I sat on the other side of the desk, glaring at her. She had her eyebrow up in that infuriating way, her legs crossed.
"No," I snapped.
"I'm probably more stubborn than you are," Viveka said. "You'll do it or we're not moving forward."
"I said no!"
"Very well," she said and studied her nails.
I groaned and pulled at my hair. She was being impossible! Then an idea occurred to me. I closed my eyes and I focused on her mind. But I hit that damn wall again. This time, though, it hurt. My head jerked up and I stared at her.
"Am I to take that as you're finally going to cooperate?" she asked.
She hadn't noticed anything....
"Fine!" I growled and huffed. "You look lovely today, Viveka," I grumbled.
"Why, thank you Lord Cian!" she said in a high pitched voice that made me cringe. "You're looking quite well, too!"
"Now what?" I snapped.
"Well, it depends on why we're meeting in the first place," she said.
"For lessons, minx," I said.
She rolled her eyes. "I mean outside of here and- Did you just call me a minx!?"
She glared but didn't say anything about it.
"If we were meeting on the street, you would probably ask me about my family."
"Why?" I asked. "I don't give a damn about your family."
She sighed. "Definitely do not say that," she said. "It doesn't matter if you care or not. It's about being polite. Now, here's the part that you're going to have trouble with."
"Easy," I warned but she ignored me.
"You'll have to actually listen to whoever you're speaking with," she said. "For example, if you asked me about my family, I would probably respond with something like... 'My mother is doing well. She's started taking up sewing again.'" I was still trying to figure out that damn wall. "What would you say to that?"
"To what?" I asked and she snorted.
"I figured. I said: 'My mother is doing well. She's started taking up sewing again.' What would your response be?"
"I don't know. I hate sewing!"
"About as much as you hate manners," she said and leaned forward. "Lord Cian, it's not about whether or not you like it. It's about showing a woman you're listening to her. That's what we want more than anything else when speaking with a man: to know we're being heard."
I frowned. "I guess I would ask if.... Um...." She was watching me with a curious expression on her face as I struggled. "I guess.... Why did she stop?"
"Very good!" she said, taking me by surprise. "I'm impressed!"
"Why?" I asked.
"You achieved two things there: not only did you show you were listening to me, you also made me feel like you cared."
"But I don't," I said.
She held up a finger. "But it seemed like you did. Like I said: that's all we want."
I sighed. "You're making my head hurt."
"Now, I'll respond with something like: 'She had to stop when she gave birth to me.'"
"Gross. Can we move on to something else now?"
She rolled her eyes. "You're like a child," she grumbled. "Fine. Let's assume you're speaking with a man. You bump into each other on the street. What do you say?"
She nodded. "Then he'll respond with a good afternoon, too."
She looked at me expectantly.
"Why do I have to be the one to keep conversation going?"
"Because you're the lord of our kingdom," she said seriously. "That's what your parents are trying to tell you, Lord Cian. You're not just a commoner walking about doing his daily chores. You're a lord. You are who we go to when we have a problem. You are who we look to when threatened. You are the one who makes our laws and enforces them. We have to know that we can trust you."
I rubbed my temples. "This is why my sister should've-" I stopped and cleared my throat. "Okay, I would say.... Can I talk about the weather with men?"
"Yes," she said. "Although men will find it a sign of... not weakness, but they may laugh at you, to be frank."
"Ugh. Fine. Um...." I frowned at the desk, my eyebrows coming together in concentration. "We're a farming kingdom, yes?"
"Yes," she answered.
"So, if the man is a farmer, I would know?"
"Definitely; they dress differently and are built strong from all the work they do. Like Chester."
I shuddered. "Chester." She snorted and I cleared my throat again. "Then, if the man is a farmer, I would ask him about his crops."
"Great! That's perfect!" She looked sincerely impressed. "I didn't even think about that. I was going to suggest politics."
I frowned at her. "There are politics in the village?"
She sighed sadly. "Yes, there are. Since we don't see you and your parents but once a year, we have to settle our disputes on our own."
"So that's why we don't see many hu-villagers," I muttered.
Viveka cleared her throat. "Let's say someone came to you with a problem in the village. What would you do?"
"Listen," I said right away. "Because if there's a problem, as a lord, I must listen. My father always says that if it threatens the land, it threatens us."
She tilted her head to the side. "Then why do you not seek out the company of your people?"
I scoffed. "Why would I? I have my parents and our staff."
She frowned. "You've not once wanted a friend? Someone you didn't see on a daily basis?"
"I'm not good at making friends," I said. "That's why you're here."
"One of the reasons," she agreed. "When someone from the village approaches you in the throne room, it's much like when you see them on the streets. It is a thrill to be noticed by royalty. Unless you're in trouble like me," she added with a laugh and I chuckled. Wait. Did I just laugh? "Now, I want to know what you'd do in a busy setting like a ball."
"We don't have balls," I said and she smirked.
I frowned as her lips quivered and she erupted into laughter. She gripped her stomach and doubled over. I stared at her until I realized what she was thinking.
"Oh, my God!" I cried. "No! That's not what I- Where is your mind, woman!?"
"Sorry," she said, giggling. "Oh goodness, the look on your face is priceless."
I groaned. "We don't have... parties," I said finally and she composed herself but she was still smirking.
"Let's pretend you're having one. Come on," she said and beckoned me to follow her.
She led me down to the main entry and looked around. She tapped her chin and poked her head in the throne room.
"Can we borrow this room for a second?" she asked my mother and father.
"Yes, of course," my mother said.
"Perfect," she said and pulled my arm. "Stand here," she said, placing me in front of the door. "Okay, I'm a guest at your... party. I walk in, what's your first reaction?"
"What is this minx doing in my home?" I snapped and she narrowed her eyes. I rolled mine. "I'd shake your hand."
"No," she said immediately and I looked at her, confused. "If I were a man, yes you'd shake my hand. However, as you have pointed out, I am a woman. For women, you kiss our hands."
"Gross," I said and she shook her head, holding her hand out with her palm facing downward. I stared, shaking my head. "Nope. There is no way I am kissing your hand."
"The sooner you do it, the sooner it's over," she said, her eyebrows lifted.
I groaned and took it, kissing her knuckles then dropped it. She was glaring.
"A little rough, but that's the best I'm going to get out of you."
"Glad we agree on something," I said and started to walk into the throne room.
"Ah, we're not done yet," she said and I dropped my jaw. She had her arm out. "Offer to take my arm.
"Do it now."
"Not on your life!"
"Then on your life."
I bit my lower lip. If only she knew. Finally, I took her wretched arm and dragged her into the throne room.
"There," I snapped. "Happy now?"
"Yes," she said pleasantly. "Now, next you would dance with me."
"I'm drawing the line there," I said. "I'm not dancing with you. I absolutely refuse."
"I don't bite, Lord Cian," she said. "Or is it that you don't know how?"
"Of course I know how," I snapped. "My sister taught me. I just don't want to touch you."
"Cian," my mother said.
"No," I said firmly. "Nope. I'll dance with my mother."
"I'm busy," she said and I glared at her.
"No you're not," I said through clenched teeth.
"Dance with her," my father ordered, his lips twitching.
I glared between the three of them then snatcher hand and put my hand on her waist. She had that irritating smirk on her face as I led her in a dance.
"Say something," she said.
"Like what?" I snapped.
"Compliment my dress."
"I already did that!"
She rolled her eyes. "Yes but that was a different conversation."
I huffed. "Fine. You have a lovely dress."
"Thank you, Lord Cian. You are a wonderful dancer."
"Um.... So are you?"
She nodded in approval. "Very good."
I looked down at her and frowned. Something was different about her. Something I couldn't place. We kept dancing, neither speaking. Suddenly, she shook her head and stepped out of my arms.
"You're doing well," she said and looked out the window. "I need to get back to my mother. I'll be back after breakfast tomorrow."
"There's more!?" I cried.
She curtsied to my parents. "Until tomorrow."
I frowned as I watched her walk out. When I was certain she wouldn't hear, I turned to my parents. They were laughing until they saw the look on my face.
"What's wrong?" my father asked.
"That wall," I said and they frowned. "It's painful now. I can't even get close to it."
They shared a look and I rubbed my right eyebrow irritably.