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
In the hut next to Coil’s, Sire Stone dressed Grit’s shoulder. As the sticky, dark brown mixture he’d applied to her wound dried, he arranged a mat for her in a corner of his hut. While Grit settled on the mat, Sire Stone knelt and covered her with a light blanket.
“I imagine you’ll want to build your own hut soon enough, but you’re welcome to stay here as long as you like,” he said.
Grit propped herself up on her uninjured arm and stretched her neck. Her shoulder throbbed, but her entire body ached. “What exactly happened this morning?”
Sire Stone laughed softly. “This morning, though he fell by your dagger, Thresh’s champion won his most perilous battle. Coil has fought in many skirmishes, but none so dire as his struggle against himself. Since you left, I’ve often wondered if he were losing that battle, if he might follow the way of Strike instead of seeking a better way. I strove to guide him, but pain will drive a man to madness more quickly than reason can restrain him.”
“He isn’t mad. He never threw in his lot with Strike. He can’t have done that.” It was horror enough that he’d been the Golden Demon.
“Coil alone knows what he has and hasn’t done,” Sire Stone said. “He disappeared for days, but never spoke a word of where he went or what he did. Talon may have some knowledge, but he isn’t as chatty as his sire. Unpleasant rumors of Coil’s business beyond Thresh are all I’ve heard. ”
Grit shook her head. She didn’t care about the past, not with this day still so jumbled in her mind. “He saved us both. I almost killed him for it.”
Sire Stone laughed again. “It was a mad plan, to be sure, but he was in his right mind the moment he found you in the meetinghouse. He saw the council required blood and determined to spill his rather than yours. He’d brook no objection. Indeed, I could offer no alternative. I’m not sure his herbs and berries would’ve been sufficient without your dagger’s salve, though. I’m relieved you had it with you still.”
“I only hope we’ve done enough to restore him completely. He’s badly wounded.” Grit flexed and relaxed her sore leg muscles.
“Time will tell. Sleep now, Grit. You’re exhausted.”
Grit closed her eyes, but only for a moment. Fear swelled in her heart. She sat up and stared at the empty mat near the foot of Sire Stone’s bed.
“He’s in Coil’s hut,” Sire Stone said. “He’ll sleep there tonight. He’s intrigued by your new ally, and Dagger consented to his company.”
“What about Dame Berth and the babes?”
“I assume they’re in their mats by this hour. Why do you ask?”
“Strike.” She wanted to tell Sire Stone that his twin intended to destroy everyone he held dear, but the words would not form on her tongue. The day’s events had drained her energy, dulled her senses. Too numb to think clearly, she lay back on her mat. “They must be on their guard.”
“Sleep, Grit. Dagger will defend both Coil and Slate. As for Berth and the girls, your dame is fierce enough to guard them all. I don’t think even Strike would be so brave as to face that woman in battle.”
Grit shook her head slowly, yawned, and closed her eyes. Before falling completely asleep, her hand grazed the hilt of her dagger.
Sleep brought turbulent dreams. First Havoc chased Grit from the Southern Sea to Thresh, from Thresh to worlds unknown. Then Grit swam with Coil from the Western Sea to the Southern Sea, the water cool, then warm against their flesh. At the Southern Sea, with Ezekiel watching through his clouded eyes, a creature, half-snake, half-human swam circles around Coil. Its face took form, and Havoc’s cruel, laughing mouth expanded to swallow Coil alive. Clutching her dagger, Grit swam against the current that pulled her from Havoc. The snake tail whipped through red saltwater, slashing Grit’s shoulder open.
Grit awoke with her hand clasped tightly around her dagger and her wounded shoulder burning with pain. She relaxed her grip on the dagger and wriggled the ache out of her fingers before sitting up. There was nothing to be done about the shoulder. Dim light filtered through the windows. Sire Stone had already risen and departed from the hut. His bed was neatly made, and a plate of food lay on a footstool next to Grit’s mat. She ate, willing the memory of her dreams from her mind with every bite, then rose and straightened her mat.
Three damelings were passing in front of Sire Stone’s hut as Grit emerged. They stopped when they saw her. The tallest, a willowy girl with eyes as green as Scarlett’s, stood with one hand on her hip. Her fine face twisted into a sneer.
“Grit of Stone,” she said. “Aren’t you a little far from the Inner Ring, Merit?” Grit pulled Sire Stone’s door shut behind her.
Merit let out an irritated breath. “You know as well as I do, I don’t live there. Tell me, though, how does it feel to have destroyed your only ally in Thresh? Do you suppose you’ll ever find another ally?”
Grit glared at her. “Merit of Shore and Brakken, are you sure you didn’t spend your training years with your sire? You are almost as much a fool as he, speaking so surely of what you do not know.”
Merit narrowed her green eyes. “We all saw what you did to Coil. You can’t deny your dagger in his heart.”
“I can if I choose to. Anyway, Coil is much stronger than you credit him. His heart could survive much worse than a nick from my dagger.”
She pushed past Merit and her companions and headed for the hut next door. This time, she took in every detail of Coil’s hut—the bundles of herbs above the stone fireplace, the pots stacked in neat rows, the table covered with jars and vials, some empty and some full of unidentifiable substances, but all stained with various shades of pink.
The rumpled mat on the floor at the foot of the bed must be Slate’s. Dagger would never sleep while on guard. Despite its disheveled condition, an underlying orderliness marked the hut, as if someone had subjected a particularly tidy space to frenzied activity, with no time to restore its accustomed state.
Grit nodded to Sire Stone and Dagger, who sat on stools behind the table, deep in conversation, then turned her attention to Coil. He was half-sitting in bed, propped up by pillows and rolled blankets. His face was pale, but his chest rose and fell with greater ease than it had the previous night. He opened his eyes and looked Grit’s way.
He gestured for her to draw near. “Let me see your wound.”
“Sire Stone dressed it last night.” She sat on the edge of the bed and pulled back the strip of cloth Sire Stone had wrapped around her upper arm. Coil frowned at the gaping wound.
He pointed to a jar on the bedside table. “Pass me that poultice.”
As he twisted the lid, he winced in pain.
Grit took the jar from him, removed the lid, and gave it back.
He dipped his fingers into the poultice and gently dabbed it on her wound. She clenched her jaw as he repeated the process. Before long, he had coated the area surrounding her wound with a thick layer of the sticky, mud-like goo.
When the door clicked shut behind Dagger and Sire Stone, Coil looked up momentarily. “This wound looks awful. Sire Stone should have been more liberal.”
His finger brushed over her wound, and she grimaced.
“What is that?” she asked.
Coil’s blue eyes sparkled as he leaned closer to Grit’s shoulder.
“Just a little something I concocted from berries, honey, and a handful of herbs I found lying around. In the time you were gone, I discovered several uses for my berries, as well as a few ways to enhance their potency. For example, when you boil them…” He gave Grit’s shoulder a final dab. “There, that should do. Your wound should heal quickly, now that you have the benefit of a generous application.”
Coil gazed at his handiwork a moment before shifting his eyes to Grit’s right arm. He leaned closer, his eyebrows knit together.
“Your brands are gone,” he said. “How did you do it? One bowl of berries couldn’t have been enough to erase all traces of an act as foolishly brutal as your Final Branding.”
“My Sire’s Aid came from Kinsmon. It contained the same salve that preserved your life.”
“Sixteen years of fortitude, and nothing to show for it. What’s it like, Grit, life without brands?” Coil shook his head as he traced two imaginary lines down Grit’s unmarked arm.
His fingertip lingered near her elbow where her sixteenth and most severe brand had been. Her skin tingled beneath his gentle touch, and she dared not meet his eye, for fear he would become uncomfortable and take his hand from her arm.
“It was frightening at first, like plunging into a world in which one knows none of the rules,” she said. “There, in that strange world, honor is won through restoration rather than destruction. They tell you it is easy to wound others or even to wound oneself, but healing is harder. It is much harder, Coil, and I am just beginning to understand what this means.”
Coil leaned back on his pillows. An involuntary groan escaped his lips, and his face contorted with pain before he recovered himself.
Grit inhaled sharply. “I didn’t intend to wound you so gravely. I promise I didn’t.” Her arm ached from the absence of his fingertips.
“I’ve felt worse. You’re home and not too stubborn to listen to someone who knows what he’s doing. I was afraid one way or the other you wouldn’t heed my instructions yesterday.”
“You were a fool to trust me to follow such instructions. You nearly got yourself killed.”
Coil studied her for a moment. “Dagger speaks highly of you.”
“If you think he speaks well of me, you should hear him speak of Scarlett.”
Coil smiled. “I have. From the stories he tells, she’s a bit of a silly dameling. And yet, I would like to meet her. Kinsmon, too, I think.”
“You would like Kinsmon.” Grit’s gaze drifted to Coil’s chest. Beneath layers of dried blood, ointment, and herbal paste, the faint outline of her stitches showed. “As for Scarlett, if you met her in your current condition, she’d be sure to send you to bathe in lavender scented water.”
Grit reached for the bowl and cloth on the table. Placing the bowl on the bed, she dipped the cloth into the water and began to wash away the blood that had dried on Coil’s chest, as she had seen Scarlett do with the wounded at Castle Concord. She worked without speaking, focused entirely on the task at hand. Coil watched her work. As Grit drew closer to the wound, he closed his eyes and clenched his jaw against the pain.
When at last Coil’s chest was clean, Grit covered his wound with a fresh layer of the herbal concoction. She leaned over and lifted the pearl. She rubbed the orb with the cloth, trying to remove the blood from the opalescent surface. Try as she might, Grit could not remove the bloodstains.
“Where did you get all these necklaces, Grit?”
“All these necklaces?” She placed the back of her hand on Coil’s forehead to check for fever.
“How many do you have?” Coil asked.
“Just the one. Except, I gave it to you, so I suppose I have none.”
“No.” He shook his head slowly.
She followed his gaze. A pearl dangled from a thin gold chain around her neck. She dropped the towel, grabbed the pearl between her fingers, and studied it from every angle, comparing it to the one she’d given Coil. The only difference was in color. Hers was iridescent white; Coil’s the deep crimson of dried blood.
Like what you read?
Check back next week to read chapter 38
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.