By Lyxie

Chapter 2: Unexpected Changes

-Hyrule: The Grand Council Hall, Hyrule Castle

-Three years and seven weeks since Ganondorf's defeat

"Now, onto the next matter of business," wheezed one of Zelda's chancellors, and she had to keep from groaning. Chancellor Rubin Sorisba was the oldest and wheeziest of the chancellors, and, as such, ran the board, practically. His matters of "great importance" and "business" were nothing more than wastes of time- Zelda didn't care about the place settings at banquets, she wanted to reform the Hylian infrastructure, Din burn it! She wanted to pass laws and decrees, help her poor from poverty and lead her rich in examples of good citizenship, but no. They had to discuss petty, superficial things- only last week, they'd spent a full hour debating napkin holders. Napkin holders!

"Highness, it has come to our attention that there are several suitors here for you in the palace- princes, well-to-do noblemen and the like. I believe I speak for the whole council when I say that we are of an opinion that you should marry."

"Marry," stated Zelda vaguely. "And what has put this notion into your head?" She was rather a little more snappish than she usually was, but goodness! Marriage was the last thing on her mind.

(Actually, that was a lie. Marriage to anyone but Link was the last thing on her mind. She still loved him, even after all this time apart, but she was starting to doubt that he'd ever return for her.)

"Highness, you are aging," wheezed another of the chancellors, the Duke of Plimbery. "The throne needs an heir."

"My father before me lived to the age of forty-five, and only died so young due to an odd strike of disease, the same that killed my brother, though it was the first strike in two centuries. My great-grandmother lived to the age of eighty, and my grandmother to eighty four. The royal family has a tradition of longevity, and I fully intend to carry on that tradition. I am not yet one and twenty- there is no reason to suppose I might die, and no heir is necessary."

"But, highness," another chancellor began to whine, however, Zelda stood, placing her hands flat on the table.

"I'll not marry and give my crown away to some man who will cater to your disorderly whims," she said firmly. "This council has a tradition of uncertainty and incorrectness in the face of what is best for the country- for example, the invasion of Zant and Ganondorf, and I'll not be argued with again. I will not marry," she said firmly. "Not to any man who doesn't have a good head on his shoulders and can't best me in every single area of combat."

"A challenge, Highness?" murmured an old Marquis. "Many will try you."

"None will best me," she said confidently. "Though few people have ever seen me raise my blade in combat, those who have know just exactly what it means when I say that I will not marry one who can't beat me. And, providing some man does, indeed, best me at swordsmanship, there is still the matter of archery, grappling, and hand-to-hand to deal with. I'll not be swayed," she stated coldly. "For I will not marry a man who can't defend himself. Who that can't keep their own person safe can ensure the safety of their country?"

The council was silent. Satisfied, Zelda looked about the table.

"Now, I want you all to listen to me. I've endured your bickering and superficial dissent for long enough. I'm instituting a change here and now. You are to bicker and dissent on your own time on the issues which you feel are most important. When you have reached conclusions on these matters, I will hear your decision and reasoning. If I approve, the motion will be passed, and if I disapprove the motion will be vetoed. Frankly, gentlemen," she added, sweeping the table with a gaze of disdain, "I have more important things to do with my time than listen to a bunch of old men argue about napkin holders and place cards. Until you get your acts together, I'll listen to the issues of the people in an open forum each morning in the time I would otherwise spend listening to your blathering."

They were, predictably, all appalled. "Highness," gasped Sorisba, looking rather like a fish out of water. "You can't just- can't just do away with your council. This is one of Hyrule's oldest and richest traditions, dating back far past the time of your great-great-grandfather, and I, for one, won't stand for it. Besides, who will balance your power?"

"I already have a panel of impartial advisors- no more, no less- lined up. They will attend to matters at my discretion and report back to me without bias. Present your argument to me on why you should stay after the open forum tomorrow morning," stated Zelda blandly. "I've already had word spread throughout Hyrule. And, in case you had forgotten, I can just do away with this tradition, or any tradition I choose. I am the sovereign of this country and power is mine to mete as I please. Good day, gentlemen," she added, and, without waiting for reply, she waltzed from the room.

In the hall, she smiled, relieved. Perhaps such a confrontation was far out of character from her, but for once, she'd acted with passion and conviction, instead of with demure deference.

No more royal doormat, thought Zelda gleefully. I'm finally taking matters into my own hands.

-Hinterlands of Holodrum: Somewhere beyond the Samasa Desert

-Six years and eight months since Ganondorf's defeat

Valin Leonas brushed the sand off the rag he'd tied over his nose and mouth and looked to the caravan for what felt like the umpteenth time in the past few minutes. The camels were plodding along at a painfully slow pace, and though he appreciated their stoutness in the unrelenting heat, he just wanted out of this blasted desert. He'd been here at least a full third of the year and he was tired of the sand.

"Holding up there?" asked a friendly voice at Valin's side. The adventurer turned his head to take in the sparkling eyes of his good friend and most trusted companion, Link. The young earl snorted, then turned his eyes back to the caravan.

"How the hell are you so perky in this bedamned heat? It's a miracle we haven't keeled over."

"I've dealt with worse," Link commented, eyes squinting as he measured the sun against the horizon. "You ever been in a volcano, Leonas?"

"No," Valin replied irritably. Link grinned at his friend then, though it was hidden by the cloth he wore over his nose and mouth.

"Didn't think so. Just praise the goddesses there's no moisture in the air- then we'd really be miserable. Besides, deserts aren't so bad, especially not this one. It's just big."

"Too big," grunted Valin. "When we took on this job, I didn't realize how massive this blasted place would be."

"We should start seeing signs of life within the next week, and be out of the desert in a fortnight," Link informed his friend blandly, sparing a brief glance for the skeleton of a great boar that laid within the sand, bones long since picked clean of any meat.

"Oh, good," Valin replied irritably. For all he was grumpy, though, his eyes routinely swept the desert for bandits. He looked briefly at his friend, and to his friend's horse, the only one in the party. "How's Epona holding up?"

"Doing just fine, aren't you, girl?" Link asked his russet war horse. She tossed her head and snorted cheerfully, seeming for all the world untroubled by the heat, or the infrequency of water. Though Leonas knew better, sometimes he suspected that both man and horse were more than mortal- they were too resilient, had too much strength and endurance, and each had more lives than a cat.

Valin Leonas knew, of course, that Link was the forgotten hero who had rescued Hyrule from the clutches of most dire evil the moment he laid eyes on the man. Link didn't radiate good, not exactly, nor did he radiate purity, but there was something about him that told Valin that he could trust him through thick and thin with anything and everything.

Valin and Link met under rather strange circumstances- Valin had been in an area investigating claims of a hidden temple filled with all sorts of divine secrets, not to mention riches, and though he was going about his business in an unobtrusive way, the previously friendly locals had a stroke of bad luck, and decided Valin was the cause. They'd imprisoned him when Link happened along, and the adventurer had seemed amused to see the rumpled young earl in a cage. He bartered with the locals for the man's life if he could fix all the bad luck, and sure enough, less than a fortnight later all was prosperous and then some within the village. Valin was released, and insisted on accompanying Link to repay his life-debt. Though the adventurer was, at first, annoyed by the considered 'tagalong,' the two became the closest of friends, and though Valin was not the adventurer Link was, he was quite often rather handy to have around.

That had been two years ago, and now the men shared a bond closer than that of brothers. They'd been through innumerable scrapes together, and had laughed and mourned together. They had much in common- both men were Hylian and shared a deep passion for their home country, both had been restless in their small duties and had set out in the name of glory and adventure, both had understood the thrill of battle but rejected the joy in killing. Their vast differences in background kept things interesting- Valin had been born into the gentry, and when he returned to Hyrule he would take up earldom. Link did not talk of his past, but Valin knew it had been unlike his: lonely and difficult.

Then again, with the fortune he was amassing in his adventures, Link would probably be able to buy all of Hyrule when he returned. He would want for nothing, Valin was fairly certain. At least, he'd want for nothing monetary.

Treasures seemed to have an odd habit of finding their way into Link's hands. Link never did anything different from Valin, but when Link looked in alcoves he found riches and treasure chests. When Valin looked in alcoves, he found spiderwebs. The earl laughed it off with his usual good humor- he had no wants for money, and found enough treasure as it was anyway, though the two men frequently donated portions of their findings to the needy. 'After all,' as Link would often say, 'it's not as though we'll be able to take all this back to Hyrule with us.'

Thinking of the kingdom brought a longing to the forefront of Valin's mind. He'd been gone from Hyrule quite some time- three years, at least, and he knew Link had been gone twice that, if not more. It would be a long journey back to Hyrule, Valin knew: they would have to get out of this stinking desert, for one, and from there, they'd need to make their way across Holodrum and sail across the great sea. They'd land in a Terminian Port in the Great Bay, and from there, make their way up to Snowhead, cross to Snowpeak, and then go down to Hyrule. The trip would take half a year, maybe more, and truly, Valin wanted to go home. Sweeping the desert around him with a fierce brown gaze, he turned his eyes on his friend.

"Link, I've been thinking," Valin said, voice muffled by the mask he wore over his nose and mouth.

"I hope you didn't hurt yourself," the adventurer replied with a smirk. Valin sighed and rolled his eyes, and urged his slow camel onwards.

"Very funny, Mr. Money. I was thinking... maybe we should go back to Hyrule." At this, Link stilled, and an air of silence seemed to descend around him. The adventurer looked at the horizon for bandits, saw none, glanced once at the caravan he guarded, and turned his cold blue gaze back upon his friend.

"I am not sure I am quite ready to return to that place, Valin," Link told him, and the flatness of his friend's tone sent shivers down his back.

"Why not, Link? You've been gone a long, long time. There's no reason not to."

"I just can't," stated Link plainly. Valin sighed and rolled his eyes- clearly, this was one of Link's pigheaded irrationalities, such as breaking every pot and crate he saw.

"Link, I know you, and I know it's not like you to run from your problems. Whatever it is... you need to confront it."

"Not yet," Link told his friend. Seeing Valin's skeptical eyes, Link sighed. "Soon, I promise, but I need just a little longer away... here, I have a thought. We will journey to Termina when we are through with this desert quest, and stay in Clock Town through winter. In late spring, when the mountain roads thaw, we'll make our way up to Snowhead and be to Hyrule by the start of summer. Fair enough?"

"Ten months," mused Valin. Knowing it was the best he would get from his friend, he nodded his head in consent. "Agreed. First things first, though," he added, hand tightening around his spear as he nodded to an oncoming train of bandits peering over the horizon. "Let's get out of this blasted desert in one piece with our reputations as adventurers intact."

A carnal smile split Link's face below his mask as he eyed the bandits. He shouted a word of warning to the driver of the caravan as he drew his blade, which glimmered like silver fire underneath the desert sun. "Let's."

-Hyrule: The Courtroom, Hyrule Palace

-Six years and eleven months since Ganondorf's defeat

The Queen of Hyrule was not a force to be trifled with. Though she appeared as innocent and harmless as she was good and kind, criminals painfully learned that she was excruciatingly fair, and offenders of the law quickly reformed.

Sakon the thief stood on trial, shackled by the hands and feet to the floor, head held high as his list of offenses were read.

"Multiple counts of theft from various castle town vendors and citizens, the murder of Delila Bourghess, and reports of unholy acts with a goat. Sakon Gerroux, how do you plead?"

He knew there was no point in resisting or pleading innocent, so, head held high, he stated clearly, "guilty."

"What punishment will the Queen mete out?" asked the meter. Sakon watched as the Queen stood from where she was seated at a long table at the forefront of the room and walked around it, towards Sakon. The thief gulped with nervousness as she neared. She was beautiful, and the look of sadness upon her face as she took him in filled him with the deepest shame.

"You have committed many terrible crimes against my people, Sakon. Why would a man such as you do things so terrible to his fellow Hylians? Are you not blessed to be living in this beautiful land where the power of the Gods slumbers? Do you yearn for the agony and anarchy of bygone years, and thus act with hate?"

"No, no, my lady, and truly, I am sorry for my actions," Sakon said, and it was true, for the Queen's evident pain had moved him to tears.

"You are only sorry because you have seen my suffering- truly you were not sorry after you inflicted such terrible pain on others, nor were you sorry even a quarter of an hour ago. You must suffer, Sakon, as you have made others suffer. It agonizes me to decree it," Zelda said, looking upon him sadly but without pity. She then turned to the meter, and pronounced clearly as she moved back to the table, "I hereby command it thus, that Sakon Gerroux, thief, is to serve fifteen years in purgatory- ten years in the castle dungeon, and the last five in public slavery. If his behavior is good and he shows evidence of change at the end of these fifteen years he will be released with police watch. If not, he will be executed."

"Be it done," declared the meter, banging the gavel once against the podium. Sakon was dismissed

It struck him as he was hauled away that the punishment was perfectly fitting- a year for each of his ten offenses of theft and five years for the murder; his sentence would be long, painful. He would suffer as he had made others suffer.

The Queen of Hyrule was painfully fair.

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