Royals and Rebels

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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“The seams are fraying,” the Duchess of Clare says, picking at the embroidery on the cuff of her sleeve. Prince Cian had invited Caitlin to a “small” excursion. Small. But the hunting party comprised far more people than Caitlin had expected.

The Duchess of Clare, Lady Aelena, his cousin and the daughter of the king’s deceased brother, Tómas, is the tallest of the hunting party, and the youngest, though with her eyes perpetually crinkled in disdain, she could have fooled anyone into believing her to be the oldest. She looks Caitlin up and down upon her arrival as if she were looking at a rotten fish, and says nothing to her, apparently deciding that Caitlin is not worth her time or attention, and is probably just another one of her cousin’s silly infatuations, and so she goes back to complaining about the quality of various things. The dressmaker had not sewn the embroidery on her gloves well, the greens in the morning breakfast were too wilted, and the invitations were made on inferior parchments. What was this country coming to?

“We do not need to have this conversation in front of our guests,” Princess Eleanor says. The prince’s older sister is equally annoyed to be part of this hunting party, but due to her proximity to Lady Clare and not her disdain for Caitlin; the tension between the cousins fills the air. Princess Eleanor greets Caitlin kindly enough, her smile sincere as she takes Caitlin’s hand. The glare she throws at her brother afterward, though, would send anyone else fleeing. But Prince Cian, in all his pompous assery, is unfazed.

“Don’t you dare go insulting the table linens again; I am taking care of that.” Caitlin recognizes Sir Liam as one of the men who had been with Prince Cian at her fathers’ party. Keeping his chin high, he swaggers over to the duchess and claps her on the back. “I’m taking care of it.”

His husband, Sir Connor, grins at him and then winks at the duchess. The two husbands both sport short, neatly trimmed beards and both are partial to stroking them.

She rolls her eyes and crosses her arms. “You had better be.”

“Don’t be so sour,” Liam shoots back, flipping his long brown hair over his shoulder. “You’ll never catch a lover that way.”

Princess Eleanor sighs. “Cut it out.”

Caitlin cannot help but notice how all the members of the Royal House of Fola share the same unnaturally pale blond hair that, in a certain light, looks nearly silver, and their eyes are all the same pale blue hue.

Princess Daya is just as warm in her greeting, taking Caitlin’s hand gently in both of hers. She is the smallest of the little party and the eldest by a decade. Her tight-fitting jacket and collared dress shirt make her appear more elegantly masculine than Liam and Connor, both of whom are dressed in poorly fitting and tattered breeches and shirts. She seems more open to sullying her clothes than Lady Clare, and unlikely to complain about the quality of said clothing. Caitlin likes her immediately. The sun makes her deep golden skin sparkle, a sparkle that is not unlike that of the Ástfríður, and her face is spotted with flecks of amber freckles. This princess from Qaewi had once been a potential bride for Prince Cian but had fallen for his sister instead.

“Fine. Where are the horses?” Lady Clare asks.

Some young adults, though they look hardly out of their childhood, meet the party at the end of the garden, several horses and hounds in tow.

“Have you ever seen such a beauty?” the prince says as he takes the reins of a black stallion. “I named him Lightning. He is the fastest in the country. Come, let him smell you.” As soon as Caitlin gets close enough, he puts his hand on her back and pulls her close to him. “He won’t bite.”

Caitlin obliges him and does not protest when he pulls her even closer. “This one will be yours for the day.” One youth hands the reins of a small chestnut mare to Caitlin. She appraises it; the horse is nearing her time for retirement but is otherwise in spectacular health and has a beautiful coat. The reins are fine leather; Caitlin can’t help thinking about the price this would fetch. As the rest of the party mounts their own horses, the prince gestures for Caitlin to come to his side. “We are hunting foxes today.” He grins at her, clearly expecting some sort of response, but Caitlin can’t figure out what that response would be.

“Let the hunt begin; I can’t wait to bring home the best catch!” Princess Eleanor raises her hand to the sky, grinning wickedly at her wife.

“This will be my, let’s see, the sixth time this year bagging one before you?” Princess Daya says to her wife as each swings a quiver over their shoulders, her eyes twinkling. “We both know who the better huntress is.”

“Ah, but my catches are always of better quality than yours,” Princess Eleanor retorts.

“You are entitled to your opinions, wrong though they may be,” Princess Daya chides her. They both laugh and kick their horses into a gallop.

The prince narrows his eyes, a dark and sour look on his face. “Well. Let’s get to it.” His petulance is grating. He kicks his own horse, and the rest of the party falls in line behind him.

The forest north of the palace is sprawling; dense enough for the fauna to feel safe, but too thick for horses to be unguarded. These lands belong to the monarchy, but the king has given Sir Connor permission to take its lumber and game. A privilege many others could only dream of.

“You can’t tell me that you don’t enjoy this,” the prince chuckles as he halts to find the rabbit he had shot. His sour mood fades away as he gets the first catch. It isn’t the fox that he had wanted, but he brags, regardless. He pulls the arrow out and tosses the rabbit into his game bag. “See how the arrow pierced the heart? Don’t you like the rush? The thrill?” When Caitlin does not respond, he continues. “You’ll understand when you get your first catch.”

“Cian, let’s go. You can still brag and show off on horseback.” Sir Connor winks at Caitlin; his jovial laugh carries through the woods. The duchess rolls her eyes and starts off again.

The prince comes around to help Caitlin back in the saddle. She wants to push him away, but she knows staying within his good graces is vital for both her and the business she will inherit. Hold him off, but keep him happy enough so that, when he ends this, his opinion of her will still be favorable. She holds back a sigh and allows him to lift her up. His hands linger on her thighs as she settles on the horse. “Not every woman looks as beautiful with her hair tousled from the open forest winds as she does inside the walled gardens.” She blinks at him, unsure what to say at all. He mounts his horse again. Caitlin hopes that this silent rebuff of his compliment will put him off a little and make him second-guess his affection. But he chuckles. “A modest lady? What wonderful world have I entered?” He tugs on his reins and takes off again, sending the hounds forward.

The princesses continue teasing each other, and accumulating their share of small game, each showing the other their catch and keeping a running tally. When they both surpass the prince in the number of prey caught, the whole party tones down their excitement. Princess Daya lowers her bow a hair’s breadth when she sees her brother-in-law aim for the same fox and waits a fraction of a second after he lets his arrow loose to shoot hers. His arrow pierces the heart, though not perfectly. Princess Daya’s arrow clips the fox’s tail. “Well done, my sister! You might have had this one yourself.”

“Do not believe I am not chiding myself, too. But the catch was yours from the start.” He takes it as a compliment. He does not see her scowl; a scowl quickly replaced with an enormous smile.

He holds his catch high and grins at Caitlin. “Impressive, my lord,” she says. “I could not have made such a catch.”

“We won’t leave these woods without you having a prize of your own!” He jumps off of Lightning, tosses the reins to Sir Liam, and climbs behind Caitlin. The party takes off at a slow trot, everyone now quiet as they scan for one last piece of game. Caitlin makes no comments as the prince holds her hips tightly, sometimes running his hands a little too far up or down for her comfort. She tries to control her breathing, lest she turn around and punch him square in the face.

“Shh. Right there. See it?” The prince points to a squirrel.

“I do.”

Deftly, he gets down from the horse and puts his bow in her hands. Caitlin knows very well how to shoot game and does not need the prince’s help at all. Yet she allows him to adjust her hands and fingers, grimacing; he is doing it all wrong. “Now pull back. Wait… wait… Let it loose,” he whispers in her ear. Even hampered by the prince’s help, she does not miss.

As the day presses on, they make their way to a clearing to picnic. Every time the prince tries to boast to Caitlin of his prowess, of his strength, of his intelligence, his cousin mentions his past paramours. “Remember when you brought Miss Alice here?” “You had a cake like this when we had a party with Lady Amelia.” “Did you help Lady Shennen, or was it Lady Marianna, bag the fox last year?”

Each time she does this, his irritation increases. Each time, Princess Daya tries to steer the conversation back to a subject that Prince Cian will be less sour over. But she can only do so much.

Tiring of her games with the prince, the duchess says to Caitlin, “You are from a merchant family?”

“I am, your Grace.”

“Does your family work with any of the garment makers?”

“Some, yes.”

“Do you sell to Sir Liam’s business?”

“I’m not sure, your Grace. I usually deal with silk merchants; other employees handle cotton, wool, and other fabrics. What sort of garments does your family make, Sir Liam?”

“Oh, it is not my family that makes garments. I have factories.”

“Have you always worked for your fathers?” the duchess presses.

“I have, your Grace.”

“And is it not just shameful that they have kept this rose hidden away in some small town?” Prince Cian puts his arms around Caitlin. “I hear they came here often, yet never thought to bring you with them.”

“I preferred to be at home, at our headquarters in Whick,” Caitlin says.

“Home? Is this not your home now?” Prince Cian leans in closer.

“Was there something that kept you there?” The duchess cuts in; brow furrowed.

“I liked it there.”

“There was not a person who kept you there? Anyone? A wealthy merchant’s daughter surely must have had at least a few overtures over the years,” the duchess continues, a wolf ready to pounce.

“I am much too busy with my duties.”

“You had no sweetheart? No one at all?”

Prince Cian looks back and forth between Caitlin and his cousin, equal parts angry and skeptical.

“If you are asking me if I have some lover waiting for me in Whick, I must tell you I do not. I observed the full mourning period before arriving in Eoi last year.”

“I heard otherwise,” the duchess grins, making eye contact with the prince. “I do not know what you may have heard, but there has been no one in my life since my late wife passed away.”

“You wound me, cousin!” the prince says. The duchess scoffs. “Have you no feelings for me? I am insulted that you would think this peerless maiden would deceive me! My dearest lady, tell my cousin how daft she is.”

“Yes, Caitlin. Tell me why someone as intelligent and beautiful as you would have no suitors aside from my idiot cousin.”

Caitlin takes a deep breath, calmly thinking through the best way to proceed. Does the duchess think she is playing him for a fool? Leading him on while pushing him off? It would humiliate him. That was indeed what she was doing, but she did not have anyone else waiting for her in the background. The best she can hope for is that he will tire of her sooner than he had the others. “I had no reason to believe any feelings I might have for someone would be reciprocated; I would not dream of harboring emotions for one who would never return them.”

“Ah! You should indeed dream, my rose. You should always hope and believe.”


The prince is in a sweater temper as they ride back from the picnic. His advances grow bolder and bolder as they continue toward the palace; he sings—badly—all the bawdy songs he can remember and asks others to join in. He boasts of his talents; trying to impress and amaze her. But each attempt is now accompanied by touches or meaningful glances. He talks about what he wants for the future, for the days when he will be the most loved king, the golden ruler, the jewel of the kingdom, the monarch that will reign forever in memories and history books.

But his speech on the meaning of kingly love halts when the guard tells the party that they cannot enter.

“I am the prince! This is my capital; you will let us in!”

“Your Highness, that is the problem. You will want to go in a back way.”

“This is my goddamn city; I will go in whichever way I want.”

“My brother,” Princess Eleanor says. “I want to take our horses on another quick run; I think they are still antsy. Please go in without us.” Princess Eleanor turns her horse, and Princess Daya waves at them before they take off again.

He waves his hand in dismissal as they leave. “Open the gates.”

The guards slowly do as they are told.

“I see nothing wrong,” Sir Liam says.

“The guards think too highly of themselves,” Sir Connor responds.

The duchess stays quiet.

They come upon a large crowd, most of them trying to get a better look at something happening on a dais. Five guards are trying to pull a dozen people down from it, while those people toss pamphlets out into the mob. Sirs Liam and Connor move to the front of the party and part the crowd. Someone screams, and then more shouts join in the chorus. And then the crowd becomes chaos.

Caitlin’s horse rears up, tossing her from it. As she hits the ground, she rolls and is carried away by the riot. She twirls around, looking for her horse, but someone presses a pamphlet into her hand and then dashes away. Pushing her way further into the crowd and still not seeing the prince or his companions, she decides to return home.

“What are you doing here?” a familiar voice says. Diarmuid spins her around to face him. “It is dangerous to be here and for more than one reason.”

“I didn’t intend to be here! I just want to get home now.”

“Where did you intend to be?”

“The prince invited me to a hunt, and we were just returning; I fell from my horse. I don’t know where the rest of them went.”

“This is no good.” He scowls.

“Well, just let me get out of here, then.”

He runs his hand through his hair and sighs. “No, you need to get back to the prince. That is the safest place for you, much as I hate to say it. I’ll help you back there. And give me that pamphlet.”

“Why are you here? What is this about?”

“Not now.”

“Diar, you owe answers when I get home.”

He doesn’t reply, just grabs her arm and drags her behind him, leading her closer to the dais. “There he is. Now play nice.”

She runs to the formation of guards that surround the prince and his friends. “Find her! Now!”

“We don’t know…”

“Prince Cian! Please! I’m here!” She looks back over her shoulder, but Diarmuid has disappeared, and with him, the chance to leave. She has no choice but to return to the hunting party.

“There she is! Get her over here; she is not to be hurt.”

A guard scoops her up and puts her on a horse, and then the party and a handful of royal guards make their way to the palace.


“You never mentioned your date with the prince.” Diar is waiting for her, slouching in a chair in the back of the office, scowling. He does not even wait for her to take off her jacket. Caitlin is growing weary of moody men, and Diar is not helping her escape that.

“Hello to you, too. I’ll put on some tea. Sit straight, you’ll be in pain later if you don’t.”

He does as she says, running his hands down his face. “I’m sorry, Caitlin. Everything is just a mess, and I can’t do anything about it. Thank you,” he says, taking the mug she hands him.

“Tell me what is going on. What was that all about?”

“It doesn’t matter what it was about.” He throws his hat to the ground. “It doesn’t matter, and you should not concern yourself with it. Not with you being so close to the prince.”

“It is not by choice.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Did you fathers demand that you accept the invitation?”

“Well, no, but I can’t just turn down the prince; it would jeopardize the growth of the business.”

“When was the last time you put your wants over what you thought would benefit the business?”

“No, don’t change you the subject. You will not do this. You will tell me what is going on.” She punctuates her statement with a flick of her spoon against the edge of the sugar bowl and then tosses the spoon down onto the table. She doesn’t want to think about that question, not when the last time someone asked it…

“Fine.” He pulls the pamphlet from his coat pocket and hands it to her.

“Textile workers upset with dangerous factory conditions, long hours, low pay… I had heard that this was what they were protesting about.” She flips through the pages. “But some of these things, what they are asking for… Farmers unhappy at their lords? Taxes paying for palaces? This could be construed as treason.”

“Which is why you can’t have that pamphlet, and why you should not have tried to escape at the demonstration today. If you’d taken off…”

“These pamphlets make it sound like today was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration. But it got very violent.”

“There are a few different players behind this. The ones today were the ones who think change can happen peacefully.” He rolls his eyes. “That if we ask nicely enough, we’ll be given what we want.”

“But it became a riot. How is that ‘peaceful’?”

“That’s a brilliant question. But it wasn’t supposed to be violent. I am guessing they were provoked.”

She flips through the pamphlet. “Are these things true? Is it really this bad? It can’t be, surely.”

“Yes, it’s all true. There are farmers working from sunup to sundown, and more than half of their harvest must go to their lords or the king. And you have seen what that is spent on. There are people in those textile mills and those garment factories that are being worked to death. They are dying, so the factory owner can make a few extra coins.”

The duchess picking at a stray thread, commenting on the table linens. Liam saying he was working on it. The comments at the garden party that the people asking for better were upsetting the gods. “But the violence…” “Do you think people shouldn’t be furious when the wealthy and privileged think of them as disposable? Weighing a life against a larger profit? Calculating how much a life is worth?”

Brenna. Xir murderers… the people willing to kill for the chance at finding some mythical port and a road to riches.

“I don’t think you can change those sorts of things,” she says. “It’s just how the world is. How it’s always been.”

“It’s not something that can be changed peacefully. But it can be changed.” “Is that what the other groups involved believe?”

“Our meetings are much more secret.”

“Your meetings? You’re part of it?”

“Of course I am. Now, do you see why I was so worried? What I am involved with… and who you are gadding about with? You caught in the middle of that…”

“What does your group plan to do?”

“I cannot tell you. But I want to. I have been wanting to for a while now.”

“Why? If you claim you can’t tell me because you want me to ‘be safe’ then—”

“It’s not that. You must earn the trust of the leaders. And right now? I trust you, but do you think they trust someone who spends their day frolicking about with the prince?”

She stares at the pamphlet. Brenna. The worth of a life. “Is this… The club?” “Ah. Yes, it is.”

“I see. Why did you join? When? Is it why you overwork yourself with your patients?”

“It’s a long story, and I am exhausted. I will tell you, but not today. If you want to meet the leaders, I can try to find a way for you to prove you’re trustworthy.”

“I don’t know…” It’s too much. Each lap of a wave upon a pier is different but predictable. The sea is only chaotic for those who don’t know her, for those who don’t respect her. Caitlin much prefers the storm on the horizon to the earthquake, shattering her into pieces, scattered shards of her being taken by those who want something from her.

“I understand.” He sighs, shoulders sagging, and stands up.

Her chest squeezes and she reaches out her hand to take his. “It’s not that I don’t care…”

He squeezes her hand. “I know. I get it. Although, I am a little relieved.”


“It is your choice, Caitlin. Not a choice you make on a whim. You would be in greater danger than anyone else. But it has to be your choice. If you had decided so easily, I would have wondered if you were just doing it out of a sense of obligation.”

“But wouldn’t my current position make me a perfect asset for your group?” “Yes, it would. But there are some things—some people—that are more important to me than my cause. And if you choose not to join, well.” Without another word, he lets himself out of the back door.

The door clicks shut, and she buries her face in her hands. She wants to go home; she wants to crawl into bed next to Brenna. Removing the pins from her hair, she lets it cascade over her shoulders. Going back to Whick is all she wants; things made sense there.


He arrives without fanfare and with an entourage of knights a discreet 20 feet behind him. Although he claims he wants to go in disguise as a commoner, his clothes still give him away as someone of noble birth. He hides his distinctive near-silver hair by tying it up and tucking it under a wide-brimmed hat. There is no way to disguise his eyes blue eyes. Anyone who looks at him for more than a passing glance will immediately know him for who he is.

Despite this, Caitlin mounts the horse behind him, and the two head to the market. It has been nearly two months since she got lost at the protest, and four months since he started courting her. But he has persisted in his pursuit and the protesters have put a pause on theirs for the time being. The late summer air is heavy with the smell of storms, threatening the vibrant green trees with angry winds. Caitlin hopes the storms will at least hold back their fury until after her outing with the prince. The thought of his anger at the weather’s disobedience sends a shiver down her spine.

Despite the early hours, the market is already overrun with people. The prince dismounts from the horse, assists Caitlin, and then hands the reins to a knight. “I am so glad, my lovely lady, that you agreed to accompany me to the market today. I am sure you are used to seeing far grander things in your own inventories, but I enjoy sneaking to the market like this. I can be among the people I will one day rule. Have you been here before?”

“I have, at least once a month. I love coming here for fresh produce and essentials.”

“You mean you do not have servants? People who run these errands for you?” “I suppose I could hire if I wanted, but how would I know then that they chose the freshest eggs or the fluffiest bread?”

“You enjoying checking for those things? I suppose it is in your nature, then.” He throws his arm around her shoulder and leads her into the crowd. More than once, a beggar approaches them, only to see the prince’s eyes and think better of it. And more than once, a peddler approaches with flowers or trinkets and drives an even harder bargain once they recognize the prince; he pays twice as much as he should have for roses and daisies. Caitlin’s arms are full of flowers when they hear the woman scream.



“After her!”

“Help! Get her!” This last voice is one that Caitlin unfortunately recognizes. The priest who had harassed her a year ago. She had seen both him and the woman he taunted multiple times since that incident. Though, luckily, never at the same time.

The prince hesitates, looking between Caitlin and the direction of the shouts. “Stay put!” He snaps and out of nowhere, a knight appears beside Caitlin, as if she’d always been standing there. “Sir Dermont,” the prince says to the knight, “protect Lady Caitlin.”

The knight bows to the prince before turning her attention to Caitlin. “My lady, do not worry, you are safe with me.”

The shouts continue. Curiosity gets the better of Caitlin, and she sprints away from Sir Dermont before the knight can say anything to her. From a distance, she follows behind Prince Cian, shoving past other curious onlookers until she arrives at the scene. The priest is gripping a woman’s hands, preventing her from leaving despite her struggling, and Caitlin realizes it is the same woman from last year. She wants to assist the woman, but at that same moment Cian steps forward, and she takes two steps back to hide in the crowd.

“What is going on here? I demand to know,” Prince Cian says, tearing off his hat and shaking his long, near-silver hair free.

Both the priest and the woman stop their struggle and at the prince. “Answer me! By order of the prince!”

The priest raises an eyebrow and attempts a clumsy bow while still clenching the woman’s hands. “Your Majesty, this woman is a thief! She has been stealing from honest, hard-working people. She is a menace to this market! She shirks her divinely ordained responsibilities to work hard and instead—” “I do not have all day; concisely explain what happened.”

“Yes, of course, your Majesty. This woman was flaunting her figure to distract the hard-working people from her disgusting sleights of hand! By robbing them of their money and goods, she blasphemed against Culain!”

“Please! I didn’t do it. I’m innocent! He’s lying!”

“Are you accusing a priest of Culain of lying?” The priest hurls her to the ground and kicks her in the stomach. “How dare you! Of all your crimes, that must be the worst. Have you no respect for His Holiness Culain!?”

“Enough! I will hear both sides.” The prince points at the woman, and another knight steps forward and grabs her. “Gently, do not harm her further.”

The woman still struggles while the knight binds her hands behind her back. “Please, your Highness, I am not a thief. It is true I have no money and I cannot work, but I am no thief! He is a liar; he has been trying to frame me for crimes ever since I rejected him!”

“Harlot! Liar! I have taken a sacred vow of celibacy! Whore, it was you who approached me!”

“Sir, what is your name?” The prince rubs his forehead.

“Brother Conmhac, your Highness. At your service.”

“Ma’am, your name, please.”

“Morrin. My name is Morrin, your Highness.”

“Brother Conmhac, Morrin. I do not care what history you have between you. What I care about right now is what she stole, and proof that she did.”

“Of course, your Highness. If I may?” Brother Conmhac motions to Morrin.

“You may.”

The priest approaches Morrin slowly. If Caitlin had not grown up with less-than-reputable traders as mentors, she would have missed it. The priest draws something out of his own pocket and drops it in Morrin’s before making a show of patting her down. “What’s this? I think there’s something in this pocket,” he says to the knight.

The knight reaches his hand into the woman’s pocket and pulls out an expensive gold bracelet, holding it up in the air. Morrin grows pale.

“That’s mine!” A young woman shoves her way through the crowd. “That’s mine! It says my name on the inside of it! ‘Etaoine’ is engraved on the inside!” The knight inspects the bracelet, squinting at the fine lettering with a grimace. “Your Highness, it is hers.”

Morrin falls to her knees. “I did not steal that…”

Someone taps on Caitlin’s shoulder, and she whirls around to find Sir Dermont behind her, brow furrowed, mouth tight. Caitlin points back to the scene unfolding. Sir Dermont crosses her arms and shrugs. Certain that the knight was not about to betray her, Caitlin looks back at the woman, now being forcibly dragged away, screaming still that she did not do it, that it was some mistake.

“Your Highness, when will she be executed?” The priest shoves his hands in the pockets of his robes.

“Excuse me? Why would she be executed?”

“You heard her yourself; she refuses to work!”

“As far as I am aware, that is not a crime. It is stupid. But stupidity is not a crime.”

“It is a crime against Culain! It is written in his holy book! Thou shalt work!” “Even so, it is not a crime to the Crown, and even if it were, it would not be one worthy of execution.” Prince Cian crosses his arms.

“I thought House Fola were devout followers of Culain. I thought Culain had divinely blessed the House of Fola and granted them wisdom to guide in ruling this land! Or am I wrong? Is there another God, young Prince, that you follow? Have you instead given your piety to Andraste? Maddyn? Shea? Fianna? Which of the 12 can bless your family in as Culain does?”

The prince clinches his fist, sneering at the priest. “My family shall never turn its back on Culain. I am angered that you would even insinuate such a thing.” “Your behavior says otherwise, especially since you started consorting with a low-born commoner who does not know her place. If you want to prove your loyalty to Culain and your devotion to His Temple, execute Morrin and cease your association with that sea-swallower!”

Caitlin gulps, and Sir Dermont takes a step in front of her. The priest has called her ‘sea-swallower’ more than a few times, always as an insult. But the venom when he says it this time sinks into her bones.

The prince’s porcelain face turns scarlet. “I think that there is far more between you two than her rejecting you. I can see why she would do such a thing.”

“Maybe Muriel or Iden… That wench from Whick has converted you, hasn’t she?”

The prince raises his fist.

Caitlin shoves her way through the crowd, hoping to reach Cian before he punches the priest. She may not like him, but she did not want to be the subject of further gossip. She did not want to cause a brawl in the market square.

The prince takes a step toward the priest. And then another, and then he lunges.

Caitlin dives in front of him, slamming into him before his fist reaches the priest’s face.

“Caitlin!” Prince Cian says as they both crash to the ground. “What are you doing? Why didn’t you stay put? Why are you here?”

She scrambles off of the prince, her face burning vermilion. “Oh gosh, I am sorry, my lord.”

“Why would you do that?”

She turns away from him, head buried in her hands. Perhaps this will cause him to lose interest. “It wasn’t worth it, getting into a fight… in front of everybody here.”

He laughs and grabs her hand. “You wish to protect my reputation?”

“Well, I…” Her stomach drops. This is the prince that cannot be denied what he feels he is entitled to. He won’t let her go now, not when someone just challenged him over her. His anger at her disobedience cannot compare to the rage the priest now faces for trying to take away one of his toys. He releases her and turns his attention to the priest, lip curled.

“You are lucky that my lady cares more about decorum than I do, Brother. I hereby order your arrest for insulting the royal family.”

The priest laughs while Sir Dermont restrains him. “Oh, you do not know what you are doing. Sweet, spoiled child. You’ll regret this. Father Nael will hear about this, and you’ll regret this. And when you realize your folly, your penance shall be Morrin’s execution.” He continues laughing even as Sir Dermont ties him to her horse and drags him to the dungeons.

The rest of their outing is uneventful, but the prince never allows her to be more than a foot away from him. Outwardly, he shows no signs that anything unfortunate has happened, but Caitlin catches the way his eyes narrow whenever someone gets too close to her.

The end of the day drawing near, Sir Dermont finally returns and informs him that although the woman most likely was framed by the priest, and despite what the priest had said to Prince Cian, King Tarmon has released the priest and at sunset, Morrin will be executed.


This won’t bring Morrin back; she knows this. This won’t bring Brenna back. She knocks on the door.

This isn’t truly getting justice for her. This isn’t getting justice for xir. She wrings her hands and waits for Diarmuid to answer.

It’s only been a week since her execution. She can at least meet these leaders. Maybe it could ease some of the pain in her gut whenever the prince puts his hand on her back. Maybe it could fight off the chill every time she hears one of the prince’s friends disparage those less well-off.

She shivers. Autumn has swept in quickly.

“It’s late,” he says, opening his door. She falls into his arms. “I have missed you, too. But can I close the door first?”

“Oh, yes, sorry. Do you mind…?”

“Take a seat in the kitchen. I can warm up some tea for us. What’s wrong?”

“Last week…” She sets her shawl on the back of the chair and sits down. “There was a woman. Morrin.”

“Ah. You knew her?”

“You knew her, too?”

“Yes. From the organization. Well, she wasn’t part of it, but we helped her.” “I see. I ran into her sometimes at the market and gave her money now and then. She seemed very destitute.”

“She had a hard life.”

“What I saw, though; the way it all happened. I just… I want to come to the next meeting.”

“The next meeting?” Diarmuid says. “Did you speak to your fathers about this? Is this what they want? Or what you want?”

She wishes he would stop asking her that question; it reminds her too much of that summer they spent sailing, and those vacations they planned without tell her fathers, those days she was too “sick” to go to the pier and help manage the docks. It reminds her too much of the Ástfríður who reminded her too often that she was more than a dutiful daughter.

But whoever she was aside from Heir to Peddigree Trading died the day Brenna did and was buried beside xir. She has nothing more to live for.

“There’s more to this than just Morrin. What else happened?”

“I am not talking about it.”

“Did he hurt you?”

“What? No.”

“If you want to talk to the leaders, I need to know if there is something going on—.”

“I can’t! I can’t talk about xir!” She covers her mouth with her hands, face burning crimson.


“It. I can’t talk about it. Forget it. I’m leaving. Nevermind, just, nevermind about everything!” She leaps from her chair, grabs her shawl and makes for the door.


She halts mid-stride and turns around.

“Caitlin, my Caitlin. Wait. Please.”


“I won’t pry anymore.”

“Brenna.” She collapses to the floor and buries her face in her shawl. “Xir name was Brenna. My wife. I am sorry, I can’t. I can’t say anything more. Please.”

“Rebecca. Her name was Rebecca. My mother. She died when I was young. I understand if you cannot say anything more about Brenna.” He joins her on the floor, close enough that she can smell the harsh alcohol he uses to clean his instruments, close enough that she could reach out and grab his hand. Too close. “But I will always be here to listen, if one day you want to.”

“I want to join your organization. It’s my choice. I promise.”

“I’ll talk to the leaders, see if you can at least attend one of the meetings, and what you can do to earn their trust. If that is what you really want.”

“It is what I want. And besides,” she says, wiping away her tears on her sleeve. “I am sure he will tire of me soon and I’ll no longer be in that much danger.”

He smiles. “I don’t know how anyone would ever tire of you. But I hope he does.”

“He will.” She squeezes his knee.

“I am hungry. How about some soup and cards?” He stands up and offers her his hand.

She takes it. “That would be wonderful. I hope you’re in the mood to lose some money.”

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