Chapter 36: 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

<< Chapter 35 | Chapter 37 >>

THIRTY-SIX

Grit and Coil circled the sparring ring, drawing ever closer to one another until they met in the middle. Grit made the first move. Thrusting at Coil’s right arm, she sliced just below his elbow; he twisted his arm to nick her in return. She reached for his cheek; he slashed her tunic from shoulder to waist, barely missing the flesh beneath it. Grit leapt to the side; Coil pounced after her. Back and forth they went, Grit attacking boldly and Coil returning wound for wound, but to a lesser degree, until blood stained them both. It was as if no time had passed. She knew his moves before he made them, even as he seemed to know hers.

After an hour, Sage Brakken called for an intermission. Wiping the sweat from her brow, Grit stalked to the fence, grateful for the rest. Across the circle, Sire Stone passed a flask to Coil, who drank greedily from it. Slate, sneaking through the crowd that had gathered around Grit’s side, passed her a small flask. Grit took it and drank slowly, keeping one eye on Coil at all times.

A movement to her right caught her attention. She jerked her head toward the fence. Seal and Oath leaned over the bottom rail. Seal gestured oddly with her hands, as if tracing circles and figure eights on an invisible table. Jabbing motions punctuated the smooth flow of her delicate hands.

“What’s she doing, Oath?” Grit asked.

“She’s reenacting the match.” Oath watched as first Seal’s left hand, and then her right, jerked toward the meetinghouse. “See? Coil just pounced after you.”

Grit studied her youngest sibling. As Oath had said, Seal was reenacting the match through her hands. Every step, every leap, every twist, every jab… Seal’s deft hands omitted nothing.

“Make her stop. It’s disturbing.” Grit thrust the empty flask at Oath.

Sage Brakken blew the horn, and the bloody dance continued. Grit slashed Coil’s side. He thrust his dagger into her left shoulder. Drawing his arm back, he pulled the knife from her flesh. Her body screamed in agony, but his chest was wide open, unprotected. The opportunity might not come again.

Grit threw herself toward him.

In the instant her dagger pierced his flesh, Havoc’s hideous face appeared behind Coil, her eyes ablaze with evil triumph. Horrific fear overwhelmed Grit.

Her connection broke. She thrust her dagger an inch deeper and not as far from Coil’s heart as she had intended.

He stood still, looking at Grit with an odd expression in his eyes.

“Too deep, Grit.” He collapsed.

Grit fell at his side and reached for the dagger, her hands trembling. She had to undo the damage.

“No!” Coil’s arm shot from his side and grabbed her wrist. He shouted, but his voice was barely louder than a whisper. “Leave it there, or I swear by my broadsword, I will kill you with your own dagger.”

His other hand reached into a pocket and withdrew a silver flask. He handed it to Grit.

“Drink this, vicious girl.” He gave her a weary smile.

Grit opened the flask and took a gulp of its contents. How could this be? Staring at Coil, she took another drink and swished the sweet juice around her mouth. She hadn’t been mistaken. Kinsmon’s special brew, or something very close, rolled over her tongue.

Coil’s face was pale. Blood oozed around the blade of her dagger in his chest. No, no, no! It can’t have come to this.

She spat her mouthful of juice over his chest, aiming it at the wound. She could think of no other remedy. Maybe, just maybe, Kinsmon’s brew or Coil’s berries or whatever the flask held could undo her error. Propping his head in her lap, she put the flask to Coil’s lips. While she waited for him to swallow, she splashed juice directly onto his wound. Then she gave him another drink.

“Move aside, Grit. I’ll tend him in his hut.” Sire Stone crouched at Grit’s side. “Give me your dagger.”

Grit moved her hand between Sire Stone and the weapon protruding from Coil’s chest. “He said to leave it there.”

“Not that dagger, child. Your Sire’s Aid. Give me your Sire’s Aid. Tell me you still have your Sire’s Aid, and tell me it does what I think it does.”

Grit dug in her pocket for the oyster knife and passed it to him. Sire Stone scooped Coil into his arms, rose, and walked out of the sparring circle.

He stopped only for a moment to speak to Sire Swot. “It was foolish to set them against each other. If she has killed him, we may consider our doom sure.”

Sire Swot followed Sire Stone. As they rounded the corner of the meetinghouse, Sage Brakken waved Sire Pierce forward. Sire Pierce stood on a raised platform at the edge of the sparring circle. The crowd hushed. Dagger stood at Grit’s side. She hadn’t noticed his arrival. Had Pierce and Berth released him?

“Dagger, I feel rather weak.” Grit clenched her jaw. The world seemed slow and distant. Sounds and sights dulled and blurred all around her. Her legs felt as wobbly as they had when Whisp ushered her from Vell’s prison to Harth’s inn.

Sire Pierce’s voice grated against her mind like the screech of a thousand dying seagulls. “The match goes to the challenger! The council of Thresh accepts Grit of Stone, formally disowned by the dame who bore her, and with her, Dagger of Willow and Strike. They may move about the village as a free dame and an able sireling.”

Dagger took her hand and raised it above her head like some gesture of triumph. The crowd grew loud again. Fools, all of them, to think they looked on victory. Dagger draped her arm across his shoulders, wrapped his arm around her back, and held her steady.

“Lean on me and cling to Kinsmon’s promise.” He took her left hand and eased her fingers over her pearl.

He walked her through the gate and away from the sparring circle. Grit’s lips quivered as she replayed the match in her mind.

“What have I done, Dagger? I’ve killed him, haven’t I? Take me to his body. I have to touch him. He’ll be in the Outer Ring, seventh hut from the main road on the right.” She spoke in a distant, shaky voice. Her eyes barely focused as her steps fell clumsily in with Dagger’s. She could still feel the resistance of Coil’s flesh as she’d plunged her dagger into his chest. Had it been fear or triumph in his eyes?

The smells of sweat and blood and rosemary seemed to hang in the air, even though Coil had gone. She bent over and retched until her stomach felt as empty as her heart. She stared at the puddle of bile tinged pink by the swallow of juice she’d taken. Dagger urged her onward. Her feet moved, but she replayed the final moves of the match over and over, as if reciting them would reverse their damage.

“I nicked his rib, poked his side. He got my shoulder, and I flew at his chest. A hair to the left of the heart and higher… Dagger!” She clutched his shirt and tried to turn back to the sparring circle. “She was here, right behind Coil. Did you see her?”

“Grit, you are talking nonsense. Come out of it.” Dagger grabbed her shoulders and shook.

The confusion left as Grit focused on Dagger’s face. Her limbs still trembled, and her injured shoulder felt as though on fire, but she spoke calmly now. She’d never been surer of anything. “I’m not speaking nonsense. Havoc was here. Did you not see her? She stood right behind Coil as I stabbed him.”

Dagger wrapped his arm around Grit again. She was not fool enough to decline his support.

“We must get you to Coil before either of you suffers more,” he said.

He walked briskly toward the Outer Ring, lifting Grit to her feet when she stumbled. When they arrived at Coil’s hut, Dagger didn’t bother to knock. The door was cracked. He pushed it open and led Grit inside.

Berth had trained her to make careful note of her surroundings, but Grit marked only one detail of Coil’s hut. On a bed pushed into the far corner, Coil of Dara was stretched out on blood-stained sheets. His shirt had been torn open, and Sire Stone stood over him, one hand on the dagger protruding from the sireling’s chest and one holding a bloody, balled up cloth.

“Wait!” Grit ran across the room, pushing her way past Sire Swot to stand beside Coil’s head. Sire Swot passed Grit her oyster knife, with the cap removed from its hilt. She dug her finger deep into the ointment and held a glob of it above Coil’s heart. “Remove it quickly, sire, and let us hope this medicine is strong enough.”

Sire Stone tightened his grip on the dagger. “On the count of three. One. Two. Three.”

In one smooth, quick motion, Sire Stone pulled the dagger from Coil’s chest. Grit dropped the glob of ointment deep into the wound. She thrust her finger back into the knife’s hollow hilt, scooped out more ointment, and smeared it into Coil’s bleeding wound. A little more pain from her hand didn’t matter now. The ointment ran dry, but still she scraped the inside of the hilt, desperate to give Coil all the help he could get. He had no other hope. How she wished he were a dummy she could simply sew back together.

“Dagger! My pack!”

She nearly dropped the bag taking it from Dagger’s hand. She fumbled over the engraved flap, cursing the clumsiness of her hands. She couldn’t shake like this when Coil’s life was in the balance. Ezekiel’s sewing kit had fallen to the very bottom of the bag. She pulled it out and spread it open on her lap. The feel of the needle between her fingertips steadied her. The strongest thread slid easily through the needle’s eye.

Pinching Coil’s wound closed, she whispered, “This might hurt, but you and I are used to pain.”

Carefully, with deeper concentration and greater precision than she had ever applied to Ezekiel’s dummy, Grit pierced Coil’s skin with her needle. Blood slipping between her fingers, she marked his chest with tiny, methodical stitches. When she was through, Grit laid her crimson hand firmly over Coil’s heart and waited, her attention fixed on his pale face. If her stitches worked, she’d gladly mend ten thousand shredded dummies.

Blood ceased seeping from underneath her hand. Coil’s chest rose slightly and then fell. The tiny movement beneath her hand sent a trill of hope through Grit’s spirit. His chest continued to rise and fall in almost imperceptible rhythm. His eyes fluttered open, then rolled closed again. Grit did not move. She couldn’t look away from Coil’s pale face.

She could hear Dagger, Sire Stone, and Sire Swot whispering behind her. Slate, who had followed Grit and Dagger from the sparring circle, entered the hut and joined the others in waiting.

Hours passed, but finally Coil’s eyes opened and did not close. He looked at Grit for a full five minutes before speaking.

“I thought you weren’t coming back,” he said weakly.

“So did I.”

“You said Thresh held nothing for you.”

Grit lifted her hand and checked the stitches. She dared not meet Coil’s gaze. “Perhaps I lied.”

“You look horrid, you know.”

“You’re one to talk.” Grit looked up from Coil’s chest and forced a frown. “I said I like pink hair, not crimson.”

Coil winced at the effort of a gentle laugh. Sire Stone placed a hand on Grit’s uninjured shoulder.

“Coil is very weak, Grit. You mustn’t wear him out. Besides, we should have dressed your wounds hours ago.” He helped Grit to her feet and guided her away from Coil’s bedside. When they were at the door, Sire Stone turned to Dagger. “Will you stay with him through the night?”

Grit’s back was turned, her full weight on the doorknob, and though her ears still rang with the echo of steel upon steel, she heard Dagger’s quiet answer. “I won’t leave his side, not when Havoc hunts him.”

Grit whirled to face Dagger, her jaw clenched. He had not spoken quietly enough. She looked from Dagger to Coil, then marched to the latter’s side.

“I will not have him suffer at that creature’s hands.” Sitting on the side of the bed, she reached behind her neck to remove her pearl on its golden chain. She leaned over Coil, slipped her hands beneath his neck, and fastened the clasp of the necklace. Her fingers traced the line of the chain and lingered to caress the pearl, which sat in a pool of blood on Coil’s chest. For an instant, the image of Scarlett’s fingers lingering over Dagger’s flashed across Grit’s mind. She met Coil’s gaze with stern tenderness.

“If Havoc comes to you, Coil of Dara, tell her Kinsmon’s heart has claimed you for Castle Concord and send that hag away.”

She turned to Dagger, who sat with a puzzled expression on his face as he looked from Grit to the blood-stained pearl around Coil’s neck. The wound in her shoulder, which had not bothered her while she tended Coil, now seared with pain. She pressed her hand against her arm and glared at Dagger.

“And you… If any ill befalls him in my absence, it’ll be my dagger through your heart with no salve to heal. I’d stay to defend him myself, but as you know, I could barely walk here. Sire Stone…”

Her sire wrapped an arm around her waist and helped her to her feet.

“Come, my girl. Let me care for you.”

Like what you read? 

Check back next week to read chapter 37

or

Get your copy of GRIT OF BERTH AND STONE

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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