Chapter 28: Grit of Berth and Stone

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

TWENTY-EIGHT

<< Chapter 27 | Chapter 29 >>

Kinsmon tossed a heavy saddlebag across the Shriven’s flanks and fastened it to the rear of the saddle. “There’s enough to sustain you until you arrive in Thresh. Remember the promise I gave you, Grit. You’ll endure harsh treatment for a time, but in the end, when a new age dawns in Chasmaria, beauty will shine like the summer sun.”

Leaving Grit standing with Shriven’s reins in her hands, he turned to the right and held his arms out. “Dagger.”

The sireling released Scarlett’s hands and took a step toward Kinsmon, his jaw set. “I will serve your interests wherever my path may lead.”

Kinsmon wrapped both arms around Dagger. Grit imagined a younger Kinsmon holding out his arms to receive an orphaned infant. But Kinsmon was not young, and Dagger was far from infancy. Despite his youthful features, Dagger appeared weary, somber, and much older than his twenty years. He stepped from Kinsmon’s embrace and turned once more to Scarlett.

“Your hands…” She stood so close to Dagger their bodies almost touched. Her strained voice sounded of desperation. “You use them so sorely. They’ll be dreadfully calloused before you return again. Once more, before you go, before your hands are damaged beyond help.”

Trembling, she removed a small jar from her pocket, opened it, and dipped two fingers inside. Her head bowed, she took Dagger’s hand into her own and massaged the cream into his hand in widening circles, paying close attention to his knuckles and the spaces between his fingers.

Dagger bowed his head, and his forehead touched hers. “My hands are never without help, nor are we. My dear, dear Scarlett, we are never without help.”

“Must you leave me again?” she whispered, a tear falling onto his other hand as she took it in hers.

“You know I must.”

Neither spoke again, but both followed the movement of Scarlett’s fingertips long after she smoothed the last of the cream into his skin. Her fingers lingered on Dagger’s a moment before she pressed the jar into his palm. Dagger touched his lips to Scarlett’s forehead.

Grit looked away with a pang of guilt. She shouldn’t have watched. This sacredness belonged to them, not her. Weeping over Dagger’s hands was the highest foolishness, and yet Grit ached for Scarlett, for Dagger, and inexplicably, for herself.

“I heard you were leaving.” Arrow had approached unnoticed. “Keep well, my friend. And may we live to share another evening’s beauty.”

“May we live…” What dangers might come to herself, to Arrow, to all Chasmaria? Horrific images filled Grit’s mind, and she could banish none of them.

“Grit.” Scarlett held her arms open. Grit accepted the dameling’s embrace, and the ache intensified. Perhaps this is the beginning of missing someone.

In a low, breaking voice, Scarlett whispered in her ear, “Keep Dagger safe.”

Releasing Grit, Scarlett forced a smile. She nodded to Dagger, who had already mounted his mare, and pressed Grit’s shoulder. “May peace lead and joy follow. Now, go!”

Grit stooped down to set her cheek against Worm’s soft fur. “Be good to Ezekiel, Worm.”

She stood, ruffling the dog’s fur one last time, and mounted Shriven. When she was situated in the saddle, Kinsmon passed her a folded blanket.

“Take this, in case you have need of it.” A faint, familiar sparkle lit his eye.

Grit looked at Kinsmon, blinking for lack of understanding. Sire Stone’s blanket had served her well. Why should she need another? She took the blanket, though, and crammed it into her pack atop of her blanket from Sire Stone. Far be it from her to pass up a spare blanket, especially one as warm as this.

At a shout from Dagger, his mare, Fealty, started into a brisk walk. Shriven sidestepped and rushed to catch up with the mare.

Moving in rhythm with Shriven, Grit followed Dagger up the road. She scanned the pastures, dotted with horses, cattle, and creatures whose names escaped her, and peered into the trees, looking for raptors and other of Kinsmon’s feathered messengers, counting each time she spotted one. From time to time, she glanced at her companion.

Dagger fixed his attention on the path ahead, only occasionally turning his gaze to the right or left to check the motion of a horse through the pasture or the wind through the trees. Halfway up the mountain, he slowed Fealty and spoke for the first time since leaving the castle.

“Kinsmon has told me many things, but he hasn’t told me why you decided to return to Thresh.” The sireling sat erect in the saddle, giving the impression of surety and precision. He seemed aloof, harsh even, but there was something else in his manner. He doesn’t know what to do with me. I frighten him. But why?

“What do you know of the Golden Demon?” Grit asked, coming even with him.

“The Golden Warrior, Grit. I refuse to call him a demon, and you should, too.” His voice held a passing note of irritation. “He is ruthless in his pursuit of destruction. He works alone or with a single witness, attacking villages only after Strike has devastated the Outer Rings. The Golden Warrior pays little heed to the few strong who remain, only shedding their blood if they stand between him and the Inner Ring. There, upon the defenseless, the weak, and the aged, he unleashes the full strength of his power, demanding of them information they don’t possess and denying their claims of innocence. His origin and his name are both unknown.”

“He is my sparring partner. You say his aim is destruction, but it is not as broad, nor as simple as you describe it.”Grit steeled herself to tell the rest. “I was banished from Thresh. You may as well know, since it will make our reception rather challenging. Before I left, Coil of Dara vowed to avenge my enemies. The Arborsedge refugees prove he goes too far in his pursuit of vengeance. He must be stopped. I compelled him to this treachery, and I will not rest until he rests.”

“How do you intend to stop him?”

Grit didn’t need to feel her dagger to know it was there, so heavily did it weigh upon her mind. “By whatever means necessary.”

When they reached the rocky terrain just outside the entrance to the tunnel leading to Sages Bridge, Dagger turned his mount east.

Grit slowed Shriven. “Shouldn’t we cross here? It’s the quickest way, isn’t it?”

Dagger shook his head. “There’s another bridge a few hours east. We cross there. On the other side is a village in which we spend the night. After that, we follow the roads to Port Colony, and then on to Thresh.”

He eyed Grit before continuing in slow, measured words. “After that, I cannot say what your future holds. Kinsmon calls you his heart and hands. I’m uncertain what that means, but I know you’re under his protection. Remember that as we go forth. You are under Kinsmon’s protection.”

Grit cared little for talk of the future and her need of protection. “What’s your business in the Northern Forest?”

“To return you safely to Thresh.”

Grit sat a little straighter in her saddle. What did Dagger think she was? “I can get to Thresh just fine on my own.”

He laughed and shook his head. “No, that’s only a small part of it. Mostly, I am to watch and wait.”

“For what exactly are you to watch and wait?”

Instead of answering, Dagger bowed his head and spurred his mare on. As Shriven fell in behind Fealty, Grit glared at the sireling’s straight back. He may have been raised in a castle, but his manners matched those of a village babe. Did he imagine Scarlett’s civility covered the both of them?

They crossed Legions Bridge in the mid-afternoon. The wide bridge spanned the chasm at a point more shallow and narrow than Sages Bridge. Its sturdy planks had been designed to withstand the pressures of crossing armies. Without breaking pace, Shriven and Fealty carried Grit and Dagger over the chasm and into the heart of Chasmaria.

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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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