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 23 | Chapter 25 >>
Jareh clucked at his faithful pony. The creature perked it ears and quickened its pace. A moment later, the trees thinned. They no longer traveled under a canopy of leaves, but verdant pastures opened before them, the sky above a pale blue. Castle Concord seemed more elegant and more imposing now that she was level with the structure. As they rolled closer, Grit studied the pure white walls. Bright red turrets topped each corner, and intricate latticework edged the rooftop and balconies. A multitude of tents littered the fields on the southern side of the castle. Like their surroundings, they were beautiful, but something about the tents unsettled her.
Grit turned to Jareh. “What are those tents? They weren’t here a year ago.”
“A year ago, Strike and Havoc were only getting started. Since then, young warriors have come from all over Chasmaria. Most of them were led by one of Kinsmon’s scouts, but some of them…” Jareh chuckled. “Some of them, they couldn’t tell you themselves how they came to this place, but come they have, some weary and wounded, others with weapons sharpened and ready to fight the evil that threatens to destroy their homes. Those tents, to answer your question, shelter the burgeoning army of Kinsmon the Great.”
The cart rumbled to a halt. Grit looked from Jareh to the open doors of Castle Concord.
Scarlett appeared on the threshold. Her gaze turned from the cart to search the road that led down from the mountain. Exchanging her frown for a smile, she hurried down the stairs and rubbed the pony’s muzzle.
“Jareh! How wonderful to see you again, and how wonderful to see you, as well, Grit! I trust your journey was pleasant. If you take the pony to the back, Jareh, one of the stable boys will get him a fine trough of oats. Then you may settle yourself in your usual room. Dear Grit, you must come with me. This is your first visit to Castle Concord, and I won’t have you enter through the stables. Come, walk with me.”
Scarlet offered her clean, even-toned hand to help Grit from the cart, but discontent showed in her green eyes. Grit looked toward the mountain road. I’m not the friend she wants.
Refusing Scarlett’s help, she jumped to the ground and landed on her feet beside the cart. Worm, who had just woken from a long nap, stretched and followed. Scarlett cocked her head at the creature, as if unsure what to do with him.
“If I’m truly welcome here, so is he. Come, Worm.” Grit sauntered toward the castle entrance without waiting for Scarlett.
By the time she reached the top step, Scarlett stood beside her. She put a hand on Grit’s arm.
Sorrow laced the dameling’s voice. “You will see people here who have been touched by Havoc, people haunted by the memory of things too awful to describe. Be kind to them, Grit. However awful you must be to me, be kind to them.”
An odd discomfort struck Grit. “Am I awful to you?”
“You were less than genial in Port Colony. I’m sure you don’t intend to be harsh or to ignore kindness, but you have a way about you that doesn’t inspire comfort in others.” How could Scarlett speak so bluntly and yet so gently all at once?
“But Worm…” Grit said. “And Ezekiel, Jareh…”
“All tender souls bound to embrace you despite, or maybe because of your imperfections. I cherish you, too, for all your rustic ways.” With one last, longing look up the road, she squeezed Grit’s arm. “Come, though. Castle Concord awaits.”
She moved forward, but Grit remained outside, staring through the open doorway into the entrance hall. What did Scarlett expect her to do with these people? She wasn’t like Ezekiel or Jareh or even Worm. She didn’t know how to embrace others with all their weaknesses and imperfections. She wasn’t sure why she should even try, except that Scarlett felt it was so important.
“I can hold my tongue, but I can hardly be genial. As for inspiring comfort in them, how on earth…why on earth am I to do that? The people in there, they are not my people.”
Scarlett, standing in the open doorway, faced her. “But they are your people, Grit. As much as you are bound to Kinsmon, you are bound to them.”
Grit fingered the pearl hanging on its delicate chain. She was, though she hardly understood it herself, bound to Kinsmon. She left him on the promontory long ago, yet at every turn, she heard his name. In every person, she felt his touch. As she squeezed the orb between her thumb and forefinger, Dagger’s judgment echoed in her mind. You wear that pearl around your neck. It means something, whether you acknowledge it or not. Every human being you encounter is someone in whose affairs you have an interest. She willed herself to step forward, to meet without reservation these people Scarlett called her own.
From the red and white tile floor to the golden chandeliers, vibrant colors filled the entrance hall. On the far side of the room, painters added to a mural that stretched the width of the room. She could make out the beginnings of Port Colony, the chasm with its strange, half-way there bridge, and the shape of the castle. In the corner to her right, children danced to the cheerful song of a small band of musicians. Two children rolled a ball along one wall. Scattered around the room, pairs of individuals chatted quietly and larger groups laughed loudly. One man lay sleeping on a mat to one side of the fireplace. On the other side, the young dame, Laurel, stared vacantly at the ceiling, heedless of her avidly nursing babe. He had grown plump since Grit had held him under Laurel’s disapproving glare.
The murmurs of their conversations filled her ears, and she longed for Ezekiel. How could she embrace these people? Their manners were so different from the calm of Ezekiel, different even from the boisterous Threshan villagers. Some appeared healthy and lively, smiling as words flowed from their mouths like water from a bubbly spring.
Others, like Laurel, looked haunted. Heads bowed, they huddled against the wall or shuffled about the room, keeping entirely to themselves. When Grit was little, Dame Berth had slit the throat of a dog like that, lest it spread its sickness.
Grit edged closer to Scarlett. “What ails them?”
A troubled expression crossed Scarlett’s face. “Most have only recently escaped Havoc’s grip. Some will heal in time and live lightheartedly. Others will bear Havoc’s scars for life, turning their grief to others’ consolation. They have such need of gentleness.”
Grit did not respond. What might have happened to her, had Havoc not sold her to Turf? Might she, in the hands of Havoc, have become as distant, as troubled, or as vacant as the most desolate of these people?
Eager to leave the hall and her questions behind, Grit followed Scarlett into an outdoor passageway bordering an expansive courtyard. The image of Laurel’s gaunt face remained with her, even in the sunlight. What was she like before Havoc scarred her? Grit shuddered with the relief one feels upon escaping disaster.
The courtyard was a cluster of intricately designed gardens with a gurgling fountain marking its center. A path of tiny pebbles circled the fountain. Trails wound away, first through shrubbery mazes, then through wildflower gardens, and finally to the castle’s outer passages. Beyond the circular path around the fountain, a ring of trees offered shade. Grit noted the curve of the path, the shapes of pebbles, and the shades of flowers. As she passed the first shrub on her way to the courtyard’s center, she veered off the path. Surely not here, too…
“Amity berries.” She held a two-inch berry between her fingers, careful not to detach it from the bush.
Scarlett came to stand beside Grit. She plucked a berry and popped it into her mouth. “Their powers are astonishing. They ease pain and repair wounds, mostly of the body, but sometimes of the mind, as well.”
“I know. There was a sireling in Thresh who knew where to find such berries.”
Scarlett was quiet a moment, but when she spoke, her voice sounded wistful. “Do you miss him?”
Grit ran her thumb over the berry’s skin. “I only wish he could see how large they grow here.”
“Perhaps he will someday.”
“Perhaps.” Grit released the berry. She never considered Coil might exist anywhere but Thresh. She sighed, wiped her hands on the sides of her trousers, and looked around at the castle surrounding the courtyard. “Were you going to show me the rest of this place or not?”
They spent the afternoon exploring the interior of Castle Concord. Scarlett led Grit through long corridors, pointing out the kitchens, the dining hall, the library, various workrooms, and finally, Kinsmon’s quarters. The place overflowed with things too fine for Grit’s liking. Her dagger, blanket, and pack were sufficient. Standing in Kinsmon’s spacious outer chamber, Grit remembered the pouch in her pack for the first time.
“I have a package for Kinsmon, and one for Dagger, too. Where are they?”
“We expect Kinsmon tomorrow evening,” Scarlett said. “As for Dagger, I never know when he’ll show up.”
Scarlett turned her face toward the window. It was Dagger she’d hoped to welcome home. Grit wouldn’t be drawn into the Scarlett’s disappointment. She couldn’t help not being Dagger. She looked around the room. What was she to do until Kinsmon and Dagger returned? If I could give Kinsmon Ezekiel’s pearls and sell mine to Dagger, I could leave this place and go back where I belong. But now who knows how long I shall have to stay here among these strange people with their peculiar manners and Scarlett with her unabashed sensitivity… She clasped her dagger, comforted by the feel of its hilt against her palm.
“We’ll find a room for you, of course. You won’t have to sleep under a shrub or anything dreadful like that.” Scarlett glanced at Worm. “The dog can stay, too.”
“I’d like a room near yours.” Grit struggled to make sense of her words even as they proceeded from her mouth. It was stupid, this feeling of being lost within the enormous castle after she’d made her way all the way across Chasmaria. Foolish to shrink from its occupants when she’d encountered so many strangers in her journeys. Perhaps, like an ill child clings to its dame, she had become attached to Scarlett in Port Colony.
Scarlett furrowed her brow and offered an odd smile. “You may have the room beside mine.”
She led Grit to a spacious bedchamber overlooking the mountains to the north. Two comfortable-looking chairs flanked the middle of three windows in the castle’s outer wall. To the left was a bed, a solid table beside it. In the far corner of the room, a curtain, partially open, revealed a metal tub. A wardrobe stood just outside the curtain.
Scarlett walked directly to the wardrobe and rummaged through its contents, muttering to herself.
Grit stepped to the tub and peered into it. “What is this for?”
“Hmm?” Scarlett turned, a lavender gown draped over her arm. “That? Why, it’s a bathtub, silly! Haven’t you ever taken a bath?”
She put the gown back and continued to look through the wardrobe. Grit ran her fingers over the smooth edge of the tub. How constricting, to bathe in something so small.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never taken a bath,” Scarlett said.
“I have.” Grit fumbled to think of what to say next. “Only I’ve always bathed in the sea or in a river. This thing…”She flicked the tub with her finger. “It gives so little space, and takes up so much.”
“A tub is a wonderful device. You should try it sometime, preferably before dinner. I’ll fetch some hot water from the kitchens for your bath, and some clothing from the tailor. Nothing here seems to suit you.” She glanced at Grit’s trousers. “I’m sure you’ve almost worn those to shreds.”
By late afternoon, after a long soak in a tub of hot water to which Scarlett had added fragrant oil and sprigs of lavender, Grit had undergone a remarkable change of odor and appearance. Her fingers, no longer stained with berry juice, were soft and wrinkled from the water. Her hair, after applications of creams Scarlett had passed through the curtain, felt light and smooth. Perhaps the dameling’s method of bathing had its advantages. Grit splashed out of the tub and stood dripping on the floor.
Scarlett peered over the top of her book. She jumped to her feet, grabbed a towel, and threw it at Grit. “Dry yourself!”
Grit caught the towel and wrapped it around her body.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that Ezekiel is blind, you see. It hasn’t mattered in a year.”
Scarlett shook her head and murmured something Grit could not decipher.
Once Grit was dry, Scarlett laid out the clothing she’d acquired from the tailor, black trousers and white undershirt and dark green tunic.
“It’s the closest to what you wore here, but clean and without patches. I’m sure they’ll fit much better. You must have been wearing those trousers for years.” She gestured toward the foot of the bed. “A belt and boots. Have I forgotten anything?”
Grit suspected Scarlett rarely forgot anything when it came to personal attire. “No, that should do.”
“Well, let’s see, then. Put it on.”
“I have no money.” Grit ran her fingertips over the undershirt and tunic. The fabric felt softer, smoother, and stronger than that of her old garments. “Not yet, anyway.”
“Who said anything about money? I’m authorized to outfit any who come to Castle Concord. These clothes and any others you need are yours, free of charge.”
There was no sense in arguing. Grit shrugged and dressed. After transferring the contents of her pockets from her old trousers to her new ones, she slid her sheathed dagger onto her belt and faced Scarlett.
“Don’t you…” The dameling frowned and shook her head. “No, I’m sure you don’t. Come here, Grit. Let me brush your hair.”
Grit sat and allowed Scarlett to untangle her damp hair. The girl could have been gentler with Grit’s head, but she was an exceptional conversationalist. Her lilting cadence soothed Grit’s nerves, while her gentle hands soothed Grit’s unkempt hair. Finally, Scarlett tied her hair back with a lavender ribbon and sat back, grinning at Grit’s reflection.
“You’re beautiful, Grit.”
Grit opened her mouth to object, to argue her ugliness. The truth, which Ezekiel had noted and Grit could no longer deny, was that something in her being had shifted ever so slightly from the life she’d known before her exile. Some quiet force had begun its work the moment she set foot on the promontory. From Kinsmon’s table to Harth’s inn, in Jareh’s wagon and nestled between Worm and Ezekiel, she had resisted its power. But it had worked, slowly and methodically, to change her. She glanced at Scarlett’s reflection in the mirror.
She was a silly girl, so open and honest with her affection. How could Grit “inspire comfort” in one who took such pains over others’ care? She felt through the fabric of her trousers, first for the oyster knife Sire Stone had given her and then the pearl she intended to sell to Dagger.
“Dagger misses you, too,” she said. “And if you like, Scarlett, you may call me your friend, though I hardly think I’ll make a good one.”
Scarlett smiled and bowed her head. Her voice came soft and tremulous. “I’m sure you are already a fine friend, Grit of Berth and Stone.”
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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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