It had become a daily practice for the two men to spend time swimming in the cool waves that crashed along the beach. The exercise itself was proving good for Cailan’s leg, strengthening it without putting it through the strain of extended walking or running; but it was equally an activity both men enjoyed. In the shallows they splashed and rough-housed, appreciating the freedom to act in ways their royal upbringings had not always allowed. When they swam into deeper water, they explored coral reefs and floated on the waves. Both men kept an eye out for sharks and barracuda, and Jarek was always very aware of shifting tides and currents.
Cailan was learning the different tones Jarek’s voice could take on and what they meant: the huskiness of the early morning, the growl of arousal, the softness of affection, the chuckle of amusement, and the firmness of authority. There were others, but Cailan hadn’t labeled them in his head quite yet.
However, he heard one that was becoming familiar in a rather annoying way lately: the command to swim back to shore.
The younger prince had developed a love for swimming in the waves and floating atop them. When the waters were calm, it was like being rocked and was incredibly soothing. He had been enjoying that relaxing feeling when Jarek announced it was time to leave the water, and he wasn’t ready for it to end.
“You go,” he replied, loud enough that he believed his partner could hear him from the short distance that separated them. “I’m staying for a few more minutes.”
He didn’t hear a reply and didn’t bother to open his eyes. His arms moved languidly amidst the waves, making sure he didn’t let the currents carry him further than he wished to go.
However, several minutes later he gasped and took in an unpleasant mouthful of salt water when one arm was grabbed and yanked, pulling him out of his floating position. Coughing and treading water with one hand because his other was firmly in Jarek’s grasp, Cailan glowered at his husband.
“Are you trying to drown me?!” he gasped out angrily when he could speak.
Jarek’s eyes on him looked just as irritated. “No, I’m trying to get you back to shore. Didn’t you hear me say it was time to return?”
Cailan tried to yank his arm out of Jarek’s grip, but had no luck. “I heard you. I told you I was going to stay in the water a bit longer.”
Jarek’s eyes narrowed and he pointed toward the eastern sky. “Look! There are clouds coming in, bringing a storm, and the currents are getting stronger by the minute. Look how far you’ve floated away from the beach!”
Cailan looked from the sky and then to the land, his heart fluttering a little as he realized he’d been letting the water carry him out further than he knew.
“Come on,” Jarek said with a tug on his arm. “We’re going back now, and we’ll need to swim hard and hope the storm doesn’t catch us before we reach solid ground.”
Cailan went with him this time, and they swam side by side with strong strokes through the water. The sky above them was quickly darkening and the first drops of rain began to fall just as they hit water shallow enough to stand in. It was another fifteen minutes before they reached the cottage, by which time the rain had become a downpour.
Being wet wasn’t a problem, but both men were worn out and cold when they were finally able to close the door of the chalet. They sat wearily down at the cottage’s small table, just taking a few minutes to rest.
When they had caught their breath, Jarek stood first. He moved to the wood stove and began arranging kindling and small logs to be lit.
“Go prepare a bath,” he directed Cailan as he worked. “I’ll join you once the stove is lit.”
Cailan nodded tiredly and ambled toward the bathing room. He stepped on the hidden treadle and watched the water fill the porcelain tub, adding a handful of scented soap flakes to enhance to the bath’s soothing qualities.
Jarek entered just as Cailan finished filling the tub, and both men undressed and climbed into the deep water, groaning unanimously at the soothing warmth. They sat on opposite ends, facing each other while their legs intertwined in the water.
“This feels like the bathing pool in your suite at the palace,” Cailan murmured. “I always liked that.”
“Mm,” Jarek breathed out in agreement. “I’ve spent a lot of time outside in all kinds of weather. That’s why I had the bathing room done as I did, because it’s healing and soothing after the effort of training and battles.”
“I wish all soldiers could experience it.”
Jarek nodded. “They can in Cylandrea.”
Cailan lifted his head from where he had let if fall against the edge of the tub. “They can?”
Jarek nodded. “It’s not private like ours, but in our three main cities, we’ve erected a large, indoor bathing facility that has a heated pool about twice the size of ours in the palace, and a cool room with a smaller pool for those who prefer a more refreshing temperature. They were built almost exclusively for those in military service, but on scheduled days the facilities are open to the general public. Usually there’s a day for the women, one for the men, and a third to bring children as long as they are accompanied by a parent or guardian.”
“That’s wonderful,” Cailan praised.
“It’s deserved. Those in leadership are meant to take care of those under them, especially the men who willingly risk their lives for the freedom of their countrymen and their loyalty to their king. My grandfather had that first facility built about ten years after he came to the throne. My father erected the other two, and Alaric takes care to make sure the facilities are kept in good condition.”
The two of them spoke for several more minutes on the privileges granted to the soldiers and veterans of Cylandrea’s military. Eventually, warm and with the ache of their tired muscles having been soothed, they left the tub, dried, and headed to the main room.
Cailan had his mind set on dressing and then food for their evening meal, but when he turned toward the chest that contained their clothes, his wrist was caught and Jarek brought him to one of the room’s settees.
“We have something to discuss between us, petling,” the man stated.
The tone was one that sent a shiver down Cailan’s spine. “What?”
Jarek sat and brought the smaller man to his lap, their nude bodies now pressed together, although it didn’t go without notice by Cailan that his husband was showing no arousal. “What’s the matter?” he questioned.
“On our first day here, I told you there would be no swimming alone, did I not?”
Cailan felt a flush cross his body, but it was of irritation, not embarrassment. “You did, and I did not attempt to swim alone,” he declared.
Jarek’s brows rose at Cailan’s attitude. “I told you it was time to leave the water. You ignored and disobeyed me.”
Cailan shook his head and tried to get off Jarek’s lap, but the other man held him firm. “I told you that I was going to swim longer. You’re the one who left me by myself.”
“I thought you were following me back to shore,” Jarek told him. “I didn’t realize until I reached the shallows that you hadn’t done so, and when I looked back, you were far enough away that I could hardly see you.” He gripped Cailan’s chin and made their eyes meet. “Do you understand that for a moment my heart left my chest? I feared you had gotten caught by a shark, or stung by a jellyfish, or drowned!”
Some of Cailan’s heated attitude dwindled away at that confession, but some irritation still remained. “I didn’t mean to scare you, but I didn’t know about the storm or the increased currents. I was enjoying myself and wasn’t ready to come to shore yet.”
“Which I understand, but it does not justify disobedience. Do you understand that?”
Cailan looked away, not quite ready to admit to that. “I would have come if you had warned me of the storm.”
The swat that landed on his hip stung and made him swing his head back toward Jarek and stare at the man in shock. The older prince’s tone grew firmer.
“Whether I mentioned the storm or not does not play into it, Cailan. We have discussed our desired roles in this relationship, roles we both want and have agreed to because they give us the freedom to be ourselves. As such, you do not get to base your obedience on whether you agree with me or want to do as I say. If you don’t understand something, I will explain it. If you don’t agree, you may state your preference and I may agree to discuss it, but you do not get to disobey based on your own whims.”
Cailan clenched his fists, knowing that Jarek was right, but not liking it in that moment. “Does that mean I’ll never get my way?” he asked snarkily.
“No, it does not,” Jarek assured, “but it does mean that I will not permit blatant disobedience or doing something that puts your safety at risk, such as not paying attention to your surroundings when amongst the elements or refusing to abide by my directives, particularly when I do have your best in mind.” His hand patted firmly where it rested on Cailan’s hip. “I know you understand what I’m saying, even if you don’t like it, but whether you like what I’m saying right now or not does play into my current decision on how to handle your disobedience.”
Jarek’s strong hands lifted and rearranged Cailan so quickly that the younger man didn’t have time to argue before he found himself sprawled across Jarek’s knees. He immediately pushed up as stung pride and residual anger at not getting his way made him want to struggle against his discipline.
“No! I don’t want this. It’s not fair!”
“Would it have been fair if I hadn’t caught on that you did not follow me to shore and lost you to a strong current or shark attack? Is it fair to risk your safety for a few extra minutes of a casual desire? Is it fair to debate my love for you by maintaining a poor attitude when I’m merely sticking by the decisions we made together as well as doing my best to keep you by my side for many years?”
The air felt hot around them as Jarek asked his questions, and it took a couple minutes for the impact of them to be felt by Cailan; but when it hit, his heart ached as he understood and accepted his culpability.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
A hand slid up his back and squeezed his shoulder. It was a comfort, a silent acceptance of his apology, but not a willingness to not administer the deserved punishment. The hand moved back to Cailan’s hip and held firm just before the other hand came down vigorously on his behind.
It took only a few hard swats for Cailan to grab desperately at Jarek’s ankle. It was already clear that this chastisement was going to be worse than what he’d previously experienced. The stick Jarek had used on him had left a wicked sting, but it was four stripes and done. The time his master had put him over his knee after the meal with the Berring group had been embarrassing and painful enough to be memorable, but also short-lived.
This punishment was already lasting longer than the other two, and each swat on his bare skin built on the previous. It didn’t feel like Jarek was holding much back either. The swats covered his whole backside repeatedly, and even traveled down to the tops of his thighs. He managed to remain silent for quite a while, but eventually involuntary gasps and brief whimpers escaped his mouth. His ankles crossed in an attempt to manage the growing pain, but eventually the burn surpassed his ability to cope and the tears that had stung the back of his eyes spilled over, down his cheeks and onto the floor.
Whimpers turned to steady cries as his distress increased. His body squirmed to try and get away from the repeated smacks on now incredibly tender skin, but it went on until he buried his face in his arm, whimpered out a sincere “I’m sorry”, and sobbed in both pain and remorse for his behavior.
It was hard to tell when the swats stopped because the pain did not ease, but there was now a hand rubbing gentle circles on the small of his back, and then he was being maneuvered upright and his face was buried in the curve of Jarek’s neck. A few more sobs spilled out of him before his cries started to abate and gradually slowed to the occasional hitched breath. The tension in his body eased as his cries did, and he started to feel soft kisses placed wherever Jarek’s lips could reach. He lifted his head and wiped at his cheeks before looking into Jarek’s blue eyes.
“That hurt so much. Am I forgiven?”
Jarek palmed one cheek and wiped his thumb across the tear streaks. “Yes, my petling. All his forgiven. I hope you hold no resentment toward me.”
Cailan took another shaky breath. “I don’t think so.”
Jarek’s head tilted. “You don’t think so?”
Cailan let his head fall back to Jarek’s shoulder. “I don’t feel…happy…with you right now. I hurt,” he whimpered. “Even more than I thought I would, but I don’t resent you. I know why you disciplined me and my own fault in it.”
Jarek sighed a bit sadly. “I’m glad you understand, petling, even if you aren’t happy with me.” He brushed a kiss on Cailan’s still damp cheek. “I love you.”
Cailan slid his arms around Jarek’s waist. “I love you too.”
On their last evening at Amity Cove, the two men sat outside on the grass, watching the sun set over the distant horizon.
“It feels too soon to go back,” Cailan said softly. The setting to was too peaceful to disturb with loud voices.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” Jarek agreed. “It’s a hard place to leave.”
“I love it. It’s been lovely and I’ve felt so free.”
Jarek lightly bumped their shoulders together. “You haven’t felt free before?”
Cailan shrugged languidly. “When I was young, maybe three or four, I found a tree that had fallen and the trunk was hollowed out. I was able to crawl inside and hide.”
“What were you hiding from?” Jarek asked.
“I don’t really remember,” Cailan admitted. “But I remember feeling pleasantly cut off from the outside world, like everything was safe and no one could bother me if I just stayed in that little space.” He chuckled. “I crawled out as soon as I got hungry though.”
Jarek snorted in amusement and shifted behind Cailan so the younger man could lean back against his chest. Cailan continued talking in a wistful tone.
“There are always duties to attend to as a prince, you know? Royalty is equivalent to responsibility. I know there are people who wish to be royal because of the power and wealth that coincides with it, but no one really understands that you’re a slave to the position.”
Jarek rested his chin on the top of Cailan’s head. “Yes, it can feel like that sometimes.”
“I don’t resent my birth status,” Cailan assured. “But it’s been nice, like breathing fresh air, to be me without a title; not a prince, not a concubine, not a silver-born. Just me. Me and you.”
“Little love, you’ve always just been ‘you’ to me.”
Cailan shook his head. “No, I haven’t,” he debated. “I was…am…the one of the prophecies to you.”
“No,” Jarek corrected. “I wondered if you could be that person when I first saw you, but from the moment you opened your mouth to defend your little brother, you became a man I respected simply for who he was showing me he was.” He kissed the top of Cailan’s silver head. “I love you for you, and I want you to always feel free in our relationship and in my arms.”
The younger man relaxed fully against Jarek’s body, loving the strength and solidity he felt in his husband’s embrace. He didn’t reply to his lover’s statement or think any longer about the responsibilities that would reappear in their world when they returned to the palace the next morning. He enjoyed the moment.
And later that night, they promised each other to return to Amity Cove whenever they were free.