I set Camila down on my hammock carefully. Though she was no longer squirming in pain, she was still crying.
"I have to go down and talk to them," I whispered. "I'll be back. I promise." She only nodded, wrapping her arms around her body. "Are you cold?" Another nodded. I picked up a blanket and draped it over her. "I'll be right back."
I lowered the bamboo door to give her privacy and slid down the ladder. Elder Winterblade was standing in front of them, waiting for me. When I stood beside him, he sighed and began to address the assembled elves.
"I know most of you saw a human in our midst," he began.
"She doesn't belong here!" someone yelled. "Send her back!"
"We can't," he said. "It's too late. Her father already knows she's missing." Silence followed his words. "The king has been notified of this event. I ask one thing of you: please make her feel welcome."
"Why should we?" another person demanded.
"Because she is my soulmate," I said firmly.
A whisper ran through the crowd like wind. Several people nodded, knowing how long I had been searching. Others, though, made noises of anger and disbelief.
"She cannot be your mate," Lura Xilrona spoke up. I was wondering when she would speak. "She is a human!"
"It is uncommon," Arl agreed. "But I was there when Elwin felt her pain. I believe she is not a threat. If anything, she would've died had we not interfered."
"And that would be a bad thing?" Lura asked and I glared at her.
"Is it true they're giants?" someone asked.
"No," I answered quickly. "Not at all. They look just like us."
More whispering followed this announcement.
"What should we do now, then?" the first elf asked. "Surely the humans will wage war!"
"All we can do is wait," Elder Winterblade said. "The human is in much pain. She must be left to rest. Do not pester her with questions. Anyone who has concerns, speak with me." He looked around at everyone with a somber expression. "I do not doubt there will be trouble following this event but what has been set in motion cannot be stopped. Go back to your homes. Tomorrow, we double security."
They all dispersed except for Lura.
"I demand to see this soulmate of yours," she snapped.
"No," I said. "You heard Elder Winterblade. She's in pain. She is too tired." I climbed the ladder then leaned over. "I wouldn't want you to meet her anyway."
She looked insulted as I reentered my home. Camila was still awake, gripping something in her hand.
"Hey," I whispered, sitting down beside her. "How are you feeling?"
"They don't want me here," she said in a stuffy voice.
I sighed and played with her hair. "It is true that some are uncomfortable with the idea. There are others, though, like Arl who are willing."
"I worry for my papa," she said.
I looked down, unsure of what to say.
"What do you have there?"
She opened her hands to reveal a handkerchief.
"It is my token," she answered.
"What is a token?"
"Remember how I spoke of marriages?" she asked and I nodded. "When a man marries a woman, he gives her a token, usually a handkerchief like this."
I wrinkled my nose at it. "Please tell me that is not from that monster."
She smiled. "No. Constantine is my last name. I have no brothers so my father gave it to me. I was to give it to him when we wed."
"Camila Constantine," I said. "A very beautiful name."
I could see her blush in the dim light.
"What happens now?"
"You stay here," I answered. "A lot of elves are curious about humans, too. You should have seen the looks on some of their faces when I told them you weren't giants." She smiled again. "Perhaps you could teach."
She bit her lower lip. "Is there a way we can let my papa know I'm okay?"
"I don't know," I said honestly. "I will find a way, though." She didn't say anything but her eyes closed. "Would you like me to leave you so you may sleep?"
"Where will you sleep?"
"Probably out at my post. I've slept there several times before."
"You don't have to," she mumbled. "You can stay in here."
I smiled and ran my finger down her nose. Her breathing evened out.
"Sleep well, my Camila."
I woke to the sound of the birds chirping and people talking. I stretched. I was still in Elwin's home. Now that there was more light, I looked around curiously. There was a small bookshelf that held a handful of books. Upon closer inspection, I could see they were all about humans. I took out one in random and sat on the floor by the bookshelf.
It was mostly illustrations. The elves truly did see us as giants.... It was hard to imagine. Of course, it was probably hard for them to imagine us seeing them as little folk. I flipped a few pages until I stopped.
There was a picture of a red haired woman. She stood with her back straight in a dress made of silver armor. She had a long sword in her right hand and a shield in her left. Beneath her feet were hundreds of elves.
"Princess Linata," Elwin said, walking in. I jumped, nearly dropping the book. He sat down and passed me a plate of food. "The woman who defeated our evil king," he reminded me when I looked confused.
"Oh," I said and ate a grape. "She looks very strong."
"She was. I'm very curious about her. They say she conquered hundreds of elves on her own." He took the book and stared intensely at the picture. "But if she wasn't a giant, then how could such a small woman do so well in battle?"
"I've heard rumors of our princesses learning to fight," I said. "They probably teach all the princesses in case another attack happens."
"Do you think that would happen?"
I shifted. "If what your Elder Winterblade said is true, then yes."
He frowned. "Would you like a tour?"
I nodded and he helped me to my feet. I looked down and hesitated. I was still in my nightgown. He must have seen the look on my face because he told me to wait. He returned a few moments later with some clothing for me to change into. He stepped out in respect.
I pulled on a pair of green tights that fit perfectly. There was also a small light green skirt, cut in jagged lines that reminded me much of leaves. The tunic was the same green as the tights and long sleeved. Unlike Elwin's sturdy boots, the footwear provided was a softer leather. I looked around and found a small vine. I used it to tie my hair back.
"How do I look?" I asked, stepping out.
He turned and seemed lost for words. His eyes took in my appearance and I blushed.
"You look beautiful," he said and I smiled sheepishly.
I then looked down and stumbled back. "Oh my," I breathed.
"I-I don't like heights," I murmured.
"Oh," he said and thought for a second. "Close your eyes." When I looked doubtful, he held my hand. "Trust me."
I did as he said and he slowly led me forward. He stopped.
"We're at the top of a ladder," his voice said from behind me. "Turn around." He helped me, keeping his hands firmly on my waist. "Take two steps back." I whimpered in fear. "Trust me," he repeated. "Very good. Now, put both of your hands out." He put them on two sturdy poles. "Those are the sides of the ladder. Take one more step down and you'll be on the first rung."
"Okay," I said in a small voice.
He let go of my waist and I took a tentative step backward. I felt the first rung and prayed my shoe wouldn't slip. It must have grips on the bottom, though, for my foot stayed firmly in place. I began descending. From above me, I felt Elwin join me. He was calling down words of encouragement.
Finally, after what felt like ages, my feet hit solid ground. I sighed in relief, taking a couple steps to the side so Elwin had a place to stand.
"You can open your eyes now," he said, a hint of amusement in his voice. When I did, he was smiling widely. He held his hand out and I took it. "Now come. I want to show you my home."