Zelda had waited for ages for Link to turn up to take her down to dinner but he had never appeared. In the end she had been forced to appear at the dinner table by herself, which had drawn some curious looks from her dinner guests. She had later learned that he hadn't been seen since his duel with Prince Alistair, even though Zelda had heard that he had won magnificently.
There was no question in her mind that he was sulking over her shoddy treatment of him. She had always made a point of going to each and every one of his fights to lend her support by cheering him on. She knew that she had her reasons for her absence and that those reasons were entirely valid but she still felt terrible for ignoring him like that.
A voice interrupted her train of thought, buzzing at the edges of her awareness like an annoying gnat. "...It is for this reason that I believe that the Crown's assistance will be of crucial importance in these reparations. Are you following Majesty?"
Zelda blinked at the man in front of her, a tall, lanky representative from a small town in the Lanayru Province. She struggled to recall just who he was and what he had been trying to tell her before she had so rudely stopped listening to him.
"Yes of course, Mr. Lark. Please rest assured that the reconstruction of Sagehaven is a matter of the highest priority to us and that we shall see to the matter personally," she said. "You can expect a royal emissary to pay you a visit to assess the extent of the damage very soon."
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Mr. Lark said, bowing very low. "May the Three watch over you and yours."
Zelda nodded at him and he backed away to a respectful distance. He was then escorted out by one of the four guards who were standing with Zelda on the raised platform.
"I'm exhausted," Zelda whispered to her scribe, who was rapidly transcribing the exchange into the records. "How many more are there?"
"Just one, Your Majesty," the scribe said sympathetically. "He specifically asked to be seen last."
"Well then," Zelda said, sitting up straight to receive her last caller, "he must be an extraordinarily patient man."
The double doors, only having just closed on Mr. Lark opened again to admit her last appointment of the day. Zelda cringed when she saw Link, who was possibly the last person she wanted to see in all of Hyrule, striding through the door in his full regalia. He walked at a brisk clip, easily outpacing the guards who were doing their best to escort him to her, and dropped down on one knee at the foot of the short flight of stairs that led up to her throne.
"Link?" she said, surprised beyond all measure. "What are you doing here? And why on earth are you dressed like that?"
"I was informed that you're supposed to look your best when you come for an audience with the Queen," Link said in an uncharacteristically stern tone that made her tingle all over.
Zelda straightened her shoulders and allowed her face to set into a regal expression once more as looked down her nose at him. She could hardly afford to show weakness around him if he meant business, no matter how handsome he looked in a cape.
"You have been well informed," she said flatly. "Why have you come before us today? What favour would you ask of the Crown?"
Even as the words left her mouth they felt odd. Even in the most formal of situations she had never used the Royal We on Link before but if he felt slighted by it he refused to let on. Instead, he looked her dead in the eyes and said, "No favours. I've just come to ask why Your Majesty has been avoiding me lately."
A hush fell over everyone present at that. Even Zelda was temporarily stunned into silence. "Leave us," she ordered, noticing that some of the guards were regarding them with interest. There was no point in providing more grist for the rumour mill. "We shall speak to Sir Link alone."
The assembled guards and courtiers reluctantly picked themselves up and left the throne room without grumbling, leaving her entirely alone with Link. Part of her was angry and embarrassed that he'd trapped her like that while the other part was somewhat impressed that he'd managed to outthink her. She'd have to keep a closer eye on him in the future.
"What makes you think I'm avoiding you?" she asked.
"You didn't come to see me fight," Link replied.
"I was busy," Zelda said.
"Doing what?" Link asked. "You've never missed a chance to see me fight before."
"Some very important things," Zelda said, refusing to meet his gaze. "Facts, figures and the like. Nothing you would be interested in, I'm afraid."
Link frowned at her. "You're not anxious around me because I told you I love you, are you?" he asked.
"Don't be ridiculous, Link, of course not!" Zelda said, not entirely truthfully.
"Well, good," Link said, "because I have a request I'd like to make."
"A request?" Zelda said. "I thought you said no favours."
"I'm not asking you as your subject, I'm asking you as your fiancée," Link said and then, probably worried that he had sounded too harsh added, "and your friend."
Zelda bit her lip. "Then by all means ask away," she said.
"Don't go down to dinner tonight," Link said. "Come out with me instead. I think it would be nice for us to spend some time together."
"Oh?" Zelda said. "But don't we often spend time together."
"Yes," Link admitted. "As friends. I guess what I'm asking for is your permission to court you."
"Court me? Are you going to serenade me at my window and write poetry in my honour?" Zelda said with a laugh. "Because I must warn you that many men have tried to win my heart that way and not one has ever succeeded."
Link quirked a crooked grin at her, his serious demeanour melting off him in an instant. "Then it's a good thing I can't sing for shit," he said.
The both of them laughed at that, Zelda more from relief than anything. She had begun to worry if everything they had once had between them was ruined and that they would never joke or laugh together like that ever again.
"But Link," she said, "if I don't go down to dinner I'll surely be missed. Someone will be sent up to find me and what will I say when I am asked why I was not there?"
"Tell them you were with me," Link said.
"That hardly helps," Zelda said. "You and I are secret lovers, remember?"
"I heard," Link said, grinning deviously at her. "I also heard that the only reason you're marrying me is because you couldn't let a lover as talented as I am walk away."
Zelda blushed at the direction the conversation had taken but she didn't stop him. "That sounds like as good a reason as any," she said. "Is there any truth in it?"
"Wouldn't you like to know," Link said, winking playfully at her. "So, will you come?"
Zelda blinked at the abrupt change of subject. She'd nearly forgotten what they had been talking about. "But Link," she said, finding it necessary to offer at least token resistance. "I have nothing to wear."
"I thought about that," Link said. The hand that had been obscured by the fall of his cape came towards her, holding out a plain brown box done up in twine.
"What is it?" Zelda asked.
"Open it up and see," Link replied.
Zelda's curiosity got the better of her and she all but snatched the package from him, undid the ties and popped off the lid. Inside was a simple blue and white cotton dress with puffy white sleeves. It was very becoming; although far plainer than anything she had ever worn. Link had decent taste in dresses, it seemed.
"I bought that for you," Link explained. "I figured you couldn't go out looking like, well, you so I went out and found you this."
"You're very rebellious today," Zelda noted.
Link gave her his most debonair smile. "I know," he said. "Rebellion is my middle name."
Zelda bit her lip as she considered Link's offer. Link was looking at her hopefully, as though nothing in the world mattered more than her answer. It was for that very reason that she'd trying to avoid seeing Link again until she'd decided whether she loved him or not. It was easier to sort out her feelings for him when he wasn't around and she had all her wits about her. When he was standing there in the flesh with his wild, spirited eyes and that endearing smile of his he became impossible for her to resist.
"Very well," she relented. "Where are we going?"
Link beamed at her and at once Zelda knew she had made the right choice. "Not far," he said. "I hear that Castle Town is very lovely at this time of year anyway."
They walked arm in arm through Castle Town, a couple of nobodies out on an evening together, Zelda in the blue and white dress Link had bought her and Link in a sleeveless white shirt fastened around his waist by a bright orange sash. Even in plain clothes Zelda felt as though every eye in Castle Town was trained on them. She panicked. They could see through her disguise. Any moment someone would raise the alarm and the Royal Guard would come charging through the portcullis after them. Link would probably be thrown in jail for coercing her into doing something so reckless.
Link, seemingly noticing the way she anxiously searched the shadows for any sign of danger, laid a soothing hand on her arm and gave it a comforting squeeze. "Calm down," he whispered, his lips dangerously close to her ear, "no-one will notice. I do this all the time and no-one ever recognises me."
Zelda nodded curtly and tried to allow herself to relax but she couldn't shake the feeling of disquiet that had settled over her. Link frowned at her but quickened his footsteps to bring them to their destination faster.
"We're here," he announced, pointing to the simple, brass-bound door at the end of the cul-de-sac.
"Where's here?" Zelda asked.
Link said nothing, he only smiled and pushed the door open so that Zelda could see what sort of place they had come to. Zelda's eyes widened as she took in the sights and sounds of the bar. There were all sorts of characters in there: grizzled, one-eyed adventurers, pretty girls with feathers in their hair, servants, merchants, the man from the Castle Town branch of Malo Mart and Hyrulean soldiers in uniform which, Zelda noted, was quite against the rules. A quintet of Gerudo women stood on a raised platform at the centre of the room, playing music on a violin, a flute, a setar, the drums and the pipes simultaneously, creating a type of music that was both familiar and exotic at once.
At the back of the room, behind a varnished bar counter, stood the infamous Telma herself. She was busily directing two boys who standing on each other's shoulders as they tried to hang a string of paper lanterns from the rafters. Link made sure to carry her in a wide arc around them as they made their way over to Telma.
"What's going on here?" Zelda asked, looking around in bewilderment. "It seems awfully lively in here."
"A party, hon. That old guy over there's having a birthday," Telma said, turning to them and jerking her thumb in the general direction of the crowd.
"Are you sure it's alright for us to be here, then?" Zelda said. "Neither of us have an invitation."
"They can't stop us from walking into a bar, Zel," Link said and then to Telma he added, "No Ashei, right?"
"Of course not, and she'll stay away if she knows what's good for her," Telma said. "You owe me for keeping that girl off your tail, you hear me?"
"Put it on my tab," Link said flippantly.
"It's nice to finally meet you," Telma said to Zelda. "Link's told me a lot about you."
"Oh?" Zelda said. "Nothing untoward I hope."
Telma's eyes gleamed mischievously but before she could speak Link interposed himself between the two of them. "Actually, why don't we have something to drink first," he said hastily. "Telma?"
"You're no fun," she said, going to fetch the drinks from one of the barrels stacked up against the far wall and leaving Zelda alone with Link. Or as alone as they could be in a bar.
"So that was Telma," Zelda said. "She seems…"
"Saucy?" Link supplied.
Zelda smiled. "Nice." she said. "I can see why you're always in here."
"Well, it isn't all her doing. This is usually where Ashei is," Link said. "Also the beer is free."
As if to illustrate his point Telma came back at that moment with two frothing mugs which she set down on the countertop in front of them. "Drink up you two," she said with a wink before she moved on to attend to the needs of her other customers.
Link seized his and began drinking it with enthusiasm while Zelda eyed hers with suspicion, trying not to be put off by the awful smell wafting off of it.
"You're not drinking," Link remarked. Zelda observed that he had already downed almost half the glass. "Haven't you ever had a beer before?"
"Never," Zelda admitted. "You're not trying to take advantage of me are you, Link?"
"Damn, you've got me all figured out," Link said, a sly smile creeping across his face, "but seriously, don't drink it if you don't want to. I wouldn't want you to get sick or anything."
Zelda laughed. "Link, you insult me," she said. "I've had to outdrink far sturdier men than you, I'm afraid. Some of the men I meet are rather unscrupulous."
To illustrate her point she picked up his mug instead of her own. She felt his eyes on her as she tilted the glass to her lips and drank from it. The feeling was oddly exhilarating and even though she thought the drink tasted awful, she was urged on by the rush she got from so fully commanding Link's attention, and managed to finish the entire glass and set it down on the counter.
"Impressive," Link said, leaning towards her, "but that was mine." He reached across the counter and snatched her drink from her, downing the entire mug in one go and setting it triumphantly down on the counter.
"Hey!" Zelda protested. "That was mine!"
"Do you want to dance?" Link offered, trying to distract her from the subject of the beers.
"Do you?" Zelda replied. "I wouldn't want you to make a fool of yourself out there."
Link rolled his eyes at her and expectantly put his hand out to receive hers. "I think I'll manage," he said sardonically.
After a moment's consideration Zelda put her hand in his and allowed him to lead her to the centre of the room, where the Gerudo quintet were tuning their instruments in preparation for another round of songs. They were not the only ones there; a crowd of men and women had gathered at the base of the raised platform, joining hands in small circles in preparation for a dance.
Link took her to one of the circles and made her join hands with him and one of the men beside her, who winked and grinned wolfishly at her. No sooner did she join the group when the Gerudo quintet stopped plucking tunelessly at their instruments and broke into song. The circle immediately lurched left and then right, pulling Zelda along with it, before breaking into some of the fancier footwork.
Zelda was utterly lost, the dance was so unlike any waltz or minuet she had ever performed and seemed to revolve more around spinning in circles and kicking up dirt than anything, but she managed to muddle along somehow. Thankfully the other dancers were either too drunk, too joyous or simply did not care enough to notice what a mess she was making of the steps and carried her along with them anyway and eventually she began to get the hang of it.
Now and then the quintet would strike up a new tune and the dancers would either pair off if they were in a group or join hands if they were together. Zelda ended up dancing with several different men over the course of the dance but Link somehow ended up finding his way back to her more often than not. Zelda liked dancing with him best but every time she began to get a feel for him the quintet would change the music again and someone else would carry her away.
"Alright I'll admit," Zelda said, when she and Link were dancing together once again, "you really are a good dancer."
"I told you so," Link said smugly, twirling her under his arm. "It's your fancy court dances I can't get the hang off."
"Well, perhaps when I meet you for your training in the morning I'll go a bit easier on you in light of your performance tonight," Zelda said.
"So we're meeting for training in the morning then?" Link said. "You won't avoid me anymore."
Zelda pretended to think about it just to tease him. "No," she said at length. "I don't think I will."
It was then that the music tapered off. After a final spin, Link brought them to an abrupt stop, leaving the two of them standing there together. Link locked eyes with her. Zelda noticed with a pang of nervousness that he was awfully close to her, close enough for her to take in the wild, green smell that came off him.
For a moment, she was worried that he was going to kiss her in front of the entire bar; his eyes on her were so intense. Luckily at that moment the quintet started playing again and the change in atmosphere drew Link's attention off her, much to Zelda's relief. It was hard enough to decide whether her attraction to Link was rooted in genuine affection or whether it was simply the manifestation of much baser urges without his kisses clouding her judgement.
"Are you thirsty?" Link asked suddenly.
Zelda blinked, surprised by the apparent non-sequitur. "Yes, I am," she said.
Link released her suddenly. "I'll get you some water," he said, worming his way through the crowd back to the bar counter and Telma without another word, leaving Zelda alone. Rather than stand there gawping she wandered away from the crowd and chose a table to sit at in a spot that wasn't too noisy.
"Hey, lady, you got the time?" a voice over her shoulder said.
Zelda turned to find herself face-to-face with one of the men she had danced with, the one who had winked at her. He looked dizzy and his eyes were unfocused, probably due to alcohol, although all the spinning they had just done was still a very likely candidate.
"Sorry, I don't have a watch," Zelda said, pointing to her bare wrist and wishing he would go away.
He did not. Instead he looked her dead in the face and said the phrase she had been dreading the entire night. "Aren't you the Queen?"
"No, absolutely not," Zelda said and then, worried that she had spoken too quickly, added, "but I'm flattered you think I look like her."
The man, whoever he was, would not be deterred. He grabbed Zelda's arm in an iron grip. "Hey, Michael, get over here," he called. "Don't you think this girl looks just like the—"
Luckily, Link intervened before the man could finish or before the mysterious Michael could put in an appearance. He set the two glasses of water down on the table Zelda had chosen and then calmly plucked the man's hand off her arm.
"You're mistaken," he said, the cold voice from that morning making an unexpected reappearance. "Kindly leave this young lady alone."
"Hey, hey, calm down. I didn't mean nothing by it," the man protested.
"It's fine," Link said, his attention focused solely on Zelda. "I think we should go," he whispered.
Link turned just in time to notice the punch the man threw in his direction. He swiftly ducked under it and retaliated by cracking his knuckles across the man's chin. Zelda did not judge it to be a particularly hard blow but in his state of drunkenness the man's balance was not as sound as it could have been. She watched in dumbfounded silence as he turned a neat pirouette and fell backwards into the table she had just been sitting at, upsetting it and sending the two glasses flying.
Link took her by the arm and dragged her out of the bar before things could get nasty. The cool night air made a mess of her hair as Link hurried her down the twisting, cobbled back roads of south Castle Town, probably trying to lose anyone who might be trying to follow them.
"Goodness, Link, you always seem to run into trouble wherever you go," Zelda said, quite out of breath from being pulled along. "Can't you ever stay out of trouble?"
"No way," Link said quipped. "Trouble is my middle name."
"I thought you said your last name was 'Rebellion'," Zelda said.
"I have two," Link said haughtily. "I'm sorry for that though. I totally ruined our evening and everything was going so well."
"Well, since that man who you so mercilessly pummelled already had me made I would say that our evening was about to come to a conclusion anyway," Zelda said. "And I had fun anyway. Thank you for bringing me out tonight, it was very relaxing. It's nice to have someone to look out for me."
"And what's the Royal Guard for then? Decoration?" Link asked.
"You know what I mean, you terrible man," Zelda said, elbowing Link in the ribs. "Someone who cares."
Link beamed at that but refrained from saying anything as the two of them sneaked under the northern portcullis that lead back to Hyrule Castle. As the lopsided silhouette of the unfinished building came into sight an icy wind set into them, chilling Zelda to her bones and making them both shiver.
Link seemed to notice how cold she was because he carefully removed his arm from her grasp and carefully draped it over her shoulders to keep her warm. Zelda eyed him curiously but he kept looking straight ahead like he hadn't done anything differently. Content, she sidled closer to him and wrapped the arm that wasn't trapped around Link's waist. She wasn't sure if she loved him yet, but she could definitely get used to this.
A/N: What? You guys thought I was going to keep on talking about the razor-toothed monster from Chapter 6, did you? Nah, not this time. I thought I'd make the next chapter or two breather chapters before any of the real stuff starts to go down. But here's Chapter 7 and here's a long author note, for those of you who actually read these.
So first of all,writing this chapter was a total train wreck. I wrote this chapter before I wrote Chapter 6 but I ended up rewriting it about three times, each time with a different story and its own outcome, and once I finally decided which version of the chapter I was going with my computer crashed and I lost everything. Although in the end it turned out that rewriting everything was exactly what I needed in order to finish. What even?
In the meantime I've been going through all the previous chapters, proofreading them and removing all the errors. I'm going to be the first one to admit that I haven't been particularly vigilant about proofreading in the past but I'm trying to be good about it now. Also, I know this chapter was late but unfortunately the next chapter will probably be even later. I'm leaving home to go to college tomorrow and who knows when things will get settled down enough for me to start writing again. Sorry about that :(
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who left me favourites, follows, comments and constructive criticism. I continue to be baffled by the fact that anyone even bothers to read this thing.