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 33 | Chapter 35 >>
Leaving Port Colony behind, Grit and Dagger followed Chasmaria’s undulating western coastline. After several days, they reached the Koradin-Thresh highway.
Grit spied Thresh first. The afternoon sun blazed above the village, creating a haze over her former home. She eased the reins back to bring Shriven to a halt and willed her fingers not to fidget. The training fields were empty. Dagger slowed Fealty beside her.
Grit squeezed her legs to Shriven’s side to stop their shaking. “They may kill us on sight. I’m not exactly a favorite among the council members.”
“That isn’t hard to imagine,” Dagger said. “Perhaps you should try being pleasant.”
“Pleasantries may work in Castle Concord, but they won’t restore what Thresh stole from me, nor will they restrain the Golden Demon.”
“Golden Demon, Dagger. Stop softening the truth. Let’s call it what it is.” She spurred Shriven on, not wanting to discuss Coil any longer. She couldn’t afford a second failure on the Koradin-Thresh Highway. This time, the consequences extended far beyond the loss of her honor. Lives. Innocent lives. That’s what’s at stake. I must stop Coil. If I turn back now, I’ll deserve every shame I’ve borne and more.
When they came to the place where she’d struggled with Havoc over a year before, Grit reined Shriven in. Horrific images of the wench tumbled through her mind.
Grit pointed a shaking finger toward the sand. “She was right there. Havoc. I was a fool to offer help.”
Dagger leaned over and placed his hand on her arm. “She’s not there now. And, she cannot touch you or anything that belongs to you without Kinsmon’s permission. Remember, she has no right to you.”
Grit stared at Dagger’s hand and resisted the impulse to shake it from her arm. The rare tenderness in his voice and the firmness of his touch only intensified her terror of the creature who had torn apart Thresh and Koradin, who had pitted Strike against Stone, who had twice attempted to harm her, and who had vowed to destroy Chasmaria and Kinsmon. I never knew fear to be so close, a fiend within my veins, devouring me from heart to limbs.
By force of will, she stilled her trembling muscles. Leaning forward with a hand on Shriven’s muscular neck, she spat in the sand. “May the wench’s blood soak the earth upon which she falls. I won’t be fooled again.”
Dagger drew back. “Anger sickens the soul. Let Kinsmon’s promises strengthen you and know you aren’t alone. Whatever lies ahead, I’ll do all I can to aid you, as will Kinsmon himself if need be. He won’t abandon us when we are in need.”
“What of Coil? What of his need?”
“That’s not my decision to make.” Dagger studied her a moment before continuing in measured words. “Have we not discussed the importance of discerning the times to kill, wound, spar, and heal? It’s up to you, Grit, to determine which of these Coil requires.”
Dagger could speak so easily. He had no real attachment to the sire he hoped to overthrow. How would he feel if it were Scarlett he rode to oppose?
They traveled several yards before Dagger spoke again. “I would not admit this to many, but there are things I fear, not the least of them being what lies ahead. We’ll both have to pretend to be braver than we are. Can you put on a good show?”
Grit rubbed her upper right arm, memories of her Final Branding flooding her mind. “Oh, I can put on a good show.”
She fixed her gaze on the village ahead.
“This is new.” Warriors stood at intervals around the Outer Ring, with one on either side of the road leading into the village. “That guard, on the left, is Turf of Elna and Bord, coward of cowards. Allow me to handle him. We have a history, Turf and I.”
She spurred Shriven forward, her head held high and her hand on her dagger, daring Turf to bar her entry into Thresh.
“Halt!” He thrust his spear out to block their passage. The guard opposite him did the same.
Both horses stopped. Turf advanced toward them, his face expressionless. When he recognized Grit, he scowled.
“My prey returns.” He cast a glance at Dagger. “What rubbish hangs about her now?”
Grit sat tall in her saddle. “Why, Turf of Elna and Bord, you’ve made it all the way to the station of village guard. I’m mildly surprised you climbed so high, but the council must be shocked you haven’t climbed higher. Tsk. Tsk.” She shook her head in feigned disbelief.
Turf thrust his spear at Shriven. “State your business, Grit of Stone.”
Grit grew serious under Turf’s cruel glare. She could not back down, but did not wish to fight with him here on the outskirts of the village. A band of warriors might easily form out of the scattered guards.
“I demand you escort my companion and me to the meetinghouse, where we will present ourselves to the council. If you have anything to say to me, you may say it there. If I choose to say anything more to you or of you, I will say it there. I haven’t forgotten your cowardice as a hunter.”
“Ha! Say what you will. You and your unclaimed ally have done all you can to hold me back, but neither of you can keep me from the honor rightfully mine.” Turf snorted in derision. “I doubt the council will be pleased to see the trash they threw out a year ago come back to stink up the village, but have it your way. Present yourself to the council. You know the way.”
He moved his spear aside to let them pass; the other guard mirrored his actions. Grit glared at Turf as she passed him by.
He shook his spear at her. “You can’t touch me, foolish girl!”
She led Dagger past the huts of the Outer Ring, into the heart of Thresh, and toward the meetinghouse. All the while, Turf’s manner nagged Grit’s mind. Something in his bearing unsettled her. Unable to figure out the cause of her discomfort, she noted the activity around her.
Thresh was much as Arrow suggested it would be. It was the same, yet changed. Something wasn’t right. Youth jostled one another in the street, but not with the same vigor. It was as if they knew they played a foolish game and wished to save their energies for something more urgent than childish brawls. Dames trod with heavier feet, watching their babes closer than she remembered. More sires and sirelings strolled through Thresh this afternoon, all of them wearing grave expressions.
Several children stopped to watch Grit and Dagger proceed through the village, but most of the older Threshans shuffled out of their way, stealing circumspect glances at the intruders and clutching their possessions tighter. Instinctively, Grit kept one hand on her dagger and wrapped the other around the reins. Perhaps I should have returned sooner, though what I could have done to prevent this melancholy air is beyond me.
She searched the faces, but nowhere did she find Coil. On the other side of the street, a dame with straw-colored hair grasped the hand of a curly haired girl. The dame’s other hand supported the bottom of a baby resting in a sling across her chest. Seized by regret, Grit steered Shriven in the trio’s direction.
“Dame Dara!” Grit dismounted, fumbled with her pack, and withdrew the blanket Kinsmon had given her. She held it out to the woman. “Take it.”
Dame Dara released the girl’s hand and snatched the blanket from Grit. She studied Grit suspiciously. The child stroked the blanket with her grubby hand.
“It’s so soft,” she whispered.
Grit’s gaze lingered on the clean wool. “I hate to part with it, but a wretched girl stole your dear dame’s blanket some time ago. It is right that she have a new blanket, and a much nicer one at that.”
The girl’s blond curls bobbed as she nodded. Dame Dara pulled on the child’s arm, dragging her onward. The dame would never like Grit. Dagger smiled oddly.
“What? It’s only a blanket, and I have another one.” Grit threw her pack over her shoulder and proceeded toward the meetinghouse on foot, leading Shriven.
After tethering her horse, Grit stood in the open doorway of the meetinghouse with Dagger close behind. The council was in session. Some members were seated around a long table set on the stage; others stood leaning on the backs of their chairs.
Sire Stone paced the far end of the low stage, his voice raised. “Allow me to go to him. He’s my twin, after all. Perhaps I can bargain with him for Thresh’s safety.”
Berth leaned back in her chair. “And what bargain could you make with the mighty Strike? What do you have that he couldn’t take by force if he so desired?”
“I don’t know, but…” Sire Stone fell silent. The other eleven council members followed his gaze.
“Grit.” Sire Stone exhaled, taking a step toward her with arms outstretched. “I thought I’d never see you again.”
“Wait!” Sire Pierce said. “Who accompanies her?”
Dagger stepped forward. Squaring his shoulders, he raised his chin and addressed the council.
“I am Dagger of Willow and Strike, rejected by my sire and reared by Kinsmon’s hand.”
“Kinsmon!” Sire Swot leapt from his chair and scurried toward Dagger. “Do you mean the Kinsmon, who defeated Havoc in the great quake that rent Chasmaria into thirds? And Willow…” He repeated the name to himself, trying to place her. “Willow, Willow… Would that be Willow of Echo of Ardor of Parch and so on all the way back to Koradin of River of Harmony?”
Grit threw up her arms. At least Sire Swot hadn’t changed. “Does it matter? When Thresh may be days from falling to Strike, does it really matter who reared this stranger or who birthed him?”
“The same Kinsmon and Willow.” Dagger spoke in a low, steady voice, and leveled his gaze at each council member in turn. “I beg you to overlook the rash speech of my ally. She forgets too easily what her hand has agreed to.”
The words stung, but Grit could make no argument. She’d called Dagger a stranger, a dangerous error to make when they sought admittance to the village.
Sire Swot wrung his hands. “Are the stories true, then?”
Dagger gave one decisive nod. The wiry man sank into a chair, clutching his chest.
“We must accept him. He’s a true child of Harmony, a direct descendant of Koradin, and our only hope of making an ally of what remains of that village.”
“Someone tell me what Swot is babbling about now,” Sage Brakken said.
Grit struggled to remember a story she was sure she’d never heard.
“He refers to an old saying that when a child of Thresh and a child of Koradin reign in the villages bearing their names, peace will return to Chasmaria,” Dagger said.
“Yes, yes. And he is a child of Koradin. I vote to accept him into the village. We’d be fools not to…” Sire Swot’s words became completely unintelligible, his mind having descended into the deepest depths of thought where all that proceeded from his mouth was garbled mumbling.
Berth rose from her chair. “He may be a descendent of Koradin, but he is also the offspring of our enemy, and I don’t recall anyone saying we want Koradin for an ally. Perhaps his death would serve us better.”
Bitterness tinged Dagger’s voice. “My death will do you no good. I already told you my sire rejected me. He hasn’t seen me in nearly twenty years, let alone established an alliance with me. I’m sure he already thinks me dead and is grateful for that mistaken fact. My demise will be of no consequence to him. My life, on the other hand, may prove very useful to you. Little would satisfy me more than to destroy Strike’s power over Chasmaria.”
Dagger spoke with easy confidence and looked each council member in the eye. It seemed not a challenge, but a pledge of honesty.
He would win them, just as he won everyone—Scarlett, Kinsmon, Burrow and Bard, all the scouts in Port Colony. They’d listen. They’d do as he commanded. They would count him the most honorable of men.Grit stepped back from the council. Dagger didn’t need her to stir up the usual altercations.
“You wish to usurp your sire’s throne, then?” Sire Pierce asked.
“I wish to see the day when Chasmaria is free of treachery. I’ll do all in my power to speed the coming of that day.”
“What pledge can you give that you will not betray us if we accept you?” Sire Pierce asked.
The room fell silent. What could Dagger offer? Sire Stone studied the sireling, perhaps to discover traces of Strike in his rejected offspring. Following Sire Stone’s gaze, Grit noted, in the face that resembled her sire’s in all but age, nothing of deception or brutality. Instead, a reflection of Kinsmon’s bearing that she didn’t notice before shone in Dagger’s noble features. He stood before the Threshan council, calm and unhurried in the urgency of the moment.
“He pledges the life of his sire’s twin,” Sire Stone said.
Grit cocked her head at her sire, but Dagger simply bowed his head at the older man.
Sire Stone faced Sage Brakken. “I second Sire Swot’s vote to accept Dagger of Willow and Strike. I offer a place in my hut should he require a bed. Should he betray Thresh, you may do to me what you would do to him.”
“We decide the girl’s fate first. Have you all forgotten she has no right to enter Thresh?” Sage Brakken leveled his gaze at Grit. “We banished you.”
“I came back.”
On the other side of the table, Dame Berth paced in front of the fireplace, the branding rod in her hand and a cold stare fixed on Grit. “What gives you the right to set foot in this village?”
Grit advanced toward the low stage. “I give myself the right. And, I defy anyone to bar my way.”
“Why is she here?”
Grit did not need to turn around to know Coil stood in the doorway. His footsteps sounded firmly on the wooden floor as he circled to stand between her and the council. From his heavy boots to his broad shoulders, he looked every bit the seasoned warrior. His face, too, spoke of grueling battles, hardness etched in every feature. What had Arrow said? Words can wound more deeply than one might imagine. Is this what her tongue—and the cruel vows she demanded of him—had wrought?
Grit gulped and looked Coil in the eye. “I have come to dispel the terror of the Golden Demon.”
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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.