Chapter VI - Suspicion
I straightened my tunic as I waited in the entrance hall for the king, Zelda, and the Haladians.
I sighed impatiently; I detested large gatherings.
Formal attire was hardly made for comfort. I wore a dark blue tunic and grudgingly put on a short grey cape. I had tried to arrange my hair in an acceptable manner, but it wouldn't hold, falling into the untidy mess that it was.
The guests inside the ballroom talked excitedly about seeing the royal family and the Haladian guests. As I listened to their idle chatter, I could hear other voices growing louder at the top of the stairs.
I looked up and the countess flashed a smile at me, but I didn't pay any attention.
I only saw the beautiful girl who was descending down the stairs on the arm of the king.
Zelda's deep purple gown fit her perfectly, bringing out the color of her eyes. Her hair was left freely down her back, some pulled into an intricate twist and her small crown looked as if it were an extension of her golden hair.
She looked at me and hesitated in mid-step. Quickly looking away, I thought I saw her face shade red.
I only just managed to contain a smile as she came closer.
Finally reaching the bottom of the stairs, Zelda released the king's arm.
"How dashing you look, Sir Link!" the countess complimented.
I tore my eyes away from Zelda. "You are too kind, Your Grace. I pale in comparison to you," I replied in mock humility. I then paid my respects to the count and the king as they passed by me towards the stairs leading to the ballroom. Turning back to Zelda, I noticed she was looking at me with a slight frown on her face.
From her sudden outburst earlier this afternoon, I guessed the cause was the countess. Though I hardly could summon patience for the countess, I didn't understand why Zelda objected so vehemently to my association with her.
I explained that my duty required such sociability, and yet Zelda still frowned, her eyes emitting disapproval.
I wanted to see Zelda smile more than anything and thoughtlessly made way over to her.
As I approached, she stiffly held out a hand to me and I placed a soft kiss upon her gloved hand. "I trust you rested well, My Lady" I said against her hand.
"Well enough." She tugged her hand away, and I straightened myself.
I took a step closer and murmured, "All pale in comparison to My Lady, so please smile."
This time, I was certain Zelda's face shaded.
Her lips parted and her eyes fell to the floor. "I am glad your appearance is suitable," she said in quiet sharpness. "For a Guardian at least."
Suddenly a fanfare of music sounded and she brushed passed me to join her father at his side.
The crowd in the ballroom fell silent and looked expectantly up the stairs.
"Shall we?" The king asked merrily.
Together, Zelda and the king gracefully descended down the stairs as a herald announced their arrival.
Before Zelda was out of sight, she glanced back at me, her expression bemused.
Then my heart sunk into dread as I recalled the foolish words I had spoken to her.
Where had my vigilance disappeared to?
I was too overcome by her charm that I had forgotten myself…
And her eyes and the misgivings held within… there was no denying it.
Had she seen what I meant to keep hidden?
The count and countess were announced next and they followed after the royal family.
I shook myself out of my fearful state and fled down the hall. Though I was permitted for this occasion to use though the main entrance, I could not enter the ballroom so noticeably, and I headed to the servants' entrance.
My head raced at my sudden unease and I prayed I was wrong. I cursed my carelessness and wondered how I had let my mask slip.
If she did indeed suspect the feelings I held for her… what did she think of it? Racked with uncertainty, I did not know what was to be done.
I reached the servants' entrance and many maids bid me good evening and complimented my attire. I hardly acknowledged them and made my way into the banquet hall.
I quickly joined Berin at a table in the corner and reached for a pitcher.
"That's rum, you know," Berin warned with a smirk.
I stopped and reached for another, hoping it was water.
"Oh come now, if I hadn't mentioned it, you'd have drunken it!"
"That's the last thing I need," I mumbled; a hazy mind would no doubt lead to dire consequences; what nonsense would I say to Zelda then?
Berin eyed me for a few moments. "I think not; your mood has been quite sour as of late," he commented gruffly.
I shrugged a shoulder. "I will not pretend to enjoy festivities."
Berin raised a thick brow. "You seemed to enjoy it last year…"
I rolled my eyes. "Then perhaps it is the company."
He frowned. "If you wish me to leave, then by all means—"
"I didn't mean you," I interrupted.
He then looked over to the royalty table and chuckled. "Ah, I see. They are a bit…ah… what's the word… peculiar."
I looked at him knowingly. "So you've noticed also? I'm relieved."
"I'm His Majesty's guardian for a reason; there is no fooling these eyes."
I stifled a laugh and nodded in agreement.
He continued in a hushed voice. "Still… the countess seems to favor you immensely, I'm a bit jealous."
I glowered at him. "What are you implying?"
"If I had such a woman giving me such attention, I would let her whisk me away."
"Despite her husband? That's hardly honorable, Berin."
He ignored me and let out an exaggerated sigh. "But the only women we meet are maids…"
"You expect too much," I replied. "We do not live for ourselves. There is no room for selfish desires."
Berin's mouth fell open slightly. "…I was only jesting, Link."
I did not reply and Berin shook his head.
"Gods... what ails you Link?"
I didn't look at him. "…Nothing… it's nothing."
He remained quiet for a minute before attempting to continue his jests. "…Consider at least one drink?"
A couple hours passed and I'd yet to have an appetite.
The royal family and the Haladins had finished dining and were now in the adjoining ballroom, dancing with various lords and ladies.
The wall separating the banquet hall and the ballroom was made entirely of mirrors. Glass made up three double doors that were built along the wall and had been opened for the celebration.
I could see them dancing through the middle doors from my seat and I noticed the count had danced with Zelda numerous times. As I watched them, Countless Reala suddenly spotted me and I moaned inwardly.
I looked around for Berin, but he was already off dancing.
She sauntered over to me and I reluctantly stood up. She giggled as I bowed to her and she held out her hand.
I simply touched my lips to it, keeping my eyes averted.
"Might I remind you of your promised dance, Sir Link?"
"I haven't forgotten, Your Grace," I muttered.
She then took my arm rather forcefully before I could say anything more and nearly dragged me into the ballroom, all the while holding my hand tightly in hers.
The musicians began a slow melody and the countess pulled me to her.
I cringed inwardly and gingerly held her waist.
"How are you enjoying the evening, Sir Link?"
"Well enough, Your Grace. I hope the same for you."
"Yes, yes, it is quaint indeed. We've not had a moment alone since my arrival, and I'm quite curious to know how such a charming man has had the honor of Royal Guardian bestowed upon him."
"And at such a young age! You must possess… great talent," she added with a grin.
I smiled uncomfortably. "I'm afraid good fortune must suffice for an answer."
"Oh come now, Sir Link, I wish to know where you hail from. Hylians are the only race with such peculiar ears, but your humble demeanor hardly suggests you are from Castleton," she explained. "I find you—that… very intriguing."
"I am from Ordon, a province too small to be noteworthy, Your Grace."
"I am not familiar with the name," she said. "Tell me about it, about your past."
"It will only bore, Her Grace. The childhood of a farm boy is hardly interesting."
"But I am interested in you," the countess said in a low voice.
My eyes widened slightly at her boldness and I cleared my throat uncomfortably. I decided it was best to humor her and answered with a quick explanation. "My parents died before I could remember them, and I was raised by fellow neighbors," I began, praying the music would end soon.
"Oh, how tragic!"
"I entered the Academy of Knights in my tenth year and was noticed by His Majesty in my thirteenth. It was then I was made Her Highness's guardian," I finished hurriedly. I wanted nothing more than to flee from this vile woman before me.
"Well, it is no wonder why you are admired so!"
I said nothing to her shameless compliment.
"But I've yet you see dance with any of the fine maidens here," the countess continued. "Has none caught your eye?" She batted her painted eyes at me and I forced a smile; did she have no boundaries of propriety?
"Nay, Your Grace. My duty to Princess Zelda takes priority over all."
The countess widened her eyes and her smile faded.
"I see. How unfortunate for all the maidens here…" she trailed off.
My reply had forced her to halt her advances on me and though my tone was blunt, I was grateful for the respite from her flirtations.
The song ended soon after and I thanked her for the honor of a dance.
She simpered and left me on the floor.
I sighed and went to hide behind a pillar. I slumped against it and hoped I would not be disturbed again.
I couldn't bear watching Zelda dance with the count as he stared at her with such severity.
I couldn't bear watching all the men in the room gaze after her lustfully in their drunken states. As beautiful as she looked, she deserved no such disrespect.
Lost in my thoughts, I failed to notice the voices behind me until I recognized a familiar soft voice.
It was Zelda… and the damned count.
"I'm impressed you've such an extensive knowledge of our kingdom, Your Highness," Count Ronan commented.
"You flatter me, Your Grace. I've much more to learn."
"Our scholars would be honored to instruct you. However, Prince Ganondorf would insist he tutor you himself."
Zelda laughed uncomfortably. "I look forward to learning more. Please pass my regards to Prince Ganondorf as well."
"…Of course." I heard the smirk in his voice and gritted my teeth.
The song ended and Zelda quickly but politely excused herself.
I remained behind the pillar, fuming silently.
This Prince Ganondorf was starting to be mentioned more and more. His name alone sent a feeling of distrust through me and my left hand suddenly tingled. I looked at it curiously, but there was nothing to cause such an odd sensation.
I ignored it and ran a hand through my hair impatiently. As I moved to the door, the count began to speak again, this time his voice hushed and rough.
"Now is not the time to be discussing this, Reala."
"I know you left to meet the captain not a half an hour ago. You've been avoiding me by spending your time with her."
"Have you no patience?" the count hissed dangerously.
"I only want to know of the prince's reply," she whispered. "The details can wait later."
Count Ronan sighed and suddenly they moved to my side of the pillar.
I quietly slid around the opposite side so they wouldn't see me and strained my ears to listen to their whispered conversation.
"The prince still insists that his plan will only strengthen the alliance, despite what I told him of the princess. The attack is imminent."
"The prince is far too reckless, I fear he will be our ruin," Countess Reala warned. "Do you trust him?"
"I've yet to say. Once we return to Haladin, all will be explained. For now, we must concentrate on our duty here. I've already suggested a betrothal between the prince and Zelda to King Aldir. He is confident she will do what is right for Hyrule. However, willful as she is…"
The count cleared his throat and I heard a shuffling of feet as they moved back around the pillar.
I slid around it again, out of their sight.
"Come now, Reala. We must return to the festivities before our absence is questioned."
I peered around the pillar and watched them make their way across the floor.
I glared, shaking with anger, and fled from the ballroom. I could feel my nails carving themselves into my skin as my hands fisted.
Such conspiring and deceitful intentions… I had been right to be distrustful of the Haladians.
I flung the curtains aside and emerged onto the east balcony.
To my relief, I was the only one outside and I breathed in the cool night air deeply, trying to calm myself.
The count and countess's menacing words hardly made sense…
What attack did they speak of?
A shudder ran through me as I contemplated the possibilities.
But what disturbed me the most was the count's idea of an engagement; if Zelda refused what would they dare try?
I vowed to myself that I would do all that was in my power to keep her from ever meeting Prince Ganondorf.
I would oppose to a union between her and the prince… through force if needs be.
I would not let her be used as a pawn in their insidious plans.
"Should a righteous heart and a wicked heart join under the crown, chaos will reek across the lands and beasts shall roam in warning."
The words from the ancient book suddenly echoed in my mind. Could the beast from the forest truly be a warning?
Once again my hand prickled and I sighed deeply.
No, I was forcing myself to draw conclusions. I had no proof of my suspicions, and a petty knight's word would never be taken against a count's.
I hung my head, frustration replacing my anger and I leaned against the stone balustrade.
Suddenly I heard a throat clear beside me and I glanced up.
Impa stood beside me with a white eyebrow raised, a mixed expression of amusement and rebuke.
I would have found her attire amusing—she was wearing an odd, yet formal Sheikah outfit—however my mood rendered the amusement fleeting.
"What's this now? Sir Link is neglecting his duty? How uncharacteristic…."
I straightened myself and scratched my head. "I apologize, Lady Impa. I've much on my mind, but that is no excuse."
Impa looked to the gardens in front of us and folded her arms. "Enlighten me… if I may pry," she said seriously.
I shook my head and sighed defeatedly. "What do you know of Haladin?"
She paused before answering. "The country itself is very prosperous, but only came to such affluence by force. Illander and Nehdia fell to them, but Labrynna, Holodrum, Calatia, and Termina have resisted them successfully. Though His Majesty's wishes for an alliance is well-intended… I cannot say the same for them. My intuition tells me not to trust them…"
"I am relieved you feel as I." Even though Berin, Impa and I held misgivings for Haladin… why did the king not?
"Then my suspicions are correct." Impa turned back to me, her red eyes boring into mine. "I have little say as to what goes on in the affairs of politics, Sir Link, but please… do all you can to protect Zelda. With the recent rumors of beasts… I feel the air growing heavy. I pray the source will make itself known before too long."
"Yes, I swear to you Lady Impa." The peculiar tingling sensation coursed through my hand once again. I fisted it, and as I did so, the sensation began to sting, forging a straight line across the lower part of my hand.
The stinging did not cease.
"Out of duty's sake… I would tell you to forget your feelings and put away childish dreams. She is meant for a prince, not a knight," she paused and tilted her head thoughtfully. "But my duty and my wishes are different... and I wish for Zelda's happiness."
Without her knowing, Impa's words twisted the knife that already dwelt in my heart.
"His Majesty has the final say in Zelda's suitor. If the day ever comes when she returns such affection… I will pray for his approval of you, Sir Link. But until then… please take all precautions to keep this unknown. She has enough burdens to bear." Impa closed her eyes and put a hand on my shoulder. "Forgive my candor. I'm very fond of you, but my duty is to Hyrule and Princess Zelda." She then left my side and started back towards the ballroom. As she moved back the curtain, she said quietly, "I do not pretend to be all knowing… even Sheikah have been known to be wrong…"
I stood there for some time, simply listening to the wind and the rustling of the trees. I avoided dwelling on Impa's words, but I could not ignore the effect they had upon me.
My heart and my mind raged against one another, threatening to tear me in two and I fell into despair.
How was I to act after such a speech? Did I have enough strength to last me the evening?
If I faced Zelda at such a time as this, I would be undone.
Dare I take the risk? I was certain Zelda already suspected my feelings for her and I didn't want to solidify her suspicions.
I did not want to be a burden to her.
I trudged back inside the ballroom, keeping myself in the shadows as I watched the guests. It was obvious that nearly all had indulged themselves on the wine. Several ladies furtively glanced at me with heavy eyes but I ignored them, staring listlessly into nothing.
The crowd suddenly fell silent and gave way for Zelda and the king as they made their way to the center of the ballroom.
The musicians began a waltz piece and as she turned, I could see her face.
My heart began to ache.
I fisted my hands, trying to suppress it.
But as I watched her move gracefully to the music, my eyes betrayed me and I felt a smile tug at my lips.
I could see the subtle changes in her face as she talked with the king; by her expression, the conversation was far from pleasant.
I shook my head and frowned, forcing myself to remember Impa's words. She had left me with no other choice, but I still wavered.
If I continued this façade, Zelda would despise me for my coldness. If my feelings were known, she would despise me for such hopeless love.
Though I knew what I must do… could I not allow myself to enjoy one evening with her?
The waltz ended and Zelda quickly left the floor, making her way to the royal table.
I composed myself and followed after her. As I crossed the floor, the countess suddenly came into view.
She was surrounded by a group of women, obviously the center of attention.
I halted mid-step and tried to weave myself through the crowd through a different route.
But there was no escaping her watchful eyes and she called out to me merrily.
Rolling my eyes, I hesitantly turned back to the countess
She grinned as I approached, as did the other women.
"The evening is nigh at an end, Sir Link. It would be a shame if we could not dance once more…"
Immediately I knew she had indulged in the wine; its effects restored her courage. I held my tongue and simply bowed to her.
She and the other women squealed with delight as I held out a hand.
She took it, her movements lethargic and her green eyes hazy. "Tell me, Sir Link," she slurred slightly, "what must I do to gain favor in your eyes?"
I was a taken back at her question, and paused before answering. "I already find Her Grace to be of pleasant company."
She smiled at me and moved closer. "…Persuade me to believe you," she whispered.
I shivered involuntarily and did not return her smile. "Forgive my naiveté, Your Grace, but I know not of what you speak," I lied.
The countess tightened her grip on my shoulder and forced my hand to her waist. "Surely, as the princess's guardian, you are allowed some… indulgence," she hinted.
My brow twitched, and I nearly pushed her away. "I belong to Princess Zelda," I declared. I was desperate for her to cease these dishonorable advances… for her sake and mine. Knowing that she was conspiring with the count against Zelda tried my patience enough. I could not keep up this false curtsey for much longer.
The countess's eyes widened in the slightest at my words and her face shaded red. Her grip loosened and her head fell to my chest. "Your loyalty is admirable, Sir Link," she said softly, "exceptional, really. I must admit, I am envious… to have such a man as yourself so devoted to one woman..." She glanced up and as her eyes met mine, I saw something I had not bothered to see before.
Countess Reala was a pitifully lonely woman, and with this, I could empathize; my judgment of her softened in the slightest.
"It is my duty."
"…How I wish I realized earlier…"
She sighed suddenly and straightened herself to the proper dancing position. "I shall never forget the kindness you have shown me, Sir Link. If all men in Hyrule are like you, then perhaps there is hope yet."
The music then stopped.
Despite the countess's flirtatious and conspiring nature, I would try to remember this hidden aspect of her. Perhaps her actions were out of her desire to be noticed, to gain favor with her husband. It was clear he paid no mind to her efforts. Her life seemed a sad existence, and I couldn't help but feel pity for her.
I took her hand meaningfully. If her opinion of Hyrule could prevent war between countries, and keep Zelda safe… then I would show her the kindness she so desperately sought.
"Thank you for the honor of the dance, Your Grace." She seemed surprised at my words and took my hand in hers, her eyes cloudy with fatigue.
"Princess Zelda is a fortune lady indeed… my hopes go out to you, Sir Link." She then dropped my hand and returned to the group of giggling woman.
The former wave of panic returned as I watched the countess leave.
My confidence was shaken.
How was it that Impa and, I suspected, Countess Reala, knew of my love for Zelda?
Under the influence of intoxication, truths were made known and lines of protocol were broken. Though the night would hardly be remembered, and only few rumors would grace the halls of court in gossip, I would not forget the events.
I prayed that Countess Reala would be among the forgetful.
And left to find Zelda.
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