"But I don't want to go!" the young Elven girl said, tears forming as she stamped her foot.
"Elmay Tamsarin. It is your duty as an elf to go." Her mother replied firmly, pausing her intricate stitching of the long white dress the girl was wearing.
"But mum... please."
The woman softened her tone. It was only natural that the girl should be nervous. She sat on her favourite chair and patted her knee for her daughter to come and sit with her.
The layers of white silk were bulky but the girl managed to sit on her mother's lap.
The older woman put her arm around her. "You know about the war with the Krasians. You remember what the terms were?" The mother asked gently.
The girl nodded. "That the eldest daughter of every family should be joined with a Krasian on her 16th birthday." She sniffed. "In return, the Krasian king promised that as long as the conditions were obeyed, the elves would be safe under the protection of the Krasians. Since then, our two peoples have enjoyed many unbroken years of peace."
"And what would happen if any daughter failed to arrive for her joining?"
The girl looked downcast. "The elves and the Krasians would be at war again."
"So it really is your duty to go to be joined tomorrow."
"Besides, you liked several Krasian boys when you were young. Do you remember Silas?"
"Of course. We used to play together."
"Well, maybe it will be Silas. He must be old enough to be joined by now."
Elmay considered this. She had liked Silas and they had spent many hours playing together in the woods around their home. Of course he had towered over her even then, but he was gentle. She used to call him 'my green giant' and he had called her his 'skinny squirrel'. She was too young to think about joining back then, but if it was Silas, she would be happy. She hadn't seen him since he had left to return to his father's clan when he was 12, so he was probably twice her height by now.
"Then there is little Prestly. You like him don't you?" her mother persisted.
The truth was that Elmay didn't like Prestly at all. He was 4 years old and already nearly as tall as her. Like all Krasian born, he was green with two small horns poking from the tuft of hair on his head. He was the son of Elmay's elder sister Lenora who had died in childbirth, so although he was really her cousin, he was more like a little brother.
"He calls me 'pointy ears'." Elmay grumbled. He also called her 'little bumps' after her slim frame, and 'bird poop' after a blemish on her neck just below her ear, but she chose not to share these names with her mother.
"That's just the Krasian exuberance in him." She looked at the young boy playing with a log from their firewood pile. He was chewing chunks off one end of the large piece of wood. "I think he has a hint of Lenora's ears." She stroked the tuft of hair between his horns and he smiled at her.
"But I am not the eldest daughter - Lenora was, and she got joined to a Krasian and she had Prestly before she died. Why do I have to go?"
"You must go because you are now the eldest daughter. The Elf Tribunal decided this issue years ago and they decreed that the letter of the agreement had to be honoured. If the eldest daughter dies before the next eldest is 16, then the next sister must be joined."
"It's still not fair. And why do I have to wear this dress?"
"That is nothing to do with the Krasians and you know it. The joining dress is worn by an elf on the day of her first joining to indicate her purity, and just because you are going to join with a Krasian, doesn't mean you can ignore Elven tradition."
"You are still pure aren't you sweetheart?" She tried to hide the importance of the question with her tone, but she knew what would happen to Elmay if she wasn't pure.
"Yes mama, I am still pure." The girl's cheeks flushed red at having to discuss that sort of thing with her own mother.
"I am glad to hear it. Now stand up and lets finish this dress, or you will be joined tomorrow with the pins still in it."
Like all joining dresses, the dress was long and white and embroidered with Elven symbols of love, fertility and fidelity on it. The older woman fussed with the seams of the dress until she was happy with it, then looked at the bust of the dress and frowned without thinking.
"Krasian men generally like their woman a little more... busty than you. It would be a shame to disappoint your suitor when he first sees you..."
Elmay shrugged. "These are what the Great Forester gave me." She noticed Prestly mouthing 'little bumps' and making a pinching motion out of sight of his grandmother. Elmay ignored him. In truth, Elmay had a typical Elven figure - she was petite, slim and with small breasts and hips.
"Here, try these." Elmay's mother pushed some pads of material inside the front of the dress and under the girl's breasts.
"Mama, you are touching my... teats."
"Hush girl, and know your place! You are not too old to go over my knee!" The mother admonished. After a little more adjustment to the dress, she could see that her daughter had somewhat more cleavage than before so she secured the pads in place.
"He is still going to see them for what they are when the dress comes off mama."
"I know, but by then you will have won his heart and enflamed his life giver ready for the joining."
"You do know what happens at a joining don't you?" her mother asked warily.
"Mother!" The girl's cheeks flushed red again.
"Well, do you?"
"Of course I do! It is when a man and a woman... join." She couldn't believe her mother had asked her this. She wasn't a kid anymore.
"It is nothing to be embarrassed about Elmay - joining is perfectly natural. I joined with your father when I was 17, and Lenora joined with Prestly's father when she was 16." She turned Elmay's chin so she was looking directly at her mother. "I have something I want you to remember when you are going to join for the first time, so listen up and don't give me any sass."
"When your suitor is ready to join with you, don't fight it - just spread your legs allow the Great Forester to do his work, and everything will be alright."
"Tell me what I just said to you."
Elmay glared at her mother, but decided against arguing. "You said 'When I am about to join, don't fight it, spread my legs and let the Great Forester do his work.'" The girl looked at the floor as she spoke.
"Good girl. Now get this dress off before it gets dirty."
Cheeks and slender ears burning, Elmay carefully removed the dress with the help of her mother and under the watchful eye of Prestly who briefly paused his log chewing activities.