Chapter 12: A Terrible Mistake
-Zelda: The Royal Gardens and Queen's Office, Hyrule Castle
-Seven years and seven months since Ganondorf's defeat
Much to Zelda's frustration, after Link's little episode with the alcoholic punch, things between them remained almost stagnant. He was nice and mean to her in turn, though more often kind than not. She put up with his spite when it came, though, for his actions spoke louder than his words- not three days after she had told him about her hopes for the gardens, new flowers began to appear, as well as mounds of upturned dirt that could only inevitably be planted seeds. On nights when she found it difficult to sleep, the soft sounds of an ocarina often floated to her through the windows, lulling her to sweet slumber; she knew who it was who played that instrument under the stars.
Castle Town was a more peaceful place since Link's arrival, if such a thing were possible for the already peaceful and prospering market town. Upon occasion, Link would vanish for a day or two, but each time he did Alyz would always report back to her about his heroics in some town or other. Zelda would never have admitted it to his face, but she was proud of him, and more- for all that he was unkind upon occasion, she recognized it for the shyness it was, and each day she felt she was coming to love that obstinate, annoying, painfully attractive man exponentially more.
About three and a half weeks after the end of the Gala, disaster struck Hyrule. It had been a drier summer- drier than most, though when it came, their reprieve from the endless heat and thirst was a double edge blade- a storm rolled in from Termina and destroyed many of the crops in the northern part of the country. Faced with a potential famine, Zelda all but barricaded herself in her office and tried to figure out how to make ends meet in Hyrule- could they rely on commerce with Termina? Would they have to make sacrifices in terms of livestock? Go hungry? If possible, they could rely on increased intake of fish and fowl from the lake province, but Zelda didn't want to risk heavily damaging any resources. She'd consulted Ralis on this and several town leaders as well; she drew up plans, plans, and more plans; crop plans, backup plans, worst-case-scenario plans and so on.
It had been a bad week for the Queen and Zelda was exhausted and upset. She was taking a well-earned break in the garden, worrying over the fate of many of her people, blinking in delirium at the hedges, as she'd been so busy working and worrying that she'd only gotten an hour of two of sleep a night, if that. Though nothing really could be done now and though her plans were already being implemented (she'd authorized planting on extensive royal properties), Zelda found herself worrying, though those around her advised her to relax.
Well, she was trying to relax- that was why she was in the garden, after all. She took in the beauty of the flowers that Link had planted for her; the new buds, the growing seeds, and was feeling almost content when she heard Link's voice. Curious, she moved in the direction it wafted out from. When she saw he was talking with one of the scullery girls, she hid behind a flowering bush and listened.
"…I'm afraid I can't do that for you, sir," said the maid a little nervously.
"How much do I need to pay you?"
"Sir, it's not that, just-"
"If someone found me out, it could mean my life, sir... at the very least, my job and my respectability within this country."
"You won't get found out, and if you do… consider yourself performing an act of love. They can't get you for that. Seventy rupees?"
"I…. alright. When?"
"I'll send my man to you."
"Well… which bedroom?"
Link leaned in close and whispered something in her ear with a triumphant smile. As he did so, Zelda recoiled, clutching her hands over her mouth. Had he just…
He had, hadn't he.
What else could it have been? He'd obviously persuaded her to do something risky, something against her morals, offered her money… given her the time, a bedroom…. it was clear he was going to pay her for sex. In a moment, Zelda felt her heart breaking. She fled the garden and hurried to her chambers, where Tetra and Malon were discussing something- as she entered and slammed the door behind her, they looked up in surprise.
"Highness? What's wrong?" Malon asked, standing as the Queen began to pace back and forth.
Tetra's eyes widened in alarm. "Has more news come? Did something else happen?"
"Link…. Link's paying the scullery maids for… for…." she paused, taking a deep breath. "I overheard him in the garden. He propositioned her- this has probably been going on for some time, too… he seemed to know exactly what to say to convince her to…. Malon, Tetra," Zelda said to her two closest friends in the world, voice tinged with desperation, as she moved to a bench and dropped, seating herself with a slouch, "I've got to get out of here. I just can't take it anymore." And, for the first time in more than seven years, the matriarch of Hyrule burst into tears.
"Calm down, it's okay," Malon said soothingly, seating herself on one side of Zelda while Tetra sat down on the other. The two women wrapped their arms around their desperate friend, each confused but trying her hardest to provide comfort to the woman who was the rock of her entire country. "I'm sure a leave can be arranged."
"You haven't taken a break once since reclaiming your throne, and we're coming up on eight years now. It would be perfectly fine if you wanted a little leave, especially considering how hard you've been working lately," consoled Tetra. "Don't worry, I'm sure I can have you out of here within the next week. Where would you like to go?" she asked gently. "Chateau Hylia?"
Sniffling, Zelda looked up. "No," she replied meekly. She cast her mind about, and landed on Lake Hylia- she'd been there a few times before on very short visits and had always wanted to stay longer. "Do you think you can get me a cabin out on the lake? With only one guard? I just want to be normal Zelda for a while."
"Hm," murmured Tetra. "Security won't like that..." as Zelda began to sniff again, Tetra hastily added, "but we all know that you can more than take care of yourself." She was quiet for a moment, thoughtful. And then, at last: "Alright. I'll arrange to get you smuggled out of here as soon as possible- I'll see what I can do."
"Thank you, Tetra," replied Zelda with a watery smile.
-Link: Hyrule Castle
-Seven years, seven months and one week since Ganondorf's defeat
It had been more than a day since Link had seen or heard of Zelda, which was unusual- when he asked Valin, the dark-haired earl shrugged and said he hadn't seen her and that he'd ask Malon what was up. It seemed that Valin had met his match in the feisty redhead- though they'd only been "together" a little more than a month, Valin was already thinking about proposing to her, going ring shopping, and making Link jealous. Though Link was happy for his friend, he couldn't help but wish for the same thing between Zelda and himself- and he kept blowing it! Why was he so self-conscious around her? Why did he always make quips at her, even when she didn't deserve them? And she was always so good to him in return- he almost hated himself for it. No, sometimes he did hate himself for it. But Goddesses, he was trying to be a good man for Zelda! He really was.
Ralis didn't know where Zelda was either, and Link felt bad for disturbing the Zora King- he was busy writing letters to his people and to his representatives at Lake Hylia trying to rectify the terrible crop crisis. Link knew that they had Zelda to thank for the brilliant food replacement plans she'd conceived, and he'd seen how hard she was working and how much she was suffering. That's why he'd bribed a maid to put flowers in her room one morning- he'd hoped she would like the surprise. When Link caught a glimpse of Zelda the next day, though, she looked harried and hollow- had something else happened that he wasn't aware of?
That had been several days ago, and Link had caught a glimpse of her here, a word of her there, then nothing. He was starting to get- no, beyond starting, he was concerned, he wanted to help. After being shrugged off by his superiors in the knighthood multiple times for his inquiries (difficult as it was to believe that he even had superiors), Link finally snapped and went and found that woman who was Zelda's assistant- Tetra, that was her name. It was difficult to find that woman: it took him a long time, even, but he located her at last as she was hurrying from one meeting to another, almost as though she were in the Queen's stead.
"Go away, you," barked Tetra to Link as though to a dog. The hero stepped back, taken aback, and then looked at her oddly.
"I'm sorry- have I done something wrong?"
"I'll tell you what, you filthy piece of slime. You've made yourself unwelcome here and defiled the Queen and the maids here at the castle, not to mention god knows how many other women. You should be ashamed of yourself!"
"What did I do?" Link asked, genuinely confused. "Please, tell me. Where is Zelda? Is something wrong?"
Tetra was obviously impatient to be away from him as she put her hand on her hips. "Let me ask you this: did you or did you not bribe one of the maids for sexual favors?"
"What? No, I would never!" He knew his disgust and horror showed openly- all the better. Where had they gotten an idea like that? "I swear, I only paid one maid, and that was to sneak flowers into Zelda's room!"
"Yes, and pigs can fly. Tell the truth, Greenhero. Did you?"
"I would not! You can even ask the maid if you don't believe me!" Link racked his brain and made use of the memory he'd honed to razor sharpness. "Her name is Medli Wingsage, she works in the scullery. She met me in the garden for five minutes a quarter of an hour past three four days ago. That night, I sent Valin to the maids' dorms with a bouquet of flowers. Medli snuck them into Zelda's room the next morning while the Queen was out for her morning arena practice. There was nothing underhanded about it- I saw how hard Zelda had been working and how distressed she was and I thought to give her something to feel better… I meant no harm by it. Where is she?"
"You're really telling the truth, aren't you?" asked Tetra. She now seemed hollow, unhappy. "And… oh, Goddesses. Sir Greenhero, the Queen overheard you asking the maid in the garden to sneak the flowers into her room, but she only heard a part of the conversation, and believed that you were... ah... propositioning her. With all the recent stress, the Queen decided it was high time she took a small vacation, and departed from Hyrule Castle a few nights ago."
"Where is she now? Where can I find her? I have to talk to her," Link said urgently. Tetra looked as though she were rent apart by indecision.
"I can't tell you, Sir Greenhero. I am sorry. Though, you may want to check… Goddesses. Come in here," Tetra said, and pulled Link into a small side-room. It was a cluttered office- who used it, Link didn't know. "I'm not going to tell you where she is because I feel like you've been a real jerk to her. But I'll give you a clue, because I can tell you care about her, which is a start. This place is remotely connected to the palace and we smuggled her out through a part of it. The sun can't be seen for long during the day where she is, though the light lasts as long as it would otherwise. Most importantly, the ruins of an ancient hell are on her horizon. That's all." Before Link could get in a word or question, Tetra had slipped away from him, out of the office, and though he followed she was hurrying down the hall.
Connected to the palace? Difficult to see the sun? Hell?
It hit him on the head like a falling brick. She was at the lake!
Link hurried to the guest chambers, scrawled a note for Valin (Gone to lake, if anyone comes looking for me lie about where I am. -L) and grabbed a few of his small things he'd need, sword and shield included, of course. Without further ado, he went to the stables, saddled up Epona, and rode west.
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