Two days later, a carriage was taking the two young men into the city. For the first time, Cailan saw Jothan dressed in casual wear instead of his guard’s uniform. It made him appear younger than his years, as did the unconcealed wonder at riding in one of the royal carriages.
“I’ve ridden with a driver on top, or marched next to one as part of the guard, but I’ve never ridden inside,” he explained when Cailan commented on his awe. “I didn’t realize the inside was so plush.”
That was something Cailan realized he tended to take for granted. The inside of the carriage was a picture of luxury, with cushioned seats of crushed velvet, matching curtains over the windows, and hand-carved decorations within the carriage’s woodwork. He’d ridden in similar style as a prince of Arten, so hadn’t been surprised at the look of the Cylandrean palace’s carriages.
“How do you travel?” he asked once Jothan had looked his fill of their ride.
“Horseback mostly,” the young guard informed. “Although I have a buggy that I can attach a covering to when necessary. I usually use that in the winter or in poor weather when I take my fiancé somewhere.”
Cailan asked about Jothan’s betrothed, and the two of them conversed easily on the ride into Palace City. When they arrived, per Cailan’s request, the driver left them off along a street of popular shops and arranged to meet them when they were ready to move on.
The day was warmer than the one when he and Jarek had been in the city, but Cailan was still glad to have dressed warmly. Although, he quickly wished that the wool hat he wore did more to hide his hair. The shame of being a silver-born was not a part of life here in Cylandrea, but it was still a weight on his shoulders that never seemed to completely go away. And even though many in this country saw his hair as something good, it still drew attention he didn’t care for, and made him stand out from them because all Cylandreans had predominantly black hair. Thus, his silver tresses, as well as his reputation as the prophecy-fulfiller, drew a lot of stares as soon as they alighted from the carriage.
Uncomfortable, Cailan found he wasn’t sure where to go or what to do about the stares he was getting. Fortunately, Jothan proved to be the perfect companion to have brought along.
“Everyone will acknowledge you, sire,” the guard said softly. “But no one will approach you unless you speak to them first, or you enter their businesses. Then they will approach to offer their assistance.”
Cailan calmed some with that information, and realized that Jothan was likely telling him the truth. It occurred to him that he and Jarek hadn’t been approached except when entering a shop when they were in town. He had assumed that had been because so few people had been outside in the cold. But, now he realized it was a matter of respect of the royal family’s desire not to be bombarded everywhere they went.
“What are you looking for, sire?” Jothan asked.
“Please, if you would, call me Cailan when it’s just us. As far as what I’m looking for…I’m not sure. What are typical gifts that are given for Starlight Day, and where would be good places to get them?”
Jothan looked thoughtful. “Most people, if they’re buying a gift for someone special, try to make it personal and thoughtful. However, if gifts are exchanged between people who appreciate one another, but perhaps don’t know each other as well, then they tend to offer more generic gifts like foodstuffs, household items, or scented candles.
“I see,” Cailan murmured, already thinking he should have had this conversation with Jothan before the came into the city. He might have been better prepared with gifts in mind. “I’m afraid I’m not entirely sure where to start. What would be good shops to explore?”
“Any along this street will have a wide assortment of items that are often bought as gifts. Maybe you’ll get an idea by seeing what they have to offer,” Jothan suggested.
So, they spent most of the morning wandering in and out of the shops. It was a novel experience for Cailan. He’d never done any kind of shopping like this, and he found it fascinating to see the items that were sold and the way people chose purchases.
He also kept in mind what Jothan said about giving personal gifts to those who were special to him. Jarek was, of course, the first one to come to mind, and the one he most wanted to get something special for. It felt especially important to do it on this occasion, since it was the first holiday they’d be spending together. He wanted to commemorate it in a worthy way.
He didn’t want to discount the other members of the royal family though. They’d always treated him with respect, even when he was essentially a prisoner of war. They were his family now too, and he wanted a way to express his appreciation and respect to them, which meant finding just the right gift for King Alaric, Queen Kesla, Princess Sana, and Prince Sem.
He was impressed by much of what he saw in the shops, and had been tempted to purchase some items for himself.
One gentleman’s wares included hand-carved, wooden figurines that he assured he could make to resemble a real person.
A lady with a set of month-old triplets was selling candles with a lovely scent to them. He didn’t truly need any of those, but wanting to help the seller make an honest living and provide for her children, he bought a candle to give to his mother when she visited. It felt good to give the coins over to her.
Other shops sold dried flower arrangements, paintings, stone carvings, clothing, and some lovely decorative boxes that Jothan said were popular among the women of the country.
“Each one is unique,” he said. “And it’s not uncommon for the wealthier among our people to try to attain a collection of them. Often they’ll keep rings or other jewelry in them, although some use them as memory boxes.”
“Memory boxes?” Cailan questioned.
“Yes, like a small chest to hold special mementos. My mother has one that my father gave her when they married, and she keeps special letters in it, along with some scraps of fabric from my sister’s and my baby clothing.” Jothan got a sheepish expression. “I’ve purchased a box for my fiancé. I’ll give it to her as a wedding gift when we marry in the spring.”
“Like your father did?”
“Yeah.” Jothan chuckled with a bit of embarrassment. “I thought it could be the start of a tradition in my family. First my father, then me. Maybe someday I’ll have a son who will give one to his new wife. That probably sounds silly.”
“Not at all,” Cailan assured. “I’m learning that traditions are valued things here, and I think that’s because they’re seen as a thread that links people together. That’s special.”
Jothan eyed him with appreciation. “Thank you. I wouldn’t have thought someone not born and raised in Cylandrea would understand that.”
“We have traditions in Arten too. Not all are as significant as what I’ve seen here, but they’re still special.”
Talk of traditions continued as they browsed, and eventually they reached the end of the street of shops. The time felt like it had gone by quickly, even though a few hours had passed. Cailan had been welcomed by innumerable Cylandreans and that pleased him, but as far as gifts, he was disappointed in himself. While some items he was still considering, Queen Kesla was the only one he’d found one for that he would be pleased to give her. It was a beautiful hand-sewn blanket for her to keep on her lounging couch. The queen’s health had improved greatly over the last two months, but she was still healing from the prolonged poisoning she’d endured. It required frequent times of rest during the day, and Cailan thought the blanket could be useful as well as attractive.
“Would you like to visit more shops?” Jothan asked as Cailan handed the blanket and wrapped candle to the driver to stow.
While he had been enjoying the novelty of shopping, Cailan thought he’d had about enough of it for the day.
“No, not right now,” he told Jothan. “Could you recommend somewhere to eat? Maybe afterward we can continue.”
“Sure. I know a great place. It’s not palace fare, but you won’t have any complaints about the food. I promise.”
Jothan was right. He had the driver take them to a tavern, and Cailan’s stomach grumbled as they entered and he inhaled the rich scents of cooking meat and spices. The foods available to diners were written on a board, but most of it was unfamiliar to him. Cylandrea had a lot of foods he’d never had in Arten, although thus far he’d enjoyed the majority that he’d eaten.
“Oh great! They have my favorite spiced stew today,” Jothan commented as he read the board.
Cailan wasn’t exactly sure what a ‘spiced stew’ was, but he figured Jothan’s enthusiasm for it would make it a good choice. They both ordered a large portion, and soon a deep bowl of meat and vegetables, along with generous hunks of bread, were delivered to their table.
Jothan dug in enthusiastically. Cailan hesitated a moment, but then tasted the dish in front of him and moaned in genuine enjoyment.
“I know,” Jothan agreed. “Dip your bread in it. It’s even better.”
Cailan did so and had to agree. The two of them thoroughly enjoyed their meal, and Cailan enjoyed the company as well. Friendships outside of a royal family were also things he hadn’t had much experience with, but his current companionship with Jothan was one of honest contentment.
“Where to now?” the off-duty guard asked after they’d both finished their meals.
Cailan shrugged. “I believe I want to think a little more on gifts, so I don’t know that going to more shops is my first choice. Do you think it would be possible to just drive around the city? I’ve only seen a handful of places, and I’d like to get more familiar with it.”
“You’re the prince, Cailan,” Jothan said with a smile. “What we do is up to you, but I don’t mind guiding a tour through the area. There are some beautiful places to see, and some lesser known spots you might find interesting.”
Cailan’s nod was eager. “Please. Let’s do that.”
By the time the carriage returned the two men to the palace, Cailan was much more familiar with the city, and very pleased with his new knowledge. He’d seen ancestral statues and learned the history behind them; a topiary garden that was amazingly lush, even during the winter season; several schools and places of worship; and Jothan even pointed out the candle shop where his fiancé worked. Overall, the day had been a very pleasant one.
Cailan’s only disappointment with the time was the lack of gifts he’d returned with. However, as he washed the day’s dust off him and changed into fresh clothes, a few ideas began to develop in his mind.
By the time Jarek joined him in their quarters, a plan for gifts and how to get them was well on the way in his head.
The palace was bustling with family and visitors a couple days later. Sana returned from visiting with her and her siblings’ parents, and King Jonerick and Queen Dyanna had come with her.
On the same day, Cailan’s mother arrived for her scheduled visit. She’d been working and communicating with the women in Jarek’s family to plan Cailan and Jarek’s Cylandrean nuptials; something she was thoroughly enjoying.
Cailan was glad about that for several reasons. One was that he and Jarek both were happy to have the details attended to by the women. They could approve or reject anything the women wanted their opinion on, but overall were free to continue in their duties to the soldiers and the palace without the stress of planning what it appeared was going to be a lavish wedding day.
The second reason was that the time the women spent together had been unifying for both royal families. Friendships were being made and enjoyed, and considering that just a few months previously they had been at war with each other, Cailan felt like a miracle had occurred.
He greeted his mother happily when she arrived, and just as happily escorted her to Queen Kesla’s quarters where the women would continue their planning. However, he did discuss some plans with her, and made arrangements for the two of them to spend the next afternoon together. This time Cailan would get to be the tour guide and introduce his mother to the unique differences of Cylandrea.
“It’s going to be beautiful!” Cailan’s mother, Queen Adesina, said enthusiastically as they rode together into Palace City. “The grand ballroom will be done in blue and silver, which will match the season, as well as the colors in the royal seal, according to Dyanna.”
Cailan simply nodded with a smile. He enjoyed his mother’s enthusiasm, despite feeling a little nervous about the grand affair his Cylandrean wedding to Jarek was going to be.
“The ladies sent out the invitations after my last visit, and over four hundred have already confirmed their attendance!”
That comment threw Cailan’s nerves into a spin. “Four hundred! How many invitations were sent out?!”
“830,” Adesina told him without flinching or any show of concern.
“Don’t sound so surprised, sweetheart.” His mother finally noticed his honest shock and patted his cheek. “It’s a royal wedding. Of course it will be large. Didn’t you realize that?”
“I didn’t realize it would be quite that big,” Cailan admitted. “How many can actually safely be in the ceremony space?”
“According the Dyanna, the palace chapel can comfortably hold over a thousand people, so that’s not a concern. The grand ballroom, however, shouldn’t exceed five hundred. Kesla said that limit was reached when she and Alaric wed, but they assured me that the invitations were very specific on who was invited to the wedding and reception, and who was just invited to attend the wedding.”
Adesina could see none of this was comforting her son. She reached for his hand and gripped it in both of hers, silently realizing for the first time that the softness and small size she remembered holding in Cailan’s childhood was now hard and larger than her own.
Looking into his face, she saw subtle changes in his visage. There was an awareness in his eyes that hadn’t been there a year ago. There was the strong jaw and the shadow of scruff that revealed a man, not a boy.
But the mother in her could still see the youth behind his manly features. She glimpsed wariness and anxiety being carefully controlled from showing too much, and she wanted to know what worried him. It couldn’t be actually getting married, because he and Jarek had already made that official, so it had to be something else.
“Why does the number of people bother you?” she asked. “Most royal weddings are quite large. If it had been possible, we would have done this for you and Jarek in Arten….”
She stopped abruptly as her heart clenched.
Cailan realized almost at the same time as his mother what was most bothering him. His wedding in Arten had been small, limited to his and Jarek’s family and just a few good friends. They were people who loved him, silver hair or no silver hair.
It had also been small because his own countrymen were prejudiced against his hair color, and saw him as weak, as beneath them despite being their prince. They also believed he had been a concubine to Jarek before their marriage, and although Cailan knew that wasn’t the truth, there was no way to convince the Artenians of that; so, it was just another reason for them to think less of him.
His wedding in Cylandrea would be a very different affair. It was truly meant to be a nationwide celebration, and the Cylandrean people were excited for Jarek and him.
However, that didn’t soothe Cailan’s nerves at being the focus of hundreds of pairs of eyes, most of whom he did not know, yet who he understood were important to the royal family. He feared prejudice that might be there but had not yet been voiced. He worried that he’d do something that would damage the respect the people had for the royal family. Never being able to reach the expectations of others simply for being who he was had been a lifelong ache in his heart, and despite Jarek’s love and the support he’d thus far experienced in Cylandrea, he still feared he’d fail them in some way.
His mother’s look showed regret, and then sadness joined it when she reached to stroke a hand through his hair and he instinctively flinched.
“Oh, my son,” she sighed. “We gave such hurt to you.”
“It wasn’t your fault…” he began, but she stopped him with a finger to his lips.
“The fault may not have started with me or your father, but we did not stop it as we should have. We have always loved you. My heart never cared about the color of your hair, but we grew up believing that trait defined who each person was and who they would be. It’s taken the last few months for us to learn that it is not, nor should it be, what defines anyone. You are brave and smart and strong, and you always have been. I’m ashamed that Jarek and his family understood that about you almost immediately, while they were qualities your own family rarely praised you for.”
Adesina looked out the carriage window for several long seconds while Cailan processed her words.
“There are such high expectations,” he said into the quiet that had descended. “So much about me is different from the people here, and I was always different in Arten too. I fear I’ll disappoint everyone, and with so many people attending the wedding, it feels very likely that I will.”
His mother turned back to him, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “Cailan, if you truly do not want this wedding being the great affair the rest of us have planned, then I will defend your desires to the entire Lysander family,” she declared in one of the fiercest tones Cailan had ever heard from her. “But I want you to know that you deserve the grandness that is being planned. You are a hero to the people of this land, and you are an example of a wonderful man to your father and me. You have already exceeded every expectation put on you, and you will never be a disappointment. If someone says you are, then they don’t know you at all and don’t deserve to. And,” she added, “I think Leader Jarek would agree completely with the truth of those words.”
Cailan rarely heard his mother speak so strongly. She was a pillar of support to his father, but a quiet one. Her words now were evidence that she too was growing in self-awareness, and Cailan appreciated her willingness to fight for his desires.
“Thank you, mother,” he said gratefully. “I’ll go along with the wedding as planned. You’ve just helped me feel better about it.”
They moved on to other things, and soon were exiting the carriage onto the street of shops Jothan had brought Cailan to. He knew his mother would love to explore them, and he planned to have them dine together at a spot Princess Sana had recommended.
His mother did enjoy the shops’ offerings, as well as the decorations that were all along the street.
“They’re for Starlight Day,” Cailan explained. “It’s a special holiday here. They even have a week-long celebration that goes along with it called the Ice Festival.”
“That sounds fun! When will it begin?”
Cailan had to think for a moment. “Six days from now will be the first day of the festival. Starlight Day will be the last day. The palace hosts the events for that. Jarek said there are food stands, music, theatrical entertainment, and more. The holiday also involves gift exchanges. That’s another reason I wanted to bring you into the city this time. I have some ideas, but I was hoping you could help me choose some items for Jarek and his family.”
“Oh, I’d love to!” Adesina expressed. “Where should we start?”
It helped quite a bit to be more familiar with the area this time, and Cailan was both pleased and relieved at the welcome he and his mother received as they shopped. She helped him immensely with the gift choices. For King Jonerick, they chose a beautiful painting of the palace in a setting of falling snow and the illusion of lights in the windows. For Queen Dyanna, a stone planter with intricate carvings in it was picked. Cailan’s mother assured him that Dyanna loved flowers and it would be a very good gift.
In a clothing shop, Cailan was tempted to purchase a beautiful purple cloak with silver edging for Sem, but he feared insulting Lady Bara, who was usually called into service when new clothes were needed for the royal family. His mother didn’t know the woman well enough to say whether Cailan’s concern was legitimate, but she agreed not to take the risk. However, in that same shop, several men’s hats were also being sold, and since Lady Bara didn’t make those, he and his mother picked out a pricey one for the prince.
Not much later, the only two left to find a gift for were Princess Sana and Jarek. He'd been considering Sana’s gift since coming to the shops with Jothan. Wanting his mother’s opinion, he showed her to the decorative boxes and explained what Jothan had said about using them to hold memories.
“Princess Sana likes pretty things,” he said, remembering what he’d been told about her eye for valuables for the treasury. “Do you think presenting her with one of these would be appropriate?”
His mother carefully lifted one of the boxes and traced its delicate design. “I think they’re gorgeous, Cailan, and the notion of a memory box is such a sweet idea. I can’t imagine she wouldn’t appreciate receiving one.”
That made Cailan smile, and the two of them spent several minutes looking at each box in detail before picking one out for the princess.
Cailan had also noticed his mother repeatedly picking up one of the boxes they hadn’t chosen, and when he left her to continue browsing while he paid for Sana’s gift, he also paid for the other box and whispered a desire to have it delivered to the palace. The proprietor assured him it would be done post-haste.
When they left the shop, Cailan took a breath and, a bit haltingly, told his mother of the idea he had for Jarek’s gift, unsure if it would be suitable. However, he was encouraged by his mother’s enthusiasm for his idea once he thoroughly explained it, although she had a recommendation to add. He wasn’t sold on her suggestion, but said he’d consider it.
In the meantime, he knew he’d have some sneaking around to do to make sure he could get Jarek’s gift done exactly as he hoped it to be, and on time for Starlight Day.
By the time they’d eaten—and Sana’s recommendation was greatly enjoyed by both of them—and returned to the palace, both were feeling the busyness of their activities.
“You’ve worn me out, sweetheart,” his mother said. “I think I’m going to finish my day with a cup of tea and an early night.”
“Are your quarters comfortable for you?” he asked solicitously.
“Oh very! They feel a bit big without your father with me, but I am very comfortable.” She smiled and kissed his cheek. “The ladies and I are having breakfast in the morning before I leave. You and Jarek should join us. I’ve barely seen him this trip, and the next time we’ll all be together will be for your nuptials. They’re only three weeks away now.”
Another small wave of nerves went through him at that realization, but he didn’t let it show. Remembering his mother’s support and new views helped him. “I’ll talk to Jarek and see if we’re available to join you,” he promised.
“Do that. Goodnight, sweetheart.”
She kissed his cheek and entered her rooms. Cailan made his way down a long hall and up a stairway to his own suite. He was pleased to see all his purchases, included the box he’d asked to have delivered, were already there. Since none of them were for Jarek yet, he didn’t need to hide them, but he didn’t put them away yet either. It would be nice to show them to his husband and hopefully get his approval on them as well.
Wondering where Jarek was, he began a casual search through their rooms. Their common room, bedroom, and bathing room were empty. Their personal library showed signs that Jarek had been present, but he wasn’t there now. The two small sitting rooms were also empty.
It was a bit disappointing to not find him. Usually he and Jarek had retired together by this time of day. But it also wasn’t unusual to be called into service or a meeting with someone in the palace at any time. So, assuming that’s what had happened, Cailan changed out of his daywear and sent out a request for a snack tray to be sent up; his mother’s desire for an evening tea making him feel like an evening snack was a good idea.
It was just after the tray was delivered that his husband finally returned to their room, and he did not look pleased about something.
“Jarek? What’s the matter?” Cailan asked, putting aside the as yet untouched tray.
The older man seemed surprised that Cailan could tell something was wrong, but he forced his frown away and took a deep breath. “It has just been a frustrating afternoon,” he admitted.
Jarek sighed, but put an arm around Cailan’s waist and pulled him close to drop a chaste kiss on his lips. “It’s nothing that won’t pass. Just a bit of miscommunication followed by an argument with Alaric.”
“An argument?” Cailan was surprised. The two brothers rarely argued, although when they did he knew from observation that it wasn’t pleasant for anyone. “What was it about? Can I help?”
“No, not with this, you can’t. Alaric and I will cool off and come back together when we do. I’m sure it will be fine by the morning.”
Cailan frowned slightly. Just a few days earlier Jarek had told him problems were for them to share and work out together, so he felt a bit rebuffed just then. Still, despite his own annoyance, he knew it wouldn’t help Jarek feel better if he pointed that out and potentially caused an argument between them.
Instead, he subtly pulled out of Jarek’s arms and waved an arm toward the food tray. “I had a light snack delivered. There’s enough for two, and a pot of tea as well. Would you like some?”
“That sounds good. Give me a few minutes to bathe and change, and I’ll join you.”
Jarek moved to the bathing room and Cailan heard the vibration of the waterfall shower start. When normally that was a sound that enticed him to join his husband, this time he held back. Irritation and a little hurt at the other man not sharing the details of his day and saying Cailan couldn’t help made him want to maintain some space.
He kept those feelings to himself though, and had turned down their bed and set the snack tray in the middle, waiting patiently by the time Jarek rejoined him.
“This looks good,” Jarek said while picking up a piece of orange and sliding under the thick covers. “What made you request it?”
Cailan shrugged. “Mother mentioned wanting some tea before bed, and it made me feel peckish.”
“How was the day with your mother? Did she enjoy herself?”
The shower must have helped Jarek cool down. His mood was clearly improved, and the lack of tension in him helped some of it ease out of Cailan. Maybe he’d ask Jarek about the details again in the morning, but for now he put that aside and shared about his day.
“Mother asked us to join her and the other ladies for the morning meal tomorrow. Would our schedule allow that?”
Jarek nodded. “I think so. Tomorrow is a rest day for most of the companies, and you can do your lessons with Sem after the meal.”
“Can I show you the purchases Mother and I made before we sleep tonight? If you don’t approve, I’ll need time to return them and look for something else.”
“I told you it’s not necessary to have gifts for everyone, petling.”
“I know, but you have gifts to give, don’t you?”
“Well, yes, but this is your first year. I don’t want you to feel obligated if you’re not comfortable picking things out.”
“I want to have things to give everyone, Jarek,” Cailan insisted. “It wouldn’t be right to accept a gift from someone when I had nothing to offer in return.” Cailan suddenly had a thought he didn’t like. “Unless…you don’t think I’d give anything appropriate?”
“That thought never crossed my mind,” Jarek assured. “Come, show me what you bought.”
Now feeling uncertain, despite Jarek’s words, Cailan led the way over to the table where the items had been set. He felt an explanation was needed for each gift, so he described who each one was for and why it had been chosen.
Jarek was sincerely approving of each item, and even confessed a wish to have a painting similar to the one Cailan had chosen for King Jonerick. However, when Cailan showed the delicate memory box for Sana to him, he got abruptly quiet. He took the box from Cailan’s hands and examined it before gently setting it back on the table.
“It’s beautiful, Cailan. Sana will love it,” he said, but his neither his words nor his demeanor was convincing.
Cailan shook his head. “No, you don’t approve. I can tell. What is wrong with it?”
“Nothing, I promise,” Jarek insisted. “Every gift has been picked with thought, and they’ll all be loved.” He returned to their bed and slid under the covers. “It’s been a wearying day. Are you ready to sleep?”
At the moment no, Cailan didn’t think sleep would come. He was wondering what it was about the gift for Sana that seemed to have sobered Jarek so much. He knew he would stress about it rather than sleep, but questioning his husband about it had already happened and given him no answers. Pursuing the issue would be pointless.
Besides, he thought defiantly, Jarek isn’t sharing his problems with me so we can fix them. So, I won’t persist in bothering him with my concerns.
Out loud, however, he spoke with more manners than the voice in his head. “I actually never cleaned up after coming home. I’ll do that first if it’s not a bother.
Jarek, in that same sober tone, said that was fine, and then laid down and appeared to go almost immediately to sleep.
Cailan, on the other hand, just grew more restless. He took his time showering and redressing, and then went to their library instead of the bedroom. The next few hours were spent with a forced attention on his lesson books before he fell asleep with his head on the desk.
Jerking awake, Cailan blinked in confusion, his eyes feeling gritty and having trouble focusing. He rubbed at them and looked around before realizing Jarek was right at his side. “What’s going on?” he mumbled through a dry throat.
“That’s what I’d like to know. Why are you sleeping at your desk?”
Jarek didn’t sound pleased, but Cailan was feeling rather grumpy himself right them. “Because that’s where my head landed when my eyes closed,” he snarked as he rose, and then woke up quite a bit more when a hard swat landed on his behind. “Hey!”
“Don’t ‘hey’ me. That tone was deliberately rude. Now I’d like a civil answer. What are you doing sleeping here?”
Forcing himself not to rub at the stinging skin, Cailan forced a more courteous manner. “I didn’t do it on purpose. I was studying and I fell asleep without meaning to.”
“Why on earth were you studying in the middle of the night?”
Cailan shrugged, which for a moment he thought was going to earn him another swat. Jarek’s gaze was penetrating and he clearly wasn’t going to put up with anything, but then he let out a gruff sigh.
“Fine. You think about why you were out here because I want more than a shrug when we talk about it later. Right now, you need to get yourself ready. We’re having breakfast with the ladies, remember?”
He hadn’t remembered until Jarek said that, but now realized that if his husband wasn’t pursuing things immediately, then they were probably close to running late. He nodded and scurried to their room to change into appropriate attire.
Neither he nor Jarek were in the best of moods by the time they arrived for the morning meal, but he thought they both hid it fairly well from their companions.
The women dominated the conversation with wedding talk, occasionally pulling Cailan or Jarek into their chatter with questions or information. For the most part, they left the men to eat, and Cailan was fine with that.
When the meal was done, Cailan kissed his mother good-bye, promised to be in touch, and assured her that yes, he was as excited about the wedding plans as she was, although that wasn’t entirely true. Cailan wasn’t sure he could reach her level of excitement over decorations and guests, but he was looking forward to the day itself, even if he was currently not feeling very pleased with his husband.
“Are you heading to your lessons now?” Jarek asked him as the women started to say their good-byes as well.
“Yes, I planned to. Did you need something?”
Cailan knew his tone was borderline what Jarek would consider acceptable. He hadn’t meant for it to come out that way, but he heard it when he spoke the words. Jarek clearly heard it to, and got that look Cailan sometimes saw moments before a hand connected with his bottom. He flinched, and nearly moved a hand back to protect himself, when Sana’s voice carried across the room.
“Cailan? Before you go, could I see you for a few minutes?”
Jarek looked to Sana and then back to Cailan, something almost suspicious in his eyes for a moment, but it disappeared so quickly that Cailan knew he had to have misunderstood the look. Instead, Jarek spoke quietly but firmly.
“See what Sana wants of you and then go to your lessons. When you’re done with them, I want you to go to bed until I come.”
“What?” Cailan asked. The order was not expected.
“Go to bed,” Jarek repeated. “You can either sleep to make up for what you lost, or think about telling me why you felt the need to study in the middle of the night.”
He turned and left the room looking like the regal he was, leaving Cailan feeling confused, small, and dismissed. He wasn’t aware of Sana’s presence at his side until the woman placed a cool hand on his arm.
“Is everything alright, Cailan?” she asked softly, her slight lisp coming out. It reminded him that her sense of hearing wasn’t strong. Care and respect for her had him turning so she could see his face and read lips if necessary.
“It’s fine, my lady. It was a bit of a restless night for us last night. That’s all.”
Sana looked like she understood. “Kesla mentioned Alaric and Jarek had an argument last evening. I’m sorry if it made it stressful for you and him. Do you know what it was about?”
Cailan shook his head, just barely refraining from saying that Jarek wouldn’t tell him. She reached for his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, her compassionate nature shining through.
“I’m sorry their spat carried over to the two of you. My question for you can wait until later if you need to talk to him.”
“No.” Cailan shook his head. “We’ll talk later. What is it you wish to ask me?”
Sana momentarily had the same scrutinizing gaze Cailan sometimes saw on Jarek, which was a little unnerving, but she must have chosen not to further her inquiries on the subject.
“I wanted to ask you what might be a good gift to give your mother. She’s been so helpful in the wedding planning, and we all think of her as a friend now.”
“Really?” Cailan said with pleasure. “I’m glad to hear that. I wish you could get to know the rest of my family as well.”
Sana nodded in agreement. “I hope that too someday.” She offered a compassionate smile. “I think your mother hopes for that as well, and is trying to bridge some of the gap and hurt that she feels the family has caused you.”
It was unexpected to have that revealed to him; but Sana, other than occasionally teasing her brothers, never spoke flippantly. “You do?”
“Yes. When it’s just been her and I, she’s expressed more than once how regretful she and your father have felt for what you’ve been through, both for how you’ve been treated by your countrymen, and for allowing you to be…” Sana’s eyes dropped and Cailan thought her features paled a little. “…given to my brother.” She managed to meet his gaze again, her eyes now sad. “I’m not sure if it’s ever been said to you by our family, but we are sorry for the means that brought you here, Cailan. I know it had to be frightening and feel demeaning, but we only ever saw you as someone valuable.”
His chest tight, Cailan took a slow breath while offering reassurance to his beautiful sister-in-law. “I know, my lady. I came to understand that a long time ago, but thank you for the apology. It’s reassuring to have it confirmed by someone other than Jarek.”
She leaned in and hugged him then. “He loves you so much. We all do. Now,” she pulled away, “about that gift for your mother.”
Grinning at her, they conversed for several minutes on thoughts Sana and the other royal women had considered, gave his honest thoughts, and then said good-bye.
He left feeling better than he had all morning, but some of that pleasure drained out of him as he headed toward the palace library and his morning lessons. While he didn’t doubt Sana’s words that Jarek loved him, that didn’t change that right now he was feeling dismissed by him—both physically and emotionally. He worked to school those emotions though, and Sem didn’t appear to pick up on him behaving any differently. In fact, Cailan was actually a little glad to have done the studying during the night, because Sem quizzed him unexpectedly on both the lessons they’d been having for weeks and the details he’d been learning about Cylandrean holidays. It was a welcome distraction, and Cailan felt like he’d done well.
At the end of their time, Sem loaded him up with reading assignments, and then headed off to his other duties. Cailan—per Jarek’s orders—returned to their suite of rooms. However, the sight of their bed and reminder of the previous night’s events made anger bubble up in him. He didn’t feel he’d deserved to be ordered back to bed, to not be told the details of what was bothering Jarek the night before, to be dismissed. Angrily, he considered the time and knew that Jarek would be at the end of that morning’s company training, but this was a day he usually scheduled personalized drills to those who requested it.
Putting on heavier leggings, his soldier belt, and grabbing a warm cloak, he headed to the small grounds where he knew Jarek would be. The man may not want him there, but Cailan refused to feel like he was being set aside anymore.
He entered the area like he belonged there, and to everyone present they assumed he did. Everyone except Jarek. His husband looked surprised, then cross, and then determined. He acknowledged Cailan as he normally did when in the presence of their soldiers, and then turned to the men who had lined up and gave directions on what they’d be practicing that day.
As was usual, he and Cailan both worked with the men, individually and together. They had found a system that worked for them over the weeks, and they fell into it naturally. However, at the end of the session, when the men were dismissed and the two of them were alone, Jarek turned a glaring gaze onto him.
“I want no excuses or explanations,” he stated heatedly, his dark hair flowing around him. The shimmer seeming more intense than normal, matching the force of personality coming out of him. “I want you to go to our rooms and wait for me. I’ll be there shortly.”
The forceful emotions Cailan had been experiencing, but holding back, came to the fore, and instead of cowering in the face of Jarek’s anger, he matched it.
“No! I won’t be dismissed again! You dismissed me last night and again this morning. First you tell me we solve problems together, insisting I communicate with you when I have a concern, but then you withdraw and refuse to speak when a weight is clearly on your shoulders. Am I not trusted? Am I unable to help? I must not be because you easily put me aside when I ask you to do what you insist I do!”
They stared at each other then, neither one backing down, but Cailan could see he had made Jarek think. After several long moments, Jarek moved, roughly grabbing Cailan’s hand and marching across the courtyard toward a palace entry. Rough as the grip was, Cailan was mildly reassured. Hand-to-hand grabbing was better than hand-to-arm or hand-to-neck grips. Those usually preceding a round of discipline that Cailan didn’t care for.
Still silent, they made their way to their private quarters, barely acknowledging the servants they passed along the way. Once inside and alone, Jarek released him and crossed his arms. His anger was still evident, but there was something defensive about his posture as well. Without meaning to, Cailan mirrored his stance, and they stared each other down again before Jarek gave a mixed huff-sigh.
“We need to talk,” he said gruffly, “but I’m not in a good frame of mind to do so.”
“I’m not sure I am either,” Cailan agreed, “but I don’t see myself in a better mindset until we do talk.”
With a growl, Jarek ran his hands over his face. “Come on then.” He strode to their bath chamber, clearly expectant of Cailan to follow him, and once there began roughly tugging off his clothing.
Knowing they were both sweaty and dirty, and thinking that the bathwater might be calming, Cailan followed his example. Soon they were wading into the water, but they kept some distance between them, washing separately, and then lingering on opposites sides of the pool, facing each other but still silent.
Cailan felt like he said what he needed to and didn’t know where to go from this point. Finally, Jarek spoke, but he remained across the water and his words weren’t what Cailan expected to hear.
“I didn’t dismiss you. You’re the one who stayed out of our bed last night.”
Cailan’s eyes widened. “I didn’t do that on purpose! I just fell asleep at the desk without meaning to.”
“Really? Why didn’t you come to bed after your evening ablutions? Why the need to study at that time? You were avoiding me.”
“I was not!” Cailan denied, and then abruptly questioned himself. “Well, maybe,” he admitted. “But you wouldn’t talk to me!”
Jarek’s look was confused. “Talk to you about what?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Cailan huffed. “First you wouldn’t explain what your argument with Alaric was about, and then you got—different—after I showed you my Starlight Day purchases.”
“Yes. You were moody, and then you got really sober after I showed you the gifts, and you wouldn’t explain any of it. That’s not fair, Jarek. You insisted I tell you what was bothering me a few nights ago, and now you won’t confide in me. It makes me feel….”
“Dismissed,” Jarek finished, using Cailan’s term.
Cailan nodded, his throat having closed up.
“Is that why you disobeyed me today?”
Cailan tried not to flinch, but wasn’t sure he was entirely successful. “Kind of, but I was angry. You wouldn’t talk to me last night. I was tired from falling asleep at the desk, and then you pushed me away again this morning.”
Rolling his eyes, Cailan pointed out what he thought was obvious. “When you told me to go back to bed instead of having me join you after my lessons like I normally do.”
“You needed rest.”
“Oh, come on, Jarek! I’m a grown man who’s been in battle and spent days running on almost no sleep. There’s been more than one time when you and I have kept each other awake all night, and you never made me ‘rest’ after those times. You were treating me differently, and even Sana noticed things weren’t right between us this morning.”
Jarek’s eyes narrowed. “What did she say? And what did she want with you today?”
Feeling stubborn, Cailan lifted his chin. “No. If you’re not going to talk with me, then I’m not answering anymore questions.”
“Cailan.” There was a clear warning in Jarek’s tone, and it sent an unpleasant tingle down the younger prince’s back.
“Please, Jarek,” Cailan pleaded. “I’m not being…disobedient,” he nearly choked on that word, “to anger you further. But I’m truly hesitant to tell you anything right now because you’re clearly withholding things from me. Why?”
Jarek seemed to deflate with those words, and there was a vulnerability coming through that was so unlike him that Cailan felt his worries grow.
“Jarek, please tell me what’s going on,” he begged, and instinct to be closer and offer comfort in the distress he sensed in Jarek had him crossing through the water and coming to his husband’s side. Immediately, Jarek put an arm around his waist, and Cailan did the same to him.
“You’re right,” the older man said quietly. “I’m not being fair to you, and I do need to explain. But, part of it I really feel I can’t speak of until you answer some of my questions.”
Cailan wasn’t sure how he felt about that. It all seemed a bit suspicious. “What can you tell me first?”
“I can explain a little more about my argument with Alaric,” he offered. “We had a miscommunication over something I asked of him.” He looked into Cailan’s eyes and brushed some wet, silver hair away from his face. “It has to do with the gift I’d like to give you for Starlight Day. This gift required me to go to Alaric about the details, and he misunderstood—or I wasn’t clear—about the timing. He thought it was to be a gift for our wedding day, not the holiday, and because of that what I hoped to present to you might not be ready in time for Starlight Day. I was…am,” he admitted, “still upset about that, and it became an argument between us.”
Jarek then put both arms around Cailan and pulled him into a rather hesitant hug. “I’m sorry I didn’t confide this to you. I didn’t want to say anything about your gift, but you’re right that it wasn’t fair of me to brush you aside when you asked me what was wrong.”
It felt good to be hugged. There’d be a separation between them that Cailan had felt, but not realized was so big until he was in Jarek’s embrace. The gap wasn’t completely bridged yet though. Within Jarek’s arms, he asked a question that was worrying him. “What do you need to know to tell me the rest?”
The bigger man’s chest rose and fell with a deep breath before he released Cailan from their hug. “I need to know why you got the memory box for Sana and what she wanted to speak to you about this morning.”
Cailan wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but it wasn’t that. He had no idea what the correlation was between Sana and the rest of their conversation, but truly there was nothing to hide from Jarek.
“Well, I decided on the box for her because she likes pretty things, and Jothan told me that he knew women who put special treasures or memories in them. His mother does that with a box his father gave her. And he said some people collect them too. I showed the boxes to my mother when we went shopping, and explained what Jothan said, she thought it would be a good gift. She really admired the boxes too, and I purchased one for her as well; but don’t let her know if you speak with her. I haven’t given it to her yet.”
Jarek’s expression had gone from wary, to thoughtful, to almost relieved. “You bought one for your mother too?”
“Yes. Is that important for some reason?”
“Yes, to me it is,” Jarek admitted. “But please, tell me what Sana wanted to speak to you about this morning.”
“She wanted my thoughts on a ‘thank you gift’ for my mother, for the effort she’s been putting into our wedding. Sana said she’s been a big help, and that all the women have grown fond of her.”
“That’s it? Why did she embrace you then?”
Confused, Cailan had to think back for several moments before he remembered Sana’s hug and the reason for it. “She was apologizing,” he explained. “She said she and my mother have discussed their feelings on how I came to Cylandrea. My parents apparently are still carrying guilt on their shoulders over it, and Sana too felt I deserved an apology for how things happened, and she wasn’t sure anyone had ever offered me one. That’s why she embraced me.”
Jarek’s eyes were wide with surprise, and then they shocked Cailan as they blinked at sudden tears.
“I am such a fool,” Jarek muttered.
“What? What are you talking about?”
Instead of answering, Jarek grabbed a cloth and wiped at his face. He seemed to need a few moments to gather himself, so Cailan tried to be patient. It ended up being several minutes before Jarek reached for his hand and walked them out of the water.
“I promise to explain myself,” he said while handing Cailan a towel. “But let’s get settled first.”
Cailan nodded his agreement, and the two of them dried, dressed, and ordered a now very late mid-day meal to be delivered. Even then, Jarek waited until the food had arrived before speaking. He patted his leg after sitting at the table.
“Will you sit here while I explain?”
The tiniest part of Cailan rebelled, but he pushed the immature impulse aside and gave in to Jarek’s request. The two of them shifted instinctively into their most comfortable positions, and Jarek reached for a piece of hard-boiled egg and held it to Cailan’s lips. It was a sweet thing, but Jarek always gave the first bite to Cailan when he fed him, and right then the familiarity of that action made the younger prince feel more secure about the oncoming conversation. He took the bite willingly, and was pleased and grateful when Jarek finally began his explanation.
“Do you remember when I first introduced you to Sana?”
Since his mouth was full, Cailan simply nodded.
“So do I, and something that I always remember is how beautiful you found her. I thought my stint of jealousy from that time was long past, but I’m finding that I may not be as…secure…about how you might feel for her as I thought I was.”
Cailan’s surprise made him swallow a bit too quickly and forced him into a coughing fit. He and Jarek reached for the water glass at the same time and nearly knocked it over before Jarek got a grip on it and held it to Cailan’s mouth. It took a little time to recover, but when he did, Cailan rasped out, “You’re jealous?”
“I was,” Jarek admitted. His hand lifted and his knuckles caressed Cailan’s cheek. “I love you, petling. I love you more than I thought I was capable of loving someone, and that’s a little daunting sometimes because I dearly love my family and never realized that there would ever be a person I’d be willing to give them up for, or someone who could inspire such possessiveness in me.”
“Jarek! I’d never make you give up your family!”
“I know. I know,” Jarek reassured quickly. “I’m just saying that I recently came to a greater understanding that giving up family is exactly what you did for me. You have them back now, but at the time when you came to me, your love for them made you let them go. That is a strong love, petling, but that reminder of what you did made me realize the depth to which my feelings for you had gone, and I admitted to myself that if I had to choose between you and my family, I’d choose you—no hesitation.”
The big hand gently covered Cailan’s mouth. “Let me finish, petling. You deserve a full explanation.” When Cailan nodded, he continued. “The gift I want to give you on Starlight Day is a result of how I feel for you, so my upset at learning it may be delayed was, perhaps, stronger than it should have been. Then, on the heels of that news, you showed me your gifts, and the one for Sana stood out to me. It seemed…extra special, and made me worried that you still had a strong attraction to her, that maybe you yearned for her a little.”
“And then she asked to speak with me this morning, and that made you even more suspicious,” Cailan deduced with understanding. “But how did you know she hugged me? That happened after you left this morning.”
Jarek put a piece of bread in Cailan’s mouth. “I came back. I realized that sending you to rest perhaps wasn’t fair, but when I returned, Sana had you in her arms. It was one more arrow into my insecurity, and I couldn’t face you.”
“Only I forced you to face me, ready or not, when I showed up at your training time.”
“Which is a different issue we need to address,” Jared agreed, “but that’s not the concern right now.”
“What is your concern?”
“Apologizing to you,” Jarek answered directly. “I’m sorry, petling. I’m sorry for not telling you my concerns immediately, and I’m sorry for my jealousy and the way I treated you because of it.”
The humbleness in his words and in Jarek’s demeanor touched Cailan. He lifted his hand to the bigger man’s shoulders and leaned in, pressing a warm kiss to his mouth. It was received willingly, and they lost themselves in one another for a while.
When Cailan did manage to pull away, he looked Jarek in the eye. “Thank you. You really don’t have anything to be jealous about.”
“I know, petling. I trust you. I just let my jealousy overpower my rational thought for a time.”
Cailan laughed. “Just don’t let it happen again.”
“I don’t plan to. But, speaking of things that shouldn’t happen again, your disobedience today isn’t going to be ignored.”
That dropped the smile quickly off Cailan’s face. “Are you mad about that?”
“Initially I was,” Jarek said without hesitation. “And you’re lucky I didn’t take you over my knee immediately. If we hadn’t had an audience, I would have. I’m not angry now, and it’s good that we’ve talked first, because I realize that more fault lies on me for the events of the last day than on you, but that does not mean you aren’t responsible for your choices.”
Jarek then said something Cailan didn’t expect. He cupped the younger man’s face gently, but spoke seriously. “You’ve agreed to my authority over you, but I mistreated your emotions last night and today, and I don’t wish for you to feel you are being unjustly punished. So, tell me honestly, petling. Do you deserve to be disciplined for this? Is it something you feel you need? Or, would you end up resentful because my behavior was not right either?”
Cailan thought about it, and finally he had to shake his head. “I don’t know, Jarek. I feel like I probably do deserve to be punished because it wasn’t an accident. I deliberately went against what you told me to do, but I did it because I resented how you were behaving toward me. So, I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t be resentful to be punished for something that feels like it was a reaction to how I was being treated.”
Jarek sighed a little and pulled him into a hug. “Then perhaps we need to wait to make a decision and just think on it more, okay?”
Cailan nodded against his shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. You’re being honest, and that’s what I asked of you. Now, let’s eat. We’ll be lucky if our meat is still warm at this rate.”
With their issues talked about and resolved, both men fell back into their comfortable companionship with one another, and the days before the Ice Festival sped by. Time was filled with the normal training and lessons, but both men were also called into extra duties in preparation for the holiday’s celebration, and Cailan worried that he’d not have time to do justice to the gift he was having prepared for Jarek. Completing it required two more trips into Palace City. Jothan accompanied him on one of them, but he went alone the second time, having wanted a little privacy to complete the final details. When he returned to the palace after that trip, the gift was held in his lap carefully packaged and wrapped in shiny silver paper.
The day before the festival was to begin, all normal routines were foregone. The palace was filled with extra workers and deliveries. Decorations adorned every room, and the amount of food being prepared in the kitchens left few places in the castle where delicious aromas couldn’t be smelled. Cailan’s stomach grumbled all day, whether he was hungry or not, because of the scents constantly floating around him.
Mid-afternoon, the entire royal family gathered for an informal meeting. It was the first one of which Cailan had been part of that also included Jarek’s parents. They were staying in town for the festival, and until after Jarek and Cailan’s wedding, before they’d return to the southern hills where they lived full-time.
Cailan always felt a bit in awe of King Jonerick and Queen Dyanna. The regality that emanated from them was powerful, and it was something that had clearly been passed along to their children, for all the Lysander family had nobility shining in them. The strength of it just seemed brighter in the older king and queen, probably because of the extra decades they had over the younger generation.
The eight family members met in one of the larger sitting rooms with hot drinks and pastries supplied for their enjoyment. Talk was casual at first, and Cailan mostly just listened. He found he learned a lot by keeping silent and observing. He noticed that Sana, usually the quietest of the family, was much more talkative with her parents present, and not as apprehensive about the way her lisp affected her speech. Years of practice from the family also showed Cailan the completely natural way they made sure to have her full attention when speaking directly to her, and never shut her out of the conversation.
Sem was being his normal, exuberant self, but his parents’ presence seemed to bring out a bit more maturity in him as well.
King Alaric’s attention was mostly on his wife, although he didn’t ignore anyone else in the room. Cailan understood the king’s protectiveness since he’d nearly lost her, but he observed that Queen Kesla appeared more animated. Her sickly features when he’d first met her were nearly gone now. Her cheeks were no longer sunken or too pale, and the too-thin build she’d once had was now filling out into its natural curves. Extended activity or time on her feet was still draining on her, but her health was clearly returning. Even the shimmer in her hair, that was unique to the members of the royal family, seemed brighter now.
His thoughts on that distinctive trait made him take in the family as a group. It wasn’t overwhelming, but it was a bit awe-inspiring to see the sparkle on their heads as they moved or brushed strands of hair out of their faces. It was a quality that, while the entire family shared it, only he and Jarek could actually see it.
As if reading his thoughts, Jarek bent his mouth to Cailan’s ear and whispered, “I’ve never seen the shine on each member of my family altogether. It’s incredible.”
“I know. I was thinking that as well.”
Before they could say anything further, King Alaric made a request to go over the events for the next day.
“Please do, son,” Queen Dyanna agreed. “I’d love to hear more details about the festival.”
Murmurs of anticipation came from everyone for a moment before Alaric cleared his throat and gained his family’s attention. “The events don’t start until the afternoon tomorrow, so the morning is devoted to preparation. Everything is on schedule from what I understand, and those we’ve made overseers of each part of the festival will take care of any last-minute issues. Unless something requires a royal’s involvement, we should have the morning free to do our own personal preparations. At high noon, the King’s Parade is scheduled to depart the gates.”
Cailan had been told of this part of the festival. The week-long activities were commenced by the King’s Parade, where the royal family, along with decorated floats and carriages, a brass band, jugglers, and more would march through the main streets of Palace City and announce the beginning of the celebrations.
“Mother, Father, you approached me about making a change in the parade. I just wanted to make sure this is still something you’d like,” Alaric said, addressing his parents.
Cailan didn’t know what this change was, so he listened carefully. The two elder royals looked to one another, and then King Jonerick nodded his certainty.
“Yes, we’ve thought on this several times over the years, and we’re in agreement.”
Alaric nodded. “Okay then. I’ve alerted the parade overseer of the possibility and I’ll send confirmation as soon as we’re done here.” He then addressed the rest of the family. “What our parents requested was a change in the typical line-up of the parade. Instead of the entire royal family leading the parade, they have asked to be placed at the very end as the final sight.”
Sana and Kesla both gasped at that announcement, and Jarek and Sem’s mouth’s fell open. Sem regained his speech first.
“Father, truly? Why would you lower yourself?”
“Sem!” Jonerick said firmly, the tone of a father’s warning coming through.
Sem became aware of how his words had sounded and his face reddened. “I apologize, Father, but I don’t understand. Why would you and mother put yourselves last?”
“It’s for two reasons, my boy,” King Jonerick answered, his tone immediately softer. “And we do not lower ourselves in either of them.”
If possible, Sem got redder, but he accepted the right for his father to reprimand.
“Your mother and I feel that occasionally our presence can distract the people from who their reigning king is. Starlight Day and the festivities surrounding it should have the people not just rejoicing over the past, but recognizing their current leader, the one who is ultimately charged with protecting and caring for them. At this time, it is Alaric, and we do not want to detract from Cylandrea’s current reigning king. I had my time as the royal leader, and if I’m ever required in that role again, I will fill it, but that is not my role now or who I should be to the people. We feel it is in the best interest of the royal family that Alaric and Kesla, as is usual, lead the parade, but your mother and I will follow at the end.
“The second reason we have chosen to do this is for the sake of those who are part of the parade, but not part of the family. It is not unusual for those who are participants in the rest of the parade to be ignored, despite the work they put into being their best for us. Many subjects leave the parade route once the royal family has passed, and thus miss out on some wonderful displays that are meant to encourage unity and togetherness. We thought that if the people knew part of the royal family would be at the end of the parade, that they would stay for the entire processional, and would not miss out on the overall experience.”
That all made sense to Cailan, and he respected the elder Lysanders for their choice. He suspected Sem, and possibly the rest of the siblings, might have still preferred for their parents to be at the front as was tradition, but he knew they wouldn’t deny the request.
“If I may,” Kesla put in. “What will the order of the parade now be?”
“I have it written out here,” Alaric told them, and put a document on the table they sat around. “The lead carriage will carry you and I,” Alaric told her. “After us, Jarek and Cailan will follow in their carriage, and then Sem and Sana will ride together behind them. The brass band will then lead the rest, and several vendors who can travel with some of their goods will be handing out hot drinks and warmed pastries. They will be spread out amidst the rest of the performers and floats. Mother and Father will highlight the end of the processional and will join us in the town square for the induction speeches.”
“How long will those be?” Cailan asked, knowing that people would be out in the cold for a while.
“No more than a few minutes each,” Alaric assured him. “The parade will be a couple hours, so the whole of the speeches won’t take more than half an hour. Father will greet the people first, with mother at his side. Then you’ll stand with Jarek while he addresses those gathered. Sem will speak third, with Sana supporting him, and then Kesla and I will go last, give the traditional royal blessing and announce the official start of the festivities.”
“Will we return to the palace then?” Cailan questioned, having not been a participant in these details.
“That’s up to each of us,” Jarek answered. “After the speeches, the public square usually becomes a community dance of celebration, and eateries all over the city offer special meals that the people will then go off to. If we want to stay, we can, or we can return to the palace and rest since we’ll be quite involved the rest of the week, as well as making final preparations for Starlight Day.”
Cailan remembered some details of the festive week that Sem had been having him read. The entire royal family would make appearances throughout Palace City, as well as in the neighboring towns, to enjoy the artisan stands and community celebrations. The people were thrilled to have their royal family mingle with them, and all the Lysanders believed it important to be in contact with their subjects this way. Cailan was looking forward to it, as well as a little nervous as he hoped to be a proper representative for his new family.
“Keep in mind that whether you stay or go tomorrow after the speeches, that decision doesn’t have to be made now,” Queen Dyanna reassured. “We each do what’s best for ourselves at that point. If we’re cold and tired, we go home to rest. If we’re exhilarated by the events, we stay, but there’s no right or wrong decision to make.”
Cailan bowed his head in acknowledgement. “Thank you, your highness.”
Her face creased in a motherly smile, which Cailan was thankful to see. Since he’d had limited contact with the elder royals, he was still a bit insecure about what they thought of him, so he appreciated her kindness.
Alaric addressed a few more points for the following day, and then everyone fell back into casual conversation and family companionship.
When a messenger arrived requesting Prince Sem’s assistance, that seemed to be the cue for all of them to depart, and Cailan left with Jarek while thoughts of the next day’s activities entertained his mind.
“Are you warm enough?”
Jarek and Cailan sat in their open-air carriage, waiting for the gates to open and the parade to start. Cailan was bundled in leggings and thick trousers, two heavy shirts with a weighty cloak overtop, and a thick hat over his head. A cotton and fur muff was available for him to warm his hands, so being cold in that moment wasn’t a problem.
“I’m quite comfortable. Are you?”
“Yes, but don’t hesitate to tell me if you start to feel chilled during the parade route. There are blankets packed under our seats to use if necessary.”
“I will. I promise,” Cailan assured, knowing that Jarek’s protectiveness was coming through.
A trumpet blared and Cailan heard the grind of the gates unlocking and being pushed open. The carriage ahead of them carrying Alaric and Kesla moved forward, and the parade started.
It was an amazing experience to Cailan. He’d been part of imperial parades and events before, but being the next to youngest in his family, and being a silver-born on top of that, meant that honor was rarely given to him.
This time was utterly different. Despite the chill, the people of Cylandrea flooded the streets, and cheered for every single member of the family. Shouts of “Prince Cailan!” were heard as often as cheers for the king and praises for Leader Jarek and the rest. The carriages and floats moved slowly enough that people could approach the royals as they passed. That brought nerves onto Cailan at first because he feared a rushed mob would ensue, but the people were surprisingly well-behaved in their approach, and the palace guards were an extra line of defense and safety for both the Lysander family and the people.
Those who did reach the carriages often just wanted a touch of hand or a kiss to their fingers from their leaders, including Prince Cailan, and he humbly granted their desires. A handful of subjects also offered tokens of love, and there was small pile of gifts at Cailan’s feet that had been handed to him.
Jarek leaned toward him at one point when no one was at the carriage. “The majority of these you see, as well as those from further away, will gather in the castle courtyard and outside the gates the day of our wedding. Our first action after the ceremony, and while the invited guests are escorted to the ballroom, will be to go to the Grand Balcony that overlooks the courtyard and acknowledge our subjects’ attendance and effort they’ve put forth to witness the day of our Cylandrean unification.”
Cailan looked at the crowds gathered. “So many would come, even though I’m a foreigner and you’re not the reigning king?”
Jarek nodded seriously. “Yes.”
Cailan tried to imagine what that would look like, but it was beyond him. He couldn’t ponder it any further though, because a family with two children approached the carriage. Jarek squeezed the father’s hand while the mother and little girls held up small bouquets of dried flowers. Cailan accepted them and caressed each child’s head as he offered a thank you.
By the time the parade ended and the family was gathered in the town square, Cailan was a little chilly, but enjoying himself immensely. Eight seats, decorated to an almost thronelike status, had been placed on a podium, and he sat in his designated one at Jarek’s side. There was a relief in knowing he didn’t have to give a speech to the crowds, but he listened intently to those that were given.
As was scheduled, King Jonerick and Queen Kesla stood and addressed the people first, although they had to wait until the sounds of thunderous cheering quieted. It helped Cailan see what the elder Lysander couple had meant about their presence taking away from the current reigning king. Jonerick thanked them for coming, reminded them of some of the history of their first king, and praised the people for their loyalty.
It was Jarek’s turn then, and Cailan walked with him and stood at attention at his side as Jarek reminded the attendees of the past year’s highlights; including, to Cailan’s surprise, the events surrounding the silver prophecies and Cailan rescuing Queen Kesla. He then reached out and held Cailan’s hand, lifting the joined fingers together for the people to see, and thanked them for their support of their upcoming nuptials.
The cheers of the people were huge.
They retook their seats as Sem and Sana stood, and Sem told the crowds of plans for the upcoming year, and gave them things to look forward to. And then the final speech was Alaric’s, who said how much he had to be thankful for, and then gave a blessing to the people that brought tears to Cailan’s eyes, it was so beautiful.
Immediately after, the people broke into song and dance, and Jarek angled toward Cailan. “What is your wish, to stay or go?”
“Could we stay?”
“Of course,” Jarek agreed readily, and then held an open palm out to the younger man. “Will you dance with me, petling?”
They hadn’t danced together since their Arten wedding, and some nerves tickled Cailan’s chest about doing it so publicly. But, as he looked at the people celebrating around him, he knew there was no reason to say no. So, putting his hand in Jarek’s, they entered into the merriment, and laughed and danced with everyone.
When the sun set, Jarek walked them a few blocks to an eatery titled “Contess Cuisine”.
“‘Contess’ is an antiquated term that was used for ladies of nobility,” Jarek told him as they entered. “The family who runs this establishment began cooking three generations ago for parties and gatherings of ladies of higher society. The food has always been quite good.”
The place was crowded, so Cailan didn’t doubt Jarek’s word. They ended up sitting with a group of brothers at a long table, and spent the evening laughing over stories that grew more and more ridiculous, and eating thick steaks and hearty potatoes covered in cheese and chives.
By the time the two of them made it back to the palace and up the stairways to their quarters, Cailan’s legs ached from dancing and his chest ached from laughing. He was also exhausted, and he and Jarek didn’t even bother to freshen up with a shower. Both merely undressed and fell into bed, sleep taking them quickly.