The Rules of Succession

By Kasuto of Kataan

Chapter Four

      Link had to get out of this dungeon. His eyes had finally adjusted to the darkness, and he could see a lot better. This jail cell was completely bare, save for a few cobwebs. He tried to move around, and he found out that he could maneuver a little. He lay on his back and tried to slither like a snake. It wasn't as hard as he thought it would be. He managed to get his way to the door of the cell. It was a simple door made of vertical iron bars. The door and the locking mechanism were severely rusted and corroded, he could probably kick it open. That is, if he wasn't tied up.
      Then something caught his eye. One of the three horizontal bars on the door was damaged. Part of it was worn away, creating a small notch. He might be able to use this to his advantage. Link wriggled his body until he was upright and sitting against the door. Link could just barely move his hands. He could move his fingers and grasp things, but he could not move his hands side to side. He had to untie his hands first. He felt around for the notch on the bars. He knew he'd found it when he cut his palm.
      Link began to put his plan into motion. He move and undulated his whole body up and down, in an effort to wear away at the rope. It was hard moving his body in such a weird way, he felt pain in muscles he never knew he had. He felt strands of the rope fray and tear with each movement he made. He was making good progress. After about five minutes, he started to get the hang of doing this. He moved faster and faster, still fraying the rope. He felt a tear over his wrists. One of the ropes around his writs had broken. He could move his arms up and down now, albeit very slightly. Link moved his wrists and his body, fraying the rope even more efficiently. This was getting easier.
      Another layer of the rope broke. His hands were even more free to move. He kept rubbing and fraying, rubbing and fraying. The final rope binding his wrists broke. Now he could move his hands about his wrists with complete freedom. He tried to feel the ropes wrapped around him within his few inch radius of movement. He felt a bulge on the ropes. It was a knot. Was Kaore stupid enough to tie a knot so close to his hands? Apparently he was.
      Link fingered the knot. It was and ordinary granny knot that was double-tied. He tried to undo the knot. It was hard to do, considering he couldn't see what he was doing. He maneuvered his fingers and began to untie the knot. He pulled and yanked at it. Finally, it began to loosen. With the still limited movement of his hands, Link pulled at the intertwined ropes. It loosened some more. He pulled until he felt one end of the rope come loose. He had untied the first knot. The second knot was a cinch to untie.
      The ropes around his body were free. Now he had to somehow unwrap himself. He decided that the best way would be to roll on the floor. Link laid down and rolled to the other side of the room. He saw the loose rope make a trail on the ground. His upper body was no longer tightly bound. He could wiggle out of the ropes. Link manipulated his shoulders and managed to get some of the rope above his head. He scraped his body along the ground to loosen the rope more. He finally had enough room to move his arms. With a surprising amount of pain, Link unnaturally bent his left arm and pulled it out of the ropes and over his shoulder. His arm was completely free. He unwrapped the rope that bound his upper body. Link removed the gag from his mouth and untied the ropes around his legs and ankles.
      He was free now. It felt so good to be able to move, after he had been tied up. Link stood and walked to the door of the cell. Upon closer inspection, the bars were even more corroded than he thought. The stone that made up the walls was also disintegrating from years of moisture. Link kicked the door and winced as shockwaves of pain rippled up his leg. This wouldn't be as easy as he thought. Link tugged and pushed at the door, it budged only a little. He walked to the other side of the room and looked at the door. Maybe he could bust it down. He then ran as fast as he could, aiming for the side of the door with the old, rusted lock. When he impacted it, waves of pain shot through his shoulder and side. But he made progress, the lock had shifted outward ever so slightly. He decided to try again. With all the speed and power he could muster, he bolted for the door. His shoulder landed square on the lock and busted it out of the wall. There was a loud crash and a cloud of dust as the lock fractured and the door flew open. He was free.
      Now what to do? Link had to save Zelda. Maybe she was still in her room. Maybe she hadn't been kidnapped yet, like Kaore said. Link ran out of the dungeon and up the stairs as fast as he could. He threw open the door of Zelda's bedroom and searched frantically. She wasn't in her bed. Zelda was gone. Link sat down, almost in tears. His heart was beating uncontrollably, he had to calm down and think. Where could Zelda be? Link mulled over the conversation he had with Kaore. There had to be some clues. Think! Then it struck him. He remembered the conversation he and Zelda had eavesdropped on. He remembered hearing something about going to Kuato. Link knew that Kuato was a ghost town. That would be the perfect place to go if you didn't want to be found. Yes. That's where Zelda is. Link knew it. He felt in his heart that it was true.
      Should he wake Impa or get guards to help him? No, he didn't have time. He had to get there now. Link ran out of Zelda's bedroom, out of the castle, and to the side yard. He saw the stables where the horses were kept. He had to steal a horse so he could go to Zelda. Link mounted the first horse he saw and rode it to through the gates of the castle, which were strangely open. He saw a guard lying on the ground, but he had not time to stop and help. Link's horse galloped through the market and to the drawbridge. The guard who operated it Extended his palm towards Link, motioning for him to stop. "Whoa," said the guard. "Where do you think you're going, little boy?"
      Link got off his horse and approached the guard. "Open the bridge!" Link ordered.
      "I don't think so," the guard responded in a condescending tone. Link had no time for games.
      "What's that?" Link said, pointing in another direction. The guard looked where Link pointed, and Link socked him in the gut. The guard doubled over in pain and Link delivered a left hook to his jaw, knocking him unconscious. "Sorry," Link said. He looked at the dagger in the guard's belt. Link might need a weapon. He bent over and retrieved the guard's knife. Link then turned and saw the crank that raised or lowered the drawbridge. The multitude of hidden pulleys and gears made it easy for one person to open or close the bridge. Link quickly turned the crank, lowering the bridge. He jumped onto his horse and galloped out into Hyrule Field.
      As he traveled through Hyrule field, Link's thoughts never strayed from Zelda. He knew she was still alive, he could feel it. She was terrified. Link had to get to her before Z killed her. Link wouldn't let anyone hurt Zelda. He would get there on time, he had to. Failure was not an option. If Z so much as scratched Zelda, Link would kill him.

      Zelda came to and looked at her surroundings. She was still in that building. Her neck and her face hurt tremendously. Her wrists hurt and so did her arms. Her wrists were tied together and she was hanging from a hook attached to the ceiling. Her feet dangled almost a foot above the floor. It was hard to breath with her arms over her head like this. She looked at the man who had taken her captive. He looked so evil, yet he appeared to be enjoying this. Zelda was completely terrified, but she didn't know what to do. She felt so cold, she realized that her nightgown was gone. She was clad only in a camisole and her underwear. Tears streamed down her cheeks, what was going to happen to her? The man held a large, curved knife and approached Zelda.
      "I see that you're awake," said Z. "I have plans for you." He lifted the knife and showed it to Zelda. She closed her eyes and cringed as he ran the cold blade across her bare belly. She waited for the pain to come, but nothing happened. He hadn't cut her. She had never feared for her life before, but now she did. "You're not going to get off that easily," Z said.
      "What do you want with me?" Zelda cried.
      "I'm going to kill you,"  he answered flatly. "But not right now. I want to see you suffer."
      "Why?" Z repeated. "You want to know why?" he said in maniacal voice. He retrieved a leather strap that hung on the wall. "You are in no situation to be asking questions!" He swung the strap and whipped Zelda across her bare side with tremendous force. She shrieked in pain; the strap had left a huge, bloody welt. "I'm doing this because it's one of the perks of my job. Torture happens to be one of my specialties. It's been a while since I've done this, so I need the practice. I remember the last person I did this to. It took him twenty-two hours to die. I'm hoping to break that record."
      Zelda swung her leg and kicked Z in the chest. He whipped her across the thighs and she shrieked again. "I always liked a victim who struggled, you're going to be fun," said Z. He retrieved a small rope and tied Zelda's ankles together. Her mind raced with a million thoughts at once. She couldn't understand why this man was hurting her. What had she ever done to deserve this? She prayed for her life, she prayed that she would be freed.
      Z wheeled a small cart over to Zelda. There were dozens of tools on it, each one specifically designed to cause the maximum amount of pain and least amount of damage. There were also bottles of various chemicals that Zelda didn't even want to know what they were. Z retrieved what appeared to be a steel-wire brush. Zelda closed her eyes and tried to think of pleasant thoughts, she had to ignore her surroundings. Z walked around to Zelda's backside. He took the tool with the stiff steel bristles and jammed it into the skin on her back. he then moved the tool back and forth quickly, as if he were scrubbing a floor. The bristles grabbed and tore at Zelda's flesh, leaving bloody streaks across her back. It felt like a thousand knives were stabbing her in the back. Z stopped and placed the brush back on the table.  He put on a pair of leather gloves and grabbed a bottle and a cloth. He poured a strong acid onto the cloth and placed it on the wound on Zelda's back. Zelda screeched as the cloth came in contact with her torn skin. She was in agony, it felt like her back was on fire. She had never felt so much pain in her life. The acid burned her wounds and her flesh; the pain was so intense that she fainted.
      Z thought this would happen. He waved a small bottle of smelling salts under her nose, causing her to awaken immediately. "You're not going to get off that easily," he said. "What you're feeling now is nothing compared to what I'm going to do later. Now I'm going to have to punish you for fainting." He got the leather strap and began to whip her on every part of her body. She no longer feared death. She welcomed it. Zelda prayed that death would come and free her from this agony.

      Kaore Left his office and closed the door. He had already planted a ransom note on Zelda's bed. Now he would have to check on Link. Link was probably already on his way to Kuato. His plan was simple. Kaore would go back to Kuato and make sure that Z has finished his job. When that was done, he would kill Z and Link. Kaore would make it appear that Link had found Zelda's dead body and killed Z out of rage. Then, because Link loved Zelda so much, he would kill himself out of grief. Then he would return to the castle like a normal day and everyone would find out that Zelda was missing. They would find the ransom note on Zelda's bed and begin a search. They would assume that Link had either been kidnapped also, or that he had already gone out to look for her. In an effort to look as if he were helping, Kaore would assist in the search for Zelda. Once everyone finds the murder scene, his plan would be complete. Being so respected, no one would ever suspect Kaore of any involvement.
      Kaore walked into the library and opened the secret door to the dungeon. It was only three in the morning, he still had time to do everything. Kaore thought about the work ahead of him. He would have to knock out all the guards who saw him, so they couldn't point to him as a suspect. Everyone would attribute that to the kidnapper. He walked down the cell block of the dungeon and towards Link's cell. It was the last one at the end of the hallway. As he approached the cell, Kaore noticed that the door was wide open. Perfect, he thought. He saw the heap of ropes on the ground. Link had escaped. Kaore knew this would happen. Link had escaped and went to rescue Zelda. His plan was unfolding perfectly. Link had unknowingly sealed his own fate.
      Kaore left the dungeon and made his way out of the castle. He pulled a blackjack out of his pocket and prepared to take out the guards. He quietly and systematically knocked out each guard as he walked through the castle yards and through the village. When he approached the drawbridge he saw that it was open and there was a half-conscious guard lying face first on the ground. Link had definitely done this. The guard stirred and prepared to get up. Kaore quickly bludgeoned the guard's neck with his blackjack, sending him into unconsciousness once more.
      Kaore exited the castle walls and walked a few hundred yards to where he tied up his horse. He had pretended to leave the castle just after nightfall to remove suspicion that he was in the castle during the kidnapping. He had reentered the castle just before he kidnapped Link, via the secret entrance. Very few people knew how to enter the castle walls without going through the drawbridge, but Kaore knew. He mounted his horse and rode off towards Kuato. Now he had to finish the final piece of his plan.

      Link was almost to the abandoned town. He could see the dilapidated and collapsing buildings ahead of him. He stopped at the town's entrance. He knew Zelda was here, he could feel her presence. Which building was she in? She had to be in one that wasn't completely collapsed. He rode through the town and his eyes locked on  an old blacksmith's shop. He dismounted his horse and walked towards the building. This had to be it. Then, a blood-curdling scream verified his suspicions. It was Zelda screaming, he had to save her. Link ran over to the building and looked in the window. What he saw made his blood boil. Z was violently whipping her with a leather strap. Her body was covered in bruises and bleeding everywhere. She had a large bruise on her left cheek and a black eye. Zelda shrieked and cried. She wished this man would just let her die.
      Link's demeanor totally changed. His face contorted with an expression of anger and hate. This man was hurting his beloved Zelda, and he wouldn't get away with it. Link's heart beat wildly as he felt a surge of adrenaline course through his body. Link drew the dagger that he had stolen from the guard. He kicked open the door and stood there, brimming with rage, yet fully aware of what he was doing. Z stopped his whipping and turned to see Link standing in the doorway and holding a knife. Before Z could react, Link held up the dagger and charged for Z. Z tried to duck out of the way, but he was too slow. With blinding speed Link ran and jammed the dagger into Z's body. It lodged just below his right shoulder. With a stunned expression, Z collapsed onto the floor. Link then kicked Z's head with all his strength, shattering his jaw. Z was nearly comatose now. Link violently kicked his body a few more times.
      Then he slipped out of his violent trance. He had to save Zelda. Link quickly grabbed a knife from Z's table of torture devices and cut the ropes around Zelda's ankles. He then cut the ropes around her wrists and caught her as she fell to the ground. Zelda was barely conscious. Her face was bruised and swollen, and blood oozed from her nose and mouth. Link quickly took the blanket from Z's bed and wrapped it over Zelda's shivering body. "It's okay, I'm here," Link said in a soothing voice. Zelda opened her eyes and saw Link's face. Was this real? Was Link really saving her? Or was this a hallucination? Maybe she was dead. It didn't matter. Zelda felt safe now, her pain was suddenly gone. She wrapped her arms around Link, and didn't let go. Link carried Zelda to his horse and mounted it. He had to get her back to the castle. He rode the horse back towards the castle, holding Zelda tightly. She still had her arms around him, and she buried her face in his chest and cried.

      Kaore had almost reached Kuato. He saw twilight in the horizon, the sun would rise soon. He rode to the abandoned blacksmith's shop and entered it. He was flabbergasted by what he saw. Z was in the corner of the room, bleeding and with a knife in his chest. This was not part of Kaore's plan. Neither Link nor Zelda was here. Kaore's plan was failing. He hadn't planned on seeing this. Kaore walked over to Z's body. He was still alive and conscious. "What the hell happened?" Kaore yelled.
      Z tried to speak. "The boy…he came…and took Zelda. I didn't have a chance…to kill her. He came and stabbed me…before I could do anything."
      Kaore was furious. "You were supposed to be the best assassin in Hyrule! And you let a little boy do this to you? I can't believe I paid two million rupees for this! You were supposed to kill her."
      "I wanted…to hurt her…first. Then I would…kill her," Z said, trying to sit up. "Please help…me."
      "You want help?" Kaore said in a crazy voice. "I pay you to do a simple job and you botch it! But don't worry, I'll help you." Kaore grabbed the knife and pulled it out of Z's shoulder, causing Z to yelp in pain. "This wasn't part of my plan," Kaore said. "You were supposed to just kill Zelda. And look what happens to you."
      "You were supposed to…take care of the boy!" Z said.
      "I was going to take care of him after he saw Zelda's body. Then I would kill him. I knew Link would come here and try to save Zelda, but I didn't think he could hurt someone like you!"
      "What are you…talking about?"
      "Maybe you should know. I planned on having him come here and try to save her. Then I would kill him. But you let him get the best of you, and now I have to put you out of your misery." Z gave a startled look. Kaore brandished the dagger and leaned over to Z's face. "I was planning on killing you anyway," Kaore whispered. With one quick motion, Kaore slit Z's throat down to the bone. Z choked and gurgled as blood sprayed from his severed jugular vein. He died in seconds. Kaore dropped the knife into the huge puddle of blood and stood up. He had to get back to the castle. He might be able to salvage his plan. Link and Zelda were probably on their way back to the castle. Kaore had thought he'd seen a horse on his way here. That could be them. Kaore ran to his horse and quickly rode it out of the village.

      It was just past sunrise and it was time for Impa to get up. She always woke this early, she often had a lot of work to do. Every morning, she routinely checked with the castle's security chief, Akanti. The security chief had a lot of responsibilities. He was the head of the Secret Service, which included all of the guards in the castle. Akanti was a retired Captain in the Royal Navy who asked for this job and got it. Impa went down to the administrative wing of the castle, and walked to Akanti's office. When Impa walked in, she noticed that something was different. Akanti looked a lot more stressed than usual. He looked up at Impa. "I'm glad you're here," he said. "We've got some rather unusual problems."
      "Like what?" Impa asked.
      "I got some strange reports from the guards on the night watch. It seems that, for some reason, almost half of the guards were physically hurt earlier today."
      "Hurt how?" she asked.
      "They were apparently knocked unconscious by blows to the backs of their necks. I think that someone was here and he deliberately knocked out the guards. I have the whole castle on full alert now, with extra guards on duty everywhere. But that's not the weird part." Impa raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "The guard at the drawbridge reported the most unusual disturbance," Akanti continued. "Just about an hour ago, he was confronted by a little boy. It was Zelda's friend, Link. The guard says that Link was on a horse and asked him to open the drawbridge. When the guard refused, Link punched him and knocked him out. When he woke up, the drawbridge was open and his dagger was missing." This information worried Impa. She knew what kind of person Link was, he would never attack a guard and steal a horse without a damn good reason. Something was seriously wrong.
      "Have you checked on the princess?" Impa asked urgently, suddenly bolting out of her chair.
      "Well, yes. I posted two guards outside her door as an increased security measure," said Akanti, a little worried by Impa's sudden change in demeanor.
      "But did you go into her room and see her there?" she asked. Akanti gave her a blank look. Impa cussed and ran to Zelda's room, with Akanti following behind her. Impa walked down the hallway and approached the two guards by Zelda's door. Seeing the look on her face, they quickly gave her room. Impa stomped into Zelda's room and saw her empty bed. When Akanti entered, his face turned pale. Zelda was gone. Impa saw a piece of paper on her bed and picked it up she read it:
      I have kidnapped Princess Zelda. If you want to see her alive again, follow these steps exactly. The king, accompanied by no one, will take two million rupees of gold bullion to the blacksmith's shop in Kuato. You have until exactly midnight tonight. If you obey, Zelda will be released unharmed. If the anyone other than the king comes, if he is accompanied by anyone, or if he is one minute late, I will kill the princess.
      Impa's eyes opened wide. She couldn't believe what she was reading. With a sudden dead seriousness, Zelda walked confronted Akanti and pointed her finger at him. "Zelda has been kidnapped. I want you to get every single guard and servant in the castle and begin a search for her. I'll wake the king and tell him what's happening. And I want you to get some army soldiers down here and I'll take them to Kuato." Akanti opened his mouth to ask a question but Impa interrupted him. "Don't think! Just go downstairs and make it happen." Akanti obeyed and went downstairs to gather everyone.
      Now Impa had to wake the king. She ran down another a corridor to the other side of the castle where the king's bedroom was. She opened the door and walked in. He was still asleep. Waking the king was just as difficult as waking Zelda. She walked to his bed and shook him awake. "Your Majesty, we have a bad problem." He opened his eyes and saw Impa hovering over him.
      "What's the matter?" he asked.
      "Zelda has been kidnapped." The king shot out of bed. Zelda was kidnapped? He had to do something now.
      "How do you know?" He asked. Impa handed him the note and he read it. He gave the note to Impa and put on his bathrobe. He didn't have time to get dressed. He started barking orders at Impa. "I want you to get the guards to start searching…"
      "It's already been done," Impa interrupted. "I'm going to go to Kuato with some soldiers and go on a stealth mission. We can take out any kidnapper and save Zelda."
      "Good. He wants me to pay a ransom. I should probably do that to make him happy. But you and the soldiers have to be there before I pay the ransom. We have to get Zelda before we pay the ransom because they'll kill her."
      "There's another problem," Impa said. "Link is missing too. A guard said that Link tried to get him to open the drawbridge. Link knocked out the guard and apparently left."
      "Where would he go? Why would he go?" asked the king. He knew that Link had a good reason for whatever he did.
      "The only thing I can think of is that Link went to save her himself."
      "Why would he do that without telling anyone?" said the king.
      "I have no idea."

      Link held on tightly to Zelda. He could see the castle in front of him. He saw a multitude of guards and army soldiers entering and leaving the castle. Everyone stared at him as he dismounted his horse. Link walked over the drawbridge and into the town, still carrying Zelda. She still had her arms wrapped around him, she refused to let go. The guards approached Link and Zelda in disbelief. They had just been ordered to search for her, and here she was. Link saw the guards huddling around him as he walked to the castle. They were getting in his way. "Quit getting in my way and make yourselves useful!" Link shouted. "Somebody get a doctor!" A few of the guards listened to Link and ran off in different directions. Most of them hurried back to the castle to report this to their superiors.
      Impa and the king were in the throne room. The king paced back and forth, he was frantic but tried not to show it. Meanwhile, Impa was barking orders at a multitude of people. It caught Impa's attention when a guard rushed into the throne room. "Zelda's here! Somebody found her!" shouted the guard. Impa and the king immediately followed the guard. He took them into the foyer where Link was sitting on the floor, holding Zelda.
      "My baby!" shouted the king as he ran to Zelda. he picked her up and embraced her. What happened to her? Her body was battered and bruised. She had numerous cuts and abrasions on her skin, some of which were bleeding. Her left side of her face was black and blue with a huge bruise.
      "Daddy?" said Zelda, looking into his face. She finally let go of Link and hugged her father. Suddenly she burst into tears and started bawling. All of the emotions she had locked up inside her were released in flood of tears and wailing. Zelda couldn't even talk, she was too upset. The king saw Link, who sat next to Zelda. His face was pale and blank, wet with tears. Link tried to keep his composure. Anger boiled inside him. He had gotten revenge on Z, the man who beat Zelda. But Kaore was still somewhere. Link wouldn't let that man get away with this. This was all Kaore's fault.
      "What happened to her?" the king asked Link, almost shouting to overcome Zelda's wailing.
      "Someone was trying to kill her," Link answered flatly.
      "The kidnapper," said the king.
      "No," Link said. "There was no kidnapper. Someone hired an assassin to kill her. I found her in a building in Kuato. The man was…beating her." Link tried not to cry. The sight of Zelda being whipped flashed through his mind. "And I saw him hurting her…so I stabbed him and kicked him till he stopped moving. Then I took Zelda here. I don't know what he did before I got there." Zelda stopped crying and looked at the people around her. She saw the people who cared about her: Impa, Link, and her father. They were the only ones who cared about her. They were the only ones she trusted. She looked at Link and wrapped her arms around him again.
      "You saved me," Zelda whispered, barely audible.
      "I'm sorry I didn't get there earlier," Link said. He would never forgive himself for letting this happen to Zelda. He felt like it was his fault for letting her down. Impa put her hand on Link's shoulder.
      "Come on," Impa said quietly. "We need to get Zelda cleaned up." Impa took Zelda into her arms and carried her. She started to take Zelda to her room to clean her up. Zelda started screaming and kicking her legs.
      "No!" Zelda shouted. "Don't take me away from him! Link please…" she cried and ran back to Link, wrapping her arms around him. She out her head on his shoulders and cried. "Please don't leave me. You're the only one who can protect me." Impa and the king saw how upset Zelda was. She didn't want anyone to separate her from Link, even the people she trusted the most. Zelda felt like Link was the only person she could trust. He had saved her from that torture, and he was the only person who could help her now. Link was the only person who could understand her pain.
      "Link, pick her up and follow me," Impa said. "Don't worry Zelda, you can stay with Link. We won't take him away from you." Link picked up Zelda and followed Impa through the castle. The king remained in the foyer, he wanted to be with his daughter, but he had work to do. He had to take care of the mess this all caused.
      Impa, Link and Zelda entered a large bathroom with a huge marble bathtub in the center. Link set Zelda on the floor while Impa prepared to draw a bath. "We need to get her cleaned up," Impa said. "I'll get a bath ready, you stay here." Impa walked to another room and talked to some servants. They went off to different rooms and one of them began to fill the bathtub from a water pump. Impa reentered the bathroom and sat on the floor next to Zelda.
      "The servants are getting a bath ready for her," Impa told Link. "It'll be a few minutes before it's ready." Link watched servants go in and out of the bathroom, dumping buckets of boiling water into the tub. Impa stood on the side of the tub, swirling her hand in the water. When it was at the right temperature, she dismissed the servants. "It's ready now," Impa said. She unwrapped Zelda from the blanket she was in and walked her to the bathtub. Impa helped Zelda removed her remaining clothes and Link looked away.
      "Um…" he mumbled, his face starting to turn red. "Maybe I should leave you alone for a minute…" Link heard Zelda splash into the bathtub. He opened his eyes. It was safe to look now.
      "Stay here," Impa said. "She needs you." Impa held up a washcloth and looked at Link. "Come over here, I need your help." Link slowly approached the bathtub. He had never seen Zelda without anything on, and he was feeling very awkward right now. He didn't want to look. But he had more important things to do. He had to help Zelda, and privacy wasn't exactly a key issue right now. Impa handed him a wet washcloth. She herself began to gently wipe Zelda's shoulders, but she pulled away and screamed.
      "No! Don't touch me!" Zelda cried, pushing Impa's hand away. "I want him to do it." Impa shrugged her shoulders and urged Link to do what Zelda said. Link began to gently bathe Zelda, he wiped the dried blood from her face. "Thank you," she whispered. Impa now saw the full extent of Zelda's injuries. She was covered in welts and bruises from head to toe; it almost made her sick to see it.
      "Roll over so I can get your back," Link said. Zelda slowly turned over in the water. The hot water felt so good. She was so sore and tired from her ordeal. But she was with people she trusted now, and the pain subsided. Impa gasped when she saw the wound on Zelda's back that was caused by the steel brush and acid. The center of the wound was purple and spotted with scabs and pus. There were blisters and chemical burns surrounding the wound. The area around it was pink, swollen, and very tender.
      "What happened to you?" Impa asked, horrified. Impa was relieved that Zelda's father didn't see this, he might not be able to take it. Impa couldn't fathom how someone could do this to Zelda. Now Impa wanted to seek vengeance on whoever did this. When Impa found out who did this, she would give him what he deserved.
      "He used some kind of brush on me," Zelda said. "He scrubbed my skin away." Images of her torture flashed through her mind. But it made her feel better to talk about it, she wanted Impa to understand. She didn't have to explain anything to Link, he already knew what she went through. "Then he put some stuff on it that burned it, it hurt so much." Tears started to flow again.
      "Don't cry," Link soothed. "I'll make it better." Link gently wiped around the wound; Zelda writhed and winced. "Sorry," Link said. "I'll try to be more careful." Impa knelt down and grasped Zelda's hand.
      "Don't worry honey, it'll be fine," Impa said. Link finished cleaning Zelda's back, and she turned back over. Link had finished Zelda's upper body, and he paused for a moment.
      "Um…do you think you can do your legs and stuff yourself?" Link mumbled. "Because I don't want to…um…" his face turned red and he looked away. Zelda took the washcloth from him.
      "Okay, Linkie-pooh," Zelda said. "I'll do it myself." Zelda began to wash her legs and lower body. Link tried to avoid looking there. Zelda's mood had greatly improved now. She felt so much better now. Zelda was finished with her bath. Impa helped her stand up and wrapped her in a large bathrobe.
      "Now I'm gonna put some bandages on you," Impa said. When Zelda was dry, Impa went and fetched a roll of gauze and a jar of special ointment. She was going to rub it on Zelda's back, but paused for a second. "Here, Link. She might want you to do it," Impa suggested, handing the jar and gauze to Link. "First put the ointment on her back." Link dipped his hand into the jar of goop and pulled out a small handful. It was greenish and smelled minty. Link rubbed it onto Zelda's back. It felt cool and soothing.
      "What is this stuff?" Link asked, gently massaging it into the wound.
      "It's a special ointment," replied Impa. "It has a lot of herbs in it that'll help her heal faster."
      "It feels cold," Zelda said. She expected the ointment to sting, but was surprised when it didn't. It felt like someone had put ice on her. It was relieving. When Link had put the ointment on her, he began to apply the gauze. He wrapped the gauze around her back and chest like a mummy.
      "There, all better," Link said, admiring his first aid work. Link put the robe back around Zelda's shoulders.
      "Let's go upstairs, you need some sleep," Impa said. Zelda agreed. She was so tired. Zelda began to walk slowly, but stopped. It hurt to move.
      "Here, I'll carry you," Link offered. He gently picked up Zelda and carried her like a baby. Zelda was so grateful about the trouble Link was going through for her. When they had finally reached Zelda's bedroom, Link gently laid her on the bed. Impa fetched one of Zelda's nightgowns and offered it to her. Zelda sat up and removed the robe. She pulled the night gown over her shoulders and lay back down. Link pulled the covers over Zelda and smiled.
      "You try to sleep now," Link said.
      "Will you…" Zelda mumbled.
      "Don't worry, I'll stay here with you," Link interrupted. "You just go to sleep. I'll be sitting right here in this chair if you need me." Link leaned over and kissed Zelda on the forehead. This reminded him of when he was sick a few days ago. Now their roles were reversed: Link was the caretaker.
      "Thank you," Zelda whispered as she drifted off to sleep. Link sat in a chair and Impa left the room. Link sat there and cried silently. All the emotions that he locked up for the past day came out. He had felt all the pain Zelda went through; he felt every whip and every cut. He then realized that he hadn't told Impa or the king what had happened. They probably wanted to know. He had been so focused on helping Zelda, that he never revealed what happened. He had to tell them, but he promised Zelda he would stay here. His problem solved itself when Impa and the king entered the room. The king didn't look like a powerful ruler now. His face was solemn and grave. He wasn't the king right now, he was Zelda's father.
      "Link, we need to talk to you," Impa said.
      "But Zelda wanted me to stay in here with her," Link protested.
      "It's okay, we can talk in here," Impa responded. "Let's go over to the table so we can all sit down." The three walked to the other side of the room where there was a small wooden table. It was covered in Zelda's stuffed animal collection. They sat on chairs in front of the table and pushed some of the animals out of the way. The king grasped Link's hand and looked into his face. It was hard for him to put his feelings into words.
      "I wanted…to thank you," the king managed to say. He wiped a tear from his face. This was harder than he thought. "What you did was more than I could ever ask. You saved my little girl's life. I can't thank you enough. I owe my life to you, I'll be in your debt forever. I wouldn't be able to live without Zelda."
      "Me either," Link said.
      "Link, we need you to tell us what happened," Impa said. "We need to punish whoever did this." Link nodded, he understood. "Now, you said that she wasn't kidnapped. You said that someone hired an assassin…Tell us exactly what happened."
      "Well…it started when I was kidnapped," Link began.
      "You were kidnapped too?" Impa said with surprise. "By whom?"
      "It was one of your closest friends," Link said, looking at the king. "It was Duke Kaore." The king's eyes narrowed.
      "What?" he said in disbelief. "He kidnapped you? What happened?"
      "He took me to the old dungeon and tied me up. I had a pretty interesting conversation with him. He's the one who hired an assassin to kill Zelda." suddenly filled with rage, the king rose out of his chair. Impa put her hand on his shoulder and sat him back down.
      "Let him finish," Impa said. The king tried to contain his anger and listen to Link.
      "Anyways, he took me to the dungeon and tied me up. When I woke up in there, he talked to me. He told me that he had hired an assassin to kill Zelda, and that he was going to kill me himself."
      "Why would he want to kill my baby?" asked the king. "That coward. If he wanted to hurt me, he should've attacked me himself."
      "He said he was going to kill Zelda because he would become king. He talked about the Rules of Succession, and how he would become the king if you died and had no heirs. He said that you would be so grief-stricken over Zelda's death that you would never name another heir. Then he said he would make it look like I killed myself over Zelda's death. Then he left me alone and said he would come back to kill me later.
      "That's when I escaped. I wore the ropes down on the cell door and eventually got out of them. I got out of the dungeon and went to find Zelda. When she wasn't in her room, I had to think of where she would be. I remembered when Zelda and I were roaming through the castle, and we overheard a conversation between Kaore and that foreign ambassador. I heard them say something about Kuato. So I went there."
      "What about the foreign ambassador?" the king asked. "Are you talking about Zimm?"
      "He wasn't an ambassador. He was the assassin. Kaore must've brought him in here and told you he was an ambassador. Well, when I realized where Zelda had been taken, I had to go there. I didn't wake anyone up because I didn't have the time. I took a horse and beat up the guard at the drawbridge. I hope he's not mad, I had no choice. I rode to Kuato and found the assassin whipping Zelda. I ran and stabbed him and kicked him. I think I might've killed him. Then I brought Zelda here."
      "I can't believe you did this for my daughter," said the king. "So…Kaore is the one who wanted Zelda killed. He's not going to get away with this. You stay here with Zelda. I have some work to do." Impa and the king left Zelda's bedroom and went downstairs. "Impa, why don't you go and take a few soldiers with you to Kuato. I want to know if this assassin is still alive. If he is, arrest him. If he's dead, burn his body."
      "I'll get right on it," Impa replied, leaving and preparing to carry out the king's orders. The king went to his throne room. There were still guards running in and out of the place; it would be a while before things returned to normal. Now he had to find Kaore. He wasn't going to send out a warrant for his arrest, he was going to wait until Kaore came to him.

      When Kaore had ridden close to the castle, he decided not to go in. He left and waited for a while. There were guards and soldiers everywhere. If Link had told them what happened, Kaore could never enter the castle. So he waited for a while. He waited a few hours until some of the commotion wound down. He decided to enter the castle walls now. He stopped and talked to the guard. He needed to know if he was wanted.
      "What's going on here?" Kaore asked the guard, feigning curiosity.
      "Sir, the princess was kidnapped. Then her friend brought her back. If you don't mind my asking, where have you been? The whole kingdom knows."
      "Actually, I just rode in," Kaore said. "I haven't seen anyone all day. Do you know who kidnapped her in the first place?"
      "No, sir. To my knowledge, no one knows who it is yet." Kaore stared blankly, thinking. "Is that all, sir?"
      "Oh, yes. Carry on," Kaore replied. This was perfect, he wasn't wanted by the soldiers. He continued walking through the village and towards the castle. He decided that he would walk in and act as if he didn't know what was going on. He had to take care of Link before he told anyone. That shouldn't be too hard.
      Kaore walked through the castle's main gate. This was going to be hard to pull off, but he'd been in worse situations than this. he entered the castle. There were a few more guards than normal. He walked past them, and none gave any indication that Kaore was in trouble. He walked to the throne room and talked to the guard.
      "Is the king available?" Kaore asked the guard.
      "Yes, Your Grace," replied the guard. "He has been waiting for you." Kaore smiled and walked into the throne room. he saw the king sitting on his throne, sipping a cup of tea. Kaore approached him and gently bowed.
      "Your Majesty," Kaore said. "When I came in just a few minutes ago, a guard said that Zelda had been kidnapped. Is she okay?"
      "Yes, she's fine," the king said. "Link rescued her somehow. He brought her back home right after she was kidnapped. I'm glad you're here, Kaore. I could use a friend right now."
      "Well, I'm here now," Kaore said. "Please accept my deepest regrets for what happened. I'm so relieved that Zelda is all right. It would be terrible if something happened to her."
      It took all the king's willpower to keep from jumping out of his chair and breaking Kaore's neck. "You know, I had an interesting conversation with Link after he brought Zelda home. He seems to think that someone was trying to have Zelda assassinated. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
      "I'm totally flabbergasted. Why would someone want her dead?" said Kaore.
      "Why don't you tell me? You see, I'm not as stupid as you think I am. I know what's going on." The king gave a slight nod, cueing the guards to advance. They slowly snuck up behind Kaore. "You wanted Zelda dead so you could be the king. But apparently, your plan fell to pieces. I guess you underestimated Link's resourcefulness. Don't worry, though. You're going to have a long time to think about it. Mainly… the rest of your life."
      The guards advanced and each grabbed on of Kaore's arms. The king walked up to the restrained Kaore. The king then slammed his fist into Kaore's face. "That is for trying to kill my daughter. You're lucky I'm such a nice guy, that I don't have you executed. Guards, take him away." They tried to drag Kaore away, but he resisted. They did not know that Kaore was an accomplished martial artist. He quickly knocked the two guards off their feet and ran. The king ran after him, telling the guards to go after him. "Seize him!"
      Every guard and soldier in the castle surrounded Kaore. He slowly backed into a corner. There was no escape. The wall of people aimed swords at him. There was only one way out. "I won't let you take me alive," Kaore said. He pulled a small vial out of his pocket and uncorked it. "I'll see you all in hell." He drank the contents of the vial and collapsed onto the ground. His face contorted and his body convulsed. After a few seconds of violent shaking, Kaore went still. One of the guards cautiously approached Kaore's body. He knelt down, and examined Kaore. He felt for a pulse and checked to see if he was breathing. The guard stood up with a blank look on his face.
      "He's dead," said the guard. The king walked up to Kaore's body and nudged it with his foot.
      "Coward," said the king. "He couldn't face his own fate. Take his body away, and burn it."

      Link was still sitting by Zelda's bed, where she was sleeping peacefully. He hadn't moved from there for over three hours. He didn't want to move. He had plenty of time to think. All the emotions he locked up came out. He sat there for a long time, crying silently. He thought of what it would be like if he hadn't gotten there on time. He loved Zelda so much, he couldn't live without her. Link's daze was interrupted by the door squeaking open. Link turned around to see Impa walk into the room, carrying a plate of food.
      "You missed supper, I though you might be hungry," Impa said. She put the plate on a table and beckoned Link to come over. Link was hungry, he decided to follow Impa's suggestion. He walked over to the table and sat down. He started nibbling in the roast beef that was on his plate. Impa sat across from him. "I have some news for you, if you want to know." Link nodded his assent. "I went to Kuato and found the place where the assassin took Zelda. The assassin is dead, his throat was cut."
      Link stopped eating and looked up at Zelda. "I didn't cut his throat," he said. "That means I didn't kill him. Who did?" Link was slightly relieved. As much as he wanted Z dead, he didn't want a homicide on his conscience.
      "My guess is that Kaore did it. And speaking of Kaore, he's dead too. He killed himself."
      "He got what was coming to him," Link said.
      "I agree, I would've killed him myself if I got the chance. There's also something else you might want to know. You told us about his reasons why he wanted Zelda dead, about the Rules of Succession. Well, the king and I had a discussion about that. It turns out that Kaore's plan wouldn't have worked, even if Zelda was dead."
      "What do you mean?" Link asked.
      "He thought he would become king if the king had no heirs. He got this idea from the Rules of Succession. But apparently, he had bad sources. He must've read an archaic version. The rules were changed fifty years ago. The Minister of Foreign Affairs isn't the one who would take over the throne now, the king's personal advisor does. Kaore was the victim of his own ignorance."
      Link thought about what Impa had said. He was amazed that Kaore had gone through all that trouble to perfect his plan. But he obviously wasn't smart enough to see if his sources were correct. Kaore got what he deserved. Link and Impa sat silently, while Link ate his meal. When he was done, he walked back over to Zelda's bed and sat down in the chair.
      "She looks so peaceful," Impa said. "It's good that she can sleep after everything she went through. It'll take a long time for her to recover. Physically, she'll be fine. But emotionally, it's gonna take a lot of work. She's going to need you. You're the only one who understands her."
      "I know," Link said. "I'm going to help her every step of the way. I love her, and I'll never leave her."

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