When Elder Winterblade told me the king and queen wanted to meet me, I was nervous. What if they sent me back? Would they declare war because Elwin and Arl saved me? I hoped not.
That night, at dusk, I was sitting on the ground cross-legged. Elwin was patrolling with Arl so I sat by myself to eat dinner. Originally, I was going to eat in his house but thought better of it. I might as well try to make some other friends....
"Can I sit with you?" someone asked.
Another she-elf stood in front of me with a plate. She had long brown hair and brown eyes. I nodded and she sat like I did, squirming around until she got comfortable. She grinned at me when she saw how nervous I was.
"Don't worry," she assured me. "I'm just curious about you and your kind." She jutted her hand out. "The name's Rosario Thezana but everyone calls me Ro." I shook her hand. "I'm Arl's mate."
"Camila Constantine. I'm.... Gosh. The word mate sounds so weird," I said before thinking and cringed. "Sorry. I didn't mean to-"
She giggled. "It's okay. Elwin hasn't been much of a fan of it either." She thought for a second. "How about you guys call yourselves... lovers?"
I shifted. "In my culture, that's not a good thing."
"Why not?" she asked, taking a big bite of a strange fruit.
"It usually means that the two people involved are being unfaithful behind people's backs."
"Oh.... Well, how about.... What are your customs for bonding? What do you call yourselves?"
"Husband and wife."
"Well, there you go!"
"But we're not married...."
"According to elven culture you are," she pointed out.
"Yes. So, I'm really curious about humans," she said, leaning forward.
Before she could ask more, two more elves approached us, both male. They were identical and I could tell they were twins. They sat down and stared at me.
"Don't be rude," Ro snapped. "Introduce yourselves."
"Right. I'm Cameron Ilithyra," the one on the left said.
"And I'm Narbeth Ilithyra," the one on the right said.
"Camila Constantine," I returned. First and last names seemed to be important here. "How am I going to tell you two apart?"
The one on the left, Cameron, laughed. "I'm the handsome one."
I chuckled but didn't know what to say. I was spared by the arrival of three more elves. I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable as they all sat around me as if I was a sideshow in a circus.
"Can I ask you a question?" one piped up from the back.
There were at least ten now.
"Sure," I said slowly. "I'll answer them the best I can."
"Do all humans have purple eyes?"
"No. It's some kind of... mutation I think the word is."
"Mutation? We don't know that word."
"When I was born, something different happened."
They nodded thoughtfully.
"Do you guys give birth like we do?" I nodded. "Why aren't you giants?"
"Why aren't you little people?" I asked and bit my lip.
Again, I spoke before thinking. They didn't seem to mind. In fact, they all laughed.
"Is that what humans think of us?" Narbeth asked and I nodded. "Weird...."
"Why do you think humans are giants?"
They all looked around at each other.
"Princess Linata," a voice said and I looked up. Lura had joined us. She was standing, though, and glaring down at me. "She killed hundreds of our kind."
"It was a war," I said. "That's what happens."
She narrowed her eyes. "But how can a human do that if she wasn't a giant?"
"Perhaps she was exceptionally strong," an elf piped up. "Is it true that humans can be really tall, though? Elwin said something about a seven foot tall man!"
I nodded. "He came through our village one day a few years ago." I ate some of my fruit. "He was the exception, though. Most of us are between 5 feet and 6 1/2 feet."
Lura didn't leave. In fact, she sat with us. At first I thought she was being polite. Then she spoke.
"I heard all humans are blood thirsty," she said. "I heard you feast on your enemies."
I blanched. "Oh, that's disgusting! Wherever did you hear such a thing!?"
"Well? Is it true?"
"Of course not! That's horrible! We bury our dead."
"You bury them?" Ro asked in amazement.
"No. We burn them," Cameron said sadly. "That way no evil spirit can take over their bodies."
I jumped down from the bridge at my break to get some dinner. I smiled when I got to the center dining area. About ten of my fellow elves were gathered around Camila and even more were walking over. She was gesturing as she spoke. Lura was sitting by her. She had her lips pressed together and arms crossed; I knew she was trying to seem apathetic but she was clearly interested.
Arl stood beside me as we watched.
"I think she'll fit in," he said. "Ro really likes her."
It was true. Rosario was sitting right next to her, leaning forward with an eager expression.
"I hope you're right," I sighed. "I'm worried about Lura, though."
"Ah, don't be. She'll get over it once she finds her mate."
Rosario saw us and excused herself from the group. She wrapped her arms around Arl and kissed him. Camila saw me and smiled shyly. I returned it and she went back to talking.
"She's a lot like you," Ro said to me, leaning against Arl.
"She's probably more curious about us than we are of her," she laughed. "For every question we ask, she has two more."
"How much of a hard time is Lura giving her?" I asked, glaring at the she-elf.
"Nothing Camila hasn't been able to handle so far," Ro assured me. "She's a sharp one. I convinced her to change the term, by the way. Apparently, the word 'mate' is a little strange to her, too."
I rolled my eyes. Leave it to Ro.
"So what did you suggest?"
"In her culture, when they find their mate, they get married." I nodded. "They call each other husband and wife. So, from now on, she's your wife."
"But we're not married. At least, not according to her culture," I added.
"So hold a marriage," Ro said as if I were a simpleton.
I went back to watching Camila. She was laughing at a little elf who had escaped from her mother. The little elf had run up behind her and jumped on her back. Camila took it well and was tickling her. When the mother came over, though, she snatched the child away from Camila.
I sighed at the look on Camila's face. I walked over and held my hand out. She took it and walked with me.
"One of the people who doesn't like me?" she asked and I nodded, lacing our fingers.
"Ro says you're fitting in well," I said.
"They seem to like me," she nodded, looking over her shoulder.
Her audience had dispersed, going back to their duties. Music started to play from the treetops and I smiled. I loved elven music. I spun her around and put my hand on her back. She giggled a little, blushing. The moonlight kissed her face and I tucked her hair behind her ear as we rotated on the spot.
"I'm glad you're here," I whispered, "despite what everyone else says."
"I'm glad to be here," she agreed. "I feel more at home here than I ever did at my village." She sighed. "I do miss my papa, though."
"The messenger was sent this morning. He returned not too long ago, in fact. He wasn't seen but he made sure your father saw the letter."
She nodded and put her head on my chest, wrapping her arms around my neck. I hesitated. This wasn't how we danced. She noticed and took my hands, placing them on her lower back. I knew my face was red but I didn't mind as she put her head back on my chest. She smelled of wood and flowers. I loved it.
I don't know how long we danced, but I never wanted it to stop.
"This music is beautiful," she sighed. "I've never heard anything like it."
"Yeah," I whispered, lifting her face. "Very beautiful indeed."
She turned away, smiling in that adorable way. I kissed her lips, enjoying how our lips fit perfectly together. She kissed me back just as a horn blew.
"What was that?" she asked, looking worried.
My eyes focused. "Humans," I breathed.