Chapter 3: Kingdom, Fragile
“What in the name of Din are you doing?”
“What does it look like I'm doing? If I'm not mistaken, this is the sight of me tossing away all of my golds.”
“Just why would you even think about doing that?”
“Perhaps you haven't heard the news, Mother. I'm not the Heiress anymore...”
“That's merely a temporary inconvenience, I'll have you know. If I have my way in things, Link will find himself unable to ascend to be King of Marith.”
“But we need him! I... I'll be the first to admit that, no, he's by far not my favourite person in the world, but... our kingdom is doomed if he doesn't—“
“If only I could tell you, child. If only I could tell you the things I have planned, but I cannot. I do not wish for you to be involved for your own good. I do, however, still dream of a day when you will be Queen, and from the way I see it, it looks as if the king's newest trick will surely backfire upon him. Trust me; return to your room and leave your golds there.”
“Please, Gabriella. Do this for me.”
“Alright. I shall do as you ask.”
“Remember, Gabriella, you have to be Queen. I won't have it any other way. Destiny has made you rightfully the Heiress, and I will do anything in my power to make it so. So help me, Din. You will be Queen...”
Link sat at the grand, wooden table, picking at the food from the grand banquet before him; he was definitely not used to having such a spread, much less actually eating so much food. As he sat there eyeing his plate, still littered with an array of half-consumed morsels, Link kept thinking over the past few hours again and again. No matter how many times over he had replayed the day's events in his mind, Link just couldn't seem to believe that the events in the past few hours had actually happened. He had come to the castle as a mere commoner, his remote and ambiguous association to the king being all that distinguished him from the rest of the masses; now here he was, suddenly the Heir to the Throne of Marith, and he was right in the very seat that his half-sister had sat in just a few hours ago. Link just could not make sense of the radical change.
Perhaps his failure to understand the situation merely excited his giddy emotions; he felt as if he were now a character in one of the fantastic tales that the bards would spin. Beneath the sheets of his humble bed in his mother's home, he had always fallen asleep wondering what it would be like to be someone important, someone of noble blood, or at least noble enough to count; somehow his blood was considered “tainted with the stench of the common folk” as the queen always explained. How often he had secretly dreamed and wished for that long-shot hope that perhaps, one day, he just might rise from his status so that people would look up to him rather than view him as a simple peasant boy slaving away just to earn a rupee or two. He had always dreamed of actually living in the royal castle rather than just to visit it once in a while, and, dare he think it, the thought of being a prince had tickled his fancy just as it would tickled every common boy's hopes. This dream had suddenly become reality for Link.
What's more, even the explanation of why he had been made Heir made sense; the “why” behind his father's decision was very sound and logical, easily enough to convince Link's mind that it was meant to be, that he was always meant to be Heir. He was the only one royal blood—or at least remotely royal blood—that was of the age to be married off to another kingdom. Gabriella and Mia, thankfully, were too young, well below the age of custom within the realm, and thus unable to take his stead; the remaining lords and ladies were either much the same, already betrothed, married, or of sufficient age that they would forevermore remain single. The king's plans were also better than all of the other options that had been discussed, even the queen's. Thus, Link was a natural choice, and he had to admit that he was glad for that. Finally, things might turn around in his life.
At the same time, it was only the natural choice for King Drausus, however; Link's mind may have been convinced by the king's logic, and Link was thrilled by the prospects of finally escaping what had seemed to be endless torture and poverty, but his heart was not completely at peace with the announcement. The initial shock and excitement of being allowed to give up his greens for the golden garments he now wore soon gave way to anxiety and worry as his mind poured over the inevitable consequences of this series of events. To be mere nobility was one thing, for while both the castle and country nobles had “responsibilities,” such tasks assigned to them were usually menial too menial for their blood and stature, and as such they were instead tossed aside to their subordinates.
To be Heir was something entirely different, for Link was no mere noble nor prince, but he was now next in line to be King of Marith, a calling for which he felt most unqualified, especially when one considered that he had spent the past seventeen years of his life as a peasant boy without much formal education; such things as diplomacy and negotiations, history, military tactics, and art were completely foreign areas of study! Of course, as he had been allowed to come to the castle largely as he pleased, the notions of etiquette, politeness, bravery, chivalry, and swordplay had been instilled within him, usually through his observation of the courtly lifestyle during those long periods of time when the king was busy making excuses and delays to see him. However, this was about being a leader for his people! That was utter foolishness.
Oh, and don't forget the other main consequence of being the heir, he thought. It was, after all, the most important reason of all why he had his newfound title. “Link,” his father had explained to him, “the duties and responsibilities I have bestowed upon you must be performed for the good of all Marith,” and yes, it was true; the assigned duties were serving a noble cause: the salvation of their kingdom. However, Link didn't really give much care to noble purposes, perhaps because such things as, say, staying alive and finding food had always been so much more pressing at the time. Had he not simply come to the castle today with the mere hope that his mother and him might be able to put food on the table on the morrow? In all honesty, Link really saw himself as Heir strictly for the purpose of helping Pavane and himself rather than for all Marith—that is, if he considered marrying some foreign princess whom he had never met nor ever heard of before doing something for himself. By sheer odds alone, seeing as how over half of the Royal Family and at least most, if not all, of the nobles were pompous, bigoted, selfish, and power-hungry pigs, the odds that this Princess Zelda of Hyrule were anything close to a decent Hylian stood a lesser chance than a snowball surviving the length of a full day in Death Mountain's crater. As a commoner, he would have at least have had the chance for marrying for love, provided he could eventually find a single lady his age who would give him the time of day. Now it was a marriage by force, a marriage by necessity. Link had no choice in this matter; his father's decision was final. Whatever the king wanted...
The only thing standing in the way of firmly cementing these terrifying plans in place was the inevitable announcement that would take place at this very luncheon; most likely it was only minutes away, the announcement that would reveal in public proclamation the improbable task, the mission of saving their homeland, that would be placed into Link's incapable hands. Though Ariana would always be a cruel, selfish cow to Link, she did have it right in one aspect: He was doomed to failure because of his gross incompetence; Prince and Heir though he may be, inside he hardly counted as nobility. He honestly shouldn't be undertaking something so important as securing their own future; fulfilling his own idle dreams of being a prince wasn't worth the risk of endangering his own kingdom! But despite the fervent protests to his father, the king politely disagreed with Link's opinion, telling Link he fully believed in Link's abilities, that Link unknowingly knew far more than he gave himself credit for. Even worse, Drausus held no shame in reminding Link that he had indeed made a promise to him to do whatever the king asked of him. There was no turning back. Link was the heir now.
Link took a pause from his meal to look about the room, letting his spoon slip onto the plate before him. His eyes scanned over the other nobles at the long, cherry-wood table, and as his eyes graced every soul, he could see the quick aversions of their eyes from his gaze, none of them daring in the slightest to make acknowledge his observance. Perhaps they were suddenly afraid of his position, as if he were now in a place where he could take revenge upon them for all the injustices they hade caused him or the insults they had flung at him, or perhaps they still looked upon him with disgust, as if he were not one of them no matter his or the king's efforts to make Link noble. Perhaps they were afraid that by looking into his eyes he could hex them with some black curse, as if his mother, outcast that she was, was some malignant witch that would use Link as a tool against them. The ambiguous reasons of this ongoing ritual made Link's skin crawl, for no matter what, he knew he did not have their support on this endeavour, and the weight of the task his father had set before him was already seeming insurmountable. Even worse, none of this was better than that the treatment that he had received from the commoners.
Surprisingly, Gabriella, now dressed in her royal blue garb and silver jewellery, politely refrained from casting her gaze in Link's direction at all, instead choosing to focus upon her meal and at times her sister seated to her right. It surprised Link in a way that she did not level an angry gaze at him, for perhaps of all of the nobles here, he feared her wrath more than all save Queen Arianna at the moment. Perhaps her anger was hidden deep within where Link could not find it, but Link did not really care much to contemplate the thought; that her gaze was not resting upon him was enough to content Link. What she did not do, however, her mother generously made up for. The coldest of all the glances came from her, and her eyes, unlike the others', refused to yield when his gaze crossed hers, as if the wordless displeasure for Link found in her expression were burning secret curses in his flesh.
Just out of the corner of his eye, he could see the sudden tapping of a fork against a crystal goblet, the resonations of the glass chiming out over the hushed murmurs of the crowd. Silence, once again, filled the room as all eyes shifted away from Link and were redirected to the king, now standing tall and proud. He looked so courageous... and bold, as if he were invincible, untouchable... insurmountable. Link would have clearly believed it just by that look. He demanded their silent respect, and it was exactly that which he received.
“Many of you,” he began, “are already aware of the announcement that I am going to make, having heard my decree of it earlier. Many of you... have tried to convince me otherwise in the hours since then, thinking that I have made an unwise decision that would only help our enemies in their endeavour to conquer Marith. By Din, even my own son has attempted to consider other options, for he as well is worried about the consequences of him being named Heir to the Throne of our great kingdom.” During the momentary pause that followed, Link noticed that Ariana now sat at the edge of her seat, her eyes dramatically wide as if expecting the king to recant his decision in the upcoming moments. Gabriella continued to show no apparent emotion. Link felt a sudden sense of embarrassment wash over him, and his eyes nearly fell silently to the floor in an attempt to save himself from the announcement, but he quickly caught himself doing so, for he realised that the very golden garments he wore would just be another reminder that he was precisely what his father had said, the Heir to the Throne. Instead, for lack of alternative, he looked blankly at his father's eyes. The king did not return any such favour to Link.
The king continued. “My resolve is firm on this decision, and my reasons for this decision are many. Though my explanations have been few, I pray that it will be sufficient to announce that I have pondered this decision at length, considering all of the potential effects of it in detail, and the longer I have considered this decision, the quicker I have likened to my initial decision. Link,” he said, gesturing to and finally looking at his son, “please, rise and stand next to me.”
That moment, the eyes within the room return to Link once again, no one now bothering to hide their gaze from him, for they feared the king more than they did Link. With a lump in his throat that he was trying so desperately to swallow, Link slowly stood; although his face kept the calm rigidity that he tried desperately to display, he felt that at any moment his legs beneath him might give out at any moment. Slowly placing one foot in front of the other, he nervously stepped forward, aware that every movement he made was being followed carefully and observantly, adding to the pressure he already felt. Coming to a stop next to his father, he turned and faced the crowd, forcing his eyes up to stare at all the court, and as he forced himself to look into their eyes, he began to feel a sudden surge of courage flowing into him as he approached his father. For better or worse, his destiny was decided that he was Heir, and so he would accept that fate no matter what the nobles would think of it. Perhaps his father was right, that he did stand a chance, not only to do what he had been asked to do, but to prove to the disbelievers that sat there before him that he would be just as effective as their queen in negotiating for their future.
“As you will notice,” the king said rather forcefully, enforcing the point that they had no grounds to question his decision, “my son, Link Marith, is wearing the golden garments of the Heir. I have chosen him to represent us in Hyrule, who is hopefully to be our ally very soon. He is the only ‘noble,'” he again emphasised, “who is of marriageable age and eligibility, and I am sure we are all aware that an alliance consummated by a noble—not to mention, royal—marriage is stronger than any alliance enforced by mere words alone. This is perhaps the strongest reason behind my decision.” Link inwardly groaned at the remembrance of that point, doing his best to remain silent and refrain from allowing his instinct to protest.
“You all know the threat that is to fall upon us should we fail: The dark clouds and thunderstorms of war are threatening to set fire to our very homes. Our hopes all lie within Prince Link, that he may succeed in winning for us the allegiance of the Kingdom of Hyrule , that through Link they will help us defend against the kingdom of Karian and those who would fight alongside them. However, because time is of the essence, there is little choice but to enact our efforts to ally with the Kingdom of Hyrule without delay. The time is already past when I should have sent Link off to Hyrule, for our situation is beyond grave. However, I felt it necessary, before Link rides off to the lands to the south, to host this luncheon so that he knows that he has your every support. Today, we will,” said Drausus emphatically, “celebrate the rise of my son to the title of Heir... and we will,” he added forcefully, “wish him luck as he rides off this very day for Hyrule.”
One of the courtiers towards the rear of the table coughed loudly, but it would be the only noise to pierce the uncanny pause that followed the king's rephrase of his decree. The king frowned upon the aristocrats, hands folded beneath his arms. There were no protests from the attendants, Link noted, and that was more than enough for Link, but apparently Drausus was expecting something more forthcoming. The king shifted his weight, and rather than scolding them directly, instead he took a menacing step towards them before adding, “Please, stand up so that you may show your allegiance to your Prince and Heir.”
No further prompting was required from the nobles. Understanding precisely that which the king desired from them, they slowly began to rise from their chairs, one after another, standing there only momentarily before they moved into the marble-floored aisles behind them and dropping to one knee, kneeling in a show of profound respect—or perhaps mock-respect, but even that was greater than nothing—to him, of all people. Link turned towards his half-sisters, surprised to see Mia and Gabriella already kneeling towards him in front of their own thrones, their silken blue dresses caressing the floor gracefully, their eyes closed surprisingly peacefully. To his shock, yet in another light not much of a surprise at all, the queen had not yet followed the request of the king. She had stood from her place, remaining in place for a moment, her glare of disgust shining darkly at Link, as if to reinforce to Link that what she was about to do was not out of choice but out of force, before finally kneeling, her head bowing only slightly to the ground, laying a half-hearted insult atop the injury already inflicted upon him. Link could only stare blankly at her, his detached façade masking all of the true feelings lying underneath as they stood up once more and returned to their chairs.
Link then felt a hand upon his shoulder, and he turned to find that it belonged to his father. “Link,” the king said to him, “before you go to Hyrule, there is something you must have, something very important, something that I've kept in hopes—or rather, just in case this day might have come.” The slip of tongue again took the queen off guard, her face paling with shock before finally redirecting her hateful glares at a new target: her husband.
This had been Father's lifelong dream? Link wondered with surprise. But the queen... had she not known that this had been a long-time hope of the king? Link hadn't, but certainly she should have!
Link set aside his thoughts momentarily and refocused on the king. “What is that?” asked Link, keeping his voice low and in check so that only the king might hear him, his eyes narrowing somewhat as he propositioned the question. It was not the question he truly wished to ask, but Link's curiosity had been awakened to know what the king was talking about. Perhaps it was that very curiosity, however, that gave Link his sudden boldness to dare ask it in front of the king, causing him to forget the presence of the nobles for the moment so that he could satiate that desire.
“You need the mark of royalty, my son.” The king turned around and bent to the ground on the other side of his cushioned throne to where Link could not see, and his hands returned with a pillow of scarlet velvet, golden tassels dropping towards the ground at all four corners. Atop it rested a crown made of two thin bands of gold intertwining around one another—simple in form yet elegant in its style—rising to five points in the front, and encrusted into its bands were rubies alternating with diamonds, their many facets shimmering in the room's light. “This was my crown many years ago when I was your age; this now belongs to you. After all, what is a prince without something to deem him as such? Now, kneel before me, Link.”
Link had never seen such a wondrous object at such close distance ever in his life, and that it was his made it incomprehensible. All of the crowns and jewellery of all the nobles in the room combined suddenly paled in comparison to this crown upon the velvet pillow, for it was his. Before him was his crown, the ultimate signification that his life now had meaning. No longer would he be the peasant boy working for scraps; no longer would his mother have to be dependent upon Link's work to fight for survival. Their lives were changing... but would his own life be changing for the better? He was becoming a part of their society, leaving his own. He would be soon marrying one of their society, not his own. Though his eyes sparkled in the reflected radiance of the crown, there was a glint of fear, a shadow of doubt. Was such a metamorphosis possible? Nevertheless, Link broke the spell the golden crown had upon his eyes, and he slowly knelt to the ground, placing his hands upon his raised knee. It felt like many years yet at the same time only the blink of an eye before he could finally feel the cold, solid metal resting against him, caressing his hair, the hair that his green cap used to hide. A rush of emotion, both fire and ice, tickled his back as it quickly ascended to his neck, him shivering in mutual delight and fear. Rising once more, he looked out to the crowd, and to his surprise, a smile was upon his face, a smile that showed everyone his defiance of their wishes.
Inside, however, different thoughts lurked.
Din, Farore, Nayru, help me.
The lunch did not continue for much longer, and, to be perfectly frank, that did not bother Link in the least, being already tired of the eyeing gazes from the other guests. In fact, it was already a mild annoyance that he wasn't rid of them yet, and Link had to cringe silently after hearing that his father had ordered them to line the corridors of the main hall as he walked out of the castle towards the awaiting carriage, wishing him one final farewell. Most than likely it would be a thankful goodbye for all of them; they were probably more than eager to be rid of the likes of him, and in reality he was happy to be going away from all of them, overjoyed to be leaving Castle Marith and all of its egotistical arrogance. As he walked down the hallway of nobles, just “thronging” to meet him, Link gave each of them the same scowling expression that they had given him at one point or another, his first real joy at the hands of the nobles.
He was led towards the carriage by Marianna, the servant-woman, followed by other servants carrying his new “belongings,” which were, in fact, possessions his father had given him for the journey. The sky had apparently cleared up since the morn, the dark clouds already flying away towards the eastern skies. He finally met the king, the queen, and the princesses at the coach, all of whom standing beside it waiting for him. The king was generally pleased to see him, arms open wide to greet Link with a formal embrace, his face almost as if invisible tears were streaming from his eyes in joy; the ladies, however, were rigid and firm, their posture perfectly straight, lips unmoving, gazes unwavering. As Link saw them, out of habit, he began to kneel down to them, face directed to the cobblestone road beneath him.
“No, no, Link,” said Drausus strongly as he stepped out of line to walk over to Link. “You are the Heir to the Throne of Marith; no more will you ever bow to us as if you were inferior.” Drausus took Link's hand within his own and pulled him up, looking into his eyes. Link searched deeply into his eyes, trying to find whatever emotions might be buried within them, hoping to find there some hidden expression of... perhaps pride or... something just as sentimental that was reserved just for him. There was definitely pride there, obviously so; Link could see it plainly within his face. It was definitely not mirrored in any of the ladies of the family.
“Alright then,” replied Link in a soft voice. He sighed a bit, still feeling completely out of his place. Up was down, and white was black, and all the world seemed to spin dizzily out of control. “So... I guess this is goodbye then?” he asked, still largely unsure of precisely what would happen in the coming days. As he said the words, he found himself feeling unexplainable and rather surprising sadness.
“Only for now, my son; only for now. I am hoping that within a fortnight you shall return to Marith. I also hope that your return to our kingdom shall be a joyful one, one that is cause for celebration, for I hope that you will return with a fiancée, a betrothed... and an army with which to fight alongside us when those northern warmongers attack.” Yes, there he was, again reminded of the true purpose of his visit to Hyrule. Was Drausus even remotely interested in Link's future wedding, about who Link would be taking as his bride, or was it all about defending Marith from attack? The thought was fleeting, however, and the king continued. “Link, I have everything written down within this letter,” he said, taking out a scroll of parchment within a leather case from under his royal mantle. “When you arrive in Hyrule, please, give this letter to the king, King Teagan; it will explain all that I have told you... and perhaps some that I, in my rush, have forgotten to explain to you before leaving.”
The king smiled almost in jest and offered Link the leather case. Link took hold of it from his father, holding onto it tightly yet still with care. “I don't know if I can do this, Father; despite your faith in me, I still don't know if I can believe in myself. But knowing that you believe in me... well, it gives me courage.” Suddenly, Link chuckled for a moment, struck by a funny memory. “It's funny; I came to the castle today in a fit of anger, and now I don't know what to feel.”
“It will pass in time, I'm sure. Listen, Link,” the king said, putting his arm around Link as he opened the door to the carriage, Link climbing inside of it. “It is a two days' journey to Hyrule from here; I am going to give the driver strict instructions to push onwards through the night until he reaches the walls of Hyrule Castle; it's not worth risking your safety in the middle of the night with the gravity of our predicament. Several of our most trusted riders will be making the journey with you, but they will yield their distance, and I imagine you will hardly notice them. Also, this morning, just after our meeting when I proclaimed you as the Crown Prince, I sent a messenger to Hyrule with a message that you would be arriving. Hopefully, the king will be expecting you. Quite possibly he will even send you an additional escort beside that which I am sending with you.”
The king paused for a moment, his face suddenly filling with concern. His voice dropped very low, almost in a whisper, his head leaning through the carriage window to speak with Link privately. “Link, be careful within Hyrule; be wary of those you meet, for not all of them may be trustworthy. Karian may have their allies within Hyrule as well. In fact, I fear this, but I believe you to be a good enough judge of character to tell the difference. Know this, though, the king should be trustworthy enough; I've known him for a good number of years now. Just be careful of what you tell everyone... and what they say to you. Do you understand, Link?”
Link nodded as he stuck his head through the window. “I do. I hope not to disappoint you. I feel as if I will...”
“I doubt that. Oh, most importantly, I hope you and Zelda get along well enough.”
Link had to smile outwardly at the reminder that his father truly did care about him, but inwardly his smile was mixed with a groan about that sticky subject about marrying a total stranger. He really should give more thought into the promises he makes from here on. Just as he began wondering just how his father had snookered him into that promise, he could hear the voice of his mother in the back of his head: Like I said, Link, if the king wants something...
“I know, I know,” Link replied to Drausus. 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.” The king just nodded wordlessly and placed his hand upon Link's, squeezing it firmly before heading off to the driver to give him his instructions.
“Father,” Link said as the thought of his mother stirred in his mind. Link's father slowly moved back from the driver to Link, as if commanded by his son. “I really should tell Pavane where I'm going; she'll be expecting...”
“She will be told everything, don't you worry,” came Drausus' reply.
“I'd rather tell her myself.”
“Trust me, Link. I will see to it.”
Link silenced himself momentarily as the thought sunk in. He'd be leaving without a real goodbye to his mother, and though Link didn't think he'd be affected by it, somehow his own mind rebelled against him, making him wish that he were wrong. “Alright,” he said with a final sigh. His father merely nodded and left him and the coach, his eyes remaining on Link.
Pavane... his thoughts would most certainly come back to her. Link knew already that he was going to miss her dearly, though she would perhaps be the only one. Maybe his father as well, but Pavane he would miss most of all. The beauty of leaving Marith was that he would have the chance to start over, no one knowing him; the drawback was that he would be without anyone, without even his mother. Link clenched his fist tightly, his knuckles turning bright red, as if trying to hold onto the memory. He did not know what to think about any of this. He wanted so desperately the change he had been given this day, to never wake up from this impossible dream, yet at the same time, Link wanted everything to remain as it had been, for him to wake up in his straw bed tomorrow just as he had this morning... save for perhaps a few hundred extra rupees in his and his mother's possession. He just didn't know.
The king stepped back from the carriage, and the king and Link waved to one another as the whip of the driver cracked in the air high above him. Taking his last look at Castle Marith, his eyes drank the last sights of the palace that he had so yearned to be a part of all these years. With disappointment, that last sight would be of Ariana, the queen hissing curses to no one in particular. Many of her words could not be heard over the soft noises of the horse's hooves against the cobblestone, but in a quick fit of passion, however, her voice increased in intensity momentarily so that Link could overhear a small fragment of Ariana's gripes: “That messenger better deliver my message to him; I'll have his hide if he doesn't...”
Link's eyes narrowed slightly at the queen's odd comment, but Link decided he had had enough of Ariana to suffice him for a lifetime. He would take it no more. She was now out of his life; her and her two daughters affected him no more; he was beyond her control. Forgetting about her words, Link leaned back against the cushioned carriage seat and closed his eyes. “To Hyrule, then...” he mumbled silently before falling asleep.
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