We are excited to share the final installment of Grit of Berth and Stone by Lisa Dunn, the first book in the Chasmaria Chronicles. Thank you for following along with us each week for new chapters! Check back soon for our next free Serial book.
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 41 | Chapter 1
Grit set her heart on finding a site as close to Coil’s and Sire Stone’s huts as she could manage. With so many warriors departed to follow Strike, she was sure to find a suitable site in the southwest arc of the Outer Ring. She passed three empty huts between the main road and Coil’s hut. She might tear one down and rebuild, but something was off. None of the locations satisfied her. She continued past Sire Stone’s hut, mentally measuring the distance each step took her farther away from Coil’s door.
Soon she found herself in front of Dame Berth’s hut. In life, Dame Berth had been strong and powerful. Her hut, like its builder, rose proud and strong above its scraggly gardens. Berth had constructed it of exceptionally durable materials, and had done so with extraordinary skill. Grit wasn’t sure she could tear it down, even if she desired to do so.
It was beautiful. Strong and certain and beautiful. Besides the Southern Sea, it was the only home she’d really known.
Hand on hip, she circled the hut, scrutinizing it from every angle.
It was hers by right of inheritance, should she choose it. She stood on the pathway, backing up to get a fuller picture of the hut. Let Brakken try to shame her. He hadn’t the power to remove her from whatever hut she chose. Let him call into question her ability to construct a hut of her own. He who stayed in his bed while Dame Berth faced Thresh’s greatest enemy, let him doubt her honor. Ezekiel was right. Honor was not found in constructing a sturdy hut, but in living well within one’s hut.
Seal and Oath leaned against either side of the doorframe. They watched Grit as she walked up the path toward them, their stony faces revealing nothing of their inner thoughts. The small bundles they held were the only indication that they waited to be cast onto the mercy of their sire. Grit stopped before the dameless, black-haired girls. Around their necks, each wore a gem strung from a thin gold thread, on Oath’s, blue and on Seal’s, red.
“This hut and all it contains are mine.” Grit studied the twins to catch their reactions.
Oath looked at Seal intently, listening carefully to her silent twin’s thoughts. Her blue eyes widened as she received Seal’s decision. After a moment, both nodded solemnly and took one step backward into the hut. Oath raised her eyes to Grit’s, a calm, serious expression on her childish face.
“It contains two babes.” Oath’s voice, though high and clear, sounded much older than her eight years. She smiled mischievously. Seal and Oath invited Grit into a beautiful and intricate world. They alone possessed the map to this world, but perhaps they would guide her through it. To waver is weakness…
“Give me your packs, my babes. Seal, fetch water. Oath, potatoes. If you see Sire Stone, invite him to dine with your new guardian this evening.”
The twins sprinted away to perform their first tasks for their new guardian. Grit picked their hastily packed bundles from the ground. She fingered the rough cloth. What had she done?
She crossed the threshold, soaking in all the familiar details of the hut in which she had been raised. There was the bed on which Dame Berth had lain, with two thin mats neatly rolled and pushed close together at its foot. There were the empty places where she and Slate had slept. There were the table and chairs, the fireplace with the iron pan hanging above its mantel, and the chairs flanking the hearth.
She sank into one of the chairs, cradling the twins’ packs on her lap. She opened the first of the packs, uncertain to which twin it belonged. An odd assortment of items—wooden bowls, silver spoons, an embroidered cloth—fell out. The second pack held a similar collection of items surely not acquired through honest means.
The little thieves. She set the pilfered items on the table. They’d have to return everything to its proper home. Sire Stone will approve, but I’m sure the rest of the village will think me mad to have claimed those babes.
Was she mad? She wouldn’t be the first madwoman in Thresh. Scarlett would have taken the girls in her arms, kissed their foreheads, and told them all would be well. Could she rear Seal and Oath with that kind of tenderness? She didn’t have it in her, not really. It had been a fluke, claiming her siblings as her babes. How would she ever fulfill her duties to them?
She turned her efforts to sweeping, her mind ricocheting between past, present, and future difficulties and Kinsmon’s instruction to do what was in her heart. He promised something beautiful would come of all of this, but when?
Bright light filled the room. Startled, she looked up to find a head of golden curls streaked with pink peering in at the doorway.
Coil whistled, his forearms resting against either side of the doorframe. He scanned the interior of Grit’s newly claimed abode. “A pair of ravens told me you’d taken over their nest. May I enter?”
Grit studied Coil from his muddy boots to his halo of curls sticking out in every direction from his round, grinning face. Her gaze lingered on his chest, which rose and fell in a strong, steady rhythm. Over Coil’s heart, a dark gray pearl strung on a silver cord stood in contrast to his clean, white shirt. The necklace was identical in all but color to the one Grit had placed around his neck. Somehow, she was sure of it, Kinsmon had touched her necklace and made it Coil’s. She felt it in her chest first, but soon a pure, warm, unguarded smile spread across her face.
“Enter if you must.” Stifling her laughter, she forced a disinterested expression. “Your hair is pink, and I’d have it no other way.”
Sire Stone and Coil dined as guests in Grit’s hut that evening. A quiet, pleasant meal, Grit knew it would be a memory she’d never wish to forget. Even as conversation turned to dark and weighty matters, cherished company lightened the burdens pressing upon her heart and mind.
When Oath rested her head on Seal’s shoulder, and Seal struggled to restrain a silent yawn, Grit rose from the table and guided the twins to their mats. Sire Stone and Coil carried their chairs outside while Grit spread a blanket over the girls. Leaning over them, she pushed aside her long-standing reservations. She could try to be like Scarlett. She kissed the tops of their dark heads. Each girl raised a hand to the spot Grit kissed, as if unsure what had graced their heads. They were asleep before Grit reached the open door. She stepped into the yard, pulling the door closed behind her.
Sire Stone rose from his chair. “I’m off to bed. Tomorrow, training begins in earnest. Grit, will you join us on the training fields?”
“I will, but there are many who will not like it. Some people aren’t particularly fond of me.” Her palm rested on the hilt of her dagger
“They don’t have to like you,” Coil said. “They just have to know you’re on their side.”
“Humph,” Grit said.
Sire Stone yawned. “Well, then, I’ll see you both on the training fields tomorrow morning.”
Sire Stone headed down the path, but stopped midway between the hut and the road. He stood with his head bowed and removed the leather cord from around his neck. After a moment, he turned and walked back to Grit.
“This is rightfully yours. It’s the key to Berth’s…” He pursed his lips, took a deep breath, and corrected himself. “It is the key to your hut.”
He placed something hard into Grit’s hand and gently wrapped her fingers over it. Grit opened her fist to study the long, gray key.
“She was not always as harsh as you have known her to be,” Sire Stone said. “When I first came to Thresh, untested and distrusted, Berth was a tender girl of fifteen. Strong enough to spar any sireling, she still lived under her dame’s roof. In all of Thresh, she alone welcomed me without reservation. When the council secured me, she snuck food to me. When they decided my fate, she secretly taught me the ways of the village, revealing to me the weakness of the man I would spar to gain admittance. I’m not sure I could have survived those days, let alone achieved the honor of a hut in the Outer Ring, without her devotion and advice. The food helped too, naturally.”
“What was she like, Sire Stone?” Grit turned the key over in her hand.
“She was the sort of woman who would risk all for what she held sacred.” Sire Stone brushed Grit’s hair away from her eyes. “If you will study yourself, I think you will discover the best of your dame. Do not allow the fear of loss and the opinions of others to persuade you from your course.”
He smiled sadly and turned to go. As Sire Stone headed to his hut, Grit took the seat he had vacated. She played with the key. Coil studied the front garden and glanced at Grit periodically. They sat in silence for several minutes, content to listen to their private thoughts and the soothing sounds of the village night. Occasionally, a dame’s impatient command to a sleepless babe or a sireling’s loud guffaw disrupted the quiet, but even these sounds did not disturb the peace Grit shared with Coil.
“So you met Kinsmon.” She slid the key into her pocket.
Coil’s face beamed in the dim light. “I did. And you were right—I like him very much. Among other things, he shared with me the secret to growing lush, plump berries, larger than any you’ve ever seen.” He made a circle with his thumb and forefinger to represent the dimensions of an enormous berry.
Grit bit her lip to keep from telling Coil that she had seen such berries as he dreamt of growing.
He leaned forward in his seat, his eyes alight with joyful anticipation. Something beautiful, that’s what Kinsmon promised.
“He said I could transplant my berry bushes closer to the village,” Coil said. “He had other ideas, too. I’m eager to see what I can grow right here in Thresh. Or rather what we can grow, Grit, if you will help me.”
“I will. In exchange, you must assist me in keeping my ravens out of nests into which they have not been invited. They must have stolen from every hut in Thresh.”
Coil spit in his palm and held out his hand. “We have a deal, Grit of Berth and Stone, though I think my end of the agreement will be harder to uphold.”
Just as Grit’s hand touched Coil’s, something fluttered at the edge of her line of vision. A dark mass descended upon the far end of the pathway. She and Coil rose together and prowled toward the creature. Grit was almost upon it before she clearly distinguished its form from the shrub beside which it had landed.
“It’s an eagle,” she whispered over her shoulder. She crouched down to speak to the bird. “What are you doing here?”
“He travels with me,” a familiar voice said, “and is most thankful you chose not to shoo him away. You have learned much, my dear Grit of Berth and Stone.”
Grit whirled about to find Kinsmon seated in the chair she had just left. His legs stretched out in front of him as he leaned back in the chair, his hands behind his head. How had he come to be there?
He smiled warmly at Grit. “Have you found your purpose, dear girl?”
Grit started to speak, but quickly clamped her mouth shut. She shook her head.
“I don’t know,” she said. She looked from Coil to her hut and imagined the training fields beyond the Outer Ring.
“What have I instructed you to do, Grit?” Kinsmon leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.
“Just what is in my heart to do.”
“And have you done that so far?”
She nodded. “But I don’t know that it will always work. Some of the villagers, Kinsmon, they look at me with hatred. I see it in their eyes and in every gesture they make toward me.”
“Did I not tell you they would hate you? Did I not tell you they would spit on you and harass you?”
As Kinsmon rose from the chair, Coil interlaced his fingers with Grit’s. His calluses scratched against hers.
“Seal and Oath are my gift to you,” Kinsmon said. “They will love and honor you as no babes have ever loved and honored a dame. Let their admiration and my promise of something beautiful to come sustain you when others shun both you and the aid you would give them. Whatever comes, remember you are my heart and hands. I will guide your heart; I expect you to follow with your hands.”
“Why do you not tell me more?” She searched his kind face for an answer.
Kinsmon brushed his finger against her cheek. “Dear, dear Grit of Berth and Stone, if I revealed everything to you, I am certain you would cower in a most shameful manner. Do not compel me to embarrass you before your brave and beloved hunter. Instead, trust that I know what I am doing. I have not failed you yet, have I?”
“And I will not fail you ever. You will not always see me, but I have not left you to fulfill your purpose alone. Unless I am mistaken, you have already arranged for assistance with Seal and Oath.”
Grit clenched Coil’s hand. She was no Scarlett, but surely Kinsmon didn’t mean to take Coil from her. “I don’t suppose you approve our alliance?”
“Dearest Grit,” Kinsmon said with a quiet laugh. “I approved of this alliance long before you developed an affinity for pink hair.”
Coil unsheathed his broadsword and held it away from his body. “Are you sure you will not take this weapon from me, Kinsmon? I no longer wish to wield it. In fact, I despise it.”
Kinsmon held up a hand and shook his head. “No, Coil. You must keep your sword. You will not use it as you have in the past, but use it you must. In time, it will cease to accuse you of the innocent blood it has spilled and will begin to remind you of the innocent blood it preserves. And it will preserve much innocent blood, Coil of Dara, before a new age dawns in Chasmaria. Let that promise strengthen you when your darkest regrets assault your peace.”
Kinsmon gently pushed the sword toward Coil. Reluctantly, the sireling sheathed his sword, never taking his gaze from Kinsmon.
Grit edged closer to Coil so their shoulders touched. Kinsmon sighed and kissed first Grit, and then Coil, on the tops of their bowed heads. As quickly and quietly as the eagle had landed on the path, Kinsmon was gone.
Coil wrapped both arms around Grit and held her close for a long moment. Rosemary mixed with earth, sweat, and other herbs filled her with the sweet smell of Coil. She could stay forever, but he released her, kissed her softly on the forehead, and walked slowly to his hut without a backward glance. Just as Seal and Oath had done when Grit kissed them goodnight, Grit put her hand to the place where Coil’s lips had touched her forehead.
When the light from Coil’s window gave way to darkness, Grit turned to enter her own hut. By the moonlight shining through an open window, she made out the single form of Seal and Oath snuggled together on Seal’s mat, their long, silky hair intertwining. It was right that they be together. Now where would she sleep? In a corner against the rough wall, a lumpy bed called to her exhausted body. Grit crossed the room, pulled back the blankets, patted the straw mattress, and flopped into the bed. Whatever objections the council might raise, she was Grit of Berth and Stone, and this is where she would lay her weary head.
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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.