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
From a distance, Port Colony was beautiful. Golden lights sprinkled the dark outline of buildings. Beyond the city, the setting sun cast a pink glow across the sky and over the sea. Dagger reined in Fealty and waited under the cover of the forest’s edge for Shriven to carry Grit to his side. He whistled, and an eagle soared down from the top of a gigantic pine and rested on his outstretched arm.
“To Vell!” Dagger raised his arm, and the eagle took flight once more, headed into the heart of the city.
Dagger turned to Grit. “Port Colony is hostile territory. We’d made small gains in this city, but Strike and Havoc together have sown fear and confusion. Their spies and servants work to undermine all Kinsmon’s scouts have labored to accomplish. Vision reports brutal acts against friends of Kinsmon, but nothing has been confirmed. Be on your guard. Reveal nothing of yourself to anyone.”
They waited a full hour, Grit’s ears attentive to every rustle and snap of the forest around them and her eyes fixed on Port Colony. She shifted her weight in Shriven’s saddle.
“We could go around,” she said.
Dagger shook his head, but did not look at her. “Messages to deliver.”
A bird’s shrill call broke the silence. Dagger repeated the sound, still but for his lips. A moment later Vell stepped from behind a tree. In one fluid movement, Dagger dismounted, his feet touching the ground with a soft thud.
“Escort Grit to Fellows Inn, Vell,” Dagger said. “I’ll join you once I’ve delivered the most pressing of my messages.”
Grit glared at Vell. She had no desire to repeat the pain of his arrow in her neck and the days of confusion and weakness that had followed.
He returned her distrustful stare. “I vowed not to kill you and not to raise my pipe at you, but I didn’t say anything about knocking you out some other way. If you’re planning to put up a fight, I won’t hesitate to employ a branch to secure your life.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Dagger shot Grit a warning glance. “Put away your dagger. His job is to protect you, not harm you.”
Grit sheathed her dagger and rested her hand on her hip so that her fingertips just touched the hilt. “I don’t need protection. Least of all from him.”
“I’m sure you’d have said the same last time you entered Port Colony, and look at all the trouble you got yourself into then,” Vell said. “We’re on the same side, you and I, but the other side doesn’t know that. They think I serve Strike. With me at your side, you’ll have safe passage to Harth’s inn. You’d be hard pressed to make it on your own. Port Colony is a much darker place than it was on your last visit. I wouldn’t let a dog wander the streets unguarded.”
A dog. Worm. Had he made it home to Ezekiel yet? She was glad she’d left him in the Southern Realm, where she needn’t worry what strangers might do to him.
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll go with you, but I swear, if I so much as see your pipe, I won’t hesitate—”
“You have a deal. We’ll see you at the inn, Dagger. Tether the horses, and I’ll make sure they’re cared for and waiting on the other side of the city when you’re ready to go.” Vell gripped her arm tight and led her into Port Colony. It seemed she couldn’t escape being his prisoner, but she didn’t resist this time. The city’s residents watched Grit hungrily.
“That’s a pretty one you’ve got, Vell.” A stooped man wrapped a bony finger around a strand of Grit’s hair. “Care to share?”
She spit in the man’s face as Vell yanked her closer to his body.
“Paws off.” Vell’s voice was harder than Grit had ever heard it.
Her back pressed against Vell’s thick body, and his arm wrapped around her ribcage. He brushed her hair out of her face and held it in a ponytail at the back of her head. His whiskers scratched her ear; his breath warmed her cheek. “Stay close and let me be the foul one. They are starving tonight, and you must not entice them.”
Fear rose in Grit’s chest, fear deeper and more raw than she’d ever known. In this city of ravenous men, her security was entirely in Vell’s hands. Vell, who had almost killed her once, held her so close and so tightly she could barely breathe. He is afraid. Afraid of things more awful than I dare imagine.
She turned her head so her lips almost touched his neck. “Could you at least not pull out all my hair?”
“Forgive me,” he whispered, his gaze darting from shaded space to dark corner. He let go of Grit’s hair, but kept his hand on the top of her head.
She was relieved when Vell turned down an empty alleyway and led her to the backyard of Harth’s inn. They passed a small stable and entered the inn through the kitchen door. The kitchen bustled with activity as Scarlett’s dame barked orders at various individuals stationed around the room.
“Don’t let that burn!” Harth waved her towel at an absentminded old man tending a pot over the fire, then turned to a slender girl. “Refill the mugs in the dining room!”
Vell released Grit and cleared his throat. “I have a guest for you.”
Harth tucked her towel into her apron. “Grit, isn’t it? It’s good to see you again, and good to see you looking so well. Sit in the dining room. Put your feet up. Have a drink on the house. I’ll send your dinner as soon as I’ve seen to everything in here.”
Vell and Grit passed through the kitchen and into the dining room. Every table in the room was full, so they sat at the counter. The barkeep filled a mug for each of them. A few minutes later, the girl from the kitchen brought their dinners.
As they finished eating, Dagger came out of the kitchen. Harth followed, looking like a dog waiting for a choice morsel to drop from the table. She set a plate on the counter and waited for Dagger to sit.
Vell scooted from his stool. “Take my seat, Dagger.”
“Thank you. A good evening’s work, Vell.”
“I’ll be about my business, then. A safe journey to you both.” The guard bent to Grit’s ear and whispered, “I’m sorry about the arrow last time you were here.”
Harth leaned on the counter. “How is my precious girl, Dagger? Is she well? How sorely I miss her.”
“Scarlett is well. Here.” Dagger pulled a folded paper from his pocket. “She sends you a letter. I can read it to you now or later, if you prefer.”
“Oh, do read it now.” Harth rested her chin on her folded hands and looked at him expectantly.
“Excuse me a moment longer, Grit.” Dagger unfolded Scarlett’s letter and leaned closer to Harth. “My dear dame…
Grit swirled the cider in her mug while the bartender filled mugs for other customers. A dameling, perhaps sixteen or seventeen years of age, slid onto the stool on the other side of Grit. The dameling’s long, golden curls were tied back with a bright pink ribbon. Clear blue eyes and delicate pink lips adorned her round, youthful face.
“May I have a juice, barkeep?” Her voice was as innocent as her smile. She took her mug of juice from the barkeep and turned to Grit. Her eyes widened in amazement when she saw Grit’s pearl. “What is that round your neck?”
Grit took a swig of cider. “It’s a pearl.”
“Where did you get it?” The girl squinted for a closer look at the orb.
Remembering Dagger’s warning to reveal nothing of herself, Grit straightened her back and chose her words carefully. “An ally gave it to me as security for a future service.”
The girl sat back, her pink lips drawn into a frown. “It must be quite a service for your ally to have given you such a magnificent pledge.”
“It’s nothing much.” Grit shrugged her shoulders and stared into her mug. Eventually, the girl would have to lose interest in the pearl.
The girl leaned closer. “Its surface looks so smooth.” Her voice cracked as she reached a hand out to touch Grit’s pearl.
Dagger’s voice rose above the clamor of the dining room. He pulled Grit back by the shoulder. His other arm shot across Grit’s chest and knocked the dameling’s hand away from the pearl.
Grit jumped off her stool, sending it crashing to the ground. Dagger stepped over the stool to place himself between Grit and the girl, who glared at the dark-haired sireling.
Her eyes flashed cold and unfeeling, and her hair, gold and shiny a moment before, was now gray and brittle.
Grit stumbled backward, grasping for her dagger. It’s her. The hag. So far from the Koradin-Thresh Highway. Bile rose in her throat.
The hag extended a wrinkled hand. “Ah, Grit, we’re old friends, aren’t we? Would you despise a poor, aged woman?”
Dagger’s voice trembled with rage. “Do not touch her, Havoc! Grit of Berth and Stone is under Kinsmon’s care. If you would so much as lay a finger on her, or on anything that belongs to her, you must speak to Kinsmon first. Leave here and return to whatever hole you crawled out of, you foul, miserable wretch!”
Havoc returned Dagger’s fierce gaze. A smile crept across her twisting features. She laughed coarsely. Peering around Dagger to address Grit, she asked, “Is that what Kinsmon calls you? Grit of Berth and Stone?”
“Silence, Grit!” Dagger glared at Havoc as her hair lightened from gray to gold and her eyes recovered their soft, sky blue shade.
The dameling spoke again to Dagger, her voice steady despite her shifting appearance. “You blunder, River Rat. Her dame disowned her over a year ago. She is merely Grit of Stone now. Unless Kinsmon thinks her dame still matters…”
Grit stepped from behind Dagger. “My dame is inconsequential.”
Havoc raised a questioning eyebrow. Dagger roughly pushed Grit behind him and held one arm out to keep her from moving forward again.
“How charming. The river rat guards Stone’s cherished possession.”
Dagger placed a hand on the hilt of his sword. “I told you to leave, wench. If you do not do so immediately, I will summon Kinsmon himself.”
Havoc’s blue eyes filled with frenzy. Through gnarled lips, the wild creature, half dameling, half hag, sneered. “I’ll go, River Rat, but only because you’ve given me something to consider.”
She backed away from them, shuffling all the way to the entrance of the inn. There she darted through the open doorway and was lost in the crowded street. Dagger wheeled to face Grit.
“I told you to hold your tongue.” Grabbing her by the elbow, Dagger steered Grit across the dining room and marched her up the narrow stairway. She struggled against his grasp, but he clenched her arm tighter.
At the end of the upstairs hallway, he threw open a door and slammed it shut behind them. Crossing to the far side of the room, he nearly shoved Grit into a stiff, wooden chair. He ran the fingers of both hands through his hair like he meant to pull out the jet-black strands in fistfuls. Breathing deep, irate sighs, he paced the length of the room. Every few steps, he stopped to look at Grit and shake his head.
Grit crossed her arms over her chest. “What exactly is your problem? I fail to see what grievous act I have committed to make you behave like a madman.”
Dagger stopped mid-stride. “Do you know nothing of the danger you’re in?”
“I know woefully little of the danger I face.” Grit leaned forward in her seat and rested her elbows on her knees. “You people seem to think all I need to know is what is in my heart. Perhaps you ought to tell me what’s going on in the world outside my heart, as my heart doesn’t seem to serve me as well as it should.”
Dagger’s anger abated. His hands fell to his sides and his shoulders drooped as he walked to the table and took the chair next to hers.
“There’s some truth in that. Allow me a moment to think. There is so much you ought to know.”
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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.