Blood, Tainted

By The Missing Link

Chapter 2: Family, Broken

    “The final piece is now in place. There's no chance of failure now. Their kingdom is dead; they have no chance. Their army will be slaughtered in the battlefield, and finally their lands shall become mine. Their weakness shall be made public, and they will be made the laughingstocks in all the kingdoms. It all works out so beautifully, so perfectly does it play into my hand; the only travesty is that I should have done this so much sooner, a year ago perhaps. However, it is unimportant now. They will be mine; they will all be mine. And then, all the kingdoms will really know how weak they have always been...”


Meetings were always excessively boring, yet somehow, despite all her resistance to avoid them, they always seemed to creep into her life. No matter the triviality of the topic, no matter the unimportance of the issue, her presence somehow always seemed to be required at these social affairs, almost always at the request of her mother. Of course, her presence at these councils made perfect sense, and this fact was perhaps more annoying than the meetings themselves. After all, she was the rightful Heiress of the Kingdom of Marith , and her mother the Queen wished for her to come away from these meetings with useful knowledge of how to work with diplomats, how to lead their small army, and how to deal with the problems of the peasants. It was all useful knowledge that she would need someday, but that didn't necessarily make it interesting, much less make it so that she had to be fond of her mother's requests.
This meeting was unlike all the other gatherings of nobles she had ever experienced, however. It was still boring, but Gabriella felt a much more powerful emotion than boredom coursing through her veins: fear. It was the sole difference this time, she had decided. The arguing, debating, bickering, and demanding were the same as they had always been since the advent of time; it was merely the topic of conversation this time that made it different.
Just one hour ago, the nobles of the court had been urgently requested to assemble in the grand hall in a spontaneous, makeshift fashion to discuss something of grave importance. Organising such an endeavour was nigh impossible, yet somehow the word spread with such voracious energy that most found their way to the grand hall in minutes. Gabriella, having been awoken from her slumber and still dressed in her silken nightgown, of course, had initially refused the request, for she was far too warm and comfortable in her soft bed to respond to whatever pressing urgency that had been uncovered. This only lasted until her mother Ariana entered, her mother nearly dragging the princess out of bed. “You're going to be the Queen of Marith one day, Gabriella!” she had told her strongly. “Don't you know how important it is to attend these meetings and learn from your father?” Attendants rushed into the room to help her into her dress of gold silk and velvet, quickly adorning her in clothes only the Heiress should wear—with golden necklaces and earrings and face paint from the rarest of flowers, among other royal regalia—all the while suffering the nagging ear of her mother. The princess sighed as the words played through her head as clearly as if her mother were still screaming in her ear. No one truly appreciated the sacrifices she went through to be the Heiress of the Throne, not even her mother.
But every now and then, those words were interrupted by the sudden shivers that were still causing the cucco-pimples upon her soft skin, that being caused by the frightful conversation taking place in the King's and Queen's council. Those words, too, she could hear echoing hauntingly within her mind. Marith was soon to be under attack by Karian, their northern neighbour. Unbeknownst to all the kingdom save her father, King Drausus had sent a spy deep into the Kingdom of Karian , and it was a mere matter of days before he had chanced upon this sensitive information. He rode upon horseback to Marith as fast as he could, riding both day and night, suffering both cold rain and depravation of sleep to arrive with the information. However, were this the only ill tidings, the news would not have left such a bitter taste within her mouth, for, otherwise, it would be at least an fair match; Marith's forces were battle-hardened and were of a number slightly greater than Karian's. The worst news, however, had been yet to come, for their spy then mentioned that there was idle talk that Karian would not be alone in the attack; they were a strong kingdom, yes, but they had their political ties to stronger kingdoms. To their regret, the spy reinforced that it was only talk and not necessarily fact; he could not verify the truthfulness of that morsel of gossip or, if it were true, which allies would be behind them in an attack upon Marith. Either way, what was very clear was that Marith must be at the ready to defend themselves against the razing of their homeland, for if they were not, their village would be burnt, their army would be slaughtered, and the survivors would be either sold into slavery or... Farore forbid, all the worse scenarios a woman could be placed into.
So far, no decision had been made on what to do, although several propositions had been offered, each of them having been dramatically set to flame by fierce opposition, much like a paper thrown mercilessly into a bonfire. The Captain of the Guard had suggested that they ride out against their foe no matter how many came at them, insisting that perhaps Karian might not have the allies they claimed to have and that it would be best to die with honour rather than with shamefulness, but to no surprise, the king's advisors descended upon the idea and ripped it to shreds like ravenous dogs on a slab of meat. Gabriella had to agree to the opposition in her idle watching of the conversation; what honour was there in suicide? What honour could be found in throwing your life away if even for some lofty cause? No, thank you.
The Chancellor had suggested fleeing both castle and country to establish themselves elsewhere, building their forces all the while for a grand counterattack, but that was deemed too cowardly for a kingdom so noble as theirs. Gabriella perhaps thought this the silliest of ideas; where could they run? Where would they live? They would not have a castle nor homes out in the wilderness! They would have no food to eat! It was utter madness to even think that they should fling themselves out of house and home for that. Again, no thanks.
To Gabriella, the only idea that was even remotely sensible was the one proffered by her mother the Queen. Yes, she was annoying at times, but Gabriella had to admit that her mother was wise. Her mother had said that, if Marith could combat Karian and succeed over their forces, then what they needed was an ally of their own to defeat Karian's dubious allies, matching them man for man. The idea had actually stood proud and tall for the length of a minute, Gabriella smiling at her mother for her good leadership. Then the questions and opposition flowed like a river. With whom would Marith ally in a time of war? Who would represent Marith in attempting such an alliance? It couldn't be the King, they said; he must lead us to battle should the time arise. Could such an ally even be found in time? And worse, how would we know that our would-be allies wouldn't already be under Karian's seduction?
On and on and on they went without achieving anything. Goddesses, could they be so blind? Gabriella placed her head within the palms of her hands and just shook her head, her long, brown, curly hair unhooking itself behind her long ears. It made so much sense, yet they still debated over it, the fools! “Why can't my daughters and I be the emissaries to our allies?” her mother had answered; it had been a flawless answer to their question. Ariana had had much experience with courting neighbouring kingdoms before she came here to Marith; after all, she had played a major role in her family when they courting Marith, which had led to her parents being allowed to make arrangements with the then Royal Family to enter into marriage with King Drausus. Even after that, she had sought to keep very close contact with their surrounding kingdoms. She could be quick, she could be decisive, and she was royalty; she was absolutely convinced the idea would work. But no, the nobles were most of all violently opposed to the idea, feeling as if trusting another kingdom with their safety was folly.
Surprisingly, her father had been very silent on the issue, the king not coming down from his throne to stand up and support his wife's proposition; that had sincerely surprised Gabriella. Though she never thought much of her father as a person, her annoyance of him perhaps stemming from her overflowing jealousy from his infuriating fondness for his illegitimate Link over her or her younger sister, even she had to admit that he was a very effective king, almost always proposing the answers that silenced all debate with consensus. However, instead of his expected support, all her mother received from him was silence and a watchful gaze. Nothing else came from him.
Then he'd been summoned away, having to attend to “more important business,” he had said. What could possibly be more important than this? What could possibly be more important than safeguarding the future of your own kingdom? Was he blind, too?
Suddenly Gabriella felt a gentle tug upon her golden sleeve. She turned to the side, anger still dangerously present within her eyes, only to find her dear sister Mia there. The look upon Gabriella's face must have startled her, for immediately Mia's small hand left her shoulder, and she shied away slightly as a fearful look glazed over her eyes.
“Dear Nayru, I'm sorry,” Gabriella whispered to her sister, making sure her words were not heard by anyone else, not that they would with all the yelling going on despite her father's absence. She visibly calmed herself for a moment, letting out a deep sigh. “I was... I was thinking about something else, sorry. What do you need, sister?”
That seemed to content the eight-year-old sitting next to her. She repositioned herself in the throne daintily, straightening out her own dress of cerulean silk. Blue, thought Gabriella; how fortunate I am to be wearing the gold of the Heiress rather than the simple blue of mere royalty. The very thought gave Gabriella a delighted smile, which Mia returned nervously.
“Gabby,” whispered Mia with hesitation, “I'm scared.”
“I know,” replied Gabriella flatly, trying to keep the disdain from her voice. “I am, too.”
“But you're not scared of anything, though!”
Gabriella paused, thinking about that. Was that really true? She wasn't scared of much, that was true; ruling the country had always been one of the least of her fears. Besidse that, she never really had many concerns that would worry her before this... save for one. It was the same fear that haunted her mother for the very reason that it haunted her. Link... Link scared her. It wasn't because she thought Link could hurt her or kill her—well he could, but he wouldn't, for she knew her mother and the guards could ward off that. No, it was her fear that her father's love for Link would one day rise him up over her as the Heir to the Throne, that somehow Link would keep her from ruling the kingdom, the kingdom that her mother had promised to her time and time again. Supposedly, such a thing could never happen, of course, for the rules of succession were quite explicit, yet the fear that welled with her could not be placated. Link scared her, scared her all the way to the marrow.
“You're right,” said Gabriella, “but I am scared about this all the same.”
Mia merely nodded, saying nothing for a moment, and then after a small time, “What's going to happen to us?”
Gabriella looked to the cathedral ceiling of the hall. “If all goes well, we'll be heading to another kingdom to try to find help.”
“I hope so.”
“Me too,” she said reassuringly. Gabriella reached for Mia's hand and squeezed it gently, but she had no more gentle words to give her with which to reassure her. Her eyes had no other choice but to turn back towards the battlefield before her, watching the queen defend her idea to the last, watching the others disapprove with sullen faces. It was the only one that made sense; why could they not see it?
“I swear to the goddesses that you people are out of your minds!” screamed Ariana to the bickering advisors. “You don't want to flee; you don't think we can fight on our own, and then to top it all off, you don't want to seek out allies either! There's absolutely nothing else we can do!”
“Au contraire,” came a new voice in the room.
Suddenly, all of the conversations in the room instantly perished, and still silence replaced the vibrant activity as all of the faces turned to the corner of the room where the king had left just a few minutes before. There he stood once again, his face bright with confidence, as if somehow he had discovered the answer to everything, as if he had suddenly found out that the news about the attack was a fraud.
Gabriella noticed that the queen perhaps had the most puzzled expression on her face of all of them. “Love, pray tell what do you mean?”
Drausus moved from the door in the room's corner slowly towards the others present, leaving the door slightly cracked, something he usually never did. Gabriella's eyes, along with everyone else's, paid no attention to this detail and instead followed him carefully as he almost slyly cantered towards the throne, them fixating on his every word. “I absolutely love your plan, my Queen. Getting an ally is just the thing we need to defeat whatever armies come after us... or at least make them scared enough to rethink their strategy. It also has the beneficial consequence of making our kingdom all the stronger to have someone else backing us.”
All of the faces in the room had grown stiff, all of them save for two: Gabriella's and her mother's, both of which were showing secretive smiles. This was a well-earned victory, Gabriella thought; finally, the king had accepted Mother's idea as the wisest course of action. They would be saved. Silence, however, still seemed to be stubborn in its grip upon the others, and there was a long pause before anyone spoke. It was Queen Ariana that ultimately managed to break Silence's spell; “thank you, milord.”
“My only problem with your plan,” he says, interrupting any further speech out of her, almost as if making sure that Ariana wouldn't have the chance to gloat, “is in the execution of it. You see, you've always attended to your duties within our Kingdom remarkably well... the problems of the people, the caring and tending of our citizenry. No, I couldn't possibly afford to send you away when the people need you most. There's also the fact that such an alliance might not be able to be forged through diplomacy alone.” Gabriella's father then looked to his advisors, acknowledging their point from earlier. “Asking another kingdom into a private war... even friends can turn fickle and fair-weathered in times such as these. What we need is a stronger methodology to form an alliance, and there is one way, but that is something that you wouldn't be able to provide, Ariana.” The king paused as he sat himself casually upon his throne, again letting the unnatural silence fall over the room. Even the coughing of the Chancellor was completely overshadowed by the silence. The king merely smiled, Ariana frowning at him in confusion and frustration; what was he getting at?
Again, the queen spoke, unable to stand the silence. “But... but who then? Who else could we possibly send?”
“I'm glad you asked,” he said as he stood up once again, beginning to meander over towards the table where the royal advisors sat. He folded his arms behind his back as he stood powerfully at the head of the table. “You see, if I am needed here, and if the Queen should remain here as well, then there are very few whom we can send to make a close pact with another kingdom. In fact, I can only think of one other soul who would be able to see such an endeavour through.”
“And just who is that?” the queen asked again, this time in a harsher tone.
“Ask him yourself. Please, join us,” he called, motioning to the doorway.
What happened next was beyond Gabriella's beliefs, and from what she could tell, it was beyond everyone else's as well. From the doorway walked a boy—nay, a man—of medium height, a respectably slender body, and a face that was just sparkling with youth, innocent grey eyes, and dirty blond hair, parted to the right. He was timid it seemed, almost uncomfortable in these surroundings. He was remarkably charming, undeniably good-looking, and unmistakably...
And he was wearing garments of gold.
“For the love of Nayru...” Gabriella whispered, joining the many gasps arose from every other corner of the room.
Perhaps her mother was even less pleased than Gabriella. “What is the meaning of this, Drausus?” she screamed as she headed over to Link, who slowly backed away behind his father, obviously knowing the thrashing that he was likely going to receive were the king not there to prevent it. The coward; how she wished Drausus would not stop her from doing so! “Is this your idea of some sick joke, sending your bastard child off to some foreign country in order to make friends during times like this? Do you honestly think that they will succumb to the regal wishes of Marith when placed in hands so uncapable as his, whose past is as insignificant as his? Whose worth is so rubbish as his?” Already her face was turning red from the rush of passion against such a ridiculous joke. “Well? What is it then? Tell me you haven't gone mad!”
Gabriella's anger continued to escalate through her mother's impassioned speech, but Drausus remained firm, his face serious. No, this was no joke; he meant every word of it. He would send Link away to negotiate an alliance; he meant to doom them all to death! How in Marith could he? This was absolutely ridiculous; Mother's plan was ten times the plan that this was, if this could even be called a plan!
“Are you finished?” asked the king to the queen, his voice low and ominous, almost threatening. Both Mia and Gabriella slunk back into their chairs with the dark tone, and even Ariana seemed to wither in front of it. “Good,” he continued after a pause. “No, I have not gone mad, but perhaps you yourself should be looked after if all of a sudden you think I am playing a game with the future of my kingdom,” he said deliberately and rigidly, calculating the precise timing of each word to heighten the intensity and the tension with every syllable. He began walking closer to Ariana, forcing her to slowly retreat backwards to her throne as he advanced. “So let me explain to you my plan. You see, the problem with you going is that you cannot give anything but your word of honour, which while that is, I am most certain, highly respected and valued, it will not be sufficient for most kingdoms to pledge their aid during a time of conflict, and we have not the time for second chances with other kingdoms should the first opportunity fail. We have one chance, and that is all.
“This is why I'm sending Link. You can offer nothing. Mia, she can offer nothing. Gabriella, close as she is to sixteen, she is only fourteen, and she, too, can offer nothing. All the three of you can do is give them your pledge, meaningless in the minds of everyone whose ears should listen to your words. But Link, my son, whom you've just so readily insulted in front of my face, I'll have you know, he is seventeen, old enough to partake in the established custom. So, dear, the plan is simple: marry him off to a foreign princess through which an alliance is formed through of the joining of bloodlines between two kingdoms.” He paused for a moment, his smile almost delightful, as if he were relishing in the discomfort of his wife at this moment. “Of course,” he added, now much more fluid in his speech, “the plan has one slight flaw, one which I intend to handle right this very moment.”
Gabriella's eyes grew wide with distress. Link, dressed in gold, marrying into foreign royalty... the pieces of the puzzle were now in place, and she was horrified—digusted.
“You can't!” cried the queen in a fury, desperate to hear anything but the words he was uttering. To be honest, Gabriella felt much like her mother, that her ears were going to bleed at any second from the plan that was being enacted. “You won't! You know that they'll not see him as one of us!”
“Oh, they will,” he answered sharply, almost with a little bit of venom to his tongue. “They'll have no choice once I order the decree, which I happen to have had recently drafted.” He left Ariana at her throne and, pulling out a small piece of parchment from his robe and rolling it out to the table before his advisors, he reached for a quill and dipped it in the scarce golden ink used to sign all decrees, signing the name beneath the flowing, black script of the document.
“Let me read this just so that we have no confusion about what this means,” the king continued forcefully. “It reads: ‘Be it proclaimed this sixteenth day of Auria in the nine hundred and twelfth year of the era of Hylia, from this day and forever henceforth, until death shall overtake him or it is otherwise publicly and prominently recanted, the Heir to the Throne of the Kingdom of Marith shall be Prince L– '”
Soon Gabriella discovered that the shriek came from her own lips. Drausus merely looked with furrowed brow at her in complete and utter amazement, as if he were in disbelief that she could possibly have the audacity for such an act of defiance.
“No!” she said again, this time more forcefully as she rose from her throne. “It's not fair; he's a pauper, a peasant! The laws of succession say that I am the Heiress; you told me such yourself, that I would be Queen, and here you go, recanting your decision! What kind of monster have you become to lie to me like that?” The last sentence caused gasps from most everyone in the room, including her mother.
Her father's features darkened considerably, and his gaze fixated on her, as if establishing that no future outburst would be permitted from of her lips. It only took a moment before he was convinced. “‘Link Marith, son of King Drausus Marith. Signed, King Drausus Marith the First,'” he concluded, not taking his eyes off the girl for any length of time. “Gabriella, Princess, I believe that you presume to measure your status at a level greater than that which is permitted for you. I trust that you shall not break this treatise after this warning. At the hour of twelve, you will come to luncheon, which will be a farewell luncheon dedicated to the Heir to wish him well on his journey, dressed in your blues. Do I make myself clear?”
Her jaw had to have dropped about a foot upon the hearing of those words; she had always known his favour had lain with Link, but for him to come to this extent to humiliate her position, her title, and herself because of her accursed half-brother, it was absolutely absurd, much less that he was throwing the entire kingdom away because of it! “Yes, Papa,” she said to him firmly and with resolve, using the name she had always called him as a young child, almost as if she were attempting to belittle him and avenge the insult he had laid upon her. She turned away from Drausus to look at the new Heir to the Throne; his eyes paid attention only to the floor, not bothering to face any other soul. His silence made his private terror quite clear, a terror that both thrilled and horrified Gabriella, for the gravity of their predicament was beyond grave.
“Speaking of the journey,” said the king almost cheerfully, as if his little plan were now something like a play-toy, “Ariana, dear, I would like to consult with you upon one minor matter. Seeing as how we have simply one chance to form an alliance with another kingdom, and seeing how you are so skilled in your dealings with the other kingdoms, I would like your advice on where I should send Link to seek his future bride.”
Ariana seemed to be in a daze, Gabriella noted. There was at least a few seconds that passed before the queen even hinted that she had heard his request. Slowly, her eyes closed and her breaths shallowed. Her head tilted down to the ground somewhat as she seemed to be going through the list of all of the other kingdoms in the region, comparing them all together to find the best one, but Gabriella then had a disturbing thought as she watched her mother. As angry as Gabriella was about all this, as venomous as her speech would be should she speak freely her thoughts, as much as she would love to see Link fail to find the supposed happiness that should come from a bond such as marriage and status, would Ariana dare to choose the best kingdom for Link to fail to find an ally? Would her mother betray their entire kingdom? That would spell ruin for Marith! Would Ariana turn against her country like that, sending them all into the bowels of death?
“Artesia,” came the timid reply, her voice very weak, struggling not to violently lash out.
“Hm? I didn't hear you,” the king said, obviously feigning it.
“Artesia,” she said once again. “The Kingdom of Artesia , milord. The king's daughter Celeste would—”
The king smiled exhuberantly, and his smile forced a timid Arianna into silence. “I had imagined you would suggest them. They would be a good choice. So then it is settled. Link shall go and seek his bride in the Kingdom of Hyrule .” The king turned to look directly at his wife, but it was not a caring glance she received; it was cold and full of scepticism. The queen paled considerably before turning away. “Gabriella, Princess,” he continued, not bothering to look her way to speak to her, “I believe I told you that I wished for you to come to luncheon to celebrate the Heir upon his departure to the Kingdom of Hyrule, did I not?”
In other words, get out. “My apologies, Papa. Come, Mia,” she said, taking the child's hand, “we must go.”
Mia, timid and frightened with the seriousness of tone of the conversations, quickly took Gabriella's hand as she left for the door that would eventually lead them towards the stairs up to their quarters. Gabriella pounded the doors open as she left the room, looking back only once to see the expression on everyone's face.
The mental photograph could have been priceless; the white-faced, bug-eyed expression of the advisors was stunning, as if they'd all seen a poe. Her mother, too, was in a state of shock yet at the same time anger, more pitiable than funny, but it was still humorous nevertheless. The only thing at all that ruined the picture as she walked out the door was the smug look upon the king's face, and single-handedly the smile that rested there would have made the antics of all the would-be jesters in that room invisible, for all Gabriella could focus on was that smile.
That smile... that look... her desire for revenge...

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