By Lyxie

Chapter 7: The Second Day

-Zelda: The Training Arena, Hyrule Castle

-Queen's Gala: Second Morning

Zelda rose early the next morning after a night of restlessness and dressed in simple trousers, tunic, and boots, braided her hair into a high bun and moved, silent as a ghost, from her chambers in the castle. Hardly anyone was awake so early, and in a few blessed, silent minutes, Zelda had made her way to the empty training arena. Rosy light was streaming in and the sun was peering shyly over the horizon as Zelda selected a weapon and began to warm up. She went through her paces- slowly, at first, then faster and faster until the blade of her sword was a silver blur in the dawning light. She finished her first set and paused in her exercises to roll out her neck and shoulders, which were still tense from the night before, but turned abruptly, weapon held at the ready, when she heard clapping coming from the far side of the arena.

"You've improved," said Link, who had been watching impassively for some time, leaning against the wall of the weaponry. Zelda felt her temper flare- a usually uncommon occurrence, but in Link's case she was willing to make an exception- and, irritated, she turned away from him and went back to her practice. She was stopped a moment later when Link's blade blocked her own- but she hadn't heard or seen him move! He'd simply been there all of a sudden, standing before her, eyes glittering as he told her, "fight me."

"No," said Zelda forcefully, circling her blade free from his.

"Fight me," he insisted again, lunging towards her.

"No," replied Zelda, ducking and rolling out of the way of Link's blade.

"Fight me like you'd fight one of your suitors," demanded Link, trapping Zelda's blade under his boot.

"No," she replied, neatly sweeping his legs out from under him. She grabbed her sword and made to leave when the cold prickle of the tip of Link's blade against the back of her bare neck stopped her.

"Why won't you fight me?"

"What are you trying to prove, Link? That the Queen of Hyrule can be beaten in battle? I know it, my people know it. That you're better than me at fighting? I know that, too," stated Zelda in exasperation as Link circled around to stand in front of her, blade of his sword pressing oh so lightly against her neck.

"I want to see how good you've gotten. Why won't you fight me? Scared?"

"Never. You have no license to judge me, and I don't fear you," she replied calmly, chin raised defiantly. "I won't fight you because if I did, I wouldn't be able to keep from killing you, given the opportunity."

"Tsk, tsk," murmured Link, shaking his head with an arrogant smirk. "Have your feelings towards me changed so drastically so quickly? Why, only last night you were thrilled to see me... I could read it in your eyes... ouch!" Link recoiled as the force of Zelda's slap rocked his body backwards. She whipped her sword around quick as silver lightning to strike, but Link caught it with his own and parried, and the two were off in a clang of steel, flash of light and a whirl of painful emotions.

As light broke more and more over the arena and the sound of battle carried across the training ground, spectators began to gather, one by one, to watch. Never had they seen the Queen so well matched in an opponent; the two bodies moved together, almost as one in battle. They preempted each other's moves with perfect timing and grace and flowed fluidly from position to position; their war was visual poetry worthy of immortalizing with oils and canvas.

"Why are you here, Link?" demanded Zelda furiously as she feinted, struck, parried, and spun. "You don't want to be in Hyrule, and it's clear you have less than friendly emotions towards me, so why seek me out? Do you receive some sick pleasure from tormenting people who once cared for you?"

"You cared? I'm touched," sneered Link. "You probably only cared once I was gone."

"That's a lie and you know it. You knew I cared for you."

"You cared for the marking on the back of my hand," stated Link. "You cared that I was one that could share your burden. Had I not saved Hyrule, you'd not have cared for me."

"I care for all my subjects," Zelda spat, striking Link's blade so hard with her own that he had to take a step back to regain his balance and shield his face from sparks. "Even had you not saved Hyrule, had I simply met you, I would have cared. Your vanity and pride cloud your eyes."

"And now you care no longer," he sighed. "Shame on me, for I have offended your vanity," noted Link wryly.

"You're an arrogant, egotistical, vagrant pig of a man and you've been nothing but trouble for me since you returned. It's been less than twelve hours and already I am quite certain that wherever you go you will only bring misery to those around you." Strike, parry, strike. "Each of your actions carries an evident design to hurt and offend, and such behavior is not only intolerable but inexcusable."

"You're jealous," stated Link with an obnoxious grin. "You're jealous that I can say whatever I want and you can't do a single thing to stop me, but you have to censor all your thoughts and speeches to please your people."

"Damn it, what's your problem?" Zelda finally shouted as she felt the last of her restraint snap. "Have you forgotten the basics of courtesy?"

"I prefer honesty, honestly," replied Link, and in a smooth sweep he disarmed Zelda. Always one to turn a disadvantage into an advantage, the Queen of Hyrule ducked away from the finishing sweep of Link's blade, rolled behind him, and caught his arms, pinning them to his back. With a clatter, he, too, dropped his sword.

"Didn't anyone ever teach you that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say it?" Zelda asked him, jerking his arms in a way that she knew was most painful. Link winced.

"Didn't anyone ever teach you to play nice?" he asked her in return, and hooked his leg backwards between hers and knocked her off balance. She dragged him down, not relinquishing her hold on him, but now he was on top and had the advantage. Her grip had shifted just so and he was able to pry his arms free- he rolled over and pinned her underneath him, arms above her head. Anger and hate simmered in her eyes as she looked up at him, and the onlookers were all silent.

"Looks like they're arguing about something," whispered Malon to Valin from where they hid behind a tree, watching. "I don't think I've ever seen the Queen that angry."

"Emotion is good. It gives rise to other emotions," Valin whispered back. "Let's see what happens."

Zelda's chest was heaving as she sucked in as much air as she could, though it was difficult with Link atop her. "So now you presumably have me where you want me- defenseless beneath you, oh grandest of Heroes," she spat.

"You've gotten better," Link said to her. "I'm almost winded."

"You're sweating and I can see your pulse in your throat," jeered Zelda.

"Thrill of the fight," he replied with a shrug.

"Let me up," demanded Zelda, disgusted.


"Let me up, now."


"You're disobeying orders from the reigning monarch of the country you're in. I could have you locked up for this."

"Ah, but you won't," replied Link, dipping his head closer to hers. "You couldn't bear to lock away the hero of the land, and when people found out, they'd rebel."

"Perhaps not," Zelda said with a shrug. She took a few deep gulps of air, shutting her eyes and trying to ignore the rapid pounding of her heart that she was beginning to suspect had nothing to do with the battle she'd just entered into, much to her dismay.

"Say I win," demanded Link, blue eyes now alight like fire.

"What makes you think you've won?" Zelda asked him.

"You can't move or strike. You're at my mercy. I've won."

"You're forgetting something," Zelda sing-songed.

Link quirked a brow, and for a moment Zelda was actually attracted to him. Then she remembered him for the pig he was. "And that is?"

"Your hands are sweaty," Zelda replied, and before Link could react she'd slid one of her hands free of his grip and punched him in the stomach. He fell back with a noisy "oof" and Zelda was up in a second, Link's blade in hand. She pointed it at him as he made to stand, pressing the tip against his neck.

"I win," she stated obnoxiously.

"Oh really?" asked Link, looking up at her in a leisurely and obnoxious manner. "You've got my sword and it would appear you've got the advantage, wouldn't it?"

"You're too calm," noted Zelda defensively, and she jumped just as he made to sweep her legs out from under her. In the brief instant the blade was removed from his neck he shot up like a rocket and caught her up against him, her arms pinned behind her like his had been earlier, her front pressed to him. She glared up at him in anger, twitching her sword arm futilely.

"You're pretty when you're angry," Link noted. "A rather nice improvement from normal, I'll admit."

"You're vile," replied Zelda, and for a moment she half-thought of spitting on that smirk of his.

"You like it," he replied arrogantly, tightening his arms around her. Their position was rather like an embrace, Zelda noted, but lacking the intimacy and love of one. For whatever reason, that thought pained her, and it must have showed through in her eyes- Link faltered, and her opening appeared.

"Zelda..." he began, voice softer now.

"Don't you dare!" she hissed between her teeth, and, in a smooth moment, she'd brought her knee up and rammed him securely in the most painful of places. He doubled over, wheezing, and Zelda threw his sword down into the sand of the arena.

"So that's where you've been wanting to touch me all morning, is it?" he cajoled her as she went to pick up her sword.

"Link, to be quite frank, I despise you and would be glad to see you gone from my kingdom forever."

Without waiting for his reply, she stormed away, cheeks red with fury and shame, and left the arena, leaving Link on the ground and her onlookers stunned.

"Well," said Malon to Valin from where they watched behind the tree, "that didn't go as bad as it could have, I suppose. For a moment there, it looked like they were lovers, not enemies."

"Link is such an idiot," agreed Valin, shaking his head. "Looks like he's gone and roused a pit of vipers."

"She beat him, though," stated Malon.

"Not in a sportsmanly manner."

"Some of the moves he used were cheap, too."

"All's fair in love and war," quoted Valin.

"But is this love or war?" asked Malon.


They were quiet for a moment, until at last, Valin spoke.

"We've got to get them to stop hating each other, somehow. We need them to actually like each other."

"She likes him, but she'd rather die than show it."

"Link's the same."



The two watched as Link stood weakly, hands still cupped over his groin, grabbed his sword, and limped from the arena. Watching him go, Malon had a thought.

"We need to find out their weaknesses. You find Link's, I'll get Zelda's. They're both bound to be at least a little bit emotionally vulnerable right now. So let's go, talk to them, and meet together in the garden just before lunch to talk about things."

"Sounds like a plan," agreed Valin. He glanced at Link's retreating form, made to go, and then stopped. "Have you thought about the stakes of our wager?"

"Yes," replied Malon, heart fluttering a little faster and cheeks flushing as she spoke. "If Zelda is the first to crack, I'd like you to accompany me to the next Gala as my escort."

Valin grinned dashingly. "Doesn't sound bad. If Link's the first to crack, I get a kiss. Sound fair?" he asked, tipping her chin up to look at him.

"Fair," Malon replied, heart thudding against her ribcage. Valin nodded, pleased, and stepped back, extending his hand.


"Deal," Malon replied, taking his hand and shaking it. He turned their grasp so her hand was atop and, suavely, he kissed the back of it.

"Good day, Miss Lolona."

"Good day," Malon replied faintly. Valin left her, and, taking a moment to battle off her dizzy pleasure, Malon breathed. Then, she set off after her friend.

She wasn't going behind her best friend's back, after all. She was doing what was best for Zelda, even if she would never recognize it. These thoughts consoling her, Malon went to talk to the Queen of the country.

-Link: The Guest Chambers, Hyrule Castle

-Queen's Gala: Second Morning

"...I swear, the woman's nothing more and nothing less than pure evil!" raged Link as he limped back and forth across the room holding a very cold wet rag against a certain area of his body that was still sore. "She's been sent straight from the evil realm to torment me!"

"You were the one that started it, you know," Valin informed Link from where he reclined on his own bed, watching his friend in amusement. "You antagonized her from the second you two met up again."

"She wasn't supposed to fight back this hard! I mean, she was supposed to fight back, but not like this!"

"How, then?"

"She was supposed to fight for me, not against me!"

"So you wanted her to chase after you like some lovesick puppy and try to earn your love back?"


Valin slapped his hand to his forehead and sighed. "Link, you're going about this all wrong. Let's look at things this way. What exactly could Zelda do that would make you more willing to be kind to her?"

"I'd like it if she weren't so damn obnoxious," muttered Link, sitting down heavily in a chair.

"How is she obnoxious?"

"She's just so... so high and mighty! So regal! It's as though I can't even compete with that."

"Act more human, ok. What else?"

"I dunno. I just wish she weren't so damn good at deflecting my insults and firing them right back!"

"Be a doormat. Okay. What do you want out of her? That might be a little easier."

"Love," immediately popped from Link's mouth. He ran his hands through his hair in aggravation, furthering his state of disarray. "Companionship. She's the only one like me in this world... so understanding. Someone I don't have to be guarded around. Oh, Valin," Link added, sinking his head into his hands. "I'm doing this all wrong."

"Yep. But don't worry- we'll get things sorted out soon enough. You scratched up anywhere at all?"

"Not too bad, just on my hands and arms," grumbled Link. "I'm going to have some lovely bruises, though."

"You did challenge her. Try to be a little nicer to her, Link, and maybe she'll be nicer to you. Not too nice, or she'll suspect something's up and throw up the shields. Just... try to not be so antagonistic."

-Zelda: The Queen's Chambers, Hyrule Castle

-Queen's Gala: Second Morning

"But how can I not be antagonistic when he's terrorizing me?" Zelda exclaimed, pacing up and down her room. Malon was sitting at the dresser, toying with her hair and watching her friend through the mirror.

"All I'm saying is act like... act like you do with criminals. Kind but fair. You getting mad at him and him getting mad at you gets you nowhere. If you want him to love you again, you have to show him that you're a being worthy of his love."

"But he's!" managed Zelda, throwing herself down on her bed. "I can't stand him!"

"You love him, don't you?"

"Of course I do!"

"But you fight with him incessantly."

"He started it."

Malon sighed, pinned up a curling lock of hair, and turned to face her friend.

"Alright, Zelda. Let's look at things this way. What sort of behavior do you want out of him? Maybe that'll give you some insight."

"A little respect might be nice," Zelda grumbled. "And courtesy. It would be wonderful if he tried to charm me, but I think that isn't going to happen any time soon. I don't know- a little consideration would be great."

"Let's look at things this way," reasoned Malon. "You do still love Link-"

"-despite my better reason," grumbled Zelda.

"-and there might be a chance that maybe somewhere deep down, Link still loves you-"

"Ha! That's a god one!"

"-and is covering up his vulnerability and pain with bravado. Let's just consider this an improbably hypothetical situation."

"Very highly improbable," agreed Zelda.

"I ask you- how, then, might you go about earning Link's outward love and trust once more? Infuriating him probably isn't the best way to go about it."

"I guess," conceded Zelda sullenly. As Malon beamed brilliantly and opened her mouth to make another of her irritatingly reasonable remarks, a knock resounded at the door. A glance at the clock told Zelda it was her Chief Assistant, Tetra, and the small army of maids who helped Zelda get ready in the mornings. Thankful for the interruption to Malon's obnoxious reasoning, Zelda moved behind the dressing screen and began to undress as Malon went to the door and let in the whole crew.

"Good morning," chirped Tetra as she seated herself at a small table in the center of Zelda's chambers.

"Nothing good about it," grunted the Queen, flaunting her highly atypical bad mood. The women all looked to each other and smiled- word traveled fast in the castle, and everyone knew of the encounter in the arena just a half hour before. Two of the servants- a bath girl and a dressing girl- went behind the screen to help the Queen.

"Well, Highness, I do believe you've a busy day ahead of you. Bolten," she added, snapping her fingers. A serving boy (the only male in the chamber) brought forth a large bag, holding it out to Tetra with scrawny arms. The woman removed a sheaf of bound paper from the depths of the bag as well as a quill, then nodded to the boy. He backed away as Tetra flipped through the sheaf and began to read. "No appeals this morning, thank the Goddesses- I had them called off after the nightmare yesterday. If there are any emergencies, we'll hear about them from Alyz, so there's nothing to be worried about. So you have court, and that will probably last until noontime, and after that you're to dine with your Council... I know you don't like it," Tetra added, pre-empting the Queen's complaint, "but it seems they want to discuss something with you- something about bestowing titles upon commoners. They say they've come to some decisions that they'd like to present, so hopefully it shouldn't turn into a gargantuan argument. After lunch you're going to appear at the Tournament to formally kick off the games and you'll be there for a few hours- lucky break, if you ask me. At three you get two hours to attend to business in your office, give or take as you will, and then around five or five-thirty you're going to go to get ready for the ball. Malon and I are expecting that it'll take at least five hours to get you dressed and ready-"

"Five!" exclaimed the Queen, voice muffled.

"-so you're going to have to dine while your hair is dressed. Did you have a particular gown in mind for tonight, so that Malon and I can coordinate jewelry accordingly? After that fiasco with the royal treasure yesterday I'd like to have it done as early in the day as possible."

"The red one," stated Zelda from behind the screen, remembering Malon's comment from the night before, that she ought to woo Link with her looks. "You know, the one I've never worn, with the low back, the tie-neck and the strap-on front. It was sent in from Labrynna, I think."

"The one you proclaimed made you look like a harlot?" asked Malon in smiling disbelief.

"Yes- ouch, cold!" she called from behind the screen, followed by a splash.

"Sorry, Milady," murmured one of the maids demurely.

"That red one?" asked Tetra, shocked. Malon used Tetra's silence to jump in and take over the affairs of Zelda's appearance, as was her job.

"You swore you'd never wear it- but no matter. It is a lovely gown, though there are some out-of-season elements. I'll send it to the seamstress and have her give it the necessary touch-ups, and I'll go to the treasury and get you something nice to wear with it. Black diamonds, maybe?"

"As long as it goes with the dress."

"Shall I pull a backup dress, just in case you change your mind?" Malon asked cautiously as Tetra wrote something down.

"If you feel it necessary- but this isn't a rash decision. I'm not changing my mind."

"Mhm," murmured Tetra, whereas Malon only smiled. Zelda came around the screen then wearing her many layers of underclothes and petticoats, hair hanging wet and straight as a pin down past her waist. Dutifully, she sat across from Tetra and let the hairdresser begin her work.

"What decisions do you need me to make right now?" Zelda asked her assistant as Malon helped the dressing maid to select a proper gown for the Queen's day ahead.

"Nothing big- dinners, who you want to sit where at the table and so forth. I've got a diagram, if you'd be so kind as to label..."

With a sigh, Zelda took the quill from her assistant and, careful not to get ink on her hands, she began to work, and thus began her day as Queen.

-Malon: The Royal Gardens, Hyrule Castle

-Queen's Gala: Second Afternoon

Just because Malon was the Queen's Maid didn't mean that she had an easy day. In fact, far from it: Malon rose early, met with Tetra briefly, assisted Zelda in her chambers and participated in Tetra's daily review, and then after Zelda left her chambers in the mornings, it was Malon's job to tend to the Queen's more discreet affairs, such as managing the various states of her apparel, cleaning and repairing her jewelry, collecting and categorizing the various articles of non-business mail she received (compliments from her people, invitations to neighboring kingdoms, requests to be introduced and so on), see to the cleaning of the Queen's rooms and oftentimes the palace, keep tabs and organize the Palace meals, hire and fire servants and so on. If Tetra was in charge of managing and organizing Zelda's business and schedule then Malon was in charge of managing and organizing palace life. She had dozens of complaints to address every day, and for all that her job often gave her a headache, Malon was good at it.

All this aside, the Queen's Maid was able to sneak away from her duties for a short time- she'd pulled Zelda's ball gown for the night ahead from the preservatory (as well as a backup) and selected jewelry that would match both dresses. She'd had the gowns sent to cleaning and had hand-delivered the jewelry to the Queen's room, and briefly reviewed the menu for the dinner that night and corrected errors. She was eating a carrot (her pathetic lunch) as she hurried through the garden, mentally going over what Zelda had said that morning about what she wanted out of Link. She rounded the corner and saw Valin and Ralis sitting together on a bench, heads bent in discussion. At the sound of Malon's approach they looked up, and both faces split into grins.

"Ah, there you are," greeted Valin warmly, standing. "We've been waiting."

"Sorry, been really busy today," replied Malon, a little out of breath. "Good day, Lord Leonas. Good day, Your Highness," she said, curtsying to both men. With a smile, they each bowed, and motioned to Malon to sit between them on the wide bench.

"So, since you're busy, let's make this quick," Ralis said with a charming grin. "We wouldn't want to keep you from important business, after all. Did you get anything out of the Queen?"

"Yes," replied Malon, unapologetically biting off a bit of carrot. She chewed and swallowed, and then began to recite. "She said that she'd like respect and courtesy, and added that him trying to charm her would be simply wonderful. Mostly, though, she just wants consideration."

"Ah," nodded Valin. "I don't suppose you were able to reason with her at all about how she acts towards him?"

"I tried, but our lives are very busy and we ran out of time," Malon told him with a sigh. "So, Valin and Ralis, what did you two get?"

"The man's an idiot," muttered Valin, causing Ralis to snort with laughter in a most undignified way. Malon beamed at the Zora King, then turned her attention back to Valin. "He didn't want her to fight back when he initiated all this blockheadedness- he wanted her to chase after him like a lovesick puppy."

"Mmm, no good. Zelda doesn't do the puppy thing," replied Malon with a shake of her head.

"We know," Ralis said grimly. "Fortunately, Valin was able to get a little more out of him- or maybe unfortunately."

"He thinks it's obnoxious that she's regal. 'High and mighty' was the term he used, I believe. He feels like he can't compete. He'd also like it if she weren't so good at deflecting his insults- in other words, he wishes she were slightly more doormat-ish. The good news is, he does want her to love him, and he still loves her. He wants her companionship and her understanding- the two share a very singular burden, and Link would like it if they could share it together. He dislikes guarding his heart with her as well. So, to make this work, we're going to have to get Link, the idiot, to be kinder to Zelda, and then she, in turn, will open up to him. Do we have any ideas how to do this?"

"What's Link's idea of kindness? We don't want him to get the wrong idea and go killing every moblin and bokoblin within the country's borders and expecting Zelda to fall into his lap," pointed out Ralis. "Normally, Link has solved all his problems by killing things. That is maybe not the most desirable course of action in this case."

"No indeed," agreed Malon, looking a little green at the thought. "Let's try to get him to do little things. Aside from correcting his abhorrent behavior, if he could give little compliments, maybe do small favors, it would likely work wonders. There are also, unfortunately, problems within the country that do need rectifying by means of arms. I'm not saying he needs to thoroughly eliminate the deku baba population," added Malon quickly. "But I do know, for instance, that there's a nasty poe problem down in the dungeons and nobody knows how to get rid of them."

"Link's got a knack for dealing with things that otherwise stump everyone else in the world," Valin agreed. "Poe problem. I'll make sure to mention it. Is there anything… anything smaller he could do? Is there anything the Queen wants?"

"She loves flowers," murmured Malon, looking around the courtyard. "It has been her dream to turn this garden into a paradise, but she doesn't have much in the way of time or superfluous funding to devote to it. She has no problem throwing a gala, because that's something her people can enjoy, but not enough people come to the garden for her to feel justified in modifying it, even though she's the Queen and it would be full well within her rights to do so."

"Do something to the garden. Link could probably manage that. The man's got odd means of accomplishing things- he might just be able to pull something off," mused Ralis. "I myself can donate some blossoms from Zora's Domain."

"Zelda is also fascinated by ancient cultures," added Malon. "Unfortunately, relatively few relics survive."

"He's got some interesting old relics," Valin informed her. "Found them in temples and such. Perhaps I can talk him into giving some to her."

"I think that would be a good start," agreed Ralis. Noticing Malon's slight fidgeting, the young King smiled.

"Miss Lolona, I'm certain you have very important matters to attend to, and we'll not detain you any longer. I'm sure that between the three of us making various efforts, tonight's ball will be at least slightly more pleasurable than last night's."

"Speaking of which," Malon added as she stood, "your friend is going to have his socks knocked off. Be warned."

"We'll be sure not to tell him," replied Ralis with a grin, bowing before Malon. "Good day, Miss Lolona."

"Good day," echoed Valin, also bowing. Malon curtsied to them both, bid them farewell, and hurried back to her work, mind grinding through her to-do list. She'd take a review from the heads of the various staffs, pick up Zelda's gowns from cleaning, help the Queen dress for the Tournament, and then they'd have a blessed break. Hopefully, in the time they were gone, Ralis and Valin would manage to pull something off with the obstinate hero- Goddesses knew Malon would be working at Zelda in various little ways.

Oh, how she prayed the two of them would get over their thickheadedness, and soon. All this conspiring was just another thing in a day that was already too busy for Malon's liking. If it worked, though…. Malon thought for a moment, and then grinned as she re-entered the palace.

If it worked, it would be completely worth it.

-Link: The Grand Arena, Hyrule Castle

-Queen's Gala: Second Afternoon

It had been a day filled with battle, mused Link as he stood at the ready within the arena, sweating under his annoying, clanky armor. Not long after lunch, he'd heard from Ralis that there was a poe problem in the dungeons of Hyrule Castle, and thus, being painfully familiar with both (and both against his will) Link went to sort out the problems. He was tired and sweaty, but feeling good, and he'd already entered to the tournament so, by his figuring, the best of the warriors there was almost on-level with him in his current state, if not possibly even slightly better than he.

Everyone began to cheer as Zelda stepped into the royal box, and Link felt his eyes drawn to her. She was a cool vision in white and lavender on a near-stifling day, fanning herself gently as she looked around at her people with a smile. She waved at the children tenderly, and then turned her attention the arena. Almost as though on a cue, the crowd hushed.

"Good people of Hyrule and welcome visitors," she said, looking at the foreign dignitaries with a smile, "I am thrilled to announce the beginning of the Tournament! If the competitors would first come forth and announce themselves," Zelda added with a smile. One by one, the competitors came forward. They were noble and peasant alike- so long as you could sufficiently wield a sword, you could enter the tournament. That was the Queen's decree.

"Garawp Singleton, Miller of Kakariko," said one man to the Queen with a bow.

"Sir Rowan Hallas, Duke of Southbridge," said another. At last, it was Link's turn. He stepped forward to the platform before the Royal Box and saw Zelda's eyes harden just the littlest bit, though her smile remained pleasant.

"Link, Adventurer," he said to her, and bowed, armor clanking. He looked up at Zelda to see her watching him very carefully. Casually, he winked at her, the faintest smile curling at his lips, and then he moved back to his place in line.

It was not long before the last of the competitors had introduced himself. Zelda looked along the line, and for a moment her eyes paused on Link's and then her gaze swept right past him. Link wasn't sure whether her cool composure infuriated or excited him, and chalked it up to the heat that he was even wondering.

"Play a fair game, gentlemen," she said to them, and though her voice was light her words carried the faintest warning. Then, she smiled, and clapped her gloved hands twice. "Let the tournament begin!" As the crowds cheered uproariously, she sat in her chair, fanning herself as she looked about. A tall man seated to the right of the Queen stood and quickly read the rules of the tournament, announced the order of fights, then sat back down. The Queen leaned over to talk to him, and Link felt a brief strike of envy as she laughed at something he said. The clanking of armor roused him from his musings and he reminded himself that he had a tournament to win, and that getting mad about Zelda having male friends wouldn't do anything but distract him. So, he filed off with the other competitors into the waiting area and sat, watching the battles and waiting.

The tournament was very efficiently run, Link had to admit. The competitors were allowed to watch the fights, but before their own each man went to a different warm up area. When the battle ended, the next two would go out. A large magical chart hung on the far side of the arena for everyone's reference, and on it was marked wins, losses, and disqualifications. There were squires that would call the two competitors to the warm up rooms and also out onto the field, and before the tournament, each man had been searched for unauthorized weaponry and given good, approved armor and shields, that they might be safer. In addition, swords were inspected, and those swords which did not pass the standards tests were confiscated. For a nominal fee, the owner could rent a sword, or if he had another sword that would pass the test that, too, could be submitted.

Naturally, Link's sword passed the standards test, and the weapons inspector seemed rather impressed by Link's blade.

"My lord, that's one of the finest blades I've seen, and I've seen a good many blades in my lifetime. What master blacksmith made it?"

"I bought it in Minish," Link lied smoothly. There had been no 'bought' about it- he'd been given it by the King of Minish as a gift for taking care of a group of obnoxious and highly violent rebels. Even had Link bought the blade, though, it would have been superb- the Minish were known all throughout the world for the incredible quality of their swords.

"Minish, lovely," replied the inspector with a frenzied nod. "Lovely indeed. Well, along with you, then. Next in line please, next in line."

It was Link's turn to go warm up. He stood and clanked over to his designated area, and took a moment to eye his opponent. He was a tall man- indeed, threatening looking by all means, with coarse dark hair and sunken-in eyes. He was far broader than Link too, and the hero grimaced. He'd have to be sure not to get on the business end of this man's blade. Hopefully, though, his size would make him slow.

Link moved into the area, stretched quickly, then performed some very basic maneuvers. He was still warm, though, from his little jaunt in the dungeons- for good measure, he did some calming breathing exercises. The fight outside was over quickly- Link had just finished his second set of breathing exercises when the Squire called his name. Grabbing his helmet and tucking it underneath his arm, Link clanked out into the arena, where he stood across from his very tall opponent. They shook hands- surprisingly enough, the giant did not squeeze Link's hand or leer threateningly. Instead, he smiled warmly, and Link did the same. They then turned to the Queen and bowed- Link watched Zelda's eyes flit between him and his opponent, and saw the calculations running behind her eyes. At last, she inclined her chin, and the two men stood, fastening their helmets on. They drew swords and shields and crossed their blades, waiting for the whistle. When the shrill noise cut the air, they were off, clashing blades and parrying for several long minutes.

It became very quickly evident to Link that this was the wrong method of attack, though he wanted to give the people of Hyrule a little show- Link backed off his opponent and began to circle, crouching defensively behind his shield as he sized up his opponent's movements. The man was fast- and good, Link reminded himself… just not good enough to compete with him. The two circled each other, and Link studied his opponent very carefully. After a moment, he understood everything about his opponent and his style of fighting.

Link moved in, purposely dropping his shield a little bit so the other man would charge for the opening. When he did, Link waited until the last possible moment, then ducked, rolled, and came up behind the confused other man, sword pointing at the base of his neck.

"Yield!" said Link. The man seemed to be stunned- then he laughed, dropping blade and shield. The crowd roared with approval as both men peeled off their helmets and clasped arms in a sign of friendship.

"You're good, brother," said the man pleasantly. Link smiled warmly and said genuinely, "As are you."

They left the arena and the next two men went in, and the tournament stretched on. Link fought once more that afternoon, but his second battle was even easier than his first. Despite this, he'd worked up a hearty appetite by the time the tournament was dismissed for dinner. Link watched Zelda go through the crowd- she was talking rapidly with a golden-haired woman and a redhead, listing things off on her fingers. The redhead nodded and the golden woman furiously wrote things down. The man walking behind the Queen seemed to be listening avidly, and even paused to ask her a question. She answered it quickly with a wave of her hand, and then they'd turned the corner and were gone.

Valin came and found Link- he'd decided to sit this tournament out- and clapped his friend on the back with a grin.

"Good job, Link! Brilliant! Come, let's get some dinner and ready ourselves for the ball tonight."

"Sounds good," Link said- he was too hungry and lost in his thoughts of Zelda to even complain that his friend was, yet again, talking like a frilly.

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