Chapter 11: The Start of Something New
-Malon: The Zora Chambers, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: Fourth Afternoon
"It's working," said Malon from where she sat on a soft cushion. Ralis was floating in the large recess set into the floor; it was filled with water and various aquatic plants and fish, and there was even a short waterfall pouring down the rough rocky chamber wall it was set up against. "They're softening up towards each other."
"Slowly but surely," agreed Valin, who was draped atop a decorative driftwood log, hands grazing over the lush carpet, which was more like thick grass than anything else. "We just need to give them more time. Ralis, what say you to remaining here at court for a while longer after this Gala? Aren't there important matters you need to discuss with the Queen?"
"Some, yes," responded the Zora King. "But Zelda and I are also good friends. Would I not be perfectly justified in remaining for a time to see her for a while? It's not often I can leave my domain."
"Exactly. Ralis wants to stay here. And, Lord Leonas, Earl of Lakewood, wants to catch up on what he has missed in the past four years. What better way to do that than to stay at court?" Valin stated cheerily.
"You two can justify anything, can't you?" asked Malon, torn between amusement, disgust, and awe.
"Yep," replied Valin, pulling at the carpet.
"We just need a way to throw them together a little more," mused Ralis. "Though, Link's going to win the tournament, so I'm sure that'll do something."
"She doesn't like that he's in it," Malon muttered. "She disapproves."
"I talked to her," replied Ralis. "I justified it somewhat to her. The tournament can't be helped, though… say, Valin, how are those seeds coming?"
"They should be here any day," replied the Earl. "With luck, we can get Link to work on the garden by the end of the week."
"I think Zelda would like that," replied Malon. "I know she's been going there in the mornings to walk and relax and watch the flowers- it'll make her very happy that Link has done something so kind for her."
"Let's just hope things continue the way they are between the two of them," Ralis concluded. "Is there anything more we can do at this point?"
"No, I don't think we should try to interfere, for the moment. We'll see what happens and adjust accordingly," Valin stated. "I think a lot of what happens between them will hinge on the ball tonight. So, Ralis and I will do our best to keep Link in a good mood, and Malon…"
"Talk her into not going crazy on him, I know. This has been the longest four days of my life," she added with a weary shake of her head. "Trying to make people fall in love with each other is hard."
"They were in love in the first place," stated the Zora. "They're just too damned proud- and stubborn- to admit it."
"Hopefully that'll change soon," sighed Malon.
"Hopefully," agreed Valin, and the three sat in silence, each absorbed in their thoughts about the most infuriating couple ever to walk the lands of Hyrule.
-Link: The Grand Arena, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: Fourth Afternoon
The Hero of Hyrule had already demolished everyone in the archery contest and was now in the final round of the hand-to-hand combat contest. He'd been sweating in the sun for several hours, and had been in this battle already a few minutes, playing with his opponent and giving the audience a good show. It was hot, though, and the Hero wanted to win, get some Goddess-Forsaken recognition from Zelda, and go inside. So he crouched for a moment and eyed up the opposition, comparing it to what he'd learned in the brief few minutes they'd clashed blades prior to this moment.
Link knew in an instant how to win this battle as he looked at his opponent. The man was tricky and had good defenses, and there was no way Link could get inside them. However, there was a move that would take the man completely by surprise, and Link would defeat him in this way.
The hero of Hyrule quickly backflipped out of the man's range, and, in the blink of an eye, he'd sheathed his sword and shield. The crowd gasped collectively and Zelda stood suddenly from her chair, eyes blazing.
"Link, don't you dare-" she shouted over the sudden noise, but it was too late. His opponent had fallen for the trick and charged Link. Quicker than lightning, Link spun straight into him and drew his blade, dragging the sword across the man's armor with a squeal and butting him in the head with his shield. The man fell back to the ground and in an instant, Link had leapt into the air and landed over the man, sword poised at his throat. The stadium was silent.
"Yield," Link said, voice low. The man looked at him through the visor, shock and awe apparent. Without a second thought he'd dropped his sword and shield in the dirt. Link stepped back and sheathed his sword, and the crowd began to cheer and scream. Link extended his hand and helped the man up from the ground, patting him on the back.
"That was brilliant," said the man, pulling off his helmet. The tiniest trail of blood was leaking from his forehead. "You're amazing."
"Thank you," Link said, also pulling off his helmet. The man grabbed Link's wrist and held it up in the air, which served only to heighten the cheers of the crowd. Link looked around with a grin, and then to Zelda, who was smiling fixedly. The sunshine-haired woman beside Zelda said something to her, and the Queen shook her head. She stepped to the front of the royal box and the crowd quieted.
"I believe it's clear that we have our winner," she proclaimed loudly and with a false joy that Link knew would fool everyone- everyone but him, that was. "Champion, step forward."
Link sheathed his sword and moved towards the royal box, slinging his shield over his back. Zelda unsheathed a thin, ornate blade, and stepped down from the box, into the arena. A few steps later and Link had closed the distance between the two of them- he stood the proper arm's length away, but even still he towered over her.
"That was a cheap move," she muttered so that only his ears might hear.
"It was dramatic and that was what the people wanted," replied Link.
"So you're a player now, catering to the whims of an audience? I can't believe you," she bit back.
"There was honor- I let the man go down with dignity."
"Dignity? He never stood a chance against that. You're cheap, low, and worse than scum."
"Glad you think so highly of me," Link replied with a cheeky grin. Zelda's eyes flashed and for a moment, he though she might slap him. Instead, she stepped back, raising the thin blade. Oh, great, thought Link. She's going to lop off my head in front of all these people.
"Fair warrior," Zelda said, loud enough that her voice carried to all the people around her. "In light of your startling accomplishment- your domination of both the archery and swordplay rounds, I ask of you that you might become one of my knights. Accept you this offer?"
Must've been planned, Link thought as he looked at the Queen- for all that her expression was pleasant, there was a dangerous light in his eyes. He decided that, tempting though it was, just this once he wouldn't mess with her when she was pissed, and especially not before an assembly as large as this one.
"My Queen, I would be honored," Link replied with a humble bow.
"Kneel, then," she commanded. Link sunk to one knee, and Zelda held the blade vertically before her, pommel level with her mouth. "Name thyself, warrior."
"Link of Ordon, Adventurer," he replied, and the crowd began to murmur in recognition. So they'd put two and two together, thought the hero with a grim smile. They'd recognized him for who he was.
"Link of Ordon," repeated Zelda loudly. "Be you that selfsame Link of Ordon who, seven years and six months ago, played a pivotal role in restoring this great kingdom to the graces of peace and smiles of the Goddesses?"
"I am," replied Link, bowing his head. The crowd burst into loud speculation, then silenced as Zelda swung the sword upwards, raising the tip high above her head.
"In light of the services that you have provided my Kingdom with and the prowess of skill you have exhibited within my arena, I dub thee Link Greenhero, Knight of Hyrule. Do you solemnly swear to protect this country, to serve with chivalry, to go forth with balance in your heart to serve the people of this blessed land?"
"I do," intoned Link, the words feeling odd in his mouth. Zelda brought the blade down then and rested it upon his bared head, pushing rather harder than was necessary, though not hard enough to cut.
"Then in power," she said, tapping his head sharply, "in Wisdom," she said, tapping his right shoulder pertly, "and in Courage," she tapped his left shoulder and left a dent in the armor, "you are given rank and station of knighthood. Do you solemnly swear to uphold peace and justice, serve as a pillar of society and execute your duties with goodness and love for Queen and country?"
At this, Link looked up and met Zelda's eyes with his own. "I do."
"Then rise, Sir Greenhero, and be you a knight."
Link stood and the crowd cheered tumultuously. He smiled around at them, and then looked to Zelda, who, too, was smiling, though there was a distinctly hard gleam to it.
"Don't you dare shirk your duties, Sir Greenhero. You're tied to this land now, much as you or I might hate it, and though the thought of you being a pillar of society is laughable, at best, I'm afraid that's how things are going to be for you, now."
"Does this mean I get to live in the castle now?" Link asked her avidly. She shot a sideways glare of ice at him and Link felt his spine tingle with alarm and excitement. Oh, yes. She was maaaad.
"You have a number of choices with what to do with your knighthood which my assistant will discuss with you later. As for now, though, it would be best if you escorted me to the royal box, and then stayed as far away from me as possible."
"But what if I like being around you?" Link asked cheekily, offering Zelda his arm. As she took it, the crowd went wild.
"Don't try me, Sir Greenhero," she replied icily. Link handed her up into the box, and she smiled sweetly at him one last time. "Get out of my sight."
With a bow, he strode charmingly away, smirking as he left a beautiful, furious Queen fuming in his wake.
-Zelda: The Royal Ballroom, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: Fourth Night
"The Queen has to dance with her new knight, though," protested Tetra. "The people will think something's afoot if you don't."
"There is something afoot," fumed Zelda, pacing around the empty ballroom and watching the servants put the finishing touches on the decorations. After the tournament earlier that day, she'd been so incensed she'd gone straight to work getting ready for the ball, then gone down to watch the preparations, to give her something to distract herself with. So far it wasn't working. "I just knighted a slimebag!"
"You two were getting along fine last night," commented the Queen's assistant, who looked lovely in a blue ballgown reminiscent of the sea. Her hair had been pulled back into a thick twist atop her head, and overall she looked like a beautiful, fey mermaid. "What changed?"
"He shouldn't have entered the tournament! Did you see what he- how he beat that poor man? He used the mortal draw! He's a lowdown, cheap scumbag."
"It was amazing to watch, though," commented Tetra. "One second he was defenseless, and the next he'd won."
"I don't care! That move isn't… it isn't some dumb party trick. It's dangerous. 'Don't use this unless you're absolutely desperate,' is what he told me when he taught it to me seven years ago, and now look at him. Parading it about like a simple parry! Now people are going to want to learn it… they're going to try to figure it out, and get themselves hurt or killed in the process. It's a last, desperate resort, and he's irresponsibly flaunting his abilities and knowledge as the hero to use it against a defenseless opponent."
"That man wasn't defenseless," defended Tetra.
"Oh, yes he was. In the face of the hero's knowledge and gifts? He might as well not have had a sword or a shield." At this, Tetra was quiet.
"He made a bad decision," the Queen's assistant finally ceded. "But that doesn't mean you can justifiably punish him for it. Just… dance with him once. After that, you don't need to talk to him, or even look at him. After tonight, hopefully you won't have to deal with him anymore."
"Did you present his options to him?"
"I did. He told me he would think them over, but he seemed to like the idea of executing your will throughout the countryside."
At this, Zelda snorted. "He would, the ass."
"It's a wonder that he sets you on edge as much as he does," Tetra commented. "You're the most serene woman I've ever encountered, but the second that man gets within visibility range…"
"He brings out the worst in me," admitted Zelda, crossing her sapphire gloves over her skirt. "I'm a little ashamed of that, but that's just the way things are between us."
"I'm sorry," stated Tetra quietly, for lack of a better thing to say.
"Don't be," shrugged Zelda. She looked up and caught her reflection in the great mirrors that had been used to decorate tonight and smiled for a moment. It was the final night of the gala, for which she'd saved her best dress, and she looked beautiful. She'd been draped, shoulders to toes, in blue fabric so deep and dark it might be black, though when the light caught it just so, it shimmered with tones of green. The top was stiff and sculpted to her form, as usual, low-cut and flirtatious. The skirt was not full- instead, it clung to her every curve and swirled around her feet at the floor. The only break in the darkness of her gown was a shimmering, pure white sash draped elegantly below her waistline and tied at her hip, providing a shocking contrast. The fabric of both the gown and the sash seemed unreal- it moved almost like water, and Zelda had had companion gloves tailor made. Her hair had been curled and every last, heavy inch of it was piled atop her head and strung with pearls, which were shocking in the dark golden mass and matched the white sash around her waist, negating the darkness of her attire. In her hair, too, had been tucked a sapphire-blue lily, which masked her in a sweet scent wherever she moved.
"You look beautiful. You've outdone yourself tonight," complimented Tetra. Zelda smiled at her assistant, then, even as the servants began to file out of the ballroom.
"Thank you. You, too, are beautiful. Come, let's go to the small waiting room across the hall so that we might make an entrance."
"Of course, your majesty," deferred Tetra, and without further ado, the Queen led her friend away.
-Link: The Royal Ballroom, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: Fourth Night
The room was awash with people in their finest, dancing and drinking and generally making merry on the final night of the ball. The winner of the costume contest had been announced- some young duchess who had thought to flatter the Queen by going as her- and the Duchess had been granted a handsome sum in reward, as well as a warm invite by the Queen to abide for a time at Chateau Hylia next time she went.
Link knew the Queen's anger and had taken care to stay far from her. He'd done nothing but incense her out in the arena and Valin and Ralis had nearly chewed his ear off yelling at him about blowing his chances with her. So, he decided he'd lay low for a bit, disappear off to do the Queen's dirty work out in the countryside, and come back when it was safe. Perhaps he was running from his problems again, but, well, clearly he was unwanted in the palace. All he ever did was make trouble for the Queen anyway, and who wanted that?
Link had been attempting to lurk in and around the vicinity of the punch bowl (and perhaps he'd consumed rather too much of the punch than he should have) however people kept dragging him away… especially women. As the Queen's new knight, and more, the Hero of Hyrule, simply everyone had to meet him, all the mothers had to introduce him to their eligible daughters and then of course Link was obligated to dance with said daughters…
A nasty headache was coming on for Link and he'd taken to a dark corner outside to nurse both it and another glass of that intoxicating punch. The rustle of a woman's dress alerted him, but without looking up he held up a hand.
"My most sincere apologies, Madam, but I fear I am currently indisposed. I would love to entertain you any other time but I fear I am not fit company at current."
"You're a wreck," came an all-too-familiar woman's voice. "Had too much punch?"
"No," replied Link defensively, taking another sip of his glass, though the buzzing in his head informed him that yes, he had had too much punch- or, at least, had enough and needed no more. With a smile that could have been one of pity, Zelda took his glass from him.
"You need water," the Queen informed him sagely. "Wait right here. I'll return shortly."
The alcohol distorted Link's perception of time- it could have been ten seconds, ten minutes, or ten hours later when Zelda reappeared, sitting beside him. His vision was a little blurry, he knew his eyes must be red and unfocused.
"Drink this," Zelda told him, carefully handing him the glass. "Every last drop, but you don't have to drink it very quickly. When you've drank it down a little, we're going to go somewhere private."
"We are private," stated Link blearily, looking over at Zelda with a slight loll of his head. "There's nobody here."
"But somebody could come here, that's the thing. We're going just around the corner."
"Alright." Link cupped the sweating glass between his hands, enjoying the cool sensation of it on his palms, and then, after a moment, took several deep sips.
"Good," said Zelda soothingly as he drank. "Good, good."
"I'm not smashed," Link informed her simply.
"Just getting there, I know," Zelda replied, touching his brow softly. "Why? Why so much punch?"
"'Cause I'm an idiot." Link took another deep gulp, and Zelda chuckled. "Well, that's the first part, anyway."
"Well, I'm not contesting that you're an idiot," replied the Queen simply. "But I think it's time to move. Come on, Link. Up." She stood and firmly pulled him up, then guided him carefully through the garden, which had been lit by soft fairy lanterns strung ornately about. They turned a corner into blackness and kept walking.
"Won't you be missed?" Link asked her groggily.
"No, Link. The ball is almost over," she told him quietly. "Only a few people remain. Come on, I'm going to take care of you. Keep walking, and don't spill that water." They were walking in pitch darkness, it seemed, but Zelda had him by the elbow and was guiding him gently around turns. A breeze caused the leaves around them to rustle, and Link realized they must be in a maze.
"Almost there," she told him. A hand on a gate, a whispered word, and they were in a part of the courtyard that was, if possible, darker than the one they'd been in before. They walked, turning corners for a few more moments, and at last came the long anticipated "here we are" as they turned a corner into a simple courtyard. Glittering night-blooming flowers spilled from a planter set into one of the stone walls, and two torches spluttered on either side of a wooden door. Other than that, the courtyard was empty, save for a single stone bench. Zelda didn't take him to the bench, though- she led him to a soft patch of grass and bade him sit.
"Where are we?" Link asked her, looking around the small courtyard.
"We're in the Royal Family's private courtyard. It's a kind of private haven… or, more sanctuary now. Traditionally it's been beautiful here, but after Ganondorf destroyed the castle, I haven't been able to justify spending the taxpayers' money on a purely selfish spend when some of my people are poor and starving."
"Ah," replied Link, reclining in the soft grass. "So, then, why have you brought me here? I thought you were pissed."
"I am- well, was, until I saw how sad you looked. Your friend Valin has been… kidnapped by my maid, for lack of a better term, and Ralis is unwell- he spent too much time out of water, I think. Needless to say, they've both retired, and you need taking care of.
"I'm fine," replied Link with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I could get back to my chambers like this, noooo problem. Really, I'm not even smashed, especially considering what night it is. Seven years exactly since I made the biggest, dumbest mistake of my life!"
"And that was?" Zelda asked, sitting beside Link and looking at him.
"Leaving you," he replied with a smile.
"I'm touched," Zelda stated wryly. "You know you could have just come back to Hyrule after all."
"No I couldn't have. At first I was just trying to scrounge up enough money that I could ask you to marry me and nobody could say nay. But by the time I had enough I was a long way from Hyrule… and it had been several years since then and I'd figured you'd probably moved on… married some rich prince, forgotten that a goat herder from Ordon had ever loved you, had ever existed."
"Never could I have forgotten about you," Zelda told him, taking his face in her hands. "You didn't just save Hyrule, you saved me. Listen- I was overcome with grief before I met you, I'd lost my wonderful father, my beloved twin brother, and my kingdom. I didn't think I had anything left to live for… but just before I gave up all hope of happiness, you appeared in my life an and rekindled that prayer."
"But you loved me for what I did, not who I was," Link stated sadly.
"At first, yes. I was naive, I'll admit. But then ,after the war ended, I got to know you- Link, the man, the goat herder who had risked everything to save his loved ones, and restored a Kingdom to glory in the process. I loved you then for all the things you were- as a man first, not as a hero."
"But now you hate me."
"Link, if I hated you, would I be sitting with you in the dark taking care of your irresponsible, inebriated person?"
"Speaking of which, how do you know I'm not an angry drunk?"
"You seem pretty docile to me," noted Zelda playfully,.
"I am not docile! he protested, appalled. "I am about…. about as docile as a raging Ordon goat!" As if to prove his point, Link suddenly turned and, in a swift movement, had pinned Zelda underneath him. She blinked up at him, unfazed, as he asked her in a low voice, "How's this for docile?" He lowered his face to hers, so close their skin was touching, and as she replied her lips brushed tantalizingly against his own.
"You're going to ruin my hair, my dress, and my reputation, Sir Greenhero."
"I'm sorry I'm an inconsiderate ass," he murmured, though she could tell his words were genuine as he kissed her left jawbone gently, "And I'm sorry I've caused you so much frustration and grief," he added kissing her other cheek. "If it makes you feel better, I'm going to leave the castle in the morning."
"Oh no you aren't," Zelda replied, catching his chin and forcing him to look at her. "You make too much trouble. No sir- you're staying right here, where I can keep an eye on you. Queen's orders," she added firmly as she released his chin.
"We both know I want only to please my Queen," he said in a husky voice, lowering his face to Zelda's neck and gently biting the skin there.
"Oh- well- you're doing a rather good job of it, but… Link, you're drunk…"
Zelda struggled out from underneath him, pushing him off her though she did so with regret. "You're drunk," she repeated more firmly. "You need bread, water, and sleep. And…. and we can talk tomorrow. About this, and other things. Promise me you won't leave?"
"I promise," he responded, feeling more certain, more clear, more sober than he had for hours as he looked into her eyes. "I swear by the Goddesses. I'll stay with you this time."
"Thank you, Link," she replied, and stood. Link watched her for a moment, and, when it was clear she was waiting for him, he stood as well. Zelda put her hand underneath his elbow as though she was guiding him, and moved into the palace. Link saw a guard approach them and heard Zelda address him.
"Guard, my friend here has had a bit too much to drink. Kindly, would you safely see him back to his rooms in the guest quarters? He is a particular of King Ralis."
"Right away, Your Highness," replied the Guard with a respectful salute. He then took Link, gently, and guided him away. Link looked over his shoulder and watched Zelda as he retreated. She was standing, straight and prim, looking regal as ever with her hands crossed before her as she watched Link go. He couldn't help but think of how much he loved her, how much he hoped to make her his, and then in a haze of no time he was back in his room, then in his bed, then falling asleep.
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