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 24 | Chapter 26 >>
The next afternoon, Grit stuck her head into the dim room in which Scarlett knelt beside a low cot. A putrid odor filled the air. Grit stumbled back into the corridor for a breath of fresh air. She coughed and looked into the room again, this time with one hand over her mouth and nose.
“How do you bear it?”
“I remember what they have suffered to come here, conditions much worse than filth, fever, and stench.” Scarlett moved to the next cot and wiped a trembling patient’s forehead. “This man left behind his home, his people, all he has ever known. He traveled far and under brutal conditions to escape the cruelty of Strike and discover the kindness of Kinsmon. I bear it because he has borne more than I ever hope to bear. But you needn’t stay with me. The day is clear and fresh. Go outdoors. It will do you good.”
Grit glanced down the hallway. She could remain with Scarlett in this quiet section of the castle where the weak, wounded, and ill convalesced or venture into busier areas. Encouraged by Worm’s head nudging her leg, Grit nodded toward the far end of the hallway.
Stepping from the doorway, she said, “I’ll find you at dinner.”
“Kinsmon, too,” Scarlett said. “I’m sure he’ll want to welcome you.”
Leaving Scarlett with her patients, Grit followed Worm down the corridor. She emerged on the eastern side of the castle. Passing an armory on her right, she slowed to study the various weapons. Bows, arrows, spears, daggers, and swords of every size lined the walls. A warrior sharpened his blade on a whetstone at the back of the large room. Grit wrapped her hand around her dagger. It would feel good to spar again.
Grit strolled beyond the tents she had seen the previous day. Rough warriors struggled to master precision moves demonstrated by their commander. Whisp, her long hair even blonder in the sunlight than it had been in Harth’s inn, moved among the ranks, correcting poor form. Seeing Grit, she raised her sword in greeting and returned her attention to the warriors.
Grit sat on the edge of the training field, close enough to hear the commander shout instructions and to see the warriors’ execution of each order. The warriors moved through stretching exercises and battle formations, working in pairs or trios to ensure no one’s back was left undefended. These were moves she hadn’t learned under Sire Stone. She closed her eyes and rehearsed them in her mind, but something felt wrong.
“I thought I might find you here.” A familiar voice drew Grit out of a mental defensive maneuver. Kinsmon lowered his lean frame onto the grass. “Do you wish to join them?”
Grit watched the warriors a moment longer, then shook her head. “I only wish to return to the Southern Sea. Here…from Ezekiel.” She pulled her pack onto her lap, withdrew Ezekiel’s pouch, and offered it to Kinsmon, who took it without a word.
She looked back at the training field, where warriors were sheathing their swords and retiring to their tents. “I thought I wanted to join them, but now as I watch, I’m sure I’m not meant to be among them.”
“No,” Kinsmon said, his voice firm. “You are not meant to be among them. Walk with me to the dining hall. It’s almost time for supper.”
They walked quietly across the field and into the castle. In the elegant dining hall, all order of fare had been set out on a dark mahogany table running the length of the room.
“What’s the occasion?” Grit asked. “You have enough to feed half of Chasmaria here.”
Kinsmon laid a hand on her arm. “There is no occasion, Grit. Every meal I serve is a celebration.”
He thread his way through the crowd, stopping to speak briefly with several individuals. Grit found Scarlett, who led her to two empty seats near the foot of the table.
Kinsmon seated himself and indicated for everyone to begin. The guests and residents of Castle Concord served themselves and one another, taking as much or little of whatever they desired. Some stood to eat, others sat at the table, and a few, like creatures frightened they might lose their meals to stronger animals, huddled in the corner.
After dinner, Scarlett stood near a side table, talking with Laurel in tones too soft for Grit to hear above the clatter of the crowd. Grit studied the dame’s face. Though nervous and withdrawn, her eyes held an earnestness she hadn’t noticed before.
A hand rested on Grit’s shoulder. She whirled to face the young warrior with whom she had breakfasted in Port Colony. His sandy hair was longer now, hanging almost to his shoulders. The beginnings of a light beard marked his jaw line, but his brown eyes held the same quiet intelligence they’d held in Port Colony.
“You look like a captured bird,” Arrow said. “Let’s get you out of here.”
He took her hand and pulled her toward the door. She followed readily. She’d had enough of the dining hall’s clamor.
In the corridor, Grit pulled her hand from Arrow’s. “I don’t need to be led like a babe.”
Arrow smiled apologetically. “I meant no offense. Castle life was shocking when I first arrived. I didn’t suppose you’d move without encouragement.”
Grit reached for Worm, but found only empty air. “Where’s my dog?”
“Do you mean the beast cleaning up after all of us?” Arrow nodded toward the dining hall. Worm lay under the table, licking something from the floor. “He’s a fine creature. Let him have his reward.”
Grit looked from Worm to Arrow and back to Worm, her hand on her dagger. “I don’t know how anyone stands it. I could hardly breathe in there.”
Arrow gestured toward the exit. “This way. The north meadow is fine on a summer’s evening. It reminds me of the Eastern Plains just enough to make me feel at home.”
The grass on the northern side of the castle, where no tents stood and no warriors trained, grew thick and tall. Grit inhaled the sweet meadow air. The press of people in the dining hall had been stifling, but Grit hardly noticed Arrow’s closeness, so natural and undemanding was his manner. She did not mind at all when he began to talk.
“Did you find the southern tip of Chasmaria? And have you eaten your breakfast in peace?”
“I did, and I have. I’m surprised you remember that.”
Arrow’s voice was pleasant, like a familiar game with an old companion. “People remember the strangest things. A girl in my village once told me nothing smells sweeter than a newly blossomed lily. Seven years later, though she has never again spoken of lilies, I cannot see that flower without seeing her face. That is the power of the spoken word at its very best, and that is why I try to choose my words carefully. The tongue can heal, but more often, it wounds more deeply than any weapon.”
All her life, words had rolled off Grit’s tongue so freely. Too few of them had been kind, but to try to change the established course of her tongue would be as ridiculous as Dame Berth trying to teach Seal to speak.
“Sometimes words are just words. It is weak-minded to give them too much importance.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Arrow said. “But perhaps it is cruel to give them too little.”
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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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