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 38 | Chapter 40 >>
Sire Stone’s cry pierced through the sounds of the battle raging in Grit’s dreams. Her eyes flew open. She threw back her covers and pounced to her feet, dagger in hand.
Sire Stone raced from the hut, leaving the door swinging on its hinges. Grit rushed after him.
In the middle of the street, Sire Stone clung to Dame Berth, his thick arms wrapped around her chest, his legs spread to steady himself against her crazed flailing. The anguished dame alternated banging her head against his chest and throwing her head back to howl obscenities. She kicked his shins and spat in his face, but still he held her fast.
“Let me go! Strike! He has him! He took my Slate! Let me go!” Dame Berth scratched at Sire Stone’s arms.
“You can’t defeat him, Berth,” Sire Stone said. “Let an army form, but don’t rush into battle against that man.”
Armed Threshans emerged from the huts on the Outer Ring and formed a line on the southern side of the village. Over their murmurs, Dame Berth shouted the direction Strike had taken when he left her hut with her bound offspring.
Grit followed a group of young warriors to a position just behind Coil’s hut. The light of torches revealed a disorderly band of Threshans straining to see the retreating enemy in the darkness beyond the village. The warriors of Thresh argued with one another over the best course of action. They cursed the misfortune of having their champion laid up with a dagger wound to the chest. None could decide whether to pursue the enemy or guard the village.
Several yards to the west, Sire Stone restrained Dame Berth, his head resting against hers.
“Don’t let him get away. The boy only wanted to protect us. I should’ve sent him away. If none of you will go after him, let me!” Tears streamed down Dame Berth’s twisted face.
“No, Berth,” Sire Stone said. “You don’t know the danger we face.”
Then the darkness was no more. In an instant, the blaze of a thousand torches rose as one flame across the horizon. As far as the eye could see in either direction, foot soldiers and mounted warriors held blazing torches aloft.
Grit shuddered at the enormity of Strike’s army. Several Threshan warriors stepped back, terrified by the army facing them. There was no way for Thresh to defeat them.
Halfway across the training field, Strike turned his enormous white steed to face the rough band of Threshan warriors. Fire reflected in his silver helmet. A small figure mounted in front of Strike writhed against the warrior’s hold.
“Slate!” Unable to contain the wave of emotions that overwhelmed her, Grit cried out to her captive sibling, a sound deep and foreign, yet as close and raw as her very soul.
Dame Berth wrenched herself from Sire Stone’s grip and charged at the mounted enemy.
Grit chased her dame, her muscles burning and her head swimming. He will pick you off one by one, Dagger said, and it’s begun. One by one. No, no, no! Her feet pounded against the ground to the beat of the screams in her head.
Slate leaned toward Dame Berth, shouting incoherently. With all the force of his young body, he slammed against Strike’s chest, nearly unseating both captor and captive. Strike wrestled the boy back into the saddle, and Dame Berth rushed at the great white horse. Strike’s left arm tightened around Slate’s neck.
Grit screamed as the warrior raised a spear over his head and plunged it into Dame Berth’s heart. Slate slumped in Strike’s arm as his dame staggered backward.
“Shame to you, Strike of the Northern Mountains.” Berth lurched forward and spat. Bloody phlegm stuck to the horse’s shoulder. “Stone’s the better man by far.”
As the dame fell, Grit stretched out her arms to receive her broken body. They crumpled as one into the grass. Grit placed her hand over the wound, trying vainly to stop the blood. She was not ready to see death so close. Dame Berth laid her hand over Grit’s.
“You are the only one who stood with me.” Dame Berth gasped for air. “Grit of Berth and Stone, my offspring, my ally, my honor.”
“You reclaim me?” Grit wiped a tear from her dame’s cheek.
“Yes, fool girl, I do.” She clasped Grit’s hand and with her last breath, sighed her firstborn’s name. “Grit of Berth and Stone.”
Somewhere west of Thresh, a horn sounded. Dame Berth’s hand fell limp on her bloody chest. As Grit hung her head over her dame’s lifeless from, Strike’s mount reared and whinnied.
Shielding Dame Berth with her body, Grit looked up to take in her dame’s murderer, from his weathered boots, to his scarred hands, to the silver-black hair brushing against his broad shoulders. He was just as she remembered. He wore the same silver helmet she saw the day she let Peril and Zag pass beneath her. What lay behind the helmet? Had brutality tainted the features she’d come to cherish in the faces of her sire and siblings? Was Dagger’s pride amplified in his sire, without the tempering effect of a tender heart? Grit had no desire to see Strike’s face, for fear the sight would warp her perceptions of Sire Stone, Slate, Seal, Oath, and Dagger.
As Strike galloped away with Slate, Grit pushed Dame Berth’s body from her lap and rose to her feet. She stumbled forward, rage surging in her heart. I’ll hunt him to death before he takes another one of us. I’ll pry Slate, dead or alive, from his arms, and do to that coward whatever he has done to Slate.
Her legs denied her will. She tripped to her knees. Glancing over his shoulder, Strike pumped his spear in the air. Grit pushed herself from the earth and scrambled to her feet.
From behind, arms wrapped around her waist. Pulled back, her body slammed against a strong, solid figure. “Do not pursue him,” Dagger said.
Grit struggled against his hold. “He murdered my dame. Shall I allow him to do the same to Slate? Shall I leave his deeds unpunished?”
“Slate’s as good as dead, and you will be, too, if you chase after him. Look at Strike’s army.”
She trained her eyes on the retreating army as Dagger spoke in her ear. “If you would honor your dame, do not do it by rushing to join her in death. Turn around, Grit. Honor your dame with your life.”
Strike and his army disappeared into the darkness, and Grit turned to gaze upon her fallen dame. Dagger released her, and she dropped to her knees beside Dame Berth’s body. She ran a finger across Dame Berth’s cheek and traced the line of her jaw. She appeared peaceful in death, as Grit had never known her in life. Perhaps Sire Stone was right. Perhaps Dame Berth was neither as harsh nor as proud as Grit had believed. Perhaps there was, after all, something in her worth admiring. Were she a weaker dameling, like Scarlett perhaps, Grit might have cried. But she was Grit of Berth and Stone, who had sworn at the tender age of six never to cry.
“I’ll honor you as I know how.” Grit slipped one arm under Dame Berth’s neck and the other under Dame Berth’s knees and stood on shaking legs, cradling her dame in her blood stained arms. Without a word and heedless of the dull, lingering pain in her shoulder, Grit marched across the training fields and past the quiet spectators. She neared Sire Stone, and he reached out his hands to accept her burden.
“I claim this task, Sire Stone,” Grit said. “She will be sent to sea with high honor. Someone, please, fetch a burial ship.”
Sire Stone stepped aside to allow Grit to pass, directed two sirelings to meet him at the seaside with a burial ship, and then fell in behind Grit and the lifeless Dame Berth. Dagger, Seal, and Oath followed behind Sire Stone, Seal leading Oath by the hand. With her free hand, Oath hid her eyes from the crowd’s view.
Coil sheathed his sword and followed with uneven steps behind the somber twins. Dagger fell back to lend him support. Others joined the procession as it made its way toward the Western Sea.
Grit stood on the pebbly beach, still cradling Dame Berth’s body. When the sirelings arrived with a long, narrow boat, she gently laid her burden in it. Her heart felt no lighter for the emptiness of her arms. She crossed her fingers over each of her dame’s sightless grey eyes, closing them forever. As she arranged Dame Berth’s arms over her chest, she paused a moment with her hand over the wound. Finally, she straightened Dame Berth’s garments, the fabric so worn it felt like gauze between her fingers. How long had she been without new clothing? Grit stooped and picked a smooth, round pebble from the beach.
Grit raised the pebble to the crowd that had gathered, then leaned over Dame Berth and placed it deep in the gaping hole left by Strike’s heavy spear. She straightened, wiped her hands on her trousers, and moved to the head of Dame Berth’s burial ship.
“Let any who would give this dame honor come forth and do so,” she said.
Sire Stone was first to answer Grit’s call. He reached behind his neck and removed the leather cord with Dame Berth’s key and the stone he had received from Kinsmon so many years before. Fumbling with the cord, he loosed the stone from its hold. He held the small stone in his hand a moment, then fell to his knees at Berth’s side. Carefully, he tucked the stone under her hand and remained on his knees a full minute before rising and walking to Grit’s side. He was shameless in his grief, but Grit could not bring herself to condemn him.
Dagger nudged Seal and Oath, who stooped with him to collect pebbles from the beach. Each placed a pebble on Dame Berth’s chest. Coil limped forward next, laboring to breathe as he knelt to place a stone on Dame Berth’s still form. When he struggled to rise, Dagger stepped forward to aid him to his feet. Others followed, each placing a pebble on the lifeless Threshan, until her body was nearly covered with pebbles.
When no more came forth, Grit closed her eyes, placed her hands on the edge of the boat, and pushed. Straining against the weight of the boat, slivers of timber scratching her palms, she dug her toes into the rocky beach. If she could get Berth to the sea, they might both find peace.
The burial ship edged forward, slowly at first, but gaining speed as she applied more force and began to run. She was waist deep in the Western Sea, salty spray kissing her face, when she finally let go of the boat. By the light of a full and brilliant moon, Dame Berth sailed into the eternal night.
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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.