Chapter 38: 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 37 | Chapter 39 >>

THIRTY-EIGHT

The door to Coil’s hut flew open, and Dagger rushed into the room. He scanned the hut’s interior, his eyes fixing at last on Grit, who stood by Coil’s bed with one hand at her chest and the other hovering just above Coil’s chest.

“What is this?” Her hands shook, but she released neither pearl.

Dagger strode to Grit and took her pearl in his hand. He studied it closely, turning it in his fingers as she had done. He glanced at the second pearl, which rested in Grit’s outstretched hand.

“Where did you find it?” Dagger nodded toward the pearl around her neck.

“It was just there,” Grit said. “What is it, Dagger?”

He stood still a moment, saying nothing as he examined the new pearl. He stepped from the bedside, crossed one arm over his chest, and rubbed his fingers over his lips.

“Kinsmon’s promises cannot be counterfeited. The pearl you wear now is as authentic as the one you placed on Coil last night. Why did you give your pearl to him?”

“To protect him from Havoc.” Grit blurted the first clear reason that entered her mind. “You said Havoc couldn’t touch me or anything belonging to me without first asking Kinsmon. I thought if I claimed him as my own or better yet, as Kinsmon’s own, Havoc would not dare come near him.”

She glanced at Coil. “Also, Jareh, the farmer… He said if we met someone who had need of the promise Kinsmon gave us, to give it away freely. Dagger, I gave Coil the pearl because I had to. He needed it. Why should I have kept it from Coil in his need? Would you keep your shard of glass if another needed its promise?”

Dagger looked thoughtfully at Grit. “I can’t say what I’d do. I’ve never seen anything like this. I have, however, studied Kinsmon’s promises and the signs of his promises enough to know these pearls are both true seals of Kinsmon’s word. However the duplication has occurred, both are authentic.”

“What does it mean, though?” Grit asked.

“Who can say?” He gestured toward Coil. “He looks famished, not to mention almost as exhausted as I am myself. Give him something to eat, Grit, and then leave the poor sireling to rest. Sire Stone will watch over him while I catch up on my sleep.”

“What am I to do?” Grit asked.

Dagger stared at her, weariness written in every feature. “Must you ask so many questions? Surely you can find something to do.”

Without another word, he left Coil’s hut for the quiet solitude of Sire Stone’s.

After serving Coil oatmeal and eggs, and ensuring he was comfortably situated, Grit set out for Dame Berth’s hut. She had no desire to see the woman, but the image of Scarlett lavishing praise on Harth pressed upon Grit’s memory. She didn’t aspire to such affection toward her dame—that would be foolishness—but she’d do what she could to warn Berth of the threat to her life.

So Grit stood in Dame Berth’s doorway, laden with a fish, a basket full of the forest’s bounty, and a loaf of bread purchased from a young dame in the Inner Ring.

“What do you want?” Dame Berth snarled, her hand on her hip. “The council may have accepted you, but I haven’t rescinded my disownment.”

“I’ve come to serve your midday meal.” Grit gently pushed past Dame Berth, who offered less physical resistance than verbal. She laid her offerings on the table and counted to three in her head, waiting for Dame Berth’s abuse.

“A lousy meal won’t buy back the honor of my name,” Dame Berth said.

Grit did not immediately look at the dame. There was no point arguing with Berth. That had never ended well. She’d serve the meal, say her piece, and leave. What Berth chose to do wasn’t up to Grit. When she’d emptied her basket, she looked up and met the eye of the brooding woman.

“I do not wish to buy the honor of your name,” Grit said. “Rather I wish to add honor to your name, whether or not you share it with me. I know a dameling who speaks of her dame with music in her voice and tenderness in her features. If I had not met Harth in the flesh, Scarlett’s treatment of her in her absence would compel me to admire her dame. That, Dame Berth, is the honor I would add to your name, the honor of one’s offspring’s high regard. I do not expect ever to speak as glowingly of you as Scarlett does of Harth, knowing both you and myself as I do. But I will give you what honor I can, beginning with this luncheon. You may take it or leave it, to your honor or shame.”

As Grit sliced the bread, Dame Berth reached out her hand and took a grape. She took another and another. Grit placed a slice of bread on a plate and pushed it across the table to Dame Berth before turning to cook the fish over the fire.

They ate in silence. Grit chewed slowly, studying the woman who had raised and discarded her. The dame ate like she hadn’t had enough to eat in years. Maybe she hadn’t. Maybe that was why she was rail thin.

After second helpings of everything, Dame Berth leaned back in her chair. “I’m still not claiming you.”

“I haven’t asked you to claim me. I ask only one thing. Be alert. You and your babes are precious to Sire Stone. As such, Strike seeks to ruin all three of you. Be on guard at all times, ready to defend yourself and them. Warn Seal and Oath as well, that they may not wander naively into his clutches.”

Dame Berth narrowed her eyes at Grit. “How do you know all this?”

“It doesn’t matter how I know it. Swear you will guard your offspring with your life, and that, for Sire Stone’s sake, you will protect yourself as well.”

“I’ll swear nothing to you,” Dame Berth said. “You should leave now.”

Grit rose and collected her things. Pausing in the doorway, she turned to Berth.

“Whether you swear or not, I sincerely hope you heed my warning. You’ll receive no mercy from Strike.” She glanced at the dame’s arm and thought of the refugees from Koradin. “Butchering your flesh will be the least of his brutality.”

Grit left and made her way to Coil’s hut, where she spent the afternoon in more gratifying conversation, despite Sire Stone’s suggestions that the poor warrior ought to rest.

Coil seemed to have no interest in rest. He listened intently to Grit’s tales of the world beyond the Northern Forest. He was eager to hear of all she’d encountered in Port Colony, at the Southern Sea, and at Castle Concord, but he told her little of his activities during her absence. What he did reveal to her, he shared with a vigor that raised Sire Stone’s alarm.

“Sit back, Coil,” Sire Stone said as he placed a clean towel and a bowl of fresh water on the table next to the bed. When he reached the door to leave, he turned back to Coil. “I don’t believe you’re ready to get up yet.”

Coil pulled his errant legs back onto the bed. “I suppose you will have to collect my jars if you wish me to tell you their contents. I can do so much more than erase dagger wounds now.”

Grit ran to the table, returning to Coil’s side a moment later with several jars cradled in her arms.

“This,” he said, holding up a jar of ground leaves, “will cool a fever when steeped in hot water and drunk by the sufferer. I gave my dame’s littlest babe some this spring. Within minutes, her fever left, and she rested serenely. This one here will ease a headache. This one, a stomachache.”

“How did you do all this, Coil? I would have thought becoming Thresh’s mighty champion would have consumed all your energy, to say nothing of your time. And if you engaged in any other activities…” Grit pursed her lips and studied his face. She would know the truth, however awful it was. “I can’t imagine your fame was easy to win.”

“It wasn’t easy.” Coil’s muscles tensed, his eyes grew cold, his voice more agitated with every word. “Shall I tell you about it? Would you like to hear how dames shrieked and babes wailed as I walked past their huts drenched in the blood of their sires? Would it please you to hear how old women howled in fear as I ransacked inner rings, how the names they call me echo in my dreams every night? I could tell you tales that would send you cowering back to your Southern Sea. Would that please you, you who left with neither regret nor inclination for company? What would you have had me do, Grit, but spar away your memory and hope against hope that you might someday return and find me reason enough to stay?”

Grit had not expected Coil’s outburst. She sat back, staring at him. She considered snapping back at Coil, telling him he’d been a wretched fool, but bit her tongue. His tone held a desperation she had not observed in him before.

He sat against his pillows, defying her to answer. Sweat beaded on his forehead, and his breath came in short gasps, labored under the pain of his wound. He stared at Grit, oblivious to the objections of a body crying for rest.

“So they are true, all these tales of the Golden Demon?” she asked.

“All of them and more.”

As Grit studied Coil’s face, she saw Scarlett, on that last morning at Castle Concord, holding Dagger’s hands and gently massaging soothing cream into them, quietly devoting herself to the tiniest details of Dagger’s welfare. Looking deep into Coil’s agitated eyes, Grit sympathized with Scarlett. Desperation nearly overwhelmed her as she realized that Coil’s distress ran much deeper than sorely used hands. No cream would soothe Coil’s soul.

He waited expectantly for her to speak, his eyes never wavering. Silently and with all the confidence of a babe’s first step, Grit took his hands in hers and ran her thumb over each finger of each of his cold, trembling hands. As she reached each fingertip, she imagined it as memory demanded, warm with life and stained with berry juice. From time to time, she glanced at his hair. It still bore the reddish brown hue of spilt blood. Grit did not see blood. Instead, she saw Coil’s hair as she had so often seen it in her dreams—golden, streaked with pink, and filling her with an inexplicable ache. Her shoulders drooped as she studied Coil’s rough hands.

“Coil of Dara,” Grit said, her voice barely audible, “though I have not understood this fully until now, you have always been enough for me.”

She looked up to meet Coil’s eyes, only to find them closed. His head leaning back on his pillows, his shoulders relaxed and his breathing slowed. Without opening his eyes, he asked, “Will you release me from my vow?”

Grit leaned toward the table to dip the cloth into the water. Squeezing the excess water into the bowl, she cleared her throat. “Only if you promise never again to ask me to put a dagger in your heart.”

“If Talon of March and Swot were here, I would swear it to you on oath.” Coil wrapped his fingers tightly around the small hand that still held his. Grit squeezed back and did not loosen her grip as she wiped Coil’s forehead with the cool cloth.

Soon after, Sire Stone returned with a basket of food. He frowned at Coil, still reclining with his eyes closed while Grit wiped his forehead and cheeks with the damp towel.

“Does he have a fever or have you exhausted him?” he asked Grit.

“I’m fine. Let her be,” Coil said.

Sire Stone set about preparing plates for Grit, Coil, and himself. Dagger and Slate entered the hut just as Sire Stone was serving Grit and Coil. After preparing two more plates, Sire Stone sat on the stool behind the table and began to eat.

“Did you rest well, Dagger?” he asked.

“Yes. I’m ready to guard our invalid through the night.”

“Is that really necessary?” Coil asked.

“Yes.” For once, Grit and Dagger were in perfect agreement.

****

As darkness descended upon the village, Grit joined Dagger outside the hut.

“Have you spoken with Dame Berth?” he asked.

Grit kicked at a pebble. “Fool dame ignored my warning.”

“She ignores it to her own peril. Did she not consider the girls?”

Slate slid through the half open doorway. “What’s this? Are Seal and Oath in danger?”

“They’re in no more danger than foolish boys who eavesdrop,” Grit said. “Go to bed, Slate.”

“You’re all in danger.” Dagger, arms crossed over his chest, studied the boy. “Grit has warned Dame Berth to protect herself and the twins against an attack by Strike, and you should do the same. Stay alert always, young man.”

The thin boy straightened his back, squared his shoulders, and nodded his head at the tall sireling. Slate had learned his lessons well. He would cower before no one. Pride welled up in Grit’s heart

“I understand,” Slate said. Without another word, he walked toward Sire Stone’s hut.

When Grit entered the hut a minute later, Slate met her in the doorway. He bowed his head and passed out of the hut. Grit watched the door close behind him.

“Is he sleeping next door again?”

“Yes,” Sire Stone said. “I believe he’d follow Dagger to death, if given the opportunity.”

“Let us hope Dagger doesn’t lead him there,” Grit said, as much to herself as to her sire.

Sire Stone laid a blanket over the mat he’d prepared for Grit. “I wouldn’t have let him go if I didn’t trust Dagger to protect him. If I could convince Berth to send me Seal and Oath, I’d feel surer of their safety. If I could convince Berth to come here as well, I might even sleep in peace. I have never liked having you all so scattered about the village, and I like it even less tonight.”

“You know, then, that Strike aims to destroy all of us before killing you?” Grit asked.

Sire Stone nodded gravely. “I have suspected as much. This morning, Dagger confirmed my deepest fears. I slept earlier today. You sleep now. I’ll guard you while Dagger guards Coil and Slate. We must hope Berth performs her duty valiantly. She is neither as harsh nor as proud as she leads you to believe.”

Grit settled onto her mat, her hand securely over the hilt of her dagger. Two hours passed before she fell into a fitful sleep.

Dreams of Havoc and Strike disturbed her slumber. Twice she called out in her sleep, sharp, indiscernible syllables that brought Sire Stone to her side. After assuring her of her safety, he returned to his chair by the cracked door, where he peered into the outer darkness, fingering the gray key that had hung at his neck for nearly twenty years.

Like what you read? 

Check back next week to read chapter 39

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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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