1 – In the Inn
Every torch in the inn flickered in concert, the swirl of cold air beyond dragging the flames towards the direction of the newly opened door. All eyes glanced up, as they always did when someone new entered, to consider the latest patrons to step into the warm confines of Frontier Inn.
They came in a pair these particular travellers – one small and cloaked, her body clearly feminine, and the other a young man with piercing eyes, the edge of a shield and the hilt of a sword peeking out from behind his shoulders. Both were Hylians.
Nothing out of the ordinary, then. Not even the weapons. People didn't wander Hyrule without protection, not now with the shadow of the Calamity looming. Disinterest overcame the other customers and they all looked away.
All except innkeeper Boyden. He slowly polished a glass with a rag and smiled at the newcomers. "What can I get you?"
The young man looked around the inn. A glance here, a glance there, all deliberate and methodical. All with purpose.
Boyden didn't like that. But if these two were thieves that had come to case his joint, they were making it far too obvious. Custom was custom. He kept his smile fixed in place.
The girl's eyes – blue? No, green - blinked in surprise from within her hood.
Boyden's smile widened. "Yes, I'm a Zora," he said. "I'm just filling in for a friend of mine. Though, that being said, I have installed a blissful water bed upstairs." He shrugged. "Zora tech. You could both try it for, say, eighty rupees?"
The girl strode past the rickety tables and the straining chairs filled with lounging people until she came to a stop at the varnished wooden counter. Her partner followed more slowly, still apparently examining every inch of the room.
"No, thank you," she said. Her voice was a notch quieter than the atypical murmur of noise that clogged the air of Frontier Inn. "Just a pair of regular beds, please."
Boyden glanced from the girl to her companion. He sat the glass down on the counter. It sparkled with cleanliness, torchlight catching the rim with molten light. "Separate beds…?"
The young man now turned to speak. "My lady here," he said, eyes fixed on the Zora. "Her head. It aches."
"And," said the girl quickly. "If we may…some bread? Just bread. Please."
"You sure?" Boyden replied. He flashed his most winning smile. "We have a full three-course meal on offer. Finest in Tabantha. Two hundred rupees. Bargain."
A thin smile appeared from within the shadow of her hood. "Thank you, but no," she said. "We've had a long journey, and I am disinclined to wait any longer for some well-earned rest."
Boyden nodded slowly. "That's some mighty high-born way of speaking there," he said.
The girl froze. Cutlery and plates met in song behind her. Someone laughed. One man with a long, thin pipe looked up from his haze of smoke. He was the only one that had eyes on the bar.
The girl's companion stepped up. Boyden saw that the boy was even younger than he'd first imagined. And yet, something about the way he carried himself made the Zora tense up.
"My lady has spoken," the boy said as he placed a gloved hand on the rough wooden surface of the counter. Boyden caught a glimpse of pale blue fabric under the sleeve of his cloak. "Please. Allow her to retire for the night."
The Zora swallowed. The words were like a coiled threat coated in honey. "Of course," he said, tone neutral, and reached under the counter to pull out a key. It clinked softly on a large iron ring. He placed it on the wood and pushed it over to the girl. "Upstairs. Your room is the first one on the right."
The girl nodded her thanks. She took the key, and slowly ascended a spiralling staircase, her every step creaking the wood beneath her boots.
Boyden and the boy watched her go until she slipped out of sight. That's when the Hylian turned to him. The Zora froze as the boy leaned in close – so much so that only the innkeeper could hear his voice and observe his face.
"Three course meal?" said the Hylian.
Boyden's reply was drawn out and long. "Y-e-s."
Boyden nodded. "Three courses. Freshly cooked."
The boy's grim expression slowly morphed into a wide, bright smile.
"Make it six," said the boy. "And I'll take it. The other thing."
Boyden blinked rapidly. "What?"
"The blissful water bed." He looked away in thought for a moment. "Wait." Another pause. "Nine course meal."
"Nine?!" Boyden almost yelped.
"Six hundred and eighty rupees, am I right?" The Hylian began rummaging through his belt.
Boyden nodded. The change in the boy's demeanour had been so sudden that he found himself lost for words.
"Here," the Hylian replied, dropping three gold rupees rattling onto the counter. "Keep the change."
Boyden's eyes widened. "That's…" he said. "That's very generous of you." His hand quickly closed around the gold. "Same for the lady…?"
The boy paused, as though surprised. "Good point," he said. "Fire."
"A cookfire in my room," the boy explained. "I take the ingredients and make the meal myself…" He leaned in even closer, serious once more, and tapped his nose. "No one else need know…"
"I can't let you do that," said Boyden. "Safety issues."
The boy blinked. For a moment he looked like he would reach for his sword. But then he relaxed. "Right."
Boyden felt the tension seep out from his own body as well. "Mmm-hmm."
And then the Hylian's expression turned cold for a long moment. "Ingredients. Please."
Boyden pursed his lips. He knew when someone was putting it on. "I'm afraid not," he replied firmly. "Need to keep what I've got. Supplies have been hard to come by."
The Hylian started looking around again. Boyden frowned. Is he expecting food to drop out of the sky in a treasure chest or something…?
The innkeeper pressed on. "No one wants to deliver, y'see, thanks to the Bokoblins that have set up camp nearby."
The boy's attention snapped back to him. "Bokoblins…?"
"Yeah," Boyden replied. He felt a sense of unease begin to itch under his skin. Guilt tugged at his heart, like he'd given away a secret. "It's no bother. They're just minding their own business. I'm sure they'll move off whe – hey!"
But the boy had already left.
And a good five minutes later he returned, a slight flush to his face. He placed his palms flat on the wooden surface, then leaned in close again and spoke in a harsh whisper.
"You don't have a Bokoblin problem anymore."
Boyden swallowed again. His heart thudded. "R-i-i-g-h-t." Then he cleared his throat. "You really didn't have to-"
"I did," the boy insisted. "For my lady." He smiled, and his face softened instantly. "To keep her safe."
Boyden sighed. "Very sweet," he said in a blank voice before he procured a gold key from under the counter. "Blissful water bed. Upstairs. End of the corridor."
The boy waited, anticipation writ large in every inch of his face.
Boyden got it. "And your food will be ready within an hour. We will cook it."
The boy shrugged, then smiled again. "Fair enough," he said, his weapons chiming as he made to move off – then stopped. "Wait," he said. "You were right."
The boy nodded. "Make sure my lady gets some of that food, too."
"Of course. I'll let her know you –"
Boyden's head was beginning to hurt. "Then…?"
The boy shrugged again. "Tell her…" He ran a hand through his black hair. "Tell her you gave it." A single, short nod. "On the house."
Boyden nodded himself. This was the strangest couple he'd ever met. And if a story about him giving food away ever got out, he'd be ruined. But the boy was paying, so who was he to complain…?
The Hylian drew himself back to his full height and, as he did so, a cloak of solemnity seemed to wrap itself around him like magic. With one last sweep of the inn, the boy nodded at Boyden. "Sir."
He then moved off up the stairs. No one noticed, save the man with the pipe.
Boyden's eyes followed the boy as he ascended. Now that's someone who wears a thousand faces. Which one, he wondered, is the real him…?
"Room at the end of the corridor," Princess Zelda repeated. She had her ear to her room's door as her knight stood beyond. "I understand."
His muffled voice came again. She listened.
"Yes, I realise that," she said with only the slightest edge of irritation. "You're not too far away. Thank you, Link." A knot of fear, the one that had cast a shadow long over her heart, prompted her to add more. "Be ever vigilant – we know not what form the coming Calamity will take."
She listened to his footsteps recede, then pressed her back against the wood of the door and sighed. A lantern thick with the accumulation of almost-solidified oil cast the room in a dim light. Everything here seemed to be made of wood – the door, the walls and the small, hard bed. A far cry from the marble, stone and silk she was used to.
Princess Zelda had no care for comfort, though.
"Preposterous," she said out loud. "Whatever was I thinking?"
Rather, whatever was Impa thinking? It was the Sheikah who had sent them along on this undertaking – that, Zelda had no issue with. But Impa had insisted on secrecy, had concocted the plan that they - Zelda and her appointed knight – travel under the pretence of being a married couple.
The princess knew well why there was such a need for subterfuge. Her recent trip to the Gerudo had seen her come under attack by the vicious Yiga Clan. Both her father and Impa had proclaimed that if she had to travel it would be in secret.
Zelda's cheeks puffed out. "Secret!" she said. "Not with my accent! And what married couple ask for separate beds in an inn?"
Not that I desire we share a bed, she thought quickly. No. Certainly not.
She quickly snatched up the Sheikah Slate hidden under her cloak and ignored the sudden rush of warmth that had shot to her cheeks. The ancient tech hummed, its light spilling out as she activated it.
Text and images scrolled down the screen as the Hyrule Compendium opened up on the entry on the Silent Princess. Zelda gazed at the petals of blue encased in snowy white. It was that precise shade of blue that the princess had chosen as the mark of the Champions.
The thumping sound of running feet made her look up. A child's happy squeal followed. Zelda had hoped that this inn would, at the very least, provide some shelter by which she could snatch some sleep. She sighed. Judging from the muffled noise, the guests here were on the rowdy side.
Her gaze dropped down to the ancient device again. A rumour had drifted through the stuffy corridors of Hyrule Castle, one carried on the tide of merchants and traders that visited Castle Town often. A new breed of Silent Princess had appeared, they said; a single one, in fact, with huge petals and – most curiously of all – a stem that combined both organic material and ancient tech. Not one person had yet been able to uproot one.
Zelda grew excited just thinking about it. She had to find out more. To her surprise, both her father and Impa had agreed – they were open to any advantage they could find against the coming Calamity.
Or so they said. The princess suspected that her father at least had a slightly different motive in allowing her to indulge in her scholarly pursuits. Ever since the Yiga Clan's attempt on her life, he hadn't yet once insisted that she focus on unlocking her sealing power.
Zelda knew it wouldn't last. And so here they were in Tabantha, not too far from the plains at the foot of Rito Village where this mysterious new flower had allegedly appeared, the princess clad in a dark, hooded cloak while Link's hair was now black from a liberal use of some Hateno dye.
Zelda's grip on the Sheikah Slate slackened as her mind began to drift. She looked up from the screen.
What is he doing, I wonder?
Zelda didn't want to wonder, but ever since Link had rescued her from the Yiga she found her young chosen knight intruding in on her thoughts, often at the most inopportune moments.
His actions had stoked the fires of her admiration for him. She just needed to latch those feelings onto something of…well, substance. And so Zelda had taken it upon herself to draw her chosen knight out from his shell.
She remembered being in the castle gardens just a short while before they'd embarked on this journey. Zelda had watched Link as he had sat eating. Her eyes followed his hand go from the plate to his mouth, then again from the plate to his mouth, again and again.
"You're partial to your food," she had said. "Aren't you?"
Link looked up, hand frozen mid-way between plate and mouth, a slight flush to his face.
"No, no, no no!" Zelda said quickly. She smiled, not wanting him to feel uncomfortable, no matter his lack of courtly manners. "Don't mind me. Please. Carry on."
Link set his plate aside instead. Zelda gazed at him. He was doing his best to look as dignified as possible.
"You…" she started.
His throat bobbed, waiting. The scent of the garden's myriad flowers of blushing red and violent blue wafted over to them.
"You…" Her voice trailed away again.
Zelda blinked, so stunned that she almost gasped. So he can speak!
That had been the first time the princess had truly heard his voice. She liked it. She'd expected something gruff, but his was a quiet voice, one that put her at ease. Put everyone at ease, she imagined.
It took a moment for her to find her own voice again. "You have –" Zelda cleared her throat, and gestured with her hand. "On your chin."
Link's hand shot to the spot in question, wiping away the grain of rice that had been hanging unceremoniously from there. He looked at her with a surprisingly shy glance, and that moment of vulnerability gave her the courage to press on.
"I hope," she said, "Some of my forwardness can brush of on you. And I, in turn, can learn something of the true meaning of composure from you."
Zelda saw him react to that. A slight pinch of the skin around his eyes. Clearly she'd struck on some truth.
"Is…" she began, curling her legs beneath her for comfort. "Is that why you're so quiet…? You're…you're trying to teach me?"
Link shook his head. "Not…you, exactly" he said. "Everyone, I suppose. Outbursts of emotion. They seem to scare people."
Zelda listened, transfixed by his voice again. Quiet, calm, if a little halting. It was nice.
And while she wasn't quite convinced by his actual words – perhaps it was true for angry outbursts, but not for every emotion – she was eager to find out more. She gave him an encouraging smile.
Link sighed, clearly getting the hint. And then it had all spilled out.
"Well," he said. "We're in troubled times. And I'm the Chosen One." He shrugged as though that were a mere trifle. "So everyone watches me. Like – like a cat watches a mouse hole."
"Does that bother you?"
"Not really, my lady."
"Don't call me that," she said, despite being secretly, girlishly pleased that he had.
Zelda sighed. "Everybody's eyes are on you, you said…"
"I don't mind it," he went on. "Being the Chosen One gives me a chance. I can show people – not just you; everyone – that we can keep a cool head when things look bad." His ran his fingers through his hair. "People don't need fancy speeches. They want actions, not words."
He paused for a moment. This was clearly difficult for him.
"I can't show any weakness," he finally went on in a voice that made Zelda's heart squeeze. "If the Chosen One falters, then the people of Hyrule will unravel."
Awe had silenced Zelda after that. She had just stared, squinting under the sharp sunlight. No one should bear that big a burden – and not one so obviously self-imposed either.
She'd been wrong about him. She'd thought him a gifted knight who merely followed her father's commands without any comment. Link was so much more than that. Something had deepened in Zelda's heart just then, though at the time she had paid it little heed.
Determination had surged within her instead. She wanted to find out more, wanted to know what else swam beneath Link's calm waters…
The thoughts chased the princess back to the present moment. Her room in the inn came back into focus. She stowed the Sheikah Slate away and, once again, she wondered exactly what her noble knight was doing right at that moment.
Training probably. Or meditating.
Do knights meditate?
Whatever it was, Zelda knew he was applying himself to it with his usual diligence and unwavering focu-
Zelda frowned. Her ears pricked up.
Was that…the sound of someone bouncing…?
And that laugh…it sounded like…but it couldn't possibly –
Princess Zelda spun around, opened the door, marched to the end of the corridor, streaming past the torches burning in their sconces, and raised her hand to Link's door. She hesitated. There it was again.
Far too much merriment.
She rapped hard on the wood. The noises died instantly. There was a long pause, and then the door opened.
Link stood there, fully attired in his Champions tunic, his expression, as ever, deathly serious. "My lady…?"
"I…" Zelda started. "Were you…" Her eyes fluttered as her mind struggled to provide her tongue with ammunition. She rose on her toes to see beyond him. "Are you…quite alright…?"
"Perfectly, my lady," Link replied. He stood up straight, blocking her view of his room, and placed his right hand over his left wrist. "And you…? " He cocked his head. "Have you spotted something untoward?"
"Your room, then?" he added. "Is it not to your satisfaction?"
"Fine," she said. "It's fine. I –" She gave up. She didn't even know what she was doing here. "It's nothing. I was just tired. I lack sleep, and came to your roo–"
Link's eyes bulged slightly just as Zelda caught the treacherous words leaving her lips.
"I did not mean –" she started. Her ears grew hot. "What I intended was –"
Link cut in. "We should sleep."
"Yes, we should." Her mind caught up again. "I mean, you should. I should. Sleep." Her mouth worked but now nothing came out. "I will be leaving now."
Link bowed his head. "My lady."
Princess Zelda turned on her heel and strode off, eyes wide, movements stiff, face burning.
Zelda lay on the grass on the peak of a hill outside the inn and stared up at the stars from within her hooded cloak. Link lay there, too – at a slight distance, of course, as befitting the rules of propriety. He held a thin skewer above his face, and chunks of meat slowly slid down the greasy metal to pop into his mouth. The sounds of laughing children drifted up to them as well. Some families – fellow guests of the inn - were having a midnight picnic nearby.
Zelda's stomach bubbled happily. Their suspiciously generous Zora host had been feeding them with prime gourmet meat stewed in a broth of rare heart radishes. And this despite the fact that she'd paid him with only enough coin for some bread.
"I am telling you," she said now to her knight. "The innkeeper knows who I am."
Link chewed on some meat. "You're imagining it."
"I am not," she protested. "Why else would he be treating me like – well, like a princess."
"In what way?"
"In what way?" Zelda gaped. "The lavish food? The extra attention he gives the both of us? Surely, you must have noticed? He even gave you the blissful water bed! And as many meat skewers as your heart desires!"
There was a pause as Link slowly examined said skewer in his hand. "I don't see it, my lady."
Zelda's breath hissed from her lips. "How is it a knight such as yourself can eat so much and not get bloated? Perhaps rather than being the Chosen One, you should be –be-"
Zelda's jaw froze mid-reply. She slowly turned to stare at him. "Did you just make a-" She blinked. Link gazed back, expression blank. "Was that a –"
Zelda turned away with a shake of her head. A burning desire to prove her point chased away the thoughts she usually dwelt on in the middle of the night – about Calamity Ganon; and the unlocking of her sealing power.
Link spoke again. "I have a Zora friend," he said. "Mipha."
"I'm well aware of who Mipha is," she replied, a little too hotly. She quickly turned his way.
His expression hadn't changed – stiff, formal, serious – but the rapid blinking of his eyes had told her he'd been embarrassed. She tried to soften her words with a smile. The last thing she wanted was to scare him off now that he was finally beginning to open up to her.
"Right, of course," he said softly. "My apologies." A pause passed. "I meant to say that I know the Zora." Another pause. "They're quite the generous people. Naturally generous."
"I believe you," Zelda replied in a quiet voice. It didn't matter if she really did or not. She just wanted to reassure him. Link's thoughtful, measured manner of speaking told her that he struggled with the words that he wanted to say.
I know how he feels. Words so often evade me as well…
"Well," she went on. "We're leaving on the morrow, anyway. If the innkeeper does know who I am, he seems content to just lavish me with food and nothing more."
The princess turned her gaze back to the night sky. She gasped. "Look!" she said, feeling a surge of childlike glee. "See that? Look, Link." She pointed. Twin emerald points of light shone regally above them. Zelda heard Link shuffle in closer to her to see.
"The only green stars in the heavens," she explained with a smile. "I often wonder what they truly are." She glanced at Link, saw him looking at her oddly, then turned back to the sky. "They call them the Lady's Eyes."
Zelda was suddenly aware of just how close Link had moved over to her. Something warm unfurled within her that made her slowly turn her head – to find Link's gaze steadily meeting her own.
"My lady's eyes…" he said.
Zelda sat bolt upright. "Um," she said, catching her hood before it fell from the sudden motion. "I just –"
"Yes, my lady."
She didn't look at him. "I believe I have –" She rubbed her brow. "I've-I think I've left something back in my room."
"Yes, my lady."
She stood, and pulled on her cloak to straighten it. The restless crickets chirped far too loudly in her pounding ears. "I will return shortly."
"Of course, my lady."
Link folded his hands behind the back of his head, rolling the now empty skewer between his fingers, and sighed. Why don't I ever speak, they ask me, he thought. Because whenever my mouth opens, idiot spills out.
Had he just compared the princess's green eyes to a pair of twinkling stars…? Worse, had he said my lady's eyes…?
He winced inwardly, but Zelda's reaction had only solidified what he already knew – outbursts of emotion did scare people, especially when they already teetered on the edge. All the more reason why he was determined to ignore the warm embers that glowed within his heart whenever he was in the princess's presence.
The grass prickled through both his cloak and Champions tunic. His jaw ached, too. Not just from speaking, but from speaking so formally. Link wasn't too used to either, but he felt an irrational need for Zelda to not look on him as some commoner.
Moreover, he was still hungry. Link sat up, and spied an apple tree nearby. He drew back one hand – the one clutching the skewer – closed one eye to aim, then threw. Leaves shivered as the makeshift arrow caught an apple, tore it from its branch, and then pinned it to the trunk.
Link nodded in satisfaction. He didn't have time to collect his reward, though, as small voices began to float his way. He turned to see the picnicking children bickering not too far from where he currently lay.
"Give me that!" said a boy.
"No!" a girl replied. "S'mine!"
The boy pulled at an old fashioned pictograph box hanging from a brown leather strap around his sister's neck. Link knew of pictograph boxes, knew the quality of image couldn't compare to the camera rune on Zelda's Sheikah Slate.
"Give!" cried the boy.
"No!" the girl replied.
The boy swivelled, and that's when his eyes met Link's.
"What's up, buddy?" the young knight said, glad to drop all pretence of formality.
The two kids strode up to him. "It's mine," the girl said first, holding up the box.
"She won't share!" her brother protested. "She has to share!"
Link sat up. "Well," he said carefully. "How about you both do something you can do together?" The children stared at him. "Nothing...?"
The girl's face brightened as a thought came to her. "Race!" she cried.
"Yeah!" the boy piped in. "Race!" He grinned. "How about it, Mister…?"
Link was taken aback. "With me?"
"Uh huh!" said the girl.
"Yeah!" said her brother.
Link looked from the pair to the warm light spilling from the windows of the inn, then back again. These kids didn't know he was the Chosen One, and the princess, despite her words, most likely wouldn't be coming back after what he'd just blurted out.
Link smiled. "Sure thing."
The boy pointed. "First one down the hill!"
Link stood and brushed down his cloak. "Alright. Try and keep up."
"Go!" the boy shouted.
"Hey…" said Link in genuine surprise as the two children zipped off, their little legs pumping. "I wasn't even ready."
He watched for a moment more, then burst into a run himself. Link passed the kids with ease. As soon as he reached the mid-way point, though, he began to slow down. The young knight heard the children squeal in delight as they realised they were catching up. The knight dropped his pace to a jog and then, as the foot of the hill neared, he saw the girl shoot past both him and her brother to yell in triumph.
Link doubled over as the girl did a victory jig around him. "You got me," he said, faux-panting, "I need to up my training."
He felt a tug on his sleeve. Link looked up to see girl looking at him. "Mister…?" she said, holding up her quaint little pictograph box. "A picture…?"
Link wasn't quite sure if that was wise. Who knows who would get a hold of that picture? But, then, they were just kids…
"Sure," he said, drawing himself back to his full height. "Feast your eyes."
He stood, right hand pointing skyward, left hand on his hip, and grinned.
The two children looked at him blankly.
"What," said the girl, "are you doing?"
"You are weird," said the boy.
"Let's go," said the girl, throwing the knight a glare as she tugged on her brother's sleeve. "Weirdo."
Link sighed. "Right."
The boy threw one last glance behind him as he turned and moved off. "Yer lady's back."
Link turned to look. "That she is." He turned back to see the two siblings running off, united again in their shared laughter, and allowed himself a sly smile.
Princess Zelda stood at the top of the slope, arms folded as the night air played with her dark cloak. Link made sure he had his expression set firmly in place – sober, sombre, serious - before he marched up to her.
"What were you doing, Link?" she asked when he reached the crest of the hill.
"The children," he replied in a voice barely above a growl. "They were getting too close."
Her lips parted slightly in surprise. "You…" She blinked. "What did you do, Link? I sincerely hope you didn't frighten them."
Link said nothing. He let her imagination do the rest.
"Link," she said, panic rising in her voice. "Did you? Did you scare them?"
"I was protecting you," he replied.
Link looked up into those eyes that did so very much resemble the brilliance of the twin green stars above. "Let me remind me you, my lady," he said. "Be ever vigilant because we do not know what form the coming Calamity will take."
Zelda gaped. Link walked off with the princess's voice trailing behind him. "You are not serious," she breathed "Tell me you're not being serious. I certainly did not mean - Link. Link!"
And he smiled because the princess was so busy being outraged that she'd completely forgotten about her earlier awkwardness. Now she could focus on being angry with him instead of –
Well, whatever it was she'd been feeling before.
Sometimes you had to fight fire with fire, and that meant pitting one emotion against another. It had worked before. He'd not said a word when they'd first been brought together, just so she would focus her all on the mystery of himself rather than waste away in worry over Calamity Ganon.
It all made perfect sense.
Zelda's eyes flew upon. Her heart sped. Moonlight from her room's only window spilled silver, mercurial light over her pillow.
Something had woken her.
Calamity Ganon! The thought shot through her heart like an ice arrow. He's here! He's –
Zelda sat up. Her blonde hair tumbled down over her shoulders and across the front of her nightgown. She saw torchlight seep in under the crack of her door.
No, she told herself. It's not Ganon.
A prickle ran up her back. Something was wrong, though. Throat suddenly dry, Zelda swung her legs out of the bed and felt the cold wooden floor kiss her bare feet. She waited on the edge of her bed as her eyes adjusted to the dark.
Zelda stood –
And a gloved hand suddenly clamped down over her mouth. Pain shot up her left arm as a tight grip pincered it. Outrage instantly overcame her fear. No one touched her like this. No one. She struggled.
"Settle down, princess," a voice whispered in her ear. The smell of smoke roiled off of the man's breath. "Settle down."
Zelda felt herself be pushed toward the door. She tried to drag her feet, to slow her captor down, but it came to nothing. Instead, she pried open her lips, ready to bite down hard –
When the man stuffed something scratchy and bitter into her mouth. She coughed and spluttered instantly.
"Was waiting for you to do that," he said. "Young women are just so predictable."
Zelda's eyes widened as she felt her tongue begin to swell. Panic set her heart off into a thunderous gallop. She tried to scream – but her tongue blocked it. It felt unnatural now, almost as though it were too big for her mouth. Her eyes watered.
The man forced her onward. Her gaze fell upon the spill of light that crept in under the crack of her door. She focussed on it. She had to. Everywhere else was cloaked in darkness. Her world dwindled, fading. There was nothing but that fiery glow now. That light.
The door splintered open on its hinges. Link – fully clothed and armoured – stood there framed in the torchlight.
Zelda heard her captor gasp. "How…?" he cried. "I was so careful. How could you have possibly known?"
Her chosen knight said nothing. His sapphire eyes blazed from within an expression of grim determination. His fingers were half-curved in readiness to pounce.
"Don't," her captor spat. His grip around her arm stiffened. Zelda grit her teeth against the pain. "You won't do anything while I have the girl." A heartbeat stretched. "You should know why I'm doing this. I'm –"
"No," said Link.
Zelda felt the man's breath hiss past her ear. "Don't ignore me," he growled. "I hate when people ignore me. Listen to me. Lis -"
"Let her go."
Her captor's posture shifted, his body moving slightly away from her. Zelda heard his mouth open to speak again – but Link cut him off.
"Give me back my princess."
Despite her precarious situation, Zelda couldn't help but feel her heart surge hearing that. The words - or Link's dark tone, rather – struck her captor, too. He panicked, releasing her with a sudden shove. Zelda heard the sudden shatter of glass, and then felt the breeze of Link shooting past her.
And then she fell to her knees and sucked in a long, wheezing breath.
Cold night air hit Link's face as he dived out of the window after the Hylian man. The young knight hit the ground in an awkward roll. His breath burst from his lungs, the momentum propelling him along the ground longer than he'd wanted, stones and dirt flying out from under him.
He sprang to his feet and cramped up, pain shooting through his arms and legs. Too high, his mind protested. That was too high to jump from!
Link ignored both the pain and his own thoughts. He didn't even notice the fairy spiralling up out of his belt, spilling healing light over all his limbs. The man had threatened Zelda. That's what was important. Moreover, the would-be kidnapper didn't seem all that bothered about jumping from a great height, given the speed by which he was already sprinting down the hill.
Link thought fast. He reached back for his shield, balanced it carefully in his hand, then flung it face-down onto the grass. He took a few steps, leapt, then landed on the metal. Digging one heel into the dirt, Link kicked off and, arms out wide and knees slightly bent, sent himself sliding down the grassy slope.
The wind whistled past him, shield wobbling under his feet, torn grass spraying into the air in his wake. Link's eyes thinned. The man was already waiting at the base of the hill.
And he had a weapon. The burning light of a Great Flameblade blurred the air and cast the kidnapper's grinning face into sharp relief.
The man chuckled. It was only then that Link recognised him. He'd been in the inn, smoking a long pipe.
"Come on, then," the man crowed. "Come to your Papa."
Link only had one response to that. As he sped in closer, he reached back for his Royal Bow with one hand, spun an ice arrow to the string with his other, and pulled.
The shield hit a rock, launching it into the air. Link drew his knees up, shield clinging momentarily to his boots.
Link aimed, and released. "Run to your Mama."
The arrow drove into the Flameblade with an audible zing. A block of ice formed instantly.
Link landed – and his face met that same lump of cold ice. He stumbled back, face wrinkling and arms windmilling, then dropped to his knees. Some part of his mind was impressed with his opponent's fast thinking.
But Link was fast, too. As the other Hylian raised the huge block of ice to bring it smashing down, the knight drove his head into the other man's groin. The would-be kidnapper doubled over, eyes bulging.
Link dug his knees into the dirt, coiling all his energy there, then flipped back up and onto his feet. He reached back for the Master Sword –
When the ice shattered, and the man whirled away. "Next time!" he spat. Purple smoke popped – and then he was gone.
Link slowly lowered his hand. As the adrenaline cleared from his mind, a new, urgent thought came to him.
Link snapped his gaze back up the hill. "Princess."
He broke into a sprint. When Link burst through the front door he found the inn in chaos – bleary-eyed guests protesting their confusion to the equally perplexed Zora innkeeper.
Link ignored them all and bounded up the stairs, three steps at a time, the wood straining from the force. He ran into the princess's room – and stopped short.
She was still on her knees, her eyes wide, with glistening tracks on her face marking the path of her tears.
"Princess…?" he said. A part of his mind noticed that she was in her nightgown, and another part of him stirred faintly at that.
Zelda said nothing. Just stared. Link took a few more steps inside. He could hear the rattle of the stairs behind coupled with angry shouts as people began rushing up.
Link noticed a bulge in both her cheeks. He slowly knelt down in front of her.
She shook her head and stared helplessly.
And that's when Link knew that Princess Zelda was now utterly unable to speak.