Crowns of Deception

By Forlorn Rain

Chapter XV - Proposition

The air was bitterly cold, sending heavy shudders down my body. I opened my eyes slowly, and found I was alone, my surroundings blurred with shadows. I drew into myself and sat up, not knowing where I was. My knees felt like lead as I tried to stand and I stumbled back, falling against a wall. I clung to it and walked around blindly in the dark until my eyes grew accustomed to the absence of light; I was in a chamber made of stone. Suddenly, a faint glow began to appear from above me. Looking up, I narrowed my eyes, trying to distinguish the odd gleam.

And then it took form.

Golden eyes.

I screamed loudly, covering my mouth to muffle the sound. I turned away from the evil eyes, desperate to find an escape when suddenly more pairs of golden eyes appeared all around me, reflecting off the stones as if they were mirrors. Hundreds of eyes glared at me unceasingly, studying my every move, rooting fear into the depths of my heart.

I fell to my knees, shaking, and hid myself beneath my hair; I prayed silently for salvation. Eternity seemed to pass until I felt warmth emanating somewhere in front of me. I dared to peer from beneath my lids and found a dim, flickering light ahead, teasing yet inviting. I stepped towards it, drawn to the comfort it gave me. It grew steadily as I neared it, and soon I found someone holding that light in their left hand. Their body was darkened, as if they were a shadow manifesting in physical form. The dark figure reached out a hand to me, beckoning me to take it. I hesitantly placed my hand in theirs, finding that even their hand was cloaked in shadow.

From just a touch, a feeling of recognition flooded through me…

I knew this person…

I tried to pull away, fearing to remember, but the dark figure led me forward, the light held in front of them as we journeyed. For a long while, the dark figure simply held my hand with firm gentleness, and would turn to look at me every so often as they guided me along.

My curiosity gave me voice. "Who are you?"

The dark figure stopped and slowly turned to me, voice low and mellow as a man's. "Do you not know?"

Piercing through me, his eyes burned blue.

I awoke, gasping into my pillow. I caught my breath and lay staring up into the canopy, overcome with confusion; this night's dream drastically differed from those I had been seeing of late.

So strangely familiar, it was hard to ignore.

I had seen those blue eyes clocked in shadow before… I had known that man's touch. I could feel my mind trying to remember, but I quickly put a stop to it; there was no sense in stirring up past nightmares.

…Yet those golden eyes… nothing could keep away the fear they invoked, for I knew for certain those eyes had haunted me so long ago. Why did they come to torment me now? Never could I forget the way their gaze sapped me of my strength… the way they penetrated through me, planting an unalterable fear from within.

I covered my face, breathing deeply to calm myself, doing my best to forget the dream. After some time, I sat up and slowly pulled the coverlet from me; I was still shaking. I took careful steps to the bathing room and washed my face with cold water. As I dried my face, I glanced into the mirror… and the golden eyes flashed for an instant; a chill ran through me. I shook my head, blinking the reflection away. I could no longer be alone; my head ached already and if I dwelled more on this troubling matter, I would become ill.

Opening my curtains, the sun's position told me only a few hours had passed since dawn. I hoped my father, or perhaps Impa, was in the dining hall. I quickly changed into a simple blue dress and hurried down on the mere chance I would meet them.

I entered the dining hall, and as I made my way to the table, I found Ganondorf standing by the servant's entrance in the darkened corner, talking with someone I could not see. I groaned inwardly. I had hoped he would be the last person I would encounter this morning. As I neared him, he nodded his head to the person he spoke with and dismissed him.

The door swung shut and he turned to me with a peculiar smile. "Good morning, Lady Zelda; I hope you are well..." It seemed Ganondorf was still testing familiar titles aloud; no doubt feeling entitled to address me so intimately.

I frowned. "I am well enough; your concern is appreciated, Prince Ganondorf, but you need not worry for me."

"Despite your words, your color alarms me. Are you still recovering from last night's frivolities?" He stepped towards me and lifted my chin with his finger to look at me more closely.

I couldn't help but recoil. "Hardly, but I do apologize for my sudden spell of illness."

"I only care for your well-being. If you illness lingered, I would be most …put out."

I cleared my throat uncomfortably, not knowing how to reply, and he invited me to sit, and together, we ate a quiet morning meal. As my plate was cleared by a servant, a page politely knocked and entered the hall.

"Pardon me, Your Highnesses, but you have been summoned to court." I stood from my chair, as did Ganondorf, and folded my napkin. I opened my mouth to reply when Ganondorf spoke for me.

"Let the courtiers be seated. We will join them shortly." The page left as quickly as he came and I pursed my lips at Ganondorf's subtle arrogance; it would seem he already thought himself as king. "Shall we?" he said, starting towards me. I smoothed my face from all traces of anger and as he took my arm in his, I cringed inwardly. Though Ganondorf irked me, I could not help chastising myself, for I did not know why I still recoiled from him so. He was my betrothed, yet I purposefully evaded his touch.

"My Lady," Ganondorf began. "There is a matter I wish to speak of…"

"Yes?" I said through my teeth, biting my tongue.

"Now that our engagement is publicly known, would you not let me address you as mine?"


…So he knew it bothered me. I kept my eyes ahead, trying to think of a legitimate excuse. "Should we simply be nobility, I would consent. Such familiarity does not befit royalty until after marriage. I hope our restrictive customs do not offend you."

He studied me for a moment before answering; I hoped he could not see through the exaggeration. "Her Highness is admirably obedient and mindful; Hyrule is fortunate to have such a blessed queen. I will wait these three fortnights with patience." Beneath his compliment, I suspected mockery. I felt the air between us change in that moment. I realized Ganondorf had thought me a weak, submissive woman, but now… his voice seemed to reflect impatience. His audacity had yet to cease to amaze me.

"I thank you for your respect," I answered.

"But there is another matter…"

I waited for him to continue.

"Might I suggest a ride in the country would do you well? You must admit you have been confined to the castle for far too long."

I raised a brow at his peculiar suggestion. "That may be, but—"

"You braved the celebration, did you not?"

I suppressed a scoff and said nothing.

"…I can arrange for you be excused from court if you wish."

I glanced up at him, and he was staring at me intently. "Perhaps… another time…"

"I would be most obliged to join you," he said. I did not answer for a moment; I felt he was carefully disguising disappointment.

"I shall think kindly upon your offer," I lied with forced politeness. As we made our way to the great room where court was held, I contemplated the matter further. Perhaps he was right. I had been trapped in this castle—nay, in my mind—for far too long. My only concerns lay with traveling through town, but most of all… entering the stables.

I did not want to see her.

Court had already begun, as Ganondorf had allowed, and the great room was lively with polite greetings and inquires… and gossip. One of the ladies-in-waiting led to me to the table reserved for the women, and helped me in my seat. The courtiers ceased their conversations and greeted me. I returned them and as I reached for my tea, Ganondorf suddenly became the topic of interest.

"He is quite charming, isn't he?" Lady Camlein giggled. She was a woman of high birth, her husband being Lord Virnen, Commander of the Hylian militia. I smiled fleetingly and stirred my tea. The other ladies at the table grinned, assuming my silence was due to shyness.

"And he possesses an exotic handsomeness," Lady Everny commented. Lady Everny was wife of the former Captain Kurion, now the Lieutenant of the Hylian militia.

"Not to mention mysterious," another lady I was not familiar with voiced; I believed her name was Lady Ashei. She had only recently started attending court, being only two years my junior. She was a quiet girl, keeping mostly to herself, but when she spoke, she was honest and blunt, a trait I admired.

"But he is amiable… yes?" Lady Agitha asked me with wide lavender eyes. She was three years my junior, and spoke with a high, child-like voice. Her dresses were always quite flamboyant, and it was apparent she was overly doted upon by her parents and her betrothed, Sir Yeadren, son of Castleton's reeve.

I glanced over at Ganondorf and studied him for a moment. He was speaking with yet another messenger, one I did not recognize. "As cordial as any other lord, I suppose," I replied. The table of women erupted in laughter, apart from Lady Ashei who simply reached for a tart, looking quite bored. For reasons unknown, I smiled at this.

"Oh, your hesitance is most endearing, Your Highness," Lady Camlein said breathlessly; many other ladies nodded their heads excitedly.

"I am glad I amuse you," I replied monotonously; they ignored my remark. Lady Ashei flipped her black hair from her shoulder and glanced at me from beneath her thick fringe and smirked. As the ladies continued on in laughter and thoughtless banter, I heard the great room doors open and in walked Lady Malon. I could not stop the smile that spread across my face.

"Oh no, what is she doing here?" Lady Camlein whispered to Lady Everny. "I was not aware they let ranch maidens attend court…" I looked to them with narrowed eyes, reproving them silently, and they hushed their voices further and turned away. I was affronted by their insolence, but did not wish to cause any discord and stood from my chair to greet Malon.

"Your Highness!" Malon greeted happily as quickly curtsied and made her way to me.

I walked forward, grinning and took her hand in mine. "It is good to see you; it has been far too long."

"Yes, nearly half a year now! I was sorry to have missed you last night; I came today on a hope you would be well for a visit."

"And I am glad you did. Come, sit and join us."

"Thank you." She took a seat beside me and greeted the ladies at the table. Most replied warmly, some stiffly. Malon's reception at court had always been divided. Because she dwelt in the countryside and not in Castleton, some considered her an outsider, ineligible to attend.

"We were just discussing the matter of suitors, Lady Malon," Lady Agitha began, her voice dreamy, tugging on her honey-colored curls. "I hear you recently became engaged to a lord of Termina…"

Malon blushed. "Yes, to Lord Grogen Romani."

"Do tell us of him, I hear Termina is quite an exotic land!"

Malon then proceeded to tell of her and Lord Grogen's courtship and the history between their families. I listened, interested, for I had planned on hearing her account at the celebration. Malon and Lord Grogen had met many times over their years since their childhood and through their brief exchanges and numerous letters, they had become very fond of one another. Because their families were connected by trade and blood, there was no objection to their union. Malon described Lord Grogen to have deep set, mysterious eyes and a tall, slender form. His hair was a dark blonde color, cropped in a short manner and usually fashioned wildly. But what drew her most to him was his love for animals, especially cuccos. After Malon finished her account, the other ladies began to discuss the men who caught their fancy.

Not wanting to take part in their shallow discussion, I turned to Malon and addressed her alone. "I must excuse my absence last night, Lady Malon, but I trust the celebration was enjoyable?"

"Oh yes, there was much to entertain, Your Highness. Lord Grogen even expressed his desire the king to make your acquaintance."

"I look forward to meeting this man who has brought you such happiness."

Malon blushed. "I would reply equally, but I am afraid to say…" she lowered her voice and looked around for any listening ears. "Prince Ganondorf intimidates a ranch maid such as me."

I stifled a laugh. "As he does me, Lady Malon."

Her eyes widened. "Y-Your Highness?"

"Fear not, I only endure his presence when necessary."

Malon looked to her lap. I knew she had become saddened by my jest.

"Forgive my slight, Lady Malon. Please do not worry for me."

She merely nodded her head and brushed my hand. She saw through my forced smiles, but knew better than to question them and the circumstances that brought them about, for which I was grateful.

"Prince Ganondorf and I plan to ride in the countryside within the week," I began, trying to cheer her. "Perhaps we could arrange a visit to Lon Lon manor…?"

Malon gave me a small smile. "Yes of course! My father has been inquiring of Epo—" She stopped suddenly, her eyes widening ever so slightly, and looked to me apologetically.

I felt a strange kneading sensation from within me, and heat rushed to my face. It took only a moment to realize what it was: guilt. Hearing the horse's name only reminded me of my neglect of her… of my refusal to even enter the stables. The guilt was fleeting however; the fear of what the horse evoked bested the guilt and I quickly smiled, prompting Malon to continue.

Her brows puckered and she too forced a smile. "I… I hope the weather holds, despite the frost. If it pleases you, Lord Grogen and I could join you in the ride…?"

"I would like that very much. I shall ask Prince Ganondorf before court dismisses." I could feel the slight tension of discomfort between us, yet I knew not how to dispel it. I was saddened Malon thought me upset with her.

"Yes, of course." She fell silent and tentatively reached for her tea. I saw her glance over the rim of her cup and then lower it from her lips. "Oh… it appears Prince Ganondorf is leaving now…?"

I turned around to find Ganondorf making his way to the doors. "I shall be but a moment, wait here please." I rose from my seat and followed after him, thinking a slight reprieve from Malon's presence might help her forget her discomfiture. Only a few were aware of our leaving and Ganondorf exited the doors without noticing me. He turned down the hall towards the north wing, navigating his way through the corridors with surprising speed and I only just kept up with him. Where was he heading? He descended a set of stairs that led to the lower basements of the castle and disappeared into the darkness. I dared not follow him into the black and halted my pursuit. I was about to turn back when I heard voices below, coming from beneath the stairs. I pressed myself against the wall and muttered a spell to increase my range of hearing.

"What is it now? I cannot have your urgent messages sent to me during court," Ganondorf whispered harshly.

"My apologies, My Lord, but I just received another by bird. Count Agahnim says His Majesty's passing services are to be held in fourteen days time, and that the people are quite distraught; they wonder of your intentions to return…?"

"You summoned me to report such a trivial thing?"

I winced at his severity; never had I heard his voice sound so frightening.

"N-no, there is another matter…" the messenger paused for a moment then continued. "The physician he… he has whispered his suspicions of… ill-intentions regarding the cause of His Majesty's death."

I thought I heard Ganondorf growl and I shivered.

"Silence him. We can have no liabilities; the turning point is upon us."

"Yes, My Lord. I shall send your reply at once."

"And captain…"


"If he is a problem further… tell Agahnim to do as he pleases with him."

"…My Lord…" The messenger then left, his footsteps quickly dying away.

I did not wait for Ganondorf to ascend back up. I pulled off my shoes and ran, praying he could not hear the patter of my feet. I felt myself in terrible danger if he found me spying on him. It still seemed unfathomable that I had just witnessed such darkness of his character; had he ordered a man to be killed? And what of the suspicious circumstances of his father's untimely death? One thing I knew for certain was that Ganondorf had deemed his father's funeral trivial. And by this I was most disturbed. My suspicions of him grew ten-fold and I felt that he housed even more unknown devious intentions. Would anyone listen to my concerns?

…No… they were likely to reason that I hatched these lies out of an unwanted engagement. Except perhaps… Impa?

I rounded the hall that lead to the great room and leaned against the wall to catch my breath. I slowly slipped my shoes back on and just as I righted myself, there stood Ganondorf, towering over me. I could not stop the gasp that escaped my throat. He stared at me with a look of accusation and I could not speak; my heart pounded furiously against my chest, as if screaming at me to run along with its frantic pace. His face smoothed instantly and for a moment I thought I had imagined the glare he first looked upon me with… but I knew I had not.

"You are breathless, Your Highness." His voice was tinged with disquiet, his brow raised in question.

Suppressing a shiver, I did my best to smile. "Y-yes I… I was searching for you, Prince Ganondorf. I was concerned for your sudden disappearance."

He lifted a hand to my face and tucked a stray hair behind my ear. "I am complimented." I grabbed the folds of my dress so he would not see my hands shake and I looked away.

"Allow me to escort you back to court." He took my arm into his before I could reply and set off towards the great room.

"But where had you gone?" I asked, trying to sound indifferently as possible. "Prince Ganondorf is not ill?"

He looked at me with a smirk. "Sitting for so long stiffens the body."

I forced a laugh. "Yes, I suppose you are right." Inwardly, I shook my head; his lie confirmed my suspicions.

Reaching the great room, we were once again escorted back to our seats. Many of the lords looked to Ganondorf with raised brows and smirks, whilst the ladies stared at me with shy and silly grins. I was anxious to leave and search for Impa to tell her what I'd learned, but I could not. For Ganondorf kept his eyes upon me. I felt uneasy beneath his unrelenting gaze, but many of the ladies simply giggled how in much he fancied me, professing his public display of affection left them swooning with envy. I informed Malon that the ride would have to be postponed, and thought of an excuse for it; I dared not ride alone with Ganondorf, even with a friend and acquaintance in company. Malon seemed to have forgiven herself in my absence and as we talked, my nerves abated some and I was able to think more clearly. Court ended nearly an hour and a half later and I wanted nothing more than to flee from the room. But I knew Ganondorf was still watching me, and I must act as ordinary as possible.

I graciously excused myself from the table, bidding my goodbyes to the courtiers and Malon, and calmly made my way over to him. "Prince Ganondorf, I have taken your suggestion to heart and find that a ride in the country would be most refreshing after all." I faked courtesy for I knew he would decline. "With your company of course."

His brow twitched ever so slightly, but then he smiled. "My apologies, but it must be postponed. My father's services are to be held next week, and I will leave for Haladin in two days time."

"Yes, I understand," I said, bowing my head. "I offer my deepest condolences. I hope your journey is a safe one." Relief washed through me; he would be gone for some time with the affairs he needed to set in order. "Please excuse me." As I turned away, he suddenly caught my hand and brought it to his lips. I chilled slightly; his hand was cold.

"Please accept an invitation to dine with me this evening, Princess Zelda."

"O-of course," I said quickly. "Until this evening…" And with that I pulled my hand from his and rushed out the door. The air felt thick, and I labored for breath. Reaching the south wing, I leaned against the wall for support. I closed my eyes, trying to regain control of my fear.

But beneath my lids, I could only see Ganondorf's glare.

My chest tightened at the memory; I had to find Impa and tell her all that I had heard as quickly as possible. I made my way to the entrance hall and exited out to the courtyard, dreading the private engagement Ganondorf planned for me later in the evening. Coming upon the inner gates, the guards tried to dissuade me from going further, offering to call an escort, but I declined and forced my way through the inner gates. I walked down the road a little and then turned east towards the Academy of Knights. The knight's barracks abutted the training grounds, built apart from the castle towards the southeast part of the grounds. Impa spent much of her time there; overseeing the training of newly admitted knights and offered guidance to instructors. When I reached the common room however, I found it deserted.

My frustration grew; where could Impa be? With a sigh, I left the room and emerged outside once again. I headed back to the road leading to the castle and not a minute later, heated, gruff voices echoed across the grounds from up the road.

"I'm tellin' you, Jerom, I saw one!"

"… You stink of liquor…"

"It was no hallucination! It darted across the field!"

I looked up and saw two soldiers walked beside one another, on their way to change the guard. Their words intrigued me and I stopped beside a tree.

One soldier laughed, halted in the middle of the road and folded his arms. "Alright then, what did it look like?"

The other paused for a moment before speaking. "It was huge, black and silver in color… and its howl… it was piercing… I felt it in my bones." His voice broke at the end.

"Are you really tryin' to tell me you saw… a … monster?"

My heart stopped.

"Yes, imbecile! Its eyes were blood red!"

"…And this was last night?"

"I was stationed at the town gate! Murdock saw it, too!"

The skeptical soldier laughed once again. "You're daft, Oden. Come, let us go to the buttery and persuade the maids to give us some ale… calm those nerves of yours."

"I don't need it!"

"Is that so?"

"…You still don't believe me?" The guards continued their argument as they neared me, but I couldn't move. Finally they took notice of me and gasped. The guards quickly took a knee and put three fingers to their hearts.

"Y-Your Highness! My—our apologies! We didn't expect Her Highness to be out here!"

I then realized I had been holding my breath and could hardly muster a response. "Please, I… I do not take offense." Pausing for a moment, I regained my composure. "But I must warn you to be mindful of what you speak; not all whispers go unheard."

The guards exchanged uncomfortable glances. "We apologize for our thoughtless remarks; I swear we will take caution."

"Thank you for your service. Continue on your way, good sirs."

They stood carefully and bowed with their fingers still to their chests, then saluted. The guards hurried down the road and once they thought they were a safe distance away, the unbelieving soldier turned to the other. "How did you not see the princess? Now she thinks us absurd, speaking of monsters! You already visited the buttery, didn't you?" he rebuked.

"She was in the shadow of the tree; I didn't know!" Their voices died away and I sighed, disheartened. My knees felt weak and I put a hand to my heart; my chest had tightened further. I steadied myself against a tree, feeling the bark digging into my skin.

From the description of the guard, he had seen a wolfo… just as I had so long ago. Did this mean they had overrun the forests and now roamed Hyrule Field in cover of darkness? I slowly I stepped away from the tree and started back towards the castle. A chill wind blew from the east and I shivered involuntarily. It was nearly the middle of autumn, yet it was uncommonly cold. Looking to the sky, I saw that the sun was two hours from setting; supper would be held in the hour of twilight.

I reached the inner gate and the guards saluted to me, nervously I thought, in the traditional manner as I passed. Suddenly I heard someone descend the curtain wall stairway and stop just behind me.

"Your Highness!" they called loudly.

I turned around to find yet another soldier take a knee and touch three fingers to his heart. "How can I be of service to you?" As the solider lifted his head, I recognized him to be none other than Lieutenant Kurion. I sighed inwardly. The exchanges between the lieutenant and I had become very awkward, to say the least, since that day four years ago. I bore no ill-will towards him, but I could not help but feel he believed I blamed him for what had happened.

I bowed my head to Lieutenant Kurion weakly and asked, "Is Lady Impa about?"

He stood, and cleared his throat. "Lady Impa had been called away on an emergency on the outskirts of Kakariko. I was just on my way to inform His Majesty until…" He glanced at the guards, but did not continue.

I was too surprised at Impa's sudden departure to be angry at the guards for reporting me to Lieutenant Kurion for such a trivial matter. "She has gone?" I repeated thoughtlessly.

"Naught but an hour ago." Alarm rose within me. It took a day to reach Kakariko Village by horseback and there would be no doubt that the afflicted would clamor for her attention during her stay. She would not return for days.

My fingers curled into my palms and I did my best to keep my composure. "I-I see. Thank you, Lieutenant." Bowing my head once again, I turned to leave but the lieutenant quickly took a step towards me.

"Might I call an escort for you, Your Highness? It is protocol a lady must have an attendee in this part of the grounds…" I could sense the admonition hidden in his blunt reminder.

"There is no need, I am returning to the castle." I paused. "But… there is another matter I must inquire of..."

He nodded his head hesitantly, waiting for me to continue.

"I heard… whispers… of beasts roaming about the outer wall of Castleton… is this true?"

Lieutenant Kurion's gaze darkened. "Forgive me, but that is a matter I cannot speak of." He spoke as though the matter was final. I did not know the lieutenant well, but I knew enough to know many thought his nature brash, and now could understand why so few found him agreeable.

My patience for him wore thin. "…And why is that?"

His brows formed a straight line. "… I was informed by Prince Ganondorf that His Majesty commanded it, naught a few days ago."

My mouth fell open slightly and words escaped me for a few moments. "It was commanded to be kept from your princess as well? I find that unlikely."

Lieutenant Kurion shifted uncomfortably. "Commander Vincent informed me as well, Your Highness."

"I assume you have confirmed this with His Majesty directly?"

His lips puckered ever so slightly. "No, I have not confirmed the order." I remained silent; I did not see the need to press the matter further; Ganondorf's involvement confirmed the truth of the two soldiers. Yet why did he order a silence? Lieutenant Kurion looked to the ground and cleared his throat. "Forgive my oversight, Your Highness. I shall verify this and be more vigilant in the future."

"For your sake, I hope so." I began shortly. "I appreciate your time, Lieutenant Kurion, Good-evening." He bowed apologetically, his neck shading. I turned to leave and he stepped after me. It was apparent he disapproved of my slight breech of conduct, but I ignored it.

"Ah… Your Highness, I must escort—"

"My thanks for your concern," I said over my shoulder. The lieutenant stopped and said nothing; his discomfort in my presence prevented him from following me further.

Once I was within the castle walls, I pressed a hand to my forehead and sighed. My head was wheeling; so much had occurred today and the meaning behind it all was too coincidental; they must be connected… in some way I did not yet know. With my mind consumed, I made my way to my chambers and absentmindedly readied myself for supper.

The day could not end soon enough.

A draft blew through the darkened corridors, bringing the scent of decaying leaves and moisture. The flesh on my exposed skin rose; the only warmth to be felt was from the flickering torches upon the walls. The dancing shadows of the flames caused an odd twisting sensation within me, and I shied away from the walls.

Shadows… darkness… the night only reminded me of my own weakness… of the things I dreamt of and things I feared to face. But there was no sun to rise in my future; no comforting light to shine.

And Ganondorf, like the unwanted, impending twilight, had been become an essence of fear naught four hours ago. Would I ever forget these misgivings? Was there any chance of salvation? Though I was without hope concerning my fate with him, I still wished for courage to be granted upon me to face him alone.

But there was nothing to grant me such bravery.

I began to tremble as I neared the dining hall and mumbled a calming spell to try to rid myself of such cowardice. Entering the dining hall, Ganondorf stood in politeness. He greeted me and did not take his eyes off me as I greeted him in return and took my seat at the opposite end of the table. The fireplace had been lit, providing the only source of light besides the few candles on the table, but the table was not near enough to feel the fire's heat.

Supper passed, turning out to be quiet and uneventful; the opposite of what I expected. The only distraction was the scurry of footsteps as the servants brought in new dishes and removed used ones. I finished my meal rather quickly, hardly eating anything, but before I could excuse myself, Ganondorf ordered tea and sweets to be brought in. I was uncertain about indulging, for he did not partake and merely drank wine. He watched me intently as I raised the cup to my lips. I swallowed a sip, feeling very self-aware as I placed the cup back on the saucer.

"Does it meet your approval? I had it brought from Haladin for your sampling."

I forced a polite smile. "It is quite sweet, but enjoyable," I lied. Ganondorf expressed his relief and took a long drink from his glass. Though I strived for courtesy, I could only finish half the tea in my cup before feeling the need to purge if I drank another mouthful. I took the opportunity to take my leave.

"Thank you for your company this evening, Prince Ganondorf, but I must retire. Professor Yeager will be quite displeased if I am late for his lesson in the morn." I stood from my chair, as did he, and I curtsied to him. His boots then appeared beneath my gaze. Shrinking in his silhouette, I hesitantly stood back up.

"Might I escort you to your chambers, Princess Zelda? I am reluctant to leave you yet…"

I kept my eyes downcast. "You flatter me."

Suddenly his fingers swept up the length my neck and rested beneath my chin, tipping my face up to him. My eyes widened and I recoiled, almost stumbling as I did so. His skin was rough and cold, his touch filled with desire. I looked into his eyes and thought I saw him smirk.

"… Your beauty is most captivating." I could not answer; Ganondorf's sudden display of affection disturbed me greatly. He took a step closer, his hand still lingering at my face. "It can only be fate that has granted me such a lovely princess bride." And then he leaned towards me.

I was numb with bewilderment. No, I did not want this; I could not bear his touch!

Ganondorf loomed closer, his scent of leather and sage overwhelming me. Unable to move, unable to breathe, I could only stare into his amber eyes helplessly.

…And the color changed before me... they were gold.

I nearly cried out, my nails digging into my palms to keep from screaming in terror. Impa! Please help me! I could not flee; my body would not obey; some force held my eyes to his. Stop, I cannot…!

This cruel, false man was to be king of Hyrule and there was no escape.

"Duty comes before all else. Before want, before need… before—"

"…As you wish."

I blinked; his eyes relinquished their hold…

And my head turned away…not by my own doing. A ghostly touch brushed my cheek and like the fleeting caress of a breeze, it was gone. My hand tingled and I gasped. No…

My senses clouded, my heart and mind raging violently against one another. I felt a tug at the back of my head, and a blur of shapes and colors flashed before my eyes. I screamed objections inwardly, somehow managing to block those words and the accompanying pain they brought. The tug calmed to a mere prickle and the muffled memories faded. Only moments passed and I came to, realizing the situation. What had I done? I had shamed Ganondorf; I had denied my future husband who desired a mere display of affection. I dared not look at him; were his eyes truly those that plagued me?

Ganondorf had paused slightly at my refusal, and studied me for a moment. Then I felt his lips briefly brush my cheek and he pulled away.

I nearly collapsed from relief.

"You are surprisingly timid, Princess Zelda."

I calmed my breath as my face shaded, keeping my eyes averted.

"And very austere; I admire such propriety."

I remained silent, unable to determine if his compliments were sincere, or if he mocked me outrightly.

"Is there nothing I can do to earn your trust?"

My brows furrowed. His false flattery would achieve nothing. There was nothing he could ever do to win my affections. "Prince Ganondorf h-has my hand already, there is nothing he need earn," I replied, my voice sounding weak and foreign.

"I do wish us to become… more familiar with one another. I do not want to remain strangers. Perhaps if we spent more time together…" His vague words hinted of a hidden meaning, yet I could only respond as a docile princess should; I dared not question his motive.

"W-what would you have of me?"

A smug smile inched across his face. "My true intention, princess, is to ask if you will accompany me to Haladin. King Harkinian has already expressed his wishes to attend my father's services," he said coolly.

My eyes widened as I stared at the floor, and every part of me told me to decline his offer. My chest felt heavy, preventing me from speaking. A sense of foreboding enveloped me, warning and compelling me to listen. Then...I suddenly heard muffled voices echo faintly in my ear. I glanced to the window, thinking it a trickery of the wind, but indistinguishable words repeated over and over, growing louder each passing moment. Alarm rose steadily within me. Why… why was this happening? Where had these mutterings I dread so come from? I closed my eyes, desperately reciting a deafening spell in silence...but to no avail; such weak magic was no use… and I realized the voices were not new…

… They were the voices I thought I had banished...

The warmth of my blood stole away.

"Princess Zelda…" The voices silenced as Ganondorf spoke and I could breathe again. "It would give me great pleasure if you would agree." It was nearly a whisper. I sighed unevenly, hesitating to answer for fear I would hear those muffled voices again. Confusion tore away at me. Ever since the celebration… my thoughts, my feelings… everything had become restless. The strongholds of my defenses I had so carefully built had been shaken; something… or someone had disturbed my past weaknesses.

Still trembling, I looked to Ganondorf, readying myself to decline his offer, but before I could answer, scuffling sounded from outside and the dining hall doors suddenly swung open. My father entered the room with a few of the lords, who were laughing shamelessly. The words died on my tongue and my resolve to refuse disappeared; with him here...

My father saw us and his face shaded. "Ah, already you are here, Prince Ganondorf! But I did not expect my daughter..."

"I was taking my leave, Your Majesty" I said quickly, stepping towards the door. I could hear my blood rushing in my ears, pounding painfully and the feeling caused a spell of dizziness.

"You are welcome to stay..." The offer was insincere.

"No, thank you." If I did not leave now, I would be forced to agree. I curtsied and started towards the door.

"Very well then, if you insist. Come, Prince Ganondorf, you shall sit beside me."

"I am obliged, Your Majesty. We can discuss plans to journey to Haladin… if you still wish to attend King Dragmire's services…"

My steps faltered and my lips trembled in anger; his sly words did not fool me; meeting my father here while I was in his company was not by chance. I hurried on.

"Yes, of course. Has a date been named?"

"Indeed, at next week's end. And if it pleases Your Majesty, I invited Princess Zelda to accompany us…"

My hand on the latch, I cursed Ganondorf inwardly. With my father here... he knew I must accept.

My father eyes lit. "An excellent proposition, Prince Ganondorf!" He then turned to me at the door. "What say you, Zelda?"

I nearly laughed as bowed my head in defeat. "I shall be in your care Prince Ganondorf…"

Warmth had yet to return to my body.

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