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 39 | Chapter 41 >>
The crowd dispersed, leaving Dagger, Coil, Sire Stone, and the sire’s three female offspring scanning the horizon for one last glimpse of Dame Berth’s burial ship. Coil stood apart from the others, leaning on his broadsword. He turned to look toward Thresh, rocks grating together under his shifting feet. The movement drew Grit’s attention from the sea. She followed his gaze. She’d thought nothing could surprise her now, but Kinsmon stood in a swath of light at the edge of the forest. He started toward them, moving with grace.
Coil did not wait, but set off across the beach to meet Kinsmon. When he came within a yard of Kinsmon, Coil collapsed. He lay on the ground, a crumpled heap of curls and cloak. Grit broke from the group by the water. She raced across the beach and fell beside Coil. He convulsed beneath her soothing hand.
“Kinsmon, what ails him?”
“There is much that ails him.” Kinsmon crouched at Coil’s side, one hand on the sireling’s shoulder, and gestured for Grit to move back. She refused to leave, but sat on her heels while Kinsmon whispered in Coil’s ear so softly she could not discern his words. Then Kinsmon helped Coil into a seated position with his legs crossed in front of him and placed Coil’s broadsword across his lap. Coil’s head was bowed, but he no longer shook. Kinsmon took Grit’s hand, helped her to her feet, and led her a few paces away.
“You heard the cry of battle tonight. Coil has heard sharper, more brutal cries than those which filled your ears. Not only this, he has extracted from Thresh’s neighbors cries that would make your blood run cold.” Kinsmon looked hard at Grit. “You have pierced his heart twice, most recently with your dagger, but first with your words. The second wound will heal easily. It may even serve to heal the first wound. The first wound…The first wound has borne consequences of which you need know no more than you already do.”
“How am I to repair my error? Ezekiel’s sewing kit can only do so much.” Grit closed her eyes, her error too great to bear.
“You are to do nothing, my dear, little Grit, but what is in your heart, the heart that has slowly warmed over the gentler fires of my feast. You expected a consuming fire, but I have chosen a subtler method for you. Though it hasn’t seemed much to you at times, my fire has been sufficient. Likewise, doing what is in your heart will not always feel enough, but trust me, it will be more than enough. I don’t share this to burden you with the past, but to remind you for the future. Let it be a lesson, hard learned and never forgotten, to bite your tongue rather than allow it to bite another. Before, you spoke to Coil in ugly ignorance. Henceforth, you must speak to him in beautiful truth. Will you accept this task?”
Grit studied Coil, still sitting with his sword in his lap. “I fear a part of him is lost.”
“He is not lost,” Kinsmon said. “He is only just finding his way, and find it he will. You must know by now, I will not leave him to wander in the dark. Think of all whom you met in your travels. Have I ever left you without help?”
Grit was quiet a moment. Then she looked at Kinsmon. “On the mountain. When the man tried to steal my necklace.”
“Did he succeed?”
Kinsmon crossed his arms. “And how did you escape him?”
“The bridge, but that was only…”
“Only what, Grit? Only a fluke that you were able to cross with confidence a bridge in such disrepair as to repel a man intent on thievery, to make him believe you were either a fool or a demon? Oh, my dear Grit of Berth and Stone, you, too, are only just beginning to find your way.”
He wrapped his arm around Grit’s drooping shoulders and motioned for the others, who had been watching silently from a distance, to approach. Dagger, Sire Stone, and the twins joined Kinsmon and Grit beside Coil.
“Tend to Coil, Dagger,” Kinsmon said. “Sing to him from Castle Concord’s collection, perhaps. Your voice will soothe him now and the song may aid him in days to come.”
Dagger eased himself onto the ground beside Coil. In a deep, gentle bass, he sang one of the songs Bard had played on his flute.
“Do not fear, my child,
For I am by your side.
No darkness can come nigh,
That I will not dispel.
So rest awhile, my child.
I am by your side.”
Sire Stone buried his face in his hand. “Oh, my child, if only I’d been at your side, if only I’d insisted Berth and the girls join me in my hut… The boy was neither old enough, nor big enough for half of what he wanted. I tried so hard to teach him to restrain his ambition. But now, I’ve lost both Slate and Berth.” He looked out over the Western Sea. “I should have watched her hut more closely. I’ll never absolve myself of their blood.”
Kinsmon held up his hand. “Do not to abuse yourself over what you cannot change. You must pour your energies into preparing the Threshan army. They are a fierce, but wholly unorganized lot at present.”
Dagger, his arms wrapped around his bent knees, stopped singing and looked at Kinsmon. “My time of watching and waiting has come to an end, hasn’t it?”
Kinsmon returned Dagger’s searching gaze. “The coming war will involve great danger, but you, Dagger, may triumph where no one else imagines to battle. Eat first, and then go. Koradin is yours to claim.”
“I’ll go with him,” Grit said. “He can’t defeat Strike alone.”
Kinsmon, with his unfathomable brown eyes, looked her in the eye and spoke in a calm, steady voice. “Grit of Berth and Stone, I have never doubted your courage. The day will soon come when Dagger will need your help, but for the present, you are needed in Thresh. But enough of this! You are all in need of nourishment. Come, feast with me before the new day dawns.”
Dagger helped Coil to his feet, and they followed Kinsmon toward the woods. Just before reaching the tree line, Kinsmon turned around. Sire Stone remained on the beach, his head bowed low.
Kinsmon cocked his head to one side. “Stone, do you not desire my feast?”
A pained expression crossed the sire’s face. “I tasted of your feast once before and rejected it. The sweetness of that one bite never left my tongue, though, and I have strived to allow its sweetness to flow into my interactions with others. In this, I’ve failed more often than I’ve succeeded. I have spent years seeking to find your table once more, Kinsmon, if only to look upon it. But surely…” He paused, the difficulty of his confession apparent on his strained features. “Surely you have not preserved a place for me.”
“Surely, I have!” Kinsmon let out a laugh of hope and joy and other marvelous things Grit had yet to name. “Come, take your seat and feast to your heart’s content!”
With a sweep of his outstretched arm, Kinsmon motioned for Sire Stone to join the group heading into forest. Just inside the woods, a table spread end to end with luscious dishes waited. Kinsmon stood at the head of his table as the others found their seats. To his left sat Coil, Grit, and Oath. On his right were Dagger, Stone, and Seal.
In the time while they feasted, no one spoke of Berth or Slate or impending war. There would be plenty of time for dark thoughts later. Now was a time to delight in the bounty of Kinsmon’s feast. They ate to satiety and beyond, gentle laughter and pleasant chatter wafting across the table. Seal alone did not speak, though her face shone with joy as brightly as all the others.
Kinsmon, who finished eating first, rushed none of his guests. He allowed them to eat perhaps a little more than they should and to talk a little longer than they needed. Through it all, Grit felt light and happy, as she had never before thought possible to feel. It was like a strangely pleasant dream, only sweeter, for it was as real as life itself. She pressed a morsel of fruit to the roof of her mouth. As the tangy juice rolled over her tongue, she glanced at Coil. I know what wound lies beneath his tunic, and yet I have never seen him look so well.
While it was still dark, Dagger pushed his chair from the table. Rising, he addressed Kinsmon. “I do not wish to delay. Unless you object, I will go now.”
Kinsmon nodded his assent, and Dagger departed with a farewell bow. The others sat silently. Kinsmon, alone in unruffled serenity, studied their troubled faces.
“Stone, the council has many matters to discuss this morning. They’ll need your input. I’ll accompany you to the Outer Ring. When I return, I will speak privately with the rest of you.” Kinsmon pulled something from his pocket. “Before we go, though, I have one thing more. Catch!”
A small, white object sailed over Dagger’s abandoned plate. Sire Stone snatched it out of the air. He turned his hand and opened his fist, his eyes widening as he beheld Kinsmon’s gift.
“It is identical to the stone you first gave me,” he whispered.
“My promises cannot be lost,” Kinsmon said. “Even when they are given away, they always return. You may ask Grit if you doubt me.”
Grit fingered the pearl at her neck and glanced at the bloodstained one Coil wore. “He speaks truthfully, sire, though it is a mystery to me how it happens.”
Kinsmon rose, indicating for Sire Stone to follow him. As the two men left the clearing, Seal and Oath wandered to the shore to splash in the shallows.
Coil pushed his chair back and stood, his legs more steady than they had been before the meal. Grit rose also and followed Coil to stand between two trees. Together they looked out over the rocky shore and the grey sea.
“It seems a lifetime ago we stood on this beach and you asked if I’d come to mock you or to kill you,” Coil said. “I might ask the same of you, but somehow, I suspect you’ll do neither.”
Grit shrugged. “I didn’t know better than to ask how my closest ally would harm me.”
“It seems there were many things we didn’t know,” Coil said.
They stood in silence for several minutes. As the waves fell upon the pebbled beach, Grit thought of the warm waters and white sand of the Southern Sea. Longing and belonging wrestled in her inner being.
With a soft laugh, Coil broke her reverie. “Your closest ally?”
Grit slipped her hand into Coil’s and smiled upon the Western Sea. “My closest ally.”
In the rising light of morning, Kinsmon ran to join Seal and Oath at the water’s edge. At the place where gentle waves almost dare to kiss bare toes, he stooped face-to-face with Oath. He touched the first three fingers of his right hand to his lips and then to hers. Oath nodded slowly as he spoke to her. Grit could neither hear Kinsmon’s words nor see Oath’s face, but both smiled as he removed his fingers from her lips.
He bent before Seal as he had before Oath. He touched his fist to his chest, and then to hers. Putting an arm around her shoulder, he turned her body toward the forest. He swept his free arm from north to south. With a sudden shake of her head, Seal looked into Kinsmon’s solemn face. As Kinsmon nodded, a reassuring smile crept over his face.
“What is he doing?” Coil asked.
Grit studied the trio at the shoreline. “I don’t know what Kinsmon is doing, but I do know Kinsmon. At least, I know him enough to know he won’t harm them. Is it me, Coil, or does it seem to you Kinsmon hears Seal’s thoughts?”
“It does. It truly does.”
Grit and Coil remained shoulder to shoulder while Kinsmon and the twins chased one another around the beach. After ten minutes, Kinsmon touched his lips to each girl’s head, placed something around their necks, and sent them off to the village. Where pebbles gave way to soil, Seal and Oath glanced back at Kinsmon, as if they knew they would not see him for some time.
Kinsmon did not acknowledge the twins’ forlorn gazes. His attention was on Grit and Coil. He crossed the beach and stood in front of them.
“You must report to the council, too, Coil of Dara,” he said. “Meet me here when you are through. When you found the Amity berries I planted in your forest and when you paired them with various herbs, you began to uncover the secrets of the forest. There is much more for you to learn.”
Coil squeezed Grit’s hand and released it.
Kinsmon turned to Grit. “Your sire has agreed to host you as long as you need. I advise you to establish a home of your own as quickly as possible. It is crucial to your purpose in Thresh.”
“My purpose in Thresh?” She glanced at Coil’s retreating form, pained already by their separation. “I have done all I set out to do here.”
Kinsmon’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “Do you mean to tell me you are ready to return to the Southern Sea?”
Grit opened her mouth to speak, but found no words to answer Kinsmon’s teasing question. I don’t know what holds me here, in this village I swore to forget, but I cannot leave now, not without Coil. Maybe not even with Coil. But why? Why am I here? What more must I do?
Kinsmon put a hand on her shoulder. “You will discover your purpose in time. By now, though you may not know what I am doing, you know me. At least you know me enough to know I will do you no harm.”
Grit narrowed her eyes at Kinsmon. Had he somehow heard her conversation with Coil just a few minutes earlier? He laughed softly and shook his head.
“You have much to learn, Grit of Berth and Stone, but today I ask one thing only. Establish your hut, by all means, but more importantly, remember who named you. Learn what it means to be Grit. You will face opposition, but hold fast to my assurance that something true and beautiful and good will come of all this.”
He touched his lips to her head as he had to Seal’s and Oath’s. “Now, go to the village and figure out where to make your home.”
Grit hesitated, reluctant to leave Kinsmon, afraid that without him, she would not have the strength to remain in Thresh when the Southern Sea beckoned. She knew, in the core of her being, Kinsmon would not stay long, and she feared what she might become without him or Ezekiel, Dagger, or Scarlett to speak sense to the madness in her head. At last, with shoulders drooping, she turned toward Thresh. She had only taken three steps when Kinsmon called her name.
“Grit, there is one thing more. I did not ask you to begin your task alone, nor will I leave you to complete it alone.”
She resumed her walk to the village with a lighter step. She did not know what Kinsmon was doing; that was true. That she knew Kinsmon was also true. But the truth that astounded her most was that Kinsmon, who had just read her secret fear, knew her.
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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.
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