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 32 | Chapter 34 >>
Grit sat on the edge of the bed and inspected the group Harth brought into their room. She remembered Oak and Vision from her last visit to the inn. They seemed different somehow.
The hint of the warrior Grit had detected in Oak was no longer a mere hint. Now he was the consummate warrior, broad and tall with stern eyes that seemed to take in every detail of his surroundings and a chiseled face whose expression betrayed nothing of his inner thoughts.
Vision, whose sharp eyes had missed nothing at their last meeting, seemed incapable of focusing on one thing for more than a second. His gaze darted about the room, stopping only when the need to speak forced him to relax his vigilance. From time to time, his muscles twitched, as if at any moment he might explode into action.
Grit clenched her dagger tight.
The other six individuals, three men, two women, and a girl not much older than Grit, moved across the room as one. Filthy, emaciated, and unarmed, they positioned themselves in a semi-circle behind Oak. Tattoos marked each of their arms. The girl had only one tattoo, but others’ arms were darkened wrist to elbow by what Vell had called “the Ink of Koradin.”
Harth waved them toward the table on the far side of the room. “Sit, sit! I’ll bring up some food and drink and whatever else you require.”
Oak glanced at the refugees. “They’ve suffered long and traveled far. Bring mats and blankets, whatever you can spare for their comfort.”
As Harth hurried from the room, Oak turned to Dagger. “I beg you to forgive our intrusion. The rigors of travel are inconsequential compared to the harsh treatment they received in Strike’s dungeon. I would prefer not to stop, but they cannot continue without a day or two of rest and recovery. As there is no place between Koradin and Castle Concord as secure as this inn, we judged it best…”
“Say no more. Harth was right. I do want to speak with them.” Dagger assumed a commanding air as he addressed the man who remained standing behind Oak when the others had settled themselves around the table. “You’ve come from Koradin, have you?”
The man puffed out his chest. “We are among the faithful of Koradin. Strike’s held our village for several months now. Many oppose him, but few have the courage to do so openly. Those who do are either killed or imprisoned. We considered ourselves lucky to have landed in the Western Dungeon. We escaped with help from Vision and Oak, who have long followed our plight.” He glanced at Oak, standing with his arms crossed over his barrel chest, and coughed. “Only one prisoner remained, a mad old woman who refused to come away with us. We tried to persuade her, but she wouldn’t budge. We go to Castle Concord to seek Kinsmon’s protection and plead for military reinforcements that we may reclaim our village from Strike. There are those still in Koradin who would rise against Strike if they thought their numbers could support a battle.”
Dagger rested his chin in his hand. “That’s good to know. What’s your name, good sire?”
“I expect to visit Koradin soon. Could you sketch a map of your village?” Dagger asked.
The man hesitated, scrutinizing Dagger as if he almost recognized him. He glanced at Oak, but the warrior was engaged in conversation with one of the women.
“Never mind the resemblance, Forge.” Vision, silent since ushering in the refugees, spoke from his lookout by the window. “You’ll find none better to serve the interests of Koradin.”
Sire Forge turned back to Dagger. “I’ll make you that map.”
Dagger rubbed his hands together. “I want every detail, however insignificant it seems. Include every building, every room, every passageway.”
“You’ll need her, too.” Sire Forge nodded over his shoulder at the dameling seated at the table. “Scullion!”
At her name, the dameling looked up. Pale and petite, like the weakest dameling of the Inner Ring, she scurried in her bare feet to Sire Forge’s side. Facing Dagger, she bowed her head, a tangled mess of stringy, brown hair.
“Scullion, is it?” Dagger asked. The dameling nodded. “Can you sketch the interior of Koradin’s fortress, from the lowest dungeons to the highest towers?”
Scullion raised her scarred face, brown eyes sparkling, and spoke with a confidence at odds with her quiet voice. “As a kitchen slave, I’ve spent my entire life inside the fortress. I know every room, every hallway, and every secret passage. I daresay I know the fortress better than Sage Frost himself.”
“How is Sage Frost?” Dagger looked from one refugee to the next with unflinching intensity.
Sire Forge winced. “He hardly knows how unwell he is. His council disbanded, and I fear his mind has failed him as well. He no longer recognizes those he knew before Strike defeated him, but spends hours each day imagining himself in conversation with his long deceased offspring. Died in childbirth some twenty years ago. They say Strike dashed the infant’s head against the rocks.”
Dagger’s face remained impassive before the veiled question in Sire Forge’s eyes. “A pity about all of them. I’ve heard Frost and Willow were decent folk.”
He gestured Sire Forge and Scullion toward the end of the table, where Oak had placed a pen and a roll of parchment. Grit cocked her head to the side as Dagger leaned over the developing map. No wonder Kinsmon rescued him from that river. See how sure he is of himself, how he commands others, and they obey. He’d have done well in Thresh.
After a few minutes, Grit left her perch on the side of the bed and crossed the room. Her bare feet pressed softly into the grooves of the worn wood planks. She sat among the fugitives at the end of the table opposite Dagger and watched the sireling study the parchment upon which Scullion drew.
His dark brows came together. “What are you drawing now?”
Sire Forge put a hand on Scullion’s bony shoulder. “He won’t be needing that one, not unless he intends to break into the dungeon. It’s how we escaped, but there’s a trick to the door, and it won’t do him any good coming or going.”
“Draw it anyway. I want everything,” Dagger said.
Grit leaned closer to the men and women seated at her end of the table. “Tell me about our enemy. Who is this Strike of the Northern Mountains?”
Three of them answered at once.
“A vile man.”
“Evil to the core.”
“He is more clever than any foe you will encounter.”
This last description came from the woman seated beside Grit. She continued, “He drew our youth into his ranks during their tests. We didn’t realize this, of course, until it was too late. When an army from the east attacked, Strike pressed an alliance with Koradin based on the memory of Sage Frost’s long-dead offspring, Willow. It was a segment of Strike’s army, mainly of warriors of the Northern Mountains, which attacked Koradin. Strike stood with us until the enemy pressed most firmly. Then, he commanded his men to take the fortress. The warriors he’d brought into Koradin and many of our own youth turned against the faithful of Koradin.”
“In the end, we were forced either to accept Strike’s rule or to face imprisonment or death,” said one of the men.
The second woman, who had remained quiet the whole time, looked at each of her companions. “He had ears everywhere. Not three hours after speaking his name with disgust, I was awakened in my bed. This is the least of the pain Strike’s men inflicted upon me.” She pulled up her sleeve, revealing a pattern of crisscrossed scars running the length of her tattooed forearm. Grit had nicked her share of Threshan youth and branded her own arm, but to inflict such brutality on another without cause was unthinkable.
She reached across the table and touched the woman’s scarred arm. “Do you know whether the Golden Demon has visited Koradin?”
“The Golden Demon? No, no. I’ve never heard of him. Who is this Golden Demon?” The woman pulled her arm back and looked uneasily about the room.
“No one. I’m sorry to disturb you. Think no more of it,” Grit said.
She sighed, relief flooding her heart. Coil was unknown in Koradin. There were limits to his cruelty, places his name was not as accursed as Strike’s.
“What of the village of Thresh?” she asked, remembering Strike’s vow to avenge his twin. “Has Strike attacked Thresh yet?”
“No. At least, he hadn’t as of our departure.” A sly smile lit the first woman’s stern features. “We learn a lot in the dungeon from warriors who think no one listens. Strike has prepared many times to attack Thresh, but has yet to follow through with his plans. Instead of sending his army to Thresh, he sends them off to capture some distant, unimposing village. The warriors do not understand why he sends them off to the plains or into the mountains when they might at last subjugate their ancient rival.”
Grit had forgotten the enmity between Thresh and Koradin. She was supposed to hate these people. Why was she glad they’d escaped? Her relief went deeper than knowing Strike had left Thresh alone. She frowned at the woman’s scarred arm. He should pay for his abuse.
One of the men spoke up. “It won’t be long. They say Strike grows increasingly agitated by his altered plans. I suspect he’ll soon defy that woman of his.”
“Defy her?” Dagger jerked his head up from the map he had been studying. His hands gripped the edge of the table.
The refugees looked from one to the other, confusion on their faces. At last, the young woman with the scarred arms answered Dagger. “Some whisper it is she, not Strike, who commands the army.”
“And you suppose he will defy her soon?”
The woman traced the scars on her arm. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he throws her off any day now. He doesn’t enjoy being controlled by a woman.”
Dagger’s blue eyes shone with cold determination as he rolled up the map and rose from the table. “Pack your bag, Grit. We mustn’t delay.”
The alliance between Strike and Havoc was unraveling with potentially disastrous results. Time was not to be wasted, neither on gathering information from refugees nor on debating their course. The best course, the only course, led immediately to Thresh. Grit would release Coil from his vow, by force of her dagger if necessary. Then they would warn Sire Stone and the council to prepare for Strike’s certain attack.
As Dagger packed his bag, Grit rose from the table, pulled on her boots, and collected her few belongings, cramming them into her pack. She stood at the door, her hand clutching the knob and her foot tapping the floor while Dagger took leave of Vision, Oak, and the refugees.
“Brave men and women of Koradin. I thank you for your help and wish you peace in Port Colony and safety as you proceed to Castle Concord. I trust we will meet again under more pleasant conditions. Oak, Vision, guide these people with every caution to Castle Concord and add my name to their petition.” Dagger clutched the glass shard hanging from his necklace. He looked from one refugee to the next, his eyes glistening oddly. “May the throne of Koradin prevail.”
With a curt nod of farewell, Grit swung open the door and entered the hallway with Dagger right behind. Passing through the kitchen, they bid farewell to Harth. They did not speak to one another until they reached the forest north of Port Colony. Vell proved as good as his word. Their horses were tethered and waiting.
Dagger mounted Fealty and turned in his saddle to face Grit. “We must hurry to Thresh. If Strike and Havoc quarrel, there’s no telling what either might do. We must think quickly and act carefully. If Thresh and Koradin fall together into the hands of Havoc, there will be no hope for the rest 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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