"I don't know about this," I groaned, rubbing my eyes. "Maybe farming would be easier."
"Chester has already said he won't," Queen Darcey said. "Don't give up. I know it's hard at first but it'll get easier the more you do it. Now, which one is the 'O'?"
I was in the library with the queen. We had eaten in the library and she had a piece of parchment that she wrote the alphabet on in large, clear handwriting. I pinched the bridge of my nose.
"Um...." I looked and found the one that looked like a zero and remember she said that's how Cian had recognized it. "That one?"
"Good job!" she praised. "And now the 'E'."
That was the hardest one for me. I frowned around the parchment. I knew it had one line and other lines branching off of it. There were two like that and they were right next to each other.
I sighed. "That one?" I guessed, pointing at the one with two lines."
"No," she said kindly. "The 'E' has three, not two."
I groaned. "Why must they look so similar!?"
She smiled a little. "I think we'll leave it there for today. Is that okay?"
"Yes. I feel like my head is about to explode."
She laughed and I helped her clear up.
"So, if you can't read, how did you know what the summons said?" she asked.
"My mother," I answered. "We have perfected this... technique. If someone was over then she would read it out of the corner of her mouth. Or she would pretend to be interested enough to read it out loud. It's what we did when he stayed in the house. I don't like people knowing I can't read and I definitely don't want Lord Cian to know."
"I have one more question before you leave," she said as we got to the castle doors. I turned politely. "Why do you despise us so?"
I sighed. I had been waiting for that question. I looked away. Queen Darcey had been more than I expected. She was kind and gentle. But then I remembered the look on my mother's face when we received news that my father was dead and I glared at her. She took a step back in shock.
"My father's death," I said, my hands curling into fists. "Why could you not defend yourselves!?"
"I was ill and-"
"So King Nelo and Lord Cian could have fought!" I interrupted, stomping my foot. "But no! They cowered here in the castle and my father and several others lost their lives! And you did nothing! None of you did! Their families still ache! They still feel the loss of their husbands and fathers! They should at least be given financial compensation! Their children starve because they cannot afford food anymore! My mother and I give them all we can spare!"
She didn't say anything as I raged. I shut my eyes and sighed.
"Forgive me," I whispered. "I am grateful and I spoke out of turn."
"Yes, you did," Cian snarled and I glared at him.
He and his father had come out of the throne room when they heard my shouts.
"Don't you dare! I am not speak to you! I am speaking with the queen!"
"I'm aware!" he shouted back. "And you are being disrespectful!"
"Cian, she is not," Queen Darcey said.
He pointed at me. "Never speak to her like that again!"
"Or what?" I challenged. "You'll bruise me again!?"
I shut my mouth as his hand fell slowly. Silence descended among the four of us and I glanced at the king. He looked furious.
"You hurt her?" Queen Darcey asked in a dangerously quiet voice.
"It was an accident," he said quickly. "If she would keep her tongue under control-"
"That is no reason to lay your hand on a woman!" the king snarled.
"It was an accident!" he repeated. "I didn't mean to do it!"
"I'm leaving," I whispered, trying to keep my tears at bay. I turned to the queen and cleared my throat a few times. "Am I still your apprentice?"
"Of course you are, Viveka," she said. "I will see you after breakfast."
I curstied. "Thank-Thank you and I apologize once more."
Without waiting for her to speak, I ran down the steps. I ran home, my tears obscuring my vision. I couldn't stop the tears anymore and let them fall, swiping at them. Suddenly, I ran into something hard and fell on my butt again.
"Hey!" I shouted at whoever it was.
I looked up. It was Chester and he was looking concerned.
"What are you doing here?" I asked, hiding my face as he helped me up.
"Your mother invited me for dinner," he said slowly. "We were going to talk about your first day. It doesn't seem to have gone well."
"What?" I asked, drying my face.
"You're crying, Viv," he said. "What happened?"
"Nothing," I muttered. "Come on. I'm hungry."
I led the way in the house, still trying to wipe my tears away.
"Welcome back, sweetie!" my mother said but, like Chester, stopped at the sight of my tears. "What happened?"
"I don't want to talk about it right now," I mumbled and sat down. "Dinner smells delicious."
"Thank you," my mother said. "I figured I'd make something special. How was your first day?"
"It went well," I said and told them about my struggles with the 'E' and 'F'.
Chester laughed. "Yes, I had the same struggle."
"They look identical," I grumbled.
"Not when they're in lower case," he said. "You'll be able to tell them apart better then."
"I certainly hope so," I sighed, taking a long gulp of wine.
Suddenly, Chester took it away. He was glaring at me.
"Tell us," he said. "Why were you crying?"
I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. My mother was pleading with her eyes and I groaned.
"The queen asked why I don't like them," I began, toying with my napkin. "So... I told her the truth. I ended up.... Well, I yelled at her," I admitted in a small voice.
"Viveka," my mother groaned.
"But I apologized," I said quickly.
"Well that's something," she said.
"Lord Cian came out while I was... and he opened his stupid mouth." I shook my head, stabbing at the bit of ham I had left. "I got so furious. He told me not to speak to her like that again and I accidentally let it slip that he was the one who-"
I covered my mouth but the damage had been done. My mother's eyes were wide and she gripped her cup so hard her fingers went white.
"Who what?" Chester asked.
"It was him!?" she screeched, jumping to her feet and slamming the cup down. Wine spilled onto the tablecloth. "Viveka, why didn't you tell me!?"
"What?" Chester demanded, standing, too. "What did he do!?"
"Show him," my mother ordered, her chest heaving.
I sighed and rolled up my sleeve. Chester glanced at it then his face twisted in rage.
"Did he do it the night he sent me away?"
I didn't answer and he grabbed his coat.
"Where are you going?" my mother asked.
"The castle," he said through clenched teeth. "He won't get away with this!"
"No!" I said, running in front of him.
"Get out of the way, Viveka," he snapped.
"No. Please, Chester. I don't want you to get in trouble. The king knows and he's very angry with him, too. I don't think he'll get away without a reprimand."
"He deserves more than a reprimand!" Chester shouted.
"Hitting him will only get you in trouble!" I argued. "I believe the king will take care of it! Please, Chester. Let's just-just sit and finish our meal."
He was breathing heavily but finally said, "If he touches you again, you will tell me immediately."
"I promise," I said.
He threw himself back into his chair, still looking murderous.
"I'll get the dessert," my mother said in a shaking voice. "And some whiskey," she added when she saw the look on Chester's face.