About the Book
Slate of Berth and Stone is supposed to be Chasmaria’s greatest hero. A title he earned with a shameful stab in his enemy’s back. Now he’s running away from his reputation and from the memories of war that haunt his dreams.
He sails from Chasmaria with Bard of Harding, a poet who wants nothing more than to sing away the warrior’s demons. When the pair lands in Kilcarraig, a nation held captive by devouring dragons, Slate vows to redeem himself or, more likely, die trying.
Read the first chapter!
The world is a symphony of human hearts. It is what makes us human, music and poetry coursing through our veins, telling the stories of our lives in stanzas quick and slow, the heights of joy, the depths of sorrow. Joined together, our music fills the sky and spreads over all the earth.
Standing in the prow, I strain to hear the first notes of my mother’s ancestral home over the crashing of waves against the ship and the shouting of Slate, Staid, and crew. I grip the rail as the ship rolls gently from crest to trough. Whatever music Kilcarraig holds, it will be a relief to find my feet on solid ground again.
When I was very young, my mother took me in her lap and said, “Someday, you must go to Kilcarraig, Bard. There is magic there, the same that runs in our blood. Listen. Do you hear?”
I heard the beating of her heart and her soft intake of breath.
“Go deeper,” she whispered.
And then I heard it, quiet and distant, like someone calling my name through water. The song of my mother’s heart. I have since learned to tune my ears to a single heart and allow its music to fill my soul. I have travelled the world, collecting songs and singing them back to those who forgot the truth. It is a gift, my mother told me. She did not live to tell me it is also a burden.
For two years, I have listened to war ravage Slate’s heart with no remedy to offer. And now, sailing into Kilcarraig, silence pervades my soul. There ought to be music, even a whisper of a song. It is as if someone has put a damper on the entire nation.
“Anchor’s dropped. Go time,” Slate says with a pound of his walking stick.
I check my bag and then descend the rope ladder into the waiting rowboat. Instead of delegating the task to one of his men, Staid himself rows us ashore. Never one to linger, Slate jumps from the boat before I’m even on my feet.
I bow to Staid. “Thank you for having us onboard. I’m afraid I wasn’t much use on deck.”
He pierces me with a keen gaze. “You were ample help below deck. Continue to care for my nephew and try to get some sleep, Bard.”
“Have you seen war?” I ask.
“Not like he has.” He glances in Slate’s direction.
A man stands on the beach beside Slate. The familiarity of his appearance strikes me even as a wave of glorious music sweeps over me.
“Kinsmon!” I shout and jump from the boat.
His song is truth, goodness, and beauty. It is summer, autumn, winter, and spring rolled into one eternal, perfect moment. I did not expect to meet him here, but that’s always how it is with Kinsmon.
As I approach Kinsmon, the pebbled beach makes soft grating sounds beneath my wet boots. “I thought we left you in Mayara.”
Laughing, he spreads his arms. “Ah, my precocious poet, Staid’s is not the only ship that sails the Western Sea. How was your passage this time?”
“He slept till noon every day, lazy as a dog and greener than seaweed,” Slate answers.
Slate’s oblivious to the nights I spend battling the terrors of his past, but Kinsmon knows. It was Kinsmon who suggested I sing away the horrors when they woke half the crew on our westward voyage. But I cannot remain morose in Kinsmon’s presence. His song fills me with joy and energy and disperses the weariness of so many burdensome nights.
I laugh and concede the truth. “I’m afraid I haven’t the heart for sailing.”
“More like he hasn’t the stomach for it,” Slate says, his gaze drifting up the mountain we must cross to enter the heart of Kilcarraig.
Kinsmon’s gaze follows Slate’s. “Once upon a time, there was a path. Do you see it? You’ll need a sword to cut through the overgrowth.”
Slate nods and draws his sword. “I’ll get started. No sense waiting around.”
As he leaves, Kinsmon and I utter synchronized sighs.
“He can’t sit still, Kinsmon. He tosses all night and works all day. Even if I’d found my sea legs, Slate left no chore undone.” I look to Staid for confirmation, but the captain remains with his boat on the edge of the sea. Lowering my voice, I add, “I sang every night. I don’t know what else I could have done.”
“You’ve done all I asked,” Kinsmon says.
I shake my head. “But the drums of war continue in his heart. Every song I sing is beauty falling on deaf ears. I can’t get through to him.”
“You’re impatient, Bard. It was never your job to save Slate from himself. I only asked you to fight when he was too weak to fight for himself. Have his nightmares lessened?” Kinsmon crosses his arm and leans in.
“Imperceptibly,” I say.
Kinsmon laughs softly. “You underestimate your power. You’ve a gift, Bard. Use it to heal the broken, but always remember you’re only a vessel of healing. Vessels must, from time to time, be refilled. Come.”
He embraces me again. This time, he does not let go. “You’ve done wonders for Slate. The rest is out of your hands. I have another task for you. Kilcarraig is full of false songs, but you mustn’t be shaken. Once, this country sang a song deep and true, ancient as time and new as this moment. The faithlessness of generations has fragmented it, but it echoes in feeble, disjointed strains in the hearts of your mother’s kin as surely as blood flows in their veins. You will not be at rest until Kilcarraig sings truly, so listen closely. Be patient. Remember the Mayaran weaver.”
In the lullaby of Kinsmon’s embrace, memories of the Mayaran weaver flash across my mind. Humming a melody of order out of chaos, she pulled a single thread from a tangle of yarn and wound it swiftly around a spool until the whole knot unraveled into order. The woman had magic in her heart, as well as in her fingers. Her soul was a sweet melody of patient promise. Never once during the hours Slate struggled to unravel her thread did the weaver chasten him for his clumsiness or for the time he took to disentangle but a short length. Instead, she slowed her weaving to his pace and whispered words soft as prayer over Slate’s bent head. I would have thanked her aloud for loving him in his broken state if her tender glance didn’t assure me she knew my heart as well as his.
“But who will care for Slate?” I ask, pulling from Kinsmon’s embrace.
Kinsmon frowns. “Leave that to me. Now go, before the vines swallow him.”
In the time we’ve been talking, Slate has cleared a veritable cave out of the undergrowth. With a bow to Staid and a final glance at Kinsmon, I run to join him.
“I thought you’d never catch up,” he says.
“What? And allow you the first views of my dame’s homeland? Never.” I dodge a backward swing of the walking stick Kinsmon carved for Slate two years ago, at our journey’s beginning. Slate’s liable to kill someone with it. Someone being me.
“Give me the stick,” I say and take it from him. Walking close to his side and with a keen eye on his blade, I use the stick to sweep aside the vines he cuts from our path. I failed to sing away his demons. At least I can clear away a few vines.
If I understand what Kinsmon didn’t say, my time with Slate is drawing to a close. My mother told me it is a poet’s solemn duty to
teach the world to sing. She named me Bard that I might never forget my calling. I couldn’t soothe the drums of war, let along teach Slate to sing. What would my mother think of me now?
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About the Author
Hi, I’m Lisa Dunn,. I write for young adults, but several grown ups have fallen in love with Chasmaria, too. I think that’s because I’m all about facing life’s messiness head on and reveling in its perfectly imperfect beauty.
When I’m not actively writing, I homeschool my four children, which makes my life a series of beautiful messes. I live in a small southern town with my husband, four children, and a boxer mix who sticks closer than my shadow.
An introvert at heart, I’m most comfortable in cozy groups with intimate conversations about the things that matter most. Life, death, love, loss. Redemption. I participate in my local critique group and thoroughly enjoy speaking with young writers.
I’m on Twitter (@ScouterWife) and Facebook (Author Lisa Dunn).
Visit my website: https://lisadunnwrites.wordpress.com