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
Sleep did not prove restful. In her dreams, it was not the man from whom Grit ran, but the idiot woman who had coveted her necklace. Her crossed eyes widened at the sight of Grit’s pearl, reaching for it with jagged claws, her toothless mouth grinning. Without warning, the foul, gaping mouth uttered a familiar shriek. The woman’s figure morphed into that of the hag with the wheelbarrow. Though Grit wielded her dagger with vehemence, the creature evaded her blade, clenched Grit’s arms, and sent her hurtling over the edge of the chasm.
Grit woke with a start, sweat dampening her brow. She rose and stood in the cave’s entrance. The morning sun cast a soft, pink glow over the chasm. Grit scanned her surroundings, finally settling her gaze on the bridge, with its rotted rope and missing planks. She was alone, safe on the southern side of the chasm. After stretching her sore muscles, she turned and stooped to pick up her pack. It was then she noticed a dim light shining at the back of the cave. Placing a hand on the cool stone wall, Grit proceeded with careful steps deeper into the dank cave. She focused on the light as the way grew darker. The point of light grew larger with each step, until she could make out an opening in the rock.
Exiting the tunnel, her spirit soared in the full light of morning. She took a deep breath, thankful for clear, pure air. A narrow road curved into a valley below. Boulders lined the road in front of her, but further down, tall, lush trees replaced the gray stones. The road cut through verdant pastures and brilliant gardens to pass before a grand palace. The low, white castle was rectangular in shape, deeper than it was wide, with red-topped turrets accenting each corner. Windows and balconies decorated its walls, and a white latticework fence enclosed the flat rooftop. A large courtyard stretched through its middle. People milled about the grounds, some alone, some in pairs or small groups.
On the southern side of the castle, warriors sparred under the supervision of a man who strode among the ranks, stopping now and then to correct improper form or to pat a triumphant combatant on the shoulder.
“Castle Concord,” Grit whispered, recalling Scarlett’s description of Kinsmon’s home in the Southern Realm.
She smiled as she caressed the hilt of her dagger. She’d raised her weapon to defend herself from the man on the other side of the chasm, but it had been too long since she had last sparred for sport.
She could descend into the beauty and comfort of this place. She could walk among the gardens or take up her dagger and spar a worthy opponent. Surely, someone here fought as well as Coil. She might settle for one who could match Talon’s skill. She could rest overnight, and then continue on her way.
A horn sounded. The warriors stood at attention, facing the man at the head of the ranks. Grit could not hear his words, nor did she care to subject herself to his, or anyone else’s, command.
“Utter foolishness to think of joining them. This is no more my home than Thresh.”
She shook her head at the castle and walked on. She could no more unpack her bag at Kinsmon’s castle than resist the Southern Sea. There, she would finally be able to rest—not just for a night, but for a lifetime.
A small footpath broke from the road a few feet ahead of her. She followed its curve in the opposite direction from the castle. Soon, she found herself traveling a well-worn lane with wild hedges on either side. She picked edible leaves and berries along the way to take the edge off her hunger. She should have fought harder to keep Harth’s sack of food from the man and woman the day before.
Just after midday, a cart pulled out from a side road, blocking Grit’s way. An old man sat in the seat, holding the reins of a shaggy pony.
Grit stepped back, hand on her dagger.
“Where’re you headed, my girl?” the old man asked.
“Nowhere.” With her free hand, Grit tucked her pearl into her shirt.
The man leaned forward in his seat and placed his elbows on his knees. A sparkling, red stone dangled from a silver chain around his neck. He rubbed the stone across his lips, as if that, combined with squinting at the sun, would help him think more clearly.
“Well, now, that doesn’t make much sense at all, does it? Clearly you’re headed somewhere, though you may not yet know where. If you’d said ‘nowhere in particular,’ I might have believed you, but now… Now I’m not sure what to make of your answer.”
“The Southern Sea, then,” Grit said. “Would you mind not blocking the road?”
His eyes sparkled. “Did Kinsmon give you that pearl you tried to hide?”
Grit narrowed her eyes and drew her dagger. “Don’t bother trying to steal it. Someone already tried and failed. You won’t fare any better than he.”
The man threw back his head and laughed. He looked at Grit, still shaking with laughter.
“Dear girl, put away your dagger. I’ve got my own necklace.” His body stilled and his weathered face grew serious. “I’m no fool. I’ve lived long enough to learn no one can steal a promise, not with all the effort in the world. Oh, you could give your necklace away. In fact, you ought to if you find someone who has need of the promise it holds. Give it freely in that case, and you’ll lose nothing in the giving. The both of you will gain exactly what each needs.
“Now, then, I’m heading south myself, and I’ve a cart full of vegetables, as well as some bread the old woman baked early this morning. Hop up. Help yourself to a full belly and rested legs.”
Grit looked from the old man to the back of the cart to her dusty boots.
“You can get off whenever you want,” he said.
Grit eyed the red stone and recalled her vow to Vell. He bears the promise of Kinsmon. Perhaps I can entrust myself to him. Besides, a cart is faster than walking.
“I’ll sit in the back.” She sheathed her dagger, climbed into the back of the cart, and situated herself between baskets of carrots and potatoes. The old man reached into a sack behind him and tossed her a loaf of bread.
“Don’t worry. I won’t ask you to reveal any secrets. Won’t even ask you your name. That pearl’s all I needed to see.”
True to his word, the old man urged his pony on and left Grit to help herself to as much as she cared to eat. She ate until she could eat no more, then secreted a round loaf of bread and as much of the produce as could fit into her leather pack.
Late in the afternoon, the man slowed the pony to a stop at a crossroad. Facing Grit, he spoke for the first time since she had joined him.
“There’s a town a little ways down this road, Verrivale, where I’ll be stopping for the night and unloading my wares on the morrow. You’re welcome to travel on with me, but if you’re set on reaching the Southern Sea, you’ll want to continue down the road we’ve been traveling.”
Grit gazed down the road to Verrivale, enticed by the thought of a bed to soothe her cart-rattled bones. The old man was undemanding company. She could certainly tolerate him a little longer, especially if he’d keep feeding her. But as she looked past the farmer at the road that continued to the Southern Sea, all possibility of remaining with the man and his cartful of food vanished.
“I’ll get out here.” Grit hopped from the cart and nodded to the man.
He tossed her a loaf of bread. “For your journey.”
She caught the loaf and stared at it a moment, biting her bottom lip. It shouldn’t matter— “Thieving’s as easy as breathing,” she’d told Seal and Oath—but her pack felt heavy on her back. She didn’t think she could carry it one step, let alone all the way to the Southern Sea. She looked at the man’s kind face.
“I already have food.” The words tumbled from her lips unbidden. She couldn’t stop the flow, awkward and foolish as she felt. “I mean, I took some. I filled my pack. While you were driving. I… I should give it back, shouldn’t I?”
The man held up a hand and smiled at her. “It’s yours, my girl. Keep it. Your honesty has come at quite a price to your pride and is worth far more to me than all the coins in Verrivale.”
“But how can I pay you? I have no money.”
“It’s yours.” The man waved his hand over the baskets of food. “Take more, if you need. Kinsmon has promised my cart will never empty. No matter how much I give to those who hunger, I’ll always have plenty for myself.”
Grit glanced at the baskets in the back of the cart, but shook her head and stepped away. Something inside her had broken… or been made right. She couldn’t tell which. As the immensity of her debt to this man, to Harth, to Whisp, to Kinsmon, and to so many others who had given to her, voluntarily or unaware, dawned upon her, she knew she could steal no more. How many nights had Dame Dara shivered without a blanket?
“I should pay.” She bowed her head and rolled a pebble under the toe of her boot.
“This is love, my girl, beautiful and illogical, wild and free. If you cannot embrace it, then let us exchange names that we may count this a gift from one friend to another. If we meet again, you shall say, ‘Why, Jareh, how pleasant to see you again,’ and I will respond, ‘A pleasure to see you, too…’” He waited expectantly, his ear turned toward her.
“Grit.” She raised her head to meet his gaze. “My name is Grit.”
A smile spread across Jareh’s weathered face. “May you travel safely and without hunger, Grit. I hope we meet again.”
He shook the reins, and the pony started on. Grit stood in the center of the road until the cart was little more than a speck in the distance. Then she turned to continue her journey, her pack full of food and her mind full of wonder. Like a baby sparrow first taking flight, something beautiful and illogical, wild and free fluttered feebly in her heart.
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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.