Crowns of Deception

By Forlorn Rain

Chapter 1 - Ambivalence

Weeks had passed since my last ride, and I wouldn't tolerate another passing by.

His Majesty, my father, had forced me to engage in a three-week, intensive study of the neighboring kingdom, Haladin. All customs, history, and sovereign names were now deeply engraved in my mind and I had begun dreaming about a country I had never seen.

My patience for this study was at an end and I was aching to feel the wind on my face. My father reprimanded me for such frivolities, but I paid him no mind.

My eighteenth year was quickly approaching and I had little time left before I was forever shackled to my throne; never to leave, never to know joy… forever in solitude.

My excitement for escape waned in the slightest, but I wouldn't be distracted by such disheartening thoughts.

I snuck out the gardener's door in the west wing and quickly made my way across the sloping lawns of Hyrule Castle. I reached the stables and stumbled through the hay-strewn floor, searching for my mare, Saravin.

As I walked further inside, I could hear a faint humming coming from the last stall. The voice was calming and lovely, nigh seductive. I approached the stall and curiously peered in to see whom the beautiful voice belonged to.

A man with golden hair stood by an auburn mare with a white mane, gently brushing her coat. The horse I recognized immediately, and then realized to whom the appealing voice must belong.

The man turned around suddenly and his eyes widened, quickly falling into a bow. "Forgive me, My Lady. I did not hear you approach."

I stood there, speechless. This man was my personal Guardian, Sir Link Ordon, the boy I had known since I was naught twelve years old.

My face shaded red as I chided myself for admiring his voice and for being so surprised.

I looked way and I shook my head in an attempt to regain my composure. "I came unannounced; do not apologize, Guardian."

"As you wish."

That was his answer to nearly everything I asked of him. He did not object or complain; he never had. At one time I called this man by name, but those days had long since past.

I had first met Link when we were only eleven years, in the gardens of the castle. He served as an attendee in the barracks of the Hylian Army and suddenly one day, was promoted to begin training for knighthood. After surpassing men who were nine years his senior, his talent was quickly recognized by the commander of the Hylian Army and my father, the king.

When he was thirteen, he was bestowed with the title, "Guardian to Her Royal Highness, Princess Zelda of Hyrule." I was glad, for we were already friends and my fondness for him grew further.

However, when our fifteenth year approached, he became distant, quiet, and refused to address me by name; changing from "Lady Zelda," to "My Lady."

Link and my caretaker, Impa, were the only ones who had earned the right to address me by such a familiar title. His sudden change of character confounded me to the extent of madness. I tried with patience to understand him, but his coldness became too unbearable for me to continue caring for our friendship.

I began to feel very lonely; however, I solaced myself by realizing that he at least kept with a familiar enough title, rather than reverting to "Your Highness," as everyone else addressed me.

And thus, our bonds began to unravel themselves and our relationship diminished into nothing but a mere master and servant relationship.

"How can I assist My Lady?" Link asked, averting his eyes from mine.

"The horses are to be prepared by midday tomorrow. It's been ages since our last outing," I demanded.

"I shall inform the stable workers at once," he answered.

"No, I wish for you take care of the preparations. As Epona's only caretaker, your work surpasses that of three."

"Thank you," he added quietly.

I ignored his gratitude and continued. "Please be sure to polish my saddle; I want to see my face shining in it by morning."

"As you wish." Link's eyes then met mine.

For some unknown reason, heat rose to my face. "I-I take my leave now, Guardian. Good-day." Turning on my heel, I swiftly left the stables. When reached the door, I glanced back hesitantly.

His eyes were still upon me.

I felt my face redden once again and I quickly continued on.

These odd misgivings I had as of late had increased in the past month. I did not understand why I felt so aggravated, so flustered, when I spoke to Link. Nor did I know why I had become so aware of the words I spoke to him.

I shook my head inwardly and made my way back to the castle.

The following morning, I awoke early, too eager for my outing. I dressed quickly and went down to the dining hall to join my father for the morning meal. He talked of the new treaty for Haladin that was drawn up by the councilmen and of the approaching Spring Moon Celebration.

"Zelda, I must remind you," he started, "to be prepared in your studies of Haladin. King Dragmire is sending his ambassador, Count Agahnim to meet with us during the week of Spring Moon."

Though I was Hyrule's princess, I had no interest in politics. To entertain nobility, foreign and familiar, was not something I enjoyed. I was not fooled by all their fronts and masquerades; I despised watching all the forced smiles and accepting false flattery.

"Father," I began; I was only allowed to address him so in private. "Do you not think next week is too soon?" I was surprised at the short notice. The treaty between Hyrule and Haladin wasn't planned to be finalized until the end of spring.

"I thought it would be more… inviting, if the negotiations were held on one of our most celebrated festivals," he answered merrily.

"I suppose, but it seems needless to drag on a simple signing… unless," I paused, "there is more to discuss?"

My father saw through my inquiry and cleared his throat. "It is nothing you need concern yourself with, Zelda," he answered. "You are not yet of age to know of such things. You will be invited to sit in the council after your eighteenth year commemoration."

I gave up my attempt at a conversation with my father and finished my tea. I then excused myself and left for the library.

Since the Haladians were arriving the following week, I decided to go through the names once more.

The King of Haladin, Opeous Dragmire, was currently very ill, and his adopted nephew and only heir, Prince Ganondorf, was presiding in his place. King Opeous's closest advisor, Count Agahnim Ronan, was also Haladin's ambassador. I had never met a Haladian, but the country was rumored to be very hostile. Haladin had only recently recovered from war with a neighboring country, Ilander. Ilander was easily defeated and Haladin had gained many provinces.

This is why my father sought to strengthen our ties with Haladin. Though Hyrule was indeed the largest and most prosperous nation, well protected by mountains, deserts, and forests, my father detested warfare, and wished for peace between us and our aggressive neighbor.

I studied for quite some time before I headed to my chambers to change. I donned a lavender riding dress and pulled my hair up. I took off my formal crown and fastened a silver circlet around my head. After pulling on my riding boots I hurried to the stables.

I couldn't help but smile as I approached.

Link had our horses ready and stood outside, waiting patiently for my arrival. Two guards were at his side, already mounted on horseback.

"Good afternoon, Guardian, gentlemen." I greeted happily.

The guards bowed their heads and smiled politely.

"My Lady," Link acknowledged with a slight bow. He then helped me onto Saravin and swung himself onto Epona with ease. "Our destination?" he asked.

I paused thoughtfully and nudged my horse forward.

"The field roundabout?" he suggested.

"No…East Hill will do. I would like to see the flowering trees."

Link turned to the guards. "Tave, Juri, an escort to the drawbridge will suffice."

They simply nodded and I was glad I would only have to be followed by Link.

My father insisted on making a parade of my outings and though I knew it was for my protection, it was bothersome nonetheless.

As we made our way through Castleton, the townspeople parted for us and bowed respectfully. I smiled forcibly and urged Saravin to hurry on. The admiring eyes and attention put me ill at ease.

I laughed mirthlessly to myself; I was frightened of my own people.

Reaching the drawbridge, I thanked the guards for their services and Link dismissed them. I then whipped the reins and Saravin broke out into a run, Link not far behind me.

Hyrule Field now stretched out before me, the closest thing I could feel to freedom overcame me and I breathed in the fresh air deeply.

Coming upon the crossroads, we turned to the southeast road. Riding on a little ways, we turned again to the pathway leading to East Hill. The pathway became lined with beautiful blossoming trees, the pale petals blanketing the lush greenery as if it were snow.

Link and I rode on and it took us nearly two hours to reach our destination. We dismounted at the top of East Hill and Link untied his saddle from Epona to let her graze freely. He then removed his sword from his back and straightened his navy tunic and taupe leggings.

At that moment, I caught myself.

Why did I watch him with such fascination?

I frowned and turned away. Perhaps a walk about would clear my head. I patted my horse and left her an apple before starting down the other side of the hill.

"My Lady?" Link called.

I disregarded him and kept walking.

He called me again and as I turned to answer, I found him rushing towards me, making his way down the incline with ease.

"Where are you going?" he asked with accusation.

"To… to the forest," I answered as I continued on, "for… wildflowers." Seeking flowers in the forest was merely a lie to escape from Link, if only for a while.

Suddenly he grabbed my hand and I spun around. "You cannot go alone," he scolded.

"Unhand me." I pulled away forcefully, expecting to fight his grip, but as I tugged away, he released my hand and I stumbled back.

I saw his eyes widen and he reached for me again. His sudden lunge caused us both to lose our balance and fall to the ground.

We rolled down the hill, our entwined bodies nothing more than a blur.

My breath was taken and my head spun as our speed increased. I shut my eyes tightly, waiting for the feeling of sickness to pass.

Finally, we collapsed into a tangled heap on the bottom. As I lay there catching my breath, I slowly opened my eyes, finding my hair strewn about my face. I sat up, and rubbed my head in attempt to alleviate the throbbing.

Then I realized I was resting atop Link.

My eyes widened and I blushed heavily; my heart was beating furiously.

I quickly slid off him to escape our compromising position and inched away.

I continued to try and even my breath.

… And the odd sensation I felt within me manifested once again.

But what was the cause? When had I begun to first take notice?

I tried recalled the first instance I felt a change…

It was the week I started my Haladin studies nearly two months ago.

One particular evening after supper, my father had tried to discuss eligible suitors and the prospect of matrimony but I wouldn't let him finish his lecture.

I had fled from him and bumped into Link as I escaped through the halls. He steadied me and asked of my welfare.

Though his features were blurred from my tears, I had seen the concern in his eyes.

I was surprised by such a look, but I didn't stop to ponder this sudden warmth. I had hurried on and made my way to the stone bridge that led to the tallest tower in the castle.

None ever ventured there—apart from myself—for the tower was only used in times of warfare. It had become one of my personal sanctuaries.

I roughly pushed the hatch open and rushed up the last steps. I breathed deeply, trying to calm myself. It was cold up on the tower, but I didn't mind; the icy air froze my tears away.

The moon was bright and the surrounding stars were barely visible under its light. Though I was calmed by the beauty of the night, it wasn't enough to distract me from the matter at hand.

I knew that it was my duty to marry and ascend the throne… but I wasn't prepared. I was still a child in so many ways, and I knew I didn't have the courage to rule alongside a strange prince from a distant land...

I would be pushed aside as my husband, whom I would never love, ruled my kingdom.

Was I doomed to lead such an empty life?

As I paced across the roof, lost in my musings, I did not hear the tread of footsteps on the stairs. I gasped audibly when a hand lightly touched my shoulder.

"My Lady? Are you alright?" Link had followed me after all.

I sighed unevenly and resisted the urge to collapse into sobs again. I shook off his hand walked away from him. "Did His Majesty send you?" I asked curtly, my voice threatening to quake.

"He did not… but if I can be of any—"

"Don't…" I interjected. "You can do nothing, Guardian, so please, spare me your false sincerity." He said nothing more and I shook my head, ashamed at my sudden outburst. "Forgive me… I shouldn't have…" I couldn't finish my apology, and turned to face him.

Link slowly walked towards me and held up a cloak. He wrapped it around me and I looked up at him and saw something I'd not seen for years; tenderness. His steel eyes had melted to a deep, unreadable blue.

And I couldn't look away from him.

The moonlight casting an ethereal light upon him, his cold disposition seemed to have softened.

It felt as if Link was the boy he once was.

His hands moved to my neck and carefully pulled the folds of the cloak together, hooking the clasps.

I unconsciously put my hand on his. "I wish… my father could see how unreasonable his expectations are. He bothers not to hear my concerns, yet I cannot oppose him." I took an unsteady breath. "I cannot escape… this impending prison." Tears formed in my eyes again, and I tried to blink them away.

"You won't be alone," Link whispered. "My duties entail more than protection alone. I don't believe My Lady has considered that." He fell silent for a moment. "I am yours until the end of our days."

My eyes widened in the slightest at his words, and for the first time, I felt something stir within me. I could not speak and simply folded my hand into his.

Link closed his eyes, his brows furrowed for an instant. Then I could no longer feel his hand beneath mine. "We should not linger; it is unseasonably cold." His eyes had suddenly turned back to the steely gaze I knew too well.

I said nothing and followed him back down the stairs.

…I had not thought about that sudden show of affection since that night and as I remembered, I wondered how I did not notice Link's peculiar tenderness until now.

My memories of that night faded and I looked down to Link. He lay still in the grass and I studied him intently, trying to comprehend why I felt such strange things when I was around him.

His face was pleasant enough to look upon; I had heard many say that he was handsome. But his features could not have been the cause for the stirring within me.

I bit my lip and turned away, suddenly filled with anger.

He was nothing more than my guardian… why this frustration?

Link then sat up slowly and moved over to me. "Are you hurt, My Lady?"

I shook my head.

"Forgive me, I didn't mean for us to fall."

"I know," I said coldly.

As I moved to stand up, he grabbed my arm and turned me towards him. His eyes desperately searched mine, trying to detect any hint of a lie.

I was caught off guard at his touch; he was usually so impassive.

My anger faltered and my heart quickened. As I gazed at Link, I found that his untidy, golden hair sweeping across his silver blue eyes, endearing.

My face grew warm and his hand on my arm sent a peculiar tingling sensation through my body. I shook noticeably and pulled away. I stood to distance myself from his touch and out of this sudden admiration.

I continued towards the forest and Link stood to follow me.

"You cannot still—"

"I'm gathering flowers, and you are not to follow me," I commanded.

"What if you are lost?" he said impatiently through his teeth.

"Then I shall ask a fairy for direction."

Link ignored my quibble and continued after me. "I must insist you stay; it is too perilous," he warned in a low voice.

I glared at him in disbelief. Link had not argued against me in years. His sudden impudence infuriated and intrigued me.

"You are my Guardian, and I order you to stay." I did not want to resort to using authority, but I knew he wouldn't disobey; he never had.

His eyes narrowed in the slightest, flashing dangerously. "As you wish." His voice was nearly a growl.

I felt myself cower. "I'll be but a moment!" I called as I rushed into the cover of the forest. I did not know why I attempted to assuage him. Why should it matter whether he was concerned for me? I shouldn't care if he cared for me more than a guardian should.

Those days of wishing to be friends once more had long since passed and I had given up hope.

I slowed once I was well into the forest. The trees had become thicker and grew closer together and as I navigated my way through the brush and foliage, I came upon a small meadow. A lone tree stump grew in the middle of it, surrounded by beautiful, white flowers. The sun shone through the trees and illuminated the petals; the meadow looked as if it were glowing. I smiled and carefully began to pick the flowers

Some time passed and I decided it was best to return. I turned to leave when suddenly I heard a low growl from the trees behind me. I froze and a chill crept up my spine. My eyes swept the trees for any sign of movement when just then, a rabid wolf lunged from the shadows onto the stump.

It was a beast… an ancient monster called a wolfo.

How could this be? There hadn't been any such creatures in Hyrule for nearly three hundred years!

My breath stilled and I became motionless.

The wolfo's red eyes narrowed and it coiled its body, preparing to spring.

I had little training in the ways of magic and tried to remember any spells that would immobilize the beast.

But I could not recall any; I was deathly frightened, for I'd only read of this mythical beast.

It was even more terrifying than I imagined.

I dropped the flowers and ran.

The wolfo lunged at my sudden movement and chased after me. I could hear it ripping through the brush behind and I ran faster, nearly tripping over my skirts.

"Guardian!" I called breathlessly, my voice barely audible. I called for him again, but I couldn't raise my voice. I weaved through the trees, trying to lose the wolfo. I turned to gauge its distance when I tripped over a tree root. I fell hard to the ground and struggled to regain my breath against the dirt. I filled my lungs with as much air as possible and screamed Link's name.

The wolfo lunged at me and as I rolled out of its way, its claws grazed my right arm.

Blood began to soak my sleeve.

The wolfo bounded away and circled about before lunging for me once more.

I whispered his name once again, realizing it was useless; Link would not disobey me.

I curled my body and prepared to be torn apart.

As I closed my eyes, I suddenly heard a loud, crashing noise.

I looked up and found Link standing over me.

…and was overcome with relief.

The wolfo slunk back, baring its teeth at Link and eyeing his sword. It circled us, trying to find an opening, but Link carefully stepped around me, following its every move.

The wolfo finally lunged and Link tensed. The wolfo was mere feet away and I thought it was going to catch him when, just as the wolfo descended, Link thrust his sword into its chest and flung its body away with his sword.

The wolfo did not stir.

My head began to spin and I realized I wasn't breathing. I let out a haggard sigh and caught my breath.

Had that creature truly been a monster? How was Link able to dispatch the beast so quickly? There was no such training for the knights…

"…How… how did you—?"

"It doesn't matter," Link interjected. He cleaned his sword and sheathed it as he slowly turned to me. A deep scowl was etched on his face, his eyes were burning. "Are you hurt?"

I looked away, ashamed.

His furious gaze was chastisement enough.

"No." I whispered.

Link knelt beside me and offered me his hand. I looked at him, and the burning in his eyes subsided in the slightest.

I hesitantly reached for him and he helped me up. I put a hand over my wound to try and hide it.

Link clicked his tongue impatiently and gathered me up into his arms with ease.

My face shaded deeply and I tensed at the closeness. "I-I can walk," I said unsteadily. Though I felt weak, I didn't wish to burden him more than I already had.

"You're injured," he spoke through his teeth.

No more words were exchanged as we made our way through Kokiri.

Soon enough we reached the edge of the forest and not moments later, the wound began to throb.

I slumped slightly in Link's arms. "… I am sorry," I began quietly, trying to distract myself from the pain. "For not heeding your warnings… I did now know there would be…" I trailed off.

We emerged into the sunlight and Link simply shook his head.

It was apparent my attempts at an apology would be of no use and I said nothing more.

He carried me up the hill and finally set me down on the grass. He then dug into the pockets of his saddle and pulled out white dressings and a canteen. He rolled up a dressing and ran water over it. When he pulled up my sleeve to examine my wound, the stinging coursed through my entire arm and I winced. He gently touched the wet cloth against the bloodied slashes and my breath hitched.

Link locked eyes with me, questioning me without words.

I began to feel faint. "It's nothing," I disregarded.

He looked away and grimaced. He continued to clean my wound and then wrapped a dry dressing around it. The pain dulled slightly from the pressure.

"Th-thank you," I said sincerely.

Link simply nodded his head. "We should leave now, it will be dark soon."

I nodded in return and sat there as he gathered the horses.

"His Majesty must be informed of the beast upon our return."

I watched him intently as he worked, trying to make sense of his arbitrary shifts between coldness and gentleness.

But I still had no answers.

Suddenly my vision clouded and a cold chill ran through my body. The pain in my arm increased ten fold and I couldn't breathe.

I collapsed, clutching my injured arm, desperate for the pain to subside.

Link rushed over and knelt beside me.

"My Lady? What is it?"

I couldn't answer him, everything was blackening…

The last thing I heard was Link calling for me... calling me by name.

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