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
East Fork Road followed a southeasterly course. By midday, Grit had traveled deep into the Mid-Chasmarian Forest. She stopped, opened Harth’s sack, and selected a small loaf of dark bread and some dried meat for her lunch. She ate quickly, finishing the last of the bread as she walked.
By evening, when she stopped for dinner, Grit’s legs ached from the exertion of climbing increasingly steep hills. Ahead, mountain peaks loomed over distant treetops. Grit lowered herself to the ground, her back against a wide tree trunk. She reached into the sack and pulled out a pastry. She bit into the flaky crust. Sticky apple filling dripped from her lower lip. As she licked it, she thought of Dame Dara and of the fruit pie she’d savored after her Final Branding. An image rose in her memory of a bowl of berries beside a broadsword. She took another large bite of the pastry. Her hand was on the broadsword. Another bite, and she had claimed the berries.
She closed her eyes against the memory of her Aids Ceremony and tilted her head back. When she opened them a minute later, the last of the sun’s rays shone through the branches above her head. From the thick, rough trunk, limbs extended in every direction. From each limb, smaller branches and twigs reached out to touch one another until they formed a tangle of wood and leaf. She closed her eyes again, and she was in the tree, clinging to the trunk and willing herself not to move, her breath caught in her chest.
She looked down. A hand, fingertips stained a dark pink, wrapped around the branch, almost touching her boot. A second hand gripped the branch, trapping her feet between the two encroaching hands. As she stared into the foliage below, the wind rustled the leaves, revealing the round, smiling face of Coil of Dara.
“You will not catch me,” Grit said, her voice steady, unfeeling.
Tightening her hold on the trunk, she raised one foot and brought it down with all her might on Coil’s hand. His face contorted with pain, and his hands slipped from the branch. Bile rose in Grit’s throat as his blue eyes disappeared into his skull, leaving gaping black holes. From his mouth, black smoke billowed. His lithe, muscular body flopped this way and that, battered by branches as he plummeted to the forest floor.
Grit awoke just in time to escape the horror of Coil’s bones cracking against the ground. Leaning over, she cleared her mouth of the awful taste the dream had left. Still heaving, she unclenched her fists, but the fingers of her left hand stuck together. Raising her hand to her face, she smelled a faint fragrance of apple. In the dark of the night that had descended while Grit had slept, she wiped the remnants of Dame Harth’s pastry from her hand onto the grass at her side.
“Coil,” she whispered, half afraid to speak his name even when no one listened. “Coil. Coil. Coil.”
She fell onto her side, her head against the soft earth, and waited for morning. Sleep would not come. She did not wish it to come. But her body, mind, and soul could not continue without rest, and so she waited numbly for the morning sun to light her path.
When morning came at last, Grit rolled into a sitting position, ate a quick breakfast, and continued on. The terrain rose steeply, and by late afternoon, the trees had thinned. As she came upon a small cluster of conifers, she slowed her pace and untied her sack of food. She sat in the shade, relieved for the shelter from the sun. She peered into the open sack and wrapped her hand around a slab of dried meat. Someone was watching her. She drew her hand from the sack and reached for her dagger. Only when the hilt was firmly in her grasp did she look up.
A man and a woman, each dressed in an odd assortment of fabrics and colors, stood on either side of her.
“What’s in the sack?” the woman asked. Short, choppy hair stuck out from her head.
“Nothing.” Grit slid the pack over her shoulder, drew her dagger, and eased herself onto her haunches.
The man’s smile held no warmth. “Then you won’t mind giving it to us.”
“I would mind that very much, actually.” Grit’s gaze darted from one to the other of the would-be thieves.
“Look at the necklace.” The woman giggled, one hand over her mouth and the other pointing at Grit’s neck. “I want it.”
Grit propelled herself to her feet, but the man tackled her before she had taken a second step. His body collided into hers, and they fell together onto the soft earth. She tried to roll away. His legs pinned her to the ground. Something in her leather pack dug into the small of her back.
“Get off me!”
Grit thrust her dagger toward his thigh. He grabbed her arm, wrested the dagger from her grip, and held it to her neck.
“Alls we want’s the necklace.”
Grit turned her face away, sickened by his rancid breath.
“And the sack.” The woman bounced on her toes. “We want the sack, too. Don’t we want the sack?”
“And the sack,” the man said.
Out of the corner of her eye, Grit spied a rock. She struggled to free her arm. “And if I refuse? What then?”
He laughed, expelling an invisible cloud of stench over Grit’s face. She struggled not to turn away again.
“What then?” Grit asked, taking pains not to inhale.
He leaned in closer, so that his nose almost touched hers. The tip of her dagger pressed into her neck dissuaded Grit from slamming her forehead into the man’s nose.
“Then we take it from you.”
Sitting back, he yanked Grit’s pearl away from her body and slid her dagger under the chain. He held it there a moment, the chain pulled so tight it dug into the back of Grit’s neck. In one quick motion, he jerked the dagger up and back. The golden chain hummed down the length of the blade.
A strange look came over his face. As Grit lifted her head from the ground, the pain at the back of her neck eased. Her pearl remained between his grimy fingers, linked to the golden chain that had not been severed by her dagger.
Again, the man sliced in vain at the necklace. After another failed attempt, he threw the dagger over his shoulder and tried manually to break the chain.
Grit struggled beneath his weight, clawing at his hands as he tried to unclasp the necklace.
His fleshy fingers fumbled with the clasp, and he dropped the necklace onto Grit’s chest. He turned to the woman, who watched from several feet away with her bony fingers in her mouth. “How bad do you want it?”
Twisting and sliding, Grit managed to unseat the man in his distraction. She scrambled to her feet, kicking at him as he tried to grab her. She spied her dagger lying in the middle of the road and ran to retrieve it.
The woman pointed with both hands. “My necklace! Get my necklace!”
The man, now on his feet, darted toward Grit. With the two bandits between herself and the trees, Grit sprinted away, hoping she could outrun the man. She pumped her legs, her muscles stinging against the steep incline. At last the terrain leveled.
He was getting closer. What could she do? Where could she hide? The flat, rocky terrain offered little protection. She ran a few more yards and stopped abruptly, almost losing her balance. She steadied herself and let out a soft laugh. “The Southern Chasm.”
Ahead of her, the earth opened, as if an enormous dagger had inflicted a deep gash upon Chasmaria’s face. Planks of dark wood suspended from strong, yellow rope spanned the chasm.
“And that must be Sages Bridge.”
She glanced over her shoulder. Her pursuer approached. Grit fixed her attention on the southern side of the chasm. The mountain rose in a steep wall with dark spaces suggestive of caves. If she could make it across, she might find refuge and escape among those caves.
She rushed onto the bridge without slowing. The bridge swung widely. She placed a hand on the rope railing and continued across, shifting her weight to counterbalance the swing of the bridge. She set foot on the southern side of the chasm, then turned to gauge the man’s progress.
He stood on the other side of the chasm, a horrified expression on his dirty face.
“Keep your necklace. We don’t want it, after all.” He shook his head and stepped back from the bridge. “What are you, a fool or a demon?”
Grit laughed, a loud rolling sound that came from her gut and echoed over the chasm. “Whatever I am, I’ve bested you!”
He walked backward, as if afraid to lose sight of Grit. Finally, he turned and jogged back the way they came. When she was certain he was gone, Grit stepped to the edge of the chasm and peered over the side. Jagged rock dotted with scraggly shrubs dropped to the canyon floor. Far below, a river raged through the chasm, flowing toward the Western Sea. Grit lifted her gaze to the bridge and furrowed her brow.
The bridge swayed gently and seemed to change in appearance. One moment, the ropes were yellow and new. The next, they were brown and frayed. The planks shifted to expose gaping holes and broken boards. She touched the railing with her fingertips, and the bridge appeared as she had first seen it, strong and whole. Was she some sort of fool or demon, to cross such a bridge?
What was this place? Her head spinning, Grit clutched the pearl that had driven her so quickly into the Southern Realm. It could have killed her, crossing that bridge. What if she’d fallen? The pearl and the allure of the Southern Sea were clouding her mind. What was this southward pull, and why did she care if a lunatic took her necklace? She was a fool not to have seen the dangers of the bridge.
She put her fingers to the necklace’s clasp, but stopped. The thought of tossing the pearl into the chasm sent an empty chill through her entire being. She backed away from the bridge all the way to the steep rock, and tucked herself into a narrow cave. There Grit sat, her back against the wall, staring at the bridge with Coil’s pack in her lap and her hand wrapped around her pearl until darkness veiled her sight and sleep released her from her vigil.
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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.