Chapter V - Envy
My sleep that night was restless once again, and though I expected it would be, I did not think Link would be the cause.
I anticipated the recurring nightmares, but to my surprise, I dreamt of my time with Link in the courtyard.
Only… he held me in a tight embrace, caressing my face beneath the dying sun.
The sudden affection caused me to wake again and again, and each time, my heart was beating fiercely, my head spinning.
In the early hours of the morning, I gave up trying to sleep and silently cried in frustration.
I thought confronting Link about his coldness would relieve the ache I felt within me, but to my dismay, the ache had only become more painful.
And through my sobbing, I somehow managed to fall back into a numb, dreamless sleep.
I awoke close to midday and I was thankful no one had disturbed me. I pulled on my robe and opened my door, calling for a chambermaid. A few minutes later, a knock came to my door and I let in two chambermaids. I asked them to fill the tub for me and they bustled to the adjoining bathing room to ready it.
Impa suddenly appeared as I began to disrobe. "I'm glad to see you've finally awakened," her voice hinting with amusement.
I sighed. "Yes, well, thank you for letting me indulge a little."
Impa raised an eyebrow. "For the sake of your health, Lady Zelda; I know you haven't been sleeping well."
My ears reddened. "I hoped you wouldn't have noticed."
Impa walked over and took my robe from me. She put a hand to my face and smiled slightly. "Your efforts were commendable," she jested.
I smiled in return.
"Now, we must hurry. You are to depart in one hour's time."
My face twisted with disappointment; my father had no doubt planned some wretched activity with the Haladians. "And where am I to go?"
"The countryside… alongside the count and countess."
I shook my head. "Their stay is a mere three days, yet it feels infinitely longer… and far from pleasant, I might add."
"I daresay you despise them?" Impa hinted.
I bit my lip in thought, trying to find a kinder word than loathing. "I will not say I do… but their presence puts me ill-at ease."
Impa raised a white brow. "Enlighten me."
"The count… there is something… mysterious about him, nay sinister… I cannot properly explain..."
Impa nodded. "And the countess?"
I clicked my tongue in disapproval at her mention. "Shameful woman indeed. She looks at Sir Link as if he is a prize to be won," I huffed as I crossed the threshold to the bathing room.
"Come now, Lady Zelda, jealousy is most unbecoming." Impa said.
I stopped mid-step and turned back to her, blood draining from my face. "Jealousy?" I repeated slowly. "I do not envy Countess Reala, Impa. I simply… I simply do not approve of her mannerisms! Sir Link is my Guardian, not a mindless servant who answers to her. She should know the lines that are not to be crossed!"
Impa pursed her lips. "Cleary, you are troubled, but remember that our ties with Haladin are still delicate. It would be wise to keep your temper in check."
I became embarrassed at my sudden outburst.
Yes, I was being irrational. The alliance with Haladin was the most important matter at hand.
Yet, despite that reminder, there was still one thing that bothered me…
...Surely, I was not envious of the countess; there was nothing she had I wanted.
But why did it concern me so if she looked at Link so boldly?
It seemed my heart… and my mind, were becoming increasingly unfamiliar to me.
The journey through the countryside was awkward to say the least and the leisurely pace merely worsened my mood.
Link, Berin, and ten royal guards rode on horseback in front of the carriage, the Haladin guards riding behind.
I was grateful Link did not ride inside the carriage with us, lest those supposed feelings of envy resurface.
Putting aside my discomfort, I was fortunate enough that my father and the ambassador, Lord Counselor Warnock, Minister of Foreign Relations, kept the Haladians entertained by recounting the history of different landmarks we passed.
Counselor Warnock was a self-important man and polite as he was, he prided himself on over-flattery. He was languid, indulgent and did only the minimum to keep his title which he inherited. His lack of effort irked me to no end.
With three persons that caused me aggravation in the carriage, my head began to ache.
A little over two hours later, we reached the town of Lon Lon.
Lord Talon, a lord of inheritance, governed Lon Lon; he bore the same name as his ancestor who had founded it. Lon Lon had once been a simple ranch, but over the years, it grew quickly and started its own trade routes. The townspeople still relied on the ranch production for prosperity.
We entered the north gate and rode south through the town. Reaching the end of the main road, we came to a lane of trees that lead the way to the actual ranch of Lon Lon.
Coming upon a small pond, we passed around it and came to a stop at the gates. Two ranch guards swung them open and ushered us to continue.
As we rode up the small hill, the ranch's manor came into view, a massive grazing field behind it.
"How quaint," the countess said quietly.
I glared at the window, trying to ignore her. It had been so long since I'd visited Lon Lon, I didn't wish for her to spoil it, for it felt as if I was seeing everything for the first time.
The carriage stopped in front of the manor and Link opened the doors for us. He offered his hand to me, but the countess reached for it in my place.
I thought I saw his brow twitch, but he respectfully helped her out of the carriage nevertheless.
The countess suddenly gasped and fell against him.
My mouth fell slightly ajar.
"Oh my, forgive my clumsiness, Sir Link!" she said with a grin on her face.
As I looked at them, I felt the odd ache in my chest return.
"I hope you did not injure yourself, Your Grace." Link had already righted the countess, but she had yet to release his arms.
I moved forward to help myself out of the carriage, but Berin appeared at the door and held a hand out for me. I reluctantly took it and stepped out of the carriage.
The sun was surprisingly bright and I had to narrow my eyes until my sight adjusted. I took a deep breath, letting the fresh air fill my lungs.
Just as my father, the count and Counselor Warnock stepped out of the carriage, Lord Talon and his daughter, Lady Malon, came rushing down the manor's steps.
"My Liege! Your Highness!" Lord Talon greeted. "Welcome, welcome! We are honored by your presence," he said with a bow.
Malon curtsied and greeted us as well. Her fiery red hair shone beautifully in the sun and her bright blue eyes glowed warmly; she had hardly changed at all.
At Lord Talon's and Malon's amiable smiles, I realized how much I had missed their friendly demeanor. I had forgotten how endearing and modest the countryside accent was, and I couldn't stop the smile that spread across my face.
My father then bowed his head to Lord Talon. "I must apologize for visiting on such short notice, Lord Talon, but our excursion to the countryside provided an opportune time to see how the people of Lon Lon fare."
"Please, My Liege, your visit is far from a burden. The finest products have been prepared in your honor, and I humbly ask that you sample them."
"Excellent, I expected nothing less, Lord Talon." My father turned the count and countess and gestured to them. "Allow me to introduce Count and Countess Ronan of Haladin."
Lord Talon and Malon bowed politely and the Haladians bowed their heads in return.
Count Ronan smiled thinly. "It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance, Lord Talon. I look forward to our dealings in the future, with the new trading routes almost complete of course."
Lord Talon smiled. "Yes, that is good news to hear, Your Grace. I've heard the Angola granary has yet to find a rival."
"You are well informed, Lord Talon."
Lord Talon laughed and thanked the count, then turned to Counselor Warnock. "Good afternoon, Lord Warnock. How do you fare?"
Counselor Warnock and his wife stepped forward. "Well, thank you. I've been meaning to visit you for sometime. I am glad to see you are well."
"I am honored you journeyed here, Counselor."
My father then interrupted their polite chatter. "If you would, Lord Talon, perhaps we could discuss this during the samplings? Forgive our haste, but we must return well before the Spring Moon Celebration to prepare."
"Yes, of course, My Liege! Allow me to show you to the dining hall." Lord Talon turned to Malon and nodded. He politely gestured for my father, Count Ronan and Counselor Warnock to proceed ahead of him.
The count looked to one of his guards and shook his head ever so slightly.
Berin began to follow, but my father discreetly held up a hand and motioned him to stay.
As the men made their way up the steps, my father said, "I trust you and your beautiful daughter will make an appearance tonight?"
"You are too kind, My Liege. We have been looking forward to the celebration for some time now."
Before I could follow after them, Malon stepped forward and curtsied to me and the countess.
"Your Highness… Your Grace… I would be most obliged if you could join me in the parlor for tea," she said excitedly.
"I would enjoy that very much, Lady Malon." I smiled at her enthusiasm.
The countess stepped beside me. "How unexpectedly gracious of you! I haven't a chance to try unrefined tea."
Malon's grin hesitated in the slightest and I had to physically prevent myself from glaring at the countess.
Masking words of offense with such a sugary tone angered me greatly.
"Allow me to show you inside," Malon said as she gestured towards the steps.
I did not wait for the countess and fell instep beside Malon.
I glanced at Link and shook my head once; he didn't follow.
The afternoon sun filtered through the open windows in the parlor, providing us with a view of the hilly range to the south.
Malon and Countess Reala discussed their favorite pastry and tea combinations, but I hardly contributed to the conversation. I soon spotted Link and Berin strolling outside with a few guards to a fenced off area and I watched them curiously.
Once inside the fenced area, a few of the guards began to strip themselves of their clothing.
My face shaded instantly and I quickly looked away. I chanced another look, and saw Link pull off his red tunic.
My face shaded further, but this time I could not look away.
His tan skin gleamed in the sunlight, bringing further attention to his well-built form.
I suddenly felt a strange fluttering sensation in my stomach.
Berin tossed large poles to Link and to one of the ranch's guards. I then realized that they were to spar. The guard advanced and tried to knock Link's shoulder. Link blocked with one end of his pole easily and struck the guard's shin with the opposite end.
The rest of the guards, which also consisted of the Haladian guards as well, erupted in laughter. Link then went to stand beside the guard whom he hit and corrected his stance.
He was teaching Lon Lon Ranch's guards proper defense.
I was so engrossed with watching his lesson, I didn't hear Malon calling for me.
"Your Highness? Are you alright?"
I snapped my head in her direction and smiled apologetically. "Y-yes, I'm fine."
"Whatever are you looking at?" Countess Reala asked with a giggle. She stood and moved to the window for a better view. Her eyes widened and a wicked grin spread across her face. "Ah I see… yes, he is certainly easy to admire," she said knowingly.
My mood turned sour once again.
"Of whom do you speak, Countess Reala?" Malon asked as she joined her at the window. After a quick glance, Malon looked at me and smiled shyly. "Ever since he was a boy, he has always been quite charming," she commented. "I assume you speak of Sir Link, Your Grace?" she said to the countess.
"Yes of course! In all my years, I have never met a man with such… talent as Sir Link. Would you not agree, Your Highness?" She turned to me with a grin on her face and I did not return it.
"I have never taken notice," I replied shortly.
Her head tilted in confusion. "But surely you've noticed what a handsome man he is…?"
"Nay, Your Grace. A princess does not think of such mundane things."
She frowned at me and I wanted so desperately to remind her of her place, but I remembered Impa's warning and tried to calm myself.
"Oh! They are looking this way!" Countess Reala squealed, ignoring my reply. She waved to Link and the guards bowed and waved back.
Malon waved to them as well.
Link simply bowed his head and did not return the gesture to the countess.
He kept his eyes on me.
I stiffened and turned in my chair away from the window.
"What a gifted swordsmen. I wish I had him in my service," Countess Reala sighed. "Would you not bid him hello, Your Highness?"
I simply sipped my tea then said without looking at her, "Our relationship is not so amiable, Countess Reala."
The ache returned.
Nor will it ever be.
"But surely you must find him agreeable?" she said with a gasp.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and saw Malon look questionably between the countess and me.
"He is my Guardian, and nothing more." My voice had softened unknowingly.
Malon cleared her throat uncomfortably and said merrily, "Come, Your Grace. The scones will grow cold!"
I looked to Malon in gratitude and she smiled in return.
I tried my best to keep a pleasant demeanor with the countess for the remainder of our stay, but my efforts were not quite successful.
Link was thankfully not discussed further and those unpleasant thoughts did not arise again.
Not soon enough, my father, Lord Talon, Count Ronan and Counselor Warnock, came calling upon us.
Malon and Lord Talon then escorted us back to the entrance and saw us to our carriages.
The count and countess bid their farewells to Malon and Lord Talon and thanked them for their hospitality.
My father turned to Lord Talon and expressed his gratitude also, telling him he looked forward to Lord Talon's and Lady Malon's attendance at the celebration.
I curtsied to them then started to the carriage.
"Princess Zelda… if I may have a word?" Malon asked timidly.
I turned back around. "Yes, of course."
Malon took my hand and led me some ways away. She took a deep breath and bit her lip.
"I was just curious, Your Highness… if I may be so bold to ask…"
I raised an eyebrow. "We've known one another since childhood, Lady Malon. You may ask whatever you like."
She blushed and cast her eyes to the ground. "Well…. I… I couldn't help but notice… the stir the countess's words caused. Are you sure you're alright?"
I put a hand on her shoulder. "Dear Lady Malon, worry not. I am fine, but thank you for your concern."
"Oh!" she squeaked. "I am flattered by your compliment! There is one other thing I wish to ask… if that suits you."
"It concerns Sir Link… has something happened? I cannot recall Her Highness feeling so hostile towards Sir Link."
I stilled my breath; Lady Malon was more perceptive than I thought. "We grew up," I answered with a soft sigh.
Malon opened her mouth to reply, but decided against it. She smiled sadly and took my hand again. As we returned to the carriage, she expressed her hopes to talk more with me later at the celebration and I got into the carriage. From inside, I could hear Link and Berin saying their farewells to the Lon Lon family and then we began our journey back to the castle.
It was late afternoon when we arrived at the gates. My father and the count were discussing the state of affairs of other countries when I woke from my short doze. The countess yawned behind her glove, and I assumed she had fallen asleep as well.
"We've plenty of time before the celebration to prepare, Count Ronan. A small respite might do us well, otherwise I shan't last the night!" my father jested.
The count laughed lightly. "Yes, of course. Does that suit you well, Reala?" he asked as the carriage came to a stop.
"Oh… yes, very well," she replied.
The door swung open and the Haladians were helped out first, then my father and me. We made our way inside the castle to the entrance hall, Link and Berin following closely behind.
From here, I could see that the Spring Moon decorations were still being set up.
My father dismissed Berin and said he would expect his presence later that evening. Berin nodded and left towards the knight's quarters.
"Thank you for your stimulating company, Your Highness. I quite enjoyed meeting Lady Malon as well," Countess Reala said to me as she curtsied.
I smiled curtly and curtsied to her in turn. "'Twas my pleasure."
She slipped her arm through the count's and turned to my father. "This afternoon was quite lovely, Your Highness. Hyrule's countryside is very beautiful."
"Your kind words are most appreciated, Your Grace. Please rest well." My father bowed his head to her and she walked away with the count.
She looked back at Link and called, "Good afternoon, Sir Link. I do hope you will save a dance for me tonight."
"Of course, Your Grace," he said with a slight smile.
Unknowingly, I fisted my hands as I watched the count and countess walk up the stairs and turn down the hall.
My father nodded at Link and went up the stairs as well, turning in the opposite direction from the Haladians.
He disappeared down the corridor, leaving Link and I alone in the entrance hall; an uncomfortable silence filled the air.
"You should rest as well, My Lady," Link said suddenly, starting towards me. I took a step back, feeling my nails dig into my palms.
"I am well enough, Guardian."
He raised an eyebrow. "I will not risk your-"
"Why do you do this?" I burst out. Hearing him say such caring words to me as he did to the countess caused my anger to slip from control.
"What do you mean?" he said with a confused look on his face. He took another step and I stepped back.
"Do you truly enjoy her company?" I spat, my harsh words spilling out before I could stop them.
I now knew for certain, Impa spoke the truth about my jealousy, but that did not explain why.
I felt foolish, ashamed, shouting words that made no sense to Link or to myself.
If only I could understand why, would I be saved from further despair?
Link shook his head. "I act in stead of My Lady and His Majesty… surely you know this?"
My mouth fell agape, and I could not dispute his answer. I bit my lip and looked to the tiled floor. "Forget what I said," I said rudely. "Leave me be."
I forced myself to remember he was obligated to show Countess Reala proper respect and keep her impression of Hyrule pleasant.
But that did not stop my negative feelings towards her… or towards Link.
As I turned to leave for my chambers, Link's hand suddenly caught mine.
My heart quickened and my skin heated from his touch, the marking beginning to prickle.
I ignored it.
"I do not understand what you are thinking," he said quietly, almost to himself.
"I said leave me," I retorted, trying to pull away from him. He tugged back firmly and I spun into him.
Suddenly, I was swept up into his arms and he carried me up the stairs.
I was taken aback by this unusual boldness and my face burned.
Link remained unaffected by my struggles. "My Lady is weary and it seems this afternoon has filled her head with nonsense."
"How dare you!" I nearly shouted.
He turned left at the top of the stairs, heading to my chambers.
"I command you to release me!" I pushed against him to free myself, but he simply held me tighter.
Servants curiously poked their heads out of doors to see what the commotion was about and I blushed heavily at their widened eyes. Behind us, I could hear maids giggling.
"Guardian!" I said crossly.
Link finally looked to me. "No," he stated blatantly.
I simply stared at him in disbelief; he was deliberately disobeying me. "I could have you hanged for such insolence," I finally managed to say.
"As you wish, My Lady, but you will have rest before I am dead." His eyes flashed dangerously and I ceased my struggles.
Though his face remained unreadable, I could see a faint crease between his brows and I felt my heart leap. Dare I hope he cared for me willingly? If he was willing to risk his life for the sake of my health… was this not proof enough?
I said nothing more the rest of the way and all I could hear was the thud of his boots against the stone floor.
Suddenly, I became aware of his hands beneath my knees and my back. Warmth crept up the length of my body and it was difficult to breathe. I glanced at him from beneath my lashes yet he continued to stare straight ahead. As I studied him a moment longer, his face tinted red ever so slightly.
I quickly looked away and my heart began to beat even louder against my chest; I hoped he could not hear it.
We reached my chamber door some minutes later and he gently set me down.
I turned to him and cleared my throat. "… I meant not what I said," I mumbled. "I apologize."
Link shook his head. "I am the one who caused your anger."
I sighed. "No… my own uncertainty is to blame."
He grimaced. "In the ward… is what you spoke of—?"
"I hardly know myself," I interrupted.
His eyes met mine and the fluttering returned; I was captivated by the silver blue color. My hand moved without thinking to his face and I swept his golden bangs away to see his eyes more clearly.
I expected him to be staring at me blankly, but on the contrary…
Link put a hand over mine and closed his eyes.
I stood there for a moment, trying to make sense of these peculiar feelings.
Suddenly his eyes flew open and he narrowed them in the slightest at me. He stepped back from my reach and said hastily, "I will take my leave."
And with that, he was gone.
My hands dropped to my sides and I fell against my door. I drew in a deep breath, my head slumping back.
At every conclusion I thought I had come to, Link's mysterious nature only seemed to deepen, and my doubt returned.
I placed a hand over my heart…
It was still racing.
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