Hello everyone. My name's Scarlett. This is my first time posting here but definitely not the last. I'm working diligently on a fan fiction story called Principatus and thought I would come over here to share it as well as here.
I love reviews and you can also follow me on my blog if you have any questions. Thanks for taking the time to stop by
Overview: Four years after returning from Termina, Link stands on the precipice of another adventure. After he inherits a mysterious medallion, the Hero of Time sets off to discover more about not only its origin, but his own past. Haunting nightmares of a shadowy figure betrothed to Princess Zelda, however, threaten to derail his mission as Link teeters on a ledge between his personal calling and sense of duty to the land of Hyrule and its people.
Principatus, Chapter I
Thunder rolled above him, shaking the ground below his feet.
He stood in a high-arched chamber. Stone columns stretched from the floor to the vaulted ceiling, and at the end of the corridor, a small marble altar and a large stone door with ancient Hylian markings carved into its surface came into view. He was in the Temple of Time.
Hundreds of starched, stoic spectators filled the rows of wooden pews lining the sides of the hall. A long rolled out carpet of black velvet marked the pathway between the halves. Link quietly tip-toed into the hall and slid into the back pew, craning his neck to better see the figures at the altar. There were two men, one whom he recognized as a priest with his long white robe and black stole. The second man, back turned to Link, wore a black cape lined in smooth dark fur, and his right hand rested firmly on the hilt of a silver sword.
The stone walls shook as lightning cracked outside of the sanctuary. Suddenly, the redwood and iron doors near the back of the room burst open. Link could make out drops of rain pooling at the steps beyond them. A row of trumpeters began to sound, announcing the presence of an encroaching party, though no one else in the audience turned around to look.
Immediately, Link’s attention isolated on the woman at the point. A black veil concealed her facial features, but her tall, slender silhouette and floating gait seemed familiar. Another woman, yards behind her, carried the end of the black, puffy dress’ long train. Link immediately recognized the tall, muscular woman in steel armor as Impa, the Sage of the Shadow Temple, and guardian to Princess Zelda.
Link watched impatiently as the party made its way along the velvet carpet to meet the male figures at the altar. Not a single person in the audience moved, twitched, or even showed a slight change of emotion. The trumpets silenced, and the droning sound of an organ reverberating off the stone walls filled the void. The veiled woman drew up alongside the man with the sword, and as the two turned to face each other, the minister began to recite something in ancient Hylian. Link craned his neck but could not hear very well, though it sounded vaguely like a poem.
“Sorry,” Link whispered as he inched forward three rows, trying to find a better view of the proceedings. The patrons he displaced did not notice his interruption, so he continued his pattern every few minutes until he was halfway to the front of the hall.
“Through their commitment to one another, may they find happiness and prosperity all the days of their lives,” the minister continued in a droning tone. Link’s concentration turned, again, to the veiled woman. There was something about her figure, the way she held her shoulders, and the soft line of her chin... An instinct in Link’s gut made the hair on the back of his neck stick up and his fingers twitch with nervous anticipation. The girl was in trouble. That much he knew.
Just then, the black-garbed man leaned over to the woman and peeled back her veil, revealing her identity, and confirming Link’s sense of distress.
“Zelda,” he gasped, heart sinking. Forgetting about the formal proceedings, he ran instinctively toward the altar, reaching for the sword on his back, only to find air. “Zelda, what are you doing? What has this man done to you?”
No one noticed. “Zelda!” Link lunged toward the cloaked man but instead of meeting flesh, he passed right through and collided with the black velvet stairs on the other side. “What the...” Link whipped his head around just in time to see the man lean in for a kiss on the princess’ pale, quivering lips...
Link gasped as his eyes shot open. Sitting up, he ripped the green hat from his head and ran his fingers through his shaggy, blond hair, a nervous habit, before collapsing back down onto the hillside with a sigh. Sleep did not come easily to the young Hylian, and when he could dream, restless visions of past pains and haunting memories flooded his subconscious. This dream, however, presented something far more sinister. It felt so detailed and tactile.
Link rolled over onto his stomach, letting the sun beat down on his exposed neck. He had experienced this particular dream before, which Link knew from experience did not bode well. He closed his eyes and allowed once more the contents of the dream to mull over in his mind. He wondered whether she experienced a similar dream as well.
A rustling from some nearby bushes caught Link’s attention, and he bolted instantly to his feet, reaching for his knife. The muscles along his shoulders and biceps tensed for conflict. Instead of battle cries and ear-shattering screams, however, the squall of laughter met Link’s ear as four giggling Kokiri rolled into the clearing. The bouncing ball of arms and legs bounded toward the young Hylian, who quickly pocketed his knife before impact.
“Oouf!” Link hit the ground with a thud. The four small children's combined weight knocked the breath out of him.
“Ouch, Mido, you're stepping on my arm,” a soft, feminine voice squeaked from underneath the pile.
“That wasn’t me. Hey!”
Link rolled out from under the ruckus, grabbed the little red-headed Kokiri who had taken out his legs by the ankles, and hoisted the child, kicking and raging, into the air.
“What’s the meaning of this? Put me down, put me down now!”
The other children squealed with delight.
“I want to be lifted, Link!”
“Me next.” The three Kokiri closed in a semicircle around him.
“Well put me down first,” Mido, dangling upside down, grumbled.
Link smiled and obliged, gently lowering the boy to the ground. Mido, a freckled, ginger-haired Kokiri boy, scrambled to his feet and brushed himself off. “Just because you’re taller than a tree, doesn’t give you the right to get any funny ideas. I’m still the boss of the Kokiri.”
“I know, Mido. I didn’t mean any harm,” Link chuckled, sentimentally remembering the days when Mido’s assertion of authority left him feeling like an invalid.
“Come play with us, Link!” Fado- a blonde Kokiri girl and tallest of the four- suggested, her hands clasped with joy.
“Yeah, let’s play hide and seek!” One of the shaggy brunette twins chimed.
Link shook his head. “Not today, guys. I was just getting ready to head back to the village.” His denial was met by a chorus of disappointment.
“Aww, come on, guys. We’re not good enough for Link anymore. He’s a grown-up,” Mido snorted, arms folded across his chest.
“That’s not fair, Mido. I said I’ll play tomorrow.”
“And what are you going to do instead? Sleep some more? Grown-ups are so lazy.”
Link huffed, faintly remembering a time when he would have groveled at the feet of Mido to let him play a game of hide and seek with the others. However, now towering two and a half feet taller than the boy, Link only wished to keep the Kokiri’s curiosity diverted from himself. If participation in a round of hide-and-seek with Mido and the others would buy him a moment's peace in the future, then so be it.
“Ok, fine. What should I count to?”
Four pudgy-cheeked, wide-eyed children beamed back at him. Fado and the twins took off running toward the brush, giggling with delight.
“Humph, OK then. Count for one minute,” Mido huffed, puffing his chest out to make himself appear tougher. “And I better not catch you cheating, either.”
“Whatever you say, boss,” Link chuckled, throwing in the last word for amusement. Mido nodded, satisfied, and turned to follow the others into the depths of the Lost Woods. Alone again in the clearing, Link sighed heavily, and collapsed lazily onto the grassy hill.
“One, two, three...” He began counting out loud, timing his seconds with the slow pattern of his breathing.
Since he returned from his adventure in Termina almost three years ago, his position amongst the Kokiri had changed almost as drastically as his physical stature. Mido and the other children accepted his explanation that he was not a Kokiri at all, and that actually he had been born into the world beyond the forest—the realm of the Hylians. Since then, Link assumed a big brother-like role amongst the village. He taught them skills such as how to fish and shoot a bow. He took them for rides on his horse Epona, and most importantly, became the main attraction at every bonfire as the whole village of children gathered around eagerly to hear the many stories of his adventures.
“Fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty, all right.” Link finished his count and stood slowly, his eyes wandering around the clearing, before setting off in the general direction the children had scattered. He cut through the brush swiftly, pausing for a moment to allow his eyes time to adjust to their new, darkened surroundings. Locating the thin, winding foot trail before him, Link set off at an ambling pace through the Lost Woods, knowing that the children would not have drifted far from the marker.
“Filia, hide, Link will see you.” A soft whisper caught the young Hylian’s attention hardly half a minute along his stroll. He jerked toward the source of the noise and noticed a small, flickering light emanating from within the narrow hollow of an old pine tree.
Link crept toward the tree quietly, avoiding twigs and piles of leaves on the musty forest floor. Hunching over so the Kokiri child would not see him through the hollow, Link dodged around the back of the trunk and waited in silence.
“You’re squishing me!” the tiny fey whose light drew Link to the tree argued with her charge.
“Sorry, there’s just not enough...”
“Gotcha!” Link leapt around the side of the log.
A high pitched squeak reverberated off the bark walls of the small hideaway, followed by an echo of joyous giggles. It was Bairn, one of the brunette twin boys. He shot to his feet inside the log and jammed his head on the ceiling.
“Ouf, geeze Link. You scared Filia half to death.”
“You screamed,” the bouncing fairy objected.
“Only because you did.”
Link shook his head. “Ok, guys, how about you help me look for the others?”
Further down the trail, Bairn noticed Fado hiding high in the branches of a flowery dogwood tree, and they unearthed the other twin, Kern, ducking behind a pile of rocks. The young Hylian then set off with the children to find Mido, but the sudden flash of a figure streaking through the foliage caught his attention and stopped him dead in his tracks. The others, preoccupied with chatting amongst themselves, failed to notice the newcomer who, Link assumed, preferred to remain hidden by the way she silently sunk into the brush around her.
“What’s wrong, Link?” Bairn piped up, noticing Link lagging behind the group.
“Did you see something out there?” Fado asked. “Is it Mido?”
It was Saria, one of the Kokiri children from the village, and Link’s oldest friend. Her green hair and clothes camouflaged her with the flora, but her deep blue eyes pierced through the brush and locked with his own blue ones. There was something on her mind—something urgent.
“I-I’m going to have to call it a day, guys.” Link waved and turned his back on the small group following him. Saria fled.
“Aww, come on Link, you haven’t even found Mido yet,” complained Fado, stamping her foot.
“Sorry, guys. You’ll just have to find him for me.” He turned his back on the trio and strode toward the spot in the wood Saria disappeared from only seconds before, without giving the Kokiri a second chance to object.
Moving swiftly to gain distance between himself and the others, Link paced through the dense forest to the spot he knew Saria awaited him, the one safe haven in the forest they could meet and converse without worry of being interrupted or overheard. The deeper into the forest he traversed, the thicker the shadows submerged him. No sunlight peeked through the thick canopy of trees, and a thin mist began to pool around the moss at his feet.
His instinct carried him mechanically and absentmindedly to his destination. A small tunnel of light illuminated his pathway ahead through the thicket, dancing with the silvery glow of the forest fairies who congregated in the Sacred Meadow Link and Saria made their hideaway.
The soft, whistling sound of an ocarina met his ears as he crossed the clearing toward the most striking feature of the hideaway- the vine and moss covered, stone facade of a perforated, decaying temple. The crumbled remains of a staircase stretched high above the forest floor toward a small, dark entryway into the interior of the ghostly building. Sitting calmly in the shade of the staircase, atop the stump of an old oak tree, waited Saria, tapping her feet in the air to her lively song on the ocarina.
Link sauntered up to her slowly and sat down quietly in the grass facing his green-haired friend on the log. She continued her song, eyes closed, as if she hadn’t noticed Link’s entrance, although the young Hylian knew that was not the case. Saria believed in making time for music and always let her songs play though to their entirety. As the last notes of her song died on the breeze, Link looked up at her from his position at the base of the stump and smiled. “You wanted to see me.”
Saria flushed. She reverently lowered the instrument from her lips and slipped it into the satchel beside her. “An important matter has been brought to my attention.” She nodded. “But first, I want to talk about you. Link, I’ve been watching you a lot lately, and I am concerned. You hardly sleep, though you often try. You keep yourself isolated, even from me.”
“Saria,” Link exhaled, diverting her gaze, “you know I don’t like to burden other people with my problems.”
“But you should also know,” Saria said gently, leaning forward, “that your problems could never be a burden to me.” She smiled softly, the light of the forest fireflies dancing impishly in her eyes. “You’ve been having dreams again, haven’t you? The kind of dreams that feel real. The kind...” She craned her neck to meet Link’s gaze. “The kind that come true.”
His silence was answer enough. She sighed and leaned back onto her palms, eyes diverted toward the heavens. Link hung his head low and licked his lips, allowing the sounds of the forest to interlock with his thoughts.
“The dreams,” he began, hesitantly, “always begin with me standing in a grand hall covered in black silk and velvet for a ceremony. It's full of people, but no one notices me.”
“Is it a hall you recognize?” Saria asked, relieved Link took the initiative.
“Well...” Link closed his eyes to fully grasp his mental image of the room. “It’s the Temple of Time. I’m sure of it.”
“Then what happens?”
“It’s a wedding ceremony. There’s a man clothed from head to toe in black with a silver sword. I never get a good look at his face though. It’s always slightly hidden in shadows.”
“I see.” Saria scrunched her nose in thought. “So this man is the groom, I assume.”
He nodded. “The thing is, though, he doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary. It’s just the feeling I get watching him with his back turned, when he reaches out to her and pulls back her veil. I know there’s more to the situation than what I am seeing.”
“Who’s the bride?”
Link fidgeted slightly. “Um, Princess Zelda,” he replied sheepishly.
“Well, Link, don’t you think you should warn her?” Saria pulled back, slightly shocked. “She could be in danger.”
“Warn her about what? That I had a dream about her marrying a guy with an affinity for black?”
“Link, don’t be ridiculous,” replied Saria, pointedly. “You and I both know you wouldn’t be having these dreams if they didn’t present some sort of warning. You said yourself that the man made you feel uneasy.”
Link remained silent. He understood the nature of his dreams and likewise knew somehow, somewhere danger stirred. The man in black was no more a concoction of his imagination than Saria, sitting right beside him, and wherever that man was at this moment, a dark shadow followed.
“I know this man presents trouble,” Link protested, “I’m just not sure what I can do about it. I don’t even know if he’s in Hyrule.”
“Well the other prominent figure in your dream is the Princess, and you do know where to find her.”
“I know,” Link paused, his mind to drifting. “It’s just been a long time. There’s so much history there.”
He recalled the last time he had been in the presence of the Princess of Hyrule. Shortly after he vanquished Majora’s Mask and found his way back to his homeland, he returned to Hyrule Castle to restore the Ocarina of Time to its rightful place at Zelda’s side. He remembered that day vividly, with the sun reflecting off the crystal water of the moat. She was so relieved to see that he returned safely. He recalled the warm feeling that shot up his hand the moment he pressed the ocarina into her palm, and all of the memories of the adventures they shared resurfaced—memories Link had been trying hard to bury.
“What about the Great Deku Tree? I’m sure he could shed some light on the situation,” Saria chimed, wrenching Link from his memories. He knew that the guardian spirit of the forest would be her fallback.
“Well, the Great Deku Tree has felt your plight,” Saria continued. “You are still connected with his spirit whether the bonds that kept you young have been severed or not.”
“Perfect.” Link dropped his head. He had mixed feelings when it came to the guardian spirit meddling with his life and his supposed destiny, an emotion Saria could not comprehend.
“Link,” her eyes sparkled with tears. “The Great Deku Tree entrusted me with this painful task, but it is my duty as his faithful servant to see it through, no matter how much I cannot bear to see you leave my life.”
“Saria, what are you talking about?” Link furrowed his brow and sidled up closer to the log. A cold strain in his oldest friend’s tone of voice led him to deduce that their conversation had just taken a dramatic turn, and involved something very painful for the young Kokiri girl.
She pulled from her satchel a small bundle of green silk, grasped Link’s bare hand, and pressed the parcel into his outstretched palm.
“What is this?” Link eyed the parcel with curiosity. The weight of the bundle suggested it was more than green silk, and whatever was inside it led Saria to believe it would drive him to leave the forest.
“Open, it.” She nodded with a bittersweet smile.
Slowly reaching out, as if expecting the parcel’s contents to leap from his hand and bite him, Link peeled back the corners to reveal a small golden medallion that glistened in the setting sunlight.
“What?” Link scrunched his brow curiously and pressed the medallion closer to his face. It seemed vaguely familiar. Its markings were clearly Hylian.
“It belonged to your mother, Link.”
His head shot up, and he dropped the little golden trinket. “Come again?”
“I’ve wanted you to have this for so long, but the Great Deku Tree insisted the time was not right. It was attached to the cloak she wore on the night I found her in the woods and brought her before our guardian. This green silk is all that was left of the garment that was not tattered or stained. I tried to preserve it as best I could.”
Although she was sitting right next to him, Link heard Saria’s words as though they were being whispered though a long tunnel. He gazed absentmindedly at the medallion shimmering on the ground, afraid to touch it, fearful that it would disintegrate upon contact. He still clutched the silken rag in his left palm. A shield surrounded by a large dog and bird of some sort traced the edges of the token, and the longer he stared at it, the more clearly he could place it in his vision.
Link often saw his mother in his dreams, although her sacrifice was all he know of her. After he dispensed of Ganon’s shadow and awakened Saria as the Sage of the Forest Temple, the Great Deku Tree’s sprout induced a vision within Link of the night of her death. Her hair was long and golden, but matted and tangled by leaves and twigs. The hem of her white, flowing dress was stained in mud, and blood poured from a deep wound on her right shoulder. All color was drained from her complexion. He knew she would have been beautiful if the circumstances had not been what they were. He watched as she collapsed onto the forest floor to die had Saria not found her and swiftly guided her to the sacred meadow of the Great Deku Tree. He watched as she took her last breath with a smile, knowing her son would live to see the dawn of a peaceful day.
Link had been angry for a time. Furious at the old, fossilized carcass of the Great Deku Tree, and incensed at its sprout, though it was guilty of nothing except revealing the truth to him. The truth, at the time, meant that his life up to that point was a lie. He did not want to be a Hylian; he wanted to be a Kokiri, what he was raised and believed to be until that fateful day. Time, however, with its mystical sobering powers, had long since eased his anger into acceptance.
“And the Great Deku Tree knew you had this all this time. You two kept this from me?” Link exhaled.
“Don’t be angry, Link. The Great Deku Tree had his reasons.”
“Of course.” Link shook his head. The guardian spirit of the forest had a knack for withholding information from Link until he saw fit, and the Hylian in Link could not comprehend this. The Great Deku Tree, and his sprout, preached about Destiny to Link, a future which is already written; however, for all the young Hylian had already endured, Link could not bring himself to accept the idea of a predetermined future. He knew, however, there was no sense in arguing with Saria, who only acted as the Deku Tree commanded.
“Link,” Saria whispered softly, placing her small hand on his cheek. “Are you alright?”
He mechanically reached forward for the medallion, folded his fingers around its precious metal surface, and shook his head. “I hardly know.”
“I wanted so badly to tell you,” said Saria softly, one lone tear cascading down her cheek.
“Then why didn’t you?”
“Because I... I just couldn’t. It was not my decision to make,” she answered, tenderly.
“Then what makes today the right day? Why give me this now?”
“Link,” Saria whispered. “You know why...”
The young Hylian bowed his head. A cold wave of realization knotted his stomach. “The forest... is the only place I’ve ever called home.”
“But it is not the home of your blood, your kin. It is not the home you fought valiantly to save, whose people owe you their lives. I know you, Link, better than anyone, and you’re not afraid of what lies ahead. You are afraid, however, of being alone. That's why you retreated from the world of the Hylians in favor of the place you once found comfort.”
“Wow.” Link blinked.
“For a Kokiri you really do understand the complex nature of Hylian emotions,” laughed Link.
“Well, I am the Sage of the Forest,” Saria smirked. Link smiled as well, opening his palm once more to stare at the medallion.
“You are a Hylian, Link,” the not-so-young Kokiri girl whispered. “And the life of a Hylian does not so easily evaporate from the annals of history. Perhaps it is time you stop thinking about the future you’ve already seen and return to the past.”
Her father’s study was her favorite and most despised room in the castle. A round, high-ceilinged chamber, it encompassed three stories in one of Hyrule Castle’s dozens of towers. A large mahogany desk, backed up to an arched window, and overlooked the castle’s central courtyard. The walls of the study were lined with books and tablets Zelda remembered pouring over as a child while she watched, even idolized, her father at work. As she grew up, however, the fond memories of a doting father allowing his daughter to watch him work were replaced by those of a sovereign king struggling to properly groom his heir.
Another lecture. That was what Zelda knew she was in for as she sat in one of the rigid wooden chairs lining the wall of the windowless, musty foyer that led into her father’s study. Barnabus Gerasim, a beady-eyed old man who remarkably resembled a bulldog in a curly white wig, scribbled away furiously at a desk in the room’s far corner. Zelda sat awkwardly, hands folded in her lap, watching the tip of the man’s voluminous quill wiggle furiously in the air.
Finally, after a few deadly silent minutes ticked away, a small piece of parchment squeezed out of a golden slot on the door and tumbled to the floor. The grizzled secretary snatched it up, adjusted a small pair of glasses teetering on the precipice of his nose and pronounced, “Your Highness, the King is ready for you.”
“Thank you, Barnabus.” Zelda rose regally from her seat, head high, shoulders back, and strode through the dark cherry door into the study beyond. In the past, Zelda had unfettered access to her father at work, whether it was just to spend quality time with him or to borrow a book from the study. That began to change after Zelda’s numerous confessions of prophetic dreams which the King deemed dangerous nonsense, and grew worse as the study became her primary sentencing room.
Closing the door carefully behind her, Zelda crossed the soft maroon and gold-patterned Gerudo rug to the desk beneath the window where her father sat with his nose buried in a long scroll. He looked tired. His red velvet, white-trimmed robe draped down the back of his chair, rather than gracing the king’s shoulders. Even his crown sat on the desk beside him rather than nestled in his thick, white, shoulder-length hair.
“Good afternoon, father,” Zelda began.
“Good afternoon to you too, sweetheart,” the king replied without looking up from his scroll. “Please have a seat.”
Zelda drew up a small wooden chair alongside the desk and waited a few awkward seconds before the levy broke. “Father, it was not my fault. Prince Alec fell from his horse all on his own.”
“I know that, dear, but you and I both know that is not the entire story,” he replied without looking up from his reading.
“He should have just told me he was not a natural rider. I would have graciously obliged the young prince, but it was his pride, not mine, that goaded him to attempt something unfamiliar to him.”
“But it was your pride, my child,” the king raised his voice, slapping the scroll onto his cluttered desk surface, “that seized the opportunity to show off.”
“I did no such thing,” Zelda deflected. “Prince Alec claimed he knew how to canter, and it has been quite a while since Adda’s been able to stretch her legs. Hyrule Field was so beautiful today.”
“But you knew, Zelda, that Prince Alec would not refuse a woman, especially when he feels like he’s being challenged.”
Zelda grew furious at this latest accusation, but before she could articulate her vexation, her father continued. “And while his logic may be flawed, you still bent his judgement to your will, which by definition is taking advantage of someone.”
“But—” The princess opened her mouth to speak but first paused to gather her thoughts. “Father, you know I opposed this courtship in the first place. I’ve known Prince Alec since we were both small children, and neither of us has ever found the other remotely interesting.”
“I’m only trying to help you, Zelda. I want you to meet some nice suitable young men from kingdoms beyond Hyrule. There has not been an arranged royal marriage in our country for generations. However, that entails responsibility on your end. The burden is yours to choose a partner that will strengthen the monarchy and this kingdom.”
“But Father, setting me up and forcing me to spend time with starched elitists like Prince Alec who—may I be so bold as to insinuate—cannot dress himself properly, let alone understand how to love, is hardly granting me freedom to choose the man I shall marry.”
“It is only in your best interests, Zelda,” the tired King shook his head, “to meet acclaimed suitors from beyond our borders.”
“Because it would strengthen our foreign political alliances.” The princess rolled her eyes.
“Well, of course it would, but does that prospect not make you happy?”
“Not at the expense of love, it does not. Besides, what I believe the people of Hyrule truly need is a queen whom they can look to as a strong and sovereign leader, who they know will always have their best interests at heart. How can I be that icon when I am strapped to a man whose heart only belongs to the political ties he’s creating for his home country?”
The king raised his voice to object, but Zelda cut him off tactfully. “Not the Duke of Ele’Daz, the Viceroy of Borhan, the three different Allendian princes, nor Prince Alec Lionheart of Selbee—not one of them have ever, ever expressed interest in knowing me as a person. The Kingdom of Hyrule needs a leader who is strong, father. I cannot be that rock trapped in a societal engagement. I am only sixteen, after all. I still have a few years left of being a catch.”
The king bowed his head and rubbed his temples with his thumb and forefinger. “I understand, darling. I do. It’s just that I married your mother when I was seventeen, your mother fifteen, and we were so old when you were finally born. So many years between those two joyous occasions were wasted fretting over my ruling without an heir.”
“Father...” Zelda rose to her feet and swept behind the desk to embrace her father’s broad shoulders.
“It’s just...” the king continued, solemnly. “With me getting along in age... the hour where you will rise to the throne is fast approaching. I don’t want you to feel the same pressure, the unnecessary burden, as I did early in my reign.”
“I know, father,” Zelda sighed. “I just want you to trust me. Have a little more faith.”
“I do, and I will, my darling, only...”
“Only what?” Zelda held her breath.
“Just meet this last suitor.” He picked up the scroll he had been pouring over earlier and fanned it out for Zelda to skim. “For your father, sweetheart.”
The princess furrowed her brow, but before she could open her lips to argue, the headline of the mysterious scroll channeled her frustration into curiosity. “This is an interesting text, father. I hardly recognize...” She could vaguely decipher the looping, vertical characters, though they were not of a foreign language the princess had studied extensively. “Father,” Zelda gasped, “this is written in Ten’al-tarian.”
“Correct, Zelda. The suitor is Prince Zel-Taren of Ten’al-taria. His father Zel-Aran was recently crowned Czar and will be arriving in Hyrule in the coming days.”
“Father, you cannot be serious. You know what the Ten’al-tarians were guilty of during the Civil War. You know better than anyone they cannot be trusted.”
“It would be foolish and impudent of me to allow the sins of his father to mar my judgement of Czar-Aran and his new regime.”
“And the sins of his grandfather, and great-grandfather, and great-great...”
“Hold your tongue, Zelda. Czar-Aran and the young prince will be your guests here shortly, and you must be cordial. I only ask that you allow Zel-Taren to be your escort during their visit while I meet with his father. If you set aside your pride, I’ll set aside mine, and perhaps Hyrule will benefit because of it. Our relationship with the Ten’al-tarians has been so frosty in the past, the only possible outcome of this meeting would be to our mutual advantage.” The king paused and leaned back in his chair. “Now, does that sound reasonable?”
“Uhh...” Zelda shook her head. She was cornered. While the prospect of entertaining another suitor did not appeal to her, she could not under the circumstances refuse her father. Perhaps he even had a point. Setting a hospitable, open-minded tone for the dignitaries could only serve to strengthen Hyrule’s relationship with their once most detested neighbors to the northwest. “I suppose.”
“Good, then we have an agreement.” The king smiled, straightened the scroll out onto the desk, and signed his large, looping signature on the bottom. “Our business here is concluded, then. Please leave this with Baranabus on your way out.” The king rolled up the scroll and passed it firmly to the slightly mystified princess.
“Very well, then.” Zelda snatched the scroll and crossed the room once more. With one hand on the door, the other tightly grasping the parchment, she gazed back over her shoulder at her father, already buried deep in another document. He never used to work this hard, she thought to herself. Rather than saying anything, however, the princess resorted to a half-hearted, “See you at dinner, I suppose,” before passing again into the foyer.
Great idea, I am loving this so far! Please keep posting as you have a chance to continue with it because I for one will be looking forward to reading it! Again great, great work! Keep it up and if this is your first time on ZU, Welcome I hope you enjoy it!
Thank you to all who visited and reviewed this story. I’ll try my best not to let you down. Make sure you check out my beta, Nendil’s, stories on fanfiction.net here. The writing process is a learning process, and with her I’m learning a lot.
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Principatus Chapter II
With a heavy heave, Link jarred a wooden trunk loose from under his bed and stumbled backward into his tree stump table. A cloud of dust kicked up in the wake. He coughed, wiped the dirt from his eyes and wrenched the lid open. The musty scent of items waking up from a long hibernation filled the small, round room.
Link extracted first from the trunk a pair of leather gauntlets. He slipped them snugly over his hands and forearms, flexing his fingers to break them in after years of neglect. Next, his fingers wrapped around the smooth, pliable limb of a bow and a glossy, wooden quiver. He strapped the container around his chest and tucked the bow behind it. At the bottom of the trunk rested his most precious belongings, the items that had come to his defense time and time again— his sword and Hylian Shield.
Tenderly grasping the sleek mahogany casing, Link unsheathed the sword and ran his thumb along the blade to inspect its condition. The weapon was a gift from a swordsmith he met in Termina. A lightweight but deadly blade, the sword had been infused with an enchanted gold dust to help it maintain a razor sharp edge.
“Seems to have done the trick,” Link said to himself as he slid the Gilded Sword back into its sheath and attached the leather strap to his back alongside the quiver.
Finally, he withdrew the shield whose surface shined with the crest of the royal family. The protective guard had faced such terrible enemies as Ganondorf and Majora by its master’s side. For this reason, Link locked the shield away with his other most precious items during his isolation in the forest—there was so much history...
Fully equipped, Link grabbed his knife and the satchel storing his everyday items—his ocarina, wallet, and feed for Epona—from the table. The medallion shimmered on the unfolded green silk in the center of the small tree stump; Link had spent all night staring at it. With one last forlorn glance around the small hollow, he scooped up the precious trinket and slipped it into his satchel. At last prepared, he ducked through the narrow doorway and closed the cloth curtain on his quaint abode.
Soft morning sunlight peeked over the canopy of trees as Link scanned the still village before quietly descending the ladder onto the damp forest floor. Epona whinnied at the sight of Link from her small, hand-built stable.
“Shhh, we don’t want to wake anyone.” He gently stroked the mare’s nose, but she continued to fidget excitedly as Link prepared her bridle and saddle for their first long ride in months. The sweet smell of morning dew on fresh grass filled Link’s lungs, and except for a few bullfrogs and crickets, the village remained quiet and still.
“Come on, girl,” Link coaxed Epona gently toward the path leading to the northern border of the Lost Woods. Much to Link’s pleasure, not a single Kokiri nor fairy crossed him.
The decision, as Saria predicted, proved an easy one. The medallion stoked his sense of curiosity unlike anything he had encountered since his return from Termina. The long-slumbering feeling of purpose and anticipation awoke with a tingle in his fingertips whenever he wrapped them around the trinket's golden surface.
His dreams also factored into his decision. What a fool he had been for not acting on them sooner—for allowing them to grapple with his subconscious and helplessly torment him for weeks! For what? He questioned himself. What about his nightmares rendered him so numb and indecisive?
The honest answer, Link shamefully acknowledged, had more to do with who the dreams were about than what. The ‘who’ had observed many of Link's best and worst moments and reminded the young Hylian of a future erased by time. The 'who' now slept soundly at this hour in her lavish quarters at Hyrule Castle, soon to awake before all manner of maids, servants, and cooks.
“Where’s he going?” A whisper met the young Hylian’s ears. With the northern edge of the village only a few yards away, Link hesitated before looking back over his shoulder. To his astonishment, dozens of small heads peeped around corners of homes and through peeled-back curtains, eyes glued to his back. How long had they been watching him? Link could only guess, as he debated between speaking or darting for the thicket.
“Um,” his jaw dropped, “I...”
“Link, wait!” Mido ran toward him down the path. Link took a few steps toward the child, who grasped his chest for breath upon reaching the Hylian.
Link bent down to his knees, drawing eye level with the child. “Mido, breathe. What is it?” he asked, placing his right hand on the Kokiri’s shoulder to stabilize him.
“I... demand to know where... you are going!” Mido gasped between wheezy breaths. “As leader of the Kokiri—and your friend—you owe that to me, and to this village.”
Link looked down to the ground before gazing past Mido at the dozens of wide eyes, staring curiously at the pair. “I’m leaving the forest, Mido. I’m on my way to Hyrule Castle.”
The freckled Kokiri pursed his lips and nodded. “I see. So...” He paused, giving extra thought to his next words. “Will we ever see you again?”
“I don’t know.” Link shook his head honestly. A twinge of sadness choked in his throat. “The future is always uncertain, Mido, so... perhaps.” He smiled weakly.
“Good.” A rare grin illuminated Mido’s face, and he extended his tiny open palm. Link recoiled slightly in surprise before grasping it in his own leather-covered fingers.
“Best of luck to you then, Link,” said Mido, firmly shaking the young Hylian’s hand. Link rose from the dirt and readjusted his straps before waving to the other children.
There was a calm sense of finality to the moment. The scene marked the culmination of events a long time coming, and while it sealed the ending of one chapter in his life, Link knew, from the way Mido smiled at his open-ended promise, that the forest would always be welcome to him. That little reassurance expunged from Link any lingering feelings of doubt he had about leaving his fortress of solitude. With a silent nod, Link turned his back on Mido and the others.
“Let’s go, girl.” He patted Epona’s side and marched with the mare through the barrier between the village clearing and congested line of trees and underbrush. As shadows enveloped him, a familiar lively whistle caught his attention. Just ahead on a small ledge overlooking the village, a green-clad figure stood on a grassy, sunny hill. Her tiny hands caressed a fairy ocarina against her cheek. Saria...
No words could adequately communicate what she meant to him, nor he to her—which is why rather than a verbal goodbye, she pressed the instrument to her lips and let the jubilant, earthy sound of Saria’s Song float through the humid, windless air. The tune carried through the woods, reverberated off the leaves, trees, rocks, and accompanied him the entire length of the dense forest path toward Hyrule Field.
“Wake up, M’Lady.” A chipper maid strode into the room and whipped back the curtains, causing the princess to recoil and flee deeper into her warm, downy covers.
“Time to rise and shine.” The maid, a soft-featured lady named Cara, strode casually over to the bed and wrenched the comforter from its surface with the same care she showed the curtains. Zelda helplessly moaned her discontent, wishing only to escape once more into the unfettered realm of her dreams.
“Come now, M’Lady. You have a busy day ahead of you. His Majesty expects the royal party from Ten’al-taria to arrive sometime this afternoon.”
“That’s what His Majesty said yesterday,” grumbled Zelda, rubbing her eyes.
“Nevertheless, we must prepare you to meet with the dignitaries, so it’s up, up, up!” Her voice reached a higher pitch with each syllable.
With one final groan of indignation, Zelda hoisted herself from the bed to face the bright sunshine beaming through the open window and trudged toward her dressing rooms. After five minutes of begging the maids to leave her alone, and ten minutes soaking in a lavender-perfumed bath, Zelda sat in a thin slip at her armoire. Three women flapped around her like screeching Keese—one pulling at her hair, one tugging at her brow, and Cara fussing through her wardrobe.
She fought the urge to sneeze after one maid battered her nose with an itchy white powder, and begrudgingly resisted the compulsion to scream after every vicious jerk of her hair. To argue would be fruitless and only lengthen the process, so Zelda sat silently, without allowing a trace of her internal fury to cross her face.
“Please rise, M’Lady.” Cara rounded on the princess with what seemed like fifty pounds of clothing and undergarments. Standing on a podium in the center of the dressing room, Zelda helplessly heeded her commands—“Arms up, arms down, step here, breathe in—” through layers of slips, skirts, and lace.
It was a beautiful blue dress, the princess acknowledged, with white trim and gold embroidery. The sleeves’ silky trains flowed down to her knees gracefully, but the material itched and the bodice constricted her lungs. Around Zelda’s waist, Cara attached a light-blue apron—a traditional royal garment—embroidered with the royal family crest. The jeweled, golden fixtures, however, weighed her down.
Every day this happened. She would wake up surrounded by a throng of pesky maids and nurses poking, prodding and commanding her disgracefully to create a masterpiece with her appearance. She closed her eyes, inhaling deeply as Cara tugged fiercely at the lace on the back of her bodice. Through the pain and the powder, Zelda could still faintly recall the feeling of garments stretched across her skin which could withstand the elements and allow her the freedom to run, ride horses, swim, and climb without restriction. She missed Sheik so...
“You're all set then, M’Lady,” Cara chirped. “What do you think?”
“You did a wonderful job, Miss Cara,” Zelda replied half-heartedly. "The dress is lovely." Gathering the ends of her skirts, she stepped down from the platform and slid her toes into a pair of golden slippers. Finally, returning to her armoire, she eased open a narrow drawer and four dazzling crowns, nestled tenderly on red satin pillows, sparkled back. Shoulders back and chin up, Zelda selected one studded with sapphires, lowered the jewel slowly onto her forehead, and fastened it into her long blond hair.
A proper, royal woman stared back at her—one who exuded confidence and pride in her stately existence. She wanted so badly to be that princess in the mirror instead of the one trapped inside, the one who coveted freedom.
“Miss Cara, is Mistress Impa ready for me?” she asked with conviction, trying her best to channel the princess in the mirror.
“Indeed, M’Lady. She is waiting for you in the drawing room. Should I alert her that you are ready?”
“Please.” Zelda bowed her head low and silently sent a prayer to the Goddess Nayru for the strength to make it through another day.
“Fresh fruit and vegetables from the village of Ashleigh. The best produce around!”
“Bombs! We have bombs here, ten for thirty Rupee special!”
“Stop by Aakav’s Apothecary on the square, potent potions and medical miracles!”
“Young swordsman, please, just a few Rupees for food...”
Castle Town was as bustling and exhilarating as he remembered it, but the crowds and traffic though the streets were quite a bit more congested. Zora, Gorons, Gerudo, and Hylians from across the four provinces congregated on the main square to peddle their wares. Beside a marble fountain in the center of the plaza, three men in puffy white pants bounced in a circle, entertaining with a spirited song on wooden recorders. Children weaved through the ruckus playing games with marbles and sticks, and a company of soldiers marched in two single-file lines down the cobblestone streets, clanking and clamoring.
A stray brown dog darted into the street and aggravated Epona, who tossed her head in disgust. Link quickly grabbed her white mane and stroked her nose to calm her down. He could sense the crowds made her nervous, so he led the young mare along a more quiet, discreet alley toward a public stable. After unfastening Epona’s bridle and saddle, filling a bucket in the stall with water, and paying a drooling old man who smelled like pigs to feed her, Link set off to find the inn and some food.
It was early evening by the time he arrived in the market, far too late to call upon the Princess. Back at the fountain, he glanced up at the towering white stone structure and wondered where in that royal maze she was at this very moment.
“I heard a sandstorm in the desert delayed their journey.” A busty old woman sidled up to the fountain with her back turned to Link.
A eager cluster of Hylians closed in around the woman, shoving Link to the side. He couldn’t help but overhear their conversation as a mustached man replied, “Well, my wife’s cousin has it on good authority they've made it has far as Remington.”
“That would mean they'll be here by tomorrow afternoon.” Another man with a long white pony-tail shook his head.
“Dear Gods in heaven,” the first woman cried out with one hand on her heart, the other raised to the sky. “Whatever business they have in Hyrule proper, it had better not keep them here too long.”
Link pulled a green Rupee from his wallet and flicked it lazily into the fountain. There was a noticeable degree of tension in the air. Dozens of people congregated in groups and whispered amongst themselves. It eerily reminded Link of the first time he had come to the market, when another unwelcome visitor had business with the king.
After one more half-spirited glance up at the spires of Hyrule Castle, Link turned away from the main square toward Castle Town Inn. He had stayed there the first night he had been to town, back when everything about Hylians—the food, the customs, the way they dressed—was fresh and exciting.
Located only a block off the plaza, the inn, one of the tallest structures in the market, was easy enough to locate. The second he opened the door, however, a wall of noise knocked him over and pushed him back into the street. The lobby looked like a solid block of humanity. There was no room to breathe, let alone stand. Link couldn’t even see the front desk from the entrance. Holding on tightly to his belongings, the young Hylian painstakingly elbowed and shuffled his way through the crowd.
Behind the desk, a tall, balding man with hairy arms frantically fumbled with a set of keys. He paused for a moment to wipe the sweat trickling down his forehead with a handkerchief.
“Excuse me, sir!” Link shouted to catch his attention. “Could I have a room, please? One room...”
“Sorry, kid. We’re overbooked as it is.” He shrugged and turned to pick up a basket of linens.
“Well, there’s got to be some place I can stay,” Link interjected, “a bench, a chair...”
“If you can find an empty seat, you’re more than welcome to it,” the innkeeper huffed, “but good luck.”
“Wait, please sir. I don’t come to town often. There’s gotta be something...”
Hoisting the heavy basket onto his shoulder, the innkeeper groaned, “Look, a friend of mine owns a bar on the south side called The Bumper. Sometimes he has extra space when we overflow.” With that, he took off barreling through the crowd like a Bombchu about to explode, dropping white linens in his wake.
Back out in the street, the clouds were turning pink as the sun disappeared behind the western wall of the city. Candlelight flickered in the windows of the cramped townhouses along the block, as men and women retreated from the streets in time for supper. A beggar sat beneath a ramshackle tent, clanking his tin cup on his knee. A lamplighter made his way meticulously down the street with his matches and ladder.
“Excuse me, sir!” Link ran over to the man and offered him a hand down from the wobbling steps.
“Thank you, young man,” the gentleman blessed him. Tufts of white hair protruded from the sides of his black chaperon, and his gray deku-nut sized eyes focused blearily on Link. The young Hylian hoisted the ladder, carried it to the end of the next block, and wedged it firmly between the cracks in the stone street.
“I’m very grateful,” the lamplighter responded to Link’s gesture, “but as I already told another young man yesterday, I don’t need an assistant right now. I couldn’t pay for one even if I did.”
“Oh no, sir,” Link corrected the man. “I’m not looking for a job. I just need some directions.”
“A visitor to town?”
“A lot of outsiders around this week.” The old man squinted and inched closer to Link. “Makes it harder to get all the lamps lit. I can’t start as early as I’d like with the streets so crowded.”
“I’m so sorry. I’ll get out of your way, just... I don’t have a place to stay yet, so I kind of need some direction.”
“Well, I’ve lived in this town for fifty years, lighting every lamp every night. What is it you’re looking for?”
“Umm... well the inn is full, so the innkeeper said I should try The Bumper...”
“Oh, The Bumper, yes. They should be able to help you. The landlord’s very friendly to outsiders. It’s far off the main square, so it doesn’t get flooded with foreign traffic and soldiers like the inn does.” The old lamplighter paused, scrunched his nose, and looked both ways down the darkening street. “Hmm... I would go back to the end of this block and take a right. Go six or seven blocks over a small bridge, past the laundry pool. Then take a left and keep walking until you reach the eastern wall. From there take another right, and it’ll be about a block from there. It’s tucked away pretty discreetly in the southeast corner near the entrance to the old catacombs, but it’s supper time, so it’ll be well lit and lively.”
Link tried to envision the directions in his head. “So... the southeast corner.”
“Yes, right at the end of this street, past the laundry pool, eastern wall, take a right...”
“OK,” Link responded hesitantly. “Umm... thanks for the help.”
“Don’t mention it.” The lamplighter nodded and steadily began to ascend the ladder once more.
Link tried his best to follow the old man’s instructions, but the further away from the main square he travelled, the more narrow and unfamiliar everything appeared. Buildings seemed to grow as he walked, bending inward to block out the moonlight. He had never been toward the outer edges of the city before, and nightfall only plunged his surroundings further into the surreal.
“Selfishness and greed, hatred and anger; the dark hearts of Hylians have upset the Gods,” an old woman hunched over a gnarled cane muttered as she stumbled along the cobblestone toward Link. “The end is coming... the Gods are angry...”
Side-stepping the old woman, Link darted to the end of the block. The streets were mostly deserted, and the few Hylians left in the streets stood with their backs in corners, faces hidden by shadows. Link could feel their eyes on his neck.
At last he passed the laundry pool and came up to the eastern wall. The slow rumble of Hylian laughter crescendoed as he progressed down the block. A well-lit window came into view, and the dark contours of figures within danced on the stone wall across the street. Above the door, a metal sign shaped liked two clinking glasses creaked on rusty hinges. This was the place.
The door swung open almost without contact. It was busy, but not crowded, just as the lamplighter suggested. The attendance was mostly men, though a few women lingered amongst the tables— one with a screaming baby in the corner. Some of the patrons turned to look at Link as he walked in, but most continued on with the conversations at their tables, uninterrupted.
The room was slightly smaller than the lobby of Castle Town Inn and packed with as many tables as it could hold. From a black kettle swaying on a stone fireplace, the heavenly smell of roasting beef and potatoes filled the room and made Link’s stomach cramp with hunger. He maneuvered his way to the bar, where there were a few empty stools, and scanned the crowd for the proprietor.
“Jus’ give me one second, sir, and I’ll be right with ya,” called a man standing in the middle of the sea of tables. He was perhaps the tallest Hylian Link had ever seen. His stature was more akin to a Goron’s, and a thick mane of wiry, black hair covered most of his face. His deep, throaty laugh shook the floor, and beer sloshed from the pitcher in his hand as he stumbled back to the bar.
“I haven’t seen ya here before,” the grizzled man chuckled as he set down the sticky pitcher and wiped his hands on a dirty rag draped over his shoulder. “An’ I never forget a face.”
“No, I’m not from around here,” Link replied.
“Well, me name’s Hildebert Gerhardt, but jus’ call me Bertie. The wife started it. Now everyone does.” Bertie extended a frying pan-sized hand. Link grasped it and tried to not flinch through the bartender’s bone-crushing shake.
“I’m Link.” The young Hylian smiled, flexing his fingers.
“Well, Link, welcome to The Bumper.” Bertie waved his arm as though presenting a prize. “I’m surprised you found us. We usually don’t get visitors from out of town this far from the main square.”
“Actually, I came from Castle Town Inn. They were overbooked and the proprietor told me to try here.”
“Yeah, Imrich’s a good friend of mine,” the bartender replied. “I sure pity him right now. People jus’ gotta come from all over to be in the center of the action...” His voice trailed off as he shook his head. “Well, nevertheless, we’re glad to have you here. Ya look well-traveled, so we’ve gotta get you somethin’ to drink, of course.”
“Actually sir, what I’m really looking for is a place to stay. The inn was....”
“Overbooked, sure. We’d love to have ya here. After raisin’ four boys, Isobel and I love to have company. Keeps things lively aroun’ here. Honey!” Bertie cupped his hands around his mouth and called into the crowd. “Can you fetch some stew for this lad?”
“I really appreciate this, sir,” said Link, but Bertie wouldn’t hear it.
“It’s our pleasure. Now, about that drink. We’ve got the best selection of ales in town, but this one right here—” The bartender swiped a tin mug from underneath the cabinet and filled it with a foaming, amber liquid from a wooden barrel. “This is a house specialty. We brew it right here in the tavern. You won’t find a better-tasting beverage in all of Hyrule, guaranteed.”
Link barely caught the sloshing mug Bertie send sliding across the counter. A middle-aged woman with tanned skin and dark hair leaned over his left shoulder and placed a steaming bowl of stew below his nose. He'd forgotten how much he missed Hylian food...
“This here’s me wife, Isobel.” Bertie nodded as he wiped off the counter. “And somewhere around here are two of me boys who live in town. I also have one boy in Kenton with the army and another in Kakariko. But enough about me. Where ya from, Link?”
“Umm...” Link choked on a chunk of potato, “F-Faron Provence.”
“Oh, so the southern country. Haven’t been there meself, but do tell—is the green hat thing the style down there?”
“Not uncommon, I guess,” Link chuckled and swallowed a spoonful of broth which slid warmly down his throat.
“So what business ya in?” Bertie continued to pry. “That’s a nice sword ya have...”
“Actually, Bertie—” Link swiftly cut into the question before he had to start drafting lies. “I was wondering if you knew why people around here seem to be acting a little... well, odd? I’ve never seen so many visitors.”
“Soon as word got out about the king entertaining the Ten’al-tarians, folks started pourin’ in from all over.” Bertie grumbled. He didn’t seem to mind Link’s abrupt interjection. “The king better know what he’s doin’ all right, cause those Ten’al-tarians are one slick, shady lot. Doesn’t take a nobleman to know that, neither.”
“Shady... how so?”
“Now what kind of question is that?” Bertie folded his arms across his chest and eyed Link curiously. “Everyone knows what Ten’al-taria’s guilty for, what they did during the Civil War...”
Link’s continued look of bewilderment drew a sigh from Bertie. The bartender, elbows on the counter, leaned closer to the young Hylian. His voice reduced to a harsh whisper. “Kid, I don’t know what rock you've been livin’ under, but the Ten-al-tarians harbored leaders of the revolution during the Civil War. Not only that, they supplied the rebels with soldiers, armor, and weapons. After the war, they offered sanctuary to any known resurgent who escaped the king’s purge. For hundreds of years they’ve wanted nothin’ but to see Hyrule fall, and ain’t no way no new Czar they have is gonna change that.”
Link’s eyes grew wide with bewilderment. He knew nothing about this civil war, except that it happened recently enough for its memory to still be fresh. “What is Ten’al-taria exactly? If you don’t mind me asking...”
“Oh, it’s a nasty land, that’s for sure,” Bertie replied. “Never seen it myself. Never needed to... It lies to the northwest of Hyrule, in the lands beyond the desert. There’s mountains so high they puncture the heavens, and it snows all year long. It’s always gray, always cold, and always dirt poor. It’s no wonder they’ve been bloody jealous of us all this time.”
“I see...” Link wrapped his hand around the tin mug and tilted back the last drop of ale. If these royal dignitaries were arriving tomorrow, he would have to make haste to meet with the princess. Surely Zelda knew what sort of danger they presented...
“Another round, Link?” Bertie asked, noticing the empty mug.
“Not tonight, but thanks,” the young Hylian replied. “I have some early business to attend to, so I best try and get some rest.”
“Sure thing.” Bertie cleared the empty bowl and mug. “Isobel, can you show the lad upstairs?” He across the room called to his wife.
“What do you need, sugar?” She yelled back, pouring beer from a pitcher at a table near the door.
“Can you show the lad upstairs?” He repeated louder over the tavern noise.
“Oh, sure thing.” She turned back to the three men at the table, set the half-full pitcher down, and chimed, “Drink up, boys,” before signaling for Link to follow her.
The barmaid grabbed a candle from the ledge above the fireplace and led Link up a narrow set of stairs into the tavern’s upper quarters. Four doors traced the right wall of a cramped, dark hallway. Isobel escorted Link through the third door into a quaint room illuminated only by moonlight streaming through an open window.
“I’m sorry it’ll be a bit noisy for a few more hours,” Isobel noted, and set the candle down on a wooden table between two cots. “But once everyone’s good and liquored up, they’ll calm down.”
“Oh, it’s not a problem.” Link walked into the room and looked around. “Um... does it matter which bed I take?”
“Not at all. Take your pick, honey. Someone may join you in a few hours. We tend to fill up every night, but its hard to tell so early in the evening who will and won’t be in any condition to walk home.” Her laugh was low and lyrical. “Do you have any other things?” she asked in a very mother-like tone.
“No, ma’am. Just what’s on my back.”
“All right then, sugar. I’ll leave the candle with you. Breakfast will be served at sunrise, and Bertie makes a mean cup of coffee, so you won’t want to miss it.”
“I... just...” Link nodded and smiled. “Thank you. This is all very nice.”
“Don’t worry about it. Bertie and I love having company. After raising four boys, you miss not having ruckus around you all the time. Now sleep tight, honey.” Isobel winked and, with a twirl, danced back into the dark hallway.
Alone in the quaint, candlelit room, Link sauntered up to the bed beside the window and dropped his belongings onto the floor beside it. The window faced northward, and in the distance the white-stone castle glistened in the moonlight. From the pocket of his satchel, Link withdrew the green silk parcel and let the corners of it fall open in his palm.
On one side of the medallion sparkled the crest of the royal family, and on the other side, an unfamiliar assemblage of markings now seared into his memory. His fingers traced the raised outline of the large dog and bird. Below the small shield in the center, were some ancient Hylian figures emblazoned on a small scroll. The most curious marking on the medallion, however, twinkled above the shield—a circular, symbol oddly akin to the Spiritual Stone of the Forest.
His dreams, and the medallion-- two clues shrouded behind a veil of mystery. The young Hylian only hoped that the Princess of Destiny’s wisdom, once more, could shine some light onto the riddles tormenting him so...
AN: As always, thanks to Nendil on fanfiction.net for keeping me in line. I appreciate reviews of all forms, especially if they will help me become a better writer (That's why I write fan fiction to begin with)... so if you have anything to say, just let me know!
Principatus, Chapter III
"Come on, just let me in!" Link argued, waving a piece of yellowing parchment in front of the man's helmet. "I have a letter from the princess herself. Why would I be lying?"
The palace guard snatched the letter and tilted back his visor to scan it. "This letter is ancient. I can barely make out the signature," he scoffed. "Wait..." the guard paused for a few seconds, parsing the letter more thoroughly before he burst into a fit of laughter.
"This is Link," he read from the paper at hand. "He is under my orders to save Hyrule, ha!" The guard shoved the unfolded parchment back into Link's chest. "Wow, that's a good one, ha ha..."
"It still proves I know the princess." Link continued to protest, unfazed. "It's in her handwriting!" He reached into a small leather pouch at his waist and withdrew his fairy ocarina. "I know the song of the royal family. If I play it, will you let me pass?"
The guard, calming down, took a deep breath and eyed Link directly. "Look, even if I were to believe you, there's no way you're getting into the castle today. The royal ambassadors from Ten'al-taria left Remington this morning. The entire castle staff, including the royal family, is making haste for their arrival and doesn't have time to deal with a strange kid running around."
Link rolled his eyes. "But I'm not..."
"Maybe try back another day," the guard cut him off. "I can't guarantee you anything, but I'll pass your request along."
"Don't bother..." Link sighed, folded up the wrinkled letter, and pocketed it beside his ocarina. He turned his back on the guard and vented his frustration by kicking a pebble in the dirt road. He was just trying to be nice— just trying to follow the rules— but as always with the guards, they never listened and forced Link to do things the hard way.
The young Hylian trudged down the path leading into the market; however, after rounding a sharp bend in the road, he turned to his left. A wall of vines blanketed a cutaway niche in the hillside, growing just as thickly as they had five years ago.
"They really need to remember to cut these things," Link laughed as he grabbed a handful of weeds. The young Hylian used them to scale the wall onto the ledge of a narrow, grassy cliff. He paused for a few moments to make sure no one noticed him and scanned the path ahead leading to the castle. A few guards patrolled the road beyond the gate, two stood watch over the drawbridge, and a few were sprinkled throughout the grassy hills— nothing more than he had handled in the past.
"Well, Princess," he whispered to himself, "here goes nothing." Link closed his eyes and sent a quick prayer to Farore before crouching low and hustling along the ledge toward the castle.
Eyes closed, lips tightly pressed against the Ocarina of Time's sleek surface, Zelda blew softly into the instrument. The melancholy tune of the precious song of the royal family, her lullaby, lingered in the open air. Its soothing, undulating rhythms hushed her restless spirit.
She lay on her back in the grass, lavender skirts unfurled through a bed of blue irises and bright yellow daisies. Sunlight streamed into the open-aired chamber, warming her cheeks and exposed shoulders. The princess smiled and stretched. Though completely surrounded by the towering stone walls of her prison, this small enclave— with its running water, fresh air, lush grass, and flowers of all colors— was her own little pocket of heaven.
She heard footsteps rustling in the grass behind her. Sitting up quickly, the princess turned to face the entryway. What she saw made her heart leap into her throat. "Link..."
An illusion? It must be. He left... or so she thought.
In a whirlwind of lavender silk and flowers, the princess leapt to her feet and ran to meet the man who stumbled upon her solitude— the Hero of Time. A paralyzing feeling in her stomach inhibited her ability to speak, and a thousand conflicting emotions numbed her thoughts. Nostalgia and anxiety, excitement and trepidation—the princess grew dizzy as she held her breath and scanned his body from head to toe. The rugged warrior, with unruly blond hair, and gentle blue eyes— he looked just like the hero she remembered in her dreams— only he was soaking wet.
To her astonishment, the young Hylian removed his hat and bowed low to the ground. "Your Highness..." he whispered. She felt weak.
"Link, I..." the princess reached out to touch his cheek and tilted his chin so they locked eyes. "Since when were formal greetings ever a part of our relationship?" She caressed his wet palm between her own bare fingers and led him silently to her resting place in the grass.
Why had he come? Where had he been? Why had he not returned in, god... four years, five?
"I see you've been swimming in the moat again," the princess laughed. "You know, there is a drawbridge that goes over it."
No reply. Silence replaced Zelda's laughter as she fought the urge to let questions spill endlessly from her tongue— but in front of him, it was too much for the goddesses to ask. Zelda fanned her skirts, and reclined slowly into the grass, hands folded across her lap. The young hero spread his possessions out in the sunlight to dry. She examined his every move as he positioned himself by her side and waited for her to make the next move.
"After all this time," the princess finally let slip, "I thought you left Hyrule, Link."
"Not exactly..." His blue eyes met hers. A mixture of guilt and remembrance shone through.
"Then what kept you away?" The princess pressed. She thirsted for answers, for the truth. "The last time I saw you— I didn't know it would be the last time for years. I never wanted you to believe I did not..."
"You did nothing, Zelda." The words tumbled from his lips. "I just needed... some time."
"Time!" Zelda scoffed. "What is Time to us?"
"A cruel trick..." he murmured beneath his breath.
Zelda eyed Link curiously. Something grappled with the young hero's subconscious and bubbled just beneath his rugged surface. "If I didn't know you any better, Link, I would say you're acting rather cowardly."
"You're kidding," the young Hylian half-laughed.
"Well, you come here, all put out and silent, expecting me to force explanations from you. That's pretty cowardly behavior, if you ask me."
"Zelda," he shook his head and sighed. "I've long forgotten what fear feels like."
"Than what's wrong? Why are you here? Why now? Why haven't you returned sooner? What kept you away?"
"Wow, slow down."
"Sorry. It's just... You may have run away, but that door was not open to me. This may sound completely silly, but it felt like... it seemed as if... you'd forgotten me, Link. You, my only real friend, the only person in this entire kingdom who really knows me, who understands..."
"I never forgot you, Zelda," the young hero cut into her rant. "Though I would be lying if I said I didn't try to."
"And why would you say that?" she gasped.
"Because..." Link removed his hat and ran his fingers through his hair. "I wanted to escape. I needed to at least try to distance myself from..."
"From what?" Zelda urged, growing restless.
"My memories..." the young Hylian burst out. "In hopes of finding—I don't know—some sort of peace of mind."
"Link, that's quite possibly the most foolish thing I've ever heard you say. The only thing that doesn't change with Time is memories."
"I know that now..."
"Memories are woven into the very fabric of ourselves," the princess lectured. "They give us wisdom and strength. Even the ones which haunt us are meant to be learned from, are meant to help us grow."
The young hero did not seem to find comfort in her words. Zelda paused to collect her thoughts and decorum, her gaze never wavering from Link's wandering eyes, before proceeding carefully.
"Link, listen." She inched closer to the young Hylian and spoke gently. "My life has not belonged to me since the day we turned back time. Every morning I am dressed by maids. My day is already planned for me. I am followed everywhere I go by nurses, butlers, and courtiers— Inside I grow restless. I feel vulnerable, sometimes tortured, even. But then I think of my father, the Hylian way of life, the peace and tranquility this land has been so blessed with. That peace is the product of our trials, our sacrifices, and today we live with the consequences of the decisions we made so long ago..."
Link rose to his feet and began to pace across the grass. "It's not that I'm not at peace with the decision we made, because I am. It's more..." He paused again, struggling to find the words to define his conflict.
"More what?" The princess pushed further. "Link, I cannot help you if you do not open up to me. Please, just start with one simple question. Why did you leave?"
The young hero chuckled sarcastically. "A simple question?"
"Just think about that one thing and forget everything else. Why did you leave?" Zelda repeated slowly, punctuating each word.
"I left because— because a part of me hoped I could still piece together a part of the life I lived before the Great Deku Tree ever summoned me."
"But then you realized that you could never go back. Not exactly, at least."
Link huffed. "Because I was no longer the ignorant boy who left the forest. By becoming the Hero of Time I built myself into a warrior, a killer, even, and I was growing restless. That's why I left here to find Navi. It wasn't so much that I was looking for her, per se. I just felt I needed to be looking— for something..."
"Hmm," Zelda nodded, considering the young hero's words. "Then you were led into Termina..."
"Yes, and suddenly I felt whole again. There were people to save, wrongs to right, evil to vanquish. Then, like my previous adventures, it ended perhaps before I was ready to accept that it was all over."
"So you came back to Hyrule..."
"And I returned the Ocarina to you and waited— waited for something to happen, a new quest, an adventure, something to go wrong..."
"And when nothing did..."
"When nothing did, ahh!" Link groaned. Zelda watched silently as frustration and guilt erupted within the young hero. "I had this revelation," he continued. "I-I realized my only identity was as the Hero of Time... but you can't live a life as a hero without endless suffering to counter."
"But then, why did you pull away?" Zelda asked sadly. "Did you not feel you could confide in me?"
"At the time I made my decision, I was trying to remove everything from my life that reminded me of the Hero of Time. I retreated to the forest because it was the only place in all of Hyrule I once knew absolute comfort and safety— where I lived before everything started. I prayed that perhaps by returning there, Time might absolve me."
"There is no peace in isolation, Link," Zelda reached out. "Loneliness molds hearts of stone."
"I know..." He sighed and stopped in his tracks before the princess. "In fact, I've known that for quite a while now, but the longer I stayed in the forest, the more a second problem arose."
"And what was that?"
"The guilt I felt for leaving you."
"I see," Zelda whispered. A slight breeze circulated through the chamber. The silence visibly cooled his restless temper. Without any further commentary, Link picked up his hat and returned to his spot in the grass.
"I'm sorry for all your troubles," Zelda confessed, holding Link's gaze. A look of sorrow and understanding crossed her face. "I've prayed to the goddesses every day for your safety and comfort. It seems, however, that the river of time has been rather rough for the both of us lately. I must ask, though... what brought you back?"
"A number of things, actually..."
"Kindly pray, then, let me hear them." Zelda titled her head and leaned in closer. "Is something wrong?"
"Not exactly. Or at least, I don't have enough information yet." He paused and straightened his posture. "That's why I've come."
"You need answers," the princess whispered, "which you believe I can provide."
"If I may be so bold?"
She was touched, humbled even, that the the Hero of Time would come to her for help. Her kingdom owed its freedom to this young man. No reward, save the whole Triforce itself, could satisfy her eternal debt to him. "Please, Link. I would be honored to help you in any way that I can."
He smiled weakly and reached into a small leather pouch at his waist. He pulled out a silky green parcel, which he held out before the princess and slowly unfolded the corners to reveal a golden token. "Well, I inherited this medallion, and I was hoping... maybe you could help me discover where it came from."
Zelda pursed her lips and eyed the trinket. "May I?" She extended her open palm. Link nodded and slid the medallion into her hand. The princess turned it over a few times, held it up to the light, and traced the symbols.
"Well, on one side is the royal family crest, which you already know, but this arrangement on the other side— it must be a coat of arms of some sort. Link, where did you get this?"
"It belonged to my mother, actually."
"Your mother..." Zelda gasped. More memories flooded back to her. She recalled how the bitter truth revealed to him by the Great Deku Tree's sprout left the young Hylian feeling betrayed and confused. "Well, Link," she continued, "it would be my most esteemed pleasure to help you. I'm sure there is something in the library that can help us trace the origins of this token." She stood and brushed herself off. "We can go now if you..."
"Your Highness," a stuttering voice reverberated through the stone tunnel leading into the courtyard. "The Ten'al-tarians have arrived."
Zelda's moment of happiness shattered. She spun around and drew face to face with her father's secretary. "Thank you, Barnabus. One moment, please." Zelda rolled her eyes and turned back to Link. "I'm so sorry," she sighed wearily, and pressed the medallion back into Link's gloved hand. "I have this meeting I must take, but..." She stepped aside to address both the young hero and the jowly man adjusting his glasses. "Barnabus, please escort my friend Link here to Mistress Impa. Also, inform the household that another guest will be joining us for the feast tonight."
"Yes, Your Highness," he replied with his nose in the air, clearly appalled by Link's weathered appearance and unconventional choice of garb.
"Link, I insist you join my father and I for dinner," Zelda urged. "There will be dozens of people and all of the attention will be on the visiting ambassadors, so you should not feel pressure."
She expected the young Hylian, who grew up in the forest away from formal obligations, to at least half-heartedly resist. However, Link instead bowed his head slightly and replied, "You can count on me, princess."
"The moment I break free, we will make a run for the library. On the goddess Nayru, I promise."
"Ehem..." Barnabus coughed, "the Ten'al-tarians, Your Highness."
"Right." She winked at Link before setting off at a swift pace toward the throne room. Her heart raced, but her mind felt completely numb. How could she possibly keep a straight face for anyone, much less a visiting prince, now?
At least, now I truly have something to look forward to... Her elated spirit carried her through the vaulted halls of the castle despite the few dark hours that lay ahead.
What a meltdown. Like a cooling volcano, his head still buzzed from the pent-up frustration that had just erupted, though a part of him couldn't help but feel relieved. The Re-dead was off his back. His guilt had been vocalized...
She seemed to dance like a cloud gliding across the blue skies of Hyrule Field. Link's eyes remained glued to the tunnel even after she vanished. Zelda, the Crown Princess of Hyrule— the connection they shared was one of the only shards of evidence left in the world proving their memories were more than simple illusions. Yet, all things considered, he barely knew her. After all, it was not the princess who travelled and fought alongside him, but a young Sheikah warrior, an alter-ego of the Zelda the rest of Hyrule looked to as their heir to the throne.
But by the way she addressed him, spoke to him, and questioned him... it felt as though she could read his every inner thought.
Was it sadness he felt, or nostalgia? Anger and guilt had been replaced by something hollow, though Link's heart continued to pound wildly in his chest, his hands clammy and slick inside their leather gauntlets. Only another cough from the short man in puffy pants— Barnabus, as Zelda called him— broke his concentration and wrenched him back into the moment.
"If you will follow me, sir," the short grizzled man instructed, "I will lead you to Her Highness' drawing room, where you will wait for Mistress Impa."
"I'm fine just waiting here, thanks." Link shrugged.
Barnabus squinted his beady eyes. "In a garden?"
"I like gardens."
"Hmm, As you wish." Barnabus clicked his heels and marched from the courtyard, nose pointed toward the heavens and puffy white pants in his wake.
Alone in the bed of flowers, Link's eyes traced the flow of the reflection pool around the circular contours of the courtyard. It was in this chamber that he learned of the Triforce and the Ocarina of Time. Here with Zelda, plans had been laid to collect the Spiritual Stones, enter the Sacred Realm, and thwart the ambitions of the Gerudo King. So many decisions, memories that shaped him, happened here...
A raised marble patio opposite the entryway caught Link's attention. He envisioned a much smaller Zelda, bending over the windowsill to spy on the King of Thieves as he entered the throne room— the throne room!
The young Hylian bent low as he approached the window. In his youth, the ledge perched suitably at eye-level, but he now had to crouch on his knees to avoid being seen. Holding on with two hands for balance, he peeked over the windowsill, and scanned the room beyond.
A golden throne dominated the right wall, towering up to the ceiling. The King of Hyrule was slumped deep into its red velvet cushions, head in his hands. A thud from the left side of the room caused the monarch to flinch. Zelda swept into the hall, pulling white satin gloves up to her elbows.
The king rose slowly from his throne and marched forward to greet his daughter. He pulled a long blade of grass from Zelda's hair, threw it on the floor, and scolded his daughter as a horde of young, fluttery women encircled the princess, brushing her off, tugging her hair, and straightening out her skirts.
"I should've warned her," Link muttered to himself. A pang of guilt twisted inside him for surrendering to his own personal odyssey before pushing the real, alarming issue. He wanted to jump up and down, to give her some kind of sign, a warning to at least be cautious.
Just then, the Triforce symbol began to glow on the back of Link's left hand. Keeping low, he looked toward the princess who— to the young Hylian's astonishment— met his gaze with a discreet smile.
Triforce of Wisdom... perhaps she already knew.
Trumpets sounded. The young women hovering around the princess scattered. A row of knights lining the far side of the wall clanked their heels together and stood tall as two young boys raised a pair of red, yellow, and blue banners. The grand doors swung open and flooded light into the vaulted chamber. Two men entered the hall, followed by a unit of black-armored knights. They marched down the center of the room to greet Zelda and the king with low, drawn-out bows.
Link's attention shifted between the princess and the figure standing before her— a lean, pale man with greasy dark hair and a long black cape, just like the man from Link's dreams.
The man to his right was shorter, more wrinkled, and more muscular, but with the same dark hair and pale skin. He wore black armor like the knights behind him— only his was decorated with jewels and ribbons. A tall silver crown graced his head. He must be the Czar Bertie mentioned last night... Link shifted from side to side. His bones ached with the urge to draw his sword.
As the two monarchs exchanged words, Zelda and the man before her remained quiet and still. Finally, the Czar reached out and shook the King's hand. The man from Link's nightmares bent to his knee and kissed the back of Zelda's outstretched glove. A knot tightened in Link's throat. He felt hot. His emotions teetered between anger and concern, like he was watching his dream play out in real time.
As the royal quartet exited the throne room, the greasy, caped man arm-in-arm with the princess, Link fought the urge to pound his fists against the glass window pane. Instead, the young Hylian sunk backward onto the stone patio and ran his fingers through his hair.
"Hello, young Hero."
A deep, melodious voice caught Link by surprise. He wheeled around on the ground and drew eye level with the knees of a woman plated in armor.
"Impa." Link looked up and smiled. An unmistakable gleam of respect shone through her crimson eyes. The woman with steel-colored hair extended a firm hand and offered the young Hylian a boost from the ground.
"Spying again, are we?" she noted. "I see you haven't changed."
"I wasn't spying," Link protested. Impa raised an eyebrow and folded her arms across her chest.
"I-I was merely observing the proceedings. Everyone in town was talking..." Link was cut short by Impa's continued stern gaze. She was not buying excuses. "I'm just worried about the princess, is all," he admitted. "Those guys—those Ten'al-tarians—are definitely up to no good. Everyone in town knows it, I know it, and I have a pretty good track record when it comes to sensing danger."
"Townsfolk talk. That's their duty."
"It's not just gossip, Impa..." Link paused and sighed, looking down from the Sheikah's red eyes. "I've been having dreams—nightmares actually—about that very man and the princess..."
"I see..." Impa nodded. She tapped her knuckles against her folded forearms, deep in thought. As Zelda's caretaker, Link knew that Impa had experience in dealing with prophetic dreams. She was, after all, the only person who heeded Zelda's warning about the King of Evil. "What role does the princess play in your dreams?" she finally asked.
"Umm..." Link shifted from side to side. "Well, she marries the man who was with the Czar."
"He's the Czar-Aran's son," Impa revealed, "the Ten'al-tarian prince. Though from everything I've heard, he is not the one to worry about."
"Yes..." Impa nodded, her voice trailing off.
"Great, so now there's two people I have to worry about on top of everything else." Link racked his brain, trying to remember whether or not the man in black, decorated armor had ever been a presence in his nightmares. He could only assume the reason for the man's absence was hardly a good one.
"Well, does anything happen in the dreams, something odd or extraordinary?" Impa pushed further.
"No!" Link threw his hands up. "That's the frustrating thing. Nobody seems scared or worried, just... stoic. It's all very surreal, but there's no mistaking the feeling I get watching him at the altar with her..."
"And that feeling would be?"
"Anger, I guess. Protectiveness... It's the feeling that if I could just stay in the dream a second longer, I know he would do, well... something!"
Impa considered Link's explanation. "And these dreams have been reoccurring, correct?"
"For about a month now."
"Hmmm..." The Sheikah woman pondered— arms folded and head bowed— before she suddenly switched gears. "Well, young hero, the best we can do right now is to keep our eyes and ears always on the lookout for anything suspicious, and thank the goddesses for sending us this warning."
The Sheikah's words, while valid, did little to comfort Link. He turned back to face the window. The hall was now clear, and Zelda was alone with the prince.
"For now, you must come with me." Impa caught sight of Link's anxious gaze. "It is my understand the princess invited you to the ambassador's banquet tonight."
"We must get you looking respectable, then."
"Oh, no!" Link backed away. "I agreed to attend strictly as a means to keep an eye on the princess."
"And in order to keep that watchful eye, you must not draw attention to yourself. I'm afraid Hylian noblemen would be rather put off by a young man showing up in traditional Kokiri garb."
Link sighed. He knew he was going to regret this. Dinner with a bunch of haughty Hylian nobles. What was he thinking? Nevertheless, Impa had a point. He wanted to be a fly on the wall, a mere observer, keeping watch over Zelda while possibly finding out more about this Ten'al-tarian prince.
"OK," Link rolled his eyes. "But no puffy pants, no feathers, no ruffles, no lace, and nothing— absolutely nothing— that shimmers or shines."
"We'll see what we can do." Impa smiled, turning her back on the young Hylian.
"No, I really wasn't kidding..." Link called and chased after the Sheikah woman.
Though Link loathed the thought of making small talk over nonsense with a bunch of strangers, a part of him ironically wished to fast-forward time till the evening. At least then nothing would be uncertain, nothing left to chance. If something did happen, he would be there. He would be able to see her again... to know she was safe.
Zelda gathered the ends of her skirts and scurried down the hall. Her insufferable maids had dawdled and fussed so long over every detail of her evening's wardrobe that she was running late to greet her father for the banquet. Chemises shuffling and ribbons twirling, Zelda could hardly maintain her balance, let alone a brisk pace. The princess rounded the corner toward the Great Hall and narrowly avoided bowling over a set of armor. "Ahh..." Zelda huffed, regaining her composure.
She spotted her father at the end of the entrance hall. A soft glow leaked into the dim passageway from the room beyond and illuminated the king's profile. Zelda drew up alongside him and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
"Sweetheart," the king groaned quietly, "why must you always run late?"
"I am not quite late, father," the princess protested between deep breaths. "Besides, it was the nurses this time. Have you seen this dress?" She stood straight and gestured toward the gold-laced bodice of her gown. "This takes time."
The old king shook his head and abandoned the subject, but Zelda could tell by the way his eyes shifted that there was something else bothering him.
"So Barnabus tells me you invited a young lad to stay for dinner," he finally exhaled.
"Whom I invite to dinner is none of Barnabus' concern." Her tone was stern. That old loon of a secretary would find it necessary to report her private affairs to the king.
"We had an agreement, Zelda," her father continued. "While the dignitaries are here..."
"We had an agreement that I would allow Zel-Taren to be my escort. Me extending a dinner invitation to an old friend in no way violates that. Besides, I would have thought you would have spent more time worrying about what happened to Mercy Middleton than meddling in my affairs."
"Absalom is looking into Miss Middleton. I just..."
"Father," she placed her hand on his broad shoulder and smiled weakly, "he's just a friend. Please, try to let it go. "
"I only bring these matters up because I care..."
"I know." Zelda nodded. The tenor tones of a trombone filled the chamber, silencing the drone of chatter and laughter from the Great Hall.
"Oh, I almost forgot to tell you..." the king whispered. He clasped hands with Zelda and turned to face the entryway.
"Tell me what?"
"How beautiful you look tonight, darling." The old monarch leaned over and kissed her tenderly on the cheek.
"Please, rise!" A man announced from beyond the wall. "Presenting Her Royal Highness Princess Zelda and His Majesty King Auberon II."
The doors eased open into the sparkling hall. Zelda squinted as her eyes adjusted to the bright light. A quartet of minstrels strummed a lively tune to accompany the chorus of warm applause. Zelda and the king advanced down the center of the room toward the Great Table sitting high on a dais, overlooking the longer tables flanking it. Czar-Aran and Zel-Taren awaited them at the place of honor.
"The household has outdone itself this time," Zelda muttered through her teeth as she smiled and waved.
"Indeed it has," the king similarly responded.
A golden arm-chair was drawn up to the Great Table for the king, and a canopy of blue and gold silk hung down from the ceiling. Carved candlesticks lined the tables, casting a shimmering glow off the coverings and silver place settings. An ornate glass salt cellar highlighted the colorful spread, which included large basins of soup, loaves of bread, grapes, fish, pork, and many vases of wine.
Still holding Zelda's hand, the king took up his arm-chair, while the princess took the seat between her father and Zel-Taren. With a smile the monarch lowered his daughter's palm, raised the ruby-studded goblet at his place setting, and tapped it with his ring.
"Welcome, my friends!" His voice reverberated off the walls. "We gather on this most joyous evening to honor our guests, our friends, His Majesty Czar-Aran and His Royal Highness Zel-Taren of Ten'al-taria."
His introduction was met with another round of applause, though this one more subdued and forced.
"Such a warm greeting," Zel-Taren leaned over and whispered in Zelda's ear. She smiled weakly and nodded, though her concentration was already turned onto the long tables— two each lining the right and left walls.
"I would also like to welcome our guests from across the four provinces who have come to celebrate with us this proud converging of lands: Lord Beckett the Baron of Kenton, Lord Spencer the Baron of Remington, and his eldest son, Kallo. On behalf of the Duke and Duchess of Faron, I present Geoffry and Cenwig de Vaux; for the Gerudo, the Mir Fasiris; for the Zora, Master Riverkeepers Kaveri and Fisk; and Gor-Feor for the Gorons."
Each representative rose and bowed as the king called out his or her name. Zelda joined the applause, though her eyes continued to comb the rows of proudly-dressed and powdered nobles for one particular face.
"With introductions aside," the king continued, "I wish to call upon young Master Murdoc for the honor of the first glass."
Rory Murdac, a lanky teen, rose from his seat at the left side of the hall and strode toward the Great Table. As the royal cupbearer, it was his duty to take the ceremonial first drink to assure no one had tampered with the wine. Chest puffed out, he bowed low before the king and accepted the monarch's goblet. He dipped the glass in the nearest vase, raised it high above his head, and tilted it back for a long, full gulp. The hall applauded as he passed the goblet back to the king.
"Thank you, young Master Murdac." The king accepted the glass, placed it back onto the table, opened his arms wide and proclaimed, "With that, my guests, let the feast begin!"
Meguil Murdac, the Master of the Household and Rory's father, rose and began to command servants around the main floor. The minstrels filled the hall with the vibrant melody of lutes, pipes, organettos, and flutes. Zelda continued to scan the audience for her guest of honor...
Then she spotted him— at the far end of a table nearest her. She hardly recognized him without his hat, though his blue eyes pierced through the hustle and bustle of the servers clamoring about, and sent a tingling shiver down her spine the moment they connected. Her heart began to pound wildly against her chest as she noticed a wide grin break out on his face. He nodded as though to acknowledge whatever divine presence connected them, and for a brief moment the rest of the hall disappeared, pulling the two of them closer together...
But then the young Hylian blinked. His concentration shattered. Something distracted him, or rather, someone...
It had been a long, emotional, and frustrating day, but Link had finally come to the last hurdle. By the time he arrived in the Great Hall with Impa, most of the place settings were occupied, and a small cluster of musicians were polishing and testing their instruments. He sheepishly tugged at the ends of the leather vest he had been instructed to wear.
"Now, remember subtlety." Impa turned to him. "If you don't give the nobles a reason to address you, they probably won't. You're an outsider to them. Just focus on the princess."
"I know," Link sighed.
"I must leave you here, but look for me as soon as the banquet is through."
"Wait, you're not sitting with me?"
"I have a designated position I must occupy near the princess, and unfortunately, the seats around me are reserved for high ranking members of the court and household."
"Yeah, yeah, everything comes down to rank here. I get it."
"You will be fine, young hero." A rare smile cracked through Impa's rough exterior. "Just look at it as another challenge." She turned to take up her seat, leaving the young Hylian to fend for himself.
"Triforce of Courage..." he muttered beneath his breath. "Goddesses, please lend me the strength I need to fit into a place I don't belong."
A squat man in a feathered cap stood before the large, arched doors and sounded a tenor trombone. Lords, ladies, servants, and entertainers scrambled into their places and turned toward the entryway near Link's end of the hall. He took notice and copied their motions.
"Please rise," the short man called out. "Presenting Her Royal Highness Princess Zelda and His Majesty King Auberon II!" Music filled the hall and the doors eased open. What Link saw next made the young Hylian's jaw drop. From the moment he first laid eyes on her, all those years ago, he knew she was beautiful. During their adventures he learned that she was also powerful, courageous, and wise. But never had he seen her so... royal.
Like a goddess herself, her golden hair and gown illuminated the room. She glided arm-in-arm with the king, smiling, and waving. Her blue eyes sparkled and her cheeks glowed. Noblemen and women applauded as she passed; some even bowed their heads out of respect. Link just stood, knees locked, frozen to his spot.
The princess and the king made their way toward a table at the end of the hall, set high above the rest. Czar-Aran and Zel-Taren waited for them, and for the first time Link got a good look at their faces— both bony and pale. Link's focus zeroed in on the princes' gray eyes—they were locked onto the princess with pride.
Zelda and the king finally took up their seats, and the monarch began the proceedings by introducing a long list of visitors. Link stared absentmindedly at Zelda and Zel-Taren. A familiar sense of urgency made his fingers twitch and the hair on the back of his neck prickle. The walls of the hall felt like they were pressing down on him.
After the introductions, the king summoned a youth who looked no older than Link. The boy took a sip of wine, to which everyone applauded, and the monarch finally called for the feast to begin. A dozen men in feathered caps and pouffy pants circulated the room, filling bowls with a soup and glasses with wine. Link's focus returned to the big table at the front of the room, and most importantly, back to the princess.
He watched as her eyes wandered across the hall, floating over every face, and tracing the movements of the servers until her gaze paused on Link. Their eyes locked. Link smiled. Through their connection alone, it felt like she was speaking to him in secret. The world continued circulating around them, but only the thoughts and memories that connected them mattered...
"A wonderful table, is it not?" A high, feminine voice cut through the noise of the hall. He blinked and turned to face the source of the disturbance.
"Y-Yeah, I guess." His eyes rested on the face of a young woman with brown hair and green eyes. "I mean, I don't have much to compare it to?"
"Your first time at court, I presume?"
"You couldn't tell?" He shrugged.
"Oh my, I've forgotten my manners." She giggled and held out a white gloved hand. "Veronica de Caulmont, daughter of Absalom de Caulmont, Groom of the Stool."
"I'm Link." He shook her outstretched glove. "It's nice to meet you Miss de Caulmont."
"Silly, you're supposed to kiss the back of a lady's glove."
"Uhh, I..." Link stuttered. Five minutes into the meal and he had already messed up. His eyes shifted to the bowl of soup in front of him and again over to the big table where Zelda was deep in conversation with the prince.
"You're cute, Link, very... innocent." Veronica giggled again. "Where are you from?"
"Faron Provence." Link fed her the same half-truth he told Bertie the night before, hoping to fend off more questions.
"Oh really? I've always wanted to visit the southern country. Do you by any chance know Geoffry and Cenwig De Vaux? The sons of the Duke and Duchess of Faron?"
"No, I live in, near the forest... I live close to the forest." Link shook his head. She made him feel very uncomfortable.
"Interesting. So are you a rancher then? Does your family own a farm?"
"No, I... travel a lot."
"I've always dreamed of traveling across Hyrule— Death Mountain, Zora's Domain... My father takes me on holiday to Lake Hylia from time to time, but I know there's so much more to see." Words tumbled from Veronica's mouth unfiltered. Link wondered if she even had time to breathe between sentences. "Well," she continued to press, "what's your family name then? Perhaps I've heard of it?"
"Ahh..." Link paused. He couldn't tell her that he had no family name. That would only lead to further questioning. Link racked his brain quickly to come up with a convincing lie. "Umm, Mido." It was the first name that popped into his mind. "Link Mido."
"Link Mido," she repeated. "That's a... peculiar name."
"Sure, I guess." The young Hylian held his breath, hoping she would drop the subject.
"So, how long have you been a guest of the castle, Link?"
"Since this morning." He exhaled and leaned back in his seat.
"Did you hear about what happened in the library, then?"
The young Hylian squinted and shook his head. "No..."
"Well, my brother's page told me that Rory Murdac told him that Mercy Middleton was found unconscious on the library floor, and that her sister Amery was the one that discovered her. I would confirm it with the twins if I could, but Mercy is still being monitored by Doctor Bolbec and Amery hasn't left her sister's side since. But I also hear that Mercy lost over three days of her memory."
"Wait, a girl was found unconscious in the library?" Link was stunned. He couldn't believe that he hadn't heard of this before, and that the castle would keep such serious information under lock and key.
"I know," Veronica chuckled. "What could anyone possibly want from there that's worth causing such a fuss over?"
"Information..." Link knew all too well the consequences of knowledge falling into the wrong hands.
"But the books are there for everyone. It seems like a silly thing to cause harm for."
"Obviously whoever attacked the girl didn't want anyone to know what they were looking for, and this girl, Mercy, knew too much."
"I wonder who could have done such a thing. It's too bad Mercy lost her memory."
"Yeah, I wonder..." Link's voice trailed off. He sighed and took a long sip of wine. Over his shoulder he again looked toward the princess, whose attention was now fully devoted to the Ten'al-tarian prince. He had to think of some way to separate them. Not now, but soon. He had to figure out some way to whisk the princess away; after all, the nightmares could not come true if Zelda never left Link's side.
Veronica de Caulmont— the daughter of her father's dearest friend— was admittedly a beautiful girl, but a constant thorn in Zelda's side. She was born to Absalom's mistress, but invited to court nonetheless as a favor from the king. As a lady-in-waiting, however, that meant Zelda had to deal with her frivolous attitude and her incessant gossiping.
A new emotion began to burn in Zelda's heart— jealousy. Here she, a princess, sat at the Great Table between the King of Hyrule and a crown prince, but given the choice, she would trade places with her maiden as fast as Farore's Wind could take her there. Link's attention turned away from the Great Table, and Zelda, as Veronica drew him into conversation.
"Is something the matter?"
The question broke Zelda's furious glare toward the end of the hall. "N-Nothing, Zel-Taren. I was just admiring the scenery."
"Please, Your Highness," his voice was low and smooth, "just call me Taren."
Zelda grinned slightly at the ambassador's charm. She hated herself for admitting this, but of all the suitors who had come to court her over the years, Taren was perhaps the most interesting. He was a master archer, swordsman, and highly skilled in a Ten'al-tarian art of war called Vibha-matar. Earlier they had taken a tour of the grounds, where the prince showed particular interest in the horses. "The finest creatures he had ever seen," Taren called them. After Zelda had suggested that one of the best views of Death Mountain could be had by climbing a tree at the edge of the yard, he obliged her by racing to the top.
"Very well, Taren," the princess responded, "but then I insist you address me as Zelda."
"As you wish, Zelda."
"Much better." She could not help but blush. He was quite handsome, with long, dark hair and icy blue eyes. He had a fearsome build, much taller than the average Hylian, with a sharp jaw-line and facial features.
A young server bowed as he filled Zelda and Taren's glasses and bowls. The royal pair raised their goblets and clinked them together.
"To our alliance," Taren toasted.
"To a bright future," Zelda added and tipped her glass back.
"Mmm, the wine is exquisite," Taren remarked as he set his goblet down.
"We pride ourselves on our vineyards, especially in the southern country. Crops grow wonderfully in the rich soil there."
"I regret the same cannot be said of Ten'al-taria," the young prince sighed. "Our terrain is quite rocky and mountainous, with very thin soil."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insinuate..."
"You insinuated nothing. You merely praised your country. You did not insult mine."
"I suppose." Zelda's gaze drifted back to the end of the hall, where Link was still in conversation with Veronica. He just had to show up on a day when she could not give him the attention he deserved. The situation was such a tease...
"So, Zelda," Taren cut into the silence, "care to introduce me to some of the ladies and gentlemen of the court?"
"I would be delighted." Zelda blinked, clearing out her wandering thoughts. She rested her spoon on the edge of her bowl and leaned closer to the prince. "You will notice the hall is divided into two sides— one for the king, the other for the queen, or the crown princess, in our case. The closer the seat to the Great Table, the higher the position is considered. Is there anyone in particular I can tell you about?"
"Hmm, how about the man sitting closest to the king? The rather large man with the long stole?"
Zelda craned her neck to get a better look at the man Taren pointed toward. "Oh, that's Faisal Aloysius, the High Priest." She gestured toward the three white-haired gentlemen sitting around him. "The four men closest to my father are the members of the House of Polis, a group of high-ranking officials that sit on the council."
"And over here," Taren shifted his attention back to their half of the hall. "Who is the woman with the red eyes? She's been staring at us the whole time."
"That's Impa." Zelda smiled. "She's my caretaker and dearest friend. She's the leader of her village, Kakariko, but she lives here in the castle to fulfill the Sheikah oath to the royal family."
"A Sheikah, you say?"
Taren's tone insinuated something, so Zelda pressed further. "You are familiar?"
"Oh yes, my mother's ancestors descended from a powerful Sheikah lord."
"Oh?" His answer caught Zelda by surprise.
"The old Sheikah legend of Knowledge and Truth, you've never heard it?"
"No..." Zelda shook her head, lips pursed. She was certain that she knew all the stories and legends of the Sheikah. After all, she had lived as one for seven years. "Care to enlighten me?"
"Well, perhaps it is not the most important legend to Hylians." Taren shifted in his seat and took another sip of wine before beginning. "A brother and a sister traveled through all the kingdoms of the world, documenting their histories and cultures. After many years, they returned to Hyrule and the sister, satisfied by their work, began to pass on her teachings to the next generation. Her kin became the Sheikah. The brother's thirst, however, had not been quenched. He yearned for something beyond knowledge itself."
"And what lies beyond knowledge?"
"Truth," Taren responded shrewdly. "He continued to travel in search of knowledge that would lead him to the discovery of absolute truth, and in his quest he became very powerful. Like all powerful men, followers flocked to him, aiding him, worshiping him even. But neither the monarchy nor his sister looked kindly upon his quest. She betrayed her brother one night, and his followers were ultimately banished from Hyrule. They fled into the mountains beyond the western desert— the mountains of Ten'al-taria."
"But why was he banished?"
"He wasn't banished. He was executed," the prince replied curtly. "Only his followers came to Ten'al-taria."
"I hate to be rude, Zelda," Taren cut her off, "but this is hardly the proper setting for a story of this nature. We are a proud people, Your Highness. One which like to think of themselves as more than the descendants of a banished tribe."
"I understand, Taren," Zelda spoke softly. "Consider the subject dropped."
Pastries, grapes, fish and pork filled their plates in waves. Conversation waned, and the full, jubilant songs of the minstrels reverberated through the hall in their stead. After every course had been served and the wine began to run low, the king once again tapped his ring against his goblet and addressed the court.
"Let us all praise the Goddesses for the bountiful riches they have blessed our land with, and applaud the household for preparing such a magnificent feast. Now, I would like to once more call upon Master Murdoc to begin the entertainment portion of our evening."
"Thank you, Your Majesty." The Master of the Household rose from his seat and bowed. He licked his fingers, smoothed out the tips of his pencil-thin mustache, and cleared his throat. "I hope you have enjoyed the music this evening provided by the Sons of Abram, hailing from the Village of Euell. At this time, our entertainers would like to open up the dance floor to the court."
Zelda twitched in her seat. She wanted so badly to be the first to dance. However, it was considered improper for a royal to be so impetuous, and equally more improper for a princess to dance alone. Her gaze wandered from Taren, hoping he might oblige, to the open floor, where a few of her ladies had already accepted the minstrels' invitation.
"Is public dancing at court a common practice in Hyrule?" Taren asked.
"Public dancing for all occasions is common in Hyrule. Why, do you not dance in Ten'al-taria?"
"We import dancers to keep us entertained."
"Ohh..." Zelda's heart sank.
The fluttering sound of the lyre and the song of the flute infused the hall with festive energy. Knights, courtiers, and members of the household twirled in circles of color. Candlelight shimmered off the jewels of ladies' dresses and the buckles of men's trousers. Zelda's feet bounced impatiently under the table to the beat.
She looked again toward Link, sitting bashfully alone at his place setting— only he was not alone for long. Miss de Caulmont once again swooped down on him. She twisted and turned like a gypsy on the dance floor. Her bright green eyes locked onto each man, making them weak in the knees. Veronica grasped Link's hand and pulled him playfully toward the dance floor.
The young hero resisted at first, shaking his head, content to remain sitting alone. But to Zelda's horror, he did not fight long. Veronica continued to prod, even pout, and Link, rather than put up with the act, gave in to the seductive wench.
Jealousy again roared like a maelstrom inside Zelda. She felt hot, weak...
"Taren!" She commanded, more brazenly than she intended. "Let's dance."
"Zelda, it's not really my..."
"There's a first time for everything." She kicked off her wooden heels, wrenched Taren's wine goblet from his hand, and pulled the prince from his seat. Arm-in-arm they descended the dais onto the floor. The lords and ladies already dancing paused and bowed to greet the royal couple.
She just grabbed him and pulled him into the fray. He tried to talk her down, but not only was Veronica de Caulmont the most chatty, bubbly Hylian woman he had ever met, she downright did not look kindly upon the word 'no'.
It wasn't even that he hated dancing. He had danced before; not lately, but the Kokiri loved to dance, usually around bonfires. As a child, he often joined the party bouncing around the flames, catching fireflies twinkling against the black forest canopy, but this was not one of those dances. Here there were expectations— certain steps to follow, ways to bow, to turn, and to hold a woman. Veronica molded his arms into their proper places, one at her waist, the other clasped in her hand, and led him in a skipping twirl around the floor.
"I love this song." She hummed with her eyes closed, head back, listening to the music. "It's so... vivacious."
"Yeah." Link concentrated on his feet, making sure he didn't step on her. At least Veronica knew what she was doing and had no problem guiding him like a lost puppy.
Halfway through the song, Zelda and Zel-Taren stepped down from the big table, arms intertwined, to join the floor. Everyone around them stopped to bow, so Link and Veronica followed suit. A hollow feeling ate away at the young Hylian's stomach, and it had nothing to do with the impending sense of danger he felt when in the presence of the young prince...
"Have you ever met Princess Zelda?" Veronica asked as the dancing resumed.
"I have," he replied. Link's eyes followed the princess around the floor. Such a simple question with such a complicated answer...
"And what did you think of her?"
"I often try not to..." the words escaped him.
"Oh," Veronica sighed and, for once, fell silent. Again she let the music wash over her.
It wasn't that Miss de Caulmont was an intolerable girl. She was very beautiful, Link had no problem admitting. He just wasn't used to her sense of tact, or lack thereof. The more they spun around the hall, the music floating in the space around them, the more comfortable he became. Link slowly began to trust his movements like he did in battle, letting his subconscious take full control.
The young Hylian's eyes continued to follow Zelda around the room, trying to draw her attention, but his thoughts kept roaming back to his conversation with Veronica. It had to have been one of the Ten'al-tarians that attacked the girl. But which one? What did they know? And most importantly, what were they after?
Eventually the song came to an end, and everyone on the dance floor paused to applaud the musicians for their work. "Another dance, Link?" Veronica asked. She held onto his hands tightly, but Link politely bowed and stepped back. He spotted Impa out of the corner of his eye and wished to report to her.
"I'll save another dance, Veronica, but that Sheikah woman over there is an old friend of mine, and I would like to excuse myself for a moment to speak with her."
"Oh, that's no problem at all." She smiled and released her grip. "Old friends always come first."
Link bowed again before walking away with his head high. Impa saw him coming and smiled as he approached.
"You don't seem to be harmed in any way," the Sheikah pointed out. "Dare I say you're enjoying yourself, young hero?"
"Well, the food was really good..."
"The conversation as well?" she prodded.
"I wouldn't go that far," Link chuckled. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Veronica had already wrangled herself a new, unsuspecting partner. "So Miss de Caulmont was telling me about a girl found unconscious in the library..."
"Early this afternoon."
"And why am I only hearing about this now?"
"I am still a bit behind on the details myself. There were no signs of struggle at the scene, and unfortunately, the girl has no recollection of an encounter."
"Impa, we don't need evidence to know who it was."
"But we need evidence to do anything about it."
Link huffed and turned to face the floor. As visiting royalty, Zel-Taren and Czar-Aran were practically untouchable, and the young Hylian could not expect to sway anyone's opinion of them on the basis of dreams alone. He once again singled out Zelda, gliding like she danced on air, from the fray.
"Why don't you ask her for the next dance?" Impa asked, turning to face Link.
"Who, Veronica? If she wants to dance, I think she'll find me."
"You know who I meant." Impa flashed him a half-smile. There wasn't much that slipped past her.
"I don't know, Impa," Link sighed as he ran his fingers through his hair. "I doubt she would be allowed to. Aren't there rules to follow?"
"You overestimate the judgment of Hylians after they've had enough to drink. Besides, and I raised the girl so I would know, she would be most honored for you to ask."
Link fell silent. Every muscle in his body lurched with the urge to march up to the Ten'al-tarian prince and shove him aside, but that would hardly sit well with the king's court. Instead, he stood beside Impa and listened to the music while he watched the prince like he was testing the movements of an unfamiliar enemy. Link studied his motions, his tendencies, in order to find his weakness so that when the song was over, he could strike...
The music flowed through her body like the blood in her veins, pumping life into her every breath. The princess' bare feet slid across the stone floor, making it easier to balance amongst the layers of chemises and skirts that tried to weigh her down.
It was a group dance. The women stood in a small circle facing their partners on the outer rim. Her spirit soared as she spun clockwise with the other ladies. The two lines converged and the partners reunited. She could have been dancing with Prince Alec of Selbee for all she cared, so long as he did not have lead feet. It just felt so good to move, to skip, to let her subconscious take control of her motions...
But her elation only lasted as long as the song, and with the end of the music, Taren came to a grinding halt. Zelda exhaled deeply. Had she been holding her breath the whole number? She turned to face the prince and curtsied low with her head bowed, as customary.
"What say we return to the table, Milady?" Taren offered his arm and nodded back toward their place settings. Zelda halfheartedly accepted his hand. She glanced over her shoulder once more toward the minstrels discussing the next number and around the crowd of lords and ladies, looking for where...
"Link!" She gasped, stopping dead in her tracks.
"Your Highness?" He smiled and bowed, but never lowered his piercing gaze.
"Excuse me, sir," Taren interjected, "but the lady and I were about to rejoin the table."
"My apologies, Your Highness." Link strode closer to the royal pair. "I don't mean to intrude, but I was hoping Her Highness might like to dance some more?"
"Oh, would I!" Zelda responded all too eagerly. "I mean, I would be delighted, good sir." She curtsied again and blushed.
"You know this fellow?" Taren squinted at Zelda.
"I do," she replied smoothly. "He's an old friend."
"The oldest," Link chuckled and offered the princess his arm.
"I shall not be long, Taren." She reached out and accepted Link's glove. "I pray you return to the table, if that is what you wish." It was quite a comical sight. Taren, a foreign prince, the guest of honor, and nearly a full head taller than the young Hylian, was stricken speechless by Link's gesture. Zelda felt the prince's glare beating down her neck as Link pulled her toward the center of the floor.
It was another group dance, one where the couples lined up facing each other. Zelda instructed Link on where to stand. "Just keep your eyes on me and mirror what I do."
"I think I can manage." His smile made her feel lightheaded. The music started up again, a slower, more soulful tune than the last. Her heart pounded to the steady beat of a drum. The dance began as every other couple took a step toward the center, spun clockwise around each other, and strode into the opposite line.
"I see you were having quite a lovely time chatting up Miss de Caulmont," Zelda remarked pointedly as she and Link stepped together.
"Well, you didn't seem too put off by His Highness..."
"Taren's not all bad."
"Oh, so you're on a first name basis now?"
"He's a royal and so am I." She could not tell whether he was actually jealous or just goading her. His eyes locked onto her as they spun around each other. Her breath caught in her throat as the muscles in her shoulders tensed.
"Apparently, there was a girl found unconscious in the library today," Link pressed as he reached for Zelda's hand.
"According to Miss de Caulmont, I presume."
"She may have a big mouth, but she doesn't strike me as a liar."
Zelda stepped to her left around the man beside her, but her gaze stayed locked onto the young hero's furrowed brow. "I know that look, Link. You believe there's more to this..."
"Her memory was wiped," he replied curtly. "It sounds like magic was involved. "
"Taren was with me all day, if that's what you are insinuating."
"The Czar," Zelda finished his thought.
Every time they stepped together, hands locked, eyes searching each others', a warm tingle coursed up her spine. The lines paused, and one by one, each couple came together. Link's right arm wrapped around her waist and drew her in, their chests inches apart.
"I have to go to the library," He gently confessed. "I have to take a look for myself."
"Later," Her fingers wrapped through his, locking in place like a piece to a puzzle. "I'll meet you." Pressed together, they skipped down the aisle created by the two lines and out to form a large circle of dancing couples.
"Watch the man beside us, Link," She whispered in his ear, "and follow what he does."
On cue his hands wrapped around her waist and lifted her effortlessly into the air. He always was quick to react. "Wonderful," she replied softly and closed her eyes, surrendering herself completely to his trust. She felt nervous but excited nonetheless. The world spun around her. Her feet did not touch the ground. Time stopped and the music faded. The only thing solid connecting Zelda with reality was the steady pounding of Link's heart against hers, the feeling of his chin resting on her head, and his fingers wrapped through hers...
"Zelda..." his voice called her name in the distance like a song. Say it again... her subconscious begged.
"Zelda, the music stopped."
She blinked and stood suddenly still in her tracks. The other lords and ladies had cleared the dance floor and formed a circle around them. How long had they been watching?
She turned from Link standing frozen to his spot, back to the audience surrounding them, waiting and watching. "Link," she nudged the young hero's side and muttered between her teeth, "bow." He flinched and did as he was told. She hurriedly turned to him and curtsied. The audience finally broke out into applause and she exhaled.
The princess smiled and waved. Link followed suit, then offered his arm to Zelda and led her from the floor. The minstrels began a new song, and those remaining on the floor resumed dancing as though nothing strange had happened. Zelda's eyes, however, wandered up to the Great Table where her father sunk deep into his armchair, head in his hands, and she couldn't help but feel guilty for letting herself get carried away...