Elder Winterblade woke us about three hours later. He handed each of us a charmed ring.
"These will give you added protection," he explained. It fit perfectly on my middle finger. "It's just an added precaution. Are you two ready?"
I gulped but nodded. Elwin put the pack on his back and led the way out. I looked around and saw the book with Princess Linata's picture in it. Knowing how fascinated he was, I quickly picked it up and hid it under my arm.
An assemble of elves was waiting for us. As we headed north, they began to sing in a tongue I didn't understand. Elwin waved behind him and I did the same. He held my hand as we walked, humming along with the song they were singing.
"What is it?" I asked.
"The Hymn of Safe Travels," he answered. "We sing it when someone goes on a journey like ours or...."
"Or when one of us dies," he said and I squeezed his hand. "What have you tucked under your arm?"
I pulled it out and he smiled fondly at the book.
"I know how much you like to read about her so I figured we could bring it. It's an elvish, though, so I can't understand it. You can read it to me when we stop for rests."
"That would be wonderful."
We continued walking, glancing to the east occasionally to watch the sun rise. We had to climb up a steep slope and I was starting to pant. My legs weren't used to the strain and, even though they had grips on the bottom, my shoes would slip on rocks and wet grass. When that would happen, Elwin would put a steadying hand on my lower back until I straightened. That would only remind me of the second part of the pledge. I was worried about telling him, though.
We stopped at midday for the first part of the provisions. It was simply bread and fruit but I didn't mind. He read me a few of his favorite passages, propping the book on his knees while he ate the bread in chunks.
"Princess Linata's armies were large," he read. "It didn't take long for her prowess to overwhelm that of the Evil King of the south. As her mighty hand fell upon the Evil King, she rid the world of his evil reign." He sighed. "Can you imagine witnessing such a sight? An army brought to its knees with a single stroke of a sword!" He frowned a little. "Although, she wasn't a giant; I wonder what really happened."
"Perhaps the king and queen will know," I suggested.
"I'm not too sure. They wouldn't lie to us so they must not know."
"Let's continue on," I suggested when he started looking sad.
"Right," he said and brushed dirt off his legs.
For many miles it was just rolling hills. Wildflowers blanketed the grass, lifting their perfume. There was a purple flower that smelled especially nice and he plucked one, tucking it behind my ear.
"There. Now the flower is even more beautiful."
I giggled and kissed his cheek. He grinned and held my hand as we continued our walk. I thought it would be an awkward walk with it being just the two of us. I was wrong. It was very pleasant. We didn't feel the need to talk much; not that we had the breath to.
By the time night fell and he found a suitable place to rest, I had a stitch in my side. I flopped down on the ground and took deep breaths.
"Goodness," I panted. "Who knew it would be so difficult to walk along a few hills?"
He laughed. "I didn't bring anything that we would have to cook," he said. "I figured that would make the trip easier."
I nodded and accepted the fruit and vegetables passed over. We were halfway through our meal when he got up to gather water, taking his bow and arrows with him.
"Um, why are you taking those?"
He smiled at the concern in my voice. "It's just in case. Sometimes there are predators."
I nibbled my lower lip but nodded. He disappeared over a hill so I scrambled to my feet. I held onto the necklace tightly, standing on my toes. He didn't return for another half hour. I let out a sigh of relief as he came over the hill with a bucket of water.
"I told you it would be okay," he teased, handing me a cup of water.
"That doesn't stop me from worrying about you."
He stared at me over the rim of his cup and I looked away shyly. He got out the blankets and made a small bed for us. We used the grass as our pillows and stared up at the stars. We didn't speak much. His strong arms circled me as we turned on our sides, facing each other.
"There's something I haven't told you," I breathed and he nodded. "About the pledge, we're supposed to...."
"I already know," he whispered.
"How? I thought you weren't familiar with our culture."
He sighed and ran his finger down my nose.
"Because it is the same for us," he said simply.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Is it not obvious?" he frowned. I shook my head. "You were violated, Camila. I do not want to add to the humiliation."
I kissed him gently. "You wouldn't be. It's different."
"How?" he asked. "It seems the same to me."
I stared at the base of his throat and put my hand on his chest.
"With Theodore... it was without my permission." I closed my eyes, finding it hard to meet his. "With you... I would give my permission."
"Look at me," he breathed. I did so. His eyes were half closed and full of love. "But are you ready?"
I thought it over. It was true that I lusted for his body. But I grew up believing that such an act should not be observed through lust. It was to be observed through love. Then the question came if I loved him. Hadn't I pledge myself to him, though? He had rescued me, made sure I fit in with his people, and took good care of me. Here he was willing to cross miles of land just to make sure I was safe.
Yes, I loved him but no, I wasn't ready.
"I'm sorry," I said in a small voice.
He kissed me, one arm around my waist and the other around my chest. I deepened the kiss and pushed myself closer.
"I will wait as long as I need to," he whispered against my lips. "For now, we must sleep. We have a long day of travel tomorrow."
I nodded and put my face in the crook of his neck.