Chapter VIII - Requited
I sat on my sofa, staring into the dying flames in the fireplace as I remembered the events of the evening.
I had returned to the ballroom and informed Impa that Zelda had retired.
I didn't have the courage to tell her why Zelda had left so quickly. My callous words had frightened her and she fled from my presence.
I knew I had caused her enough harm and let her be…
I was shocked to say the least, when she spoke of her heart.
Though my own leapt with hope, my anger blinded me to all else. I was vexed by her pure honesty, by her innocent provocation; she had given no thought to the consequences.
Her naiveté kept her from understanding and my cruelty shattered the little hope I had that she could return my affections.
…Did she despise me now?
A sudden knock on my door shook me from my musings and I furrowed my brows, curious to know who would call upon me at this late hour. I sighed heavily and stood up, questioning my decency for I had rid myself of the formal attire and was wearing nothing but a sleeping tunic and dark trousers.
But I was too weary to be worried about decorum and crossed my room, grumbling to myself about this nuisance. Reaching the door, I cautiously opened it.
My eyes widened in surprise when I saw who it was.
"Z- M-My Lady? What are you doing here?" I whispered quickly. My face then shaded red as I took in her appearance; she wore nothing but a thin sleeping gown and a robe. "This is very untoward," I warned her.
She stared at me for a moment and entered my chambers, shutting the door behind her. "I know the hour is late, and I apologize for lack of protocol, but…" her voice died in her throat and she quickly brushed past me.
I reached back towards the door, debating whether to cast her out or not.
"…But there is something I must know."
My outstretched hand fell away from the door handle and I turned towards her.
She was standing by the fireplace with her arms wrapped about herself. "I couldn't sleep, not with your words consuming my mind…"
I took a few steps forward, and she looked to me with an expression that twisted my heart.
Her pleading eyes were full of uncertainty and despair. "Please… what do you keep from me?" Her voice was just short of desperate.
I shook my head and sighed inwardly.
Still… she did not understand.
The night's events had thrown me to the tempests with no mercy, and I was weary with sorrow.
I would not tell her.
I could not again assume that she did indeed love me; she did not admit it.
All this uncertainty stripped me of all hope and there was no being more pitiful than me at that moment.
After all, who would wish for unrequited love from a mere knight?
It was clear this misunderstanding caused Zelda such pain and I would not let it continue. I would make it disappear; she would never question it again. I had to make her forget the tender words I had let escape.
If she knew how I felt, it would be my ruin, for she did not even understand her own heart. I did not wish to cause her more confusion nor did I wish to become a burden.
We could never be… I knew this, but why could I not accept it? Surely I would be sent away if the king ever became aware…
And I would rather live with heartache at her side, than be separated from her… even if that meant making her despise me… if she did not already.
"I think you may have mistaken my words, My Lady. I keep nothing from you," I lied.
She narrowed her eyes. "You embraced me…" she said quietly; it was almost a question.
"You appeared ill; I held you so you wouldn't collapse."
Her brows lifted painfully and she shook her head. "Stop these lies. Do not contest what you have done," she exclaimed. "… I will surely go mad…."
I stared at her coldly. "Please do not insult my honor."
Her arms dropped to her sides in defeat, her face paling.
My self-disgust grew each passing moment.
She looked to the floor and tugged nervously at her robe.
This puzzled me. If she merely came to question and accuse me, then why did she appear so distressed?
Could she have realized… no… I stoned that possibility not a few minutes ago. Her reasoning for coming to my chambers must be another reason entirely.
"I've been so blind to the truth… but perhaps I should have remained so," she said in a low voice. Stepping to me, she looked up purposefully.
My heart quickened at her closeness and I stilled my breath, awaiting her accusation, praying my lies had convinced her.
"But even so… I believe that… I've loved you."
… Dawn emerged….
"Every moment, this truth becomes stronger."
My eyes widened and my face paled. Her tender words forced me to silence and I could not breathe.
The sun's morning rays slowly crept from the mountains behind me, the heat melting the strings that held my mask.
And it split.
I continued to stare at Zelda in disbelief, trying to keep my feelings contained in their prison.
Zelda closed her eyes and her face fell. "You claim I torment you, but truly… you are the cruel one." She brushed past me to the door, pressing the latch to open it.
I screamed inwardly to go after her but I could not move.
Zelda then paused before opening the door. "Forgive me for such abruptness. If my words have caused you any slight as my Guardian, I will speak with His Majesty." Her voice trembled. "I'm sure Countess Reala would appreciate your services… more than I've ever shown."
At her offense, I could suddenly breathe again and I went after her. I still couldn't believe the words she spoke even as I neared. So many thoughts and feelings ravaged my mind, I was in utter chaos.
She barely pulled the door open before I reached above and shut it forcefully.
She jumped, stiffening beneath me as I splayed my hands on the door on either side of her. Turning to me angrily, her eyes brimmed with tears as her hand fumbled around the wood for the latch.
But I wouldn't let her escape. "You truly believe I would leave you?" I asked in a low voice.
Zelda looked away in silence.
"If I am nothing more than a burden, say so at once."
"Let me go," she whispered. "I am shamed enough."
I pounded my hand against the door and she cringed. "I am yours and yours alone, Lady Zelda!"
She shook her head and tried to push me away. "Spare me this guilt and false chivalry! Are you not the one who wishes to leave?" She ceased struggling and clutched my shirt in her fists. "Just… leave me be…"
Her cries pierced through me and I quickly regretted my ferocity.
She had the courage to speak the truth; did she not deserve to hear the same, despite the outcome? My selfish need for her company did not justify my façade. There would be no redemption if I succumbed to my love for her.
…I pulled the key from the lock.
I forgot all duty and obligation, all precaution.
I lifted my hands from the door and gently pulled her to me, not wanting to frighten her more than I already had.
Her breath stilled.
"Forgive me," I whispered, "tormenting you with such fallacy... the blame lies with me." I hesitantly brushed a tear from her cheek. "Though it seems we are both guilty of such cruelty."
"Why do you address me so… after all this time?" she asked weakly, her face shading as she searched my eyes.
"Simply by speaking your name…I couldn't… not with…" my voice died and I fumbled for the words to atone for my harshness.
There were none.
I looked to the floor and I tightened my hold around her. "The aching you spoke of… I've suffered from it longer than you know."
Her eyes widened in the slightest.
My chest tightened; my courage wavered.
I could not admit it… the words I so desperately wanted to voice. After years of suppression and forced silence, the habit lulled me into fear.
Zelda began to pull away and I struggled to speak again.
I looked into her violet eyes, restudying every detail I knew so well.
My resolve suddenly returned as she called my name.
At that moment, I realized she was not only my weakness… but she had become my strength.
Indeed, I truly did love her… and I knew now… I wanted her to know.
"I don't understand—"
"I've loved you," I declared fervently. "….I do love you…"
Silence; only the furious beating of my heart could be heard.
Zelda stared at me in pure disbelief. Slowly, her eyes became blank and fluttered closed. She slumped in my arms, her head falling against me.
I readily caught her, fearing she had fainted until I felt her take hold of my shirt.
"How can I…" Zelda mumbled against me, "how can I believe you... when you've been so—"
I took her head into my hands. "Why do you question my loyalty?" Her hair became entangled between my fingers as I bowed my head to hers, ashamed of the conflict and sorrow I caused.
Pleading for forgiveness once would never be enough.
I closed my eyes and continued. "My indifference… it was to keep you from seeing the truth. You must know, Lady Zelda… I've told you at every reply… that I love you." Releasing her, I opened my eyes.
Zelda slowly met my gaze, her eyes wet once again.
I took her hand and pressed it to my lips. "I am the one who should be asking your forgiveness."
Zelda's mouth trembled before she broke out into a smile. "As you wish."
My breath caught and I pulled her to me.
Then kissed her tenderly.
…The last remains of my mask crumbled into dust.
The Haladians were to depart on the morrow at midday and I could not be more relieved to have the count's unnerving gaze away from Zelda.
Thankfully, there was nothing planned with count and countess the morning after the Spring Moon celebration. The morn was spent in leisure, as all the castle's inhabitants recuperated from the headaches and memory loss the wine, mead and ale brought.
It was well after dawn when Zelda finally left my quarters.
Though it was very improper for her to be in my quarters unescorted at so early an hour, that was the only line of misconduct breached.
Nevertheless, what was to become of us now? There was very little chance that the king would allow me, a simple royal knight to court the princess of Hyrule.
I strayed from these disheartening thoughts and remembered to appreciate how fortunate I was to simply be at her side; it was still unfathomable that she loved me in return.
The afternoon was planned to be spent at the Temple of Time. The king had invited the Haladians to a sermon that was held twice a month in honor of the Goddesses.
Zelda and I did our best to forget the events of the early morning to stay composed in the presence of company.
It was simple to fall back into my apathetic state of mind, something I found disturbing.
We knelt upon the cushions in the front pew and though I was not as devote as I should be, I prayed to Nayru, Din, and Farore to lend me their strength and to grant me peace in the coming day. I glanced over at Zelda and she met my eyes.
I smiled fleetingly, and she turned away, her red lips curving up.
I looked back ahead, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Countess Reala observing us with a raised brow.
I dared not look at her, and I bowed my head and closed my eyes. I tried to concentrate on what the priest was saying, but I couldn't help the feeling of alarm that slowly crept upon me.
I hoped the countess did not remember the words she spoke to me when we danced.
The sermon ended nearly two hours later, and the congregation began to empty out of the temple.
Count Agahnim turned to Zelda and asked her to give him and Countess Reala a tour of the temple.
I moved to follow her, but saw that my boot buckle had loosened. I knelt to fix it, when I heard two familiar voices speaking quietly not too far away. I peered over the pew and saw Impa and the king standing alone in the aisle.
"I didn't realize my mentioning of the marriage between her and Prince Ganondorf would cause her such distress."
"I know you mean well, Sire, but though she is strong-willed, she is fragile. I would ask that you allow her time to warm to the idea. It is daunting to such a child as herself."
I quickly ducked back down.
"So her sudden disappearance from the ball?"
"That is the only reason I can conclude."
The king sighed heavily. "You may think me an unloving father, but I do dote on her. I wish for her happiness, but duty comes before all else. She is no longer a child. Even you must see this, Impa, no matter how difficult it is."
"Now is the time for her to prepare to take responsibility as Hyrule's queen. The chance for her to choose a suitor has passed; she did not take advantage of my offer when it was at hand. If Prince Ganondorf is in favor, he and Zelda shall be betrothed before the season's end."
There was a long pause before Impa replied. "As you command, Sire. I only ask that you consider who will dry her tears in the future. Now please excuse me." Impa's footsteps died away and after a minute, the king left as well.
I breathed again… but not without forced effort.
The king's words echoed in my mind and regret began to take hold of me.
Duty comes before all else.
I fisted my hands, my nails carving into my palms. I stared at the cold, stone floor, its color mocking me.
…What had I done?
The king was right.
I had forgotten myself.
I had strayed from rightfulness in pursuit of my own desires.
But I could not atone; I did not want to.
I could not give Zelda up when my love for her consumed me entirely.
But the king's words swayed me.
I didn't know how long I sat there, lost in my heavy-hearted state, but I finally managed to stand and make my way to the carriage.
"Still in a foul disposition, Link?" Berin asked as I arrived, obviously amused.
I did not acknowledge him.
"It couldn't have possibly worsened?" he went on.
I turned away from him and saw the royal family and the Haladians coming towards us. Wordlessly, I opened the carriage door and helped Countess Reala and Zelda inside.
"My thanks, Sir Link," Countess Reala said with a sour smile.
Zelda gently squeezed my hand as I helped her inside. I could feel her eyes on me, but I refused to look at her.
I shut the door soundly after the king and the count were inside and jumped onto Epona. She trotted next to Berin and Impa, who were already mounted on their horses.
"We should make haste; the sun will set soon." I nudged Epona forward and we rode back to the castle in silence.
I took Epona and the carriage back to the stables after the royal family and the Haladins were well inside the castle. I had been asked to join the parting feast, but my time at the temple revealed to me that it would be much better if stayed away from Zelda… and away from prying eyes.
I hoped stable chores would help me forget the frustration and regret I felt.
I took my time brushing Epona's mane and polished her shoes carefully. She disliked wearing them, and any tampering with them caused her restlessness. I hummed the song I had learned from Lady Malon when I received Epona as a gift and she neighed softly.
But despite all my attempted distractions, it was to no avail.
My indecisiveness disgusted me for I was nearly to come of age.
I had been brought up with strict obedience and was expected to learn from it. Why did I not have the ability to keep my emotions locked away when it mattered most?
In so many ways, I was still that naïve boy who entered the castle all those years ago…
It was twilight when I finished filling Epona's water bucket and loading hay into her stall. As I shut her gate, I heard the familiar low, soothing sound of Zelda's ocarina in the distance.
All my worries vanished in an instant and a feeling of calm came over me. It had been so long since I last heard her play, I simply stood there listening.
Soon the music stopped and Zelda was standing before me. The peacefulness flittered away as she lowered the instrument from her lips.
"Forgive me for not acknowledging you, My Lady," I said with a bow. "I trust dinner was enjoyable…?"
Zelda tucked the ocarina away and said in a low, amused voice, "You may cease with the propriety, Guardian; we are alone."
I looked warily down the stables. "So it appears."
"You are fortunate to have escaped dining with us; Berin was delighted to stand in your stead." Zelda made her way to her horse Saravin's stall and began to brush her, her strokes quick and callous. "The countess's displeasure at my guardian's absence was quite evident," she teased.
She glanced at me from the corner of her eye and I started towards her. "I'm sorry to have missed it, but I thought it would be wiser… if…." My words died, along with my steps.
"If what?" she prompted.
"No, it's nothing." I started forward again. "Would you like me to show you the proper grooming standards?" I jested half-heartedly, coming to a stop on Saravin's other side.
Zelda rolled her eyes with a smile. "Do enlighten me." I placed my left hand atop her right and suddenly felt the same peculiar sensation I felt last night during the celebration, run through my hand.
She flinched and I looked at her curiously. "Does your hand hurt?"
Zelda took a deep breath and paused before answering. "My right… it has been bothering me for sometime. Why do you ask?"
"My left has been troubling me as well."
Zelda raised an eyebrow and took my left hand in hers. She studied it and began to trace the line that ran across nearly the entire length of the back of my hand. I felt my flesh heat from her touch and I tried to withdraw my hand. She simply tugged it back and brought it closer to her face; I could feel her breath on my skin.
"You have such a marking as well?" she asked quietly, almost to herself. She then released my hand and pulled hers away, comparing it to herself. "I do not understand. Perhaps we share the same ailment… though I haven't come across such a peculiar effect as this in my healing studies."
"Perhaps Impa would know?" I suggested.
"Yes, I will ask her… Healer Eurick as well."
"I doubt that laggard would prove useful, My Lady," I said in a low voice, bitterness seeping onto my tongue. I still harbored ill-feelings from his lateness in tending to Zelda's illness some weeks ago; he had not managed to rid her of her nightmares either.
Even now, I suspected she still had them.
"That is hardly complimentary," Zelda chided. "And I told you to cease—"
"It doesn't matter," I interrupted quickly. "We should return to the castle." My former state of mind returned and I did not want to show my anger to her. I hoped she did not see through my poor attempts to hide it in conversation.
As I swept past her horse, Zelda followed and grabbed my arm. "Wait, you offered to show me—"
"Some other time, perhaps."
She released my arm and looked at me in bemusement. "I do not want to return just yet. Please indulge me a while longer."
I glanced from her to the window; it was nearly dark. "Quickly then."
Zelda smiled fleetingly and led me back to her horse.
The brush was still resting atop Saravin's back and Zelda grabbed it eagerly, awaiting my instruction. I stood directly behind her and purposefully placed my right hand above her right.
I gripped her hand and guided it fluidly down her horse's back. "For a sheen coat, consistency is key," I began.
She nodded her head and waited for me to continue.
"It is best to use this wide brush to ensure through cleaning."
Zelda swallowed loudly, her breath sounding uneven.
"Usually, it is best to soften the bristles and…" my voice died in my throat. It was then that I realized how close I was to her and that I was speaking nearly right against her ear.
How had this escaped my attention?
My affection manifested on its own accord; did I truly have no control over my emotions… over my actions?
I quickly pulled away.
"I… I must admit, it was rather difficult earlier," Zelda said suddenly, shaking me from my self-rebuke. She stopped her brushing and turned to me. "I did not expect such… unease in your absence." Her gaze fell to the floor shyly and my heart softened.
"I'm sorry you must share my suffering," I replied.
"I hope it has lessened…"
I took the brush from her hand and hung it on the stall door. "Would it ease your mind if I said 'yes'?"
"I only want to hear the truth."
I sighed quietly and said nothing; the truth would hurt her.
"I hoped the ocarina would ease this tension born at the temple, but it seems a wasted attempt."
"I meant not to worry you," I said lowly.
Zelda hesitantly reached for me. "Tell me then, what is the cause?"
Taking a step back, my heel hit the stall barrier.
Zelda moved towards me again and I stiffened.
"What is this, Link? Why do you avert from me and speak so distantly…just as before? I thought—"
"I cannot do this," I interjected, hiding beneath my hair.
Zelda raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
Again, the feeling of overwhelming confliction emerged. I knew I must be honest; I had to remember my true purpose and try harder to be mindful of my actions.
Duty comes before all else.
Before want, or need… before love.
I took a deep breath and said evenly, "My actions last night were dishonorable, My Lady; I was far too reckless."
Zelda paled slightly.
I saw the fear in her eyes and I softened my tone. "I am a mere knight, and you, the Princess of Hyrule. This is not to be born, My Lady… it was nothing more than a dream…"
Her eyes widened. "I don't believe that."
"You are my weakness, yet my strength. I am distracted simply by your presence… it… it complicates…" I paused to find the words, but could not and clicked my tongue impatiently. "My first and final responsibility is my duty to you as your Guardian."
"Duty?" she mouthed. "Is that really all you care about?"
"Of course not—"
"But what of your desire?" she asked pleadingly. "There are more things of worth besides honor!"
"Forfeiting my desires would be more bearable than being taken from your side," I said fervently.
Zelda narrowed her eyes. "Even if I were forced to marry… I shall never be another's. My heart has yearned for you, nay, belonged to you without my knowing. You are my Guardian, and your life is mine… as mine is yours." Zelda moved towards me until she was naught but a step away.
I shook my head. "His Majesty will never allow it."
"…Do you not even have the smallest hope?"
"Please… my name…"
I truly was a man to be loathed. Willfully, I ignored the boundaries of right and wrong, and I pulled Zelda to me with more force than intended.
Feverishly claiming her mouth, she willingly submitted.
I knew it was in vain to wish for the king's consent, leaving me no alternative.
I would have to force myself to return to the person I had been for the past two years. If nothing else, this was the only chance I had to convey the depth of my feelings to her; for her to know for the rest of her days that I truly cared for her. No matter my actions and demeanor in the future, she would see the truth beneath it all.
I became aware of her hands clutching my tunic and I released her just as quickly as I had seized her.
"Forgive me… Lady Zelda," I said breathlessly. "I will not forget myself again." I tried to move past her, but she wouldn't have it.
"Link, I beg you, allow me to ask for my father's consent."
"The answer has already been decided," I said coldly as I tried to pry my hand from hers. "It is futile."
"Orders be damned!" she shouted.
I looked back at her, incredulous. Never had I heard such defiant words fall from her tongue.
"I will not give up so easily… please do not ask me to," her voice broke slightly and she let out a trembling sigh.
My weakness and strength were not evenly matched. How could I resist her sincere pleadings? Though I believed her attempt would be wasted, and for her to seek the answer herself would add to our suffering, I could not deny her the chance to try.
"As you wish," I sighed defeatedly.
Zelda then took my face into her hands, a gesture of comfort. "If he does not concede… still, I would swear myself to you and only you. Could you live with such a secret?"
"…Secret…?" A familiar, reprimanding voice echoed through the stables.
Looking down the way, I found Impa standing near the entrance, a deep scowl etched on her face.
Zelda's hands fell from me and I bowed to Impa.
"Impa, please, the fault—"
"You're actions have been reckless today, Lady Zelda. Your early departure from supper was inexcusable," she said crossly as she approached us.
"I was not needed," Zelda retorted.
Impa narrowed her red eyes. "You risk tarnishing Haladin's opinion of Hyrule. His Majesty will be most displeased."
"Their opinions are of no concern to me. I won't be a pawn in my father's plans." Zelda said vehemently.
Impa sighed and furrowed her brows. She walked over to Zelda and took her hand. "You haven't a choice anymore."
Zelda's face paled. "What?" she whispered. "But… but he said a betrothal to Prince Ganondorf was a mere suggestion—"
"His Majesty will decide whom you are to marry now." Impa closed her eyes and shook her head. "I'm sorry."
Zelda backed away from Impa. "I… I must convince him—"
"You must obey, Lady Zelda, just as I must. I cannot go against His Majesty's words. They are final."
"…It will be final when I hear it from his lips."
Impa grimaced. "You are still so willful…" She put a hand to her hip and added, "I admire your resolve, but please… be mindful of your position. If you do not… I fear it will only cause you more suffering." Impa then turned to me. "Though I do not approve of the manner in which this has come about, I will pray that His Majesty will soften his heart."
Panic rose within me. "H-how did you kn—"
"Please… I am no fool, Sir Link."
Zelda's face broke out into a genuine smile and she rushed into Impa's arms. "Thank you, Impa. Your words alone have given me courage."
Impa closed her eyes for a moment and simply stroked Zelda's hair. "The hour has grown late; you should retire soon," she replied. She glanced at me and nodded.
I bowed in return. Did that mean her heart was softened as well?
She pulled away from Zelda and swiftly left the stables.
Zelda stared after her and stood there for sometime in silence.
Then I noticed her shoulders were trembling. Hesitantly, I put my arms about her. "What is it?"
"Always… there is always someone suffering because of my decisions. Only now do I see… how selfish and heartless I've been."
I held her tighter and rested my head on hers, tying to console her.
"Suffering is inevitable. Without it, we would not know joy." I could feel her tears falling on my arm, dampening my sleeve. "Do not dwell on the past; no more tears, Lady Zelda."
"But I… I am still deeply sorry for the suffering I've caused you. I pray my father is as just as forgiving."
I smiled. "Should His Majesty oppose your decision… and we are forced apart… know that a mere glance upon your face would last me a thousand years."
Zelda laughed half-heartedly.
I turned her to me, placing a gentle kiss on her cheek, I whispered, "the proper reply please."
She then dried her tears to hide her blush. "As you wish."
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