I followed Queen Keishara into the gardens, staying a step behind her. I wasn't sure if this was appropriate; I'm sure Elwin hadn't anticipated me being alone with either the king or queen. She towered over me. She was even taller than Elwin.
"You need not walk so far behind me," she said. "You may walk beside me."
"Yes, your highness," I breathed and hurried to do as she said.
"What do you think of my gardens?"
I looked around. The flowers were various colors and absolutely beautiful. Some were large, almost like sunflowers, though these were shades of blue. Others were so small they could fit on the tip of my finger. The trees were just as huge and the leaves were purple instead of green.
"It is magical," I breathed in wonder. "I've never seen such flowers."
"Much magic flows through our realm," she nodded. "The gardens are my gift given to me by our goddesses." She glanced at me. "Do you worship the goddesses in your world?"
"No," I shook my head. "We have many religions."
She frowned. "So strange. Why have different religions when you only have one?"
"The human culture is very divided," I answered. "In fact, there have been wars over religions."
"Which do you follow?"
"I don't know, to be honest," I said thoughtfully. "It's hard to after what happened to my mama. She died of a plague that swept through our kingdom 13 years ago."
"I am saddened for you. I have never seen eyes like yours," she mused. "Not even in our realm. Are they common among humans?"
"No. When I was born, I had some kind of defect that changed them to this color."
She frowned. "I do not see them as a defect."
I blushed as we turned a corner. The gardens seemed to stretch on forever.
"How did you and Elwin meet?" she asked.
I swallowed. "I do not wish to get him in trouble."
She laughed, a sound like many bells ringing. "My dear, he is already in trouble."
I stared in horror. "You won't hurt him, will you?"
"Of course not," she said. "We have different ways of punishment that aren't as harsh as yours."
"My papa had told me stories of the elves all my life. He said you were little folk that resembled humans. I was fascinated so, every night, I would go searching for you. A man asked for my hand and, that night, I ventured into the forest for what I thought would be the last time. Elwin said he was afraid I was a rogue elf so he sent a warning shot at me. He then told me that he had been interested in humans as well."
"Probably because of his connection to Princess Linata," she said softly.
She stopped walking and stared into my eyes. "You must swear to secrecy. Know, though, that by swearing you swear to your life."
"Elwin is a direct descendant of Princess Linata."
I frowned. "But King Orist said that humans and elves have never mated before."
She sighed. "They have not. Linata was not a human. She was an elf."
"So that's why you haven't revealed the truth about the battle," I said slowly and she nodded.
"I have not enjoyed doing such a thing but, if they were to know, there would be a great upset. I would not mind if the elves departed should they choose, but I don't believe the humans will be as... accepting. Am I correct?"
"Unfortunately," I confirmed. "Why don't you want Elwin to know that he is descended from Linata?"
"He's not ready. I have plans to tell him but they must wait until we figure out what will happen with the goblins." She sighed heavily. "Elwin said you were defiled. What does he mean by that?"
I looked at the ground as we continued walking.
"In our tongue, the word is rape. I was forced into an engagement with a man from my village. This was before I met Elwin. My... betrothed...." I took a deep breath. "He found a way to send my father from our home for several hours. He then came to our home and forced sexual intercourse on me." I tried not to cry at the memory. "He hurt me greatly. I could not tell my papa or we both would have been punished. I was due to meet Elwin that night but I was too weak and sick to move."
"So he found out and brought you here," she finished.
I happened. "That happened after we realized we were meant to be together. Arl said that Elwin had felt the pain and was sick from it. Theodore had learned of our love the night before he defiled me."
"Is he the one who threatened the colony?" she asked and I nodded, my tears finally falling. She passed me a silk handkerchief. "What are your traditions on mates?"
"We get married and we exchange tokens. The man would offer a special kerchief and the woman wold offer an item of extreme importance."
"What was yours?"
"I do not have any brothers so the kerchief became my token."
"Do you still have it?"
"No. I exchanged it with Elwin."
"So you two have... married?" she asked and I nodded. "That is very interesting."
The rest of the walk was spent with her asking me other questions about humans. She was very interested in the royal family. I told her of the rumors that the princesses were trained in battle but, now that I knew Linata's true identity, I doubted they were true. Then she was curious about our diet as much as I was.
"How do you get nutrients?" I asked.
"All we need is in our plant life," she answered. "Sometimes, when a predator is killed, we will feast on its corpse as a tribute to the man who killed it. And, remember, elf bodies are very different from human bodies."
I nodded thoughtfully. We turned another corner and there were even more plants.
"How far does your garden stretch?" I asked and she laughed again.
"Oh, it does not stretch far. I have used my magic to extend it," she admitted. She stopped so I did as well. With a snap of her fingers, the garden shrank to a small size. "The bigger the garden, the more time we had to talk."
"That is amazing," I breathed, looking around. "Magic is fascinating. I wish humans had magic."
"Maybe someday you will," she said as we entered the palace.
We had been in the garden for several hours. She took me to a large dining hall where many elves were gathered. King Orist and Elwin stood when we entered and kissed our hands.
"You were gone for quite a while," the king noted.
Queen Keishara smiled at me and I returned it shyly.
"We had much to discuss."