Link grabbed the offered hand as he was hauled up over the side of the ship. He was ragged and wet, but at last he would be on his way home. He climbed over the edge and onto the deck, earnestly thanking the sailors for coming to his rescue.
After his ship sank on his way home from an adventure, Link had just spent nearly a month trapped on a deserted island with only a few crazy mermaids as company. But now he was back on his way home. This time nothing would go wrong.
A few of the sailors patted his back and shook his hand, telling him that they were glad he was okay, then finally one mentioned his attire.
"Not that this boat has a dress code," the man said, motioning to Link worn rags, "but you've hardly got anything left on, and there are ladies on this ship."
Link glanced at his clothes, which now consisted of nothing more than a bit of tunic around his waist and the hardy belt that had survived the accident that got him stranded to begin with.
"There is a maid here with a noble family who could probably make you something better to wear, if you'll just follow me," the man continued, motioning for Link to come with him.
Link nodded, "as long as it's free, I'm afraid I left my wallet in my other rags."
The other sailors chuckled and he was given a few more pats on the back.
"Some kid," one said, "after all that he still has a sense of humor!"
"Of course it's free," the first man said, "consider it our welcoming gift. Now come on."
Link followed the sailor down into the cabins and along rows of doors until at last he stopped and knocked.
A young girl of perhaps thirteen, with slightly mussed, mousy brown hair under a maid's cap, opened the door a crack. She peered up at them, she was only about five feet tall, and then opened the door a bit more, just wide enough so she could step halfway out.
"Yessir?" she asked in a small voice, "do you need something?"
The sailor pushed Link in front of him and motioned to the bedraggled clothes Link wore. "We just fished this poor kid out of the ocean, and he needs something a bit less... battered to wear. I thought I might borrow your services for a moment to make him something?"
She turned pink when she saw Link, then nodded. "Of course, Sir." She opened the door to let him in.
The sailor gave Link a shove and Link finally took the hint to go inside. "Thanks," he waved to the sailor, and then thanked the maid as well.
"It's nothing, Sir," she said, obviously trying to keep her brown eyes off his bare chest. Every so often they would dart like little mice to his form, almost as if she were checking to see if he was still half-naked. "I—I'll probably need to take some measurements..."
Link nodded and waited for her to go get a tape measure from a box in a nearby stack of things. While he was waiting, he took a look around the room.
It was really a nice place, better than he'd have ever guessed could be gotten on a ship. The floor was covered in a thick red carpet, which, he noticed, he was currently dripping on. The walls were painted a clean white, and there was soft looking furniture casually sitting against the walls. Link had never been on a big ship, just in his own little, homemade vessel. He had no idea such accommodations existed off land.
"Sir?" asked the maid's uncertain voice again. Link snapped out of his thoughts and looked down to see that the girl was holding her tape measure and waiting for him.
"Sorry," he apologized.
"Oh, it's okay Sir," she said quickly, "I just wasn't sure you knew I was here."
"Please, none of that 'sir' stuff," Link said, "no one ever calls me anything formal like that back home, just call me Link."
"Yes Sir," she said, not really listening. Link shrugged and spread his arms out as she took his measurements. She blushed a bit as she did so, but said nothing.
"Done," she said finally, "now I'll just be a few hours and then you can come get your new things."
"Oh," Link said just as he was about to leave, "could you make them green?"
"Green, Sir?" she asked, looking a bit confused.
Link smiled. "I like green, all my clothes are green. If it's not too much trouble?"
She shrugged and nodded, apparently deciding that if this man had some strange obsession with the color, it was no place of hers to question it.
"And one other thing," Link asked as he opened the door.
"Can you make me a hat, too?"
"A hat, Sir?" she asked.
Link nodded. "Yeah, green, kind of long and loose," he tried to sculpt the image in the air, to explain what he wanted.
She shrugged again and nodded. "If that's what you want, Sir."
Link turned and almost left, then turned back and called out once more, "oh, one more thing?"
She sighed very quietly, so that she didn't think Link could hear. "Yessir?"
Link grinned. "Thanks, a lot. I'll find some way to pay for it, sooner or later. I promise."
She seemed startled, so much so that she nearly dropped her tape measure. She said nothing, just turned to hide the blush that was coming on, and Link chuckled as he shut the door.
Just as he was on his way out, he bumped into some one else, a young lady who seemed to be on her way into the same room he had just left.
"Oh, excuse me," she apologized before Link even got the chance, "I wasn't looking, I should have seen you."
She was nearly as tall as Link, very pretty, if not quite beautiful, with blue eyes and deep chestnut hair that was pulled back into a loose, elegant braid. She wore a velvet purple gown with gold trimming, and Link guessed that she was the lady that the meek little maid served. A spotted calico cat nestled in her arms and hissed at him for startling them.
"No, it was my fault," Link insisted, "I wasn't paying attention either."
The cat jumped out of her arms and moved to inspect Link, seeming to change its mind about him. It purred and rubbed against his leg, begging to be picked up. "Well that's strange," the lady, "Tessy doesn't usually like strangers much. She seemed then to just notice his clothes, and raised her eyebrows a bit. "You know, I think I should really have noticed you, what on earth happened to you?"
"Shipwrecked," Link said dismissively, as if such a thing were a regular, every day nuisance like a stubbed toe or bee sting.
"Really," she said, seeming interested but not wanting to admit it. "How unfortunate."
Link waved it off. "Oh, nothing serious hit sharp rocks, rescued by a mermaid, held captive by her friends, you know. Same old story."
Now she was definitely interested, but still didn't want to show it. Nobles were often like that, Link observed, always trying to put on airs. But he didn't mind it, it was fun to play with them when they were being snooty, see how long it took them to admit what they were feeling.
"Well," he said, bowing his head politely, "I really have to go now..."
He took a few steps away mentally counting down from ten how long she would take to stop him. Three... two... one...
"Wait!" she called out, "don't go."
Link turned, smiling privately. "Yes, Milady?"
She bit her lip. "I'd really like to hear about those mermaids, if you aren't busy..."
Now Link smiled in a friendly manner. "Of course, Milady."
He walked back to her and offered a hand. "My name is Link, might I know yours?"
She shook his hand with a bit more robustness than Link would have expected from her, then answered, "I'm Duchess Franchesca Alison Lanish of Dellshire. Have you ever been there?"
Link shook his head. "Not that I can recall, though I have heard some about it, Milady."
"Oh, you needn't bother with that formality," she said, to Link's surprise. "At least not when no one's around to hear."
"Then, it's Franchesca?" Link asked.
"If you want," she said, "but most people who know me well enough call me Fresca."
Link raised an eyebrow. "Fresca? Where did they get that from?"
She shrugged. "When I was little, I guess Franchesca was to many syllables for me, and I mushed it into Fresca. Then the name caught on, and I was stuck with it."
"Well, if you don't like the name..." Link began.
"Oh, no," she said shaking her head, "I don't mind. I did when I was younger, but I think it's cute now."
"Well, if it's was the lady wants," Link said, grinning.
She nodded. "Now, enough of that, we know each other's names, now tell me about the mermaids!"
Link smiled. She was a good deal more genuine than most noble ladies he'd met in his life, the kind of girl a person could actually become friends with. "Well, it's a rather long story," he said.
"Good," she said, grinning as well, "I like long stories. We can go inside my room and you can tell me about it there."
"After little Zel kissed me," Link said, stroking Tessy the cat, "I realized that I could breathe underwater and I was able to fight off the others until the crew on this ship managed to rescue me."
"Well, of course," Fresca said as if this was no surprise, "didn't you know that a mermaid's kiss makes you able to breathe under water until the next full moon?"
Link scratched the back of his neck. "Ah, well, no, I didn't. We don't really have a lot of mermaids back home."
We have hundreds of them in Dellshire," Fresca said, "it's a coastal kingdom, and we have a trading pact with them, they catch us fish and rescue any sailors that fall overboard and we give them things like jewelry and cloth, that they can't really make underwater. It's a very nice arrangement, really."
"It sounds like it," Link agreed. "Too bad there aren't any mermaids near Hyrule."
"Oh, is that where you're from?" she asked.
Link nodded. "Yup. And I'm going home as soon as I can, I miss it there."
"Well, then you got even luckier than you thought when you were rescued," she said, "this ship is going to Hyrule!"
"That is lucky," Link agreed. "So why are you going there then?"
She sighed. "My father has arranged a marriage for me with some nobleman there, I'm on my way for the wedding."
"Oh," Link said, feeling a bit sorry for her. He knew that arranged marriages were common among the rich, but he never quite got used to the idea of marrying for treaties or wealth, it just didn't seem fair. Especially to the women, since they usually had the least say in the matter but were most affected by it. "So have you ever met him?"
She shook her head. "No, I've never had the chance to leave my country before, and Baron Wellington never had the time. He's rather busy from what he says in his letters."
"Wellington?" Link repeated, "I know him!"
"You do?" she asked, sounding excited, "how?"
"Every year Zelda would make me attend this horrible New Year's feast, and I the Baron always came too."
"Well, what's he like?" she asked eagerly.
"Not a bad guy," Link said, "He's fairly young, only in his mid twenties and quite tall. Blond hair, brown eyes, deep voice. He laughs a lot, and was always nice to me."
She smiled, reassured. "I'm glad, my father would never tell me anything but that it didn't matter because I should do as I'm told."
Link found himself growing to dislike her father more and more every minute. "I see. Sounds like a wonderful man, I hope to meet him."
"You mentioned a Zelda," she said, "you can't mean the princess, can you?"
Link felt his cheeks grow warm. "Well, yes, actually, though please don't tell her I called her by her first name, she does get very irritated when I do that..."
"You know the princess?" Fresca said, ignoring his worries, "how? Not to offend, but I didn't think she ran around with, well..."
"The lower class?" Link finished, amused. "No, it's okay. She doesn't on a regular basis, but when I defeated Ganon she and I got to be friends anyway."
"Ganon?" Fresca asked with wonder, "then you're... the Link?"
Link shrugged. "I guess so..."
"Wow!" Fresca said, "I've heard stories about you all the way back home, though they said you were much taller..."
Link laughed. "I know, I people always tell me that, 'I thought you'd be taller.'"
"Tell me about your adventures," she begged, "I want to hear what really happened!"
"Well," Link began, relishing any opportunity to brag about his courage, "I was just a normal boy growing up, until one day—"
The door burst open then, interrupting Link, and a heavy set man with graying brown hair and small, black eyes marched angrily into the room. Tessy leapt from Link's lap onto the floor and hissed at the man, as if trying to protect her master.
"Franchesca," he said angrily, ignoring the animal, "when I heard that you were seen letting a man into your room, I didn't believe it! But now I see I was wrong, what has gotten into your head!"
Link found himself quite uncomfortable, but Fresca didn't blink an eye. 'Father, he was just telling me about his adventure, you needn't get so worked up."
"Adventures indeed," the man growled, stomping over to Link and pulling him up off the sofa by an arm. "I know his type, and you don't want anything to do with him!"
"I really think I should just go," Link said nervously, trying to squirm free from the man.
"Oh, Father," Fresca groaned, "he hasn't done anything, we were only talking! He even knows Baron Wellington!"
Finally Link managed to free himself from the man and bolted for the door. It wasn't that he was afraid of Fresca's father, he just didn't really want to be accused of something ugly.
He quietly shut the door behind himself as he crept out of the room, listening to the two behind it raise their voices louder and louder. From the sound of it, Fresca could hold her own. He thought to himself she had a stubborn streak that almost matched his princess back home.
As Link walked down the hallway that led back to the deck, he ran into another sailor.
"Well, hello," said the sailor, "you must be that kid they dragged out of the water."
There was a loud shout from Fresca's room and the sailor smirked. "They're at it again I see."
"Again?" Link asked, wondering if Fresca made a habit of asking men to tell her stories.
The sailor nodded. "That man does not get along at all with his daughter, they've been arguing over something every time I come by here."
Link sighed in relief he had been a bit worried that he had been responsible for the fight, breaking up a family. "Oh. I see."
"Have you seen the girl?" the soldier asked, "she's a pretty one, I'll tell you. Too bad she's betrothed."
Link smirked himself. "As if you'd ever have a chance with her? I've met her, she's a duchess."
The sailor puffed out his chest a bit. "She could be a princess and it wouldn't matter," he bragged, "not a woman alive can resist my charms."
Link raised a skeptical eyebrow but said nothing. "If you say so, I'm not one to argue."
The sailor smiled. "I appreciate that. What's your name, anyway?"
"I'm Link," Link said.
The sailor held out a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Link, my name's Alan."
Link shook his hand and then asked, "I wonder if there's a spare room I might have, just until we reach Hyrule. Nothing fancy, just somewhere to sleep?"
Alan nodded. "There's an extra bunk in my cabin, if you don't mind sharing a room with two other men."
"'Course I don't," Link said. "Is there anything I can do around here to try and help out in return?"
Alan smiled wickedly. "Well, the cook could use help peeling potatoes..."
Link made a face. "Well, I do owe you all a lot. Which way to the kitchens?"
"Follow me," Alan said.
That night, Link lay down on the bottom bunk rickety wooden bunk bed, two bleeding fingers in his mouth. The cook had yelled for him to cut away from himself at least a dozen times, but Link kept forgetting and sliced his fingers anyway.
But the bed was soft, softer than the cold ground he often slept on anyway, and he soon began to drift off into dreams.
Then he sat up, banging he head against the bunk above him. He swore quietly as a bruise began to form, and carefully crawled out of bed. He'd forgotten to get his new clothes from the little maid.
He opened the door as quietly as he could, not wanting to wake to others, and crept down the hallway to Fresca's room.
He didn't want to face the lady's father again, and was afraid that if he knocked he might have to do just that, so Link quietly opened the door and went in, looking around the room for the maid. He saw her asleep on the sofa, with his new hat still in her hands. The rest of his new clothes were there too, on the floor beside her. Link took the things quietly, not wanting to wake the girl. She looked very tired. He'd tell her in the morning, once she was rested.
He was about to leave when he heard Tessy meow from the door. She looked worried and Link wondered what was the matter. Dropping his things, he went to the cat.
Tessy ran from him, but only a little ways down the hall, then waited for him to catch up. Link followed her, and she led him up onto the main deck.
He looked around, wondering what Tessy wanted him to do, when he saw two figures struggling near the rail by the edge. The smaller of the two of them gave a small cry, sounding rather like Fresca, as the other fought to subdue her.
Link ran over to them, yelling out for them to stop. But he was too late, he was still to far away to even make out their faces as he saw the smaller figure, who was now quite sure was Fresca, being shoved over the side of the ship with a scream.
Tessy ran to her master's aid, but got tangled under Link's feet and he tripped and fell to the ground. When Link looked up the other figure was gone and the deck was empty but for him and the screaming cat.
Link ran to the edge of the ship and looked over, hoping to see some sign of his friend, but it was too dark to even see the water. Link felt tears come to his eyes as the cat howled. Several minutes passed as Link searched the blackness for any sign of her, but with no luck. She probably couldn't swim anyway, he knew, since noble ladies aren't taught how even in seaside lands.
"Hey, you!" called out a man after a while, "what are you doing!"
Link turned and saw several sailors just coming up from below deck to see what the commotion was.
"I saw him!" yelled one man from behind the rest. The man shoved his way forward until Link had a plain view and realized it was Fresca's father. Tessy hissed at the sight of the man. "I saw him, he pushed my daughter overboard!"
"What?" Link asked, shocked by the accusation, "I wouldn't! There was someone else, I saw him, he murdered her..."
"A likely story," spat Fresca's father, "who was this man then?"
"I don't know," Link said, "I didn't get a good enough view of him. I wasn't out here in time..."
"Why are you out here to begin with?" asked Alan, who was among them.
"I... was going to get my clothes, and then this cat was meowing for me to follow her..."
"I think you'd better come with us," said another sailor.
Two men took Link by the arms and led him through the gathering crowd, and Link began to get the feeling that he would have been better of jumping to join Fresca.
"Tell me again, why you got up," said Alan. He seemed to be in charge of things.
Link was seated in a chair in a bare room, surrounded by several other sailors who seemed to be making sue he didn't escape.
"I had to go get my clothes," Link said for the hundredth time.
"Then why didn't you tell anyone?" asked one of the others.
"I... didn't want to wake them up," Link said feebly.
Alan put up a hand to silence the sneers that the other sailors gave. "A possible story," he said, "but then where are these clothes?"
"Back in the room with the maid," Link said.
"So then you went onto the deck before getting your things?"
"Well, yeah, I guess so," Link said.
"Lies!" Alan accused, "and I can prove it!"
What?" Link asked, "how?"
"The door to the duchesses room was open, because you had already gone in!"
"That doesn't prove anything," Link said.
"Well," Alan admitted, "I suppose that it's possible that this mysterious figure you spoke of was the one who opened the door, isn't that possible?"
"I guess so—"
"Except that there was blood on the handle!" Alan cried before Link could finish.
"So what?" Link asked, feeling a bit dazed. He was still reeling at Fresca's death he was in no position the try and defend himself.
"So," Alan said, taking Link's hand and showing the mutilated fingers to the room, "your hand is bloody from cutting yourself while peeling potatoes. Proof that you opened the door!"
"But that doesn't mean I killed Fresca," Link said, his heart sinking, "I went to get my clothes!"
"But you said that you went right onto the deck, without stopping, remember?" pointed out one of the other sailors. "Or are you forgetting your story?"
"No, no," Link said, "I went in the room but I didn't get my clothes, because the cat started meowing before I had a chance."
"Ah," Alan said, "I see. Then why didn't you knock? Why didn't the maid hear you knock?"
"I... didn't want to wake anyone up..." Link said.
"Such a considerate boy," Alan mocked. "Do you have any proof?"
Link shook his head. "I don't think so."
"Put him in the cargo hold until I decide what to do with him," said Alan.
"But I didn't kill her," Link cried, "I didn't!"
"And lock the door, I don't want to endanger any of the other passengers."
Link was dragged through the levels of the ship, down to the cargo hold in the bottom. Tessy followed him, and when they passed Fresca's room she meowed at the door. Poor thing, Link thought, she must miss Fresca already.
Eventually, Link was thrown down the last set of stairs into the bottom of the ship. The door was shut behind him and Link didn't need to check to know it was locked.
Link sat against the wooden wall, trying to think. How had this all been landed on him?
Link knew the answer to that well enough he had been stupid and not let anyone know where he was going. Whether or not the real murderer meant to pin it on him he didn't know, but he did know that whoever it was had been smart enough to cover their footprints.
Link sighed, he didn't know what was going to happen to him now, and he wasn't sure he wanted to. Different countries had different ways of dealing with murderers, and he wondered what these sailors planned for him.
Link soon lost track of how long he had waited in the dark of the cargo hold, and when the door again opened he felt as if years had passed. He looked up, expecting to see the sailors returned, but was surprised to see the little maid peering in at him. Tessy the cat slipped in past the girl and rushed up to rub against Link
"Um, hello," he said as the maid motioned for him to come closer. "What are you doing here?"
She looked behind her to make sure they were alone, the slipped in with him and shut the door behind her. "Tessy made me follow her," she said, she's been meowing all ever since they took you down here. She does seem to like you."
Link picked the cat up and rubbed her behind the ears. "I know, I'm glad someone still does."
The girl looked down. "I don't think you killed the lady, Sir," she said.
"Really?" Link asked, "you believe me? Why?"
She shrugged. "You just don't seem like that type, Sir," she said, "I can't explain it better than that."
"I don't mind," Link said, "as long as someone believes me." Tessy the cat seemed to have had enough of Link's affection, and now jumped down from his arms. She ran up to the door and looked at the two people expectantly.
"I'd say she wants us to follow her," Link said, "what do you say?"
The girl nodded. "Tessy is very smart, I think she knows something."
Link followed the cat and opened the door. "Well, I can't get into any worse trouble than I'm in now," he said, "so I may as well see what's going on."
They followed the cat, careful to avoid being seen, all the way back to Fresca's room. Tessy scratched at the door and the maid opened it. Fresca's father was asleep in a chair, and Link gulped.
Tessy pranced across the room to a large wooden chest near the corner and rubbed up against it.
Link looked at the maid and then tiptoed into the room and knelt down beside Tessy.
"What is it?" he asked in a whisper, "what's in there?"
Tessy meowed loudly and Link jumped. He heard Fresca's father shift and began to panic.
"Well," he said to himself "I'm in trouble anyway, let's just see what's in this thing before I'm thrown overboard, huh Tessy?"
Link began to undo the latches that kept the chest locked shut as Fresca's father awoke.
"You!" he roared, getting up, "how did you get in here?!"
Link unfastened another latch just before the man lunged for him, calling out for help all the while.
Link dashed out of the way and ran across the room. Fresca's father made another lunge for Link, giving Link a chance to undo another latch on the chest.
"How dare you!" Fresca's Father yelled, as the door opened and several sailors, Alan among them, ran in. They saw Link and immediately began trying to catch him as well. "First you seduce my daughter, then you murder her, and now you come in here and ruin my peace once more!"
Link managed to undo another latch just as the nearest sailor grabbed him. He was caught.
"I want him gotten rid of," Fresca's father bellowed, "he has caused me enough grief, throw him overboard like he did Franchesca!"
"Please," Link begged, "just open the chest and see what's inside, then you can do what you want with me!"
"I forbid it," Fresca's father said, "after everything you now want to intrude upon my privacy?"
The sailors seemed to agree, and began hauling a very uncooperative Link out the door when the little maid seemed to have had enough. She ran over to the chest, undid the last of the latches, and opened it. Everyone gasped.
Fresca, tied and gagged, sat up and made a muffled yell. The maid pulled the gag off the lady's mouth and began undoing the ropes around her. Several sailors also went to help, releasing Link.
"What on earth...?" asked one, rubbing his head. He turned to Fresca's father and held up a fist. "You have a lot of explaining to do, old man!"
Fresca, now free, shrugged the people away from her and got out of the chest. "I can explain," she said angrily, "my father thought that there was something going on between Link and I. He wouldn't believe me when I told him that we had just talked. Then last night we were on the deck and he attacked me. He knocked me out and I woke up inside that thing!" she pointed to the chest with a look of disgust. He was trying to frame Link for my murder, to make sure that he stayed away from me!"
The sailors turned on Fresca's father, all looking very unhappy. "You realize that the penalty for murder is death?" asked Alan, "that Link would have been killed just because you were suspicious!?"
Fresca's father took a step back. "That cast away dishonored my daughter! There was no other way to be certain that he did not do so again!"
"I've heard enough," said Alan, "put him in the cargo hold, until we reach Dellshire."
"What?" asked Link, "but I thought we were going to Hyrule?"
"I'm afraid that we'll have to change our plans and go back," Alan said apologetically, "they'll need to take care of something like this at home."
Link sighed. "Well, at least I'm innocent again."
Alan smiled. "That you are. Please accept my apologies for what happened, when we reach Dellshire we'll do our best to make up for what happened. It may be some time before our ship sails back for Hyrule, but if you are willing to wait then we'll gladly take you for free."
Link shook his head. "No, I'm in a bit of a hurry to get home, I think I'll see what I can find once we get to port."
"I understand," Alan said. "Well, I have to get back to work. I hope you enjoy the rest of the trip."
As the ship pulled into port at Dellshire, Link and Fresca prepared to leave their ship.
"Are you sure you don't want to come to the castle with me," Fresca asked him once more, "you'll be more than welcome there."
Link shook his head. "No, I'm on my way home now and I don't want to stop for anything. It'll take me long enough as it is if I'm to travel by land. You're sure no ships will be leaving here anytime soon?"
Fresca shook her head. "I'm afraid that with all the trouble my father caused, there won't be any ships going out for months."
Link smiled. "It's just as well, I'm getting rather sick of water anyway. I think I'll be glad for the sureness of solid ground under my feet."
"Is there anything I can do to repay you for getting me out of that horrible chest?" she asked.
"I guess I could use a horse," he said thoughtfully, "and a sword."
"Is that all?" she asked, seeming disappointed.
"It's all I need," Link said.
"But after what you did, I feel like I owe you so much more," she protested.
Link shook his head. "I didn't really do much, and your happiness is more than enough thanks for me."
"Well then, brave warrior," Fresca said, giving him a kiss on the cheek, "I bid you farewell. I hope we meet again, maybe when I finally do marry the Baron."
Link blushed and rubbed his cheek. "I hope so too."
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