Monday, December 28, 2015
Before Cailan could give into the lethargy that followed his orgasm, Jarek urged him out of bed and to the bathing room. They both washed, and by the time they were clean and dry, the evening meal had been set up in the parlour. The blindfold and leather cuffs also rested on the floor by the now familiar cushion. The sight made Cailan sigh. Immediately the warmth of Jarek’s arm wrapped around his waist.
“Shall I give you a choice, my prince?”
“A choice?” Cailan questioned.
Jarek nodded. “Would you prefer to spend the meal next to me on the cushion, or with me on my lap?”
Cailan blinked at him in surprise, but before he could answer Jarek pressed a finger to his mouth.
“I should explain further before you decide. If you choose to be next to me on the floor, you will wear the blindfold and cuffs. If you choose my lap, I will neither bind nor blind you, but I expect your eyes to remain closed until I say otherwise, and I want your arms around me during the meal.”
“But I just had to keep them still before,” Cailan stated.
“True, but I’m asking more of you this time, although you still have a choice before you.”
Cailan considered his options. Neither would have been his first choice, but he knew he preferred the alternative of merely closing his eyes than having to wear a blindfold. “I’ll sit with you,” he chose after a thoughtful silence.
Unexpectedly, he felt a kiss pressed to his head. It was a surprising gesture, something that felt almost as personal as the private touches he’d endured earlier, but he didn’t question it as Jarek took his seat and settled him on his lap. His owner made sure he was comfortable before nodding at him to close his eyes and wrap his arms around the bigger man’s waist.
It was an uncomfortable position at first, until Cailan realized that he’d have to lean his whole weight against Jarek’s chest to keep his body from knotting up at the odd angle that putting his arms around Jarek’s waist placed him. However, once he settled in, he was able to relax into that strangely easy mindset of focusing on nothing but what Jarek was requiring of him during this time. A difference to this meal though, was the conversation his possessor initiated.
“Tell me what you learned through your reading this afternoon, petling.”
Cailan thought about the history book he’d read so eagerly while he finished chewing and swallowing the bread Jarek had fed him. “I learned that I really knew very little of your people’s history,” he admitted. “I thought it was interesting that your family has been the only ruling one since an imperial government was established. Most kingdoms face overthrow or a new king through wars or deaths, but none of that has happened in Cylandrea.”
Jarek fed him a bit of meat as he responded. “Cylandrea has faced war and death and uprising, young prince. Those things have just never succeeded in deposing my family from the throne.”
“Do you worry it will happen someday?” Cailan asked.
“I don’t think there is a ruler alive who hasn’t worried on that at some point, but it isn’t something that consumes my family’s mind.”
Cailan felt the lip of a goblet touch his mouth and he drank willingly. His mind was already moving on to other things now that conversation had been opened up. “The book you gave me mentioned other significant Cylandreans besides the royals. It spoke of a couple well-known sorcerers, the head aid to Cylandrea’s first king, and how some nobles gave talented servants land to work and develop so Cylandrea’s borders could be expanded.” For a brief second Cailan nearly opened his eyes, but he caught himself as he continued. “Why have I not seen any servants in the palace since I’ve been here?”
“You have seen Lady Bara and Sir Garrison,” Jarek reminded.
“Yes, but they were not palace servants. At least, I didn’t think they were. What of the men and women who work directly for the royal family?” he questioned. “Someone brings this food we eat, and cleans the rooms when we are not in them.”
“True. Did you interact much with your servants in Arten?”
“In the normal ways, yes,” Cailan told him. “It wasn’t that we conversed frequently, but part of a normal day involved seeing the servants go about their work as we went about ours.” He felt his lips lightly brushed and he obediently opened his mouth. A pleasant tasting mixture of rice sweetened with honey fell on his tongue. He enjoyed the bite as Jarek continued the conversation.
“I will admit that I’ve kept us separated more than I would have in other circumstances, but I have my reasons.”
If Cailan could have rolled his eyes, he would have. “Can I know those reasons, or are they something else I’ll have to eventually learn.”
Without thinking, Cailan let go of Jarek’s waist to make the sign of sarcasm along with saying those last two words. His lapse didn’t even occur to him until one of his wrists was gripped just a bit tighter than was comfortable and his hand was firmly slapped.
He yelped at the unexpected sting and his eyes flew open just in time to see his other hand gripped and slapped. He yelped again, but before he could vigorously protest his treatment, Jarek gave him a stern warning.
“Close your eyes, little prince, and put your hands back in place if you don’t want a harsher reprimand and a return to the blindfold and cuffs.”
Cailan did as he was told, but the temptation to pout was great. It was just an accident. He hadn’t meant to disobey.
The two of them were silent after that, their dialogue having abruptly ended. Cailan refused any more food as the brief conflict had caused him to lose his appetite. Jarek seemed to finish in just a few more bites as well, but when he was done he kept the two of them sitting where they were.
For Cailan, it was an uncomfortably long time before he felt Jarek shift, and then he was lifted and carried. The pull to open his eyes again was strong, but the fading sting in his hands and threat of the blindfold reminded him to keep them shut.
In less than a minute he was placed on a cushion on the floor, his back against what he guessed to be the room’s divan. He heard Jarek move about the room for a minute before the man returned to him and sat on the chaise. Cailan could feel the furniture shifting with Jarek’s movements, but was unsettled when no part of the actual man brushed against him. Previously Jarek always made sure there was some physical contact when Cailan couldn’t see. But this time there was nothing but blackness and the impersonal texture of the couch.
It surprised Cailan to realize how much he missed that connection. Without being able to see or feel his owner, there was a sense of being adrift. That feeling grew as his earlier anger over being reprimanded faded. His hurt, loneliness, and fright since being brought to Cylandrea came to the fore as feelings of loss overwhelmed him in the silent room. The loss of his home, his family, his freedom…and now the feeling of having lost the slim connection that had been made between him and the only consistent person now in his life.
A bubble of pain developed in his chest, pressing on every vulnerable part of him until the force of it caused unwanted tears to run down his cheeks. The deep down ache he’d been fighting since his life changed refused to be cowed, and in just a few short minutes he was near to choking on the sobs that were insistent on coming out of him.
At the first slight touch of a hand on his shoulder, Cailan turned desperately into his master’s body and clung. No words were said, but he obeyed the hands that urged him up onto the couch, and sank into the arms that wrapped around him as he continued to cling, desperately crying out his loss and clutching at this man he very much needed right now.
It wasn’t until a long while later that his sobs abated enough for him to realize Jarek was murmuring soft assurances to him.
“Shh, petling. It will be all right, sweet one. Calm down now, calm down.”
Those words and others were repeated continuously until Cailan’s crying had tapered off to just the occasional hitched breath and stray tear. “I want to go home,” he said more to himself than to Jarek.
One arm gripped him tighter while the other cupped the back of his head and held him securely.
“That is not an option, young prince.” The words were serious but sympathetic. “Your life is here now. It is with me.”
“I am a possession with no family, country, or purpose,” Cailan replied miserably.
“No, young prince. That is not true. You still have a family. Distance doesn’t change that. And you have two countries now. Arten is the country of your birth and childhood. The country of your foundations, but Cylandrea is the country of your present and future. As for your purpose…” Jarek cupped Cailan’s face and made him look up. “You have one, I promise.”
“To satiate you,” Cailan said morosely.
Jarek sighed. “Yes, little prince, that is part of your purpose, but not all. A person’s purpose is often much bigger than they realize.”
“How would you know?”
“It is simply something I have learned and that I trust in. A pebble may feel insignificant in its size, but if you toss it in the water, its ripples branch out and touch things the pebble may never realize it could affect. A person’s life is like that. A single soul can touch thousands.”
Cailan stared at the bigger man. “You think that’s true of me? You barely know me, and I’ve seen almost no one since arriving in Cylandrea.”
“I know you are honorable and love your family. I know you are brave because you have not even tried to run from these events that have scared you. I know you are beautiful every time I look at you. And I know that you will soon meet more of your new countrymen. I will introduce you as needed.”
Relaxing slightly, Cailan rested against Jarek’s chest instead of clinging to him as he’d done earlier. “I feel like I like you, but I’m not sure I want to,” he admitted softly.
Jarek didn’t respond to that, but one hand combed through Cailan’s hair, occasionally scratching soothing strokes down his back. Cailan fell asleep to that feeling, the exhausted emotions keeping him deeply under even as he was later undressed and settled in Jarek’s bed for the night.
For the second morning, Cailan awoke naked and warm next to Jarek. Yesterday his head had rested on Jarek’s chest. This morning he was on his side with his owner’s body pressed closely against his back. A muscled arm was wrapped around him, but even more distracting was the feel of the firm rod nestled against his bottom. It was a sensation that was hard to get used to, especially knowing what else it would someday entail. But so far Jarek had kept to his promise not to force him, so Cailan worked not to let his nerves at how close they were to actually being joined overwhelm him.
Not wanting to wake the other man, Cailan lay still and looked around the room for a distraction. His gaze ended up falling on one of the nearest sights, the image of some of Jarek’s long hair having fallen across his shoulder. Even in just those few strands, Cailan could see the shimmer of silver in the black tresses. Carefully, he moved one hand just enough to finger the wisps of hair. They felt softer than he expected, and he marveled at the loveliness of them.
He jerked slightly and quickly let go of the strands when a pair of warm lips pressed onto his shoulder blade. Jarek sounded amused as he spoke in a gravelly morning voice.
“Keep touching if you like, my prince. I don’t mind.”
Almost warily, Cailan reached for the hair again and rubbed it gently between his fingers. “I’ve never seen hair like yours, or like any of your people’s.”
“What do you mean? Hair is hair,” Jarek commented.
Cailan snorted. “No, it’s not. At least not in Arten.”
Jarek seemed to find his statement rather humorous since Cailan heard him chuckle. “How is hair different in Arten? It looks the same as any other people’s hair. None of you are growing grass on your heads. Although the color you personally bear is among the most unique I’ve seen.”
Cailan stiffened and tried to pull away from his possessor, but the arm around him kept him in place.
“I’ve angered you,” Jarek said in surprise, his voice still rough and raspy with his recent wakefulness. “But I don’t know why? Is speaking of hair offensive in Arten?”
Cailan clenched his hands into fists, but didn’t try to pull away again. “It is to me,” he told his owner.
“Why? Your hair is beautiful; among the most lovely I’ve ever seen.”
Cailan sneered and felt a growl in his throat. “Please do not mock me, sir,” he said adamantly, purposefully refusing to use one of Jarek’s preferred titles.
“I have not mocked you, young one,” Jarek replied, his tone now holding no humor. “I will, however, punish you if you show me such impertinence again. Is that understood?”
Swallowing his pride, Cailan worked to answer more respectfully. “Yes, my lord.”
“Good. Now, I will have my questions answered. Why do you accuse me of scorning you when I was actually offering admiration for a part of you I find beautiful?”
Cailan answered honestly, if still just a tiny bit peevishly. “I did not believe you meant it that way.”
Jarek’s hands maneuvered Cailan until he was on his back with Jarek looking down at him. “How did you think I meant it? I cannot believe these beautiful strands have never been admired.”
“Then you would believe falsely,” Cailan told him, and then looked honestly confused. “Has your hair truly never defined you?”
“Of course not. Why should it define me, or you for that matter?”
Cailan had never lived among people who didn’t know what their hair color represented and he had to take several moments to consider how to explain something that to him had always been an inborn understanding.
“In Arten,” he began, “we know from birth where a person’s greatest abilities will be by the color of their hair.”
Jarek looked as confused as Cailan often felt. “How can that be?”
“It…it just is,” Cailan stated. “Hair color reveals aptitude and skill. Black, red, brown, green…they all mean something different.”
“And apparently some colors are believed to be better than others?” Jarek asked.
“Not typically,” Cailan told him. “They are each respected for their individual abilities. Although someone with more than one color in his hair, like my father who has red, black and brown, is held in high esteem. People with multi-colors obtain skills and proficiencies above what most others are capable of.”
He said that last bit proudly because despite his father being unable to save him from becoming a concubine, Cailan still had great respect for his parent’s abilities.
Jarek scrutinized him as he considered Cailan’s words. “Ok, I think I understand so far, but what I do not grasp is why you seem to find your own hair offensive when you’ve told me that the different colors aren’t considered better or worse from one to the next.”
Cailan sighed and looked to the ceiling, wishing that the answers to all life’s difficulties would be written there for him to see. “I said that they typically weren’t thought of that way. Hair like mine, silver hair that doesn’t truly have color, is looked down on. A child born with silver hair has no significant skills other than perhaps good mental aptitude; but book reading and advanced numbers competence are of little help to a warrior on the battlefield, or a man who needs to work hard to provide for his family.”
“I see. So you’ve spent your life being discriminated against for the color of your hair, young prince?”
Cailan shrugged, trying to act dismissive to the truth of Jarek’s words. “I am the first silver-born Artenian in more than eight decades. It is very rare. As the son of the king, I’ve had it better than others. But, I faced mocking and scorn for as long as I can remember because it was known I’d not amount to anything, although no one said as much in front of my family—well, no one except my brothers. Brothers can say what they wish, I suppose, as long as they pretend it is just in jest.
“My father at least let me train as a soldier, even knowing my abilities would be very limited and my smaller size would be against me.” Cailan sighed. “I did my best to make him proud, and he did not belittle me, but my brothers and compatriots always far exceeded me in almost everything.
“But like I said, I know I’ve had it better than those from the past. In centuries gone by, silver-born children were often abandoned and left to die. Eventually that was seen as barbaric, but they were still unwanted, so if a silver was born, they were usually fostered or adopted out to a family in a neighboring country.” Cailan blinked against the pressure of tears as a thought occurred to him. “I wonder if there wasn’t some relief when I was brought here to Cylandrea. Having ‘Prince Silver’ out of the kingdom might be seen as a blessing to many.”
Cailan hadn’t been able to look into Jarek’s gaze as he talked, but he thought he heard some ire in the man’s voice. “These children were killed? And you were called Prince Silver as a degradation?”
“Only by other kids in my growing up years, and I never told my family about it. Not even my brothers would call me something like that. It shames the whole royal house.”
“You shame no one,” Jarek said emphatically. The forceful words tore Cailan’s gaze away from the ceiling and made him finally look in his master’s face. “I have seen the duty and honor within you. Deciding you aren’t good enough because of the color of your hair is a fault in others, not in you.”
Cailan appreciated the words more than he knew how to say, but he shook his head. “I can see you mean well, even believe that, but there is truth in what I’ve told you. I do not have the abilities of others. If I wasn’t careful and paying attention, I could have easily been a detriment on the battlefield instead of an aid. I worked as hard as I could with what I had in me, but I’ve truly only ever been average at best.”
Jarek stared at him, looking wholly unconvinced, and then the bigger man settled at Cailan’s side so they both looked upwards.
“I think aspects of your culture confuse me as much as my world confuses you, my petling,” Jarek murmured. “I do not want to condemn your people, but I strongly oppose what they did to the ‘silver-born’, as you call those like you.”
Feeling disloyal and needing to redeem his people, Cailan tried to make Jarek feel more positively disposed. “My family and people oppose that mindset now too,” he defended. “Silver-borns have not been harmed in over a hundred years. The last three born before me were able to fully live out their lives.”
There was quiet for a couple minutes after his statement, and then Jarek asked, “Were they happy?”
That question surprised Cailan. “I…I don’t know. The last one passed away almost twenty years before my birth. They…never married, if that’s what you mean. My kind are not seen as a good match, because we will never be as strong as other Artenians; and,” he continued, “although we don’t really know what causes a silver child, no one wants to mate with us in case the offspring have a higher chance of being born the same way.”
Jarek was silent for a very long time after that, and Cailan didn’t know how to read his quietness, so he remained mute as well. Then, abruptly, Jarek placed his whole body over Cailan’s and kissed him aggressively, almost painfully. When he eventually released him, Cailan’s lips were swollen from the other man’s passion.
“Hear me, little prince, my petling. No one in Cylandrea will look down on you for your hair color, or eye color, or height or for anything. You may receive looks and attention for your silver tresses, but mostly because we Cylandreans have never seen hair like yours. It is unique and special, but not something that will be derided.”
Even Cailan knew his face expressed his doubt, but he nodded in simple acknowledgement of Jarek’s words. His master’s hand came up and caressed his face.
“Someday you will believe me,” he said with certainty. After that he kissed Cailan one more time and then shifted off the bed. “Come, petling. We will eat, and then I believe we both need some exercise.”
Exercise ended up being the highlight of Cailan’s day. Jarek took him out of the palace and into a large courtyard.
“This afternoon I must oversee the training of some of my soldiers,” his master told him. “But I thought you and I might engage in some training ourselves.”
“What kind of training?” Cailan asked in surprise.
“A few things,” Jarek replied vaguely. “We are both educated fighters, but we might learn a few things from each other. What type of sword do you prefer? A long sword? A tapered saber? A scimitar?”
Cailan gaped at him. “You’re going to give me a weapon and fight with me?”
Jarek laughed, but then brought Cailan in front of him so they were face to face. “I would never do anything to harm you, nor am I foolish enough to allow you the chance to harm me.” The humor faded a bit and an almost sad tenderness replaced it. “The trust is not yet there for us. However, we can battle through our frustrations or in a training exercise without bringing injury to each other.”
Jarek reached into a bag tied to the belt of his tunic and withdrew a small chain similar to the collar now around Cailan’s neck. For a moment, the younger man thought the item would be placed on him, but instead Jarek hooked it around his own wrist.
“Hold here,” he then directed, guiding Cailan to grip Jarek’s wrist around the chain. When Cailan obeyed, his owner put his free hand over the collar around Cailan’s neck. For several seconds he closed his eyes, and Cailan felt the unexpected tingling of magic prickling him while his master wordlessly mouth an enchantment.
“You’re a sorcerer?” he asked in shock when Jarek finished and released him.
The bigger man shook his head. “No, not at all, but I have a few minor spells and charms at my disposal.”
“What did you just do?” Cailan had to ask.
“Protected us,” Jarek replied. He pointed between the collar and the chain now on his wrist. “I’ve set a connection between these two items we wear. The spell places a type of invisible shelter over each of us. We can fight with swords or daggers or bow and arrow, but the spell will not allow you to harm me or me to harm you.”
“How?” Cailan needed to ask.
It’s set up like a clear, unbreakable armor. Nothing dangerous will pierce it. It only works between us though, because we wear the matching chains. It would not protect us from another’s attack.”
Cailan’s doubt shown through and Jarek chuckled before bending to the ground and picking up a palm sized rock. “Here, young prince. Throw this at me. You will see that you cannot hurt me.”
Cailan took the rock and studied it for a moment. It was not big enough to kill, but it could cause injury if thrown hard enough.
Jarek stood before him, calm and nodding at him to throw the stone. Unsure if it was the right thing to do or not, Cailan drew his arm back and chucked the rock at the bigger man. Jarek didn’t try to dodge it at all. Instead, he let the rock hit his forehead, and the impact caused something like a ripple around his head. The stone landed on the ground, having caused no harm at all.
“Believe me now, little prince?” he asked.
Cailan was still wary. “I believe I cannot hurt you, but I’m not wholly convinced of the reverse.”
Jarek did not look the least upset at Cailan’s words. “I thought not, and you are wise to be guarded. Shall I throw the rock at you?”
Cailan took a deep breath and nodded. If it hit him, he knew it would hurt, but it would not incapacitate him. Jarek picked up the same stone and with much less force threw it at his concubine. Cailan forced himself not to duck away from the projectile, and was pleasantly surprised to see the ripple effect appear by his chest where the stone hit. He’d not felt a thing.
“Does that convince you, Prince Cailan?” Jarek questioned.
Cailan nodded once. “Enough to be willing to engage in battle training.”
“Excellent! What sword is your choice then?”
Cailan initially wished to request the large broadsword that was often taken into battle, but he knew the heavy weight of it was something he struggled to maintain in a longer clash. The tapered saber was a better choice, so he put pride aside and announced his preference.
Jarek seemed pleased with the pick. He walked to a large chest against a stone wall and opened it, retrieving two sabers from its depth. He held both, handle out, to Cailan, allowing him first pick. Cailan reached for one, and in just moments the clang of steel echoed in the courtyard.
A skill Cailan had learned out of necessity over the years was the ability to judge how an opponent would strike. He realized very quickly that Jarek’s larger build and more experience made him the better man in ability, but he also knew that one good swipe could bring down both the good and the bad. Observing carefully and quickly, Cailan avoided being overpowered by recognizing how his rival moved and chose to attack. The speed his father praised him on when delivering messages also made him quick on his feet in close combat. He ducked and dodged, avoiding Jarek’s blade and occasionally lunging an attack of his own.
Just as Jarek had said, the invisible shield stayed over them, so although both men managed the rare cut that would have taken the other down in battle, neither was hurt.
Their scuffle continued for almost an hour of the day, until they both were sweating and breathing hard from the exertion. It was clear neither intended to admit defeat as well. It would have been hard to judge how their training battle would have ended had the sound of a bell and the voice of King Alaric not intervened.
Both men in respect—and honestly with a fair bit of relief—went down on one knee as the king entered the courtyard.
“I’ve been watching from my rooms and have not seen so interesting a clash in a long time, but I also saw two men foolish enough to let pride be stronger than common sense.”
The king’s tone was only mildly scolding as he approached them, but Cailan felt the heat of embarrassment warm his cheeks. From the corner of his eye he saw Alaric’s hand rest on Jarek’s head, and he felt the same pressure drop onto his. The weight of the touch warned Cailan he was not to lift his face.
“This was a time of training and exercise,” the king reminded. “Not a time to exhaust yourselves to the point that you are no good for the rest of the day.
“My brother,” Alaric addressed his sibling. “Your soldiers—my soldiers—need your attention, not your fatigue, this afternoon. And Cailan,” he said in admonishment, “You have duties to Leader Jarek. Collapsing in exhaustion before the mid-day meal lacks sense. It is time for both of you to rest. Sit in the shade. Hydrate yourselves, and at noon come join me for a good meal.”
“Yes sire,” the two of them replied in unison.
“Good men,” the king replied, all hint of rebuke now gone. He turned and exited the courtyard as nobly as he had arrived.
The moment he was gone the two men collapsed instantly onto their backs, and the mutual show of exhaustion brought simultaneous laughter from both of them. They laughed for several minutes where they laid on the ground, and when they finally calmed Jarek rolled to his side and close to where Cailan was sprawled.
“You are a worthy opponent, my prince. A true warrior. You were quick and often one step ahead of me.”
Cailan shrugged, not sure if he felt the words were true praise or condescension. “You are stronger and more skilled.”
“Strength and experience are invaluable, but they do not always come out in first place,” Jarek replied. “We’ll train more another time and see what other skills we can share or teach one another, and we’ll use a bit more sense then too,” he added with a chuckle.
Cailan met his owner’s gaze as Jarek placed a hand on the younger man’s chest. “Is the king upset with us?” he asked.“No, and if he was it would be with me. He was just stepping in with his own wisdom when it was clear we both forgot ours for a time. But,” he said seriously, although a wink betrayed his tone. “He will be upset if we do not give our bodies the rest and water they need. Come sit in the shade with me, petling, and we’ll recover ourselves.”
Friday, December 25, 2015
I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was busy! I've not had much time to write, but will hopefully pick up some more time tomorrow. Part 3 of The War Gift has been posted. You can read it below or click on the Part 3 link. :) Thanks, everyone!
It felt strange to leave the suite of rooms that belonged to Leader Jarek. Cailan had barely resided in them for a day, but they were already familiar. Leaving them reminded him just how far he was from his home in Arten.
Jarek kept a grip on his hand as he led them to their destination. He would have liked to explore some of the rooms and halls they passed, but he wasn’t given the choice. As if reading his mind, Jarek addressed his unspoken desire.
“I will take you through the palace and its grounds soon, but we are running late for our appointment right now.”
“I’ve arranged for you to be measured for your own attire, and some special items as well. We are late to meeting the seamstress.”
“It would have been easier to bring my own attire with me,” Cailan told him.
Jarek looked at him and shook his head. “I know it may not feel like it, but it was better to enforce a clean break. You will see your family again, my prince, but they are no longer the focus for you. Your life is here now, and I will dress you as I see fit and in a way that is appropriate for your place in Cylandrea and with me.”
For some reason, Cailan wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that.
Finally they arrived at their destination, and Jarek opened a pair of double doors that led into a spacious room. Cailan followed him in and stood slightly behind him as he scrutinized the new room. Several divans and decorative tables filled the area. A few tables held bolts of cloth, and a small woman waited for them. Once again, Cailan was observant of the woman’s hair. She’d clearly had the typical black hair of the Cylandrean people in her youth, but it had faded to a dark gray. Within the gray, Cailan could see the traces of blue interwoven in the tresses. He needed to remember to ask Cailan if the faint color traces in his people’s hair meant something.
“Leader Jarek!” the woman greeted happily, her focus on Cailan’s owner. She bowed quickly to him, and then reached for his free hand and touched her brow to it in deference. “I’m so pleased to be called to your service.”
“Lady Bara, I appreciate you could come on such short notice.”
The woman’s eyes twinkled. “For the royal family, I drop everything. I owe you my all.”
Jarek patted her wrinkled hand. “You owe us nothing. We take care of all our people.”
Cailan saw the tremor of emotion flash through Lady Bara’s face, but she pulled herself together quickly. “What undertaking do you have for me? A banquet tunic? Battle leggings?”
“Much more than that, and the items are not for me. Please let me introduce you to Prince Cailan of Arten, my honored concubine and war gift.”
Jarek moved aside, revealing Cailan behind him. Cailan wasn’t sure what to make of such an introduction, but he couldn’t dwell on it as Lady Bara turned to greet him and gaped at him instead. He wondered at such a reaction, not sure what it meant, but he bowed as he’d been taught when meeting a lady and addressed her kindly. “I am pleased to meet you, Lady Bara.”
“Oh my,” she murmured, and her hand lifted as if to touch his hair. Instinctively, Cailan shifted away slightly. He was too used to the derision associated with his silver tresses, and it never seemed to bode well when someone focused on them.
Quickly she seemed to recognize her discourtesy, and she recovered by returning his bow. “Your highness. I’m so pleased to be called to assist you.” She looked to Leader Jarek. “What would you like him fitted for today?”
Jarek put a hand on Cailan’s back, a gesture that Cailan discovered calmed him after the unusual interaction with the seamstress. “We need it all Lady Bara. Leggings, tunics, formals, overclothes for when the weather turns next season. And I’m sure you’ll fill in anything I’m missing.”
“Those are dangerous words to offer a woman, sire,” Lady Bara joked. “But I will see to it he has all he needs. Prince Cailan,” she addressed him. “If you’ll remove your garments I’ll get your measurements taken right quick.”
That was expected, but it was a necessary activity Cailan never enjoyed. Knowing he was always the smallest of his family, having his measurements taken for garments, particularly armor and uniforms, had been a form of torture. There were times it was embarrassing to the point of debilitating to know his smaller stature was being compared to the broad shoulders and legs like tree trunks of his brothers and father.
His family may not have been there to compare this time, but the images of their forms were in his memory. Still, he kept his head up, forcing himself not to blush as he removed the borrowed leggings and tunic. He felt the heat of eyes on him once was he was naked, and made himself meet the looks that Jarek and Lady Bara were giving him. Again the seamstress clearly gaped at him, and he had to work not to growl and ask her what she was staring at.
A moment later he was quite glad for his self-control as Lady Bara looked from him to Jarek, and then back to him before she spoke. “I know I speak out of turn, and I offer my utmost apologies, but you are stunning, your highness.” Her eyes caressed him in a way that showed appreciation without leering. “Flawless. Not a marking to be seen, and strength so evenly distributed.”
“Exquisite,” Jarek agreed, and there was truth and pure hunger in the single word. It made Cailan feel appreciated and desired more than he ever had in his life.
Lady Bara nodded and then gathered her measuring spool. “I will make you look magnificent, Prince Cailan. Leader Jarek, I will need your input on preferred styles. I take it you want him set apart from the others?”
Mention of ‘the others’ felt like an ice bath washing over Cailan. It seemed to go against Jarek’s assurances of him being different and special, when the reality was that he was simply the newest addition to the royal harem. Eventually it was likely that Leader Jarek would tire of his newest plaything, and then Cailan would be relegated to the harem housing, being allowed to leave only when Jarek’s interest was briefly rekindled. It was a purposeless life in Cailan’s mind, but once again he reminded himself that it was his duty and he must fulfill it.
His thoughts blocked out the discussion between Jarek and Bara, but he paid enough attention to turn or lift his arms when directed. Lady Bara was professionally quick. She measured and jotted the numbers down on a discreet tablet she kept in her skirt, and in just a few minutes he was told he could dress again. Jarek directed him to sit on a divan near the room’s windows when he was clothed, and the position allowed him to observe the land and view from this end of the palace while the other two continued talk on styles, colors, and Jarek’s preferences.
Cailan knew it was foolish, but he let his mind drift to home as he sat there. He wondered what his family was doing. Were they concerned for him? Was he missed? Were they staying busy to not think about what had been necessary to end the war?
With the years of battle over, he knew the royal army could rest, but it was likely his brothers and father had still spent part of this day in training or going over plans to make their defenses stronger. The two not involved in that would be his mother and baby brother. He’d spent little time with his mother since he’d been allowed into battle. He missed her, but in a sense he was used to being without her presence.
His heart ached for his baby brother though. Until Doron was born, he’d been the youngest and he’d often longed to be the big brother to someone. Doron’s birth had given that to him, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit he’d doted on his brother whenever he’d had the chance. The boy was a beautiful armful of happy smiles and chubby legs. Cailan would never regret stepping in to take his brother’s place, but he already ached to see the child again.
He felt a warm tear slip from his eye and he quickly brushed it away. Tears would do no good. They’d only prove him weak, and he promised himself to be better than that.
It was almost unnerving to hear just his name with no “prince” before it, or at least the use of one of the endearments Jarek seemed to enjoy using. He schooled his features and looked up from his seat. Jarek stood at his side, and Cailan resented the sympathy he saw pass through the man’s eyes. To his credit, the military leader said nothing of Cailan’s melancholy.
“Sir Garridan is here to assist us,” he said quietly.
Cailan looked around his owner and saw a man with an olive complexion and shades of green in his black hair waiting near Lady Bara.
“Another clothing maker?” he asked.
“Of a sort,” Jarek replied enigmatically as he offered his hand to Cailan. “He works with leathers. I’ve already informed him of some items I want for you, but you need to be measured for shoes.”
Cailan nodded and accepted Jarek’s hand. He let himself be brought to the man and seated as Garridan gushed over meeting him and the goodness of King Alaric and Leader Jarek. Cailan couldn’t help wondering at the sincerity of the words due to the simple over-abundance of them. Still, his life as a royal prepared him for such people. He spoke his appreciation of the comments he agreed with, and thanked the man for the shoes he’d be making when the measurements were done.
Jarek took Garridan aside briefly when he had finished measuring. Cailan couldn’t hear what was said, but he assumed it was further discussion on styles or colors Jarek preferred. Garridan left before Lady Bara, but she had begun to pack up her bolts of cloth and picture books of styles.
“I will have two days worth of clothing ready by the morning, Leader Jarek,” she promised. “The rest I will send as each item is completed.”
“I appreciate your speed, my lady,” Jarek extolled. “I’m sure Prince Cailan will be more comfortable in clothes suited to him instead of forced to wear mine.”
Bara grinned cheekily. “Perhaps, although I suspect you enjoy him in your attire.”
Jarek laughed and kissed Bara’s hand. “I should scold you for boorish comments, but I find you too amusing to do so. Thank you again for assisting us. I promise you’ll be well paid.”
“You are always generous, sire.” She pulled her attention away from Jarek to look to Cailan. “And it’s been my honor to serve you, your highness. I pray you find joy with us.”
It seemed an odd wish to offer him, but Cailan stood and bowed respectfully. “Thank you, Lady Bara.”
“What is her story?” Cailan questioned as he and Jarek returned to their rooms for the midday meal.
Cailan nodded. “Is she indebted to you?”
“No, but I think in her mind she believes she is.”
An expression of compassion crossed Jarek’s face. “As a younger woman, she suffered. Five children were lost in birth. A set of three the first time, and two the second. When she became with child again, she was already weak and it wasn’t believed she or the children would survive the birth, or even a full term pregnancy. Her husband is a skilled basket maker now, but at the time he was an apprentice and did not have the funds to bring her the care she needed, or especially the food and nutrient spells that would give her strength.”
“That’s awful,” Cailan sympathized, “but clearly she survived. Was that because of your family?”
“I tend to think it was pure determination and spitfire on her part, but we did what we could. A neighbor of Lady Bara’s sent word to the palace of her condition. When my brother read of her plight, he sent a talented healer disguised as a vagabond to determine her fitness.”
“For many reasons, but they are not overly important to the story. Primarily it was to make sure the palace was given truthful information and not merely seeking a hand out. The healer saw her condition was quite serious. With that settled, it was arranged to transport her to us. We confined her to bed rest with a gifted nurse to take care of her and be a lady’s maid as needed. We retained the palace sorceress to provide several nutrient spells as well. In the end she gave birth to a boy and a girl. Her son serves among the palace guard now, and her daughter assists her as a seamstress.”
Cailan smiled at his owner, a strong sense a pride for this man for being part of such a noble deed. “I can see why she so loves the royal family….” His voice drifted off as something occurred to him.
Jarek looked at him curiously as he opened the door to their parlor. “What is it, petling? You appear confused.”
“I am,” Cailan admitted. “How is it that you say you and King Alaric were the ones involved in that endeavor? At the most, you couldn’t have been more than lads when she was a young woman of child bearing age.”
Jarek chuckled and sat at the set table, surprising Cailan by pulling him onto his lap instead of settling him onto the cushion on the floor. “I think it’s best I hold you in place as I explain, petling. Truly, my people have done perhaps too good a job at discretion since you are not aware of certain things.”
“Aware of what?” Cailan asked as he squirmed in his position. He hadn’t been on someone’s lap since he’d been a small child, and it was a bit unnerving.
“Aware simply of us as a people, my prince. How old do you believe me to be?”
Cailan frowned in confusion. “I suppose thirty or so at most. It’s hard to determine.”
“Yes, I know it is,” Jarek agreed. “But my prince, you should know that my brother and I are sixty-three years old.”
“What?!” Cailan squeaked. “It is not possible!”
“It is, petling. The average life span of a Cylandrean is one hundred and forty years. We age slowly, much slower than those of other kingdoms we’ve encountered. Alaric has been ruling for almost forty years now, and I have been at his side leading the army the whole time.”
“How old is Lady Bara?” Cailan asked. It was one of the least important questions in his mind, but was the first one to come out.
“Lady Bara is ninety-one.”
“What?!” Cailan repeated in shock.
“Her children are thirty-six now, which probably surprises you too. I’m aware that in Arten a woman’s child bearing years end between their fourth and fifth decade, but a Cylandrean woman is able to bear children well into her sixties.”
Cailan felt dizzy, like he might faint. He shook his head to dissipate the sensation, but it actually only made things worse. He moaned and felt one of Jarek’s hands touch his chest over his heart while the other cupped his head and encouraged him to relax into him.
“Your heart is beating faster than a winter rabbit’s,” Jarek told him. “I am sorry to shock you, especially when you’re facing so much already.”
Cailan closed his eyes and let his head fall to Jarek’s shoulder. If nothing else, the man exuded a sense of safety and wellbeing. “Everything is so different,” he mildly complained.
“I know it feels that way,” Jarek commiserated. “Someday, I hope you’ll see the similarities as well as the differences.”
“What similarities?” Cailan asked, wanting to grab onto something familiar.
“There are many,” Jarek assured. “We share the same seasons as Arten. I believe they are a bit milder than yours, but our year follows the same repetition as what you knew in your country. We have much the same wildlife and plants as well. We have books and music. Not everything is different, my prince, and the differences that we have aren’t bad, even if they do feel uncomfortable right now.”
Cailan sighed. “I won’t get to experience those plants or that wildlife though, because I’m a concubine, and those in the harem don’t leave the palace grounds, as you’ve said.”
“I also said you were special,” Jarek reminded. “And while you are a concubine, you are not nor will you be a part of the harem.”
Cailan sat up and looked into Jarek’s blue eyes, trying to determine if he was being truthful. “That, like everything else, makes no sense, but does it mean that I’m allowed to leave the palace?”
“At this moment, no,” Jarek told him with a shake of his head. “But that is partly because you are not familiar with Cylandrea or even the palace grounds yet. There are other reasons you will be confined to certain places for now as well. But,” he emphasized when he saw Cailan’s expression fall from its previous hopefulness. “Eventually yes, I will allow you to walk among the streets and people of your new home.”
Blue eyes stared into green ones, both men studying the other.
“Do you promise?” Cailan finally asked, his voice quiet but full of both seriousness and hope. “I’m not a prisoner here?”
“I’ve told you before, my little prince, you are a gift, not a prisoner. And yes, I promise you that liberty one day, but I cannot tell you when that will be.”
There was a sense of camaraderie between them after their talk and Jarek’s promise. Cailan, instead of ignoring them or pushing them aside, silently acknowledged that he might be developing some feelings for his master. At the very least, he was developing a respect for the man. It was perplexing to admit such a thing to himself. He’d never thought of men in an amorous or physically pleasurable way. Even more unnerving was to accept that he had any positive feelings for his owner. Everything he’d expected from Jarek had been wrong, and to be treated so kindly when he’d expected abuse was on one hand a relief, but on the other it left him very unbalanced.
His positive feelings for his possessor grew a bit stronger when, instead of returning him to the cushion with cuffs and blindfold, Jarek chose to keep him on his lap to eat their meal.
Cailan continued to feel awkward to be held in such a way, but he could accept it more easily than he’d expected. Jarek still insisted he keep his eyes closed and his hands motionless as he fed him, but Cailan didn’t mind that. In the end it felt like it was his choice instead of something forced on him. Besides, he was learning that he appreciated the peace that came with blocking out all distractions except what Jarek wanted of him in those minutes.
When the meal ended, Jarek followed up the last bite with a slow kiss and a nip at Cailan’s lip.
“You can open your eyes now, petling,” he allowed.
Cailan obediently raised his lids, almost wishing he didn’t have to do it yet. He looked to Jarek, wondering what the rest of the day would hold. He found out soon enough.
“It is important to me that you are educated in the ways of Cylandrea,” Jarek said to him. “I think it will help for your adjustment to have the information you need. I must meet with my brother this afternoon, so while I’m gone I am going to give you some books to start studying. I’ll inquiry about what you’ve learned when I come back, and you’ll be welcome to ask any questions you have then.”
Cailan nodded. He had no problem with that plan at all. Jarek patted his hip once Cailan agreed.
“Up you get then. Go to the parlor and sit at the desk I was working at earlier. I’ll gather the books I want you to start with and a journaler for you as well.”
Cailan did as he was told with some energy coming back into him at the prospect of finally being able to read some of those beautiful books he’d been organizing. Jarek came to him about ten minutes later and perched on the edge of the desk as he explained each book he handed to him.
“This journaler is yours to keep,” he said, handing Cailan a thick tome filled with clean, unwritten pages. If you like to take notes as you study or write down questions, feel free. I can go over anything with you later.”
Cailan nodded, already planning how carefully he’d write out anything in this book. It had always left him with a sense of fulfillment to see his words written out with care and precision on a previously blank page. When Jarek handed him the second book, he took it eagerly.
“This is a middle rank text on Cylandrea’s history,” Jarek told him. “I presume you completed a full education in Arten?”
Cailan nodded. “Yes, I’ve been thoroughly taught.”
“Can you explain to me what ‘thoroughly taught’ means to an Artenian?” Jarek requested.
Cailan took just a moment to consider how to explain his kingdom’s schooling methods. “Our education system builds on levels,” he began. “A child of proper age starts at level one and steps up to level two, three, and so on once he has shown a mastery of his current level. Subjects include Reading Comprehension, Numbers Study and Advancement, Arten Kingdom Studies, and several others. Level ten is the highest public education level. After that there is the choice to start an apprenticeship in a chosen vocation.”
He paused a moment as he considered what else was involved in an Artenian child’s schooling, and felt Jarek might want to know the rest as well. It wouldn’t occur to him until later how unusual it was for him to feel so willing to offer this information to someone. “All children are taught battle and fighting strategies and abilities as they grow up as well.”
Jarek tipped his head in interest. “Girl children also?”
Cailan nodded. “We believe it is to the best interest of the kingdom that all people know how defend themselves and fight for what they love. Most girls don’t receive the same intensity of training as the boys, but I doubt you’ll find a child, male or female, over ten years old who is not capable with a sword, short blade, or bow and arrow.”
“I believe you,” Jarek replied in a somewhat neutral tone. “Do all Artenians complete the ten levels?”
Cailan shook his head. “No, it is not required after seventh level is obtained. Most young men are at or approaching battle age by then—sixteen years,” he clarified. “And an apprenticeship is allowed at that time as well for most occupations.”
“What occupations require all ten levels?” Jarek asked with open curiosity.
“Those pursuing sorcery are required to complete all ten levels, and so are healers. Those who seek to be royal advisors are also required to complete those ten levels, along with two more specialized levels involving studies in topics such as a royal’s responsibilities, foreign affairs, and Artenian government.”
“And you completed all ten levels?” Jarek questioned.
“Yes, it’s a matter of honor among the royal family to be as fully educated as possible,” Cailan said proudly. “I completed my tenth level just before I turned fifteen.”
A warm smile tilted Jarek’s lips up. “I don’t doubt your honor at all, my prince, and it seems you achieved that high level at a young age. Did you pursue an apprenticeship afterward?”
“No,” Cailan informed him as he quickly pushed aside thoughts of the teenage resentment he’d had over not being allowed to follow up on certain studies. “A royal is a warrior first and foremost. He must be able to protect his people.” He frowned as he thought back to those years. “Besides, it was not long after that our war with your people started. My responsibilities were to fight with my family and do what I could to help…even if it wasn’t as much as my brothers could do.”
He’d said that last part in a much softer voice and Jarek frowned at him. “You doubt you did as much as your brothers?” he asked.
Cailan’s eyes dropped to the desktop as he wished he had caught the words before he spoke them. “I did what I could,” he replied, and hoped that answer would be enough for his owner.
For a brief moment, Cailan was sure Jarek would question him further, but the sound of a subtle gong interrupted whatever Jarek was about to say.
“Sunblazes!” Jarek muttered under his breath as he glanced toward the parlour door and then at the sun position outside the window. “I’m late.”
Before Cailan could ask what he was late for, the sound of steady footsteps preceded the arrival of King Alaric. Jarek immediately dropped to one knee, and Cailan, stuck behind the heavy desk, respectfully bowed his head to Cylandrea’s king.
“My apologies,” Jarek offered humbly from his lowered position. “I was not taking heed of the time of day as I should, sire.”
Cailan knew not to look up until he was given permission, but he clearly heard the jesting in King Alaric’s voice when he replied.
“I suppose it is within my right to send you to the stocks for a day for such disregard for your king, but I’d much rather hold your forgetfulness over your head for a few years. It is much more fun for me.” There was a chuckle and then an amused, “Stand up, brother. Your reverent kneeling is appreciated, but even I know it’s more for your lovely concubine’s sake than for mine.”
“My lovely concubine will only be more confused if you continue to act as if insolence is tolerated,” Jarek retorted.
Cailan felt a light touch on the top of his head and he looked up dutifully. The king looked at him with humor in his eyes.
“I think my brother does not give you enough credit, young highness. I can see you know how to show honor to a king.” His eyes seemed to gain warmth and the expression that crossed his features was shockingly similar to looks Cailan had seen on Leader Jarek. “Don’t be perplexed by our interactions. We are brothers before we are royals. We know where we stand with each other and we respect the roles we possess.”
“Yes, your majesty,” Cailan replied, but wasn’t sure what to say after that. He felt some relief when Jarek stood behind him and placed his hands on Cailan’s shoulders.
“Prince Cailan and I were caught up in a discussion and I didn’t realize it had grown as late as it did,” Jarek explained. “I can return with you to your quarters right away.”
“We can delay our meeting for a few minutes. I’d like our young prince to tell me how he is so far,” the king decided.
“I am well, sire,” Cailan said automatically.
“Ah, an appropriate and vague answer,” Alaric countered cheerfully. “So much can be read into a statement that says so little. I will have to be more direct I suppose.” Something in the king’s demeanor gentled as he continued. “It’s been little more than a day since you’ve been joined to us. That is a lot of changes very suddenly and I’ve seen the difficulties others have gone through in similar situations. What are you truly thinking about what’s been thrust upon you, Prince Cailan?”
Cailan blanched. He had no idea how to answer that question honestly without risking offense to the king or insult to Jarek who had been kind to him. He also wasn’t sure how to answer such a question when it felt like he swung between two ends of an emotional spectrum. After several seconds, his dilemma worsened as he remembered Jarek’s words that an answer which took too long to say was often considered a lie. If he waited much longer, any answer he gave could easily be thought to be untruthful, and that could ultimately lead to his death if the king felt his falseness was a threat.
Just as he started to panic over the difficult position he found himself in, Jarek spoke from behind him.
“Brother, please do not press him. Little that has happened since the treaty was signed has made sense to him.”
Alaric regarded Cailan carefully before nodding at his younger brother. “You are right. It is unfair to ask him something he has not yet figured out.” His sincere but now imposing disposition was turned back to Cailan. “Listen to Jarek, Prince of Arten. He will help you figure out this path. Be honest with him, and if you find you cannot speak to him over anything, please come to me.”
Cailan knew he’d never approach the king about helping him adjust to his new life, but he obediently nodded and answered, “Yes sire.”
King Alaric reached out and rested his hand briefly on Cailan’s head. “Good lad. See that you do.
“Jarek,” he now spoke to his brother, “let us go have our meeting.”
“Yes, your majesty.” This time Jarek’s address to Alaric was spoken with sincere respect to the king, not the brother. He gave one quick moment of attention back to Cailan before he left. “Start reading the history text I gave you. We can discuss it when I return if you wish.” He was gone seconds later.
For a few minutes, Cailan wondered about the two men who had just left him. His mind whirled with all the things Jarek had told him or they’d discussed, and then he considered the king and wondered in growing confusion why he would want to make sure that the prisoner concubine from another country was adjusting in a good way. Did he, like his younger brother, see Cailan as a gift instead of a prisoner? Why did they even think that way?
Cailan crossed his arms on the desk and lowered his head. His thoughts were exhausting, as was the ordeal of trying to understand his new life.
After a minute he lifted his head and sighed. He didn’t suppose any answers to his constant confusion would be forthcoming, but at least he could learn about the history of the land and people of Cylandrea. As Jarek pointed out, knowledge of his new life could make things easier. He opened the history text and was soon pleasantly wrapped up in the words on the pages.
Over the course of an hour or so, Cailan read of Cylandrea’s first king, spiritual beliefs among the people, and land expansion. The text itself was clearly meant for someone with a much lower education level than his own, but it was laying a foundation for him to build on in the future; and the retaining of new information, however basic, was a guaranteed interest for Cailan.
Just as he turned the page to start reading the fifth chapter of the history book, a subtle movement was caught in his peripheral vision. He glanced up, taken aback to see Jarek lounging on the room’s divan, a book in his hands but his attention completely on Cailan. His owner had a look of contented fondness on his face.
“Enjoying yourself?” Jarek questioned him once Cailan’s concentration was finally turned away from the text.
“It’s…very interesting. I’m afraid I didn’t hear you return,” Cailan replied, although he quickly shut the book and put it off to the side. He remembered too well the teasing he used to receive from other kids, even his brothers occasionally, over the way he would so intensely get into his studies or an interesting novel.
Jarek tipped his head curiously, appearing to study Cailan. “Are you ashamed of something?”
“Ashamed?” Cailan questioned.
Jarek nodded. “You had my permission to study that text. In fact, it was an order I was glad to see you abiding by when I returned a while ago, but now you act like you were caught in an act of disobedience.” His eyes narrowed slightly. “Were you doing something you knew you ought not? I’ll advise you now that it’s better to simply tell me than risk me discovering an act of disobedience later.”
“No, I was just studying it!” Cailan assured.
Jarek absently tapped his finger on the spine of his own book. “Then why do you seem guilty of something?”
Cailan was quickly shaking his head. “I’m not guilty. I’m just….” He pushed his hair back from his face as he sought to explain. “Studying the written word was always something I enjoyed, but it does not have the same value as training for battles, life experience or interaction with real people and activities. Preferring reading to other pursuits tends to be looked down on, so I thought….”
Understanding filled Jarek’s eyes. “It’s looked down on in Arten you mean.”
Cailan nodded, still feeling embarrassed to have been caught enjoying himself so much with the book. Jarek did not tease like his peers had though. Instead, his owner crossed the room and came to the desk. Leaning on the furniture’s edge by Cailan’s chair, Jarek reached for the history text.
“Perhaps in Arten the gift of mental knowledge is not considered valuable, but here in Cylandrea we think very highly of men and women who seek to continue learning, whether it’s through books or physical activities.” Jarek held the tome up for Cailan to see. “I don’t want you to feel ashamed for learning, or for obeying what I tell you to do, both of which applied in this case. Learn, my young prince. Increasing your knowledge will never be looked down upon here.”
Cailan slowly reached for the book when Jarek offered it to him. “Thank you,” he replied humbly, once again feeling overwhelmed by the differences and unexpectedness of his new life.
“You’re welcome, petling,” Jarek answered. “I’ll do my best to make sure you have some study time each day, but leave that book on the desk for now, because I have a different lesson for you.”
With one longing glance at the text, Cailan set it and his journaler aside as Jarek commanded. He stood when his owner motioned him to and was led into the bedroom and to the bed that he’d shared with the man the night before.
Tension began to coil in Cailan’s stomach when Jarek pulled his tunic over his head, and then reached for the waistband of Cailan’s leggings. Feeling off-balance with the sudden change in activity, Cailan grabbed at his pants, not letting Jarek pull them down as he seemed intent to do. His action put him on the receiving end of a disapproving look. Despite that, Cailan couldn’t make himself let go of the clothing.
“What are you doing?” he asked, trying to conceal the nerves building in him.
“What is my right,” Jarek answered. “Let go, Prince Cailan.”
The title reminded Cailan of his duty, but it did nothing to dissipate his anxiety. He reluctantly did as he was commanded and fought not to tremble once he was naked and very alone with his possessor. It was not yet night, so he couldn’t convince himself that they were merely preparing to sleep. Jarek placed his hands lightly on Cailan’s hips, and then slowly moved them up to caress stomach, chest and shoulders. Cailan shivered from a mix of fear and rather unwanted arousal burgeoning from the intimate touches.
“Undress me,” Jarek ordered huskily after a few minutes.
Swallowing, Cailan reached for the buttons of Jarek’s tunic, slowly undoing them until the shirt fell open of its own accord. He slipped the garment off the bigger man’s shoulders and then looked to Jarek’s feet. Bending, he took his time removing his owner’s boots and the cloth footwear underneath them.
When they were set aside, all that was left was the thick linen leggings Jarek wore. Cailan fisted his hands a moment to control the shaking that wanted to let loose and then carefully, so as to touch as little of Jarek’s skin as possible, he slipped his thumbs into the waistband and pulled the last item of clothing off.
Much as he wanted to appear unaffected, Cailan couldn’t look at his owner once they were both fully naked. Without speaking, Jarek guided him to lie on his back on the bed, and then lifted Cailan’s arms toward the ornate iron headboard. It was the feel of the leather cuffs being strapped to his wrists and connected to the bed that induced Cailan to speak again.
“You said you wouldn’t force me!”
Even to his own ears, he could tell his voice was a tenor higher than normal, revealing his tension and the sense of betrayal he felt over being bound when previously Jarek had said he wasn’t a prisoner.
“I did,” Jarek agreed, not sounding concerned.
“You said you had a lesson, not…this.”
“This is the lesson, petling. As you inferred earlier, not all learning is done through books. Some learning is experience, and some is in preparation for future lessons.”
Cailan pulled at his binds, finding them unyielding as stress and anger collided in him. He felt tricked, and when the cuffs gave him no leeway, he chose to kick out at his owner despite having a poor angle and knowing that making the man angry would not help him.
“You said I was not a prisoner, but you bind me! Why do you always act and talk in riddles so I don’t understand?!” he asked, fuming over his vulnerability and kicking again despite Jarek having moved completely out of range. “Why don’t you just say things plainly? Just say you’re going to use me!”
Jarek stepped closer and put a heavy hand on Cailan’s thigh. The weight pressing down on his leg told Cailan without words that it was to his benefit to stop fighting.
“I am going to use you, as is my right,” Jarek told him as plainly as Cailan had begged him to. “Just as you are under my care, you are also under my authority. The two go together, and that is the lesson I want you to learn. But how it is taught and how you are used will be done as I choose, not as you fear. Be still, little prince.”
For the briefest second, Cailan debated lashing out and fighting no matter what Jarek said or how strong the bonds that held him were, but he knew he would be the loser in the battle. Breathing heavily, he tried to still his body despite how tightly coiled he felt. Jarek’s hand on his leg began rubbing, first in slow circles, then in long strokes from his hip to his knee.
“Tell me of your experience in intimacies, petling,” Jarek said lowly after several minutes that were filled only with the sound of Jarek’s touch and their combined breathing.
Realizing his deflowering might not be imminent, Cailan had calmed enough with the light touches to control himself, though his tension was still strong. However, the question was not one he desired to answer. Being careful of his words, he tried to give his owner what he wished without revealing more than he wanted
“I have never been with a man, but I know what it involves.”
“Mm,” Jarek murmured, and with the slightest tone of amusement he added, “I rather doubt that. What of your intimacies with women?”
Cailan kept his mouth shut and glared at the ceiling. It took Jarek a much shorter time than Cailan wished to understand the words not being spoken.
“I see. So no women either, my prince? I admit, that is surprising. Tell me why you haven’t pursued your physical pleasure.”
Jarek’s hand had moved from one leg to the other, and was continuing the gentle petting. Cailan still glared at him. “I have pursued my pleasure.”
Jarek looked honestly surprised. “And you have been refused? That is just as confusing to me as my words apparently have been to you, my beautiful one.”
As he spoke, Jarek moved his hand to Cailan’s groin and a gasp escaped the younger man as Jarek began to stroke him to hardness. A tremor of pleasure travelled up Cailan’s spine, but he fought it as he spoke through clenched teeth.
“What is confusing? A woman seeks a man like my father, not one like me, and I will not force myself on an unwilling participant.”
Jarek touched Cailan’s face with the hand not firmly stroking his concubine’s privates. “A man like you? That part I don’t understand, petling, but I do understand the refusal to use force.”
“No you don’t,” Cailan denied, his feelings of betrayal with Jarek, his father, and life in general shining through. “You said I would not be forced, but you still touch me.”
A thumb rubbed Cailan’s cheek, and Jarek did not look offended by his captive’s accusation. “I do touch you, but not to force you, sweet one. I promise, until the day you ask it of me, I will not claim you fully. But I will show you that there is pleasure in my touch, and that no harm will come to you at my hands even when I have you bound.”
His possessor leaned down and kissed him, gradually deepening it as his hand stroked faster. Little by little pleasure took over and caused Cailan’s skin to tingle. The anger and helplessness he’d felt was slowly pushed away as the enticing taste of Jarek’s mouth and masterful touch of his hand captured the smaller man’s full attention. He moaned as Jarek’s tongue sought entry into his mouth, and then arched involuntarily as his peak was reached and bliss rippled through him.
Afterward, Jarek’s low voice soothed him back to calmness, and when his master removed the leather cuffs, the larger hands carefully massaged Cailan’s wrists.
Cailan felt limp and sated, and once again completely unsure of this new life and what was expected of him. He’d never known a concubine to be treated as he had been; and knew for a fact that a master never promised to only claim his captive when given permission. Nothing made sense. Feeling drowsy and bewildered, he sought Jarek’s eyes.
“What do you want of me?” he asked.Jarek continued to rub his wrists as he answered. “For now I want your obedience and your safety, my prince. The rest will come as it needs.”