After their talk, the two of them ate together quietly for the rest of their meal. Jarek alternated bites between himself and feeding portions of the meat and biscuits to Cailan while the younger man continued to recline on his lap.
By the end of the meal they’d achieved a contented level of comfort and gentle intimacy between them; possibly even a deeper level than they’d shared before because there was the knowledge that they couldn’t be interrupted or witnessed by anyone. There was freedom in that.
It didn’t take long to clean the few dirty dishes, and then Jarek twined his fingers into Cailan’s and headed toward the door.
“Where are we going?”
“For a walk,” Jarek answered easily. “Amity Cove is one of the most beautiful places in Cylandrea, and I want to show it to you.”
The scents of tropical flowers filled the air when they stepped outside, and it was instinctive to both men to inhale deeply. Jarek moved slowly away from the chalet and headed in the direction of the sound of unseen waves.
A ten-minute walk brought them to a small copse of trees, and on the other side of the trees a sandbar appeared. Waves crashed onto the beach, looking beautiful and wild as the tide let them hit the sand and then pulled them back out to the deep blue of the ocean.
“Wow,” Cailan murmured.
Jarek nodded, his face expressing his high spirits. “Beautiful, isn’t it? I haven’t been here in years, but it’s always been one of my favorite places.”
“I feel like I could stare at the water all day,” Cailan said sincerely. “It draws you in.”
“It does. Do you like to swim?”
“Good, then we’ll take the opportunity to do so during our time here.” His look turned mildly serious. “But do not swim by yourself,” he ordered. “There are some very strong tides at times. We swim together or not at all.”
Cailan nodded easily, too taken in by the beauty of the place to argue. He squeezed Jarek’s hand. “Could we walk along the water?”
“Sure,” Jarek answered with a smile. Neither of them had bothered with shoes when they left the cottage. The ground had been grassy until they reached the beach, and now their feet sank into the sand as they walked. The tiny white granules were barely tolerable to walk on as they were heated by the sun, but at the water’s edge they were wet and cool, and the two men could walk comfortably.
The stretch of beach was long, and there was no one around at all, revealing just how isolated they were. There weren’t even any ships to be seen in the distance, but the solitude was welcome and refreshing. They were quiet as they strolled, and Cailan was grateful for the thin leggings and short-sleeved tunic Jarek had laid out for him. The heat of the sun would have made heavier garments uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, after a while the shifting movement of the sand began to strain Cailan’s injured leg, and a limp began showing itself. Jarek frowned when he noticed.
“I’m being foolish,” he said in condemnation of himself. “I’ve let your injury slip my mind. We haven’t even re-bandaged your leg today.”
“I’m fine,” Cailan tried to assure. “The exercise is good for it.”
“Up to a point, yes, but sand isn’t a forgiving surface for an injury; particularly one still requiring the protection and support of a bandage. Come over here. We’ll sit and let it rest before heading back.”
Rolling his eyes, but actually grateful to get off the leg for a time, Cailan went with Jarek to a large piece of driftwood shaded by a tall wall of seagrass. When he sat with his back against the wood and carefully stretched the leg out, Jarek knelt next to him and rolled back the leg of his pants to check the wound. The scar from the cut was still obvious, but healing well, especially now that the stitches were gone. At the moment it was just mildly swollen. Jarek positioned them so he could put the leg in his lap, and he began to gently rub the aching muscle.
“Cailan,” he said seriously. “You need to tell me when your leg pains you.”
Cailan couldn’t help immediately shaking his head. “Jarek, I’m not going to complain about every ache or pain I feel. I’m not a child. I was raised to be a soldier, and soldiers fight through pain.”
Jarek frowned, but didn’t reply immediately. He massaged the leg for a short while first. He clearly picked his words carefully when he did speak. “I respect your mindset about pain, love. It’s true that soldiers battle against injuries and pains as much as they battle against an enemy. It’s necessary on the battlefield, and even in training up to a point. However, that’s not the situation we have right now. We need to take care so your leg will heal fully. What I’m asking…,” he changed his mind. “No…what I’m requiring of you is to pay attention to the limits you’re facing right now, and to tell me whenever it hurts you, needs a rest, or feels overextended. Do you understand?”
This time Cailan frowned. “I’m not in the habit of doing that. It’s not something I even think about saying to anyone.”
“I know, but I want you to get into the habit of telling me. I’ll also be asking you how it feels from time to time. When I do, I want a straightforward answer, not a vague put-off.”
“Jarek, I don’t need to be babied,” Cailan argued.
“Cailan,” Jarek replied, his tone getting more serious. “I am not babying you. I’m telling you I want you to be careful with your body and honest with me. If our situation were reversed, would you not want the same thing from me?”
Cailan’s frown grew, but then dissipated with a sigh. “You’re right. I would.”
Jarek gentled his tone from the firm way he’d been talking. “I suspect you fear I’m going to see you as weak if you tell me you’re in pain, and I know where that concern comes from, but I have never once seen you as frail or weak—a little vulnerable at times—but never without strength or courage. Try to remember, little love, that I am not Artenian, and I have no preconceived notion that your hair color, size, or anything else makes you anything less than strong, brave, and capable.”
Cailan nodded once. “I forget that sometimes.”
“I realize that, and I’ll keep reminding you, but we’re also establishing boundaries here, and I’m going to be stand by what I believe is right for you and for us, even if you forget.”
Cailan nodded again. “I understand.”
“Good.” The older man pressed a kiss to Cailan’s cheek. “Shall we change subjects now so we can avoid degenerating into our first fight?”
The young prince chuckled. “Please. I’d rather not argue the day after we’ve married. I would like to know more about how you know how to cook.”
Fully on board with Cailan’s subject change, Jarek put an arm around the slim shoulders and answered. “I told you, we are taught life skills in our schooling, and that includes cooking. Do you not know how to make any food?”
“I do, but not in the realm of a kitchen. We’re trained in survival along with our combat education. I know how to hunt and prepare meat over an open flame, and I can recognize what wild foods are edible or poisonous, but no one of nobility is given training in kitchen food preparation. That is the job of servants.”
“That’s mostly true in Cylandrea as far as who commonly prepares a noble’s meals, but we tend to believe that knowing how to make meals for oneself is a skill everyone should have.”
Cailan’s voice showed his interest, although his words revealed the difference in their cultures. “I know my father and brothers, even my mother, would think it’s a waste to spend time on something that is another’s job. It is a better management of one’s schedule to focus on skills and education necessary to your position in life. A born king doesn’t learn to cook, because it is more important that he learns how to lead.”
“Is he not capable of learning both?” Jarek questioned.
Cailan looked confused. “Of course there’s capability there, but it is not necessary.”
“I’m afraid you and I are going to disagree on that for now, my petling.”
Cailan didn’t seem to know what to do with that statement, so he went another direction. “What are the other life skills you said you’re taught?”
“Besides cooking?” Jarek thought a moment. “Well, we are all trained in basic farming and in seasonal preparation.”
“Seasonal preparation?” Cailan asked.
“Yes, things that are necessary to do for our homes and land during yearly climate changes. We need to plan ahead for things like flooding during the rainy season, a too-dry heated season, or a cold drop. They are all happenings that we can do some preparation for ahead of time, and we are trained in skills like strengthening a home’s foundation, digging ditches to redirect the run-off of flood, or ways of conserving water.”
“Oh, that makes a lot of sense,” Cailan noted, and Jarek could see the younger man’s mind whirring with the information. “What else are you taught?”
“Hunting, just like you,” Jarek mentioned. “And fishing. Swimming, animal care, and general knowledge and skills in sailing, woodwork, and sewing.”
Cailan laughed. “You can sew?”
Jarek grinned at the younger man’s amusement. “I can. I’m not promising it would be something aesthetically pleasing, but it would hold together.”
When Cailan continued to snicker, Jarek teasingly tugged at his clothes. “Why do you laugh? You’re legally a Cylandrean now. You’ll be learning many of these things that you don’t already know.”
The younger man’s chuckles stopped. “I have to learn to sew and cook?!”
“Absolutely,” Jarek said with grin, although he wasn’t teasing. He did plan to make sure his young husband knew how to do such things.
Cailan’s expression showed he had little interest in learning either skill. “I don’t see why either is necessary.”
“You will, but for now you’ll have to accept that it’s because I wish you to.”
Before Cailan could argue that, Jarek pressed into him and began sucking and laving at a spot on Cailan’s neck. The action immediately brought a gasp and then a pleased groan from the smaller man he was pulling into his arms.
“How does your leg feel, petling?” he asked as he continued to mouth at Cailan’s skin.
“Huh?” the young prince murmured.
Jarek chuckled. “Is your leg paining you at all?” he repeated.
“Uh…no. Just a little…stiff,” Cailan managed to answer amidst Jarek’s attentions.
“Hm, stretch it out then,” Jarek directed as he purposefully maneuvered Cailan to his back in the soft sand. His silver-haired husband willingly went with the repositioning, and then seemed to lose his words entirely as Jarek used his mouth all the way down Cailan’s torso, eventually focusing on the younger man’s groin. His hands massaged the firm muscles of Cailan’s thighs as his mouth intimately took over his lover’s private area.
“I have sand everywhere!” Cailan grumbled emphatically. He repeatedly shook out his clothes and tried to rid his skin of the itchy and aggravating granules.
Jarek was in the same boat as his husband, but he couldn’t help finding amusement at the other man’s moaning. It reminded him of his younger brother Sem complaining about life in general when he was a teenager. The tone was practically identical.
“We will wash it off,” Jarek promised. “Although you were not complaining of the sand’s positioning earlier,” he teased.
Cailan threw a glare at the bigger man as they approached their cottage. “I was distracted, and that is your fault! I’m not ever allowing you to even kiss me when we’re in the presence of sand again.”
“Good luck with that,” Jarek replied cheekily.
Cailan gave him a strange look. “You’re acting…odd.”
Jarek’s brows lifted questioningly. “Odd?”
Clearly the younger man didn’t know how else to explain himself, although he tried even as he shook out his tunic again. “You’re usually serious, or benevolent, or authoritative. Right now you’re….”
Jarek waited for his husband to find the word, and couldn’t help but chuckle when Cailan finally said, “Silly.”
“Am I not supposed to be ‘silly’?”
Uncertainly, Cailan still answered, “No.”
They’d reached the front door of the cottage, but instead of going inside, Jarek pressed Cailan’s back against the door and fenced him in with an arm on either side of the young prince. “Why can’t I be silly, petling?” he asked curiously. His husband looked endearingly confused.
“Because you’re a prince, second to the throne, the military leader of your country, and looked up to by your people…and my, um, master.”
“And apparently none of those roles allows me a sense of humor?” Jarek asked in a straight tone, but with a grin that Cailan couldn’t help responding to.
“I know you have a sense of humor. It’s just odd that you tease, or act in a less than leaderish way.”
“Leaderish? I’m not sure that’s a word, petling. Can you do that? Is a prince allowed to just make up words instead of using the vast and proper vocabulary he’s been taught?”
His tone continued to tease and Cailan grumbled at him. “I’m being serious.”
“And I’m not,” Jarek acknowledged, and then dropped a kiss on Cailan’s nose. “Most of our time together has involved high stress, difficult changes, vast amounts of personal learning, emotional strain, and physical healing. I can understand that teasing you and acting a bit silly may seem odd, little love, but it is allowed for both of us. I can be your master and your lover and your silly husband all at the same time.” He moved in a little closer, cupped Cailan’s chin and pressed a warm and slow kiss to the young man’s mouth. “Right now I have no other responsibilities than being with you and getting to know you. That makes me happy, as does enjoying one of my favorite places that is full of beauty and being able to share that place with you. It’s making me feel silly and full of affection and desirous to tease and play with you as well as make love to you or be your authority. Can you handle that, or does your comfort need me to keep the seriousness in our relationship?”
Cailan slowly shook his head. “You don’t always have to be serious. It was just unexpected to see you act as you were.”
“I’m sure you’ll be surprised by other things as we continue to know one another, and I’ll probably be surprised by unexpected aspects of you.”
Cailan nodded in agreement. “What caused you to act so silly just then?”
Jarek laughed softly. “I was amused at the knowledge I had of how sand got everywhere on you, and I admit that your complaining over the sand in all your crevices was rather adorable.”
“I’m not adorable!” Cailan argued with a frown.
This time Jarek laughed out loud. “Petling, you are adorable and handsome and a joy to be around. You are also mine,” he added with a deliberate growl, “and right now I plan to take you inside and be as thorough in getting all that sand off of you as I was getting it on.”
Cailan’s shocked response was cut off in one of Jarek’s deep and searching kisses that kept them fused together as they entered the house and sequestered themselves in the bathing room.
Cailan felt both very clean and rather pleasantly sullied once the two of them had cleansed themselves and each other of all the sand. He was leaning against the headboard of their bed now, watching as Jarek carefully wrapped his leg with a supply of bandages that had been brought along. He had tried to claim that it really wasn’t necessary to maintain the wrappings anymore, but Jarek had quite firmly pointed out that the healer had said they were and refused to debate the issue. When Cailan had tried, he’d received a stinging swat to the back of his good leg that he was still mildly pouting over.
When Jarek finish binding the leg, he moved up until he could lean in and place a nipping kiss on Cailan’s slightly protruding lower lip. “Stop grouching, petling. You know the bandages provide protection and support to your leg, which is still healing. You will be without them soon enough.”
Cailan sighed. “I still don’t think it’s necessary.”
“Whether you do or not, we are going to abide by the healer’s directives. How does it feel now?”
“Then come and help me prepare a meal for us,” Jarek stated. “I’ll give you your first lesson in cooking.”
Eyes wide, Cailan let himself be tugged off the bed and to the kitchen area. “Jarek, I really know nothing of kitchen work!”
“I know, which is why I’m going to teach you. We’ll make a stew and more flat biscuits for it. I promise it is nothing too difficult to learn.”
Cailan’s voice got somewhat offended. “I know could learn it, but that does not mean I want to.”
“Well, I am not giving you the choice to opt out,” Jarek told him inflexibly, although he tempered his edict with a kiss to Cailan’s cheek and a nod to the right of them. “In that cabinet are vegetables. Get out some potatoes, carrots, onions, and anything else that appeals to your palate.”
Moving to the cabinet, Cailan looked inquisitively back at his husband. “What are you going to do?”
“Get the meat,” Jarek told him. “There is a cold chest outside and around the back of the cottage. Do have a preference in what I bring back?”
Cailan, still a bit thrown at the thought of actually making a meal, had to take a moment to ponder the question. “Is there venison? I’ve roasted that over a flame during my battle years. If we use something I’m familiar with….” His voice faded off uncertainly.
Jarek’s gaze was kind and full of affection. “I’m certain there is venison available to us. I’ll be back shortly. Leave the vegetables you choose on the counter until I return.”
When he came back with a hunk of Cailan’s chosen meat, he was pleased to see the younger man had done as he’d asked. Potatoes, carrots, and onions, as well as some ears of corn and mushrooms were on the counter. The younger man had even gone a step further. He’d filled the kitchen’s old-fashioned sink with water and was washing each of the vegetables.
“I am already thinking you will have a natural talent in cooking, my prince. You are washing the vegetables without me directing you to do so.”
A look of pleasure over Jarek’s approving words appeared on Cailan’s face, but he shrugged his shoulders. “If possible, we were taught to clean any food we harvested when we were in active field service. I thought it would probably apply to food brought into a kitchen as well.”
“It’s good, common sense,” Jarek agreed. “How did you prepare your meat when you were on the field?”
“It was always open flame cooking,” Cailan answered. “Small game was roasted over a spit. So was fish. If our company of soldiers was able to carry some extras, like a cooking pot or skillet, we’d sometimes boil the meat for stew or soup, or fry it with curry oil.”
Jarek was familiar with Cailan’s description of outdoor food preparation. Being his country’s military leader and having fought in innumerable battles and special missions, he’d often prepared and eaten food as Cailan depicted. He also knew that for a soldier, with limited room to carry much to flavor or season the food, many meals tended to taste bland or just the same no matter what they cooked.
The stew he was going to teach Cailan to make this night was not difficult, but it could be flavored in multiple ways with spices besides salt and pepper. He wanted to get Cailan familiar with the resources a good kitchen could make available to him, and perhaps even enjoy learning to cook at times.
“What now?” the younger prince asked as he finished washing the last potato.
Jarek retrieved a large pot from one of the shelves and began filling it with water. He nodded at the meat he’d brought back as he answered. “Cut that into large chunks. We’ll cook it in a slow boil which will make it really tender.”
Cailan nodded and started cutting the meat. Jarek joined him and they soon had the meat in the pot, sitting over a low flame. He then showed Cailan how to peel and chop each of the vegetables, explaining why the hard potatoes and carrots should be chopped smaller than the soft mushrooms. Cailan, with his inquisitive mind, clearly enjoyed the informative part of the cooking process, but grew frustrated over the difficulty in peeling each vegetable and the mundaneness of cutting them up.
Once they had added the vegetables to the pot with the meat, Jarek claimed it needed to slow cook for a while, so he’d show Cailan how to make the flat biscuits.
This time, instead of working each step together, Jarek guided Cailan in words only, telling the younger man what ingredients were needed, how much, and why the dough required hand kneading instead of mixing with a spoon.
“It helps to feel the consistency. You can make sure the dough feels as it should.
Cailan snorted. “I have no idea how it’s supposed to feel.”
His hands were covered in flour and oil, and he clearly wasn’t sure how he felt about it. Jarek was tempted to laugh, but he allowed only a patient smile to show.
“You don’t want it to be too sticky,” Jarek told him. “If it is, you’ll need to add more flour. However, if the dough isn’t holding together well, then it’s too dry, and more oil or even an extra egg might be necessary.”
Cailan looked at the dough warily, as if the white lump was out to get him. “I’m going to screw this up. I’d never know if it was just right!”
“Don’t overthink it,” Jarek soothed. “Everyone messes up sometimes, but I’m monitoring what you’re doing. If it isn’t right, it’s equally my fault.”
Cailan grimaced but continued to knead at the dough the way Jarek had shown him.
“How does it feel right now?” Jarek asked a few minutes later, after he’d stirred the contents of the pot and lit the wood-burning oven.
“I don’t know…firm?” Cailan tried to describe.
Jarek stepping to his side and reached in to poke and pat at the lump of dough a couple times. “I think that’s pretty good. We’ll sprinkle some flour on the table and then roll it around over the flour until it’s coated and shaped like a log.”
Cailan nodded, but picked a piece of the dough off the lump and tasted it, immediately making a face. “That tastes awful,” he complained.
Jarek thought he heard a bit of disappointment included in the young man’s tone, and he tried to reassure. “It will be good once it’s baked, especially when you dip it in the stew broth. Flat biscuits aren’t really meant to be eaten by themselves. They’re made to soak up broths and gravies.”
Cailan looked doubtful, but made a comment. “For the work it takes to make them, there should be a way to make them edible alone.”
That gave Jarek a thought. “What would you add to make them taste better?” he asked with interest.
Cailan stared at the dough, crossing his arms as he thought about it. “Maybe some honey or sweet fruit. Just something so it’s not so bland.”
Jarek nodded. “Let’s do it then.”
Cailan’s head turned, his face reflecting his surprise at Jarek’s unexpected suggestion. “Do it? We don’t even know if it would be good.”
Jarek shrugged. “If we don’t like it, we don’t eat it. Skilled chefs often experiment with what they create. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t. There’s honey in that cabinet. We don’t have much fruit though. I requested only those fruits that would last a bit longer, so our selection is limited, unless you want to pick some of the island fruits or berries.”
Cailan’s eyes lit with some excitement. He moved to the cabinet to retrieve the honey and look over the selection of fruit. He ended up bringing back a container of dried raisins instead of some of the fresh fruit.
“What do you think?” he asked Jarek uncertainly.
“I think I’m excited to try this. Let’s mix them in.”
Cailan stepped closer to the bowl with the items, but hesitated. “How much of each?”
Jarek thought about it. “Let’s just add a spoonful of honey and a couple handfuls of raisins. We can always add more if we think it’s not enough.”
In the end they stuck with the initial amount of raisins, but added a total of three spoonsful of honey. Cailan had kept pinching off small bites of the dough to taste it, and finally declared it rather tasty. He rolled it out on the table in the log-shape Jarek described, and then cut it into inch-thick pieces.
They waited until the stew was further along in its cooking before putting the biscuits in the oven. Jarek also encouraged Cailan to taste the stew and add whatever spices they had on hand to continue flavoring it. Without really knowing how the spices would affect the meat and vegetables, Cailan was cautious with what he added. A sprinkling of ginger and a handful of crushed bay leaves were all he decided to add.
Both men’s hunger grew as the smells of the stew and baking biscuits permeated the chalet. Cailan also grew more nervous when Jarek withdrew the experimental biscuits from the oven and transferred them to a plate that he then set on the table. He spooned the stew into a bowl and brought that to the table as well while Cailan filled a goblet with cold water.
When Jarek sat down, he settled Cailan on his lap. The younger man was coming to realize that his husband preferred the extra contact over having Cailan on the floor beside him.
“Shall we try it?” Jarek asked.
“May I try them first?” Cailan asked with apprehension. “If they aren’t good then I don’t want you to have to taste it.”
The arm around Cailan’s waist squeezed gently. “Petling, considering how good everything smells, I have no fears that everything will be quite edible; but if you want to taste them first, go ahead.”
He filled a spoon with the stew and brought it to Cailan’s mouth. After a moment’s hesitation, Cailan accepted the spoonful and chewed slowly.
“Well?” the older man asked, his gaze watching Cailan closely.
A slow smile appeared after Cailan swallowed the mouthful. “It’s good!” he exclaimed excitedly.
Grinning back, feeling proud at the sense of achievement his young spouse was experiencing, Jarek willingly ate a spoonful of the meat and vegetables. Cailan was right. It was quite good! The meat was tender and the bay leaves and ginger strengthened the flavor of everything.
He reached for one of the still-warm biscuits and held it up to Cailan’s lips. Without the earlier hesitancy, Cailan bit off a piece and chewed thoughtfully for a moment. With his mouth still full, he grinned and nodded. Jarek popped the rest of the biscuit in his mouth, moaning appreciatively at the sweetness the honey and raisins had added to the bread.
“We’re going to show the kitchen workers how to make these when we return to the palace,” he stated after swallowing. “They turned out really well. I think you have an instinctive knowledge on what flavors will work well together.”
“Really?” Cailan asked, reminding Jarek that his young spouse was more used to being told he wasn’t as good as everyone else, than being praised for his abilities.
“Really,” he assured.
They ate the rest of their meal hungrily, and the success of this first “lesson” was the start of enjoyable evenings cooking and experimenting together throughout the rest of their wedding trip.