Love and Lies

Note: This is a [second] draft. The contents here may change or alter between now and publication.

Copyright 2023 Dax Murray – All Rights Reserved

Content Note:

This is a work of fiction. It contains depictions, scenes, and discussions of topics that some may want to avoid. I have tried to make this list as exhaustive as possible, but I cannot know everyone's possible triggers and sensitivities. Please know that this book handles mature topics and themes. This chapter contains:


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It was late when they woke up. Brenna was holding Caitlin, wrapped in warm blankets. Caitlin stirred as Brenna pulled a stray hair away from her face and kissed her on the top of my head. “Good morning, sweetheart.”

Caitlin wanted to stay next to Brenna, to cuddle in closer. Wanted to silence the thousand racing thoughts in her head. Why had she done that? Losing herself, disconnecting from reality. A liminal space, just Brenna and her. Their bodies. Mouths. Hands. Hair being pulled, lips being bitten, nails tearing into backs. Brenna had let Caitlin devour her, and Caitlin let Brenna ruin her body over and over.

“Mmmm, do you want to play again?”

Shaking her head, Caitlin stood up. Brenna frowned. The light of day told Caitlin that she’d slept far too late. She raced to find a dress in the wardrobe; she needed to get out there; she needed to attend to—.

“Whoa, slow down; what is up?”

“Ships are coming in!”

Brenna squinted. “Yes, that happens here.”

“No, no, no! I need to get down there; there’s no one down there that can—” “Yes, there are. And the difference ten minutes will make is negligible. You can get dressed at a regular pace, eat a proper meal, get washed up. You do not need to rush.”

“You don’t understand! I shouldn’t have done this; I don’t know what I was thinking. I’ve never done this before.”

Brenna grabbed Caitlin’s hand and pulled her up against her chest. “I don’t know if this is referring to having sex, sleeping in, or having someone in your bed still in the morning. But there are other employees in your business, ones that you trusted enough to hire. One late day will not make or break this business.”

“But my fathers’ will…”

Brenna stepped back from Caitlin, and one hand snaked under her chin, making Caitlin look up at her.

“Your fathers won’t disown you. And I am sure they will not scold you for being a little late. Others can manage it for a little while.”

Brenna was right. Caitlin’s reports managed the business at the docks, made the negotiations, kept the accounts in order as cargo was loaded and unloaded. Those that Caitlin managed had successfully completed all the morning’s work. And they had done it well. She looked around at what anyone else would call chaos and saw it was all in order, as well as she would have done herself.

“See?” Brenna came up behind Caitlin as she was reviewing some inventory paperwork. “Everyone got along fine. There are no fires, no yelling, no screaming. I see no one rushing up to you now that you are here with an urgent issue. No one panicking. No one has raced to you to let you know your fathers are looking for you.”

Brenna stayed a week. And then two, and then a month, and for some reason, they never found a reason to see if the inn had open rooms. They visited it every night, and Brenna became everyone’s favorite drinking buddy. Caitlin would slip away after a few hours, and Brenna would follow her an hour later once she had won back all she had lost gambling.

“You’re bringing Brenna home a lot. There’re no rooms for her anywhere else? And she has not found a suitable ship to join as crew?” Pa said with a laugh.

“We keep forgetting to look.”

“It doesn’t appear the two of you are looking too hard for a room, nor that she is looking too hard for another ship,” Pa said.

“You like her a lot,” Da said, gentle as ever.

“Yes, I do.”

Da gave a warm smile. Pa seized the opportunity. “Bring her around for dinner tonight.”


“We surely got them this time.” Sir Liam is slowly placing grapes in his mouth, sitting on the blanket. His long brown hair is tied with a leather strap, but it does nothing to stop the autumn wind from making a mess of it.

“That is what you said the last time,” the Duchess replies, her own nearly-silver hair tied up in a tight crown braid. She is the only one who thought to dress for the weather, which Caitlin finds odd. The Duchess usually prizes fashion over function. There is gray haze all around, but the prince does not care, so the rest of their party pretends that they also do not notice the nip in the air and the scent of rain on the breeze.

“Yes, but this time is different,” Sir Connor says, raising a glass of beer and leaning back, smiling as the wind tussles his shaggy blond hair. “Because they burned one building down?”

“Not just one,” Princess Eleanor says. “They burned an entire neighborhood down. An entire neighborhood. Do you want people to sympathize with them?”

“Sister, sister. This isn’t the place for that talk.” Cian’s arm is wrapped around Caitlin’s waist, and he keeps pulling her into his chest to place dates in her mouth. “It is such a beautiful day.”

“Such a warm day, bright, and clear. Everything smells so fresh. It is truly a beautiful day here,” Princess Daya says, turning her face to the sun and taking a large breath in. “It feels so good to be alive on days like this.” “Here’s a toast to that!”

Caitlin raises her glass along with them, and while Cian may have missed the flicker of a scowl on Daya’s face, Caitlin does not. As she sets her cup back down, Princess Daya looks directly into Caitlin’s eyes and tilts her head to her. Caitlin nods back, and then lowers her eyes.

“It was so easy; they had infiltrated my factories, had talked to our tenants, and they came to me with a list of demands! They tried to lay it out all nicely, claiming that better working conditions would make them better workers or some line like that…”

“You don’t agree?” Daya asks.

“Why would I care? I had a manager find out who had been organizing that. From there, poof! We found their nest.”

“They’d been talking to the farmers, too. Trying to get local mayors to stand up to the lords. They wanted an audience with the king!” Sir Conner flings his arms out. “These people need to learn their place.”

The prince sets down the plate of cheese and dates. “I said no more talk of this. I do not want today ruined. Set aside talks of riots or protests or demands. I don’t want to discuss it here; this is a day for leisure.” He pulls Caitlin closer and kisses the top of her head. “I just want to enjoy the day with my beautiful lady.”

Caitlin pulls back away from him, noting silently that if the gods truly smile down upon the royal family, they have a strange way of showing it. She stands up, making a show of wrapping her arms around herself to fend off the chill that creeps into the air.

“Where did this come from?” Sir Liam stands and looks at the gray clouds rolling in; the cold of a storm biting all of them.

“I wanted this to be the perfect picnic for my beautiful lady.” He stands up, pulling Caitlin close, wrapping his own arms over hers. “We should get back to the palace. I wanted this to be this perfect day. There shouldn’t be a storm today.”

“Brother, there are some things that you cannot control. The weather is one such thing. It isn’t yours to command.” Princess Daya laughs, but it does not reach her eyes.

“My wife is correct; you act as if the clouds and rains are disobedient. Let’s get home where you can order things to your liking.”

He places Caitlin on his horse and climbs up behind her; his breath on her neck is cold. His hands, as Caitlin is all too used to by now, roam along her back and waist as he makes a show of searching for the reins. She wants to recoil from his freezing touch, but she knows that her fate will not change by continued attempts to push him away.

This picnic was not just another attempt to impress her, but to put on a show to the whole kingdom that he was in love. Finally, truly, happily, forever in love. Although at this point it was obvious that everyone thought he won Caitlin’s heart. The whispers about his infatuation had long ago turned to bets that ran the gamut of how long he would woo her before casting me off to when he would announce the pregnancy. But all of those bets were called off as they enter the palace.

She is gorgeous. A small button nose, sharp jaw, but tempered with soft cheeks and large eyes, all on a beautiful heart-shaped face. She was standing in a corner with Lord Byrne of Barony Berach and his son, Lord Tynen. But when the prince is announced, she turns around; her loose, dark auburn hair shining as it catches the light from the candles.

“Your Highness, it is good to see you so well.” He sweeps his hands out in the deepest of bows.

“I have not seen you at court recently, Lord Byrne.”

“No, Your Grace. I’ve been busy on my estates.” There was a slight quiver in his voice, and he looked to his left for a second, to the beautiful woman who shared the same deep emerald eyes as the two Byrne men.

“Ah, and who is this?”

“This is my daughter, Lady Arlina.”

“You have kept such a rose hidden away in the countryside?” The prince kisses the top of her hand.

In the span of a second, coins change hands and previously placed bets are altered. Caitlin feels the eyes of everyone in the room lingering on her, and then flicking between her and Lady Arlina. She’s of noble birth, she hears some whisper. She is far prettier. Caitlin was always just an exotic distraction, anyway, some mutter. Others respond, besides, he could not marry a widow. She hears mumbles of derision and scorn, I am surprised he has stayed with her so long, that a common girl could hold him for this long, good riddance to her, she sought a seat above her station.

They were looking for worry in her face, they were looking for fear, for jealousy. But Caitlin just looks between the man who claimed to love her above all others and the woman he is going to supplant her with. All she can think, though, is that she will be free from this charade.

But then Arlina looks at Caitlin directly. This new beauty at court, the woman whose father wants to use as a pawn, this beautiful woman who the whole court is now hoping will supplant Caitlin, this beautiful woman who has a controlling and haughty brother, a brother who pushed her into the path of the prince, to see her take Caitlin’s place, this beautiful woman looks at her and smiles. But behind those eyes, Caitlin sees the same resignation that lives in her own heart. The same acquiescence fate, to the duty of parental interests. She knows what will come and is just as resentful of it.

“Lady Arlina,” Caitlin knows that she will not be introduced formally to her, so she takes it upon herself to do so. She must. There is something driving her to spend even a second more in the presence of this woman. “Do you play cards? The princesses Eleanor, Daya, and I have been looking for someone to join us as a fourth.”

“Ah, my beautiful lady.” The prince put his arm around Caitlin; not an act of love, but a show of possession. “You are always looking for new friends. One of your many charms. Yes, please, join the games with us tonight, Lady Arlina. I cannot deny my beautiful lady a new friend.”

And all bets are off again.

She is awkward as Princess Daya, Princess Eleanor and Caitlin make their way to the princesses’ rooms. “I’ve never been to the palace before; my father is just an Earl. Our estate is not very large. And the weather in Berach is not particularly enjoyable. I hear it’s often sunny in Eoi.” She looks at the other women, her eyebrows raised.

“I can say that it is nicer here than in Whick.”

“Yes, you’re a merchant’s daughter! It must be so nice to live close to the sea.”

“I can take you some time if you would like.” Caitlin thinks that this is just a formality, not realizing it for the true invitation that deep down she wishes it to be.

“I would love that!” Lady Arlin takes a seat next to Caitlin, her large eyes widening as she moves her chair even closer to Caitlin’s. “Do you go on the ships often?”

“Not as frequently as you would expect. We usually play for keeps.” She deals out the cards

“And I usually win.” Eleanor scoops up her hand.

“You keep telling yourself that, sweetie.”

“Daya is a sore loser.” She winks at Arlina. “So sometimes I let her win.”

“You only ever win when Caitlin is your partner.”

“Daya, dearest. Let’s see if we can win together; neither get to team up with Caitlin.”

“So that makes Lady Arlina my partner.”

“So, Caitlin is the lucky charm? Well, then I feel pretty lucky tonight.”

“I’ve never considered myself lucky, but if others believe so, who am I to dispute?”

“So you haven’t been to court before?” Princess Eleanor sorts her cards.

“No, my father kept me pretty isolated. I think he’s only just realized I am not ten years old anymore. And then I stayed away for my own reasons. Court politics seemed far less exciting.”

“What were you doing instead? Call.”

“Staying with relatives, in a manner of speaking.”

“Double. Oh? Who?” Daya asks, her eyebrow raised over her spread of cards.

“Aren’t the gods family to us all?”

“A temple?” Caitlin mulls over her next card.

“Set. Andraste? Shea?” Princess Daya puts down her cards, spades abundant.

“Aife. The Temple of Aife at Laocre,” Lady Arlina says, revealing her own hand of cards. “High straight.”

“Aife?” Princess Eleanor throws down her own hand and slumps back in her chair.

“Why Aife?” Caitlin sets down her cards, revealing her royal flush.

“We won.” Lady Arlina smiles. Princess Daya picks up the cards with a huff.

“If we had been playing just the two of us, you know I would have won.” Princess Daya scowls at her wife.

Eleanor shrugs. “Of course, sweetie.”

“I learned law. What else would I learn from her followers? Combat?”

“Combat? Surely, they don’t teach that. However, I’ve wondered what they do there with the vast grounds they have at the Laocre temple, and she is also the goddess of war. Combat…” Princess Daya rubs her chin.

“Layde Siham wouldn’t know?” Princess Eleanor asks.

“Why would my sibling know that?” Princess Daya shuffles the cards.

“I suppose sie wouldn’t.” Eleanor pulls the cards up and examines her hand.

“It is rather interesting; even the king’s advisors could not hope for such an education in law. How laws have changed, theories of law, foreign law, international law. Aife being both a goddess of war and law, makes sense, for war is often the creator of law.” Arlina judges her own hand.

“Why didn’t you stay there?” Caitlin glances at her cards, far too enthralled with Lady Arlina’s tale to give it any actual thought.

“But there are few needs for experts and academics in law.” She looks into the distance, her thumb under her chin.

“Are you here to find a suitor?”

“Of course not!”

“That’s a shame, I am pretty sure you will have at least a dozen marriage proposals by the end of the week.” Eleanor glances at Caitlin. “The court will be sullen and miserable for months after the day you might accept a match.”

“What do those trained at the Temple of Aife do once they finish training, usually?” Caitlin draws a card from the pile and places another down.

“Before the current dynasty we—” She looks at Princess Eleanor and grimaces. Princess Eleanor shrugs. “Before the current dynasty, we sometimes became their advisors. Now, well. The teaching of Culain—”

“I catch your meaning,” Princess Daya says.

Caitlin snorts.

“You would catch her meaning, you are so good at doing likewise,” Princess Eleanor says, winking at her wife.

“Now, we sometimes become lawyers for businesspeople, advisors to merchants or nobles who seek to start their own venture.”

“I wish I had known about this,” Caitlin says; a savvy lawyer on retainer would have saved hours of her own time when she first took up negotiating responsibilities for her fathers.

“Few do; the order likes to keep it that way. Some changes in the law over the years and centuries have been called divine will. Learning the reasons for the old laws, what the old laws were, well, those are things which some might not want people to know. They keep it secret, all that the order teaches. Which, by the way, at the end of the evening, I shall have to kill all of you so that the secret is kept.”

“Well, of course. It is the smart thing to do, Lady Arlina,” Princess Daya says.

“I should like to consider you a friend, and I love to help my friends. Do what you must.” Princess Eleanor shrugs.

“Sure, why not.” Caitlin places down one more card.

“Excellent. Call.” Lady Arlina stacks her cards on top of each other face down, waiting for everyone else to make their last draw.


“We don’t know how many got away. We have several safe houses in the country and other smaller towns; it might take a while for them to send us word safely. It would be wise for them to stay there for more several weeks.” Diar had shown up unexpectedly after dinner. Unexpectedly, mostly because Caitlin had not heard from him since the fire. She had tried to get in touch with him, but he either wasn’t getting her messages or ignoring them. For all that he is her best friend, she often grew irritated by his propensity for moods and disappearing acts.

“Have you heard any more from those who weren’t there?” Caitlin sips at the lukewarm tea; not wanting to interrupt the conversation by making more. “Those whom I have spoken to are going to ground, too. I assume that they have also passed along messages; warning people to stay low.” He cleans his glasses on his shirt and slumps back in his chair.

“Does staying low mean doing less charity work? Wouldn’t that be conspicuous if suddenly that stopped?”

“Some people on both sides of that argument. I think some of them will continue it.” He puts his glasses back on and runs his hands through his hair.

“That argument?”

“Never mind that for right now.”

“Is there word on finding a new headquarters?”

“A new one? What do you mean?”

“Well, the one that just burned…”

“That wasn’t our headquarters. That was a test for you.”


“I trust you, Caitlin. But many others don’t. If that place went up in smoke, or if guards showed up at any of the coordinates that were spouted off at the end of the meeting, well. We would know where it came from. And so, many believe it was you.”

“I can’t believe this! Is that why it’s taken you so long to come to see me? You need to cut this out.” “I don’t want either the royals or the Front thinking you’re playing spy for the other side.”

“And so, you steer clear of me for my protection, and I am assuming everyone else for suspicion.”

“Yes, and no. Most everyone is staying clear of each other. It’s not personal, but some suspect you.”

“And you ignored me to ‘protect’ me. For claiming to be my friend, you make a lot of decisions about what is best for me without even consulting me.” She stands up in a huff and takes her teacup to the kitchen. She leans against the counter, arms crossed, waiting for the water to boil.

She can’t go back in there just yet. From the start, he’s been trying to protect her. That first night, that very first night. How much had their friendship changed since then? So many of their fights came down to this; deciding for her. Claiming he had more information. While it may be true most times, he could at least share that information so she could decide on what her safety did and didn’t require, and how much risk she is willing to take.

Diar is looking toward the floor as she walks back in. “I’m sorry.”

“You cannot keep doing this.”

“You don’t understand.”

“I understand plenty well. Stop being so protective.”

“But I am your friend!”

“Precisely! Friends talk to each other. Friends discuss things, friends are open and honest with each other. What have you been?”

“Caitlin, you don’t understand.”

“Then tell me! Then talk to me! Do you think me so unable to think for myself? That’s not friendship! That’s condescension. Stop assuming I can’t look after myself.”

“There’s so much you don’t know.”

“Then tell me! I am not some porcelain vase; I am your friend; start treating me like one.”

He looks down at his own mug of cold tea, and then back up at her. “Fine. You’re right.”

“Promise me. The next time you think of doing something ‘for my own good,’ you instead talk to me.”

“I will.”

“Good. Now, what is this about people suspecting me as a spy?”

“You must know that your volunteer work and your affiliation with the prince has been noted. And that has not stayed just in the neighborhoods you visit.” “I had not realized that that made had made a connection.”

“It has not gone unnoticed by the royals, either. Has anyone mentioned it?”

“Well, Princess Daya had said maybe sometimes we could all go do some charity together, bringing their attendants. Make it some sort of event, though I don’t know if she wanted to do it as something advertised in advance.”

“The king and prince would certainly want it to be such, prove they are as charitable as they want people to think, charitable enough that commoners are whining over nothing.”

“I don’t think that that is what the princesses are trying to do.”

“They are royals.”

“They are wonderful people.”

“Royals still uphold a power structure; one that favors them over us.”

“I like them, maybe… Maybe I could get them to realize…”

“Too dangerous right now. Although it has been mentioned by some that you could be our spy.”

“Bring you information from the palace? I rarely have access to anything. And I’m trying to extricate myself from that viper’s den, not further ingratiate myself in it. For what purpose? What would you need a spy for?”

“For one, I’m not asking you to. Others have brought it up. And second, we still don’t know how they found us, or why they would even target us.”

“It was Sir Liam, the factory owner.””

“What? How do you know that?”

“He was bragging about it. He has been enraged about his workers asking for safety measures.”

“See, this is why others would ask for you to spy.”

“And you are going to tell me I can’t, that it’s too dangerous for me to do.”

“It’s your choice, only yours.”

“So, there are those that both suspect me of selling out a volunteer organization to the royals, but also want me to spy? Spy for what? There’s something more going on to this. This is more than protests and volunteering, isn’t it?”

“I want to tell you, I have to talk to Sharidan and Valen, first. This is not a ‘for your protection’ situation. This is a decision above my head.”

“I am just confused as to why they would torch an entire neighborhood over some protests and charity work. Sure, some of the demands are radical, but there is nothing illegal happening. So why?”

“I’ll talk to Sharidan and… No more talk of this, for now? Please? Let’s get drunk and take a walk down to the harbor.”

“That sounds nice, you know. I haven’t talked to someone who has only half of his head up his ass in a while.”


The personal secretary of the prince is waiting for her at the door when she returns from a business meeting with wool sellers from the Galiven region of Garcelon; sellers who had been all too happy to provide her with the finely dyed wool cloak she pulls more tightly around her. “I have a letter and a gift from the prince,” is all that he says as he hands over the items. He shifts his weight from one foot to the other, clearly waiting for a response, and she waves him into her home. It would not be polite to let the man stand outside in these last days of autumn.

My dearest Lady Caitlin It grieves my heart every moment we are apart; I am struck with such a heavy melancholy. That such a bond could exist defies all logic. I cannot bear it any longer. I extend an invitation to your most beautiful self and your ever diligent fathers, Sir Teige and Sir Rían Peddigree. A dress should accompany this message. Pray, do accept this invitation. It is most urgent. Most Humbly Yours, Cian

He does not use his title, and though she does not hold a title that would afford her “Lady”, he uses it, nonetheless. His saccharine letter offends her: the writing, juvenile.

The letter set aside; she opens the box. The dress, like his letter, is overstated, past grand and into gaudy. Accompanying it are a pair of equally offensive shoes and a circlet.

“Will you be in attendance tonight, Lady Caitlin? And Sir Teige and Sir Rían”

The use of “lady” feels like sandpaper in her ears, and her fathers have never been granted any title, either. Prince Cian has been calling her ‘lady’ for some time, but his staff are now using it, too? And the same courtesy extended to her fathers? “How could I ever say anything except ‘yes’?”

“Very well, Lady Caitlin. I shall inform his Highness.” He doffs his hat and leaves.

She collapses into a chair and buries her face in her hands.

“Heavens, what are you doing?” Da asks as he and Pa walk in. “Did the meeting not go well?”

“It went well enough; the deal is as good as sealed. This,” she points to the box sitting on the table in front of her, “is altogether another sort of deal. One that I want nothing to do with anymore. I’m done. I’m done!”

Da picks up the box, and Pa grabs the letter beside it. “Tonight? All of us?” Pa says, running his hand through his ash-black hair.

“I am supposed to wear this dress this evening. I would rather drown than wear it, let alone attend whatever this event is.”

“You cannot cancel on the prince,” Pa says.

“I know, I know, it would be bad for business,” she says, flinging her arms in the air.

“No, Caitlin. It has nothing to do with the business.”

“Don’t say that, everything is business with you. That’s all you care about. And that’s all you want me to care about.”

“That is not true, please, do not insult us by putting words in our mouths. If this were an invitation from a business partner and you wanted to cancel, even if it were the most important deal we have ever been offered, we would not stop you from canceling.”

She rolls her eyes, knowing the lie for what it is. “I don’t want to wear that dress.”

“I do not blame you, dear.” Da says, holding it up and crinkling his nose. “The materials hardly complement each other, and what is this frill supposed to be adding? Beads and embroidery? Who made this atrocity?”

“Someone that the prince hired, and I am not going to ask any more than that.”

“Well, there is no getting out of attending this event, but I think I can find a way for you to wear the dress while not having to wear the dress.” Da says, setting it back down. “Where do you keep your sewing supplies?”

“I’ll grab them,” she says. “But he told me to wear it…”

“He requested that you wear it, and you still will wear it. Technically.”

“I would risk upsetting him,” she says. “But I have been doing nothing but trying to politely upset him for months now.” She frowns, brows furrowed, setting her sewing supplies on the table next to Da. “You think you can fix it?”

“Here, we can pull out the beads and add some of this trim on the sleeves,” Da says as he sets some remnants on the table.

“Why do you think he wants this? Why not send a regular courier? Why send a dress? Why hasn’t he tired of me? Why is he still doing this?” She pounds her fist on the table, knocking over the container of pins. “Why!”

“No one else has caught his eye, I suppose,” Pa says. “He’s made his way through half of the eligible noblewomen, and the other half are probably not as beautiful as he wanted.”

“I heard there is a new beauty at court.” Da takes a seam ripper to the frills around the sleeves.

“The Lady Arlina, daughter of Lord Byrne of Berach.”

“Yes, that’s the one. He hasn’t shown interest in her?”

“He was taken with her, yes.” Caitlin’s heartbeat quickens, Lady Arlina’s face clear in her mind’s eye.

“It is strange then that he has not started chasing her.” Pa sits down next to Da and hands him shears.

“She’s very strong-willed, well educated, well read; she has goals and dreams… She’s far too headstrong for him.”

“So are you, Caitlin.” Da looks up from his alterations work. “If you wanted to be.”

“That was a long time ago. That was before I had so many responsibilities. Seriously, what does he want with a widow? There are dozens of women in their twenties, younger and more gullible.”

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