Chapter 6: The First Night
-Zelda: The Ballroom, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: First Night
Zelda's nerves fluttered and clamored at her for some unknown reason as she moved around the ball, greeting various people. She didn't know why she was so nervous- she really had no reason to be- and yet, she was. She took a quick peer over at a dark window, checking her dim reflection in the glass- nothing out of place on her elaborate gown, which was good news. She felt a little self-conscious in this latest of fashions, though she wouldn't ever have admitted it to anyone but Malon or Tetra- the thin, off-the-shoulder sleeves, which were really nothing more than little strips of blue fabric, the tight, smooth bodice (it was ivory embroidered in blue and was perhaps a little too flattering to her chest) and the long, voluminous skirt- ivory as well, but with that blue silk again, which was draped in a thick scrunch around her hips and let to fall to the floor in a long ribbon. She felt both overdressed and underdressed- ridiculous, really, and as she pulled at her long gloves she had to remind herself that she was, in fact, the Queen, and that she was the standard other women were supposed to live up to, not the other way around. But still.
The herald trumpeted a late arrival of some earl and his guest, and, shortly afterwards, the Zora King Ralis. Zelda warmed with pleasure that her friend had come, and moved towards the entrance of the ballroom, pausing to accept a compliment from a young duchess over her hair (styled up and curled, it had taken painful hours but the end product was rather flattering) before craning her head over the crowd to look for the Zora. As her gaze swept the crowd, she recognized someone familiar...
Her stomach dropped as her gaze centered in and all thoughts of finding Ralis flew from her mind, thoroughly obliterated. Her heart began to beat rapidly and her breathing quickened... there was no way. It simply couldn't be possible.
And then he looked up and she knew that for all the impossibilities, it was the truth.
Time seemed to stop as chilly ice blue eyes met usually composed aquamarine. Zelda couldn't help it- her jaw dropped as she saw the Hero she'd dreamt of for so long, ever since that awful day they'd parted... she'd thought him dead! But no, he was quite obviously alive and well and time had, if possible, made the previously devastating man even more handsome- her eyes quickly swept over him. Had his shoulders always been so broad? Had he always had such amazing muscles? Had his face always been so strongly defined, had his mouth always had that annoying little upward quirk? He was smirking at her, she knew, laughing at her stare but she couldn't help it. Colossus, it wasn't as though she hadn't fantasized about him ever since she'd met him, even moreso since they'd parted. But- Goddesses! His formalwear fit him like a glove- a rather finely sculpted glove, to be honest- and it was a miracle that the Queen of Hyrule didn't just run and disgrace herself in front of all her nobles right then and there.
Oh, Goddesses! He's coming this way!
Had his walk always been so self-assured? His stride so entrancing? So powerful? He moved through the crowd with grace, and Zelda envied him his composure as he took her in, unimpressed. At last, he'd cleared past the last reveler and stood before Zelda. Excitement welled within her, and mentally she scolded herself, commanding herself to keep her composure. It wasn't working.
Oh, how she'd longed for this moment.
"Adventurer," she addressed him, heart fluttering in her throat, though she kept her cool as best as she could, "you have returned."
"Highness," he replied, kneeling before her. "It is an honor to be in your presence." The words were cold, oddly formal. What was wrong with him, Zelda wondered? Hadn't he missed her as much as she had missed him? Certainly he had... right?
"It warms my heart to see you home. What has at last called you back to Hyrule, Hero?" she asked him quietly in an effort to extract some emotion other than coolness and- dare she say?- contempt. She motioned for him to stand and he did so.
As he straightened, Zelda couldn't help but ogle the effortless motions of his sleek, toned muscles. "I have long ventured elsewhere," Link informed her simply. "All across the four corners of every map in the Goddesses' creation. In my more recent adventures, I wound up companions with a certain young earl, Lord Leonas, who insisted I return to Hyrule with him for a while. Having aught better to do with my time, I agreed."
Her heart sank. "Such a simple reason to return to your home, Hero. You save this land, and her people are still greatly indebted to you. Have you not returned to your friends and family?" And love, she yearned to say, but refrained. Such talk was in the past, and she feared more and more by the moment that such feelings were in the past as well.
"I have saved many lands and many people," Link said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Truly, I come at my companion's insistence and for my own distraction- sword swinging can be tiring, and I need a break. No allegiances or ties pulled me back here, Highness." There was a defiance in his words that made Zelda ache on the inside- truly, then, he had forgotten her, as well as his promise.
Her throat was tight as she tried to speak. "What a shame," she managed, keeping her voice light as best she could, "that you should not come home to this land for love of it. Many here have missed you; it would be a grievous insult to inform them you have not returned for longing of them."
"Then I shall be certain to mince my words," Link replied without show of humor of any sort. Zelda nearly recoiled from the force of his disdain- Goddesses! She wanted to slap him, or kiss him, or both, but no, she could do neither, not in a room this crowded, and she would not lower herself to insults. Threats, on the other hand...
"I know not where your allegiances lie," she said coldly, dropping pleasantry with Link, "but for that they used to lie with this country, and because of this, you are welcome at my court for the services you have done for my kingdom. Keep in mind though, Adventurer, that this is my land and, as Queen, I am due respect- if you make trouble and disturb the peace I have worked for, I will have you exiled from my kingdom."
"Are you threatening me?" His words were cold and the contempt was open on his face- he stepped up to stand nearly chest-to-chest with her, a horrible breach of protocol. Her heart was thudding and she was certain that some of her subjects would see, certainly, and talk, without question...
But she was so damned angry! She stood tall against him, glared up into his face with all the icy regality she could summon. "Not threatening, Adventurer," she informed him stonily. "Promising."
"I'll hold you to it," he replied with a low murmur, and, with one last smirk, he stepped back and bowed briskly with such sarcasm as to completely defile the deferential motion. "Good evening, Highness." He took Zelda's left hand in his and kissed it, causing Zelda to react in mental disgust yet physical longing. Electricity tingled up her veins, making her even more jittery than she was already. Link dropped her hand suddenly and stood, then, and without waiting for her dismissal, he departed, suddenly and speedily. Zelda remained where she was, shocked, fuming, and absolutely furious. How dare he? How dare he?
"Majesty?" came the voice of Malon, and Zelda turned, doing her best not to furiously stomp away.
"Insubordinate, disrespectful pig," Zelda replied in a low, angry voice to her dearest friend, and took Malon by the elbow, then made herself smile pleasantly, as though nothing were wrong. "Come, Malon. We have much planning to do."
"With all due respect, Majesty, what do we plan?"
"I'm going to make him suffer," Zelda replied, uncharacteristically vehement and malicious, though she smiled prettily, and even laughed merrily, as though there were no problems in the world. "He loved me once, he'll love me again, but he won't like it- oh no. Come, Malon. This party tires me."
"Yes, Majesty," replied Malon, bewildered, as the Queen of the country led her away to the gardens for some Grade A conspiring.
I'm not paralyzed
But, I seem to be struck by you
I want to make you move
Because you're standing still
If your body matches
What your eyes can do
You'll probably move right through
Me on my way to you
-Link: The Ballroom, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: First Night
"Why Link, I wasn't aware you knew the princess. Mighty bit of insubordination there, you know," Valin said to Link as the adventurer returned to his friend by the punch bowl. "The Queen's not one to mess with. Iron fist, that one."
"Oh really," Link replied, watching with a raised brow as Zelda took the arm of a pretty redhead, seemingly without a care in the world, and left the ballroom for the garden, chattering with her friend. "How did she ever explain away that little boo-boo with the monsters a few years ago? That was quite the war, if I remember correctly."
"She didn't, remember?" Valin reminded his friend, moving to stand beside his fellow 'wandering vagrant.' "There was that problem with the council. Of course, the precipitation of the Zant business started when her father was on the throne, and the Queen got it cleared up, and she's ruling strong now. Things in Hyrule are great, from what I hear- she's fair, but tough. Quite the heartbreaker, too, according to rumor."
"How remarkable," Link murmured, trying to seem disinterested. In truth, watching her walk out of the ballroom and away from him was the hardest thing to do since leaving her all those years ago- he was back, he'd come within mere inches of her, bandied words with her, touched her, kissed her hand even- but he'd challenged her to a little game, and she'd accepted. They'd fight each other, battle for victory over the other with words and wit, and Link vowed this was a battle he would not lose. He thought of Valin's most recent comment, and wondered aloud. "Heartbreaker, you say?"
"Yes," his friend affirmed. "I've heard she's been proposed to many, many times, but she vows she will marry no man who can't hold his own in a battle against her. Of course, she looks like a sweet, innocent little thing," Valin comment, "but she fights like a wildcat, furious, fast and strong. None have yet bested her, though not for lack of trying."
"Ah, yes, always was a wildcat, that one," Link mused with a low chuckle, thinking back to the many times they'd fought each other, the times he'd trained her, the things they'd taught each other, her sheer strength, despite her size. Only once had she bested him, but many other times she'd come close. "Tell me, Valin," Link said with a canine grin, turning to his friend and speaking low in his ear. "Might a commoner best the Queen, and have her for his bride?"
Valin glanced at his friend in alarm. "Link, don't tell me you're thinking of making her another one of your trophies. You don't have anything to prove."
"Not at all," Link replied, indicating to Valin that they should begin walking outside to the gardens as well. "I simply have a very interesting story to relate to you, and a means of completing said story satisfactoraily..." a glance at Valin told Link his friend remained unconvinced. "Simply put, the Queen and I have a long-standing competition going on between the two of us, and it would be interesting if I could beat her out and achieve certain unspoken rewards in the process." Another glance. Still suspicious. Link sighed.
"I'll tell you how I came by my abilities as swordsman, as the Queen is very closely tied into my origins."
"Now I'm listening," Valin replied, excited, for he had long pestered the great adventurer for his past, without success.
"You see," Link said to Valin as they walked out into the courtyard, "I actually used to be a goat herder..."
-Malon: The Courtyard and The Ballroom, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: First Night
"So that's the reason why you declared that you'd marry no man who couldn't beat you in combat?" Malon asked Zelda, wide eyed, as they spoke quietly behind a rose plant. "Because you knew the only one who could do it was Link?"
"Not so loud, Malon," replied Zelda in a terse whisper. "It was one of the reasons... alright, the main reason, to be honest. But you saw how he acted. He doesn't care about me anymore! We have to fix it somehow."
"A love potion?" Malon asked with the slightest of giggles. "I'm sure you could bribe one of the magicians to make you one."
"Pooh, I could make it myself but I don't think it would work on him. He's under the protection of the Goddesses, same as I am. It wouldn't be worth it to even bother trying. No, I'm going to have to win him over by other means... though how, I don't know."
"Well, there's always with looks," Malon noted, eyeing the Queen's figure. Zelda glanced cautiously at her friend, a little worried at Malon's contemplative expression.
"What are you planning?"
"Just something to set off your appearances a little more tomorrow night. No offense, Highness, but you dress very conservatively."
"Conservatively?" asked Zelda in surprise, looking down at her gown. "This dress shows my shoulders AND a little bit of cleavage! It's almost scandalous!"
Malon shook her head, simply making little tsk noises with her tongue. "No, Highness, it's quite modest. Have you not been looking about at the other womens' dresses?"
"Not really..." admitted Zelda simply. "I'm a little... distracted."
"Within reason," agreed Malon. "Come on, let's get you back to the ball. You need to dance the night away and smile and laugh like there's nothing wrong, and tomorrow we'll get to work on revenge."
"Of course," replied Zelda, and she allowed her friend to escort her back into the ball. Once inside, Malon vanished from Zelda's arm, and the Queen of Hyrule found herself quite alone. The first man to come up to her and ask her to dance (some foreign dignitary) was awarded with an immediate "yes" and the Queen of Hyrule was swept out onto the dance floor.
Malon, in the meantime, had bumped into Valin just as the adventurer had released Link into the streaming mass of people in the ball. The redhead paused, sizing up the tall, broad-shouldered man as he pushed the blonde hero into the crowd, and then immediately blushed when he turned and caught her eyes. He was very handsome, Malon couldn't help but think- he had warm brown eyes and shortish brown hair that had been combed neatly back away from his face. His skin was pleasantly tanned, and though he was not quite so tall nor so broad as his friend, Malon couldn't help but think that he was rather more handsome. As he approached her, she had to remind herself that he was the friend of the enemy- it was a war between Zelda and Link and Malon would be consorting with the other side.
"My lady," said the handsome man, bowing before her. He took her hand in his and gently pressed his lips to the back of it, and Malon felt her heart flutter.
"My lord," she replied, taking her hand back and curtseying. "It is good of you to come to this Gala. I am afraid I do not recognize you..."
"Lord Valin Leonas, Earl of Lakewood," Valin said grandly.
"Lord Leonas," Malon replied charmingly. "I am the Malon Lolon, daughter of the Marquis Talon Lolon and Lady-In-Waiting to the Queen."
"Lolon? Your father breeds excellent horses," Valin said with a grin. "Second to none in Hyrule."
"It warms me to hear it." Not just warmed- Malon was flushed with pride. But it was a ruse! It had to be! She couldn't talk to this gentleman. He was on the other team.
As though sensing her thoughts, Valin cleared his throat. "Miss Lolon, would you be so kind as to favor me with a dance? I have something very interesting to talk to you about."
"I suppose," replied Malon with a little hesitation as the music struck up. Then, with a disarming smile, she extended her hand. "Very well. Of what would you like to speak?" she asked as Valin led her out onto the dance floor. They assumed the position and began to move through the simple, demure steps, barely touching each other, as the dance called for.
"I take it you know of the history between my friend and your friend?" Valin asked her airily.
"I do," replied Malon, eyes guarded. "And I feel that your friend has done my friend several very great wrongs."
"As do I," agreed Valin lightly. "The man's got a head thicker than iron. I do believe he intends to go into battle against your friend- both with blades and with words. He's going to try to dominate her heart, only, I'm not entirely certain that that's how love works."
"Interesting," stated Malon simply. "Go on."
"I know that my friend is still in love with your friend, and I think your friend feels the same," postulated Valin. "But if your friend is anything like my friend, she's stubborn and pigheaded as well and won't see reason. My idea is for us to give the two of them a little help, because they'll never come around to things otherwise."
"So what is it exactly that you're proposing?" Malon asked as she and Valin switched hands again and again. "Enlighten me."
"You have to promise I can trust you, first. I don't want you running back to your friend."
"I want to see her happy," insisted Malon. "Even if it means I'll have to go behind her back a little. I promise I'm trustworthy- and you?"
"I am the same. You can trust me," Valin stated, and at the lowness of his voice at these last words, Malon felt little shivers go down her back.
"So what's your plan?"
"Throw them together. Little things. Dropping comments and hints... I'm sure the Zora King Ralis would be more than happy to help out as well."
"Perhaps, then, it should be known that my friend has made it a practice to keep her mind and reflexes hones," Malon told Valin. "Each morning at dawn, she practices in the arena with her weapons."
"You know, it's odd," mused Valin. "I do believe my friend was of the notion to do the exact same thing. He intends to beat your friend on every turf she has," he added.
"He may best her in the arena," acknowledged Malon, "but I doubt that he'll outdo her when it comes to the nuances of palace life and social graces."
"We'll see," stated Valin. "This could prove to be entertaining. Miss Lolone, I don't suppose you're a gambling woman?"
"I've never taken a wager in my life," replied Malon lightly. "But I might be willing to make an exception. What sort of stakes were you thinking of?"
"I'll let you set the stakes," Valin told her as the dance ended. Malon curtsied, Valin bowed, and kissed the back of her hand one last time. "I'll come and find you tomorrow, and we'll plan further."
"The arena in the morning," Malon told him. He smiled, and bowed once more.
"Good evening, Miss Lolone."
"Good evening, Lord Leonas."
Watching him walk away and feeling rather warm as she admired the figure he cut, Malon couldn't help but think that it would be a very interesting week or so within the palace. First Zelda and Link, and now herself and Valin. The Goddesses were truly having a grand time making matches this evening.
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