Chapter 9: The Third Day
-Zelda: The Royal Garden, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: Third Morning
The Queen rose before dawn once more, but forsook the routine comforts of the practice arena and instead went for a walk in the royal gardens to watch the roses unfurl by purples and pinks of the newborn morning light. She'd tied an ornate robe over her nightclothes and had clipped her hair to the back of her head and slipped from her room like a fey spirit. As usual, few were awake at this hour of the morning- a servant here, a servant there, and of course, the guards, though for their stillness they might as well have been suits of armor.
A fresh dew had settled over everything, and as the garden began to slowly fill with liquid golden light, the flowers began to sparkle as though they'd been encrusted with a thousand glittering diamonds. With a sigh, Zelda took in the beauty of it all, watching her little haven by the dawning light.
She wanted to do more to this garden- she loved it, and loved the flowers, and felt that it would make an excellent contribution to the overall environment of the Castle. However, she felt guilt at spending money for something such as that, for it brought no income- the nobles who came to town for the galas she held fettered away their money, and thus it went to the people. The flowers she yearned for, though, must be brought in from other countries, and though she would be more than happy to pay for the labor involved in installing such a garden, she didn't feel like her own little wants justified such a big hullabaloo.
Sighing as a twinge of unhappiness pulled at her heartstrings, Zelda sat down on a bench, not minding that it was faintly moist from the cool night air. She turned her face skyward and pondered the stars as they went out, one by one- the sun was dawning, slowly but surely, and blue and gold warred over the earth to establish dominion of hue. It reminded Zelda of the takeover of Zant, how he'd blanketed Hyrule in Twilight…
Forcefully, Zelda wrenched her mind away from thoughts of the Twili, and of Midna- what would that sister of her heart say if she knew Zelda's predicament? She'd probably yell at Link something fierce, Zelda mused, and perhaps smack him over the head a few times…
Oh, how Zelda wished she could smack Link over the head. But more than that, she wished she were just a normal woman, just normal Zelda, so she could really tell Link what she thought of him- that she loved him, loved him more than life itself, and yet that he needed to get over himself and pull his head out of his rear. But the sweet, gentle Queen of Hyrule could never say something like that, and especially not to the man to which she owed her country- not even if the man had abandoned her. Not even if what she yearned to tell him was true.
Life would be so simple if she didn't have standards to uphold, Zelda mused as she laid back on the bench. If she were just Zelda, not the Queen, she'd go swimming every day. She'd run around without shoes. She'd let her hair down and sing when she walked places, and she'd love without thoughts of dividing her heart between self and duty. The Queen of Hyrule, though, could not afford any of those luxuries.
As the garden lightened, Zelda realized she should return to her quarters before someone saw her- the Castle was waking up, and someone might be scandalized if they saw her in her night-robe. So, with a regretful look at the slowly-blossoming roses, she padded quietly from the garden and back to her chambers, and the only trace left behind, unknown even to her, was a single crystalline tear of remorse glittering upon the turf and mingling with the slowly-evaporating dew.
-Valin: The Royal Stables, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: Third Morning
Valin was impressed with Malon's choice of a meeting place- though he had, at first, been doubtful when she'd told him to bring Ralis there for their meeting the next morning, he was surprised. They met in a tack room with gleaming floors and thick stone walls that smelled distinctly of warm leather, and Malon had spoken with the stablehands, so they would not be disturbed. Sunlight peered shyly in through the window and the air was cool and pleasant, even inside.
"Here's our problem," Malon stated from where she sat atop a glistening saddle that, in turn, was positioned snugly over a saddle-horse. "Their reactions to things are too different. Link looks to eliminate the problem in the swiftest way possible, while Zelda seeks to resolve it instead. Unfortunately, they're also both stubborn as mules, so they refuse to see eye-to-eye on certain matters. They need a middle ground, a basis upon which they can meet each other, but they don't have one."
"During the reconstruction they were united in doing what was best for the country," agreed Ralis. "Now they don't have that common goal, and the differences are glaringly obvious. Not to mention they seem to be hell-bent on finding each others' faults."
"But what can we do?" asked Valin, a little frustrated. "We can't stick the two of them in a boat without paddles and shove them out into the middle of a lake- they'd kill each other! It's a tempting thought," he added, seeing Malon's eyes light up. "But a little impossible to pull off, at current. We need… we need something for them to unite against."
"Or for," Ralis added.
"I don't know," replied Malon, shaking her head. "There aren't any problems in Hyrule at the moment- or, at least, nothing worthy of uniting for. I just hope Link and Zelda come around. It's plain to see they mean the world to each other- they wouldn't fight so much and worry so much about each other if they didn't. I just want to see the Queen happy. I never have before," she added. "Before, during the war, she was so quiet and reserved. The burden she bore, the grief of the loss of her father and brother, knowing that the country had fallen under her weakness, tore her apart. When Hyrule was reclaimed she became so much stronger, and though it was plain to see she loved Link it was also obvious it killed her because she knew she couldn't have him. And then when he left, I thought she would die. She didn't smile for two years after that, and I'm not sure I've ever heard her genuinely laugh at anything. Having Link back has put so much more emotion in her and brought out the woman- I just want to see that woman happy. I hope to the Goddesses Link doesn't mess anything up more than he already has," she finished, and shook her head with a sigh. "Poor Zelda."
"Link's much the same. I've seen a dozen emotions in him, but nothing to do with his heart until now," agreed Valin. Ralis nodded avidly. "We have to get the two of them together to stop being so proud or they'll drive us all insane."
"Perhaps we should just give them a very matter-of-fact talking to," mused Ralis from where he sat in the corner. At this, both Malon and Valin stopped and stared at him in silence. "…What?" asked the Zora King, feeling almost foolish and very much aware of the age gap all of a sudden between himself and the two others in the room.
"You're brilliant, Ralis. Zelda won't listen to me if I tell her she should just love Link openly, because that's what I've been saying all along- but maybe if you spoke to her, told her that you know for a fact that he's nuts about her… it's genius!" cried Malon.
"You're a safe ground between both Link and the Queen," agreed Valin. "You've got a good idea, though you're going to have to be tricky and tell a lie or two, and if you're caught in it, they'll both get angry and yell a lot and our plans might topple. Are you up to it?"
"Yes," replied Ralis firmly, though he gulped nervously. "For both their sakes. I owe them much- so, for them, I'll do it and I won't get caught in my lies."
"If it works, it'll be worth it," Valin told the Zora King with a grin.
"Completely," Ralis agreed.
-Zelda: The Grand Arena, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: Third Afternoon
The tournament had been cleverly set-up so as not to get boring- on the first day, sword combat, on the second, archery, and on the third, the final rounds of both archery and sword combat, and the award ceremony. It was not yet Link's turn to shoot, but it would be soon. Zelda's disgust lined the inside of her mouth, a disgusting taste on her tongue. He shouldn't have entered the tournament- he was far and above Hyrule's best warriors, including her. For all that she'd been excited when she saw him on that first night after so long apart from him, she couldn't help but wish now that he'd never come to Hyrule… or, at least, that he'd never been such a wretch to her in the first place. He was so difficult! She couldn't stand, wished him gone- certainly the pain of parting from him once more wouldn't be half so terrible as the aching of her heart each time she saw him. His heart was plainly full of spite and malice; his absence would be an easier burden to bear than his cruelty.
Indeed, watching the tournament was more a punishment for Zelda than a break in her many duties. Zelda's pride in her people was offset by her disgust in Link, and she wished, for once, that she might be holed up in her office filling out forms and dealing with the many small catastrophes that came with ruling a kingdom. She wanted to serve her people, forget about her aching heart as she had before, but now she was made to suffer through watching the man she loved, who loved her naught, humiliate the people she lived for.
Link stepped forward, grabbing his bow and an arrow from the quiver in a sleek, familiar movement. "Link's a fine weaponsman," commented Ralis casually from where he sat immediately to Zelda's right in the royal box. It was a hot, bright, and beautiful day, with the friskiest of breezes causing the Hylian streamers to flap and crack merrily around the stadium. It seemed to Zelda that Ralis was enjoying himself greatly- the tournament was wonderful to watch, and she'd seen that he'd had the luxury of soaking his feet in a pan of cool, clean water, something she knew was not often afforded to him when he was on land.
"He is," admitted the Queen of Hyrule to Ralis (though a little grudgingly) as she watched the target of the Zora King's speculation shoot an arrow through the dead center of an archery target. "Perhaps a little too good for this contest."
"He shouldn't have entered, but he did," agreed Ralis. "Though I do believe he had an ulterior motive in doing so."
"Oh?" asked Zelda, trying for all the world to appear disinterested. "What was that? The glory? The reward?"
"He didn't think he'd get to see you at the ball on that first night," Ralis said simply and casually, eyes on the tournament. "He entered so you would see him once more, and be able to get used to the idea of him being here without some kind of ugly confrontation."
"That confrontation was his fault," replied Zelda, halfway between snappish and sad. "I wish our reunion had been different, that we might have walked a different path- but as it is, it seems I have aught but his spite."
"He's shy," Ralis told the Queen simply. "He loathes admitting his feelings, but he does have them. I remember, when I was younger and he saved my life, I told him I wanted to be strong, like him, and he told me that strength comes from knowing what you have to do and doing it, and that sometimes it's hard because what you feel gets in the way of what needs to happen. I asked him if he just locked his feelings away, and he said, no, he drew upon them- that it was for love that he did many of the horrible things he had to do. Love of family, of friends, of country…" Ralis looked meaningfully over at Zelda. "Of Queen. He has loved you a long time, Zelda, and loves you still- make no mistake. I looked up to him when I was a child, and he stayed within my realm for a time, then moved on. The man that returned seven years later was much changed, but the heart was the same, and the wants and loves of the heart the same. Please, give him a chance. He is suffering greatly for his pridefulness, though he strives to hide it behind a façade of coldness and bravado."
"He has hurt me deeply, Ralis," Zelda said to her good friend. "For this, it is difficult for me to face him with kindness. But if you ask it of me, I shall try, though only because you are such a good friend to me."
"You do me a great honor, highness," Ralis murmured, ducking his head in embarrassment, the bluest blush tinging his Zora cheeks. "Truly, I simply wish to see him- and you- happy. I know you care for each other a great deal, and that you were the closest of friends before he left. It would do the country great good if that friendship was rekindled."
"Yes," agreed Zelda with a distant sigh and far-away eyes. "Yes, it would."
Ralis's words had planted the much-loathed seeds of hope within Zelda's heart. From a practical standpoint, it would be simpler for her to hate Link, but emotions were never practical things and Zelda couldn't help her feelings any more than she could help the rising and the setting of the sun. But… his arrogance! His disrespect towards her, his blatant disdain for the skills of her people. She just wanted him to leave- Goddesses, the last thing she needed was for him to love her.
No, that was a lie. His love was the potion that would bring her back to life… and Ralis had planted hope of that life. But, with Link, would love be enough? She'd have to get past the layer of swagger and bravado, but could she?
For Link, she would, she resolved as she looked back at the archery contest. But first, she needed him to stop being such an arrogant ass… ha! As though that would ever happen.
With the slightest of smiles, Zelda turned her eyes speculatively to him, trying to plan how to best melt his frigid exterior and convince her to admit the truth, that his heart was hers, had been hers all along.
-Link: The Training Arena, Hyrule Castle
-Queen's Gala: Third Afternoon
It had been a long and tiring day. Link had been idle and he hated it- he'd performed excellently in the archery contest, of course, though he could tell that irked Zelda, and so he was frustrated, but he had no way of occupying himself or venting his frustration. Thus it happened that Link was in the training arena, beating the living hell out of a practice dummy with his two hands. He was bored and restless and needed something to do other than fight, but no option was available but to fight. This in turn frustrated him more, and so he took out his anger on a dummy.
"What's wrong?" Ralis asked Link, coming up seemingly from nowhere as the sweating hero mercilessly pommeled the thing again and again and again.
"Nothing," replied Link instinctively. Ralis had been kind enough to bring him to the castle and invite him especially to the Gala- he didn't want to be ungrateful.
But the Zora King was smarter than that. "You're not used to inactivity," he said. "You're used to making preparations or moving or recuperating. Not sitting in one place wearing fancy clothes."
"I'm sorry, Ralis," said Link, ceasing his practicing for a moment and looking at the Zora King. "I know you wanted me to have fun."
"Actually," said Ralis casually, "I'll admit, I had a selfish motive in inviting you here."
"And that was?" Whump. Link did a sudden jumping spinning kick, causing the dummy to rock furiously on its pole.
"I wished to confirm that my suspicions were true. Long have the Queen and I corresponded in letters, and I recall after you left she sent me an epistle of the most distraught nature. I began to suspect as to the nature of her feelings toward you, though I feared I'd never get a chance to confirm them with my own eyes."
Link's heart was beating too quickly, and it wasn't from punching the dummy. He turned his entire concentration to killing the damned thing- who cared if it wasn't technically alive? "And that was?"
"She's in love with you, Link," Ralis said seriously. The adventurer pulled off an amazing spinning two-footed jump kick and the dummy exploded.
"Can't be. She hates me," corrected the sweating adventurer.
"No, she's too proud to show it to you, for she fears you would treat her with contempt for showing such an emotion."
"I would never," responded Link vehemently. Then, as though realizing that he'd just contradicted every interaction he'd had with the princess this visit, he sighed. "I guess I might."
"Link, she told me she loves you. Even if you don't love her in return, were you two not once the closest of friends? Honor this friendship. Time shouldn't change something so simple as that. For her sake, please, Link. Show her some kindness."
"Well it's not like I didn't try yesterday," he grunted irritably, though within, his heart was pounding. She loved him? Surely it couldn't be so. "She bit my bleeding head off."
"And she was in the wrong, but it's not like you to just… give up if you fail at something once. So are you going to get along with her or not?"
"I suppose I'll try," grunted Link.
"Good, good," said the Zora King, clapping his friend on the back. "Now, I believe we have a dinner and a royal ball to prepare for. Come, come." And the younger and wiser of the two men led the befuddled adventurer away.
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