I slept in the next morning. I hadn't realized it until the sun was shining directly in my eyes. I rubbed my eyes and went out into the house. My papa was sitting at the dining table, reading his book with a frown on his face.
"Why didn't you wake me up?" I asked.
Instead of answering, he pointed to the chair. I blinked. His face was angry and I sat down. Had he discovered that I left again? Did he know that I was meeting with Elwin?
"Show me your wrist, Camila," he said in a low voice. "Your right one," he snapped when I lifted my left wrist.
I sighed and did as he said. He rolled the sleeve up and looked at the bruise. He didn't speak for a long time. Then his eyes filled with tears.
"Camila, why did you not tell me?" he whispered.
I took my wrist back and looked into my lap.
"It doesn't matter," I said. "How did you find out?"
He picked something up off the floor and passed it to me along with a slip of paper. I tried not to react.
It was one of Elwin's arrows.
Darkness lingers within your home. Your only daughter, who loves you so, has been marked by her betrothed. Her right wrist tells the secret.
"It was on the door," he said.
"I don't know what to say," I whispered.
"I do. You will not be marrying Theodore Jensen."
"No, Papa," I sighed and he stared at me. "This is how it's meant to be."
"How can you say that, Camila?" he demanded. "He has harmed you!"
I looked away, crying a little.
"Don't fool yourself, papa. You and I both know he is the only one who will ask for my hand."
"Nonsense," he said.
"Papa," I said. "Look at me," I whispered when he wouldn't look me in the eye. "I am not... the traditional woman. No man will want me."
"But Theodore Jensen does...."
"I don't know why he does," I lied. "I will fulfill my duty as a woman," I whispered. "This is my fate."
"You don't believe that," my father said immediately.
I stood. "It doesn't matter if I believe it or not." I put my wooden clogs on. "I'm going to see if the hens have laid any eggs." I stopped at the door. "Tell no one, Papa."
I left before he argued.
I hoped I hadn't gotten her into trouble. I couldn't stand the thought of someone harming her and then getting away with it. She was too beautiful, too perfect to be harmed. I couldn't sleep that night; I just stared up at the roof of my hut, pondering.
When the sun rose, I got up and stretched. I looked around my hut and sighed. It was small with my hammock, the few outfits I needed, and a bookshelf. I wandered over to it and pulled one out at random. I flipped through and it landed on a picture of what elves saw humans as: Large, ugly beasts swinging heavy clubs. If I had to guess what Camila's betrothed look like, it would be this.
I shut the book and picked up a comb, running it through my hair and tossed it to the side. I was feeling restless today. I wanted to blame it on my lack of sleep but I knew the real reason had waist length white blond hair and violet eyes.
When I was ready, I walked out and stretched. My work during the day was simple: guard duty. I was the best archer in the colony and I was to keep an eye on the north. That was where we were positive the humans lived. I took up my bow and quiver of arrows.
I walked slowly to my post, whistling and swinging my arms. Around me, people waved and called out to me. I waved back and stood at the box that was built. I looked down. We were at least 100 feet in the air, hiding in the trees from humans. From childhood, we were taught to fear and loathe humans.
I leaned against the box. I had been gifted with sight and precision. I could shoot down an enemy from 100 yards away. It made me the perfect guard. The closest we ever got to predators, though, were bears and the occasional centaur or vampire seeking out our realm.
I felt some sympathy for the vampires. They didn't have anywhere to live except for among humans, who they needed nourishment from, and even then they had to live in secret. But most vampires were also bitter and rude.
Footsteps behind me announced the arrival of Arl and he passed me a plate of food and joined me in the box.
"Where do you keep sneaking off to in the middle of the night?" he asked.
I shrugged, chewing on the bread. "It matters not."
"If you're trying to meet that human again," he began.
"Of course I'm not. You heard what Elder Winterblade said."
Arl scoffed. "Since when did you listen to Winterblade?" I just shrugged again. "Rosario is pregnant," he said suddenly and I grinned.
"I'm terrified," he groaned and I chuckled.
"Ah, you'll be a good father. What are you hoping for?"
"I want a she-elf," he said. "But of course, she wants it to be a he-elf."
I nodded, eating a grape, and remembered what Camila said. They had the same anatomy. I wondered what it would be like if she were an elf.
"Don't do this, Elwin," he said suddenly and I looked at him. "I know you're still thinking about her. Winterblade has told you it is forbidden."
I sighed angrily. "You guys wouldn't keep saying that if you had met her. She's not evil. If anything her betrothed is."
The plate broke in my hands and I groaned. Damn it. That was the third thing I broke since I learned of Camila's mate.
To my surprise, Arl laughed. "You're stupid Elwin." I glared at him. "You can't mate with a human so just stop meeting with her."
I leaned against the box. "Who says we can't mate with humans, Arl? I'm serious," I said when he laughed again. "I'm not talking about me. I mean in general."
"The goddesses, you numbskull," he said. "If not them, then definitely the king and queen. They were clear on that."
I sighed. "I'm doomed to be alone forever," I said.
"Nah," he said. "There's a she-elf out there for you." Suddenly, he was smirking. "I heard Lura Xilrona is looking for you."
I groaned and lowered my head as he chortled.
"Does she not know what the word no means?" I sighed.
"She's determined to prove you are her mate."
"If that were the truth, we would know right away," I argued. "Just like you knew with Rosario."
He smiled at the mention of his mate. "Now there's a she-elf if I've ever seen one."
I laughed and nudged him. "Perhaps I am meant to do just this: stand guard for the rest of my life."
Arl made a face. "That sounds like a miserable existence, even for you."
I laughed a little and tossed the remains of the plate to the side while Arl finished his meal. As I watched out among the trees, I thought of Camila. She was all I could think of. Did I love her? We had only spoken twice. But elves don't have flings. We know immediately. But did humans? Did they have flings? Would she know right away if she loved me?
"Stop it, Elwin," Arl said again. "Contact is forbidden. Don't go see her again."
He left without another word.