Shit. Shit. Shit. That was stupid. That was really stupid.
I shook my head and groaned, putting my hand on my forehead as I followed the queen down the hall.
"Perhaps I should go apologize," I muttered though I really didn't want to.
"Oh, he'll be fine," she said, waving her hand. "It's just his ego that is damaged."
"If you say so," I muttered then stopped, clearing my throat. She turned to look at me. "Forgive me. I'm afraid I don't know your name...."
"I am Queen Darcey," she said. "My husband is King Nelo."
"Right," I said and committed them to memory.
Admitting I didn't know her name was incredibly embarrassing. As a 20 year citizen, I should know it by now without problem. We continued down the hall until we reached a door. She looked around then beckoned me in. What I saw made my heart skip a beat.
"I shouldn't be in here," I breathed and tried to back out.
Queen Darcey grabbed my arm. "Nonsense," she said. "Where else are you going to find what you want your trade to be?"
"It's just-" She had me sit in an arm chair as she browsed through the library. "I- Lord Cian wasn't lying: I do have an interest in farming."
"You are being given an incredible opportunity," she said. "Surely you want to make sure you pick the right trade."
She handed me a book and I stared at it.
"Yes," I said nervously. "But...."
She stared at me. "Wait. Viveka, are you unable to read?"
I blushed a little. "Of course I'm able to read," I spluttered. "I just.... I need a magnifying glass."
"Oh, don't worry," she said cheerfully. "We have one."
Of course you do, I thought with a sigh.
"My husband needs it to. He's too stubborn to get spectacles."
She got a magnifying glass from the desk and held it out to me. I groaned a little and took it. I opened the book with shaking hands. I cleared my throat a few times, pretending to be curious. I felt the Queen sit beside me and I stared intently at the book.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of," she whispered. "Many young women can't read."
"My father was teaching me," I mumbled, turning away from her. "But he died before we got very far." I passed her the book. "The only time I got messages was because they were proposals so I... I didn't really need to know how to read."
"Why did your mother not teach you?"
"Tradition," I whispered. "And my father wanted to wait until I was a teenager so that I could have a fun childhood."
"Do you want to learn?" she asked.
I stood and kept my face covered. "I choose farming, your highness. There is a young man in the village named Chester who can be my teacher."
"Very well," she said quietly. She sounded sad. "I will let Nelo know and you can start whenever we get everything arranged."
"Thank you," I said and left the library.
I hurried down the stairs and almost ran into Lord Cian. He opened his mouth to speak but I stepped around him and ran back home.
I walked in, closed the door, and sighed deeply. I leaned against it, my eyes closed.
"How did it go?" my mother asked excitedly. "What did you choose? Sweetheart, what's the matter?"
I sat at the table and put my head in my hands. I heard her move around and soon a cup of tea was placed in front of me. She sat beside me.
"Viveka?" she whispered. "What happened?"
"She knows I can't read," I murmured.
She sighed and put her arm around me, kissing my head.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart."
"I chose farming," I mumbled. "I already know a lot about corn."
"It's a very physical trade," she pointed out. "Do you think you can manage all the digging and plowing and watering?"
"I'm sure I will get used to it," I said, wiping some tears away. "I'm looking forward to it, though. I'm just humiliated right now."
"Who will be your teacher?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Chester," I said. "I think they're going to pay him, too, so that will help him."
"That's good," she said with a smile. "Come on. Let's go get some measurements."
"For what?" I asked.
"You'll need a uniform," she said. "I can't have you working in the fields in your dresses."
I beamed and followed her upstairs.
The next morning, there was a knock on our door early. Chester walked in, looking confused.
"Can I speak with you?" he asked, dragging me outside anyway.
"Sure," I said, struggling to keep up.
He didn't say anything until we got to the land by the pumpkins. He stopped and tossed me a shovel. He pointed at some empty ground.
"Dig," he said.
"I can't," I said. "I'm in a dress. Let me go change and-"
"No," he said. "You will do this in your current clothing."
I sighed. I walked over to the dirt and pushed the tip of the shovel into the ground. I put all my weight into the shovel but all that resulted in was it moving out from underneath me. I fell to the ground painfully and gasped. I looked up at Chester but he just stared at me, his arms crossed. I glared at him and hurried to my feet. I picked the shovel back up and put it in the ground. The result was the same.
"How much longer do I have to do this?" I demanded. "I haven't even broken through the earth!"
He shook his head. "Dig the hole, Viveka."
"I'm trying!" I yelled. "You're not showing me how to work this damn shovel!"
"You put your foot on here," he said, pointing to a flat spot on the shovel spade. "Push with your leg. Now. Dig the hole. I want it three feet deep."
I bit my lip and put the tip of the shovel on the ground again. I put my foot on the flat spot as he said and pushed. It sank in but only by a little. I jumped on it, threw all my weight on it, and tried wedging it. It didn't get any deeper.
I groaned and tossed the shovel to the ground.
"This is impossible!" I yelled.
"Sit down, Viveka," Chester said quietly, back to his normal self. I did so and he sat across from me. "Learning about farming is one thing. Actually doing it is another. It takes a lot of time and muscle to dig a hole wide and deep enough for the crops."
"But there are oxen," I muttered.
"There are days where the oxen can't work," he said. "They could be sick or they are too weak."
"You want me to change my trade, don't you," I sighed.
"This is too hard for you, Viveka."
"I could build up my muscles!" I said. "I could do exercises! I could-I could plant the seeds or-"
He took my hand. His were callused and I frowned at them.
"From many years of shoveling and working," he said quietly. "This is what happens."
I looked at my hands. "So mine would be like that?"
My shoulders fell. "I guess you're right," I mumbled. I shook my head. "But what could I possibly do, Chester? I already know how to sew and play the harp."
He opened his bag and pulled something out. He put a book in my hands.
"Learn how to read," he whispered.
"Learn how to read," he repeated firmly.
I sighed. "Okay."