In Which Caitlin Meets Rebels

Note: This is a 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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Caitlin is not sure what she is expecting, but it is not the nondescript row house in a more impoverished neighborhood. It is nothing outstanding, no more or less than the surrounding houses. He holds her hand as he knocks on the door four times. “Stop fidgeting.”

“I am not.” She takes her hand from him and pushes both deeply into her pockets.

“No lies, no lies.”

She rolls her eyes at him. The door opens, and the person answering looks Caitlin up and down. They are young, no more than twenty. “She’s safe?”

“She’s safe.”

The youth opens the door further and waves the pair in before quickly closing and locking it. The home was warm; if a little worn. There are scuff marks on the wooden floors; the paint is chipping; the rugs have seen better days. But, to Caitlin, it feels like home, the home she had shared with her wife. This house she has been in for less than a moment feels more like home than her current residence. The smell of coffee and muffins wafts from down the hall, and the sound of people chattering happily accompanies it. Diar puts his arm around Caitlin and leads her to the dining room. “Take a seat,” he says and then disappears somewhere else.

“Oh! You must be the young lass Diarmuid’s been going on about!” A tall Calla rests her chin in her palms and looks at Caitlin as if she is the most intriguing object. She is small, her russet feline-esque ears and hair a startling contrast to her striking yellow eyes, with only a thin vertical pupil. Caitlin has had a lot of experience with the Qatu of Sua. But their Fayn siblings, the Calla, are far less likely to be involved in trade. Apparently, all of these cat-like people are just as prone to bluntness and mischief, despite the Calla having migrated to Fayn from Sua several hundred years prior.

“If there is another ‘young’ lass, I don’t know her. Caitlin.”

The Calla’s sleek tail flicks behind her, ears perked forward. “Excellent! We could use someone new to play with!”

“Aine. She is a comrade, not a toy.” Another Calla sits down across from Caitlin, tossing their long pale blue hair behind them. Their strikingly dark sapphire eyes are full of merriment.

Aine slumped in her chair. “No fun.” Her ears swivel out to the sides and flatten, her face falling.

“You are his lass, though?” The newcomer asks, long ears perked up.

“I am not his lass!”

They both smile at Caitlin; she knows that she is, in fact, their new toy.

Everyone makes their way to the cozy basement once they have all had their fill of pie and sandwiches. As the meeting starts, the levity disappears, though. A Calla with forest green eyes and short, bright orange hair hands out meeting notes as people claim chairs, couches and spots on the floor. “Sharidan,” Diar whispers in Caitlin’s ear. “Xie is one of the leaders. The other is Valen, the dark bronze Ástfríður in the corner, the one with the pure white hair.”

“Who was the Calla I was talking to earlier? The one with the Greenwood tattoo?”

“That would be Kegan, and the Evenstar Calla is Aine. They are inseparable. Aine adopted Kegan so to speak. They make a game of ‘initiating’ newcomers.”

“I noticed.”

“The pins… everyone seems to have one just like yours. The lily, is that…?”

“A symbol? Yes.”

“Does everyone get one?”

“Do you want one?”


“We’ll see. You haven’t passed the test yet.”

“Very well.” She reads the meeting notes and is astounded at how many items are on them. Updates on a homelessness outreach. Updates on a program to provide childcare to factory workers, food distribution, education...How many efforts was this one group involved in? Near the bottom of the notes, she spots Diar’s name regarding updates on medical care programs. This isn’t just riots, this is more than just protests. She flips through the pages and sees so many different initiatives.

Caitlin leans back into the couch, trying to be as small as possible. She has never had to worry about any of this, has never gone hungry, never been cold, never lacked for a physician. A weight settles in her stomach, she had no idea. She thinks of the gold and silk and spices that had passed through her hands, the prices they fetched, the wealthy people she had negotiated with, and the sums of money involved. Her heart pounds and pounds as she hears about the struggles the Red Front is having in continuing to provide these services for so many who need them. How they operate under the guise of unrelated kind-hearted individuals and small collectives providing for people whom the Kingthe king has decided are not important.

She struggles to breathe as she remembers all the remarks that Sir Liam and Duchess Aelena had made, the comments she had heard at the tea party, on the hunts, and other dates the Prince took her on, the total weight of them hit me more and more. How much, truly, was a life worth. The men who had been willing to kill Brenna were no different in the end than the counts and dukes who let the people on the streets die. Disposable. Sir Liam saw the workers as nothing more than an extension of the tools, if they died there were a dozen more.

She tries to listen, she tries to clear her mind so she can truly focus on what they are saying. She wants to pay attention as they detail their plans, the steps they take to help, to assist…

While she had been back home and dancing with Brenna, playing cards with our regulars, while she was unconcerned because even a terrible year did not mean they had to tighten their belts, people starved. She had held items that cost more than these people would ever have in their entire lifetime. Were these goods really worth more than…

The members of the Red Front speak about this work, a mix of hope and sorrow. Hope that the nobles will fall, the men who made their money in unethical and unscrupulous ways, they would fall. That one day, the aristocracy that allowed these men to do this will crumble; can no longer tax their people into poverty, and the king will no longer have the power over an entire country. Their sorrow that, until then, people will suffer.

Sharidan announces that the meeting is over, and reminds people to check the schedule on the way out.

Caitlin had been too lost to notice but stands up when she sees everyone else do so.

“No,” Diar grabs her hand and pulls her back to the couch. “Stay. We aren’t done yet.”



She fidgets with her dress and looks around as others are putting on their cloaks and jackets. But she notices that there are those that still are seated and seem in no rush to gather their belongings.

Aine and Kegan are among the ones who do not go to leave. Kegan catches her eye and smirks. They lean over and whisper in Aine’s ear and the both of them meander over.

“You really are Diarmuid’s lass if you are still here, Kegan says.

“I’ve told you—”

“She isn’t,” Diarmuid says. “You’ve had enough fun, for now, I am sure.”

“Fine, fine, fine,” Aine says. “But to have you stay for this part at least says you are important to him.”

He rolls his eyes. “I’m going to grab water, I’ll get you some, too.”

“And now you are ours!” Kegan says.

“What is going on, though? Why are there people still here?”

“He didn’t explain?” Kegan says.

“No, he’s kept me in the dark.”

“There are factions, and they don’t always see eye to eye. This meeting is just for the faction we belong to.”

“Factions?” Caitlin looks around to see who else remains. Sharidan and Valen are still here. In addition to them,, there is a pewter Ástfríður with short fiery hair, a short woman with bright freckles and purple hair tied into twin braids and an older woman with bronze skin and long hair the color of freshly fallen snow.

“There’s not many. Not compared to how many people were crammed in here before.”

“Maybe not. But it’s the faction that the leaders belong to. The ‘leaders’ of the other one have not splintered off. Yet.”

Valen enters the room again, their short hair a mess of waves and tangles and yet shining brighter than a star. “Thank you for staying. I promise to keep this brief. We have a new supplier. They will deposit the items in the second stronghold.”

Diarmuid returns and hands her water.

“What are they talking about?” She leans in to whisper to him.

“I’ll tell you later. I want you to meet them after.”

Valen brings out a map and starts putting red pins in it, it looks random, and they make no remark as to what they represent. “Seraph,” he says, nodding to the older woman with white hair.

“I understand,” she says, and then notices Caitlin. Her light green eyes bore into Caitlin, and she wants to look away, but then Seraph breaks the gaze. Caitlin lets out a deep breath. Something about the older woman was both familiar and completely foreign.

“Twenty-five, thirty-seven, eighteen,” the purple-haired woman says.

“Thank you, Saoirse.”

“Five, nine, four, seventeen,” the Ástfríður with flaming hair says.

“Thank you, Imogen.”

“Three,” Kegan says.

“Fifty-seven,” Aine says.

“Eleven,” Diarmuid says.

“Very well. Sharidan will tell you who to meet.”

Sharidan enters the room and points to Seraph, then motions for her to follow. One by one, Sharidan calls the members to speak with them alone. Diarmuid pats Caitlin’s hand before it is his turn.

“Please, Diar can be cryptic. What is going on?” Caitlin asks Kegan and Aine. Before they have a chance to answer, Valen approaches.

“Yeah?” Aine says. “You’re here to talk to Diarmuid’s lass, yes?”

Caitlin does not have the energy to protest the appellation.

Valen gives a small laugh, their silver eyes full of mirth. “I suppose you could say that. Come with me.” Caitlin’s eyes widen. What is going on?

“Come on, it’s ok.” She follows them to a small room off to the side of the main room. “That bracelet…”

“Yes. My wife’s.”

“You are married?”

Caitlin hesitates. She knows this bracelet, Brenna’s gift, allows her freedoms with the Ástfríður that others do not have. That her connection extends far beyond just Brenna. But how could she… “Was,” she says at last. “Now widowed.”

Valen hangs their head, the mirth gone, their mouth stretching into a thin line. “How?”


“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t pry. It is plain that this is still a difficult subject. But our kind…”

“I know, I know…”

“I suppose you do. But that’s not why—”

“She was killed. There were…”

“I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing. It is a blessing to know that your Brenna was so loved. Again, that is not why I wanted to speak to you.”

Caitlin wrings her hands, forcing back tears. “What did you want?”

“I know that Diarmuid trusts you, but I also know that you are being courted by the Prince. I trust Diarmuid, he’s told me that you do not want the attentions.”

“No! In fact, I am trying to get the Prince to leave me alone!”

“I believe that Diarmuid believes that you are doing that. But not everyone here is so sure of where your loyalties may lie.”

“You just let me sit in on the meeting, though.”

“We didn’t discuss anything truly important. In time, you may be trusted with more vital information. While I trust you, you need to earn the trust of everyone.”

“I understand.” She rises to leave the cozy office.

“Wait. If you don’t mind. I have a personal question for you.”

She turns back to Valen. “Yes?”

“Brenna. What was their metal?”

“Copper,” is all that Caitlin says.

They chuckle. “I should have guessed if they were married to you.”

“Diar,” she says, grabbing his hand as they walk out of the Red Front headquarters. “Why? How did you end up here?”

“Sharidan,” he replies. “Xie recruited me. Despite xir looks, xie is just as wealthy as you. Xie paid for my medical schooling on the condition that I join.”


“It’s a long story.”

“I’m listening,” she pulls the hood of her cloak forward. “Tell me.”

“My mother, Rebecca, she was sick. And my father had very little money. Not many people purchase his wares, as I am sure you have figured out.”

She squeezes his hand. “Go on.”

“We couldn’t afford to go to a physician. There was a medicine woman, a Sister of Andraste, but by the time my mother finally admitted that she was sick, it was too late.” He pauses mid-stride. “It was preventable. The medicine, if we’d had it sooner… It was too expensive. And the Sister could do nothing.” “I’m sorry…” she says. She turns so that she is directly in front of him. If the night were not so silent, she might have missed it. A small cry, lasting not more than half a second. If the moon were not so bright, she might have missed it. His bottom lip trembles almost imperceptibly before straightening out into a tight line. She reaches her hand up, wanting to comfort him, to touch his face.

His own hand snatches hers before she can, though. “I am fine. Let’s go.”

“I didn’t mean…”

“I know. Anyway, I left my father behind and traveled to Janueq, to Haut Ven. There is a medical school there, I couldn’t afford it. I took on odd jobs around the school, though. Hoping to eventually have money to attend, and to pick up whatever knowledge I could just from being there.

“I was in town that day, trying to barter what little money I had for some food. There was a scream behind me, and I turned around. Sharidan was in the middle of the street, clutching at xir leg. I could see the blood quickly flowing from a wound. I ran to xir and provided what little medical assistance I could. I wasn’t very good, I’d eavesdropped on several courses at this pont, though. I knew enough to stitch a wound and disinfect it.

“I carried the fiery Calla to a tavern, where I was able to staunch the bleeding. Xie was very thankful, and asked how much xie owed me. I wanted to lie, to give a high number, to get the money I needed to buy more food and to save for classes.”

“Did you?” She tries to imagine Diar lying, it seems to counter to what she knows of him.

“No, I told xir the truth. That I was not a physician. That I was just some kid who hung around the university a lot. They told me to come with them to their townhouse. I was shocked and just followed without question, letting xir lean on me as we made our way up the street.

“I didn’t know such luxury could exist. It was grand, it was huge.”

“Sharidan? We are talking about the same Sharidan that just spent hours talking about how the wealthy are complicit in the subjugation of the poor? That Sharidan has a mansion in Janueq?”

“Not exactly. It belongs to xir family, a vacation home of sorts. Xir family has all but disowned xir, but, like a cat, xie has ways of coming and going as xie pleases undetected. Xie treat the family’s staff well, so I think they keep xir secret.”

“Like a cat, indeed.”

“They may have disowned xir, but that does not mean xie is without money and funds. Enough to pay for me to go to school. Xie sat me down and explained only a hint of what xie was involved in. I learned later that xie was there to talk to Alliée Rouge, the counterpart in Janueq.

“As we both started to trust each other, xie finally gave me all the details. In exhange for paying my tuition, I was to be the Red Front’s lead organizer on their health care initiative. I couldn’t say no. I could help keep so many alive, prevent so many other children from losing a parent.”

“You have a big heart.”

He blushes and waves his hand. “Please, let’s not go that far.”

“So Sharidan is quite wealthy to be able to pay that,” she replies. “Xir accent isn’t Janueq, where is xie from then?”

“I believe somewhere in Sua, I know xie studied at Khidima Alam.”

“Are you joking?”

“I believe xie took on a Calla name when xie came here. I don’t know what xir Qatu name would be, though.”

“That makes sense. Tell me. Is that also the source of money that is used provide all of the material goods?”

Diar shakes his head. “I cannot tell you that. I do not even know where all of the funding comes from. Just that there are several wealthy donors.”

“Do you expect me to be one?”

“I expect nothing from you. Nothing except that you remain safe.”

“I feel so bad, though. I never knew any of what was happening, I never imagined… I feel so guilty.” Caitlin stops in front of her door. “Come inside, please…?”

Diar goes immediately to the living room, plopping himself down in the large armchair. “Stop. Stop feeling bad. Stop centering yourself. Stop with the guilt. It is unproductive. If you decide to donate money to assuage your guilt, you might as well just leave.”

“I just… How could anyone forgive me…”“I said stop. You cannot buy forgiveness. You cannot buy absolution. You were ignorant, now you are not. Your ignorance was through no fault of your own. But now you know the truth. Now you can do something about it. And you must do something because it is the right thing to do, not because you want to make yourself feel better.”

“Where do I start, though?”

“I wouldn’t have brought you, I wouldn’t have told you all that I have, if I didn’t think you would know.” “I see.”

“I was afraid, when you started your...relationship...with the Prince that you weren’t the person I thought you were, hoped you were.”

“I didn’t ask—”

“I know, I know that now. But I feared, for some time, that you might end up disappointing me.”

Disappointing? Something doesn’t sit well with the way he had said “disappointing,” but she brushes it off, attributing it to the long day. Instead, she asks him if he would like tea.

It was easy to hire additional employees to run much of the business. Now freed of many of her obligations, Caitlin volunteers with the Red Front, eager to spend time with people who are not royals, not with the person who continues to court and woo her, people she didn’t have to pretend to be infatuated with.

After attending the meeting, she notices how the Prince does not even acknowledge the people who open the doors for him, the people who bring in his food except to scold them. She notices that when she smiles at one of the servants or thanks them, he looks at her with confusion. Sometimes she comments about making an impression; you never knew who would become a buyer or seller; trade meant you had to be polite at all times. She tells him that her courteousness to the servants is a habit long ingrained. He nods and sometimes calls her cute.

She is so glad to spend the rest of her time with her new friends. She realizes that many of the friends Diarmuid had introduced her to long before he took her to the meeting were members of the Red Front. The weeks that follow that meeting are full of laughter, and joy. For the first time since moving to Eoi, she feels like she has a home.

“Umm, here…” Caitlin says, handing a bag of food to an old woman who answers the door.

“Is this all there is this week?” the woman asks.

“Kayla, hello,” Aine says, coming up to the door with a second bag.

“Oh, Aine, thank goodness.”

“How is your wrist?”

“Oh, same old. Every time I think it is better, I hurt it again.”

Caitlin slips away, feeling awkward, and stands waiting by the cart.

“Did you think she would bite you? What was that about?”

“I just don’t know how to talk to them.”


“The people we are helping, I just feel—”

“As people, just treat them as people,” Aine said, her upbeat nature ever-present, joking with the people they were helping and making mischief amongst us volunteers. “You are too used to negotiating, not giving, I take it?”

Caitlin looks away sheepishly.

Eventually, the conversations Caitlin makes become less stilted and transforms into the chatter of friends. She trades stories of childhood escapades, listens as young girls ask for advice on love, and older gentlemen tease and joke. The guilt left, the hesitation that she would be bragging if she engaged in conversation lifted.

After a long afternoon, we would head to a tavern. At first, this was uncomfortable. Caitlin thinks about how most of the day giving food to people who would otherwise have none. How could they possibly sit down and enjoy themselves, eat warm food under a roof? How could we do this when there were people without?

“You can’t help everyone, and you deserve this just as much as they do. And you need it if you are to do this. You cannot spend your time on this guilt. You need time to recharge. You will run yourself to the ground if you don’t, you will burn out, become depressed, and then cynical or apathetic. You cannot do that. So you sit back down, and you order more wine, and you play cards and make jokes.” At one point or another, members of the Red Front give this talk to Caitlin, in one form or another.

But soon, she learns what they mean; why it is necessary. She learns to dance and tell bawdy jokes and win more rounds of cards than people expected her to. Sometimes she glances next to her, expecting to see Brenna. Sometimes she thinks she hears Brenna. Of course, she is never there. I’m doing this for you, she says. Your life was worth so much. Greed should not have robbed me of you.

“Stop it! They were absolutely not flirting with me!” Caitlin’s hands are full of empty boxes; so she jabs her shoulder into Kegan’s.

“Yes, they were! And you were flirting back!”

“I was not!”

Kegan’s pale blue tail flicked back and forth. They smile and tilt their head to the side. “If you say so.”

“You can be insufferable.”

“But you looooove me.”

Caitlin rolls her eyes. “My point still stands.”

“C’mon. Let’s get these back and then meet up with Diar and Aine for the regular round.”

“Sounds good to me. But please don’t sing again this time. We almost got kicked out.”

“Not my fault they don’t like bawdy songs.”


“I know, I know. You grew up with pirates, and somehow my songs are too lewd.”

“You can’t just start singing about—”

A chorus of terror echoes down the alleyway as they turn down it. There are people rushing towards them, not even looking back behind them to see if whatever has terrified them is following.

“What’s going on?” Caitlin yells to them as they race past.

“Guards! Royals, searching for something! Get out!”

“Oh no!” Kegan drops the boxes and bags are holding and dashes down the alley.

“Wait! Kegan, come back!” Caitlin chases after the young Calla, but soon the air is full of smoke, making it far too hard to breathe. She can’t push her way through the throng of people running the other way. Kegan is fast and dexterous, bouncing over people, leaping over objects in her way, but Cailin is slow and clumsy and quickly loses her.

“No, no, no no, no, no!” Even over the cacophony of the sounds of the masses and the shouts of Royal Guards, Kegan’s cries could be heard.

“Caitlin, they found us. We have to get people out, though; we have to see if there…Aine...Aine…” Flames rose high above the street, the home as the main headquarters of the Red Front burned quickly and brightly.

“No, Kegan, we have to run!” Caitlin grabs Kegan’s wrist and tries to pull her way. “Kegan, please.”

“You run, then,” They look at Caitlin, their eyes narrowing, their tail bristling. “I’m going to save our friends.” They dig their claws into Caitlin’s other arm until she releases it, and then dashes away.

“Kegan, no!” Caitlin can barely breathe, the smoke is only growing darker, thicker. She tries to clear it by waving her arms in front of her, but it is no use. She reaches the back entrance to the house, and she finds Kegan, standing in front of the gate. They are not moving, rigid, and only the slow blinking of their wide eyes gives any indication that they are not stone.

“Kegan. We can’t go in there. The fire, it’s too big, and there are guards swarming.”

“No.” They shake their head. “No, no! Caitlin.” Their knees give out, and they fall, their hands balling into fists. “No.”

A gruff voice echos down the alley. “I heard something; are we sure no one was going to get out the back?”

“We poured too much gasoline back there for anyone to get anywhere within the garden.”

“Well, I’m going to check it out anyway.” The clack of the guard’s copper-toed shoes is louder than the screams of the fleeing crowd, pounding in time to Caitlin’s pulse.

“Kegan. Stand up.” They don’t move. Caitlin lifts the Callas to their feet.

“We have to save them; we have to save them.”

“We can’t do anything if we’re in the dungeons or dead.”

They nod, finally relenting. The smoke covers their retreat, or at least Caitlin hopes so. The guard who had said he heard something rounds the corner and looks directly at Caitlin, but she sees him only as a shade, not even sure if he is there. She hopes he can’t make them out either.

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