MudMature

Viveka continued to make conversation with the men. I had to give her some credit. She was able to get them talking and even laughing. Though I wouldn't admit it to her, I was listening to everything. I was there for when the twins got their scars and it was a funny story and memory. Dany really had cried. I frowned, realizing I hadn't laughed or smiled genuinely in a very long time.

It began to rain and Viveka asked for us to stop.

"What?" I asked. "Afraid you'll melt?" I taunted as Brone passed her the parasol she brought along.

"No," she said, glaring at me. "I don't fancy getting sick."

I frowned at my horse's neck. I didn't like how her glares made my stomach flutter.

She opened the parasol and placed it on her shoulder, shifting it uncomfortably and dug her heels gently into Ashling. It had been my suggestion that she be the one to ride Ashling. I honestly don't know why I did it. Ashling was my horse; she had been since she was born a century ago. The horse I was perched upon had no name; it was just a random palace horse. I glared at Viveka. Had she really changed me so much that I would give her the best horse so she'd be safe?

"What have I done now?" she snapped.

I thought desperately for an excuse. "You should be riding behind me."

She cocked a brow. "And stare at the back of your obnoxious head for twelve hours? Yeah, no thanks."

I heard the men snort in amusement and I growled. I grabbed her arm and pulled so that she could hear me without the men overhearing. She glared as our legs touched.

"You are making a fool out of me in front of my subjects," I hissed.

To my surprise, she pulled Ashling to a stop and glared at me with a gaze that scorched more than the sun. I frowned and stopped. The men, sensing something was wrong, hung back.

"Get your hand off of me," I snarled. I let her go, shocked. "Right now, you are our equal. You are Cian among us."

"I am not," I argued. "I am Lord Cian to all of you!"

"No," she countered and this time I could tell this wasn't a lesson on manners. She pointed to the men. "They are following you into danger! The least you could do is show that you see them as equals! My father fought for your sorry ass and died for it as well! You have no respect." She picked Ashling's reins back up. "I repeat," she said, lifting her voice so the men could hear, "when we're out here, you are not Lord Cian. You are merely Cian."

She flicked the reins and walked ahead of me, her back straight. I watched her ride away, my jaw dropped. I looked at the men.

"Did she really just talk to me like that?" I asked and they all looked back at me sheepishly. "Damn it!" I yelled and flicked the horse's reins.

-

My horse was walking beside Ashling again but Viveka wouldn't even look at me. Her hair was covering her face but I knew she had been crying. A strange feeling stirred in my stomach and I snarled quietly. She had made me feel guilty! Who does she think she is!?

Several hours later, she started to yawn. I shook my head as she fell asleep on Ashling. Her parasol almost fell into the mud and I caught it quickly. I closed it and stared at her.

"Let her lean against you," one of the guards said and I looked at him.

"Are you insane?" I hissed. "I'm not letting her touch me."

The guard looked at her sadly. "Please, Lord Cian. There's something... different about her. I can't read her mind."

I sighed heavily and moved my horse closer. I pulled on Viveka's sleeve until she was leaning on me. I gestured for the guard to walk on my other side. I turned my head to face him.

"I can't either," I admitted.

"You can't?" one of the twins asked from behind me.

"No and neither can my parents." I stared at the sleeping girl beside me. "We could at first but now.... There's only one way for me to touch her mind and it is way too painful to bother with."

I rubbed my forehead, remembering the agony.

"How do you do it?"

"I have to break the wall," I sighed. "But the wall is strong. It can only be done through physical contact."

They all made hisses of pain and I nodded. Breaking down walls was incredibly painful to begin with. Then you add one as strong as hers.... The night I erased her mind had been awful. I had to stay in bed the majority of the next day to recover and I'm sure she had to, as well. I felt like my head had been split in half.

"I think now is the time to find a place to rest," I suggested a few hours later. I pushed Viveka off of me and nudged her until she woke up. She looked around in confusion. "Wake up. We're going to be making camp soon."

"Okay," she yawned, stretching. "Where's my parasol?"

I handed it to her. "You almost dropped it in the mud."

"And you picked it up for me?" she asked, her voice surprised.

"I'm not completely rude," I snapped.

I pulled the horse to a stop and looked for some dry ground.

"Er, Lord Cian?" the black guard muttered and I looked at him.

He was pointing at Viveka who was still on Ashling. I rolled my eyes.

"Okay, you want me to treat you as an equal," I spat. "Then you do the same. I am not helping you off that damn horse."

"Turn around," she said in a high voice.

I did so and swore under my breath. A large brown bear was making its way over, snarling under its breath. I drew my sword and the guards did the same. It circled us but its beady eyes weren't on me. They were on Ashling and Viveka.

"Get off the horse!" I yelled.

"I can't move," she whimpered, her voice shaking in fear.

Stupid human! I backed up slowly, keeping an eye on the bear and making sure not to make any sudden movements. The other men were moving so we had it surrounded. It snarled and I heard Viveka whimper again. Didn't I warn her that she would be in danger!?

The bear suddenly stopped and reared on its back legs, roaring. Ashling spooked and whinnied. I heard Viveka scream and the sound of squelching mud. I reached behind me and held tight to Ashling's bridle when she tried to run off. I nodded and the five guards descended on the bear. As they took care of it, I calmed Ashling. Then I saw something more terrifying than the bear.

A very angry, wet, and muddy Viveka came around the front of Ashling.

Don't laugh, Cian.

She was covered in mud from head to toe. She had wiped mud away from her eyes and spat some out on my feet.

"Sure," she snarled. "Protect the horse."

I pressed my lips together to keep myself from laughing and stared. She was gripping her parasol like it was a weapon. I guess saving it from the mud earlier had been pointless. Her glare was enough to intimidate even me. She grabbed a handful of mud from her hair and threw it at my face.

I froze. Did she just-?

"Don't even think about it," she snarled and shoved by me.

The End

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