Crowns of Deception

By Forlorn Rain

Chapter IV - Secret

Never had my patience been tested so fiercely.

I had not prepared nor expected to entertain such infuriating guests.

The countess herself and her relentless flirtations, however, was hardly a concern. I'd heard whispers from servants and maids about my supposed handsome features, so I was used to such trivial attention.

But concerning Count Ronan, I wished for nothing more than to take a searing iron rod to his eyes.

They constantly swept over every part of Zelda's figure and this I found most offensive. I tried to convince myself that I shouldn't mind, because she did not belong to me. Yet I could not help but feel slightly more protective of her when the Haladians were present.

I stood outside the library, leaning against the wall. The floor tempted me to rest, but my head was too full of unease to relax.

As I studied the stone floor, a pair of familiar shoes appeared beneath my gaze. I looked up and found Impa waiting for me to acknowledge her.

"I didn't even hear you approach."

The Sheikah's mouth twitched in amusement. Her people had always served the Royal Family and her unique fighting techniques were used to help train the knights in the academy. She was one of the persons I had first met when I came to the castle. As Zelda's caretaker, Impa was also sort of a mother figure to Zelda but a dear friend to me. Impa was the one who watched over Zelda before I was appointed to do so as well. Her duties to the princess remained, but now I was the one who accompanied Zelda in public.

"I thought I might find you two here," Impa said. "I noticed Lady Zelda did not look well when you left."

Zelda had been particularly irate with me when we reached the library, and I could only guess the cause of her impatience.

"Yes, as did I. I didn't consider the strain the Haladians' presence would put on Her Ladyship," I added. Nor upon myself, I thought inwardly. But I didn't care about my troubles, I only wished I could say aloud the comforting words of support Zelda deserved.

Impa chuckled lightly.

"I must say, Sir Link, you hide your sentiments well."

I raised an eyebrow. "Of what do you speak, Lady Impa?"

She smirked at me. "You know of what I speak."

A cold sensation ran down my body and I suppressed the feeling of alarm. "If you imply my concern for her well—"

"I am not so ignorant, Sir Link. Please do not offend me so," she said matter-of-factly.

I knew not what to say to her retort for I could not deny it; Impa was the only one who saw me and Zelda most often. But I wouldn't address what she hinted at.

"I am not going to scold you. I'm simply acknowledging that the sacrifice you make is a great one. I commend your efforts to serve the Royal Family diligently." Though her words were meant as a comfort, they evoked strong feelings of pain and regret.

"Please," I said as I averted my eyes, "say nothing to her."

"You assume I confide everything to Lady Zelda, Sir Link. Worry not, I only share with her what is in her best interest. This matter is not," she said simply.

I nodded weakly and Impa placed a hand on my shoulder then opened the library door.

Before I could blink, she was gone, the door already shut. I shook my head and folded my arms as I slumped to the stone floor.

Impa always insisted on being so cryptic.

I was stirred by the sound of quick footsteps coming down the hall. I rubbed my eyes and figured my exhaustion must have won me over and I had fallen asleep.

I had not even heard Impa exit the library.

I stood and stretched and glanced out the window down the hall; the sun had yet to set. I looked down the opposite direction and saw a young page making his way toward me.

"Sir Link!" he greeted. "His Majesty sent me to find you. It's nearly supper."

"Thank you for your diligence," I smiled slightly. "What is your name?"

The boy grinned back at me. "Damen," he replied with a bow. "I must inform Her Highness as well… is she in here?"

"I will inform her, Damen. I'm sure she sends her thanks as well," I added.

The boy nodded, and bowed again to me. "Yes, of course, good evening, Sir Link." He then flew back down the hallway.

I straightened my tunic and ran a hand through my hair, preparing myself for Zelda's sharp tongue. I opened the door as quietly as possible and closed it behind me. I was always amazed at the expanse of the library. Despite the grand size and the labyrinth of bookshelves, I knew where to find Zelda.

I found her sitting in a large chair by the fireplace, a book open in her lap, and her head leaning comfortably against the chair. Her eyes were closed, her dark eyelashes lying beautifully against her white cheek. Her mouth was partially open, and she breathed slow and even.

Zelda was breathtaking even in sleep.

I kneeled beside her and carefully tucked a wayward lock behind her ear. She stirred slightly at my touch and her forehead creased slightly. She mumbled something incoherent and though I could not understand her words, her distressed tone alarmed me. Was she was still afflicted with nightmares?

I observed her a while longer and she did not stir again. I carefully took the book from her lap and placed it on the table. As I did so, another peculiar, old book, lying open on the table, caught my attention. I carefully scanned the words and realized why Zelda was researching such ancient writings.

The beast was still on her mind.

I read the passage again, this time more slowly.

"Should a righteous heart and a wicked heart join under the crown, chaos will reek across the lands and beasts shall roam in warning."

Though I knew Zelda was no closer to matrimony than when she was sixteen, I could not stop the feeling of dread that crept into my mind.

Eventually… she would be taken away…
I shook my head for I did not wish to think on such things.

I marked the page with my finger and curiously flipped through the rest of the book. It fell open, almost purposefully, to the second to last page. Hurried, untidy scrawl in small, red script, was written on the side of the page, as if it were an afterthought.

1284, Silver Age, 60th of Winter:

-The blood of courage and wisdom bonded together can conquer the calamity of evil power?

-Method of bonding unknown.

-Righteous, unwavering hearts required of both redeemers.

I set the book down and simply stared at it. I had never been one of much faith, but an odd sensation, akin to pricking of my heart, began to flow in me as I read the words again. I shuddered involuntarily and shook myself out of this sudden reverie.

The appearance of the beast in the forest did not coincide with the ancient warnings written in the book. I concluded it was useless to dwell on the matter, since no solution to the appearance of monsters was given.

I turned back to Zelda, and as I did, her hand twitched and she shook her head. Her mumbles of suffering began anew and I was at her side in a moment.

Why did these lingering nightmares torture her so? I felt useless, and inadequate as her guardian. Despite my guilt, I could not stop myself from cursing the Healer Eurick, for his inability to stop this supposed side effect.

"My Lady, you are dreaming," I said in a strained voice.

Zelda furrowed her brows and moaned painfully.

"Wake up!"

Her eyes snapped open, a look of pure terror in her eyes.

I took her face into my hands in attempt to steady her. "Are you alright?" I asked as she calmed her breath.

"Y-yes," she stuttered, looking around in confusion.

Becoming aware of myself, I quickly pulled my hands away. "What is it?" I asked more calmly.

Zelda shivered and closed her eyes as she shook her head. "I do not know… my dreams have been restless ever since…" She trailed off. She looked so lost and confused; I wanted nothing more than to take her into in my arms.

"I wish there was a way to ease your suffering," I said sincerely.

She looked at me and tilted her head slightly. "I'm certain they will pass in time." She continued to stare at me with a peculiar look in her eye… almost a searching look.

The silence between us continued and I cleared my throat to dispel the discomfort.

"We've been called for supper, My Lady." I offered my hand to her and she looked from my hand to my face as she tentatively reached for it.

My hand tingled at her touch and she tightened her grip.

Her brows furrowing thoughtfulness, she slowly let go of my hand. Looking up at me again, her cheeks shaded red. Her eyes widened in the slightest and she quickly walked away from me.

"Yes, well, hurry up, Guardian. We wouldn't want Countess Reala to be displeased by your absence now, would we?"

I followed a short distance behind Zelda to the entrance hall. There hung a grand chandelier with many crystal prisms and many servants were using a tall ladder to replace candles in it. A few other servants were cleaning the floor, which was tiled in an intricate design to impress any guest. Another set of servants were polishing the banisters of the two rounded staircases built along the east and west walls of the entrance hall. They joined at the top to a mezzanine, the entrance to the throne room centered between.

Zelda and I approached from the west wing of the castle and she made her way down the grand stairs and then down another set of stairs that led to a smaller foyer. Across it, the adjoined ballroom and the banquet hall lay before us.

Zelda turned left to the banquet hall's main entrance which lay farther down the hall. She did not look back at me as she disappeared around the doors.

I continued onward to the servant's entrance on the other side. The hallway darkened and as turned the corner, I heard hushed voices sounding from an open doorway not far from me. I nearly turned the other way, until I heard his voice.

"You called for me, Your Grace?"

"Yes, captain. Give this letter to your fastest horsemen. It is of great importance that Prince Ganondorf receives it directly," Count Agahnim replied.

I quietly edged towards the doorway and pressed myself against the wall as I peered inside.

"Of course, but what reason shall I tell His Highness for such urgency?"

"There is no time to explain. I must return to King Aldir's side before he questions my absence. The letter will be clear enough. Will you swear to me that you can do this?" Count Agahnim asked.

"You shall have a reply by sundown tomorrow," the captain answered in a low voice.

"Very well. I'm counting on you, captain." The captain of the Haladin guard bowed swiftly to the count and started to the door.

I quickly hid behind a suit of armor.

The captain turned in the opposite direction and his footsteps died away. I heard the count's steps near me and I held my breath. The darkness of the hall provided adequate cover and he quickly passed me by.

I watched Count Agahnim turn the corner and I followed him until he entered the banquet hall. I turned back around towards the servant's entrance, glowering along the way.

I was not well acquainted with the customs of other countries, but I knew referring to a king by his first name was a general form of disrespect recognized by all. Even calling a king by his surname was not to be used unless one was close to him or invited to address him so. My anger flared at Agahnim's brazen tongue and my dislike for him increased tenfold, something I thought impossible.

I also burned with curiosity at the letter's contents. What matter was so urgent that he left the king's presence, risking the failure of the treaty negotiations?

I pushed the swinging door to the servant's entrance open and stretched to prepare myself for an entire evening of standing, then hesitantly entered the banquet hall.

As I emerged into the bright light of the hundreds of candles, the king called for me and invited me to dine at the table with them.

I could see that Berin was quite displeased that the offer did not extend to him.

I sat beside Zelda, across from the countess. Countess Reala smiled at me and I hesitantly returned it.

Count Agahnim was also already seated, acting as if nothing had transpired between him and his captain of the guard.

I glanced at him and his eyes briefly met mine. There was a look of mild curiosity in his eyes, but then was quickly replaced with disinterest.

He nodded his head at me, acknowledging my presence and turned to his wife. His mouth twisted into a slight smile and she raised an eyebrow. His head rose ever so slightly and she smiled knowingly in return.

So she was apart of the count's secret letter…

The little remaining trust I had for Haladin's peaceful intentions vanished.

Entertainment had been provided throughout the evening and there was little talk from any of us. The entertainment varied from shows of magics, humorous anecdotes, and sparring between the combat instructors.

The count and countess applauded at correct intervals, but their attention to the performers was not rapt.

The count watched Zelda out of the corner of his eye for most of the evening. My hands gripped the underside of the table, wishing it was the count's neck in my grasp.

"Tell me, Your Highness, have you ever been to Haladin?" he asked silkily as the next group of performers prepared for its upcoming act.

"No, I haven't had the pleasure," she said with a small smile.

"The Royal Family must come on holiday to Angola, our capital. Autumn is Haladin's most beautiful season."

"We would be honored, of course, at the first opportunity," she replied.

"I shall speak with Prince Ganondorf when I return. I'm certain he would be most pleased to meet someone as amiable as yourself," Count Agahnim said with a smirk.

I bit my teeth at his compliment. From his hinting words, I was sure his secret letter to Prince Ganondorf had already mentioned Zelda. Just what the letter pertained to was mysterious in and of itself.

But perhaps I was being unreasonable; perhaps the letter was merely a report of how well the negotiations were coming along. Whatever the case was, I was only concerned with Zelda's safety.

And I couldn't help but feel she wasn't safe in the company of any Haladian…

Zelda laughed and kindly refused the count's compliment.

I knew her well enough to know that her laughter was an uncomfortable one and I smiled at that thought.

As they continued to discuss the differences between Hyrule and Haladin, the countess tried many times to speak to me. However, my short answers bested her efforts and she ceased trying after a few attempts.

Oddly enough, each attempt the countess made, Zelda would stiffen beside me and a few times I caught her looking at me from the corner of her eye. The tips of her ears would redden slightly as she quickly looked away.

Her peculiar actions as of late caused me to doubt my assumptions.

The way she clung to me so desperately when she awoke from her nightmares naught but a week ago made me question her gladdened tone at my presence.

It was only in such a vulnerable state that she would show that kindness and concern she had so long ago.

Was that how she truly was? Did she perhaps wear a mask as I did? Or did she simply resent me more? I wouldn't allow myself to think the former. I wouldn't allow such a hope to be kindled.

After the entertainment was over, the king stood, as did all at the table. Servants suddenly stepped out of the shadows to pull out our chairs.

The king cleared his throat loudly. "I thank you for your wonderful display of talents, performers, you were indeed impressive."

The performers bowed and quietly left the banquet hall.

"Well, Count Agahnim, Countess Reala, I do hope you enjoyed yourselves," he said warmly.

They smiled and bowed their heads to him. "It was most fascinating, Your Highness," the count commented.

"Excellent. Well then, shall we proceed into the throne room?"

"Please lead the way, but first," Count Agahnim paused as he turned to Zelda. "Allow me to wish a good evening to you, Princess Zelda." He bent over to take her hand and placed a kiss on it; I was grateful she was wearing evening gloves.

My hand itched for my sword.

"Good evening, Your Grace," Zelda said in return.

The countess turned to me and fluttered her eyes.

Resisting the want to purge, I forced a bow to the Haladians and stepped to Zelda's side.

The king, his counselors and their advisors, and the Haladians then left the banquet hall through the southern doors.

The countess and the count both turned back to take one last look at us.

Zelda shuddered involuntarily and she took my offered arm. Together we left the banquet hall through the adjoining doors that led to the ballroom. As we made our way across, I noticed servants were beginning to set up the decorations for tomorrow's celebration.

Zelda paid no mind to them and it she seemed as if she was dragging me through the ballroom.

"Is there a pressing matter that needs attending to?" I half-heartedly jested as we emerged into the foyer.

As if suddenly aware of herself she slowed her pace and took her arm from mine. "No, I'm sorry for my haste," she paused to sigh. "I could not breathe in there." Zelda chilled again and wrapped her arms together. "I do not know if it's the presence of the Haladians, or lingering traces of the illness." She gasped suddenly and turned to me wide-eyed. "Forgive me, Guardian, for speaking so openly. I meant no offense to your opinion of them," She paused then said thoughtfully, "though if you find them amiable, then what I think should not matter to you." She looked at me expectantly.

She caught me by surprise; those were the most words she had spoken to me in a week.

I couldn't stop the smile that spread across my face; she usually hid her true feelings behind her thorny demeanor.

"Rest assured, My Lady, your words shan't be repeated, nor do I take offense to them."

"Then… then you do not approve of…" she mumbled as she took a step back from me.

"Yes?" I urged her continue.

"No, it is nothing." She kept her eyes on me as she turned away and headed up the stairs. She didn't order me to stay, so I followed after her; she didn't object.

"Might I escort you to your chambers, My Lady?" I asked.

She stopped and looked at me warily. As if she were contemplating something, she pursed her lips and continued on her way.

She then said over her shoulder, "I'm not going to my chambers, Guardian. You can join me in the ward if you so desire."

The mood between us changed in that moment and it felt as if any slight disturbance could break this delicate honesty that had suddenly been born. Her sudden kindness in offering me an invitation, reminded me of our time in the library naught a few hours ago.

Her violet eyes piercing through me, I could faintly see the shy girl I had met long ago.

A smile twitched at my lips. "As you wish," I said quietly.

She stopped in her tracks and kept her eyes on me as I slowly approached and held out my hand to hers.

She took it and I let her lead us through the castle. The silence between us was strained, and I felt as she wanted to speak her mind again, but fought against doing so. She would look up at me with parted lips, but then turn away.

It was twilight when we reached the ward.

Zelda sighed quietly beside me and her face relaxed.

The dying light of the sun cast a soft glow upon her face, and small smile grew at her lips as her color returned.

"Do you remember the day we met?" she asked suddenly, her eyes closed, "the time nearly exact as it is now?"

I looked down at her.

"Everything was so much simpler," she whispered in reminiscence.

"Change accompanies time…"

"…Yes… but there is always a cause." She looked up at me, her eyes alight with nostalgia. "I was convinced I understood much, but I've come to see I really know nothing at all."

"…My Lady?"

She released my arm and made her way over to the fountain, ignoring my prompt. "Guardian, fetch me that pitcher," she said, pointing to the forgotten silver on a windowsill.

I did as told and took it to her.

But she would not take it.

"Fill it with water."

Was she trying me or had she simply reverted back to her sharp self?

I looked at her, trying to guess her intentions.

She seemed to shrink back. "Please," she added as though I needed more convincing.

I did not inquire after her peculiar behavior; for I could see she was already at odds with herself. Her forlorn comments did not sit well with me because she was right. I knew nothing either, apart from one truth…

"As you wish." I stepped beside her and leaned over the fountain's edge. After it was filled I handed it to her.

She took the pitcher from me wordlessly and glided away to water the flowers along the pathway.

I sat on the fountain's edge and simply watched her. The breeze disturbed her hair and created an intricate design of winding strands. Her dress ruffled around her feet and she made a poor attempt to straighten it.

Over the course of the day, I could feel my mask start to soften around the edges. I knew not why I was allowing it to either. Whether it was due to the Haladians' presence or her sudden show of that long forgotten kindness she used to show me, I was becoming careless.

"I haven't had the courage," Zelda began, interrupting my musings, "to ask you… what I am to you." She stopped pouring the water and stood facing me.

"What do you mean?" I asked, slightly alarmed as I rose to my feet.

Zelda looked away, blushing. "When we were children… there were no lies, no unsaid words… but now…" She paused and sighed. "Truths I thought I once knew have become vague, so tell me… am I an obligation? Or perhaps…" she trailed off and mumbled something I could not hear.

"My life is meant for you." I hoped she could not sense how fiercely I believed this.

Her brows furrowed. "That is precisely the problem. I do not understand this indifference." Zelda lifted her head to me. "Your ambiguous actions and words are contradictions of each other… I don't understand why I'm concerned if you care for me at all."

My eyes widened, stunned by her words.

She was troubled by my feelings? Had she become aware of how much I did care for her?

No, she believed I thought her an obligation; that I served out of duty instead of desire.

But wasn't that the way it should be? Should I not be glad she did not know?

But despite that… I could not hide my anger.

My face hardened and I strode over to her.

She narrowed her eyes and took a step back.

I grabbed her free hand as her other gripped the pitcher tighter.

"It is my privilege to care for My Lady… out duty and of will."

"Privilege?" she scoffed, "a poor—"

"Why must you question my loyalty?" I said loudly.

Her eyes widened as she pulled her hand from mine and she dropped the pitcher. The water flooded around us, her hem darkening. Her red lips trembled in the slightest as her brows knitted together.

"Why do you confound me so, Link?" she asked crossly, nearly a whisper.

My heart quickened as she spoke my name; I could hardly believe it.

I reached for her again, but my courage failed me. I closed my eyes and cursed myself for letting my anger best me. I opened my eyes and began to apologize, but she was already gone.

The pitcher lay on the grass beside me, forgotten once again.

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