The thrones weren't far from the door and Elwin got to his knees, bowing his head in respect. I stood with my back straight, hands folded in front of me, and my head bowed as Elwin had told me. My heart was pounding and I was shaking slightly. No one spoke for a long time.
"Fret not, child," a woman's voice said. "We will do you no harm. Please, the both of you, stand."
Elwin did so immediately and I slowly lifted my head, quickly stifling a gasp. The queen was gorgeous with waist length white hair yet she looked just a few years older than myself. Her eyes were the color of crystals and her voice sounded melodious. She was in a gown of green and silver velvet. Her husband, the king, had shorter hair that was black but looked significantly older. His eyes were blue and he had a beard that reached to his chest.
"Elder Winterblade announced your arrival," the king said in a deep voice. "He did not reveal your names." He turned first to Elwin. "What is your name, young elf."
"Elwin Morro," he answered, giving the king the deep bow he had given me. "It is an honor to stand in your presence."
"And you, young woman?" the king addressed me.
"I-I am Camila Constantine, your highness," I breathed, curtsying automatically. I hesitated. "Please forgive me. In my culture-"
"You need not explain," the queen said. "It is very curious, but we are open to your customs."
"Thank you," I said in a small voice and nibbled on my lower lip.
"I am Orist Erkian," the king said. "You may call me your highness or King Orist."
"And I am Keishara Xyrsys," the queen said. "Like my husband, you may call me your highness or Queen Keishara." I didn't know what to say so I remained silent, barely breathing. "Elder Winterblade has informed us that you are mates and have sent a duplicate to your village to buy us time. Is this accurate?"
"Yes, Queen Keishara," I breathed.
"And have you done the proper ritual?" King Orist asked Elwin.
"Not completely," he admitted.
The queen looked at him with sharp eyes. "Why not?"
Elwin looked at me out of the corner of his eyes.
"Camila was defiled," he said softly. "I do not wish to add to her humiliation."
The queen stared at him for a while. "That is very honorable, Elwin. We accept your reasoning." She then turned her eyes to me. "I am very curious about you, Camila. When our meeting is at an end, you will join me on a walk."
"Yes, Queen Keishara."
King Orist addressed me. "Who decided to bring you into our realm?"
"Elwin saved me," I answered.
"Saved you?" he repeated.
"Yes. I was... the word is defiled?" The king nodded. "Elwin sensed there was danger and saved me from the man doing worse."
"Would he have done more?" the queen inquired and I nodded sadly. "What happened once you brought her here?"
"There were many questions," Elwin answered, relaxing visibly. "My main priority was getting her healed and rested."'
"So you knew she was your mate before you brought her here."
The king and queen exchanged a glanced.
"This has never happened before," the king said. "An elf and a human.... Our worlds have been separated for a reason. Have you heard the legends, Camila?"
"Only from a human's perspective," I answered. "Elwin has touched on it on our journey, though."
"Elwin, what have you shared with her?"
I felt nervous for Elwin. Would he get in trouble for what he had told me on our third day? Elwin didn't seem afraid, though, as he straightened his back.
"I told her of our side of the battle. I confirmed the evil nature of our king and how the transcribers depicted the battle. I explained that elves hated humans for centuries for we were taught it was their fault and theirs alone."
The king leaned forward with narrowed eyes. "How did you know the true nature of the king?"
"My mother told me."
"Your mother was Water Drop from the Under Keep, yes?"
"Yes, your highness."
"I wonder how she knew," he mused. He didn't seem to expect an answer, though. "Continue."
"She inquired about why we thought they were giants. I showed her the picture of Princess Linata."
He stopped talking and betrayed a flicker of shame. This time, it was the queen to look at him suspiciously.
"Do you mind explaining how you came across a picture of the princess?"
Elwin hung his head. "I found a book."
"I thought we had all those books destroyed," the king said slowly. "It would seem there are those in our realm who wish to ruin-"
"My dear," the queen interrupted and he fell silent though he still looked angry. "You two must understand: the more people know about Princess Linata, the more... delicate our position becomes."
"I don't understand," I whispered.
The king sighed heavily. "We are on the brink of war with the goblins," he murmured and Elwin gasped. "Speak of this with no one. They seek to follow in Linata's footsteps."
"But you do not seem evil," I said before thinking and covered my mouth. "Forgive me."
The king nodded. "You are forgiven. And thank you. However, we cannot allow them to learn more about Linata's battle tactics."
"Have you seen any in our books?" the queen asked Elwin.
"No, your highness," he answered promptly. "There is only one book I have found that describes the battle."
"Did you bring it with you?"
Elwin took it out of the bag and approached the queen. He got down on one knee and lifted it to her.
"You are curious about the princess," the queen said slowly. "More than just history...."
He didn't answer, just kept his head bowed. She took the book and returned to my side, a little pink in the face. The queen flipped through the book, her crystal colored eyes moving faster than a human's ever could.
"No battle plans," she whispered to her husband. "There is a picture but it is innocent enough. Burn this," she said to a guard and Elwin made an involuntary movement. He tried to hide it but she noticed. "Do you wish to keep this book?"
Now he was red. "Just the picture, if it pleases your highnesses."
The queen stared at him before tearing it out and passing the book to the guard. She kept it in her lap and turned her head towards her husband. He was studying me carefully.
"You have been told of our culture," he stated and I nodded. "Does it frighten you?"
"Slightly," I admitted. "I am growing to understand and feel peace, though."
"Has Elwin told you how we fight?"
"No, your highness," I answered. "He has only spoken of your history and current customs, nothing more."
The king looked pleased with my answer.
"That is all I have to ask," he said. "What about you, my love?"
"I have no more questions at the moment." She paused. "You will stay in the palace for the remaining three days of your stay. I understand that the humans have threatened for war. Elwin, you will join King Orist now to the war room while I speak with your mate."
We both bowed as the king and queen stood. The queen passed the picture to Elwin who thanked her and put it carefully in his bag.
"May I say goodbye to my mate?" he inquired.
He kissed my forehead and squeezed my hand.
"You did well, my love. I will find you when I have finished with the king."
"Be safe," I whispered and he left.
"So, Camila Constantine," Queen Keishara said, "let us walk through the gardens. I have specific questions for you."