Author: EmeraldDragon PM
Sequal to "To Forge the Master" A year after becoming the Hero of Hyrule, Link has settled into his new role. When a Duke arrives in the castle seeking a lost artifact, Link and Shiek must set out to retrieve it. But they are not alone in their quest.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Fantasy - Link & Sheik - Chapters: 9 - Words: 65,203 - Reviews: 13 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 22 - Updated: 01-05-13 - Published: 11-09-11 - id: 7538160
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A wicked grin ghosted across his lips as he saw the man sitting next to the fire. Thoughts of revenge danced through his mind as he silently slid the mirror-bright sword from its sheath. Heavy boots moved like cat's paws over the leaf littered forest floor. With time-honed skill he held himself in perfect stillness; even his famed sword seemed to dodge the dappled forest light.
Then he struck, sword meeting flesh and dark blood oozing forth. But the man was nobody's prey. With unnatural grace, he dodged at the last moment, so the blade just caressed his neck with its searing kiss. The man spun, his own swords flashing in the sunlight, fierce green eyes practically glowing.
"Link, you little son of a bitch!" the man snarled, though it was tempered by an eyebrow raised in surprise. Bringing a hand up, he touched his throat with his fingers. "You made me bleed!"
Link laughed. "All's fair in love and war." He raised the Master Sword and took up a fighting stance. "And if I remember correctly, you love war games."
Sheik growled behind his scarf. "I'm going to kick your scrawny farmboy ass, Hero."
"Put your rupees where your mouth is," Link laughed as he lunged. The older man caught the blow on one slim sword, while striking with the other. A loud clang rang through the forest as sword struck shield. Both men pushed hard, trying to drive the other back.
Suddenly Link ducked, letting Sheik overbalance, before driving his shoulder into his former teacher's gut. Sheik let out an "oomph" and brought his knee up. His position did not afford him much range of motion, but the impact was enough to shove Link back. Hyrule's Hero rolled away, before springing to his feet and bringing up his sword and shield again. Sheik was fast, attacking before Link had even gained his feet, and the young man barely caught the twin blades across his shield.
Link pushed hard, sending Sheik tumbling backwards. Twisting his grip on his blade, Link lunged. His knee landed a winding blow to Sheik's chest, while the point of his sword stopped only a breath away from the older man's throat. However, Sheik had brought his swords up as well, scissoring them across Link's throat.
For a long moment, green eyes stared into blue, then both young men began to laugh. Link withdrew and sheathed his sword, before offering a hand to Sheik. As the older man got to his feet, Link looked him over. Though still dressed in his blue body suit, the clothes were newer and better made. And the scarf he used to hide the lower half of his face was more of a wrap.
"What are you doing all the way out here?" Link asked. "Last I heard, you had become Zelda's personal body guard." Link took a few steps back into the forest and returned with a rabbit. He sat down next to the fire and began to clean his kill. "Castle life starting to disagree with you?"
Sheik sat down across from him and stretched out. "Nope, I'm looking for you."
Link looked up from his rabbit. "Me? Why? Has something happened?"
"No, at least nothing serious. A man came to the castle and requested an audience with you, says it's very important." Sheik shrugged dismissively.
"You don't think so?"
Sheik blew out a long breath. "I think he thinks it is critical to continuance of life in Hyrule." Link snorted. "Anyway, Zelda sent an envoy to Lon Lon Ranch, but Halon said you hadn't been there in almost two months and he had no idea when you'd be back. So Zelda sent me to find you."
"How is the ranch? Papa-Lon have everything under control?" Link asked without looking up as he skewered the rabbit and put it over the fire.
"They're fine," Sheik answered evenly. He turned his green eyes on his friend. "What about you? Why are you all the way out here?"
Link sighed. "I just needed to get away."
"Yeah, who would have thought the hardest part of being the Hero of Hyrule would be dealing with the people."
Sheik propped himself up on one elbow and raised an eyebrow. "I don't follow, Hero."
"After I returned to the Ranch, I expected life to go back to normal, but it didn't. Everyday people came by to meet me, asking me to bless their babies or their farm. Merchants want me to wear their clothes or use their weapons. Dozens want me to teach their sons bravery and swordsmanship. I even had a few clergy come by and ask me to join their convent. They wanted to make me a saint."
Sheik stared at him for a moment, then burst into a fit of laughter. "You? A saint! HA!"
"That isn't even the worst part. Do you know how many letters I get in a week asking me to marry someone's daughter? Some of their families are even offering their entire farms as dowry. It is insane."
Sheik chuckled for a few minutes more before he could continue. "So you ran away?"
"Obviously I haven't run far enough, since you found me," Link quipped back, then sighed. "No, not exactly. I just needed a break is all. Give me a war with Bokoblins; but, please, no more marriage proposals."
Sheik snorted. "So is that all you've been doing, camping out in the woods hoping the world will forget about you?"
"Nope, built a small farm. Camping under the stars is all well and good, but I still like a nice straw mattress and a roof over my head when I can get it." Link paused. "I've... been working on my magic too."
"Oh?" Sheik asked in casual amusement. "Can you light a fire with just a word now?"
Link peered at him through his bangs and smiled. Taking a small wooden pipe from his tunic, he put the instrument to his lips and began to play. The song was only eight simple notes long, but even as the last note quivered, the air stirred and the fire roared to life. Sheik yelped and jumped back as the low burning embers suddenly became a towering inferno. "I call it the Bolero of Fire," Link said coolly.
As the fire quieted and ebbed back to embers, Link raised the instrument again and played another six notes. This time, as the air stirred, white wings that seemed made of pure light grew from his shoulders, each stretching twenty feet as they spread. Their very presence lifted him a foot off the ground. "I call this one the Song of Soaring. It's useful to get from one place to another in a big hurry, but only things physically attached to me can go with me." Link settled and the wings faded away. "I can also turn night into day or vice versa, and call rain or sun."
Sheik sat back down and stared at him. "I can see why so many farmers want you to be part of the family."
The corner of Link's mouth twitched. "You're the first person I've told. Not even Papa-Lon knows."
Sheik gave him a grin. "Awww, you love me best! Marry me?"
"I hate you, so very much."
The two fell into a comfortable silence as Link turned the rabbit on its spit. Finally, Link broke the topic. "So what does this guy want, exactly?"
Sheik shrugged. "Not sure. He's looking for something. I think he lost it, but... he talks funny. So I'm not sure."
"How do you mean?"
Sheik sat up straight and pulled a scroll out of his bottomless pouch. Unrolling it, he began to read. "By decree of the Duke of Termina, Keeper of the Scrolls, Holder of the Sacred Keys, Watcher of the Great Clock, requests audience with the Hero of Hyrule, Bearer of the Sacred Blade of the Triforce, Herald of the Goddesses, for the sole and singular purpose of recovering the Artifact of The Lost God in such that an alliance be forged between our two Kingdoms in peace forevermore."
"Is that just one sentence?" Link gaped.
"Yes, and he actually talks like this," Sheik replied evenly.
Link stared at him for a moment, then shook his head. "So what is this...thing he wants me to find? And why me?"
"Don't know on either count." He grinned and flopped back down on the ground. "Me, I'm just a lowly servant, not worthy to hear the plans of the politicians."
"Bullshit." Link snorted. "You know perfectly well what's going on."
Sheik sat back up and raised his hands in innocence. "Sorry, Hero. I really don't know. I did my own poking about, but no one knows what this Artifact is, and Mister Pompous refuses to talk to anyone but you."
Link sighed. "All right. I guess I have to go. But first I need to get my gear."
"Nice!" Sheik looked up at Link's house as they entered the clearing. "Did you get the Kokiri to build this for you?" The home had been carved inside a massive tree up against a small drop off. The tree itself was long dead, and the limbs had been sawed away to make the roof, and to prevent them from being torn off. There were several windows and it appeared to be two stories tall.
"Yep," Link smiled. "My home away from home." He pushed open a door that had been carved with the Triforce symbol. Inside was cozy. Warm sunlight poured in through the windows, dust swirling in the golden beams. Though everything was Hyrulian sized, it was clearly made by Kokiri. A winding staircase led to a small balcony overhead where Sheik could make out the edge of a bed draped in a homemade quilt. Items and trinkets Link had gathered in their travels, and perhaps at times afterwards, hung on the walls. The back wall was made of packed earth, with a door that led to another room beyond.
Sheik dropped into a chair at the table as Link made his way to the door in the dirt wall. Opening it, he revealed a small store of dried meat. He took a couple of slabs of venison off one rack and returned to the main room. "I don't keep a lot here," Link said as he wrapped the meat to pack for the trip. "So it won't take long."
Sheik shrugged. "There's not much point in heading out tonight. The sun will be down before we get out of the forest."
Link nodded, but kept packing. "Still, this way we can leave first thing."
Sheik leaned on the table, resting his chin in the palm of his hand. "What for? The guy obviously isn't in a hurry. And this will be my first chance to sleep in, in almost a season. Zelda keeps an insane schedule just to keep the kingdom running. And I picked up a few orphans to train as other personal guards. Because if I have to continue keeping pace with her, I'm going to lose my mind."
Link laughed. "All right, we'll leave whenever you drag your overworked butt out of bed."
It was a five day journey across Hyrule Field from Link's retreat to LonLon Ranch. The pair set a leisurely pace, using the time to catch up. Sheik talked about the orphans he was raising, and Link filled in more of the details of some of his misadventures in marriage proposals.
They finally arrived at LonLon Ranch late on the fifth day and entered into a scene of controlled chaos. After putting Nightfire and Blu into the barn, they entered the house to find four men all yelling at the top of their lungs. They were all yelling at once, making the conversation impossible to make out aside from a few words.
Link peeked into the dining room to see a group of farmers all standing around the table shouting at each other. They banged their fists on the table and looked ready to brawl right in the middle of the room. Papa Lon sat at the head of the table, his head resting in his hands. His shoulders sagged as he slouched forward in his chair.
"Papa Lon, what's going on?" Link asked as he stepped into the room, Sheik in tow. All of the farmers fell silent at once and Papa Lon looked up, his expression a mixture of relief and anxiety.
"It's about time!" one of the farmers snapped.
"Excuse me?" Link asked.
One farmer took a threatening step towards Link. He had a thick beard and leathery weather-beaten skin, and he towered a good head taller than Sheik. His overalls were caked with dirt and straw. Link crinkled his nose as the man's breath hit him in the face. "You arrogant little punk! Who do you think you are? I offered you a great dowry for my little angel! And you can't even lower yourself to respond."
"That is enough," Link said in a firm, even voice. "I have not responded because I have been away from home. Even now I am only passing through on my way to the castle at the request of Princess Zelda. I will review your request at my first available opportunity, but it will not be tonight."
The man growled and lumbered forward another pace. Link felt his foot slid back across the floorboards as he reacted to the larger man's threatening body language. He had to clench his hand into a fist to keep from reaching for his sword. When the man grabbed for the front of his tunic, Link took a quick half-step out of reach. The larger man followed, overextending his reach and throwing off his balance. He stumbled and Link side stepped.
Sheik caught the large man by his shoulder, stopping his forward movement. Link had spent enough time with Sheik over the last year to read his expressions even with half his face hidden. The farmer would have done well had he heeded the warning in those green eyes. Instead, he drew back and took a swing at him. Sheik grabbed his wrist and yanked the man forward, only to plant his knee in the man's gut.
The farmer let out a loud "whoosh" as he dropped heavily to the floor. Sheik glared down at him. "You will show respect for the Hero of Hyrule, especially when he is on official business. Now, will show yourself out or do I need to do it for you?"
The man muttered to himself as he pushed himself to his feet and, under Sheik's fierce gaze, stumbled out of the house.
"That wasn't necessary," Link huffed.
Sheik shrugged. "He started it."
"Link!" Papa Lon interrupted, slapping him on the shoulder. "It's good to see you again."
Link smiled back at his adoptive father. "It's good to be home. How is Ray?"
"Good, good." He glanced over his shoulder at the other men still at the table. "You have good timing, you have visitors." Link tried to keep a smile on his face, but felt it slip anyway. Sheik snickered.
Taking a deep breath, he turned to the remaining men. "How can I help you?"
All eyes collectively shifted to look at Sheik before returning to him.
One man, who was the youngest of the group, cleared his throat. "Well, we all propositioned you for possible marriage to our daughters. But it seems you were not truly ignoring us, but were simply busy. I apologize for the inconvenience."
Link nodded. "I'm not in a hurry to leave in the morning. If none of you mind staying, I will listen to what you have to say. But I will not make a decision tonight." The men all nodded in agreement.
Papa Lon made Link and Sheik a hearty meal of beef stew and cold milk. And they sat down to listen to what each of the men had to say.
The first man was not a farmer as Link had assumed. The dust on his cloths was actually flour and he owned a bakery in Castle Town that bought milk from Lon Lon Ranch to make his goods. He was the youngest of the men and was actually there on behalf of his late father, who had passed away. They did not have much to offer in the way of a dowry, all they owned was tied up in the bakery and the family shared a single room on the floor above. The dowry came down to a few homemade quilts, some heirloom jewelry, and the promise that the girl was an amazing cook.
The next man Link recognized as the farmer they bought their hay from. He was fairly smug, hinting at how LonLon Ranch was dependent on his farm. His dowry seemed to largely hinge on how Papa Lon would benefit from Link ultimately owning his hay farm.
The last man, and the oldest of the group, was the owner of a large dairy farm. While LonLon Ranch produced milk to supplement their income, his farm focused exclusively on it. He employed almost a hundred people, from shepherds who tended the cows and goats to milkmaids who collected the milk to carriers who delivered the milk all over Hyrule. His dowry was impressive. His daughter was the only child of him and his late wife, and should Link choose to marry her, he would be the sole heir. In addition, he would provide LonLon Ranch with a dozen of his high quality cows and enough rupees for Ray to attend school like a noble's daughter.
Link yawned as he waved to the three men who were bedding down in the living room, as he and Sheik headed upstairs to his room. It was well past midnight and not safe to travel, so they would leave in the morning.
"So?" Sheik asked as he shut the door.
"So what?" Link asked as he gathered up a hammock and began hanging it in a corner.
"Which one will you accept?"
Link frowned at him. "Don't know, don't care. I have several dozen offers I haven't even looked at yet. Besides, I'm not short on choices, so why not marry the girl I like instead of the one with the biggest dowry."
Sheik shrugged and flopped down in the hammock. "You want me to poke around? Find out which girls are even worth your time?" Link rolled his eyes and gave a non-communicative grunt. "Spoilsport," Sheik laughed.
"Go to sleep, Sheik."
Link stretched as he sat up in bed. Morning sun poured through his window, revealing that Sheik had already left the room. It was far later than he would have normally slept. Kicking off the blankets, he dressed, washed his face in the basin, and headed downstairs. He was met halfway by a flying mass of red hair and loud squealing.
Link laughed as he scooped up Raylon and tossed her in the air as she laughed. "Hey, Ray! Have you been being good for Papa Lon?"
"Uh huh!" She wrapped her arms around his neck. "Uncle Sheik says you are going to Castle Town. Can I go with you, Big Brother? Can I, please?"
"Sorry, Ray, I'm going on business," he apologized.
"But how about this? After I'm done, I promise I'll take you on a special trip there, just the two of us."
Her eyes lit up. "Really! Can we meet the Princess?"
"I'm sure that can be arranged," Sheik answered. Link looked up to see the older man leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed. "Good morning, Hero. Finally escaped the Land of Nod, I see."
"Good morning, Uncle Sheik,"
Sheik narrowed his eyes. "Call me that again, Hero. I dare you." Link only grinned. Sheik snorted. "You're fanclub is gone, by the way. So it's safe for us to leave when you're ready."
"Come on, Big Brother, I made you breakfast!" Raylon said as she grabbed his hand and tugged him towards the kitchen.
Link sat down at the table and looked at the plate before him. The bread had been sliced at an odd angle and toasted black, the slightly gooey mound of scrambled eggs was punctuated by random bits of white shell, and the bacon looked more like strips of bark than meat.
"It looks delicious, Ray. Thank you."
From the doorway Sheik laughed. "Enjoy your breakfast, I'll saddle the horses." It took all Link had not to glare after him. With great care, and under Raylon's happy gaze, he picked his way through the eggs, crunched on the bread, and managed to gnaw his way through the meat. When he finished, Ray took his plate and skipped off to the kitchen to wash it. Link headed out to the barn.
"How was breakfast?" Sheik asked with barely suppressed laughter.
"Crunchy," Link replied. Sheik gave a bark of laughter.
"So you ready to get moving, Hero? We should make Castle Town by noon tomorrow."
Link nodded as he swung up onto Nightfire's back. They passed Papa Lon in the corral with the horses as they rode out and waved. He came towards them, beckoning them to wait, and both men pulled up short.
"Heading out already, son?"
"Yes, sorry I couldn't stay longer."
Papa Lon shook his head. "You have a lot of responsibilities. But try to visit when you can. Here." He handed Link a small pouch.
"What's this?" Link asked as he opened the drawstring.
"The bakery guy left them for you, his sister baked them. Ray got into them, so there aren't as many as there could be."
Link took a cookie out and popped it into his mouth. Sheik reached over and grabbed one himself, discreetly pulling down his scarf to take a bite. "Okay, Hero, I change my vote. Marry this one."
"You don't have a vote," Link muttered around his second cookie. "Thanks, Papa Lon. I'll be back as soon as I can."
"May the Goddesses go with you, son."
As Link and Sheik made their way out of the Ranch and turned towards Castle Town, Sheik reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a sheet of neatly folded paper. Then began to read it with a great deal of glee. "Dear, Link, Hero of Hyrule. It is with great humility that I request your consideration in the marriage–"
"Give me that!" Link snapped and reached for the letter, but Sheik held it out of reach.
"The marriage of my daughter, Ellisa. She is a beautiful girl with a great love of life and a great devotion to the Goddesses. Even now she studies day and night to become a priestess in Farore's Temple."
"I said, give that back!" Link growled, trying to snatch the letter away. But Sheik spurred Blu forward, keeping just out of Link's reach.
"She is a wonderful cook and a gentle soul. While it pains me to part with her, I would be honored to know she was safe in your capable hands."
"I swear on all three Goddesses I am going to kill you," Link yelled, his face red.
Sheik cackled as he tucked the letter behind his white leather armor. "Take it back if you can, Hero!" He put his heels to Blu's flanks and took off at a gallop. Link urged Nightfire forward. The lighter horse quickly caught up with the heavy Hyrulian Draft. But Sheik veered, keeping away from Link.
With a grin, Link spurred Nightfire faster, charging past Sheik. When he had a small lead, he reined the horse around and charged. Sheik had no time to swerve. As the horses passed each other, Link launched from Nightfire's back, knocking Sheik to the ground. They landed with a hard thump in the tall grass.
Sheik laughed as he kicked Link off and gained his footing. Link rose as well, sword drawn. Sheik reacted in kind and took up a defensive stance. Link lunged and Sheik danced away, keeping just out of his reach.
"What's the matter? Scared, Uncle Sheik?" Link taunted as he chased him.
Sheik cut him a glare. "Keep talking, Hero. I told Zelda I would bring you back. I didn't say I would do it in one piece."
Link lunged again and Sheik dodged and produced what looked like an egg. He threw it to the ground, causing it to explode in a cloud on nauseous gas. Link choked, covering his mouth and nose even as his eyes began to sting and water. He tried to follow Sheik's movements, but he stumbled and felt dizzy. The next thing he knew, he was pulled against a hard body and the blade of a sword caressed his throat.
"The power of the Goddesses you may have, but nothing makes up for experience."
"Damn you," Link coughed, trying not to rub against the blade.
Sheik laughed as he withdrew. "You can have the letter when you can take it from me, Hero."
When night fell they made camp and Sheik offered up the last of their food, stale bread and cold meat. They sat in comfortable silence until it was time for Link to take the first watch. Hyrulian Field had become a great deal safer since his defeat if Ganon, but there were still occasional reports of moblin or bokoblin. But tonight the air was crisp and cool, with a gentle breeze that carried neither sound nor smell of the pests.
Link waited, passing the hours by keeping the fire going, until it was time to make his move. Creeping silently across the soft earth, keeping downwind and making sure the fire would not throw his shadow over the sleeping man, he gingerly slid his hand into Sheik's armor. He expected Sheik to wake up at any moment, but he continued to sleep soundly.
With all the care and grace he could muster, Link found the letter and began to withdraw it. The movement took great care so as not to rip the delicate paper or make it crinkle noisily. When the letter was finally safe back in his hands, he quickly shoved it into his bottomless pouch before returning smugly to his side of the fire.
When it came time to change watch, neither man spoke, and Link lay down, being sure to tuck his pouch underneath him and well out of reach.
As they saddled their horses and got ready to go the next morning, Link discreetly reached into his pouch and felt around until he found the letter. Smiling to himself, he waited for Sheik to catch on.
The morning mist still hugged the ground as they mounted and began the last leg of their journey to Castle Town. With nothing left of their food, they split the remaining cookies to tide them over until they could buy more.
Finally, as the sun was burning away the mist and they could see the drewbridge leading into the biggest town in Hyrule come into view, Sheik turned and smiled. "Care to try for that letter one more time before I have a chance to show it to the Princess?"
Link smiled. "No need. Already got the letter back."
"Oh?" Sheik said mildly and reached into his armor. Link's grin widened as he searched, but quickly fell when his companion withdrew the letter. "Are you sure, Hero. It seems I still have it."
Frowning, Link dug the letter out of his pouch and opened it. The words "Do you really think you are that sneaky? Love, Sheik." glared mockingly up at him. Crushing the fake into a wad, he chucked it at Sheik's head as the older man laughed.
Mornings in Castle Town were busy affairs. People hurried about the marketplace, bartering and buying the food and supplies they would need in the near future. Children begged their mothers for a few green rupees to buy sticky buns or small toys. Vendors shouted, trying to hawk their wares or shoo away children pawing at the goods. Shop owners who would not open until later cleaned their floors and windows in preparation for patrons.
The air was heavy with scents. Fresh bread made Link's mouth water and his stomach growl, while the aroma of herb-roasted fish made his toes curl with delight.
Link smiled in spite of himself. The town was so vibrant and alive. Though his forest retreat was peaceful, he missed the hustle and bustle of life in the towns. Still, it was odd being here. He drew curious stares and could hear people speaking in whispers about him. A group of women seemed to think he had been away with a hermit training to improve himself. The men dared each other to challenge him, just to find out if the rumors were true. Children gapped at him with wide eyes, before loudly asking their parents if he really was the Hero of Hyrule. But it was the giggled conversations of girls his own age that made him blush.
Sheik tugged on his tunic and pointed to a bakery, drawing his attention away from the crowd and back to his empty stomach. He nodded in reply and they tied their horses and went inside. The blonde-haired girl behind the counter blushed as she saw him, then in a quiet voice asked if she could help them. Link smiled gently and asked for some sausages biscuits. Sheik ordered the same and a couple of sweet rolls.
The girl quickly complied, blushing as she went to fill their orders. Link paid for the food and they returned to their horses.
"She was cute," Sheik commented. Link nodded in agreement, but said nothing else as he dug into his breakfast. "Clearly a good cook," Sheik added. This time Link glared at him. "Just a statement of facts," Sheik defended, unperturbed.
Link swallowed. "Don't start again."
Sheik sighed. "You're going to have to deal with it eventually. You should be happy; most men don't have such choices."
"All the more reason I should pick a girl I like, not the one who gives me the most cows."
"I suppose," Sheik shrugged. "How many girls did you meet in the woods, by the way?"
They were greeted at the castle gates by a page who quickly took their horses. With a quick agreement to meet outside the throne room, they split ways. Link's feet carried him to his room in the castle by memory alone. Zelda had given it to him so he could be on hand at times of crisis, though he rarely used it.
The room was the same as he remembered it, still decorated in green and gold with furniture made from rich, dark wood. The only change was a Triforce that had been carved into the head of the bed and plated in gold. With a happy sigh, he dropped his bag on the floor and went to take a bath.
Stripping out of his traveling clothes, Link laid them out on the bed, knowing a maid would be by shortly to take them away for cleaning. He had clearly been expected. The tub was filled with hot water and expensive scented soap and body oils had been laid out alongside large fluffy towels.
He slipped gratefully into the water, sinking to his chin and closing his eyes. It had been months since he'd had a hot bath. The forest was peaceful, but the streams were cold and not deep enough to soak in. Slipping below the surface, he scrubbed the grime from his hair, before settling back for a long, quiet soak.
He was not sure how long he lounged there, but as the water began to cool, he reluctantly took the soap to his skin, scrubbing away the most stubborn dirt. Stepping out, he toweled off and wrapped the towel around his waist.
On cue, there was a gentle knock at the door before it opened. An older woman shuffled in, giving him a small smile. Link smiled in return as she bustled about, clearing the bench of the oils and folding the remaining towel into a pillow at one end, and placed a few drops of oil on it. Link lay down, head resting on the towel now scented with lavender and chamomile.
He heard the woman crack her knuckles, then felt warm oil being dribbled down his spine. She gently spread it across his back in an even layer, then, beginning at his neck, began to rub. Link relaxed as the woman worked the tension from his muscles. Hands skilled with age worked their way from his neck to his shoulders, and down his back. She moved on to his legs, then his feet, taking care to pay attention to every toe. Finally she worked on his hands, lavishing extra care to the left, moved on up his arms, and gave his back another once over.
Giving his cheek a motherly peck, she pat his head and departed. It took Link several minutes to convince his muscles to rise from their liquefied state. He had to admit, there were many things he did not like about being part of the nobility, but this, he loved this part.
When he finally made it back to his room, fresh, formal clothes had been laid out on the bed. With a sigh, he donned the dark green tunic and tan pants, slipped into the polished boots, and clipped on his grey cape. Finally he crowned himself with his trademark Kokiri hat.
Stepping out into the hallway, he made his way to the throne room. Sheik was waiting for him, also freshly bathed and very relaxed. The older man looked up at him, smiling behind his scarf, then pounded on the huge door with his fist. The sound echoed around them, hanging in the air for several minutes before finally fading away. A woman's voice called for them to enter, and he shoved the doors wide to comply.
Princess Zelda sat on her throne, a scroll in one hand, and quill in the other. The tip of the feather was between her lips. Her long blond hair was still braided down her back, having not yet been taken down from her morning ride, and her blue eyes darted back and forth across paper.
"You are going to ruin your good quill doing that," Sheik scolded mildly.
Zelda startled at the sound of his voice, quickly pulling the feather from her mouth. "Sheik, I wasn't expecting you back so soon. Link, welcome, as always."
"Thank you, Princess." Link bowed. "Sheik tells me there is a good reason for dragging me from my peaceful retirement."
Zelda gave a very belabored sigh. "Yes. The Duke of Termina absolutely must speak with you. He says it is a matter of grave importance. Personally, I find I don't care. Find out what he wants and give it to him and get him out of my hair."
Sheik snorted hard. "Aww, Princess, aren't you always telling me to be nice to the other nobles? As you say, you'll never know when you may need a favor."
"I believe I can officially have you whipped," Zelda replied mildly. Sheik only laughed.
"I volunteer to help." Link grinned. Sheik took a swing at him and Zelda giggled.
Shortly, the Princess composed herself. "In all seriousness, Link, it would be beneficial to please him. Termina has been known to have powerful warriors in times past. I do not wish to upset them unnecessarily."
"I will do my best, Princess."
"Thank you," she replied, truly grateful. "He's usually found in the garden at this time of day, having tea." Link smiled and bowed. Zelda went on. "And Sheik, go find your little protegees and do something with them, before I jail them all as public nuisances."
Link stopped under one of the garden's archways, pausing to study the man before him. He was older than Link expected, with thinning grey hair and a shallow, wrinkled face. Though he was dressed in fine clothes, they could not hide the frail body beneath. He was hunched over a well-used book, muttering to himself as he squinted at the words and keeping track of his place with a long, bony finger.
Taking a deep breath, Link approached.
"Sir, I– "
The man fluttered one of his thin hands in Link's general direction, never looking up from his book. "Leave it on the table and go away. Can't you see I am busy, you stupid boy?"
Link's eyebrow rose. "Sir, I believe–"
"I did not stutter," the Duke growled, head still down. "If you are so very incompetent as to not understand a simple command, perhaps you could show some wisdom and learn to keep your primitive mouth firmly closed so your tiny brain does not have to overextend its clearly limited capacity."
"Master Link?" He turned to see one of the kitchen servant girls coming up the path with a tray of tea and tea cakes. She curtsied to him as best she could without unbalancing her burden. "I did not realize you were taking tea with the Duke this afternoon."
"I only just–"
"You stupid girl!" the duke roared, coming out of his seat far faster than Link would have expected. "How dare you address a noble so informally! Respect, girl, respect!" He raised a bony fist and the girl cringed. Link stepped in front of her, blocking his path.
"If you wish my help, you will treat every member of this castle's staff with dignity," Link said in an even voice. He turned away from the man without moving from his path and took the tray from the girl. As soon as he had it, she used her apron to dry her eyes, gave a quick curtsy, and scurried away like a frightened puppy. He quickly stamped down the anger he felt before turning back to the Duke.
The elderly man had toddled back to his chair and looked at Link expectantly. Inwardly reminding himself that the fastest way to be rid of the man was to find out what he wanted, Link calmly set the tray on the table and began serving the tea.
"You wished to speak with me?" Link prompted when the man showed no sign he would begin the conversation.
The Duke took a loud sip of his tea before he spoke. "I do." Then he took a bite of a tea cake and frowned. "Really, how can you abide such paltry crumbs? The food in Termina is far superior."
Link felt something in the back of his mind snap. "With all due respect," Link growled through his teeth, "the Princess sent a special envoy to pull me away from my training because you refused to tell anyone else what it was you wanted. I arrive to find you annoying the Princess and abusing the staff. I did not come all this way to talk about cookies with you. Now tell me why I have been dragged across Hyrule or leave!"
"How dare you!" the Duke roared, but he seemed to have better judgment than to raise his fist against Link. "I am the Duke of Termina, Keeper of the Scrolls, Holder of the Sacred Keys, and Watcher of the Great Clock! How dare a mere knight speak against me." He snatched up his book and snapped it shut. "I will speak with you when I am ready. Until then you will wait for my summons, knight!"
Link watched in slack-jawed astonishment as the elderly man flounced away across the garden. When he had vanished back into the castle, the servant girl reappeared around one of the bushes. "Karina?" Link asked as she began cleaning up the tea tray. "Has he been hitting you?"
She winced guiltily. "Yes, but it doesn't hurt. He just seems to back off if I make show that it does."
"Have you told the Princess about this?" He asked, trying to stamp down the anger, afraid he would scare her.
"It isn't important." She shook her head. "Like I said, it doesn't hurt."
"I don't care, it will stop," Link growled as he pushed up from the table. After a moment's thought he took a few cakes off the plate. "And I don't care what the old buzzard says, your tea cakes are delicious." She blushed.
Link found Sheik in one of the rooms they had trained in before the battle with Ganon. The sight made him raise an eyebrow. Standing before him were three children all around age ten, all dressed exactly like Sheik, complete with their own scarves hiding the lower half of their faces. Then they spotted him.
"Intruder!" one of the children yelled, and all three launched themselves at him. Sheik, turned as well, but made no move to stop the kids. Link was amused to see them pull tiny, wooden swords on him and raise them over their heads.
In one smooth motion, Link took the sword from the first kid in a single yank, before easily sweeping his foot into the back of the kid's legs, sending him to the ground. Turning, he caught the other two kids mid-charge and picked them up.
"I can see what Zelda meant by a public nuisance," Link snorted, as the two kids in his arms struggled in vain to get away.
"How dare you speak of the princess in such a way!" The boy on the ground yelled as he began to rise. Link rolled his eyes and placed his foot on the kid's chest, keeping him down. "Sheik, I think you are losing your touch."
"Not everyone needs your vertical learning curve."
Link snorted. "Excuses, excuses. You just liked beating me with sticks."
Sheik grinned behind his scarf. "Well, yes, that was fun too. Now can you release my students, or do I need to give you another beating?"
"Heh." Link laughed as he released the kids. "At least now I know why you've been hassling me about marriage. You want kids so bad you swiped some off the streets and dressed them like yourself."
Sheik glared at him before turning back to the kids. "So what did you learn from that experience?"
"Never attack the Hero of Hyrule," one boy said.
"Always attack as one and from different directions," another added.
"Don't fight people bigger than you," the last, a girl, added.
"All good points, but no," Sheik answered. "Full frontal assaults rarely work. If they can see you coming, they can counter. Now it's almost dinnertime, go wash up while I talk to Link." They all nodded and hurried off.
"Cute kids." Link sighed.
"With time, maybe they will be good enough to be the Royal Family's personal guards," Sheik said as he rubbed his shoulder. "I can't do it alone anymore."
"Tired. Besides, more eyes are always better. So how did it go?"
"If I killed him, would you help me hide the body?"
"You have to ask?" Sheik laughed. "I'll help you kill the old blowhard if you are really game. What did he want anyway?"
"Don't know," Link confessed. "He tried to dismiss me as a servant twice, abused Karina, then threw a tantrum and left when I didn't want to argue about the quality of the tea cakes."
Sheik stared at him. "Are you serious...?"
"Yes, I am. Is Termina a real place or is this guy just a complete loon looking for a handout?"
"Termina's a real place." Sheik sighed. "You can reach it if you go through the right Lost Door. But that doesn't keep the guy from being a loon. Have you talked to Zelda yet?" Link shook his head. Sheik rubbed his chin. "The Duke should be dining with us. Let's see what happen over dinner and go from there." Link nodded in agreement.
Link could smell the food before they even entered the dining hall. Zelda always had the staff make exotic foods when he visited the castle; saying he should experience as much of the world as he could since she never knew what she might need him to do. Today the food smelled savory and spicy as it wafted through the hall.
He and Sheik entered the room together to find Zelda already seated at the table with the Duke. She gave them brief, pleading eyes, but the old man favored them with a deeply disapproving glare. "State your business and be gone. We do not need servants cluttering our space."
"Oh, you made a real impression on him, Hero," Sheik whispered. Link huffed in reply. With all the grace and dignity he could muster, Link swept around the table and took his seat next to Zelda. Sheik followed and sat next to him.
"Perhaps, sir, you were misinformed, but I am not, nor have I ever been, a servant. I am the Herald of the Goddesses and the Hero of Hyrule. It is not my place to serve the interests of the Royal Family alone, but to do what is best for all of Hyrule in accordance to the will of the Goddesses. Now, as I said before, you can explain to me why I have been dragged away from my training."
"You impudent little–"
"Shut up," Link said, slamming his hands down on the table as he rose. "You may have found it easy to bully the servants, but as I have already said, I am not one. If you wish my help, you will be civil. And if I have find out you have abused any servant in this castle, I will break your arm."
"And you stand for this sort of behavior?" the Duke asked Zelda. "Surely you have more control than this?" Link felt like banging his head against the table.
"As Link said," Zelda replied evenly, "he is not my servant. I have no more control over his actions than I have over the wind."
"You have until the food hits my plate to tell me what you want, or I am going home," Link said in a flat tone as he sat back down.
The Duke gave a long-suffered sigh. "It seems I have been stripped of all options. I had hoped the Hero of Hyrule would be a more nimble and respectable noble rather than and impudent waif. I suppose beggars must not be choosers." Link closed his eyes and took a deep breath as the Duke spoke, willing himself not to strangle him where he sat. "I will try to talk slowly, so that even in your limited capacity you can follow along."
"Thanks," Link said mildly.
"Really, Hero, just say the word," Sheik growled under his breath, knowing only Link could pick it up.
"You see, many years ago, in my land, a thief stole into a temple and snatched an article of cultural significance and escaped with it. He claimed it was too dangerous an item for the public to have access to. The thief was part of a cult who believed the item was an earth-bound deity, and was clearly quite mad. When he was finally captured, he would only say it was safe. But through years of painstaking research, I have traced his steps to this land. But, while my mind is unrivaled–"
Sheik coughed, sounding oddly like the word "unraveled."
"I am getting on in years. I need a young, strong back to retrieve it."
"You dragged me all this way for...that?" Link asked incredulously, then threw his hands up. "You know what, I don't care. If I get this thing back for you, will you leave Hyrule?"
"Instantaneously and without regret."
"You have a deal. What is this thing I'm looking for and where do I find it?"
"Excellent!" The old man clapped his hands.
At that moment the food arrived. The first course was a rich, potato-based soup. The Duke fluttered his hand at the server as soon as the food was before him. Then he hunched over his bowl, much as he had been with his book earlier, and began to slowly spoon the soup into his mouth with great slurping sounds.
"You were saying..." Link prompted when it did not appear he would continue talking.
The Duke looked up at him with a disapproving glare. "It is rude to speak while you eat, boy!"
Sheik sighed. "One step forward, two steps back." It took two more courses and an hour to draw out the information they needed from the Duke. By the time they had all the details, it was dark. The Duke took his leave, all the while admonishing them for keeping him up late, and how he would now sleep late, and it would throw off his whole routine. They all muttered half-hearted apologies before heading to bed themselves.