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 22 | Chapter 24 >>
One spring evening in Ezekiel’s hut, Grit’s knife struck against something hard in her oyster. A round, white pearl the size of her little fingernail rested in the oyster’s flesh. She removed it and held it between her thumb and forefinger.
“Ezekiel, I’ve found a pearl.”
He placed his fingers over hers and felt the smooth surface. “It is perfect, and it is yours by right.”
“What do I do with it?”
“If you are willing to part with it, there is a young man at Castle Concord who would pay handsomely for this pearl. Take it to Dagger, and he will have all he needs to fashion an item of rarest beauty for the object of his deepest affection.”
“Dagger?” Recalling the young leader who had so resembled her sire, Grit drew her hand from Ezekiel’s. “I met him in Port Colony.”
“Then you have met a miracle. Dagger’s tender dame did not survive his birth. The midwife, young though she was, saw the danger in throwing Dagger to the mercy of his wretched sire and attempted to deliver the babe to his dame’s sire. The cruel sire intercepted her on her way to the old man, wrested the infant from her arms, and tossed him into the river. It was there, above the swirling waters, that Kinsmon caught Dagger. The boy has lived at Castle Concord all his life, only venturing out across Chasmaria in recent years.”
“What do you know of his affections?” Grit rolled the pearl between her fingers.
“Only that he saw her first when he was seven, and has never looked at any other girl.”
“He’ll pay a good price for this pearl?” For the right amount, she could forgive the proud sireling for being sheltered all his life. And if she was right about Dagger’s affections, she might give Scarlet good reason to consider her a friend.
Ezekiel nodded. “He will, but you must take it to Castle Concord. Dagger rarely comes this way now that war has broken out in the north. I have several pearls for Kinsmon, as well, if you would be so good as to deliver them.”
“I’ll go tomorrow. I’ll make it a quick trip, so we may feast together again as soon as possible. Can I bring anything back for you?”
“No. Only send me word when you arrive at Castle Concord. Send me word and a bottle of Kinsmon’s special brew. I haven’t had that in years.” Ezekiel’s voice held a sadness Grit had never heard. His cloudy eyes pooled with water. “And travel well, dear Grit of Berth and Stone, wherever your steps may lead.”
Grit straightened her shoulders and sat back on her knees. She studied the old man’s face. “You speak as if I will not return to you. Why would my steps lead anywhere but here?”
“Truly, I do not know, but I see it as clearly as I see your pearl.”
“Foolishness, Ezekiel of the Southern Sea.” She stood, crossed the rug, and hopped down the step onto the sand. “Utter foolishness you speak. Come, Worm. The blind man can’t see the Southern Sea is where I belong.”
“Ezekiel?” Grit sat up in bed and squinted at the man sitting at the edge of her hut. “What are you doing here?”
He stood and held a small packet out to her. “I didn’t trust you not to leave without saying goodbye. Take this with you.”
Grit stumbled out of bed and crossed her hut. She touched the silk packet in Ezekiel’s hand. “Your sewing kit? Blind man, I have no plans to take up a needle while I am gone. Truth be told, I rather look forward to not sewing for a change.”
He pressed it into her hand. “Take it anyway. There’s no telling what might need mending during your journey.”
“What if you need to mend something?”
“Fine.” Grit avoided Ezekiel’s eyes, sightless but ever-seeing. She thrust the sewing kit into her pocket and gathered her belongings. Throwing her pack over her shoulder, she whistled to Worm. The dog jumped from the bed and trotted to her side.
Ezekiel dangled a small pouch by its drawstring. “You’re forgetting Kinsmon’s pearls.”
“Yes, the pearls. We mustn’t forget Kinsmon’s pearls.” Grit snatched the pouch. Her fingers fumbled with the flap of her pack. Why did she feel so clumsy this morning?
Grit patted her thigh. “Come, Worm. The sooner we go, the sooner we may return. We’ll bring back a new sewing kit for the old man—with silver needles maybe—since he seems intent on forfeiting his old one.”
The dog licked Ezekiel’s knuckles. The man crouched and took the creature’s face in his hands. “Dear, sweet Worm, you are a companion like none other. How I wish we did not need to part company.”
When he rose, tears moistened his cheeks. “Goodbye, Grit of Berth and Stone. I would say the same to you as I have said to Worm.”
“Dry your tears, Ezekiel. It’s not as bad as all that.” Yet somehow, it felt it might be as bad as all that. What if Ezekiel was right? What if impulse took her elsewhere? Suppose Ezekiel left or offered her hut to some wayward traveler. What then? Would she live the rest of her life without her blind man, without her Ezekiel?
The questions were too many and too difficult to answer. She turned from Ezekiel before she changed her mind. She could drop her pack on the sand and refuse to leave. The blind man had welcomed her in all her stench and rudeness. The sea and shore had fed them well enough. She didn’t need Dagger’s money, not really, but there was Scarlett to consider, too.
Though he could not see her, she refused to look at Ezekiel. “Guard my hut while I’m away. I’d hate to shed blood reclaiming it when I return. I will return, Ezekiel. Don’t desert this place in my absence.”
“Ah, Grit… I shall remain at the Southern Sea until it calls me home. You may count on that.” He stretched out his hand and touched her arm. “Goodbye, Grit.”
With the dog at her heel, she walked to the edge of the beach. She pushed aside tree branches, stepped over roots, and kicked low shrubs to the side as she left, never looking back at Ezekiel, her hut, or the Southern Sea. To hesitate is to waver, and to waver is weakness. She laughed softly. I suppose a little of Thresh lingers in me, after all. Still, she could not bring herself to look back, even for the sake of proving her will strong enough to deny the memory of Thresh and to resist the allure of the Southern Sea. If she looked back, she might never have strength to leave this place.
At the edge of the coastal forest, she found the road that had brought her to Ezekiel.
“North, Worm.” She pointed in that direction.
The dog trotted at her side through the morning and into the afternoon. In the evening, they slept under a shrub, much as they had on their first night together except this time, Worm’s ribs did not press against Grit’s arm, nor did his fur cause her skin to itch. His smell also was less offensive.
“You’ve improved much since we met, wretched beast.” Grit scratched between the dog’s ears. He twisted his head to lick her face.
They had not been walking long the following morning when a cart rattled toward them from the south. Grit stepped to the side of the road to allow the cart to pass. As it neared, the driver pulled back on the reins. Grit recognized the farmer with whom she had traveled a day on her way south.
“Why, Grit, a pleasure to see you again.” A smile spread across the old man’s weathered face.
“A pleasure to see you, too, Jareh.” A strange gladness filled Grit’s heart. She looked back the way they had come. “Have your wares brought you this far south?”
“I made my annual delivery to Ezekiel of the Southern Sea this morning. He told me I might come across you on my way to Castle Concord.” Jareh patted the seat beside him. “Will you accept a ride from an old friend?”
“Only if you will take Worm, too.” Grit placed a protective hand on the dog’s head. She wasn’t leaving Ezekiel without him.
“Of course. Any friend of yours is a friend of mine. Hop up, both of you.”
Grit pulled herself onto the wagon and settled herself beside Jareh.
“The Southern Sea has served you well,” he said. “You appear healthier in every regard.”
Grit shrugged. “I was not so unhealthy before.”
As she leaned over to help Worm situate himself at her feet, she remembered Ezekiel’s accusation, You are not a liar… at least not a very good one. Could Jareh see her falsehood as easily as the blind man had? The truth, which she would not admit to Jareh or anyone else, was that her time at the Southern Sea left her feeling lighter and freer than she’d ever felt before.
Jareh reached into a basket behind Grit and pulled out a loaf of bread. “I acquired some fresh bread yesterday, if you’re hungry. It’s nothing compared to what my old woman bakes, but it’ll fill your belly.”
Grit shifted in her seat, her mouthwatering. “I don’t have anything to offer you now, but I expect to come into some money soon. I can pay you this time, if you’ll wait until we get to Castle Concord.”
Jareh threw his head back and laughed heartily. “Now you sound like the girl I drove to the south! Have you forgotten my cart will never be empty? My old woman and I have always had enough to eat, and neither your money nor anyone else’s could add to the peace we enjoy under our cozy roof.”
“Wait.” Grit gaped at the man. He must have misspoken. “Do you mean you share a home with your old woman?”
“A lovely little hut in the middle of a beautiful garden. Flowers in front, edibles in back. There we have lived forty years, and there we hope to live another forty. Seven children flourished there, and on our happiest days, each returns with a lovely dame and a brood of his own.”
Grit took the loaf from Jareh’s hand and bit into it. “You mean to tell me you and this woman of yours have shared a hut for forty years, and happily, too, and your offspring return to you, with dames and offspring of their own?” She swallowed and shook her head. “That just isn’t done.”
Jareh laughed. “Perhaps not where you come from, but it is not so uncommon here in the Southern Realm. I myself find it a most favorable arrangement.”
“Do you never grow ill of her, though? Forty years is a long time.”
The old man patted her knee. “Ah, Grit. When you find your heart bound up in the life and soul of another, there you find true treasure. Have I grown ill of her? Yes, from time to time, I’ve been ill of her, and she of me, but love, being kind, quickly cured each of us of our infirmity. We vowed at the beginning never to remain long in discord, and we have kept the promises we made to one another.”
“But…” Grit stopped, not sure what objection she could make to Jareh’s odd alliance with his old woman. It was even more peculiar than the alliance between Dame Berth and Sire Stone.
“But nothing. I don’t expect you to understand, being so young and so fresh to this world, but it’s a beautiful thing to be so connected to another person. I have never in forty years regretted binding myself to her, not even for an instant. Perhaps someday you will know for yourself what I mean.”
Grit shook her head. “Oh, no. I am quite content to maintain my hut on the Southern Sea, alone except for Ezekiel and Worm.”
Jareh turned to look at her. “You study those bushes as if even you do not believe what’s just come out of your mouth. Have you had any visitors there at the Southern Sea?”
“No.” Grit focused on the passing scenery, her eyes struggling to fix on one object.
“Hmm.” Jareh returned his attention to the road, which split in two directions. He steered the pony to the right. “This way takes us right to Castle Concord’s front steps.”
A bush laden with delicate white flowers caught Grit’s eye. She turned in her seat to watch it as they passed. Astrange ache gripped her chest.
Jareh pointed. “Amity-berry blossoms. Prettiest flowers in all Chasmaria, if you ask me. The berries are something else, too, plump and sweet and the most glorious shade of pink you’ve ever seen. Even Kinsmon is partial to them.”
“Tell me more about your old woman. How did you come to make such a close alliance?” Anything to distract from the berries.
For the rest of the morning, Jareh spoke of the woman he had adored for forty-five years, the offspring they had produced and raised, and the offspring of their offspring. Grit only half heard. The Amity-berry bushes, white with blossom, held a burgeoning harvest of bright pink berries. Coil’s berries. She leaned over the edge of the cart to pluck one as they passed. As she pulled the delicate fruit from its bush, the pressure of her fingers crushed it. Dismayed, she threw the berry to the ground and watched as the back wheel rolled over it. She glanced at her fingers, now bright with berry juice.
Jareh’s voice seemed to come from far away. “That juice doesn’t wash off easily. You’ll be stuck with pink fingers for a few days.”
“I know,” Grit said. “Coil never could wash the pink from his hair, either.”
“Coil, is it?”
Grit turned, her breath caught in her throat, but Jareh focused on the road ahead and did not seem to expect an answer. Grit would not have given him one, even if she had known what the question was.
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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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One thought on “Chapter 23: Grit of Berth and Stone”
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