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 34 | Chapter 36 >>
“You’ve come to dispel the terror of the Golden Demon?” Sage Brakken’s laughter filled the meetinghouse. He waved his hand as if to shoo away a bothersome insect. “Let the Golden Demon be, girl. He holds no terror over us. You still haven’t answered. By what right do you enter Thresh?”
Grit looked again at Coil, the memory of his desperation at their last meeting at odds with the hardened warrior standing before her. He studied her through stern, blue eyes that held none of the mocking mirth she’d hoped to find.
“I claim the right of an outsider to challenge the champion for admittance to Thresh,” she said. It was what Coil had wanted her to do in the first place, way back on the rocky shore when he’d begged her to stay.
Sire Stone pounded his fist on the back of Dame Berth’s empty chair. “Utter foolishness! She cannot be permitted to do this.”
Dame Berth threw the branding rod. It clanked against the stone fireplace before thudding onto the wood floor. Red-faced, she turned on Grit. “Have your way, fool girl, but don’t say I didn’t teach you better. Let her fight the champion. Death alone will compel her to control her foolish impulses.”
“Berth.” Sire Stone’s voice was an anguished breath.
Dame Berth wagged a finger at Sire Stone. “No! I’ll not be dissuaded by any of your talk of what was or what might yet be. That goes for you, too, Swot. She fights the champion.”
Sire Stone shook his head. “This is unwise, Berth. Think of the consequences.”
Coil turned from Grit to the council. “I stand with the dame. Let her face the champion. Should she succeed against him, dispelling the terror of the Golden Demon will be an easy task to complete. Should she fail…” He glanced over his shoulder. “Should she fail, I myself will see that the Golden Demon is laid to rest.”
“The matter is settled, then,” Sage Brakken said.
Sire Stone stared at Coil, his eyes filled with dismay. “It is foolishness, utter foolishness.”
Sire Swot sat up as though physically pulled from his reverie. “But what about him? Can we at least accept the descendant of Koradin?”
Like a cat deciding between two prey, Coil looked from Grit to Dagger. “If she triumphs, his fate is in her hands. If she fails, his fate rests upon the mercy of the champion. I believe, Sire Swot, this is standard procedure in such situations.”
Sire Swot shuffled the parchments on the table in front of him. “As far as I have read or heard, Coil of Dara, such circumstances, just as we have before us now, have never occurred. Or at least, they have never been recorded as having occurred, but I suppose it is a just proposal you make, if Sage Brakken agrees.”
Sage Brakken nodded toward Grit and Dagger. “Lock them up for the night, and alert the village of a sparring match in the morning. Few will want to miss this one.”
Grit resisted the urge to fight when Sire Pierce pulled her arms behind her back. Next to her, Dagger offered his wrists to another council member. All the while Coil watched placidly, his gaze never straying from Grit’s face. She wanted to spit at him or scream at him or laugh and tell him that the pair of them would win in the end, but she and Coil were no longer conspiring against Turf in some childhood game. He had supported her claim to fight the champion and had sworn to lay the Golden Demon to rest if she failed, but he looked upon her as an enemy carefully measuring her for any hint of weakness.
Sire Pierce shoved Grit toward the door.
“Fool! Never imprison an armed warrior!” Dame Berth marched across the meetinghouse.
Sire Stone stepped in front of Berth and reached for Grit’s dagger. She’d have fought him, but her sire appeared already defeated. Her dagger looked smaller in his hands than in hers. She felt a thousand times smaller herself without her dagger at her hip.
“I’ll keep it safe until morning,” he said.
Coil passed Grit without a glance. Apparently, he’d seen enough of her. His voice was cold and calculating. “Sire Stone, I require your aid.”
Later that evening, Grit sat beside Dagger in the small hut in which the council had locked them.
Grit leaned her head against the earthen wall. “I suppose you won’t tell me to restrain myself now that it’s not your chest in danger of my blade. Surely you won’t advise me to hold back in this sparring match.”
“I cannot tell you to kill another human being. It’s a brutal arrangement into which you rushed.” Dagger sighed deeply in the semi-darkness. “Still, you may fight for your survival… Mine, too, come to think of it.”
In the silence, Grit rehearsed in her mind all she had learned at the Southern Sea and Castle Concord. Only half-aware of her actions, she sliced her empty hand through the air, imagining Varlet of Dara advancing upon her.
“You must sleep.” Dagger leaned forward, his arm outstretched. He held her hand steady, his palm smooth and cool against her skin. “You won’t be fit to face the champion, whether to destroy or to spare, if you do not first rest your mind and body.”
She curled on the hard, dirt floor, her head just touching Dagger’s knee. If this was to be her last night of life, she didn’t wish to be entirely alone. As Dagger sang tenderly of Castle Concord, weariness overcame anxiety, and Grit fell asleep to dream of Worm and Ezekiel, then of Scarlett, Dagger, Arrow, and Kinsmon.
She awoke in the middle of the night, a strange tightness in her chest. Had it been only a dream, walking with Coil through the gardens of Castle Concord and showing him berries twice the size of any he’d picked in Thresh? His laughter had rung so clear, but now only the sound of Dagger’s breathing filled the darkness. The castle brat must have felt her start. He brushed her hair from her face, whispered something incoherent, and hummed one of Bard’s songs as she drifted back to sleep.
When she woke again, light entered the hut through a small window high in the wall. It would be tight, but could she fit through the window? Eight small fingers wrapped over the window ledge and two eyes peered into the prison hut. Grit scrambled to her feet.
“Psst! Grit! It’s me, Oath!”
“What are you doing, child?” Grit reached up to touch her sibling’s fingers, but they were too high.
“Bringing you breakfast. You can’t very well best a champion on an empty stomach.”
Oath pushed a parcel through the window. Grit caught it as it fell. Her mouth watered at the smell of fresh bread as warmth spread through the cloth wrapping into her palms. She squinted at Oath.
“Where’d you get this?”
Oath lifted one finger from the window ledge. “Never mind that. I have ways of acquiring what I need. I have to go now. Seal’s shoulders can only bear so much.”
The girl disappeared from sight, a soft “oomph” confirming her dismount from her twin’s long-suffering shoulders.
It was mid-morning when Sire Pierce and Dame Berth retrieved Grit and Dagger from their hut. Leading them to the rear of the meetinghouse, they left Grit with an armed warrior at one end of the sparring circle and continued with Dagger around the perimeter fence. With a solemn nod, the warrior handed Grit her dagger. The champion had not yet arrived, but a small crowd began to gather, hungry to watch the banished girl battle the village champion. Grit vaulted the fence into the circle. Let the show begin.
Eager spectators sat on tiers of planks erected on the opposite side of the fenced circle from the meetinghouse. More villagers arrived, and the crowd overflowed the tiers and spread around the circle. Villagers leaned against the wooden fence, peering at the challenger awaiting the champion’s arrival. Grit paced along the eastern curve. From his seat in the stands between Dame Berth and Sire Pierce, Dagger frowned. His gaze met Grit’s and shifted to the west.
A horn announced the arrival of Thresh’s champion. Sire Stone and Sage Brakken stepped to either side of the gate to allow him to enter the circle. He narrowed his eyes to scrutinize his challenger. Grit faced him, barely able to mask her horror.
Coil of Dara moved gracefully despite his broad frame, as if he might vault a fence or curl into a somersault without warning. His cold, blue stare bore into Grit’s as he proceeded to the center of the circle.
He called over his shoulder to Sage Brakken. “Allow us to settle our terms of combat.” He did not wait for the elderly man’s approval, but approached Grit with firm, determined steps and led her to a section of the sparring circle unpopulated by spectators.
With his back to the villagers and an arm resting on the fence, he leaned forward and spoke in a low voice. “So, in your esteemed opinion, may Thresh rightfully boast possession of a warrior worth fighting? That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
Desperate, Grit searched his face. Did he hate her? Or had he truly done all this to please her? Her will, so strong against Kinsmon’s dummy, faltered. So this is the emptiness Scarlett feels apart from Dagger.
Her shoulders drooped, and her voice came as a whisper. “I’ve no desire to spar you.”
“And yet it didn’t bother you to leave me.”
There was a new hardness to Coil, a bitterness that hurt more than all her dreams of pink-streaked curls. Her chest ached, her heart nearly crushed under the weight of the change in him. The golden curls that had refused to leave her memory shone immaculately clean in the morning light.
“Your hair,” she said. “It isn’t pink.”
An awkward smile broke the firm line of his lips. “I… I thought you hated it that way.”
She reached to touch his hair, but drew her hand back. The council watched their every move. “Through all my journeying, it was the one thing I could never banish from my mind.”
Relief, pity, and all she had ever dared hope to find in her old companion flooded Coil’s eyes, washing away the bitterness that had nearly crushed her heart a moment before and filling her with hope.
“You’ve gotten us into a fine predicament, and we haven’t time for pleasantries,” he said. “You must listen carefully and do exactly as I instruct if we are to survive this match. Blood-thirst grips many on the council, and they won’t be satisfied until one of us lies in a crimson pool. I will slash and cut you, Grit, but I will not kill you.” He took Grit’s dagger from her hands and held it in his as if inspecting it. “You must plant this dagger in my chest, or you will kill us both. Only be sure to miss my heart by a hair, if you will, and don’t plunge too deeply. Now that you are back, I’m able again to breathe without pain, and I rather wish to continue doing so. Can you do this?”
She snatched her dagger from Coil’s hand. “You want me to stab you? Is this your idea of a good plan?”
“I would prefer another way, but we don’t have one. You aren’t safe unless you defeat me. Trust me, Grit. I know what I’m doing. Can you follow my instructions?”
Grit gulped hard. After a quick glance at Dagger, she looked into Coil’s earnest eyes. She struggled to reconcile the familiar youth before her with her memory of the Arborsedge refugees. How could he have done all they claimed? And yet I saw them… Countless thoughts she could not voice swirled through her mind. Whatever was true, whatever was false, she could sort through it later. Now, she must decide whether to trust Coil or operate independent of him. Do what is in your heart to do. Kinsmon’s words echoed in her mind. She raised her dagger and pointed it at the only boy she’d ever thought worth sparring.
A relieved smile played at the corners of Coil’s lips as he repeated his part of their old refrain. “To Grit.”
He turned on his heel and crossed the sparring circle. When he reached the far side, he removed his sheathed broadsword and passed it over the fence to Sire Stone. Then Coil drew a dagger from his boot and faced Grit. Sage Brakken blew a long note on the horn.
On opposite sides of the circle, Grit and Coil raised their daggers high. The crowd fell silent as challenger and champion roared as one, “Prove yourself!”
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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.