Chapter 1: Life, Bastardised
The very look in their eyes when they look at me... it haunts me. Their gaze pierces my body and burns my soul. Always it has been a reminder of how I should not be alive, how I should never have even existed. Somehow to them, it's as if I've stolen life from someone else, sinned beyond all human capability... and they hate me for it. As if I could have controlled his passions. As if I could have saved the life of her firstborn child... whatever. To not be wholly accepted, to not be wholly rejected, is this the way my life will always be?”
The rain pounded against the rooftops of the castle village in the Kingdom of Marith. Storm clouds covered the sky as far as the eye could render, no relief in sight from the cascading river of droplets coming from above, and because of this, he already knew that it was going to be a miserable day. Link had been in a foul mood like none other from the very moment he was awakened, which had been hours earlier than he would have preferred, the culprit of which being a trickle of liquid that had seeped its way through the loosely packed straw ceiling above him onto his face. As if mocking him, it then furthermore failed to cease despite his hissed threats. Of course, his mood was foul most of the days of his life, and nary a soul within the village could blame him after the past seventeen years he had been forced to live; today, however, his particular mood brought him towards the darkest side of his soul, one full of irritability and close to sharp anger.
He wandered down the rickety staircase, his state of mind allowing him to forget to be careful at the fifth step; that step was slanted downward towards the ground, and those who paid it no caution would soon enough find themselves off-balance and falling downward the remainder of the flight. Link threw a few curses at the misaligned step and, picking himself up from his dishevelled heap at the floor of the staircase, walked into the common room below. His mother, Pavane, a supple woman of thirty-two years, was already downstairs preparing breakfast for herself and Link. Her hair was burgundy with a hint of cherry coming out at points; her eyes were brown, and she wore the most simple of garments, yet despite her getting up in age, she wore them quite charmingly, her form pleasing to the eye.
Pavane's eyes glanced quickly to see the cause of the vibration at her feet, yet her legs were unmoving, remaining at the counter preparing the morning meal. She returned her attention to her work almost instantly, slicing the cheese carefully into thin slices. “You're going to kill yourself one of these days if you keep doing that, you know.”
Cold, grey eyes stabbed her frame with a thousand imaginary daggers. “Do you think I don't know that step is there, Mother?” came a heated reply. “It's not as if you're about to get it fixed any time soon.”
“Just saying,” she replied emotionlessly, her nonchalance almost exaggerated. She pushed the stack of cheese to the side and began sawing into a small loaf of bread to her left. “Honestly, you'd think you'd appreciate all that I do for you, child. I take care of you, I cook for you, I clean for you, yet nothing seems to ever be enough.”
“Mum, this... this is just not the day to get into this rant,” Link said with frustration, trying to keep the conversation peaceful. “Just... not today.”
“Oh it never is the right day. It's always, ‘Tomorrow will be a better day. Why don't we talk then?'” came the hasty reply. “You treat me as if I'm the source of all your problems, as if, were it not for me your life would be perfect!”
Link slammed his fist into the table and began walking over to his mother. “Have you ever stopped to think for a moment that maybe, just maybe, you are the cause of all my problems?” he said quite angrily and bitterly. “Have you ever stopped to think that the only reason I exist is because, one day, you couldn't control yourself and suddenly found yourself in his bed, hmm? Were it not for that singular moment of time, all of the problems within my life would never have been created!”
“For the love of Nayru, he was the king, Link!” Pavane hissed darkly. Throwing down the knife upon the table, she turned to him and met him halfway, arms folded across her chest defensively. Despite her feminine features, she was not remarkably different in build, and, what's more, she was roughly his height. “You just don't simply refuse the king when he asks for something. How many times do we have to go over this, Link? If I had refused him, what would have happened to me? He could have easily made me his servant, and then what? He would have had what he wanted anyways, only then, he could have taken it all by force. I'm sick and tired of having you scream at me for something that you weren't here for, for something that happened when I was just fifteen! Now,” she said, already into a scream, “do you want breakfast, or are you planning on going to the castle today without the slightest morsel within your stomach, hmm?”
The boy's lips turned into a dark frown, knowing that he had been beaten at his own game. Their shouting matches always resulted to this end, a standoff that Link could truly never win because he knew that she was right. You didn't deny the king of what he desired, no. “Do I have to listen to this if I stay to eat with you?” he challenged, still hoping to save face at the hands of losing.
“Only if you ask for it,” Pavane said stiffly but much more quietly.
“Fine. Let's eat.”
Link took the small cutting board within his hands and carried it over to the small wooden table, setting it down with a disturbing calmness, as if the emotional riptides had suddenly vanished for that moment, lurking silently, waiting for someone to swim nearby only to reappear and swallow him whole. He hastily sat down upon one of the chairs, balancing it carefully to account for the one chair leg that was shorter than the others, and grabbed a slice of bread and cheese with his hand, taking quick bites out of it as if in a hurry to leave whilst Pavane did so much more daintily than the young boy. She gathered her breakfast from the cutting board and nibbled upon it as a small rat might. Aside from the noise of Link's chewing, the silence was otherwise ominously stifling.
“Link?” Pavane finally said with surprising timidity.
A few beats passed as Pavane hesitated, almost as if she were deciding if she really wanted to voice her thoughts. “When... when you go to the castle today, could you ask the king if he could spare some rupees?”
Link sighed, almost expecting that to come. “You know how it works, Mum,” he said with frustration, yet the tone of his voice was kept in check. Then, in his best imitation, Link said, “‘Oh Link, you know how much I truly care about you and Pavane. It burdens my heart to know that the two of you live in such a poor state of shambles. But surely you must know I cannot directly help you more than I already am; the queen, you see, she would not approve of this, and you know...' that he's just going to feed me excuse after excuse. Honestly, I don't know why I bother asking him anyways.”
“Link,” said his mother quietly, “you know that your father favours you very highly, even more than me now, I think. You know he doesn't think highly of his daughters for some reason or another either. You're his only son; he's expressed his feelings to you many times. You're irreplaceable to him.”
“Sometimes I'm thinking it's merely words that he's saying. Ugh, but in another light, I guess so. But you know that the queen and the princesses hate me. They want nothing to do with me. They even disapprove of my visits with my father, of my ability to come and go in the castle almost as I please.”
“Like I said, Link, if the king wants something...”
“I know, I know,” Link interrupted. “The king gets it, even the rest of the Royal Family be damned. I'll see what I can do. Just don't get your hopes up.”
“That you try is all I ask for, Link.”
Link merely nodded in silence as response and quickly finished up his meal, brushing away the breadcrumbs from his face. He held the small clay cup to his lips, thirstily drinking the lukewarm water from its basin, then rushing upstairs to his room to change out of his nightclothes. Today was the day for him to go to the castle, and he had to look at least tolerable, for whatever tolerable was to the nobility. Over his body came a white-collared shirt with green tunic, followed by cream-coloured breeches and boots, a leather belt about his waist, all of which given to him by his father at the instance of Her Royal Highness that, if the king was stubborn enough to have a pauper roaming the halls of the castle, he could at least be decently dressed. Link parted his hair with his hands in a makeshift fashion, then donning his forest green cap, a cap that demarked his status within the court of Marith – peasant. As Link vested all of the materials upon his person, he couldn't help but feel as if all of this was just one more thing the queen had done to keep his hopes from ever being raised, to keep his spirit locked within chains at the bottom of the sea.
He hurried downstairs, this time remembering the faulty stair. He stopped back at the table momentarily next to his mother, still eating slowly as if savouring the taste of the bread and cheese. “How do I look?” A moment passed in silence. “Presentable?” Link asked.
Pavane reached over and straightened his collar to centre it beneath his chin. Then, after a good look of him, examining him from head to toe, she sighed and leaned back in her chair. Apparently satisfied with his dress, she turned away from him, back to her breakfast, and simply said, “You look like the illegitimate peasant son of a king.”
“You're a help,” he grumbled in return before leaving, not another word exchanged between the duo. The door slammed behind him as he headed into the rain outside. Lightning flashed high in the sky above him, as if alighting a beacon to its sister clouds that all of the rain they had so far been sparing should be hailed down upon the now sopping Link, and the rain clouds responded to the signal with vigilance. As the townsfolk of the village remained indoors by their warm fires, Link was tortured with the streams and sheets of chilled water from the heavens.
Link's mind, despite its most sincere intentions not to, eventually drifted back to his mother as he dodged the raindrops while travelling up the street. Despite all of the screaming and yelling, the blaming and the disagreeing, the harsh life and the scraping to get by, somehow the hardships they had had to endure had bonded them together at a very hidden and deep level. Somewhere within him, Link truly did care for his mother, and likewise he knew that she cared for him just as much; the problem that always had existed was that there had been so many troubles within their lives for them to properly express those emotions to one another without some quantity of venom After all, their lives had been harsh despite such a loose relationship to the king of their land; it had only made their life harder in a way. Pavane, without husband to gain a source of steady pay within the village, had tried to perform whatever odd jobs she could get her hands on to provide for both herself and her son when he was very young. This had continued all the way to the present, but now Link himself had been forced to slave away as a farmhand to earn what small wages he could to pay for their meagre meals. Their life had always been one of poverty, and despite all their efforts to conquer their situation, they never able to escape its grasp.
Shaking those thoughts out of his head though, Link refocused upon the world surrounding him. The rain was keeping many people indoors today, but not everyone was too timid to brave the outsides. A few of the peasantry were wandering down the streets, clothed with rain second only to their own rags. Occasionally another could be seen through one of the windows making porridges of some variety, or perhaps from time to time a resident would be out under the overhang of their house sweeping away the dust and straw from the patches of dirt by their home. No matter whom he passed by though, he always received the same reaction, for all the residents of town knew who Link was, but more importantly, they knew why he was... and they resented him for it. They knew that the king not only was his father but that he also took favour upon him; what many of them wouldn't do to be in his shoes, in their state “elevated” from the brink of poverty to something just shy of nobility. As a result, he was shunned from their presence at best, and the worst was far more malignant.
No matter how hard he tried to forget what the townsfolk of the village had done to him, Link could clearly remember each and every torture they had ever inflicted upon him and his mother. It was quite nearly the first thought that entered his mind whenever he so much as gazed upon someone else. He could remember the day when Pietr, one of the village farmers, had allowed Link to work on his farm for a small bit of wages. He had assigned Link the most tedious and onerous of chores—cleaning the cuccos' coop, preparing the slop for the cows, and planting the rice in the wet fields; after a week's worth of work, Link had appeared at the farmer's door to collect his rupees, and instead Pietr gave him a sack full of cow dung as payment. Then there was Rebekka the barmaid; instead of flatly refusing to serve them as the other taverns would, she had dumped their food and drink atop their heads after taking their rupees; Link and Pavane would never return to eat there. Worst of all, Brage and his entourage had caught up with Link one night as he was returning from one of the farmers. They hurled catcalls and insults at him, calling him every vulgar name imaginable; Link had refused to yield to their taunts. This would not satisfy Brage's thirst for violence, and so they surrounded him and began to brutalise him, pinning him down and bloodying every part of his body before leaving him for dead on the cobblestone walk. Pavane, worried sick for her son, had found him early that morning just after the rise of dawn, and though the only apothecary in town that would treat him did help Link to recover, the cost of the potion and his assistance was so great that it prevented them from putting food on the table for an entire week.
It was those unforgettable tortures and their insufferable gazes that filled Link with more ice than the rain could ever hope to impart upon him. Link's eyes darted back and forth, from side to side, as he wandered up the street towards the castle, trying to not gaze at anyone who would seek to condemn him, but even then it was the stares of those watching him instead of the rain that made his spine crawl and his body shiver.
The castle gate appeared in view as Link entered the narrow corridor through the outer wall that led to the guarded, iron bars leading to the inner sanctums of the castle before him. The guards came to attention, their spears crossing over the gate's entrance as Link approached. “Halt, who goes...” they began, not recognizing the soaked traveller in green as he approached, but soon thereafter they lowered their spears as quick recognition flowed into their eyes. “It's only Link,” they said, almost with some letdown of disappointment. “Raise the gate,” they called to the guards inside.
Link gave a hateful stare towards the guards at their displeased tone, but he walked through the gates with diligence into the inner courtyard towards the steeples of the castle before him, the gates closing behind him. Up the stone path he marched slowly, the rain no longer affecting him (for he was already as wet as he could possibly be), his steps taking him up to the stairs into the inner chambers of the castle.
Pushing open the heavy doors with some difficulty, he managed to step in, closing the doors behind him; water trickled off his body like it flowed over a waterfall, a puddle forming beneath his feet. Taking the verdant cap from his head and wringing it of water, he soon replaced it atop his damp hair before crossing the large vestibule to where a guard stood firmly, not getting out of the way even as Link approached.
“I wish to speak with my father,” said Link rather demandingly.
“I'm sorry,” replied the guard. “I have strict orders that the king is not to be disturbed; he is attending to important business at the moment.”
“Then I'm sure you will notify him that he has other things to attend to today as well,” came an angry growl. “I didn't walk up to the castle in the pouring rain for my weekly visit just to be forgotten; go tell him.”
“I'm sorry, Link...”
The guard gulped in the wrath of Link's rage; he knew quite well how the king favoured him most of all, just as everyone else. “Yes, sir. Right away, sir.” The guard entered the door behind him, leaving it cracked and not wholly closed as Link remained waiting out in the entryway, walking over to see the sculptures and the fine handiwork on display with the castle's halls. Gradually, the dampness of his clothes slowly made him colder and colder, and his teeth began to chatter as time passed.
Five minutes passed, and finally the guard returned through the door and his post. Following him entered King Drausus, his smile brightening the room with ambience. “Link, son... it is good to see you once again!” he exclaimed as he held his arms out to him, almost as if to embrace him, that is, until he noticed the boy's wet clothing and shivering. “May the goddesses have mercy upon you; you must be freezing to death! Come inside; Marianna will set you beside the fire and give you blankets while I finish the business I am attending to.”
Link looked into the king's eyes, a frown upon his face, displeased with the delays. There were always delays. “Father, I need to talk with you right away; it's very crucial.”
“I promise, we'll get to chat very soon—”
“Father, this is not something to just blindly ignore; I understand you have important business to attend to, but while you are doing so, mother and I are out there in the village barely scraping by, barely staying alive. You say you care about me; you say you want to help me out. Father, we need help. I know your hands are tied to some degree... but I just can't keep going on like this. Father..., Dad..., please... help us.”
Link could see Drausus sigh as he was confronted with this problem; Link had confronted the king with this every week it seemed, but perhaps his mother had finally gotten Link to see their problem in a different light; out of all the village, they were the one of the poorest families because of the townspeople's grudge against them. Their own jobs existed only at the charity of the few other families that allowed them to work for them.
“Link... you know there's little I can—”
“Yes, father, you've told me this a thousand times to date, and if I have to ask you a thousand more times before you change your answer, then I will most gladly do it; you know how the townspeople hate us. You know how everyone hates us. We are going to be very shortly living on borrowed rupees.”
“Hmm,” Drausus suddenly interrupted, his mind suddenly pondering a thought. Drausus cast his eyes skyward for a spell, remaining silent as he did; in fact, the only sounds of the room seemed to stem from Link's own impatience. Finally, the king shifted his gaze from the ceiling down towards Link, a small smile appearing upon his face. “Perhaps you are right, Link. Perhaps it is time, finally. I do believe that I can help you and your mother out, but you are going to have to work for it; you are going to have to help me out. There... there are desperate times ahead; there are many worries that I have on my mind, but perhaps you might be willing to help solve them for me? I promise I'll do whatever I can for Pavane and you if you help me.”
“I swear to you I'll do what I can,” Link said.
“Is that a promise?”
“Yes. I promise.”
“Good; I will take you to Marianna and tell her what needs to be done; when she is finished, come down to the ballroom. I will make my decree there.”
Link turned his head curiously all of a sudden, wondering what he had planned and what decree would be soon be made. The king either didn't see his curious face or chose to ignore it in lieu for a later surprise. “Quickly now,” the king reminded Link; “you don't want to keep everyone waiting.”
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