Chapter II - Poison
Zelda's eyes fluttered slightly when I pleaded with her to wake.
Out of thoughtless desperation, I called out her name.
It rolled off my tongue with ease, as if it were the simplest word to speak.
A ghost of smile flickered across Zelda's face and she fell unconscious. I lifted her lifeless, fragile body into my arms and set her upon Epona. I hoisted myself up behind her, holding her tightly against me; she was cold to the touch.
I whistled for her horse to follow and kicked Epona forward. Sensing my urgency, Epona quickly took off and we rode back to the castle.
Zelda's face began to pale, and her red lips turned the palest pink. I cursed myself for letting her fall into this state. If I had followed her sooner into Kokiri, she would be well and safe.
The punishment I would receive from the king would far surpass the punishment she would have inflicted on me had I disobeyed her as I should have.
I didn't fear His Majesty's wrath however.
I feared for Zelda's life.
My life was tied to hers, and her death would be my ruin.
I, a petty knight, was in love with the Princess of Hyrule.
Though I knew I was favored in the eyes of the king, the laws of marriage were not made to be broken. Forever would I be in her shadows, forever would I watch over her, and that had to be enough for me.
And it would be enough, for I had already resigned myself to believe she could never love me back. My beliefs had been set in stone when we approached our fifteenth year…
Possessing a naïve hope, I enlisted in the Hylian army at the age of ten, and was accepted as an attendee on the promise I could begin training at the age of sixteen.
Becoming a soldier was but a stepping stone however. I was taught the sword by a former knight in my home village, Ordon, named Rusl and he encouraged me. I fought better than many knights he knew, even at such a young age. My father had been a royal knight and though he died before I knew him, I was urged to follow in his footsteps.
Although I was not a soldier just yet, I was required to live in the barracks on the castle grounds with the other soldiers, just beside the outer gates; soldiers who were wed were permitted to live in boarding houses in Castleton.
As an attendee, I was permitted to leave the grounds, given access to the stables and even to the Academy of Knights—which was built closer to the inner gates farther up the sloping lawns—and allowed to take from the storehouse beyond the inner gates.
Yet despite where all my duties took me, I was forbidden to enter the castle.
But I was a boy, not one to give much regard to rules and I quickly became familiar with the layout of the castle and its private grounds.
And through all my explorations, an entire year passed without me ever glancing upon Zelda.
Then in the summer of my eleventh year, on a quiet eve, I was walking back alone to the barracks from the mess hall when I heard a beautiful, flute-like noise echoing in the distance.
Drawn to the alluring music, I ignored the rules for the hundredth time and entered inside. I followed the source and it lead to the royal gardens.
Sneaking through bushes and trees and dodging a few guards, I came upon the heart of the gardens.
And there, beneath a tree, sat a girl with golden hair, playing an ocarina.
Her unusual, violet eyes widened in surprise when she saw me. I feared she would call for the guards, but on the contrary, she simply smiled at me. She then looked about warily, searching for any onlookers. She beckoned me forward and I stumbled to her side. After a warm greeting, she began to speak to me as if she had known me all along.
Over the next year, we met secretly in the gardens nearly every week. Zelda confided in me that she had no companions her age to talk with, and that she enjoyed our times together.
It was then that Zelda became my motivation and I began training on my own in the early morning before the other soldiers awoke.
I worked hard and my skills increased even further.
Then one particular morning, I found the commander of the Hylian army, Commander Virnen, watching me intently. I quickly apologized for using the training grounds but he simply told me to follow him. He led me to the Academy of Knights, into their training grounds and tossed me a sword. He called a boy my age over and told him to spar with me.
I quickly disarmed him, and the commander smiled, telling me I was to live and train in the Academy of Knights from that moment on.
I could hardly believe my fortune; to even be accepted into the Academy of Knights, one had to be of noble birth and possess exceptional combat skills.
I was greatly mocked for my humble background, but I trained hard, and soon I surpassed those eight years my senior and my efforts did not go unrecognized.
One summer day, I was sparring with one who was nine years my senior and many had gathered around us to observe, even the high ranking officers and other knights of distinction. After only minutes of engagement, I disarmed him and applause erupted around me. I polished my sword with the hem of my tunic and as I sheathed it, a pair of fine boots appeared before me.
I looked up slowly, noticing the voluminous robes hanging from the tall figure.
A man with a short, pointed, graying beard and a gold crown was smirking at me.
My eyes widened and I dropped to my knees as I hurriedly apologized to the king.
He laughed merrily and patted me on the shoulder. "Excellent show, young man," he complimented, "Pray, what is your name?"
I paused and tried to calm myself. "I-I am Link Ordon of the Phoenix House, Your Majesty."
"Ah, so you are Link. What is your age, Master Link?"
"I've just entered my thirteenth year, Your Majesty," I answered nervously.
The king turned to Commander Virnen and said something I could not hear.
Commander Virnen gasped. "Yes, of course, Sire."
The king then bid me to stand. "Master Link, I have been searching for one of such skill and potential as yourself, to accept an important and honorable duty." He paused and waited for a reaction, but I remained still. "I wish for you to become Princess Zelda's Guardian, Master Link."
I looked to him in shock. "Y-Your Majesty!" I could hardly believe his words.
I glanced to the commander for reassurance but he simply smirked.
I quickly composed myself and bowed. "As you wish, Your Majesty. I would be honored."
The king smiled. "You will forever have my gratitude, Master Link. I do think a ceremony is in order… Commander?"
Commander Virnen nodded his head and he looked to me, eyes brimming with pride.
I bowed once again to the king and he turned to leave.
"Good day to you, Master Link, or rather, more appropriately, Sir Link," he said with a wink.
I barely heard the congratulations and envious remarks that came from my companions. I was in a daze over the course of the days leading to the ceremony.
It felt unreal to be bestowed such a title at such a young age. Though I was overjoyed to be given this great honor, I had misgivings at the thought of being responsible for someone's life… the princess's life no less…
A friend's life.
On the day of the ceremony, I hardly paid attention to the words that were spoken, or the words I spoke.
My eyes rarely left Zelda's as she stood there with her father, even when he bestowed me with the title of "Guardian to Her Royal Highness, Princess Zelda of Hyrule," and dubbed me a knight.
A smile tugged at our lips each time our eyes met, for none knew of our secret friendship, forged two years prior.
During the celebration afterward, I was able to speak to her in private and she told me how glad she was that I could be at her side.
I took her hand, and placed a chaste kiss on upon it, trying to imitate the actions of the lords at the celebration. "As am I, Your Highness."
She blushed slightly and laughed. "I am not fond of such formality. Would you be opposed to addressing me as Lady Zelda? My caretaker, Impa, calls me so and I find that more likeable."
I looked into her violet eyes and from then on, I knew I wouldn't be able to refuse her anything.
"As you wish, Lady Zelda," I replied with a smile. I was young, so the protocols and etiquette of royalty hadn't been explained to me in detail, nor did I understand them.
For nearly two years hence, our time together was enjoyable. As we grew together in adolescence, the bond between us grew and I became drawn to her willful and adventurous qualities, as well as her kindness.
As our fifteenth year approached, I felt my draw to her suddenly become stronger.
Though she was a friend, I found myself admiring the way the wind played with her golden hair, the way her eyes sparkled when she laughed, and the way she moved with such grace.
I suddenly began to notice just how red her lips were and how white her skin was.
She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen.
I soon realized why I had become so drawn to her, why I adored every aspect about her…
I was in love with her.
It became hard to be around her so often, for I feared my feelings would overcome me.
I took to silence, lest I say something I should not. I knew my silence disturbed her, but I had little choice.
I could not be a friend to her—it would never be enough. It was too agonizing.
Not long after, I realized that simply speaking her name had become difficult. I ceased speaking her name, but addressed her by a familiar title still.
Nevertheless, I knew for certain this hurt her the most.
She made many attempts to cheer me, to ask me of my peculiar behavior, but I wouldn't have it; I could never tell her.
I began to feel guilty, for I didn't deserve such kindness from her.
I was a wretched being who loved whom he could not have.
I pushed my feelings aside and knew that if I had any hope of keeping them at bay, I must ignore them. I became impassive and immersed myself in my duties, determined to do what was right. I allowed myself one indulgence however, the only way to dull the ache.
My reply to whatever she asked of me would tell her I loved her.
And only I would know of it.
Zelda soon treated me with indifference as well and I was torn between misery and relief for she finally dealt me what I deserved.
She called me by my title as a jest once, but at my reaction, or rather lack of, she finally gave up.
The years past on, we grew further apart still and our relationship deteriorated to the state of things now.
Her guardian: that was all I had become to her.
Bitterly, I had finally achieved my heart-wrenching desire.
As I reminisced of the past, the castle came into view over the last stretch of road. The sun was beginning to set when we came to the drawbridge.
I shouted impatiently for the guards to lower it, not bothering to slow as the horses neared. I raced through Castleton and up the road to the castle.
I yelled again for the outer gate to be opened. Questioning and concerned voices flew past me as rode by the knights' garrison and cut across the sloping lawns in front of the castle. The inner gate was still open and I slowed as I entered. I jumped off Epona in front of the drawbridge, still holding Zelda securely in my arms, and ordered two servants to take the horses away.
I entered the castle and headed to the west wing, ordering another servant to fetch Impa and the healer.
I hurried to Zelda's chambers and as I reached the doors, she curled against my chest and clutched my tunic. She moaned and her face contorted in sheer pain.
I gritted my teeth and cursed myself.
I held her tightly to me and without thinking, my lips brushed against her forehead.
"This is my doing, forgive me."
"Sir Link!" Impa's voice echoed down the hall. I turned around and moved aside so she could open the door for me. "What happened?" Impa asked in a low voice as she led me to the bed.
I gently laid Zelda down. "She's been poisoned."
Suddenly she began to thrash about.
I looked at Impa for an answer but she merely shook her head and I forgot my composure. "Where is that damned healer?" I shouted as I ran out of the room. As I raced down the hall to find him, he suddenly bustled around the corner with an enormous book and bag.
I grabbed the supplies from him roughly. "Where is your haste, Eurick? The Princess's life is in danger!"
The short man hurried beside me and when we reached Zelda's chambers, I stuffed his belongings back at him. I nodded to him and fled to find the king.
I found him in the rectory, speaking with his counselor, Lord Shad, Minister of Religion.
"I beg your pardon, Your Majesty, but you must come with me quickly."
He stood from the pew, his dark brows furrowing. "Calm down, Sir Link, what is it?"
"The princes has been poisoned, you must come at once!"
Lord Shad's eyes widened and gasped quietly.
The king's face paled and said nothing. He excused himself from Lord Shad and hurried to my side.
"How did my daughter become poisoned?" He asked gruffly.
"… I shall explain in private, Your Majesty," I answered, noticing a group of servants ahead.
"Very well," he answered quietly.
We reached Zelda's chambers not minutes later and the king rushed to Zelda's bedside.
"Can she be cured?" He asked hastily, not taking his eyes off of Zelda.
Eurick was holding her wrist and counting as he read from a book from the bedside table. "That is yet to be determined, but I have given her a tonic to slow the poison."
The king inhaled deeply, kneading his forehead with his fingers. "What can I do?" he asked Eurick.
"Please send for my assistant; I'm afraid a woman only will be of help. Lady Impa, would you help as well? We must get this heavy clothing off her.
The king and I left Zelda's sleeping quarters for her sitting chamber. He called for Eurick's assistant to be fetched and then turned to me.
I took a deep breath and took a knee. "Your Majesty, I must beg your forgiveness. The princess was injured because of my carelessness. Please punish me as you see fit."
The king frowned. "Precisely what happened?"
"I escorted Her Highness to East Hill and she ventured into Kokiri Forest. She ordered me not to follow her, and I waited. But too much time went by and I entered the forest after her, disregarding her order." My hands clenched into fists and I continued. "I heard her call for me, and found a beast chasing her. I slayed the beast, but it managed to injure her arm. Forgive me, Your Majesty, I should have disobeyed from the beginning." As I recalled the events, I became even more disgusted with myself.
When I had allowed the bond between Zelda and I to unravel, I swore to fulfill my role as her guardian perfectly; such failure was deplorable.
The king sighed haggardly. "A beast you say? In Hyrule?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"This is indeed grave, Sir Link… I must inform the commander at once."
I kept silent and waited for him to pass judgment.
He suddenly placed a hand on my shoulder. "Come, you mustn't despair so. I realize some fault of her foolish action falls upon you, but for you to take all responsibility…"
"Please, Your Majesty, I respectfully disagree. The responsibility does, indeed, begin and end with me," I said lowly.
"I will not punish you for what you do not deserve, Sir Link," the king said with a sigh. "I daresay the state you have fallen into is punishment enough."
"But, Your Majesty—"
"Say no more on the matter. That is my decision."
"Yes, Your Majesty, I am obliged for your compassion."
"Nevertheless, I would ask you reflect upon your decisions, to re-examine your priorities."
"Now, there are things I must attend to. If she wakes before my return, inform me at once."
I stood and bowed silently.
The king walked towards the door and he paused before opening it. "Sir Link," he called, "remember… you are the only one capable of keeping an eye on such a stubborn and thoughtless child as mine." He shut the door before I could reply.
Nearly two days had passed since Zelda had fallen ill.
I had confined myself to my quarters, and hardly slept or ate during those days of waiting while I remained there.
My failure to my duty was overwhelming. Never in all my time as Zelda's guardian had she fallen ill.
I was angered and sickened with myself.
Well after twilight on the third day, a knock came to my door, and I ignored it as I had been doing. A woman I recognized to be one of Healer Eurick's aides stepped into my chamber without permission.
"Sir Link, the king wishes to see you."
I took a deep breath and got up to leave.
"He is in the princess's chambers."
"Thank you," I forced myself to answer. I journeyed to the west side of the castle and sighed when I reached her door. I knocked once, and Impa appeared not a moment later.
She motioned me inside and I came upon the king and Healer Eurick, conversing at Zelda's bedside; she was still devoid of color.
"Well, Eurick? What of her ailment? How long will the poison continue to affect her?" the king asked gruffly.
Eurick wiped his forehead. "With the remedy I've given her, she'll recover. Fortunately, animal poisons have been documented."
"But how much longer will she suffer?" I asked shortly.
"Days, Sir Link. I've done all I can, but we must now wait for the remedy to take effect."
I sighed and my gaze fell to Zelda.
She lay covered in blankets, still as death.
"Her color has yet to return" I said quietly as I approached the bed.
"Hm… curious… the remedy should be cleaning her blood as we speak, so her color should have returned at least a little," he said. "I believe the poison causes nightmares; that is the only reason I can suspect why she has no color." Eurick paused and turned to the king. "I would suggest, Your Majesty, talking to her. It has been said that the unconscious can still hear even in sleep. Comforting her may be the best way to stop the nightmares."
The king nodded gravely.
"My thanks, Eurick. I shall send for you when she awakens."
Eurick nodded and left the room quietly.
"I will bring more water," Impa said as she left as well.
The king sighed and sat beside Zelda. He took her hand in both of his and kissed it tenderly. "Please endure a little longer, Zelda. You shall be well again soon."
After a few minutes of silence, he turned to me.
"Council has been called, and I would ask if you stay here in my stead. Lady Impa will be present as well."
"Of course, Your Majesty."
"And again, if she awakens, inform me at once." The king then left, and I turned back to Zelda.
Hesitantly, I rested my hand top hers; her skin was still as ice. I gently lifted her hand and kissed it. "I'm sorry," I said quietly. It was then when I noticed a strange mark upon her hand. A long line ran across the back of her hand, shining like a scar.
Was this another injury, one I failed to notice?
I shook my head and placed her hand back down. Wanting to try and warm her, I left her side to stoke the fire.
Just as I put another log in the fireplace, I heard Zelda whisper my name.
Her tone was so pleading and broken, I nearly came undone.
"Link…where…" She lay still for a moment then began to violently thrash about, causing her bedcovers to fly off.
I called out to her, begging her to wake, but she continued to convulse and her cotton gown slipped off her shoulders. I restrained her against the bed to prevent her from injuring herself.
She calmed slightly but continued to mumble incoherent words I couldn't understand.
Tears fell from her closed lids and her breathing became labored and shallow.
Had her pain become so unbearable? Guilt consumed me once more.
"Please, My Lady, open your eyes!"
She stilled for a moment then shook her head, as if she were torn in decision.
My hands moved to either side of her and I leaned over, praying Eurick was right about her being able to hear in sleep. Lowering my lips to her ear, I whispered, "Lady Zelda… wake up."
Her eyes suddenly flew open and for a moment, she simply stared at me, as if she hadn't seen me in years.
Whispering my name, she pulled herself against me.
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