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 26 | Chapter 28 >>
In the gray light of morning, Grit entered Kinsmon’s quarters uninvited. Worm circled twice and lay on the floor in front of Kinsmon’s desk. Grit fixed her gaze on a spot between the dog’s silky ears.
“I’ll go, but you must see Ezekiel receives a case of your special brew. Tell him where I’ve gone. Send Worm to Ezekiel, too. The old blind man shouldn’t be alone, and Worm…” She squared her shoulders and looked at Kinsmon. “The beast would only slow my progress. Ezekiel knows how to care for him.”
“You have my word it will be done.” Kinsmon looked at Worm as if he understood all the affection and all the fear Grit didn’t have the courage to voice, as if he knew she wasn’t afraid of a slow journey, but of the journey’s dangers rendering her unable to care for the creature herself.
“When do we leave?” Dagger’s voice startled Grit. He came from the corner, a book in his hand, and sat on the edge of Kinsmon’s desk. “And what is our plan?”
Kinsmon directed Grit to sit. She lowered herself onto the arm of the chair she’d sliced the night before. She swung one foot, just as Dagger did. She’d show him she wasn’t just a bumbling village girl.
“Spend the day together,” Kinsmon said. “Spar each other, learn one another’s ways. Introduce her to Shriven.”
“Who’s Shriven?” Grit’s foot hit the floor.
Kinsmon smiled. “You’ll see soon enough.”
“Are my orders, once we depart, what they have always been?” Dagger asked.
Kinsmon nodded. “Your time draws near, Dagger. Watch and wait.”
Dagger picked an empty vase off the desk and turned it in his hand. “I do not wish to delay our business, but I had hoped at some point—”
“Go.” Kinsmon’s manner lightened. He took the vase from Dagger’s hand. “I would hate to upset Scarlett by keeping you busy all day. Meet us outside the armory in an hour.”
Dagger was at the door almost before Kinsmon finished speaking. Once he left, Grit leaned against the back of her chair and folded her arms over her chest. “How am I to stop Coil? If you recall, I was banished from Thresh. I doubt they’ll let me past the village gate.”
“My dear Grit of Berth and Stone, I ask only one thing of you. Do what is in your heart. I call you my heart and hands. Your heart will guide you truly. Listen to its whispers and dare to act upon them.”
“That’s hardly a plan at all.” Fine words and wishful thinking wouldn’t solve the problem of Coil.
For a moment, the thin lines in Kinsmon’s face appeared much deeper. “It is all the plan you need.”
She glanced at the door through which Dagger left. “I have a pearl to sell.”
“Why didn’t you offer it while Dagger was here?”
“It hardly seems the time for such a transaction. Here we are, discussing a journey that may well end in death. Pearls and fortunes seem rather irrelevant, don’t they?”
“There you are, my girl. You listen well to the whispers of your heart. Hold on to the pearl until the moment either pearls or fortunes seem relevant. He won’t miss the pearl, but will appreciate it all the more when the time is right for him to possess it. You, too, will be richer when that time comes than you would be if you sold it to him today.”
An hour later, after breakfast in the dining hall, Grit and Kinsmon met Dagger outside the armory. The sireling circled Grit, his chin resting in his hand.
“We’ll start with a dummy. I’d like to see for myself what she can do.”
Dagger left and returned a moment later with a dummy much like the one Grit had battled at the Southern Sea. When he had set it up, he turned to her.
“Show me what you know.”
As Dagger shouted commands, Grit attacked the dummy, her mind and muscles rejoicing in the familiar exercise. Now it was not Turf of Elna and Bord whom she fought, but Coil of Dara, his round face no longer smiling, his blue eyes wide with alarm as Grit thrust her dagger into his midsection. Ruthlessly slicing and stabbing, she jumped, spun, and ran at the human form, the memory of Ezekiel’s sewing kit ensuring the precision of her maneuvers. By whatever means necessary. As she pulled her dagger from the dummy’s heart, her gut tightened. If it kills me to do it, I will stop his treachery. She suppressed the memory of the pinkish-gold curls that haunted her, waking and sleeping, since she left Thresh. Tender remembrance would only complicate her task.
Kinsmon watched intermittently, his gaze often drifting over the bands of warriors training to the south. Dagger watched intently, arms half crossed and chin resting in one hand. From time to time, he pointed without a word or traced invisible lines in the air. He is marking my movements, to correct or commend, just as Sire Stone did all those afternoons.She jabbed at the dummy’s navel. She hadn’t trained four years, with both Sire Stone and Coil shouting at her, to be shamed by a castle brat who’d probably never met the sharp end of a stick.
“Stop,” Kinsmon said.
The dummy was in shreds. Grit’s hair hung free of the lavender ribbon Scarlett had given her, and sweat dripped down her face. She wiped her blade on her trousers as if she’d just engaged in bloody battle and pointed her weapon at Dagger’s heart.
“Shall we spar now?”
Kinsmon turned his attention from the training warriors. “Sit. You must learn you do not always need to destroy your opponent. You fight with flawless precision and accuracy, but your heart is intent on annihilation. While there is a time to kill, there are also times to wound, spare, and even heal. There are also, dare I say it, times to lay aside all you are for another’s sake. You won’t achieve your goal through rage.”
“Go on.” Sheathing her dagger, Grit fixed her attention on his solemn face.
For an hour, Kinsmon explained, demonstrated, and finally guided Grit through maneuvers designed to defend without injuring one’s opponent. She took care to learn the maneuvers precisely. Ezekiel’s sewing kit lay at the bottom of her pack. If Kinsmon made her repair his dummy, she wanted it to be a quick job.
Finally, Dagger stood before her, his weapon raised. Kinsmon gave the command, and their blades struck, sending a delightful, almost forgotten tremor up Grit’s arm. She was sparring a real person. She laughed aloud as she blocked Dagger’s next attack.
“To the left!”
Grit’s dagger pierced his tunic, just over his heart.
“Whoa!” Dagger leapt back, eyes stern. “Rein it in. You aren’t supposed to kill me!”
“I know!” Grit threw her arms up in the air. “I couldn’t help it. Your blade came too close. Am I to let you kill me?”
Kinsmon’s calm voice broke in above their yelling. “No. You are not to let him kill you. You are to value his life and seek to preserve it as you preserve your own. You must learn to hold back, Grit. The time is near when precious lives, yours included, will depend upon your mastery of this skill. You can and must keep your weapon from rushing ahead of sound thinking.”
Grit stood still, breathing hard and staring at the mountaintops to the north. Kinsmon asked too much.
Dagger kicked at the ground and raised his eyebrows at Kinsmon. “This is not going as smoothly as I had hoped it would. Perhaps someone else should go.”
“That won’t do.” Kinsmon frowned as he looked from Dagger to Grit. “Put away your weapons. It’s time Grit became acquainted with Shriven.”
Together, they headed to the stables in the northeast corner of the castle. Kinsmon passed several stalls and stopped before one containing a white horse with a multitude of small reddish-brown patches. The animal stretched his neck over the stall door, threw his head back, and let loose a cantankerous neigh.
Grit stepped back. “I don’t think I like this beast.”
The horse bobbed his head at her and blew a blast of hot air through his nostrils.
Kinsmon ruffled the horse’s forelock. “Ah, but Shriven likes you. In time, you will come to adore him, too. Spend some time getting to know him. He’ll carry you much more quickly to Thresh than your feet. I’ve other matters to attend to, but Dagger will help you with anything you need.”
He left Dagger and Grit standing on either side of Shriven’s head. Grit kept one hand on her weapon. Either the horse or the sireling might compel her to use it. Dagger watched Kinsmon go, then peered at Grit over the horse’s nose.
His face was like a child’s. “I wasn’t trying to kill you. I had control of my weapon at all times and would not have so much as scratched you.”
Grit stroked Shriven’s neck. She didn’t mean to slash Dagger’s tunic. She just got carried away with the fever of the fight. She glanced at him. “I am accustomed to sparring for blood, and more recently, to sparring a man of sand, whose wounds could be easily, if tediously, repaired with needle and thread. It’s difficult to hold back.”
“But you will try?”
After a brief silence, Grit nodded at Shriven and said, “This beast can’t possibly like me.”
Dagger ran his fingers through Shriven’s mane. “Kinsmon understands creatures, and he understands people. He would not have paired you with Shriven if he didn’t know you will get on well together.”
Grit wasn’t so sure. The horse stomped a foot on the straw and bobbed his head in her direction. She reached her hand up to trace the outline of a rust-colored patch on the side of his face, and he leaned his head into her hand. All apprehension evaporated. She placed her other hand full on Shriven’s velvety nose. She’d found the courage to accept Worm. She’d do the same with Shriven.
Dagger took a bridle and lead off a hook beside the stall door. He fastened the bridle on Shriven and led the horse out of the stall. Grit took a step back as the enormous animal pranced past her. Recovering, she followed a few paces behind Dagger as he led the horse into the stable yard. This beast demanded more courage than Worm, but she wouldn’t be found a coward.
For the next half hour, Dagger taught Grit how to bridle and unbridle the horse and encouraged her as she walked him around the stable yard. After a quick lunch brought to them by a young boy, Dagger led a chestnut mare from the stable. He helped Grit onto Shriven’s back, mounted the mare, and led Grit to the northern meadow, far from the clamor of sparring warriors. There he guided her through the horse’s gaits. Riding wasn’t as difficult as she’d expected. She fell into an easy rhythm with Shriven.
On the far side of the northern meadow, the horse broke into a gallop. Leaning over Shriven’s neck, Grit squeezed with her legs and clung to the reins. There was no stopping the beast. She closed her eyes and willed herself to stay atop the horse.
“Ride with it, Grit! Ride with it!” Dagger’s voice rose like a battle cry over the pounding of her heart and Shriven’s hooves.
She’d spent her life training to be a warrior who would not shy away. She pushed herself off Shriven’s neck and straightened her back. Her body moved with the horse, rising and falling. They sped across the meadow, her heart pounding with exhilaration, even as the sweet scents of horse and grass eased her mind. They rounded the meadow and neared the castle again. Grit eased the reins back, bringing Shriven to a halt in front of Dagger.
“You ride well enough, all things considered,” he said. “Do you suppose you can travel on him?”
Dagger looked at the mountains. He seemed to see something beyond their tops. “We leave tomorrow, first thing. Back to the castle, now. It will be a difficult farewell, and I’m sure you have things to do before we leave.”
They returned to the stable, with Worm trotting along behind the horses. Grit glanced at the odd green pendant Dagger wore on a black cord around his neck. “Did Kinsmon give you that?”
Dagger held the triangular piece between his thumb and forefinger. “He took it out of the river from which he rescued me. It’s a shard of glass, worn smooth by the passing waters.”
“Unless I am very much mistaken, it is also the color of Scarlett’s eyes.”
He glanced at her, and for the first time, Grit sensed humor in his expression. “It is exactly the color of Scarlett’s eyes. Never mind getting along with Shriven. You and I, Grit of Berth and Stone, we may get along all right, after all.”
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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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