Chapter 22: Grit of Berth and Stone

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

TWENTY-TWO

<< Chapter 21 | Chapter 23 >>

“How did you come to be here, Ezekiel?” Grit asked.

Winter came to the Southern Realm, and though it arrived milder than in Thresh, the pair huddled close to the fire with Worm curled atop Grit’s booted feet and three skewered fish propped close to the flame.

Ezekiel peeled a section of bark from a thin stick. “I was born here. I lived here happily for many years, in fact, watching the waves turn white against the sand and the evening sky turn every shade of red and orange and pink and purple.”

“You haven’t always been blind?” It had never occurred to Grit that Ezekiel might have once enjoyed sight.

“No.” He hung his head, as if burdened by a truth he did not care to disclose. He sighed deeply and raised his chin. “In youth, my vision was perfect, except I did not value the things my eyes beheld. It was a flaw my patient dame never could correct. A beautiful woman with a cart of jewels is a fine thing in the eyes of a young man laboring after the rare pearl, but her appearance proved false and her riches cheap before my story ended.”

“How did you lose your sight?”

An odd smile played at the corner of his mouth. “Do you really want to know, Grit of Berth and Stone? It isn’t for the faint-hearted.”

“I do want to know, and I’m far from faint-hearted.”

Ezekiel poked the fire with his stick and waved the red-hot tip in a circle before plunging it into the sand.

“I burned my sight away. When I realized I couldn’t trust my eyes, I took a stick like this one, held it in the fire, and applied it to one eye and then the other. I would not have my foolish eyes deceive me yet again.”

“Ezekiel, that was a dreadfully stupid thing to do.” She clutched her arm where her sixteenth brand had been.

“It was painful, but I have not regretted it. I told you long ago I’ve learned to rely upon my other senses. They, together with a heart devoted to what is true and beautiful and good, have never failed me.”

Grit stared into the fire, Ezekiel’s words lingering in her mind. A heart devoted to what is true and beautiful and good. She had overheard the same phrase in Port Colony.

“What have you heard of this war in the north?” she asked.

“I’ve heard very little,” he said, “but this much I know. If Chasmaria is to survive, her people must stand as one, each guarding another’s back. It was infidelity that destroyed Chasmaria’s ancient peace, and peace will come again only through the reversal of old Harmony’s error.”

“Who’s Harmony?”

“The last great king of Chasmaria,” Ezekiel said. “In his early days, when Kinsmon’s banner flew above Harmony’s palace, peace reigned all across this country. Harmony broke faith first with Kinsmon, and then with his closest ally, Queen Amity. It was the work of Havoc, and now she’s at it again. That faithless creature would destroy the last vestiges of Chasmaria’s glory. She’s a vile creature, full of empty promises.”

Grit ran her fingers through Worm’s thick, black coat. “They spoke of her in Port Colony. I have met Havoc, if I understood them correctly. I don’t care to meet her again.”

“You have met that foul wench?” Ezekiel’s back straightened. He turned his face to her, his milky eyes unfocussed. “Dear girl, tell me you haven’t.”

“Just once, on the Koradin-Thresh Highway. She… She cost me my test.” Confusion as real as the moment Havoc tossed her into the wheelbarrow threatened to overwhelm her. She’d felt that fear once since, in the tree outside Peril and Zag’s burning village. “I saw her again, Ezekiel. No, I felt her again in the Mid-Chasmarian forest. In the future, I’ll do all in my power to stay as far from her as possible. I’ve no desire for hag’s company.”

“You may not have a choice. Some battles we may avoid. Others find us, however far we run, however cleverly we hide. Even now, Havoc scours the land, seeking to destroy the true, the beautiful, and the good.” Ezekiel placed a hand on Grit’s shoulder.

“Ah, blind man.” She nudged him with her elbow. “You do not see I am perfectly safe. Whatever you think my necklace says, I am neither true, nor beautiful, nor good.”

“You are not a liar, either, Grit of Berth and Stone.” A grave expression came over Ezekiel’s face. “At least, not a very good one. Why else would you remain here, if you did not possess these things in some measure?”

“You feed me, that’s why.” Grit rose, removed the fish from the fire, and sat back down beside Ezekiel. More confusing than Havoc was her own heart. She could name her hatred of the wench and her disgust with Thresh’s council, but she couldn’t explain the tug she felt when she looked at Ezekiel or Worm. Words failed entirely when she tried to express the sweet tumult accompanying every thought of Coil.

She pushed the golden-haired sireling from her mind, slid the fish onto two plates, and set one of the plates on Ezekiel’s lap. “Take a bite of this and tell me it isn’t worth sitting beside a blind man for an entire lifetime.”

Ezekiel shook his head and laughed as Grit set the third fish on the ground for Worm.

Grit retired early, her mind wearier than her body. Ezekiel had condemned her as a coward, running and hiding from herself as much as from Havoc. Yet he also counted her among the true, the beautiful, and the good. Whether or not she could hide from Havoc, it seemed impossible to hide from the blind man’s prying eyes. She pulled Sire Stone’s blanket over her head and tried to sleep.

As winter progressed, Grit’s swims became infrequent. She spent the first portion of each morning sitting on the beach, sometimes with Worm and Ezekiel, sometimes with only Worm, watching the waves lap against the shore. The birds were plentiful on this secluded beach, where no one rushed at them with shrieks and well-aimed pebbles as they did in Thresh.

“They are peaceful creatures,” Grit said to Ezekiel one morning. “They care nothing for our activities, so busy are they with their own. It is strange I had to travel so far to see them as they really are.”

A small gull waded along the water’s edge. A second gull swept down and circled about the first bird’s head, as if to urge her to take flight with him. Again and again, he circled high above, then swept down close, but she remained fixed on the shore, gentle waves lapping against her stubborn, twig-like legs.

Grit could not contain the scream that welled up from the core of her being. “Fly with him, stupid creature!”

Her fingers curled around the rock she’d been rolling in the sand. As she raised her hand above her head to throw the stone at the bird, Ezekiel’s hand closed over hers.

“You aren’t angry at birds, Grit.” His finger gently pried hers apart, and the stone dropped to the sand with a thud.

She looked to the east, away from Ezekiel. The rising sun, that glaring orb of gold, seemed to shine on all her folly.

“It didn’t have to be like this, Ezekiel, me flying alone to the very edge of Chasmaria. He told me to fight, but I didn’t have the strength. He would have come with me…” Her voice trailed off, her energy spent.

Ezekiel’s voice was quiet and unimposing. “Why didn’t he come with you?”

Grit gulped, the gravity of her error tight as a rope around her neck. “I told him he was a fool.”

Ezekiel released his hold on her and placed his hand on the sand between them. “It is strange, isn’t it, the extents to which we must sometimes go to see ourselves as we really are?”

Grit looked into his eyes, vacant since he had punished them for their deception, and placed her hand over his. “Strange indeed,” she said.

Over the Southern Sea, the two birds rose into the air, circling each other over and over until Grit could no longer tell one from the other. “It is all very strange indeed.”

****

When Grit arrived at Ezekiel’s hut the next morning, a dummy made of spare clothing stuffed with sand hung from a pole stuck in the ground.

“You were training to be a warrior, weren’t you?” Ezekiel asked.

Grit rubbed her no longer branded arm. “A long time ago. I was good, too.”

“It won’t be the same as a sparring partner, but you’ll enjoy using your dagger again.” He plumped the dummy’s torso.

Approaching slowly, Grit drew her dagger. As she circled the dummy, the sneering face of Turf of Elna and Bord formed in her mind—the dark, contemptuous eyes, one slightly higher than the other, the crooked nose broken in some childhood accident, the fat lips issuing threats he could not enforce, and the nick in his ear, a memento of the last time he’d dared challenge her to a match. She attacked the figure with all the rage of her banishment, slicing through fabric and sending sand spilling onto the beach. Shaming before the council was too good for Turf. The cheating coward’s blood ought to flow from his body like sand from the dummy.

When she was through, Ezekiel unfastened the limp clothing from the pole, shook it free of sand, and handed it to her. She smiled broadly under a layer of sweat.

“You will find a needle and thread on my table. Repair the damage you have done,” Ezekiel said.

Her smile faded as she looked at the tattered garments in her arms. “You want me to sew it back together?”

“Do you wish to spar again?”

“Of course I do.” The satisfaction of destroying Turf still coursed through her veins. “I just didn’t think the price of sparring would be an entire day of mending.”

“Ah.” Ezekiel clucked his tongue. “You did not think of the difficulty of restoring what has been lost, of repairing what has been broken. It is harder to heal than to wound and more noble to create than to destroy. It was many years after I burned my eyes before I was able to walk this beach and swim these waters without fear of the unseen.”

He placed a hand on her shoulder. “Be thankful it will only take you the rest of the morning to mend your new sparring partner.”

Their routine adjusted so that Grit spent her mornings sparring and mending while Ezekiel dove below the water’s surface for oysters. In the afternoons, Grit scavenged for edible nuts, berries, mushrooms, and foliage. In the evenings, they roasted fish over the fire or shucked oysters in Ezekiel’s hut, feasting together on the day’s bounty. The busyness of her hands stilled her soul almost as much as Ezekiel’s quiet understanding of the things she couldn’t say. In time, he taught her to dive for oysters, to plunge to the bottom of the sea, to catch her breath at the surface, and to return again to the shimmering, underwater world. It was only there, beneath the waters, which stretched all the way to Thresh, that Grit allowed herself to think kindly of the village she left and the warrior who vowed to avenge her enemies. Did Coil swim alone now, or did he share the sea with someone else?

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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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