Disclaimer: Legend of Zelda is property of the almighty Nintendo. I don't own it, certainly not in this timeline, but if the split timeline is theory is to be believed, then who knows?
AN: Another horrific delay, I'm so sorry everyone. This chapter just wasn't endearing itself to me, and after much consideration I've realised I was trying to have too much happen in it and the pacing was all wrong, so I've cut it down and will stick another chapter in to cover what I've left out. Here's hoping it won't be another five months until I get round to it! (Just kidding. Really.)
Yeah, so reasons for the delay are uni, other commitments, lack of internet at home over the summer and surgery. I think that about covers it!
As I'm behind on the plot at this point in the story, Part III will now begin in Chapter 25.
Part II: The Past
Chapter 22: Drifting
Link was too happy to sleep.
He lay there quietly, brushing her hair away from her face while she slept peacefully beside him, her body perfectly fitted to his arms. Smiling softly, he kissed the top of her head and waited for the tiny, secret smile that always claimed her beautiful face every time such a kiss was received. He was the only one who ever saw it.
"I love you," he whispered.
Her eyelids flickered before her immense eyes opened and stared up into his eyes.
"I love you too," she murmured softly.
He smiled and leant in for a more satisfying kiss from her, one she eagerly responded to. Her arms curled around his neck and gently toyed with the soft hair at his nape, sending shivers up his spine.
"How long have I been asleep for?"
"Not long," he replied. "Couple of hours perhaps."
"That long?" she laughed. "You should have woken me earlier."
"But then I wouldn't have been able to see you sleeping," came the argument. "You look so peaceful, I just fall in love with you all over again."
She laughed again and propped herself up on her elbow.
"I think you're turning into a romantic."
"I can afford to be when I'm with you."
"Gods, I hope you don't turn into a sap!"
He looked deeply contemplative for a while.
"Oh I don't know. Depends how long I love you for."
She looked puzzled until he wrapped his arms around her waist and laid her on her back.
"In case you were wondering how long that was going to be," he teased, kissing her throat. "I mean forever."
"Forever will never be long enough," she sighed.
They made love with their bodies illuminated by the moonlight, fighting the onset of the dawn that they knew would arrive too soon.
Impa tossed and turned all night, battling the raging thoughts and doubts that crashed through her mind until the first signs of dawn crept in at her window and she heard Dayne begin to stir in his bed.
"I believe that those two have taken their friendship onto a physical plain to join their spiritual and emotional connection."
Of all the things that Nabooru could have told the Sheikah, those few words were the ones that she had longed for and dreaded for years. It wasn't that Impa disliked Link, in fact she cared deeply for the boy like a kind of surrogate aunt, but at the same time she was a surrogate mother to Zelda and her priorities had to lie with her girl's wellbeing. She knew that someday she could be faced with a dilemma much like the one she was faced with now.
Her fears had begun to take root years earlier, mere hours after she had taken the little boy from the castle and sent him on his way to Kakariko. Zelda had been quiet and thoughtful all evening, answering questions with one word answers and spending hours with a book and not turning a single page.
"You aren't with me this evening, princess."
"No. I'm with Link."
Even then the child had spoken the boy's name like a prayer. Impa had thought little of it then, interpreting the girl's reverence to be an embodiment of the relief she felt now that her longed for saviour had gained a face and a name. It was not the sort of saviour Impa had envisaged, nor had he impressed her if she were honest, but her faith in her ward was absolute, and if Zelda said that he was to save Hyrule then save Hyrule he would, and she would do all in her power to come to his aid.
"You truly believe him to be the one?"
"In time," Zelda had said softly. "He will be greater than any other man I've met. It has to be him."
"He's a child, princess."
"He's going to be a great man, far greater than any other I know." Even in those days when the Triforce did not reside within her, Zelda spoke with a resonance that defied her years. "And I will do everything I can to protect him, because he will do the same for me."
As she grew into a woman, the affection deepened. Impa remembered a day when she had followed Sheik, a Sheik still unused to the strange new body and clumsy in the shadows, to the Temple of Time.
"It's madness for you to be here."
"I have to be here. When he wakes up, I need to be with him."
"Rauru promised you that he would let you know when that was. You can't endanger yourself like this."
Zelda had looked at her then with those strange new eyes, and Impa had seen desperation in them.
"It's like… being near him makes me hopeful again. I don't dare bring myself to hope unless I see that he's well and alive."
Impa had had an inkling then, coupled with a sense of dim foreboding, that Zelda's childish attachment to a strange boy had shifted to something more, even if she hadn't recognised it.
Now the two were lovers, and she, Impa, was frightened.
If Nabooru had come to her and told her that Zelda had found a lover amongst the ranks of the nameless, good looking courtiers then it might have been better. She would have lectured her former mistress on the recklessness of her behaviour to be sure, but ultimately it would have been better to have formed a harmless attachment with someone else than to take a relationship that was already too close and take it beyond into dangerous territory.
By the time the first Cucco crowed to herald the break of dawn, Impa had already decided that she needed to step in before Zelda's heart could be broken.
Link woke with his body pressed against Zelda's having burrowed his nose into the hollow of her throat and spent the entire night wrapped around her. The sunlight filtered through the window, dancing across their naked bodies. The blanket had slipped to the ground in the night, un-mourned by the lovers who had been kept warm by each other. Zelda was watching him dreamily, and smiled a slow, contented smile as she realised he was awake.
"Good morning sleepyhead," she murmured, kissing his brow tenderly. "I was wondering when you'd wake up."
He blinked sleepily before cracking a jaw-breaking yawn and writhing into a stretch. His arms hovered above his head for a moment before he brought them back down and wrapped them around Zelda's body. She smiled and wriggled into his embrace, seeking his mouth for a kiss.
"Morning, you're in a good-" he broke off to yawn again. "Mood."
"Why shouldn't I be? I woke up in the arms of the man I love. Suddenly everything is wonderful and I'm the happiest woman in the world." She smiled as she brushed her hands over his chest. "Have I told you that I love you?"
"You might have mentioned that, yes," Link remarked, caressing her bare back. "But you haven't this morning…"
"I thought I just did."
"Oh? So you did. Well in that case I owe you." He kissed her and pulled her onto his lap as he sat up, feeling his need for her grow. "I love you."
"Hmm." Zelda rewarded his admission with a beautiful smile followed by series of hot, open mouthed kisses that began by his ear and travelled down his jaw-line.
"We really need to find a way to do this more often," he murmured, relishing in the feel of her lips against his skin. "I can't believe it's this late already."
"I don't care. I'm not leaving until I've made love to you."
Her touching had just begun to get more heated when the sound of a pair of booted feet on the balcony caused both of them to freeze, followed by the sound of a familiar voice.
"Link? Link, are you awake yet?"
"Shit!" He sat bolt upright as Zelda groped desperately for something to cover her nakedness before their unexpected visitor walked in. She had just managed to do so when Saria stopped dead in her tracks in the door.
"Oh! Oh my, I'm so sorry. Oh. I'll come back later…"
She beat a rapid retreat before either of them could say anything. For a few moments they were totally silent before Link laughed nervously.
"Um… that was awkward."
Zelda's face was ashen.
"That did not just happen. Please tell me that didn't happen."
"I wish I could."
"Damn it." She raked her fingers through her hair and began muttering to herself. "I knew this was too good to be true. Things couldn't stay this good forever."
"Zelda what are you talking about? It was just Saria! Come on, who's she going to tell who wouldn't be happy for us?" He put his hand on her shoulder. "I don't think she understood what was going on anyway."
"Didn't you see the look on her face?" Zelda argued. "Of course she knew!"
"Then I'll talk to her and explain. It'll be alright, I promise."
She was sitting very still, staring blankly at her toes. The air seemed cold, fighting away the warmth that she had felt upon waking up. The wall of security she had been carefully building from the moment she had let Link break further into her life seemed less than steady now, cracked and fragile.
Link draped the Wolfos pelt over her shoulders and wrapped her in it.
"You're shaking," he murmured. Please don't. Nymph…"
She turned to him and flung her arms around him, burying her face against his shoulder. He froze for a moment before taking her in his arms and dropping his chin to her shoulder. She snuggled closer to him, letting him calm her with murmured promises and endearments. Zelda felt so much love for him that she shivered again, trying to shake the sense of foreboding that plagued her.
"Look, I'll go and talk to Saria now and get us some breakfast while I'm at it." He pressed a kiss against her temple. "Everything will be alright, I promise you."
"You keep making impossible promises," Zelda whispered. "I wish everything could be alright, but… but right now I'm frightened. I love you so much, and the thought of something ruining everything scares me."
"I won't ever let anything happen to you, you know that," he murmured. "And so what if we're found out? What does it matter? Everyone whose opinion we care about will know we're not in this for kicks."
"It's not your reputation on the line though, is it?"
Link was silent for a moment, then he smiled.
"Well I'll just have to make an honest woman of you."
"Now you're just being silly."
"I am not," he retorted petulantly. "We just need Phineas out of the way, then there's nothing to stop us."
"Well he won't put me aside, so there's nothing we can do about him," Zelda said dismissively.
"Who said anything about him putting you aside? Leave him, stay here."
With me, he added mentally.
"If I could do that, I would have left months ago. There's no way out of it, like it or not I am his wife and his wife I'll remain until one of us dies."
She moved to get out of bed, but Link held her in place.
"We are going to find a way," he told her. "And then I'm going to ask you to marry me."
To everyone who saw her that morning, Sibella seemed to be in low spirits.
"Well it's no surprise. Did you see her when the princess arrived? She went greener than the princess' dress!"
"Still, you'd think she'd be feeling a bit happier now that His Majesty's back on the road to recovery."
The queen pretended that she didn't hear the whispered comments that seemed to follow her wherever she went. When Zelda made her appearance later that morning, looking radiant in a honey coloured gown with her gleaming hair braided away from her face, Sibella was more than a little annoyed to see half of her retinue swarm around her like bees around a honey pot.
That was not what was troubling her though.
Dezauras had walked past her that morning on his way to assembly with the other ministers and she was certain that he had had the audacity to sneer at her. She had felt his derision like a smack in the face and had resisted the urge to recoil from his scrutiny. Instead, she forced all of her feelings of annoyance down inside her and raised her head to meet his gaze and was delighted when he looked away first.
So for all of your indifference Dezauras, you do still feel shame.
That was when Sibella realised that she finally had an advantage over him. All of her bravado the night before had not been for nothing; she had hit a nerve identifying the minister's pitiful lusting over Zelda, and while his reaction to that had taken her unawares she would not allow it to again.
She would not be opposed to a repeat performance. It galled and shamed her to even think that, but there had been something deliciously satisfying about bringing the minister to his knees like that, even if it had not been entirely due to her own merits. Lunch that day had seen Zelda seated on her father's left hand side, herself on the right, and it had not escaped Sibella's notice that Dezauras had spent the entire meal watching the Duchess of Aratea with intense scrutiny. The young woman had not stopped smiling all day, and the fact was beginning to rankle the queen who knew that Zelda should not have anything to be cheerful about.
She considered this a development she would have to pay closer attention to.
"So, oh great and powerful tournament champion, where did you slink off to last night?"
Link inwardly cursed as he was ambushed by his friends as he made his way to the garden to try and find Zelda. He felt momentarily bad for ditching them, but when it came down to a choice between them and Zelda, there was no competition.
"We wanted to congratulate you," Rollen continued, patting the younger man on the shoulder. "And we thought we might save you from the avaricious clutches of various unsuitable ladies."
"What if I didn't want to be saved?"
"Then we'd have completely misjudged you," Tarken laughed, falling into place on Link's other side. "And we'd have to seriously question your taste in the fairer sex."
"But anyway, that's not what we wanted to know. Where were you?" Gillum asked.
"A real gentleman shouldn't ask his friends that sort of question."
"Our little baby's growing up," Rollen sniffed, wiping an imaginary tear from his eye. "Could it be that you picked yourself a feisty Gerudo lovely when you got that invitation to their festival?"
"Lucky dog," Gillum laughed with a grin.
"That is for me to know and for you to find out," Link answered cryptically. "Anyway, what happened to the sweepstakes? Didn't any of you get targeted?"
"Well no," Rollen sighed, scratching his chin. "Although I know I wouldn't have minded being targeted by Princess Zelda. Gods I had the most wonderful dream about her last night…"
Link almost stopped dead in his tracks and forced himself to keep a neutral expression, even though he found himself suddenly wanting to throttle his friend all of a sudden.
"Rollen, is that all you ever think about?" Gillum snapped. "You've got the most wonderful fiancé and yet you act worse than the queen when it comes to flirting."
Tarken shot Link a sidelong glance.
"He does have a point though, I've never seen anything that beautiful in my life."
I have, Link's inner monologue piped up. When she's not wearing that dress and she's lying with her hair fanned out all over my pillow, when her cheeks are flushed and she's smiling that smile she keeps only for me. And then, when we're-
"Good morning gentlemen."
Link was brought rudely out of his daydream by the imposing figure of Impa, who had appeared from nowhere and was standing in their path with her arms crossed in front of her and a stern look on her face.
A stern look directed right at him.
Rollen shifted nervously and stood stiffly to attention.
"Good morning Mistress Sheikah, and what can we do for you this fine-"
"I need to speak with Link. In private."
There was something terse about her manner and Link suddenly found himself thinking back to his encounter with Saria that morning.
"Saria, you know what you just saw…"
"I think I know what I just saw. I didn't think that it was a good idea to be doing that sort of thing if you weren't married."
"Well, it kind of isn't."
"So why do it then?"
"Because we're in love."
Saria had beamed then and hugged him, promising excitedly that she wouldn't tell a soul.
So why the hell did Impa look like she was going to eat him alive?
He apprehensively agreed to meet her in Kakariko after lunch.
King Harkinian was delighted when Mentes decided to drop in and visit him mid-morning after his customary daily visit from his daughter. Zelda's good mood had brushed off on him; he was feeling refreshed and happy, with the old glimmer once again back in his eyes as he greeted his friend.
"Do you think I would be wise to consider doing something revolutionary?"
Mentes was surprised by the king's question and tried unsuccessfully to keep his feelings from his face. King Harkinian smiled and laughed.
"You appear worried my friend. Should I not be thinking such things?"
"Your Majesty is at liberty to think what he wants," Mentes replied, pleased to see the monarch back in good spirits. "But I have to wonder what help I can be in the matter; I never was much of a revolutionary."
"I think you will find this to be the sort of idea you would approve of, and I entrust you researching to see if it is something that can be done without having to upset things."
It was something that he would never have considered a year earlier but now he found that the idea had taken seed and was growing like crazy in his mind.
"I'm happy to be of service," Mentes replied, bowing his head.
"It must be done in a way that would arouse no suspicion. You know that I am not a paranoid man, Mentes."
"Indeed not sire."
"Then you will not think it of me now if I voice my concerns that someone in my court means me harm."
The king examined the old tutor's face, waiting to see any hint of scepticism that might be there. Mentes met his eye without any such trace.
"I have heard of far more implausible things than that," he said quietly.
King Harkinian closed his eyes for a moment, breathing heavily through his nose. He had recovered a great deal, but the weariness of spirit that Mentes had recognised before in his friend was still there.
"I can find the means to deal with that, but these last few weeks have made me realise that I need to do something that will safeguard my country from ruin should I die before then. I need you find a way to make Zelda my regent."
"Regent?" Mentes stared at him in disbelief. "Your Majesty, I know that she would be more than able to fulfil the position but such a thing is unprecedented! You will have an outcry from the traditionalists, it will-"
"Anyone within the council who disapproves will be dismissed. She has proven her worth again and again, and those who are wise will see that this is the best decision for Hyrule."
"Duke Phineas will not be so easy to accept as your replacement, with all due respect."
"This I have already considered, and I think that we can work our way around it. I long to tell my daughter of my intent but I cannot bring myself to do so until I have something concrete to offer her, therefore I need your word that you will not tell her or anyone else that I discussed this with you. This is imperative."
Mentes nodded solemnly.
"You have it."
Impa closed the door behind Link as he walked into her house. She watched him move thoughtfully, seeking out traces of the little boy she had grown so fond of in his adult body. Privately she wished that he was still that child, and Zelda still that same little girl so that she could keep them both safe from disaster, but she knew it to be a futile wish. They had ceased to be children the day they had met. The boy had grown to become a man, the girl a woman, all before their eleventh birthdays. They had sought solace from each other, both suffering under their shared burden, and that comfort had become a deep friendship.
And now, Impa had come to understand fully how dangerous and wonderful that relationship was.
"You've been intimate with the Princess, haven't you?" she asked.
Link's cheerful smile evaporated and his entire body grew stiff.
"Zelda. You've slept with her."
He shifted his weight, adopting a defensive pose.
"I have no idea what you're-"
"I am not a fool, I have eyes, but I need to hear it from you," the Sheikah explained, her eyes meeting his. "You and Zelda are lovers. Am I wrong?"
Link said nothing, glaring evenly at the Sheikah without offering any answer. She had expected such a response.
"I really don't see why that is any of your business."
"Zelda is my business and she has been hurt enough. For all her wisdom she is still very young in this world and the way that this time has shaped out for her has been unkind. She is very insecure and she is very unhappy. I love her like my own child, I will not stand by and watch someone she cares so deeply for callously break her heart."
"You obviously don't have a very high opinion of me, do you Impa?" He folded his arms, his eyes narrowed. "Nor do you know me very well if that thought entered your mind. I would cut out my own heart and feed it to a flock of Guay before I ever hurt her."
"So you do care for her?" she persisted.
"No," he corrected. "I love her."
Impa sighed with relief and nodded.
"I had hoped that was the case, I just needed to be sure. I'm sorry, I overreacted. I'm just so scared for you both, this is reckless game you're playing."
"It's not a game."
"Isn't it? What are you possibly going to achieve from this?"
The young man, still on the defensive, looked at her harshly.
"It's not about me, it's about her. I make her happy, that's all I've ever wanted."
"No one's that selfless Link," Impa retorted. "And what about her? Have you even stopped to consider what this affair is doing to her? It can't go on, you must know that."
"You're asking me to give her up?" Link's voice was calm but his face betrayed his building anger. "I won't do that Impa."
"No, you'll hear me out. I'm not a kid anymore, I stopped being a kid a long, long time ago and I don't need to be treated like one and told what to do."
The authority in Link's voice stunned Impa into silence. She sat down and looked at him thoughtfully.
"Zelda and I are not children. We don't need you or anyone else to tell us how to live our lives, and I won't be told who I can be with. Everything I've ever done," he continued, "I've done for her sake. Whenever things got bad and I found myself asking 'why?' I would see her face in my head and it gave me the will and the strength to carry on. I can't look at her and see her in pain because it literally hurts me. I've waited a lifetime for her, don't ask me to wait any longer."
The Sheikah woman sighed and leant against the back of her chair.
"You really do love her, don't you?" She smiled to herself and gestured to the chair opposite her. "Sit down Link."
He did so, still tensed and defensive.
"Would you save her from herself? If she goes back to Aratea and that useless excuse for a man, she'll be lost to us. It might be harder this time around, thanks to you, but if Phineas breaks her down again then we might not be able to bring her back."
Link scowled at the memory of the wretched girl he had fought so hard to revive and balled his fists subconsciously.
"Then I'll go with her and break him if he even looks at her funny," he growled.
"Link, think with your brain and not your ego."
"What can I do?"
"For the sake of the gods, don't do any more than you already have. Can't you see how much of a nightmare it would be if anyone else found out about you? You giving her lessons in the art of the sword is more than enough to get you two talked about without people realising you're giving her something else on the side."
"There's no need to be crude. Besides, we're careful, no one knows. OK, so you and Saria know but-"
"Me, Saria and Nabooru."
"She seems to think she was instrumental in getting you two together."
Link seemed to mull the possibility of this over in his head before grinning a little sheepishly.
"Come to think of it, she very probably was."
"You're still missing the point I'm trying to make here, Link. What happens if Zelda stays here for months? Have you even stopped to think about what you've been doing?"
"We're in love. What's so wrong about being together and expressing that? We're both adults, we know what we're doing."
"How can you be so naïve? Younger boys than you have been made fathers by thinking in that exact same way, and while I would love for Zelda to have a child someday even you can understand that if she were to get pregnant when her husband is miles away that it would be disastrous."
Link opened his mouth to protest but was silenced by a hard look from Impa.
"I'm asking you to please demonstrate some restraint and stop rushing things. There will be a time for you two to be together but now is not it. Be patient."
"You should try patience when you're in my shoes. You don't know how she can-"
"That is not something I want to discuss," Impa interrupted. "I'm going to chose not to think of you two that way for as long as I possibly can."
"I am happy for you two, but you must see that nothing good can come of this affair right now. Please, you have to rethink it before you get into a world of trouble. Do you know what happens when an Aratean wife is found to have a lover? Her husband has every right to punish her as he sees fit. Her name would be worse than mud. She'd be called a whore Link, and she'd be stoned for adultery or worse. Could you live with yourself if that happened?"
He shook his head slowly.
"Then please, I beg of you, don't let this get any more out of hand than it already has. Bide your time and wait, I know that things will resolve themselves."
Link nodded, which seemed to placate Impa, but internally he was already coming up with an alternative, any alternative, that would keep Zelda with him. Having woken up with her in his arms once, he'd be damned if he had to spend another night alone.
Malon was feeling considerably better, having finally sweated out her fever in the night and cleared the fuzziness in her head. She was also cheered up by reports of Link's victory and a visit from a thoroughly over-excited Dayne who came bearing a massive basket of blackberries.
"My Mam always used to make me blackberry tea when I was sick," he told her. "It made me feel a lot better. I thought maybe you'd like some."
Malon smiled at the boy's thoughtfulness.
"Dayne honey, you are an absolute sweetheart."
"No I'm not," he protested. "I'm very butch and manly."
For a moment he had sounded so much like Link defending his Kokiri tunic that Malon had to laugh.
"You have obviously been spending far too much time around Link, you're starting to sound just like him."
"Pah, not lately," Dayne grumbled. "He's always off doing 'knight stuff' or helping Princess Zelda learn how to fight with a sword. I haven't hung out with him for ages."
"He's teaching the princess? When did this start?"
"Last week. Princess Zelda asked him to teach her swordplay. Aunt Impa thinks it's a great idea."
"Yeah, she says that the princess needs to know how to take herself living with that great boar. I didn't think she lived on a pig farm."
Malon smiled in spite of herself.
"I think she's talking about the princess' husband Dayne. He didn't seem like a very nice person to me."
"Oh." Dayne looked a little upset by this revelation, as if he had conjured images of the princess doing battle with an evil pig beast and had suddenly had his hopes dashed. "Well Link's taking it really seriously anyway. I tried to get him to take me fishing two days ago and he said he couldn't."
"Dayne, that was the day before the tournament. He was probably too busy practicing."
"No," he protested, "I waited until he'd done all his practice and he still wouldn't take me."
Malon frowned and then put her hand on his shoulder.
"Don't worry about it short-stuff, once the princess goes back to her home then he'll be back to normal again. Just wait and see."
"I can't believe you're actually letting that thing near you."
Zelda frowned at him.
Link made a futile gesture with his hands in the direction of a big bush covered in purple berries.
"Link, I have no quarrel with the bush. You might but…"
"Not the bush- the cat!"
Zelda followed his gaze and rolled her eyes as she caught sight of the ginger cook's cat carefully licking his paws among the foliage.
"You cannot still harbour feelings of resentment for that cat, what did he ever do to you?"
"Look at it," Link protested. "Tell me that it doesn't remind you of someone."
"It's Ganondorf incarnate!"
"It's a cat."
His loud protestations were silenced by a fingertip being pressed against his lips.
"Link, I love you and all but you really are paranoid to the point of neuroses."
He met her gaze with sheepish sincerity.
"But nothing." She smiled and brushed a wisp of hair out of his eyes. "Now let's not talk about that stupid animal and enjoy each other's company."
Link sighed and shrugged, casting one last suspicious look in the cat's direction, a move that was caught by the princess. She laughed and shoved him lightly, while he smiled sheepishly at her and made a grab for her hand.
"Hey, I have something for you."
"Hmm, I'll bet you do."
"Come on Zel, I'm being serious here."
He led her through the quiet gardens towards the courtyard where he had left Epona. She pricked up her ears as he approached and whinnied softly, earning a pat and a scratch behind her ears from her master. Link reached for something attached to his saddle bags and handed it to his lover. It was long and thin, wrapped in brown canvas.
"Why don't you unwrap it and see?"
She untied the thick brown cord and carefully peeled back the cloth before gasping at what was revealed to her.
Beneath the cloth was a beautifully crafted scabbard made of thick, aubergine coloured leather and inlaid gold filigree. It in itself was a beautiful thing indeed, but the handle of the sword it contained showed that it was not the only thing of beauty being presented to her. She drew the sword reverently and gasped at the beauty of the silver blade and its delicately made hilt.
"I had it made for you, Biggoron was more than happy to help. Is it alright?"
"Alright? Link, it's perfect!" She tested the blade, making a few swipes and feeling nothing but sheer rightness from holding it. "Gods. Now I know what you meant. This sword is as right for me as you are."
She sheathed it lovingly and went to him, her eyes shining.
"I love it, but I love you more."
Link felt his mind grow hazy as she kissed him. He traced the curve of her cheek with his fingertips, ingraining the feel of her skin upon his memory.
"It had to be good enough to protect you when I can't be there. When you go back."
Zelda's eyes met his sharply.
"I- I don't want to talk about it."
"Well I do. Someday soon he's going to send for you or come and get you, and then what's going to happen?"
"I don't wan-"
"For Farore's sake Zelda, you never want to talk about it! Can't you understand? I'm going to lose you and I can't stand it."
Zelda took a step back, her eyes wide.
"You will never lose me. I will always, always love you. Nobody can take me from you, not in here." She pressed her hand against his heart, her eyes on his. "But I can't be yours, not when I don't belong to myself, no matter how hard we've been trying to pretend otherwise."
"I hate it."
She squeezed his hand gently.
"Do you remember what I asked you last year? When I asked you if you wondered about how life would be if I hadn't sent us back."
"I asked you the same thing," he said quietly. "And you said 'sometimes.'"
"I've thought about it a lot over the last year. And… now I wish I hadn't. I think I regret that more than any other decision I have ever had to make."
"I thought you might say something like that."
Link lowered his eyes, fixing his gaze on their entwined fingers.
"I was in love with you even then. We would have had no obstacles in our way."
"You've been thinking the same thing."
They were silent for a moment longer before he finally tested the water.
"So why don't we just do it then? Why don't we run away?"
"If only it could be that simple," Zelda sighed. "But you know that can never happen."
Link's confrontation with Impa was still fresh in his memory, and while he knew that the older woman spoke sense he just couldn't face the prospect of giving Zelda up.
"It could," he persisted. "We could run and never look back. Make a clean break of it."
"Oh my love, nothing would make me happier but we both know it's impossible." She reached for his cheek and was hurt when he turned his face from her. "We would never be able to drop our guard for a moment. We would make the plans and everything would be wonderful, but when it came to the crunch you know that neither of us would be able to go through with it. You'd never leave Saria and the Kokiri, and the ranch and your responsibilities, and I could never leave Hyrule."
Jealousy, irrational and possessive, swelled in Link's belly. He knew he would always come in second to Hyrule.
"Hyrule survived without you before you were born, and it will continue to survive long after we're dead and buried. Zelda please, just be selfish for once and do something for you. Come on, please."
Zelda's hand cupped his cheek as she turned his face to hers.
"It's a beautiful fantasy, but it's one we could never allow ourselves to turn into a reality. We're not selfish people Link, we could never abandon everything that we fought so hard to save."
Well what we fought to save barely exists now anyway, he wanted to say, but couldn't face the prospect of getting into a fight.
"I must go, I have an audience to attend," Zelda murmured softly. "Find me later?"
He nodded dumbly and kissed her lightly on the lips. She responded sweetly and gave his hand a gentle squeeze as she walked away.
"If I lose you, then I'll lose myself," he muttered, watching as she vanished from sight.
Dezauras was heartily relieved that Sibella had not gone out of her way to see him that day, and he did not entirely trust himself to not do something he would regret later. His lack of control the night before disgusted him- he had behaved like some sort of mongrel chasing after a bitch in heat; even now he still did not understand what had come over him.
The king had been steadily recovering but his absence was still notable at council meetings as the princess continued to place herself at the head of the table and conduct proceedings with admirable efficiency and authority. Some of the old school ministers, those who liked to consider Dezauras their champion and spokesperson, remained less than impressed by this and many boycotted out of principle. Zelda would notice this, take note of the empty seats and politely request that the castle scribe copy out minutes to be sent to the absentees before smiling that winning smile of hers and calling the audience into session.
Today was just the same, as Zelda in her golden gown sat herself confidently in her seat and smiled slightly as she noticed the number of empty seats had lessened considerably since the last meeting. Dezauras fought a scowl and tried his hardest not to glare at her. Once again, her hair was hanging by her shoulders, and what had been a teasing gesture the night before spoke volumes in the chancellery. Dezauras cleared his throat.
"I was unaware that Her Grace had been elevated to the status of queen."
The entire hall went silent.
Zelda folded her hands demurely in her lap and angled her head to one side.
"I do not believe that something as trivial as one's hair should hold any bearing on how that person is regarded in court. Besides, it is not as though my hair is causing any harm." She smiled again. "I was under the impression that only the pettiest of court ladies really bothered about fashion rules anyway."
Several ministers chuckled and Dezauras felt the sting of her derision flare his temper. He could tell that she was watching him as though she was waiting for his retaliation, and he had never been one to disappoint.
"Perhaps an Aratean should not be so quick to pour scorn on Hylian court practice."
"Now see here!" One of the ministers had risen from his seat and was glaring at Dezauras furiously. "You sir are out of line."
"How dare you speak so to our princess?" Another piped in.
"My thanks to you Lord Tuval, Lord Olwen." Zelda's voice rang out clearly over the angry buzzing of her supporters and Dezauras'. "Your support is appreciated. Lord Dezauras, you will rise."
She was standing herself, waiting for him to obey her. Feeling the eyes of everyone in the room upon him, Dezauras got to his feet and met her gaze.
"Perhaps you would be so good as to share your opinions with the rest of the chancellery," she said coldly. "I myself would be fascinated to hear what you truly think, as clearly your view of me must be somewhat negative to warrant such outbursts from such a normally restrained man."
Dezauras bit back a sneer.
"I do not have to justify myself to a mere woman, regardless of who her father might be. What makes you think that you are capable of ruling men such as us? Your concerns, princess, should stick to the running of your household and bringing forth sons for your husband, not running a country where you are no longer a citizen."
The outcry was deafening.
"How dare you!?"
Zelda held up her hand to call for silence.
"Excuse me gentlemen, but I need no man to fight my battles for me. Lord Dezauras is entitled to his own opinion, no matter how offensive and misguided I might find it." She sighed before fixing Dezauras with a look so fierce he had to fight the urge to shrink back from it. "I was born Princess Zelda Aurelia of Hyrule and I will die Zelda Aurelia of Hyrule, no matter what name or title my husband might have, and no husband or children of mine will ever take precedence over the duty I hold to my father's kingdom. My household, as you put it, will someday be this kingdom and if I do not learn to care for it now then that will make me a poor excuse for a queen. If you have any other complaints then raise them with my father. For now, Lord Dezauras, I strongly suggest you retire from this audience as you clearly are in no disposition to be productive."
For a moment Dezauras met her gaze and held it, remaining motionless and unaware of the tension in the council chamber. Zelda betrayed no emotion, keeping her anger well hidden, but he could swear he felt it radiating off her in waves. Finally he shrugged and tossed his head.
"Clearly I have offended your female sensitivities," he admitted, offering her a bow that would have been considered respectful had it been to anyone other than Zelda. "By your leave I will retire."
Zelda acknowledged him by straightening her spine and pursing her lips.
You do not know who you are dealing with, woman, he thought furiously. And you have made a serious mistake in shaming me this day.
He managed to keep his composure until he was out of the building.
"I'll make that damned woman pay if it's the last thing I do!" he seethed.
As he stormed away towards his apartments, he failed to notice the green clad young man who stood watching him mistrustfully from the shadows.
After lunch, Sibella had decided that she had had enough.
Sibella read over what she had written on her parchment and tapped the tip of her quill against her bottom lip as she did so. The words were still wet and glistening on the page, elegant and beautifully formed. Her calligraphy had always been a source of pride for Sibella, who had found needlepoint dull and her musical instruments hard to master.
She had spent a long time mulling over the words she would put into the letter, the tone it would take and how best to get what she wanted in reply to it. It had been a particularly good idea of hers, she thought, to go straight to the source of the problem and then see what resolution would come from then on. She couldn't think why the thought hadn't come to her sooner.
'Her Majesty, Queen Sibella Idiya of Hyrule sends her warmest salutations to His Grace Duke Phineas of Aratea…'
to be continued...