Parties and Princes

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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Ástfríður are not rare in Fayn, but they are not common either. Skin that shines like diamonds; the people from a far-off archipelago; these are a people that are different in a way that is unlike any other.

Their ahnhörn; a glowing horn upon their head.

Their songs are like chimes, and their movements are like liquid copper. They sing of the waves that brought them here and the clouds they say will bring them home again. The Isles of Ástfríður are home to many clans, tribes, and factions. However, the traditions of all those who live in the Valley of the Veil are united in their distaste for anything that outsiders have touched. Even their own children: once one of their own leaves those glittering shores, no matter the reason, they cannot return until they hear the song that beckons them back into the aether for their reincarnation.

Only one island clan allows outsiders; traders may land at one port and that port only. These traders know that the goods that the Ástfríður trade to them are cheap. At least, to the Ástfríður. But those outside of those Isles prize their gemstones, their metals, their stones and granite and marble. Kings send their treasurers to that port to procure the most beautiful gemstone, lovers save for years to buy a real Ástfríður diamond for their sweethearts. Blacksmiths value the strength of Ástfríður metal, and jewelers value the pliability. These unworldly beauties are trivial to the Ástfríður; the flawed rejects of their harvests. People speculate that if what they so willingly trade away are their discarded defects, what they keep for themselves must be fatally resplendent. When Caitlin’s fathers asked about the veracity of such rumors, Brenna would smile and say with a shrug, “maybe.”

There are attempts to raid the islands, but suspiciously well-timed and viciously deadly storms always rise to meet these plunderers; harsh winds, drowning waves, and lethal lightning. Caitlin saw many come and go at her ports, boasting that they will be the ones to take the spoils of the Isles for themselves. But only one member of one ship came back from those attempts in all her years overseeing the ports, rescued by more scrupulous traders on their way back to Whick. The would-be thief rarely spoke of what they saw, except to say it was a nightmare.

Every time she heard someone speak of the sacrilege of spoiling another’s home, of coveting what they had never even seen, wanting what they could speculate existed, she wondered at what could possibly be worth the crime. What could make someone willing to risk the lives of their crew and be ready to take the lives of others? Was it worth it? The treasures thought hidden under those boughs, concealed on those islands? Was it worth more than a life, Lohyue, Calla, or Ástfríður?

How much is a life worth?

How much was Brenna’s life worth?


“Caitlin,” the letter reads. “We will visit soon. Don’t worry, we’ve obtained our own lodgings. We are having some parties with many wealthy buyers and traders on the more respectable side of Fayn.” She had waited for them to call on her, or at least visit the office. But a week went by, and then another. Her invitations for lunches went unanswered, invitations where she hoped to introduce them to the people she had met and worked with and found to be friends. But she kept waiting.

That waiting harbored a thousand thoughts. If they are coming here, and meeting with the upper echelons, and in such settings… They have reconsidered who to station in Eoi. She had gotten used to living here, used to the way people talked, lived, and thought.

With the friendship she had found in Diarmuid, she had noticed herself no longer depressed. Since she had met him last winter, Diarmuid had introduced her to many other people, equal parts potential friends and potential business opportunities. She could introduce her fathers to him, introduce them to all of her new professional relations, and then…

Go back to Whick… Going back home…

And now her daydreams will be real. Wringing her hands, anticipating the joyous news, she opens the door for them. Wasting no time, she ushers them to the dining room and motions for them to take a seat, hoping that the food is not too cold. “What is going on?” she asks, not even wasting time with the usual small talk. Her stomach is in knots, making her own enjoyment of warm food moot, but she picks up her fork, anyway.

Da pulls out the chair for Pa and then settles into his own. They stare at each other in solemn silence. Pa fiddles with his wedding ring. “The business is very profitable now,” he says. “The owner of such a business, one that can continue to expand and grow, should have primary operations here.”

“You want me to go back to Whick?” She is going back home. She is going home! Her fathers would move here, taking over this townhouse. Or maybe the “accommodations” they had found for themselves would be their new home.

Her fathers will staff the office here, and she will go home.

Neither of her fathers speak.

“You… you are moving here, aren’t you? You’re the founders and owners. You should be the ones here.”

“We want to retire,” Da says, voice flat.

“When?” Not the news she had been hoping for, or expecting.

“Within the next year. But we want to have enough time to slowly hand it over to you.”

Her fork clatters to the floor. “Now?” Thoughts of returning to Whick, all the daydreaming of returning to her small house on the shore… “I see.”

“Caitlin. You have seen the books, you’ve done the inventory, you’ve made large deals, you’ve made important deals. You’ve made us quite successful; the profit we needed to further expand,” Pa says. Caitlin looks to Da, hoping he sees the desperation in her eyes, hoping he sees how much they are asking of her. But he turns away and looks out the window.

“You need to be the face now,” Pa says. “You need to be socializing; you need to be overseeing the managers we’ve stationed at all other ports. And you need to be gaining the trust of the nobility. That is how we continue to expand. That is how we get new ports built; that is how we can sell higher valued items, that is how we will afford to go to even more distant lands. Find someone else to handle your current responsibilities here at this office—”

She throws down her napkin. Somewhere between her move here and now, a small seed was planted in her heart. And today, that seed blossomed into a blood-red rose, emotions she had never thought to have, had never believed herself capable of. Anger that she did not want to admit to, anger at all the times her life veered off-course, forced to change and adapt when all she wanted to do was go back to Whick, to sleep next to Brenna… “You want me to take over and uproot my life again. ‘Find someone else’ for here? Where are you sending me to this time?”

“Caitlin,” Da says.

“Don’t ‘Caitlin’ me. You’ve been distant this whole trip. And now you drop this on me. I went along with it when you gave me responsibilities as a teenager; I happily accepted all of the promotions you gave me after that. I was happy to help you better manage Whick while you came and went in your dealings. And I came here when asked, even though it broke my heart.”

“We understand…” Da says.

“You don’t!” She does not want to hold back the thorns of that anger. All of the changes that they have demanded of her, a rose in a garden she did not know she had been tending. “I’m a widow, and you asked me to give up the home Brenna and I had built. I could have quit, you know? I could have refused, found myself another vocation. But I have been a loyal daughter. And you avoid me for weeks and then tell me you want me to, yet again, uproot my life?”

“It wouldn’t be too far. The home we’ve been staying in is actually up for sale.”

“Are you kidding me? Are you actually saying this to me? Did you just hear what you said? It wouldn’t be too far? How does that matter when it still means changing everything?”

“You never—” Da tries again.

“I’ve been trying this week to introduce you to my friends, to the people I have bartered and traded with here, with the other merchants with homes here, with so many people that trust me. That know me. And you would not meet them. That is not just poor business; it takes no interest in what I, the one you want to hand the reins to, have done here personally. The ways I have adapted to fit your business needs.”

“There’s a social event we are hosting—” Pa says.

“Oh! So, I shall meet your friends.”

“Caitlin, you will run this business soon; we need this time to pass on our knowledge, to show you how to run the entire operations we have built.”

“Get someone else to do it.” Words that she had never dared herself to even think, suddenly on her tongue. All of the times she had said ‘yes,’ to them, but not this time.

“Your father and I—” Da cut in.

“That’s just it, isn’t it? You built this together. Husbands and business partners. You grew up together and grew this business together and had a family together.”

“If this is about Brenna…”

“Do. Not. Say. Her. Name.”

“I’m sorry.” Da looks down at his plate. The energy Pa came into this dinner with is now gone, abdicating to the gentler nature of Da.

“You are asking me to rebuild my life. Again. You are asking me to take on the responsibility that you two shouldered together. And not just that, you are leaving it to me larger than when you started. Do you realize the responsibilities you are asking me to take on? The magnitude?”

“We don’t trust anyone else, though.”

Caitlin retrieves the fork from the floor and cleans it with her napkin. “Find. Someone. Else.”

“Will you at least come to the party we are having? We have some dresses for you to try on, shoes, someone to do your hair…” Da says.

“You are truly set on impressing them.” She turns away from them to carry her plate back to the kitchen, not knowing how to both scream and cry, at least, not know how to do it while not making a sound.

Da follows her. “I know we haven’t been as supportive of you as we could have been. We loved Brenna, too, you know. We didn’t know what to do, how to help any more than we did.”

“No, your help was what I needed. That isn’t what this is about, though.” She knows she cannot endure yet another upheaval. Another uprooting. Another change she had never agreed to and never wanted. Every time her life has changed, she has adapted, despite wanting desperately to cling to what she truly wanted. She has learned to live here, despite it all, to make a small amount of happiness in this part of Eoi. It still might be Eoi that they are asking her to live in, but it’s a different Eoi entirely. Even more removed from the camaraderie of a port town.

Da tries to take her into his arms. “You always put us first; you always put our business first. We took that for granted.”

“I don’t want more responsibilities!” She steps back, holding her hands up. “I am happy with what I am doing now. I am happy with what I’ve found. It isn’t the happy I wanted; it isn’t the happy I dreamed of all those years ago…” She lets out a sigh, she knows what will happen next. She knows that she is not, despite everything, going to shirk this request. She has always known this was coming. She just thought it would happen differently.

He sighs. “I hear you.”

“I’ll do it.” She slumps down into a chair in the kitchen’s corner. The anger gone, spent. The only one left standing from the fight is Da.

“When I said I wanted you at the party, I meant it personally, not as a calculated business maneuver. I really would like you there to spend more time with you. We have been so busy; after the party, it will just be the three of us for a week. You can take me on a tour; introduce me to the people here you spend time with.”

“I would like that. May I bring a friend?”


Brenna would have laughed at this dress; the crushed velvet, the fluttering sleeves, the way that it slowly fades from the color of grape wine to lilacs. It is not the sort of attire Caitlin would wear normally, not even to a wedding. Brenna would have laughed and asked Da if he could get xir a matching tailcoat. No, she can’t think of xir right now. Can’t think of Brenna. But Brenna is all she has thought about since the fight with her fathers.

The house they have been staying in is far nicer than the townhouse Caitlin is living in, and that’s already far grander than the small house in Whick. It feels even more uncomfortable than the townhouse when she first moved in. She cannot believe the sprawling grounds that surround it, the gardens and ponds and marble benches. Inside, she scans every inch, nose crinkling. This might be her residence soon. She shies away from the thought; the neighborhood here is too pristine, the guests too perfect. Certainly not the people she would ask to throwback ale and play poker with her.

Looking around, she wishes once again that Diar had accepted her invitation. When she asked, he rubbed his hands together and said that he had a patient in critical condition and he needed to be nearby in case the patient took a sudden turn for the worse. He has become her friend, accompanying her to lunches after business meetings, or asking her to stop by his clinic after hours to go out for dinner. He is terrible as a poker partner but makes up for it by being a good drinking buddy. But he isn’t here. She’s alone, once more in a situation she doesn’t like.

She retreats to the spare bedroom her fathers are letting her stay in, needing another moment. She finds Da waiting for her. “Thank you for coming. I understand that you feel less than happy about this. So, thank you. Open it.” He places a simple brown box in her hand. A thin gold chain falls out: an elegant, but not ostentatious, necklace. Understated beauty. “Do you like it?”

“Yes,” she says, and she truly does.

“Then let’s go.”

He escorts her out to the ballroom, but soon leaves her to mingle on her own. She sips wine and tries to navigate the highly choreographed chaos that has engulfed her. She doesn’t know the language of the nobility; she doesn’t think she can master it or adapt to it; she certainly does not think she can learn it before her fathers pass the reigns to her. If, she corrects herself. If she decides to take the reins from them. There are some who find comfort in the rules and formalities of politeness or the facsimile of it. Caitlin knows now that she is certainly not one of them. The politeness of a business negotiation is far different from this.

She downs her drink in what she knows is a very unladylike manner; a server immediately appears to offer her another, but she waves him away and steps back, bumping into a gentleman speaking to a large group of nobles, all clearly hanging on his every word. His eyes are almost translucent blue, and his long hair is unnaturally blond. There is something that feels almost wrong about him, not quite human, but also more mundanely human than anyone else in the room.

“I’m sorry,” she stammers.

“And who are you?” His eyes travel down and then up again, grinning while he motions for another drink for himself.

“I am Caitlin Peddigree, sir.”

“Oh! The lady of the house herself. Where have your Teige and Rían been hiding you?”

“They haven’t; I prefer to stick to the accounts and inventory side of the business.”

The man’s companions follow his lead, surveying Caitlin. Some grin, some roll their eyes.

“Ah, you should come out more often. It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Peddigree.” He takes her hand and kisses the back of it.

“The pleasure is mine.” She waits for him to offer his own name. One of his companions taps him and whispers to him. “Excuse me,” she says, her heart pounding in her ears. “I think my father said he had someone he wanted to introduce me to, and it looks like he’s with her now.”

“I hope to see you again.” The man winks and slowly turns back to his cadre with a chuckle. She turns on her heel and doesn’t waste a second in finding Pa.

“How much longer will this last?” she asks.

“Not too much longer. Here, let me introduce you to Emily Namara. Emily is a trader we met recently while overseas in Sua. It was so comforting to have another Fayn to talk to.”

“Our competitor, then.” Caitlin laughs.

“If you want to see it that way,” Emily replies.


Emily’s hands grab the hair at the nape of Caitlin’s neck. Caitlin can’t look away from her, her face brutally beautiful in the rays of moonlight. Her arms move to snake around Emily’s torso, wanting to finally pull her lips toward hers, wanting to pull that gorgeous woman down onto the bed with her. But Emily is quicker, pulling away, and then shoving Caitlin back onto the bed. “Not yet,” she growls. Squirming, writhing. Reaching, Caitlin’s hands cup her breasts. Emily smirks. “I said: not yet.” Emily’s knee presses into Caitlin’s chest, and she releases her hair from her grip. There is a moment where Caitlin thinks she may free herself. But she doesn’t try, or at least, not in earnest; instead, letting Emily quickly pin her hands above her head.

“Shh, shh,” Emily purrs. Her fingers lightly trace along Caitlin’s cheeks, skipping down her neck, grazing past her collarbone. Caitlin moans, hoping Emily will keep going further down.

“Shh,” she sighs. She lingers between Caitlin’s breasts, quickly leans forward to take each nipple into her mouth, a gentle lap of her tongue, quick enough to for Caitlin to want more, not long enough to savor it.

Caitlin tries to encourage Emily’s hand, pushing into it, trying so hard to not scream out in need. “Oh, my darling. Tell me what you want,” she whispers into Caitlin’s ear as her hand finally reaches its destination, hovering ever so slightly, so very close and impossibly far away.

Caitlin looks up into her eyes, lost words, dying words in her throat.

“Use your voice, pet. Speak up.”

Caitlin twitches and squirms, aching. Trying so hard to not thrash wildly.

“Tell me,” Emily says.

“Please,” is all Caitlin can manage. “Please!”

“Hmm.” She pulls her hand away. “If you won’t tell me, I don’t know what to do.”

Caitlin whines. “Please. Please take me.”

And she does.


She sits down for breakfast in the morning. Da expresses no complaints about Caitlin’s use of the guest room. Caitlin has no compunctions about it. Emily slipped out quietly before dawn, kissing Caitlin’s forehead and making a comment about doing business in the future.

They both knew it was a fleeting moment of shared needs, of just a night of meaningless indulgence. Pretty words spoken as the final coda to their short song. Caitlin is glad it was nothing more than that, a fleeting comet in the sky.

This is the first time she has had sex since Brenna died. She waits for the guilt, the shame, the hollowness to bubble up. Every ounce of unexpected happiness had been met with a pang of guilt for enjoying something, enjoying things without xir. The guilt the first time she had genuinely smiled since moving here, the shame the first time she laughed—how could she laugh without xir?—the guilt that has been chasing her.

It’s not cheating, she tells herself. It can’t be cheating.

But then she remembers the phantom hands, the phantom tongue, the burn of scratch marks on her back, relishing the bruises. Her traitorous mind wants to etch every moment into memory.

A servant comes out to serve eggs and bacon. Caitlin finds it strange that her fathers hired staff while here, too distracted before to realize just how profitable the business is now.

Pa comes into the room and sits down next to her. “Seems you made quite the impression last night.” “I, umm, I’m sorry. I hope I don’t make things awkward with—and I hope we didn’t wake you… you see… she left early and—” There is no point in one’s life, Caitlin knew, where discussing one’s sex life with one’s parent was not awkward.

“What? Oh. Her. No, don’t worry about that,” Pa says.

She tilts her head. “Then what are you talking about?”

“Here,” Da says, handing her a perfumed envelope, her name on the front in elaborate script. She gasps when she turns it over and sees the seal wax. The crest of the Royal House of Fola. An invitation from Prince Cian to a garden party hosted by Count Seamus Connal and his new fiancé, Lady Marianna Gradae. The count has been looking for some rare items from overseas to present to his bride-to-be, and he thought Caitlin would be a perfect guest for this party, as she is charming and alluring, and she might provide the count with the opportunity to browse the Peddigree collection.

“Prince Cian,” Da says. “After you slipped off, he asked me about you. I believe he intends to court you.”

“Did you tell him how impossible that would be?”

Da sighs. “It wouldn’t matter.”

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