Cailan’s brain was buzzing with the new information and possibilities Jarek had shared, but it wasn’t a bad mindset to be in. He always loved learning and gaining new information. He had an earnest desire right then to learn more, almost wishing he was back in Jarek’s suite of rooms and his large library so he could pursue more knowledge of Cylandrea’s history, origin marks, and if Jarek’s beliefs about their hair could be proven.
He was thinking of several books to study when his thoughts were interrupted by a heated kiss pressed persistently to his mouth. He jerked slightly in surprise, but willingly joined in the kiss when Jarek’s arms slid around him and he felt the bare skin of the man’s chest press into his own shirtless form. He moaned and then whimpered when Jarek eventually pulled away.
The older man looked amused and grinned at him. “Do I have your attention now, petling?”
Cailan licked his kiss-swollen lips. “What do you mean?”
Jarek chuckled. “I spoke your name three times before I kissed you. Where did your mind go?”
Cailan shrugged, but grinned back. “I was thinking about all the research I want to do when we get back to the palace,” he admitted.
Jarek’s chuckle turned into a laugh. “I love that you’re so excited to learn these things. I fully encourage it, but now that we have the initial shock of our discoveries and the talk about them out of the way, I’d like to remind you that this is our wedding trip, we’re totally isolated, and you have on too many clothes.”
This time Cailan laughed out loud. “I’m only wearing leggings,” he argued.
“My point exactly,” Jarek determined. “Take them off, petling. I want to explore your body.”
Jarek’s words made a memory flash into Cailan’s mind, causing him to pause when he reached for his waistband.
“What is it?” Jarek asked, his tone now concerned.
“I was just remembering,” Cailan said quietly. “You said words like that before, when I was your concubine. For a moment it felt strange, like two worlds colliding.”
Jarek sighed. “I regret that you ever had that label on you, my love, but I don’t regret having you in my life those weeks. The events of that time were steps on the path that has brought us here, to this point.” With both hands he cupped Cailan’s face. “I want to know you as my husband, as my lover.”
Cailan relaxed. “I want to know you too.”
The warmth in Jarek’s eyes showed his pleasure with those words. “Come back to bed with me, petling.”
Cailan went willingly.
The sun was high in the sky by the time they left the bed for the second time that day. Cailan couldn’t help a wince as he moved toward the chest that held their clothes. The look didn’t go unnoticed by Jarek.
The older man stepped close and pulled Cailan into a loose embrace before the young prince could open the trunk. One hand dropped low to gently palm Cailan’s bottom. “You’re sore,” he stated as a fact.
Cailan ducked his head in embarrassment. “I’m ok.”
Jarek tipped Cailan’s chin up with a single finger. “Don’t brush it aside. I need you to be honest with me if you’re in pain or uncomfortable.”
“But it’s not too bad,” Cailan tried to assure. “It’s just tender. I’ll get used to it soon.”
Jarek kissed the young man’s brow tenderly, but his voice was serious. “Petling, I hope you’ll get used to it eventually, but I want you to enjoy yourself, even when it feels awkward. You also need to realize that getting used to it doesn’t mean just letting me into your body constantly. It’s a muscle being newly used and stretched, and it will need times of rest and recovery.”
“But I don’t want to deny or disappoint you,” Cailan admitted with a touch of nerves.
Jarek hugged him tighter. “No man likes to be denied something he wants, but our bonding together does not always have to include the joining of our bodies. There are other ways to pleasure each other that are just as fulfilling. And you could not disappoint me in this way, petling. I’d be more disappointed if you hid your discomfort and simply endured something that is meant to be pleasurable and intimate and loving.” He tipped Cailan’s chin up again. “I may even choose to discipline you because hiding something like that is deceptive and dishonest, and would make me wonder if I could trust you to tell me the truth.”
Cailan’s eyes widened. “It wouldn’t be a lie! I’d be doing it for you!”
Jarek shook his head. “Do you think it pleases me to give you pain when you should feel pleasure? Don’t you understand that knowing I’m hurting you would make me not want to continue? Along with that, I will not tolerate even minor deception between us. It builds a wall that separates us and gets harder to tear down every time you add a new stone. Do you understand?”
Cailan nodded, having not thought of things that way, but it made sense. “I understand.”
“I understand…?” Jarek said pointedly.
It took a moment, but Cailan caught on to what Jarek wanted. “I understand, my lord.”
The older prince nodded in approval. “Good, petling. Now,” he lightly patted Cailan’s backside. “I want you to go to the bathing room and fill the tub with hot water and relax in for a while. It will ease your soreness.”
Cailan smiled easily. “Will you join me?”
Jarek laughed and quickly pecked Cailan’s lips. “I’d love to, but if I do you will not find the bath as relaxing as I want for you. So no, not this time. While you soak, I will prepare some food for us. We have not eaten yet today and I will not have you go hungry, especially after the energy you’ve been exerting.”
He winked teasingly, and Cailan blushed and laughed.
“Fine,” the younger man agreed.
“Good. Go on now. I’ll tell you when you can get out.”
Cailan went, this time taking a minute to admire the chalet’s bathing quarters. The porcelain tub was the dominant item in the room, and it was beautiful. The porcelain gleamed like it had been freshly cleaned, and the rim of the oval tub was framed by a beautiful blue stone Cailan couldn’t identify. The same blue stone rested at the four corners of the tub, lifting the porcelain several inches off the expensive wooden flooring. A deep wash basin was also made of the porcelain and stone, matching the tub, and sat on a low cabinet near the door.
Two windows on opposite ends of the room let the mid-day sunshine bathe the room in light and warmth. Next to one window a set of narrow shelves, reaching from floor to ceiling, were filled with thick towels, sponges, and soaps.
In a corner next to the opposite window, stood the full-length framed, mirrored glass he and Jarek had stared at each other in earlier that day.
Cailan once again stepped in front of the mirror, and couldn’t help staring at the changes in himself for several minutes. It was startling to see his hair shimmer and sparkle in the sunbeams coming in through the windows. It looked enchanted, but so did Jarek’s hair and that of the royal family’s. He’d admired the beauty of it on them from the start, but had grown used to the sight. Now it was like seeing the uniqueness of it all over again in his own hair. He smiled slightly, thinking how that sparkle, even if only he and Jarek saw it, proved that he and the other man were intimately bonded.
His smile widened as he looked down at the mark on his chest, and his fingers came up and touched it reverently. It was an exact replica of the origin mark on Jarek, and if what the other prince had said about origin twins was true of them, then it also meant that they had always been destined to be together. That thought gave him courage that they’d be able to handle any trials that came their way.
Lost in his thoughts, Cailan didn’t hear his husband enter the room until Jarek’s arms slid around his middle and his chin rested on Cailan’s shoulder.
“I can hear you thinking all the way in the other room,” the bigger man said.
Cailan chuckled. “You cannot.”
With a laugh, Jarek nipped at Cailan’s shoulder. “Alright. It was the lack of sound that told me something was up. Are you ok?”
Cailan nodded. “Just…happy.”
“Good.” This time Jarek pressed a firm kiss to his cheek and a light swat to his bottom. “Be happy in the tub, my petling.”
He turned Cailan to the tub and the younger prince let himself be led away from the mirror, but when he reached the tub he got confused.
“Jarek, there are no taps to fill it. Does the water come from somewhere else?”
Jarek nodded and Cailan watched as the bigger man slid his foot part way under the tub and stepped on a nearly hidden treadle. The covered drain on one end of the tub opened up and water started filling the gleaming porcelain.
Surprised, Cailan looked to Jarek. “Where is that coming from?”
“There is a cistern dug near to the cottage,” Jarek explained. “Actually, there are two. One has piping leading to the kitchen area. The water runs through the pipes and is filtered by the time it reaches the cottage. The other cistern’s piping runs directly to the bathing room. It’s filtered as well, but there is also a heat spell on that cistern so the water is always at a comfortable bathing temperature.”
“I’m starting to see that magic is much more common in Cylandrea than I realized.”
“As I told you, we believe there is magic born in everyone, and many small examples of it are part of our everyday lives, but there is always much more to learn. In Arten, you have the hair changing spell that we had no knowledge of, and the men from Berring were skilled in quick transportation portals.”
Cailan nodded. He was curious what the final outcome was for everyone from Berring and what Cylandrea’s affiliation with Berring would be from now on. But, he didn’t want to dwell on or talk about those traumatic events. These were days to be rejoiced in, not stressed over.
Jarek left him to finish filling the tub, and when the water was at a comfortable depth, he lifted his foot off the treadle and climbed in.
Immediately the comforting heat surrounded him, making his muscles relax and soothing both the tender ache in his bottom, as well as the sensitive muscles in his still-healing leg. He groaned aloud at the pleasant feeling, and a moment later Jarek stood grinning at the entry to the bathing room.
“Feel good, little love?”
“Wonderful,” Cailan moaned as he reclined his head against the back of the tub.
“Good. I’m leaving the door open between the rooms. Call to me if you need anything.”
Cailan nodded and enjoyed the wet heat for a moment as the other man’s footsteps moved away. Then, reaching for a sponge and soap, he washed himself down. Once clean, he leaned back against the tub with his eyes closed, and relaxed.
A couple minutes later soft music began floating in the air around him, mildly startling him with its presence and making him reluctantly open his eyes.
“Jarek?” he called.
Grinning, the other man returned to the entrance of the bathing room. “Yes?”
“Where is that music coming from? I thought we were totally isolated?”
“We are,” the other prince confirmed, but teasingly offered no other explanation.
Cailan frowned at him. “Then where is that music coming from? It sounds like there are skilled instrumentalists in the house with us.”
“In a sense, there are,” Jarek continued to tease.
The bigger man laughed out loud before finally explaining. “What you hear is a melody box, petling.” He disappeared from the doorway briefly, and then returned with a small, ornate box, sat on the side of the tub, and showed it to Cailan.
“It’s lovely,” the younger prince said, “but how is it playing the music?”
“Through a rather advanced spell,” Jarek explained. “We have been blessed with some very gifted musicians in our kingdom, and once a year we hold a Celebration of Talent festival in palace city. All sorts of talents are showcased, but the musical ones we are most impressed with are invited to the palace for a special performance. While they play, the palace sorcerer has a spell that essentially “catches” the music and contains it in a melody box.”
“Wow, that’s amazing,” Cailan marveled.
“It is, especially since the spell is difficult enough that it only succeeds in catching the music about half the time, even with a very experienced sorcerer; but when it succeeds, it allows us take a melody box when we travel, or have it play in our personal quarters when we want music without the company of others.”
“That’s wonderful. I’m glad you brought it,” Cailan commented sincerely. “It makes me wonder what other surprises you may have packed.”
“Wait and see,” Jarek kidded. “Now relax, but don’t fall asleep in that water.”
That was a valid warning, because with the heat of the water and the soft music of the melody box, Cailan was feeling very comfortable and lethargic after a half hour in the tub.
When Jarek came into the room the next time, he grabbed a towel off the shelf and held it open. “Come on out, petling. There’s a meal ready.”
Languidly, Cailan rose from the tub, and was too relaxed to argue when Jarek unhurriedly dried him off, making sure every bit of skin was brushed dry with the towel. When he was done, he pulled a plug to drain the tub’s water and draped the towel over its edge.
“There are clothes set out for you on the bed, little love. Get dressed while I wash off quickly and we’ll eat.”
Cailan was mildly surprised at the clothing choice laid out for him on the main room’s bed. A pair of light brown leggings, much shorter than normal, and a white tunic with shortened sleeves awaited him. He put both on, feeling almost like he was half-dressed in the clothing.
He also wouldn’t have minded taking the clothes back off when Jarek returned to the main room in nothing at all. His purple markings seemed almost more vivid having been freshly washed. The man offered a pleased smile when Cailan approached him and pressed his clothed body against Jarek’s naked one. An unintentional growl rumbled in the back of his throat.
“Like what you see, petling?”
Cailan grinned back at him. “Very much so. Don’t dress for my sake.”
Jarek couldn’t resist plundering Cailan’s enticing mouth after those words, leaving both their lips wet and swollen when he pulled away several long moments later. “You make me want to ravish you again,” he admitted with open desire.
Cailan grinned, feeling rather powerful at Jarek’s statement, but then squeaked in surprise when the bigger man swatted him and turned him toward the kitchen area. “Food first!” he insisted. “Get out a plate and cutlery for us while I dress.”
“Jarek!” Cailan complained, not happy about delaying what they were doing or the mildly stinging swat. His stomach betrayed his complaint when it growled noisily.
“Food,” Jarek insisted with a heated look. “Believe me, you’ll want energy for the rest of the day.”
Cailan moved to the kitchen and began setting plates, goblets, and cutlery on the little two-person table. Now that he had a little bit of distance from the other man, and Jarek was covering his enticing body, the aroma of the prepared food gained his attention.
“What did you make? It smells good!”
“Flat biscuits, sausage bites, and gravy from the meat,” Jarek told him.
The food was all under covered dishes, so Cailan couldn’t see the finished products, but it all sounded appealing. “What are flat biscuits? And how do you know how to cook? If you grew up in the palace, weren’t all your meals prepared? That’s the way it seemed when…” he paused as the sense of colliding worlds hit him again as he was reminded of his former concubine status.
Jarek compassionately ignored the way Cailan’s words faded off, and chose to answer his questions instead. “Flat biscuits are a starchy bread made without yeast. The gravy goes well on top of them. And I know how to cook because part of required education on Cylandrea is lessons in life skills, cooking being among them.”
He removed the coverings from the dishes and retrieved one of the plates Cailan had set on the table. “Why did you get two plates down?”
Cailan looked surprised. “To put the food on?”
Jarek grunted a noise that made no sense to Cailan as the bigger man piled food onto the plate in his hand. He carried it to the table, catching Cailan’s wrist on the way, and sat down, pulling Cailan onto his lap.
“We only need one plate, petling. I am not just your husband and your lover, remember? Who else am I to you?”
Cailan’s spine tingled at the purposeful tone and direct eye contact Jarek was giving him. He knew exactly what the other man referred to, but it wasn’t always the easiest thing to say out loud, even though he and Jarek had talked about it. He swallowed and ducked his head, but Jarek gently caught his chin and made him meet his eyes.
“Petling, there is no shame. Remember what we talked about? Does it feel right? Does it feel safe?”
The reminder helped and the stiffness eased out of his back and shoulders. “It does, but sometimes it feels…” He couldn’t find a word to express his current struggle.
Jarek studied him. “Hard to humble yourself perhaps?” he suggested.
That was exactly it, and Cailan’s surprised look had more to do with coming to that understanding himself than the fact that Jarek understood it before him.
“I don’t mean to be prideful,” the younger man uttered.
“Do not say that, petling,” Jarek mildly scolded. “It’s not as black and white as pride versus humility, and I understand that.”
Cailan’s confused eyes clearly stated that he didn’t understand. Jarek kissed his temple as he sought the words to help his young husband grasp this unique part of their relationship.
“I am not against you having pride in yourself, my prince,” he stated honestly while dipping a piece of biscuit in the gravy and holding it to Cailan’s mouth. The younger man took it almost subconsciously as he listened to Jarek’s words. “You have reason to have respect for yourself.”
Cailan’s eyes dropped slightly as he chewed, a mix of uncertainty and embarrassment at Jarek’s statement.
“No, don’t look down,” Jarek directed. “Meet my eyes and listen to me.”
Cailan’s eyes came up immediately, looking startled, but evidently giving Jarek his attention.
“You are a blood-born prince,” Jarek reminded. “From birth you were put in a position of title and responsibility that you have never shamed. There is pride in that. You are also a trained warrior, skilled in speed and experienced in battle, a literal hero in your actions, and one of the bravest men I know. I want you to take pride in those things, because they are honorable.”
“But I have to set them aside in order to humble myself to you,” Cailan argued.
Jarek shook his head. “No you don’t. I don’t ask you to be something you’re not. All those things I mentioned are part of you, and I won’t take them away, or allow you to do that either. But, you also have a spirit that yearns for release, that wishes to entrust its safety to someone else at times. That is an equal part of you, and a part that until a few weeks ago had always been pushed aside. I know it’s hard to allow it to come out, but it’s something you need to practice doing because it’s an aspect of our relationship that we both want.”
Cailan looked thoughtful, and then slid down slightly and dropped his head to Jarek’s shoulder. “Can you truly be my ‘master’ and my ‘beloved’ at the same time? Are you sure I can respect myself if I humble myself?” he questioned tentatively.
“Petling, only you can answer those questions.” He kissed the top of Cailan’s head. “But I can offer you a promise. I will do everything I can to make sure you feel respect for both of us, as well as pride in your willing submission.”
For several moments there was only the soft sound of the music still playing from the melody box. Then Jarek heard quiet words that revealed trust and at least the feeling of current acceptance of how his young husband felt.“You’re good at keeping promises.”