchen, and Grit found an empty stool at the counter. As she drummed her fingers on the countertop, the young man on her left turned to face her.
“My name is Arrow.” It was the shaggy-haired warrior from the Eastern Plains. “I would’ve introduced myself last night, but you left so suddenly.”
“A wise person rests well before a long journey.” Grit had heard this somewhere, probably from Sire Swot.
“Will you be traveling with us to Castle Concord, then?”
“Why not?” He pushed his sleeves up and crossed his arms, elbows resting on the countertop. For an instant, before his scarred hand covered them, Grit glimpsed four circular marks just above his elbow. She reached out to touch his arm, but pulled her hand back.
“You’re branded,” she said.
Arrow glanced at his arm and shrugged. “Half the people in the Eastern Plains are. The rest are tattooed. All depends upon your village.”
“I had brands.” Grit caressed her right arm gently, a knot forming in her stomach as she thought of what was not beneath her sleeve. It wouldn’t matter at the Southern Sea. No one would care that her honor had been erased.
“Had?” Arrow’s voice harbored no surprise, no malice, only calm interest.
“Yes, had. Sixteen of the finest brands ever seen.” Grit smiled sadly and pressed her forefinger into her sleeve, marking where her brands had been. “The last one, the best one, I did myself. Stole the rod from my dame and buried it in my arm.”
“You branded yourself?” An odd, disbelieving expression clouded Arrow’s intelligent brown eyes.
As Grit nodded, Harth returned with two plates heaped with eggs, bread, cheese, and fruit. She set one before Grit and the other before Arrow, who grabbed his bread before Harth had removed her hand from the plate’s edge.
“That seems a stupid thing to do, branding yourself.” Crumbs fell from Arrow’s mouth. “The first thing Whisp told me when we met is that to heal calls for greater strength than to wound. That’s one reason I’m here, I and my humble band of warriors.”
He waved a hand toward a group of young men and women seated at two large tables pushed together. “We aren’t many, but we would give all we have and all we are to bring health, safety, and peace to our home.”
Grit swallowed. “Well, I have no home.” She pushed her sleeve up to reveal clean, unmarked skin. “No more brands, no more home.”
Arrow leaned closer to examine her arm. “Where did they go?”
He set down his bread and faced her. “Then why will you not come to Castle Concord? Kinsmon gives a home to all who enter.”
Grit chose her words and spoke them slowly, as if explaining death to a child. “Because I have no home, not in the Northern Forest, not in Port Colony, not at this Castle Concord. I will travel south to the very edge of Chasmaria and still find no home.”
“What will you do then, when you reach the very edge of Chasmaria?”
Grit squirmed on her stool, her breakfast no longer appetizing. Nothing less than the Southern Sea could satisfy this ache. How long must she wait to look upon its waves, to taste its salty air? Why must Arrow ply her with questions? What she would do upon arriving at her destination was nothing to him. Perhaps she would build a hut. Perhaps she would swim into the Southern Sea and never again set foot on Chasmarian soil. Whatever she would do, she was not willing to confess to Arrow her lack of planning.
She picked up her fork and pointed the tines at him. “Perhaps I will eat my breakfast in peace.”
“I hope you may.” He seemed to mean something more than she could comprehend.
Grit leaned over her plate and Arrow returned to his meal. Harth placed a cloth sack on the counter. “Did I hear you’re aiming for the Southern Sea?” she asked.
Grit grunted and nodded. She looked from the sack to the dame.
Harth patted the sack. “This should last you several days. Follow the street out there south out of Port Colony, then take East Fork Road. That’ll take you to Sages Bridge, which you should be able to cross with no trouble at all. Take South Fork, along the shoreline, and the chasm will keep you from the Southern Realm. The waters are rough where the river lets into the Western Sea, and you’d never make it across.”
Grit placed a hand on the sack. Her fingertips just touched Harth’s.
“Thank you,” she said before she knew what was coming out of her mouth.
She let her fingers remain against Harth’s a moment longer. Lifting the sack from the counter, she nodded again to the dame, and then to Arrow, who watched quietly as she backed away.
Harth called to her over the noise of the dining hall. “You are always welcome here, Grit.”
Arrow raised a hand in farewell, his mouth full of food.
Outside, Grit tied the sack of food to one of the straps of her leather pack. She looked up and down the street, then descended the steps into the morning crowd and headed south. At the end of the street, on the outskirts of Port Colony, she stopped. The road split into two, one route leading south through open fields along the Western Sea and the other leading east into the Mid-Chasmarian Forest. As Grit turned to look back at the city she had left, the sack of food swung against her hip. Harth’s instructions echoed in her mind as she considered the paths before her.
Take South Fork, and the chasm will keep you from the Southern Realm. The waters are rough where the river lets into the Western Sea, and you’d never make it across.
Grit set her jaw and headed south. After several steps, she stopped, closed her eyes, and took slow breaths. What if the dame had told the truth? Coil’s roundabout tactics had won him many a sparring match against more direct opponents. A map might show South Fork Road to be more direct, but only experience could tell the depth, width, or wildness of the river that coursed along the bottom of the Southern Chasm.
She bit her lip and glanced at her boots. Her fingers fiddled madly with her dagger.
Look at me… Following the counsel of a fool dame.
She turned and retraced her steps to the signpost, her fingers calmer with every step. She lifted her hand from her dagger, adjusted the pack on her shoulders, and set her course down the eastern road.
East Fork Road to Sages Bridge, and a dagger for the dame if she’s steered me wrong.
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Check back next week to read chapter 18
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.