I frowned as I walked home. What was that? What just happened? When I got to the door, I glanced up at the castle. He had been staring at me with... almost tender eyes.
I shook it off and went inside, yawning.
"How did the lessons go?" my mother asked.
"Exhausting," I sighed, sitting down for dinner. "He's so stubborn, Mother. It took me ten minutes just to get him to properly invite me into the room we were studying in."
"Does he know you can't read?" she asked.
"No and I plan on keeping it that way," I said firmly.
"Are you going back tomorrow?"
I nodded. "I'm hoping that will be the last of it." I smirked. "The day after tomorrow, however, I'm giving him a test."
"And you're not going to go easy on him, are you?" she laughed.
The next morning, Lord Cian was waiting for me by the stairs.
"Follow me," he snapped.
"Ah, ah, ah," I said. "What do you say?"
He glared at me, a look I was no longer afraid of. "I don't remember."
I sighed, shaking my head. "You say, please follow me."
"I hate that word," he muttered. "Please follow me."
"Gladly," I said cheerfully and smiling at the cringe it caused.
He led me to the same room and sighed heavily. "After you, ma'am," he said through clenched teeth.
"See? That wasn't so hard now was it?" I asked then froze. "Why are you shutting the door?"
"We have... guests today and it's best if you stay out of the way," he said.
"Embarrassed?" I said with a smirk then stopped at the look on his face.
"No," he whispered. "It's... not safe. Come on. Let's just continue with our lesson."
I frowned. He was worried about my safety? I looked at the door. Who was here that concerned him so much?
"Come on, Viveka," he said wearily. "Just sit down and let's go over what new torture you have prepared for me."
"Okay," I said slowly and sat down. "Now, we're at a meal today."
"I already know table etiquette."
I sighed. "Will there every come a day where you won't interrupt me?" I grumbled.
I glared at him. He smirked and the air went back to normal.
"This isn't about what fork to use, Lord Cian," I said. "This is about talking to people."
"I know how to talk to royalty, though."
"You won't always be dining with royalty," I said.
"Of course I will! Why would I dine with commoners?"
I clenched my jaw. I hated it when he said things like that.
"Do you want your rule as our new king to be smooth?" I demanded and he nodded. "Do you want us to respect you? Do you want us to trust you? Do you want us to know that you're not going to leave us to starve?"
"Then it doesn't hurt to know how to talk at a table should a family invite you to their home."
I looked around and found two doilies. I placed one in front of me and one in front of him.
"Okay, these are our plates."
"Very creative, minx," he said sarcastically.
I glared. "It's what you have on hand. This is your office, not mine. Now, in the middle is our meal." I placed a few books in a line. "What would you do first?"
"Suggest you don't eat so much fiber in your diet?"
"Just answer the question," I snapped.
He sighed. "I don't know...." He thought, staring at the fake table I had created. "I guess... offer to cut whatever this book is?"
"If they wanted you to do it, they would ask you," I shook my head. "Try again."
He bit his lower lip. "Hmm.... Thank whoever made the meal?"
"Yes," I said with a nod. "Put it in a sentence."
He puffed his cheeks out. "Thank you, Miss, for preparing this meal for me."
"Perfect. Next, the head of the household - usually the husband or older brother - will cut this book and pass it around on our lovely wholly plates. What would you do?"
He rubbed his chin. "Since I am not the head of the household, then I would wait until he had the first bite."
"Unless they offer for you to take it," I nodded. "Now, we're in the middle of our meal and it's completely silent. What's next?"
"I would... ask about their family?"
I clapped my hands. "You're a fast learner! For the most part," I added with a smirk. "Yes, you would ask. Meal's done. Now what?"
He shrugged. "I usually just go right to bed after saying goodnight to my parents."
"Not the guests?" I asked.
"Well, here you would offer to clean."
His eyes widened. "I am a lord! I don't clean dishes!"
I scoffed. "Don't worry your pretty little head about that. They'll always decline. Then you would wait. If they offer coffee or tea, accept and make more small talk. If the hour is late or if they have little ones, say goodnight. How do you say goodnight?"
He thought, his eyebrows coming together again. "To the man... I would shake his hand. To the woman... I would kiss her hand?"
"Exactly. What do you think you'd do for the little ones?"
He threw his head back with a groan. "Please say I don't have to hug them."
I giggled. "No, you don't have to hug them. You just have to wave. They'll be dead on their little feet. They always are after a heavy meal."
"Do you have children?" he asked suddenly.
I blushed. "Of course I don't! I'm not even married."
I stared. "What?"
"Why aren't you married?"
My face went even more red. "Well.... I don't know.... I just.... I guess I haven't caught anyone's eye," I lied.
"I find that hard to believe," he said and I looked at my lap. Is he complimenting me? He cleared his throat. "What's next?"
"That actually covers everything I know," I said, standing up.
He stood, too, looking immensely relieved.
"Oh, you're not getting off that easily," I smirked.
"God. What now?" he groaned.
"I'm giving you at test tomorrow."
His eyes widened. "A test? You are a commoner! You cannot give me a test!"
"Watch me," I said. I curtsied. "Good evening Lord Cian."
His nose wrinkled and he bowed. "Good evening, minx," he said through clenched teeth.
I stared at him, frowning at the way my stomach flipped when he called me 'minx'.
"Let me guess, I am supposed to walk you to the door."
"Normally," I said slowly. "You don't have to tonight, though."
His eyes flickered. "Actually, I think I should," he said, sounding worried again. "It's... safer."
"Who is here?" I asked.
He walked by me without answering and opened the door.
"Come along, minx," he sighed.
"Not until you tell me why I'm in danger," i said.
He took my wrist. "Just trust me."
"Me trust you?"
He sighed as he led me down the hall. "I know I haven't earned your trust, but try not to be stubborn right now. What will you be testing me on tomorrow?"
"Everything," I said. We got to the door and he opened it. "I've arranged everything with your mother." I smirked. "I hope you're prepared."
He was going to speak then stiffened when someone descended the stairs.
"Good night," he said.
"Wait," I said but he pushed me a little and slammed the door shut.