Amara glanced up at the sun. “Hurry. We are late. It is not good form to be late when meeting your king.” She sped up to a slow, graceful lope that River recognized immediately.
“Hey, how can you do that?” she asked, matching the pace shakily at first, then smoother, so that she and Amára’s strides were mirror images of each other. “No one else in my family can, not even my brother. It drives my PE teacher crazy.”
Amára cast a surprised glance at her. “The galín is the signature gait of Elves,” she said. “It is instinctive.” As the stone statues loomed closer, Amára quickened her pace to a slow run. “Do not speak unless asked a direct question,” she said. “The King is easily angered and does not tolerate impertinence. He also does not like people coming into his domain unannounced. Do not make any sudden movements, do not raise your voice, do not frown or smile, do not –”
“Why don’t you just say, ‘do not do anything’?” River snapped, her fright making her cranky. Amára simply continued on.
“And especially do not do that,” she said.
“Interrupt. Now hush. We are almost there.”
It was true. A few yards away the bridge ended, and the statues soared above them. River stared, slack-jawed, at the carvings. The one on the left was a man, and the one to the right was a woman. The man held a spear in his left hand, a sword was belted at his waist, and a quiver full of arrows and a bow was slung on his back. In his uplifted right hand he held a sealed scroll.
The woman had the same weapons, but because she was facing the opposite direction of the man everything was reversed. So, it was her left arm that was bent towards the sky, and her left hand was the one holding an object – a young sapling of a tree.
Both had simple tunics, snug-fitting pants, boots, and carved diadems resting on their stony brows. Set into the center of both circlets were huge diamonds that seemed to glow with an unearthly white light, even in the blazing afternoon sun. It was as if two matching stars had been plucked out of the night sky and set into the crowns.
As stunning as the statues were – so life-like River expected them to start moving at any second – it was a small detail that captured her eye. The ears. The ears on both statues were pointed.
There was a sudden creaking sound, and River’s eyes snapped to face the front. She was so dizzied by the sight that greeted her she almost fell over.
On the smaller branches of the two large ones were guards, their armor silver and white. Long swords hung at their waists, and quivers full of arrows were strapped to their backs. Their silver helmets covered their faces, just like Naro’s, and their long hair wreathed armored shoulders. They stood to attention as one, their armor making a strange rustling sound, like leaves in a strong gust of wind.
But River barely noticed the guards. What she did notice were the branches that the guards were perched on – branches that were moving closer and closer to her and Amára. The tree was moving.
River squeaked as the branches came within ten feet of her, lightly touching the ground so the guards could step down. She was so absorbed in examining the branches from where she stood that she didn’t even hear Amára talking to one of the guards. It was only when the woman – or elf – gave a quick but gentle tug on her arm that River snapped out of her daze and trailed after her, her eyes riveted on the branches as the guards stepped back onto them and retreated to their original positions.
When she lost sight of them, River turned to look ahead and stared at the guards on the inside of the “halo”. Their armor was silver and green, and along with a sword and bow they were armed with a collection of knives hanging from their belts. Long, jade-green capes hung from their shoulders as well.
Another man, free of all armor and wearing a simple green tunic with pale brown pants bowed to Amára, then gestured to a branch that lightly touched the ground. It was about five feet wide, more or less the width of River’s desk back home. She hesitated when Amára stepped onto the branch, then the man. When she didn’t join them, both turned and looked expectantly at her.
Confused and a little scared, River stepped onto the branch.
When it began to move River couldn’t tell; the transition was so smooth. But when she finally looked down and realized how fast they were moving, and how far away the ground was becoming, she shrieked and grabbed the arm of the man, clinging with all her strength.
The man winced, and annoyance briefly flickered across his features, but amusement quickly took over. River might have been insulted if she wasn’t so terrified.
The petrified girl stared at the rapidly increasing distance between her and the ground, but tore her eyes away when her stomach lurched with a million butterflies. Instead, she focused on Amára’s golden hair, trying to will her somersaulting stomach into submission.
It didn’t work, and when the branch finally slowed to a stop River threw herself off of it and onto the large platform that they had stopped at, hugging the solid floor. Amára looked torn between embarrassment and amusement as she helped River to her feet again.
When she was standing once more, the man turned and faced a large door River hadn’t noticed – but that might have been because she was too busy clinging to the floor.
“Numa taleesh Amára et numa daro Naína lëhn hwaiya numa Íllandril!” the man called, and River didn’t need a translator to know she was about to be meet the king.