"Why the husks?" I asked as Chester handed me an ear of corn.
"Protection," he said simply. "Corn undergoes much as it-"
He stopped and hurried to the outside of the corn stalks.
"Chester? What's wrong?"
He didn't answer and I followed him. I frowned. His back was straight and he looked wary.
"There's something out there," he whispered.
"What is it?" I asked, hiding behind him.
There was no way I could defend myself. Chester was strong and could do it for me. Wind blew and I gripped his arm. I was holding the ear of corn tightly. I heard something move and yelped, my hand letting the ear of corn fly.
"For a woman, you have a strong arm."
We spun on the spot. The young lord was standing behind us casually. Chester's body relaxed.
"Please forgive us, Lord Cian," he said.
"Forgive us for what?" I snapped and Chester glared at me.
Cian didn't seem to notice, though.
"Out for a late night roll in the... corn?"
I blushed. "Of course not!" I cried indignantly. "What kind of woman do you think I am?"
"Viveka," Chester said in a warning tone.
Cian strolled over, tossing the ear of corn up in the air and catching it again. The moon was full and he walked before it, casting a shadow over his face but his eyes glinted in the dark. He whistled a tune.
"Relax," he said. "I speak in jest." His eyes slid to Chester. "Who are you?"
He bowed. "Chester, sir," he said. "Son of Johnathan."
"Hello, Chester, son of Johnathan," he said in a mocking tone. "I must speak with Viveka. Perhaps you should... make yourself scarce."
Chester looked uncomfortable. "I am not sure, my Lord," he said slowly. "To leave her without someone with her...."
Cian rolled his eyes. "Don't be stupid. I will be with her."
Chester still hesitated, though, and Cian clenched the corn so tightly it exploded. I yelped and Chester jumped.
"Go home, Chester, son of Johnathan," Cian ordered.
"Yes sir," he whispered and gave me a look of apology before returning home.
I could sense Cian behind me so I took a few steps forward and turned. He put his hands behind his back and stared at me curiously.
"What?" I demanded. "I shouldn't even be out here."
He leaned his upper body closer. "Then why are you?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Because I am sure your mother would be most... displeased should I arrive at your home with news of her daughter sneaking about with men."
I glared at him. "It's not like that. I wish to learn the trade my father was so keen on and Chester is the best to teach me."
That seemed to surprise him.
"Why? You're a woman."
An incredibly bored woman, I thought.
"It doesn't matter," I said. "I should get home, though." I turned to leave but frowned and looked behind me. "Why are you out here? You never leave the palace."
"I have come to see the farmlands," he said lightly.
"No you haven't," I said slowly. "What is your true reason for leaving your cosseted home?" He narrowed his eyes. "Certainly you have all the wonders of the world to entertain you in there."
"Your mother is right," he whispered. "Your tongue will get you in trouble."
"I don't care what you think," I snapped. "Go back to your cushy life and leave us be. See you next year, your highness."
I made a fake curtsy and started to walk away, smirking. He grabbed my arm just below my elbow and spun me around. He was glaring.
"Do not speak to me that way." I rolled my eyes. "And stop rolling your eyes at me, woman!"
"What are you going to do?" I taunted. "Toss me in a cell? Poke my eyes out and put them in your stew?"
"Don't tempt me," he said through clenched teeth. "Now apologize."
"I have nothing to apologize for. You will, though, if you don't let me go."
I was pushing at his hand and he smirked.
"What ails you, Viveka? Am I hurting you?"
"Let me go," I snapped, refusing to show him my pain.
His grip only tightened and I tried to kick him. He grabbed my ankle with his other hand and my stomach dropped. I remembered he was a man and I was a woman. Had I made him angry enough to-
"Your eyes are red," I said slowly and he let me go. "Hey!"
I fell on my back and grunted. He was still staring at me but it was... different this time. It was almost like he was afraid. I scrambled to my feet and brushed the dirt off the back of my dress.
"Why did you-?"
I looked up and frowned.
He was gone.
I tiptoed back into my house and slipped up the stairs. My bedroom door was closed as I had left it. I opened and shut it quietly.
"Did you have fun?"
I screamed and spun around. My mother was sitting on my bed, staring at me with a blank expression on her face.
"You scared me!" I yelled.
"Where were you, Viveka?" she demanded.
I tossed myself on the floor. There was no point lying now.
"Chester was teaching me about corn," I said, picking a piece of husk out of my hair and tossed it at her.
"Do you have... feelings for Chester?" she asked and I shuddered.
"Gross. Definitely not, Mother," I said. "He's helping me learn more about what Father did."
My mother shook her head with a sigh. Then she frowned at me.
"Why are you rubbing your arm like that?"
I stopped rubbing the sore spot on my arm where Cian gripped me. I shrugged.
"I fell on it," I lied.
She sighed and walked over to me. She pulled me to my feet and yanked my sleeve up before I could stop her. I sighed.
"Did Chester do this to you!?" she cried.
"No," I said quickly. "I fell."
"I can see the finger marks, Viveka," she snapped and I sighed again.
"I promise it wasn't Chester," I whispered.
"Then who did it?" she demanded.
"I can't tell you. Just go to bed. It won't happen again."
"Was it a guard?" she pressed. "Or another villager?"
I took her by the arms. "Go to sleep, Mother. I can see you're exhausted. You shouldn't have waited up for me."
"You would have lied if I confronted you in the morning," she said and headed for the door. She paused and turned to me with a look I knew I wouldn't be able to argue with. "If whoever did that lays his hand on you again, I order you to tell me who did it. Then we will go to the king and queen."
"Yes, Mother," I said.