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 25 | Chapter 27 >>
“War is an ugly thing, Grit. I hope you never see it. Even in the villages Strike and his men have not entered, fear grips the people. They stare at us, terrified of who knows what.” Arrow’s voice was low as they walked in the meadow the next evening. The sound of laughter came from the direction of the castle.
Grit glanced toward the open windows of the dining hall. “It will be over soon. Not even Strike can stand long against the armies assembled here.”
Arrow looked at her, his face thoughtful. “It is not that easy. Strike’s shadow darkens all Chasmaria. Minds are warped, to one extreme or another. Some people we liberate have taken on exaggerated pride and brutality, but most are fearful and timid. They won’t meet our eyes. I never know which is worse, to be met with irrational outrage or with cowering timidity. I can’t quite put it in words, but it frightens me. I am afraid I won’t recognize my village when I return, assuming there’s anything left to which to return.” He fixed his gaze on some distant point to the northeast. “There is Havoc, too. Nothing is simple in this war.”
They continued across the meadow. From time to time, Grit stole glances at Arrow. His face retained its pensive expression. Perhaps he believed watching his feet fall upon the earth might somehow solve the troubles plaguing Chasmaria.
“You remind me of a sireling from Thresh,” Grit said. “Talon of March and Swot.”
He looked up, a smile upon his face. “How so?”
Grit shrugged, her mind struggling to capture discarded memories. “I’m not sure. He was sincere, dependable. I never feared his betrayal.”
“So far, the comparison is favorable.”
“His sire was the laughing-stock of the council.”
“My sire is dead.” Arrow frowned, reached out his arm, and gripped Grit’s shoulder.
“Refugees.” He pointed toward the road that led down from the tunnel in which Grit had spent a night after crossing the Southern Chasm.
A small group of people approached, traveling too close together for Grit to count their number. Arrow urged Grit forward. His pace quickened, and she trotted to match his step. Who were these people? What had brought them to Kinsmon’s castle? As they neared the refugees, Arrow slowed.
A middle-aged woman, a half-foot taller than Grit and with a fierce set to her scarred face, led the way. Behind her, three sirelings followed. One of the young men carried an elderly woman in his arms. Another cradled a small child who clung to him as if her life depended upon the strength of her grip. The third held a lethargic infant with cracked lips and sunken eyes. For all her harshness, Berth had threatened to shame more than one young Threshan dame over infants in such sickly condition.
“Where is that infant’s dame?” Grit glared at each of them in turn.
Arrow stepped forward. “Welcome to Castle Concord. You must have traveled far.”
The leading woman rested her hand on the hilt of a heavy sword. “Arborsedge.”
The small village was located several miles north of Thresh, at the base of the Northern Mountains. Grit had never been there, but raiding parties visited Arborsedge during lean winters.
“You will find rest here.” Arrow spoke as if he knew the struggles these strangers had faced. “Rest, and help for your people.”
“There is no help for Arborsedge.” The sireling carrying the elderly woman set her on her bare feet. Dark red stained his tunic as well as her shapeless dress. It could have flowed from either body.
“Calm yourself, Garnet.” The old woman’s voice cracked. “This man is not to blame for our misfortune.”
“Was it Strike?” Grit clutched her dagger so tight her hand ached.
The first, stronger woman studied Grit. “Not Strike alone. We might have survived him. Several of us did, in fact, outlast his attack. It was the Golden Demon who destroyed Arborsedge, tearing apart the Inner Ring in search of some wretched hag who most likely doesn’t exist. Only by chance did we escape his accursed sword.”
“Tell me what happened.” Arrow crossed his arms.
“It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” the old woman said. “While my neighbors implored his mercy, I poured myself a drink and sat at my table, waiting for the Golden Demon to enter my hut. I’d heard stories of him, how he enters villages, intent on destruction. ‘Where is she? Where is she? Hand over the hag!’ they say he cries while he cuts them down. Some claim it’s a vow gone wrong, but who knows? I am old, as you can see, too old to fight, too old to question, and too old to plead for pity. I’ve lived long enough to welcome death, so when he kicked in my door, I raised my cup. ‘To the Golden Demon.’ I smiled, and he stopped, barely through the doorway. ‘No.’ He shook his head so that his golden curls went in every direction. ‘You have it all wrong, old woman. The battle has never once gone to me. To her, always to her.’ And that was it. He left as quickly as he’d come, sparing my life for reasons I’ll never know.”
“No.” Grit looked from one wounded refugee to the next. It couldn’t be real—the horrors her eyes beheld, the truth the old woman’s story revealed.
“So, after Strike and the Golden Demon, you seven are all that remain? There are women here who will nurse the baby, and others who will tend to the rest of you. It will take time, but today your suffering begins to end.” Arrow wrapped one arm around the elderly woman’s back, stooped to place an arm behind her knees, and carefully lifted her into his arms.
Grit shook her head, her gaze fixed on the infant’s cracked lips. “No, this cannot be. It has to stop.”
“Grit, take the child,” Arrow said.
“No!” Her vision blurred as she stared at the crippled woman’s blood soaked tunic. The cruelty of the one who’d driven these people from their home was too terrible for her to bear. “No, no, no!”
She turned from Arrow and the refugees and ran, her legs straining to keep pace with the pounding of her heart, down the gentle slope to Castle Concord. She bounded up the stairs and raced through the open doors.
Where was Kinsmon? He retired to his quarters after dinner. She turned down a hallway on the north side of the great hall. At the corridor’s end, she threw open two heavy wooden doors and entered Kinsmon’s private quarters.
He sat at the rich mahogany desk in front of the grand fireplace.
She strode across the room and thrust her dagger into the dark wood, her face inches from Kinsmon’s. “It stops now.”
“Take your dagger out of my desk.” He gestured to a chair on Grit’s left. “Rest a moment, let your anger subside, and then tell me all about it.”
She straightened. “I won’t rest, not until the Golden Demon ceases his tyranny. You must make him stop, Kinsmon, before he destroys all of Chasmaria, before he destroys himself.”
Kinsmon sat back, his arms folded across his chest. “So, that’s it? You think I’m to blame for Coil of Dara’s actions, do you?”
“You have amassed an army of warriors from every corner of Chasmaria. If anyone can stop him, it is you. Kinsmon, you must stop him.”
Kinsmon leaned forward and rested his chin in the palm of his hand. “I think, my dear girl, it is you who must stop him.”
“Me? This has nothing to do with me.” Grit pulled her dagger from the desk. Pacing in front of Kinsmon, she clenched and unclenched her fist around the weapon.
She stared at him a moment, allowing his question to sink in. He met her gaze with tender understanding. Asking seemed to pain him as much as answering pained her. She fell back into the chair he had offered a moment before.
“Oh, Kinsmon, his vow. While I have contented myself to remain at the Southern Sea, he has raged to avenge my enemies. What am I to do?” With her dagger, she traced a flower in the armchair’s upholstery.
His voice, when he spoke, was so low Grit could barely hear. “I think you know.”
“You cannot mean it.” Her dagger sliced through the fabric. “Anything but that, Kinsmon. I can’t go back.”
“You can if you choose to. It won’t be easy. It will be dangerous, and there is a chance you will fail, but indeed, if you wish to see Coil saved from himself and, ultimately, Chasmaria saved from Havoc, this is the path you must follow.”
Grit sheathed her dagger and pinched the arm of her chair where she had slit the upholstery. “Can it not be accomplished some other way?”
“Yes.” Kinsmon drew the word out. He walked around his desk and crouched beside Grit. Placing his hand over her fist, his fingertips touched the arm of the chair. “But if you wish to see it happen, if you wish to behold for yourself the most beautiful moments ever to be recorded in Chasmarian history, my dear Grit of Berth and Stone, you must return to Thresh.”
He rose and walked to the door. “Consider it overnight. Dagger will come soon. If you choose to return to Thresh, he will accompany you, for he has impending matters to attend to in that region. If you choose not to go, sell your pearl to him and return to Ezekiel of the Southern Sea at your leisure. The choice is yours.”
Grit stood to go, but stopped halfway out of her seat. The upholstery, torn a moment before, was whole again. Her stomach clenched with fear.
“Kinsmon, what have you done to my chair?”
He smiled an odd, charming sort of smile. “Just what I intend to do to everything, if you will but let me.”
She stared at him as she walked across the room and passed through the doorway. In the hallway, she looked back at his calm, mysterious, beautiful face. Seeing the chair repaired frightened her enough. What plans did he have for Chasmaria, and why did he think to include her?
“Tell me in the morning what you decide,” he said.
She did not need so long. By the time she reached the stairwell, Grit knew her answer. She couldn’t dodge Kinsmon, nor could she deny her responsibility. She would return to Thresh, to the village that had shunned her, to the dame who had disowned her, and most importantly, to the warrior who had sworn to avenge her enemies. She had placed too little importance on Coil’s words. If Arrow was right—if words indeed wound more deeply than weapons—the vows she’d extracted from Coil and the disregard she’d shown for his alliance were as cruel as all he had done to fulfill his vows.
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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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