A note from the Hime no Argh herself—
Finally, an update! Sorry this chapter took so long; I had a bit of trouble getting started on it, and then when I finally did I ended up finishing it the same day. Go figure, right? Anyway, Chapter 17 should be along sooner.
Thanks as always for your reviews, and don't forget to leave your questions. Enjoy!
It was a cold night in late winter, about a week after her father's death, when Zelda was shaken abruptly out of sleep by Impa's hand on her shoulder.
"Wake up, Your Majesty!"
Zelda awoke almost immediately, sitting straight up in bed and peering at Impa through the gloom. "What is it?" she whispered, afraid that something terrible had happened in the palace again.
"You'd best get up and come see for yourself," Impa advised, her expression difficult to read in the darkness of the bedroom. "You remember the soldiers who were captured by the Gerudo in the battle at Watersedge?" she added as Zelda swung out of bed, wincing at the cold of the bare wooden floor. "They've come back, and they have a message for you."
Zelda's heart leapt into her throat. "Is Ganondorf with them?"
Impa's eyes met hers, and the Sheikah slowly shook her head. "I'm sorry, Zelda. It seems he's the only one who hasn't returned."
She dressed herself with numb fingers, stomach roiling as though she were about to be sick. Hope would do her little good now. If Ganondorf wasn't here with the rest of the captured soldiers, there seemed little chance he was still alive.
She swallowed back the sickness—she needed to be strong now—and headed to the palace infirmary, where they'd been taken. It was a tall, plain, wooden room with rows and rows of cots; branches of candles were lit, and several healers were examining the soldiers, all of whom looked tired and dirty, but relatively well. Some stood when Zelda entered, but she waved them back down onto the cots. Jolon, the captain of the Palace Guard, was also there waiting for her. He bowed; Zelda nodded and looked at the soldiers.
"Welcome back," she said quietly, looking from one weary face to the next. Most she didn't recognize, except for one or two who might've been in Ganondorf's squad. "I won't keep you long. You must all be exhausted—have you eaten?"
"I sent Efren to wake the cooks, Your Majesty," one of the healers replied absently, preoccupied with stitching a grimacing soldier's arm. Zelda recognized her as the one who had brought her around when she fainted at the Council meeting; her name was Saille.
Zelda nodded. "Good." She looked at the soldiers again. "Can somebody tell me what happened?"
One of the soldiers, a gangly redhead, tried to stand again, only to be tugged back down by a healer. "Your Majesty, if it pleases you…"
"State your name, soldier," Jolon ordered.
He bowed awkwardly from where he sat. "Blake, Your Majesty, Captain. Sergeant of Fourth Company."
"Thank you, Sergeant Blake," Zelda said politely. "What happened, please?"
"It was during the Watersedge battle. A bunch of us—" He gestured, indicating his fellow soldiers, "—we got separated and surrounded by Gerudo. They tied us up and took us to one of their villages, and put us in a tent overnight."
"What did they want from you?" Jolon demanded. "Troop numbers, I assume? What else did you tell them?"
"Captain, is it necessary to interrogate them in this condition?" Zelda asked sharply.
"With all due respect, Your Majesty, we can reasonably assume that certain methods were used to extricate information—"
"Torture, you mean? Don't assume it necessary to spare me details."
"Torture, interrogation, who can say, Your Majesty? Regardless—"
Blake cleared his throat. "Sir—"
"With Alaster in the desert, it falls to me to find out what the Gerudo may have garnered as a result of—"
"Sir!" When Jolon and Zelda looked at Blake, he cleared his throat again and sat up a little straighter. "Sir, Your Majesty, there was no torture or interrogation. They kept us for the night, and they let us go in the morning."
Jolon started. "You're telling me, Sergeant Blake, that the enemy captured you in the middle of battle just to give you a little overnight siesta and send you on your way?"
Blake flushed slightly but nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Not one of you was squeezed for information—"
"They did take one away," one of the other soldiers spoke up. "The Gerudo—what's his name—"
"Ganondorf," supplied the soldier whom Zelda thought she recognized from her friend's squad.
It was as though a fist were squeezing her heart; Zelda found it difficult to breathe. "They took him, you said? What did they do with him?"
They looked at one another, then Blake shook his head. "He never came back, Your Majesty. None of those sand snakes would say what became of him."
"I see," Zelda said dizzily. Jolon put a hand on her arm to steady her.
"Very well. If that's all, then, you boys had best get yourselves some food and rest."
"I'll look after them," Saille assured, now bandaging her soldier's arm.
"Wait," Blake protested, reaching into a leather pouch at his belt. "I've a message for the monarchy—that'd be you now, of course," he added respectfully, holding a crumpled piece of parchment to Zelda.
"Thank you," she replied, smoothing out creases in the parchment as the soldiers trickled out of the infirmary with little interest. She knew it had been foolish to hope that Ganondorf would make it back alive, but she had hoped nonetheless. Now it seemed there was virtually no chance.
"Your Majesty?" Jolon spoke up when it became clear her mind was elsewhere.
"Oh—my apologies, Captain. I was preoccupied." She looked down at the parchment, sighed inwardly, then handed it to Jolon. "Let's hear it, then."
Jolon unfolded the parchment, cleared his throat, and began to read, "To the newly instated Queen, we send to you the word of the one who speaks for the tribes. Let it be known—" He stopped abruptly, staring at the page with eyes that grew wider and wider.
"Captain Jolon?" Zelda said, alarmed.
He raised his eyes to gaze at her with a look of pure astonishment. "Your Majesty—they've surrendered."
It took her several moments to process the words, and when she did, she wanted to laugh. "Surrendered? That's impossible, Captain. They wouldn't surrender."
Wordlessly Jolon handed over the parchment. Zelda took it and read in an untidy scrawl,
To the newly instated Queen,
We send to you the word of the one who speaks for the tribes. Let it be known that as you read this letter, our warriors will have retreated from the border; let it be known by the freedom of the males we have returned to you that our words are true. We offer surrender. We offer peace between our nations. With your permission, we will meet and discuss terms.
Spiritwind, First of the Twenty-Five Tribes descended of Sand
She had to sit on one of the cots when she was finished reading. "Well," she said numbly. "They don't beat around the bush, do they?"
"Your Majesty," Jolon said, "merely give the word and I'll send a dispatch to General Alaster immediately. We'll march straight into the desert and subdue them within the week—"
"No," Zelda interrupted. She stared at the note again, then folded it and looked up, meeting Jolon's eyes. "They've surrendered. We're not going to massacre them."
"Your Majesty, it could be a trick."
"I know that." She got to her feet, handing the parchment to her captain. "Call the Councilmen to meeting. We're going to send a message back instructing them to come north. We are going to present terms, we are going to draw up a treaty, and they are going to sign it. In no uncertain terms are they to know this. Make sure of it."
Jolon bowed. "I'll wake the other Councilmen and the palace scribes immediately."
"Thank you." She watched, lingering in place, as he hurried out of the infirmary, then went to the heavy double doors, both carved with signs for healing and protection. One by one she shut them, turning the heavy bolt so that no one could get inside. Done, she stepped back from the doors.
A soft thwap behind her confirmed his presence. "I'm impressed, Your Majesty. I suppose you knew I was still with you all along?"
She turned to face him, her face schooled into remoteness. "I had my suspicions. I didn't really expect you to obey me."
"Of course not. How can I protect you without watching over you?"
"It's not your job to protect me." She took a breath. "But I do have a job for you now."
He watched her through half-lidded eyes, shielding the shocking crimson of his gaze. "You see, Your Majesty? I knew that you would need me."
"I assume you heard what Jolon and I discussed?" she said crisply, ignoring him. "The Gerudo have surrendered. I want to know why. And I especially want to know—"
"Who speaks for the tribes?" Sheik finished for her.
She swallowed hard. It's not like he can read your mind, she scolded herself, though she wasn't precisely sure. "Yes. And I want to know before they come north. Can you do it?"
"Of course." He slid back away from her, into the shadows. "Your knight returned from the desert. Congratulations."
"Leave Link alone," Zelda said steadily.
"I'll stay away from him, don't worry. Question is, will he stay away from you?"
He was gone, as much as he ever was gone from her presence.
"I don't want him to stay away," she said obstinately into the shadows, and turned to leave the infirmary.
A week passed in a haze in Spiritwind's tents. Ganondorf's wounds were treated; the soldiers who had been captured alongside him were released and sent north with the ordered notice of surrender. Riders went out to announce the news to all the tribes.
Ganondorf didn't sleep well that week, not until he knew that the fighting tribes had all withdrawn from the border. It didn't matter that most of his fellow soldiers had treated him with open hostility for years; he wanted no more deaths on his hands.
He spent most of his time in the tent he'd been given, isolated from the rest of the tribe. He felt like an animal trapped in a cage, forced to reside among the tribe he'd left so many years ago. King or not, he wanted little to do with any of them, especially his mother. He was certain that behind her cold eyes, Sidh was plotting ways to use him to her own advantage. It would be just like her—all his life, before he left the desert, she had tried to groom him as king of the tribes—with her working from the shadows, of course. She'd had great plans, he'd no doubt, of ruling the desert nation, queen in all but name.
Well, it wasn't going to happen now. She might think she'd won something in ensnaring him in the desert, but he'd secede the entire nation to the Hylian Kingdom before he allowed her to have any sort of power over his impromptu throne. Sometimes he thought that would be the best idea in any case.
It was close to two weeks since his fellow soldiers had been released from capture before they heard from the north. A Gerudo was sent to his tent to tell him the news.
"Lord Ganondorf?" The young Gerudo stepped tentatively into the tent, dropping to her knees and pressing her forehead to the floor in utter obeisance. They had not precisely worked out what to call him yet, and since Ganondorf didn't give a damn about titles, he hadn't bothered to submit a preference.
"Get up," he told the girl wearily. "Don't do that. I don't need to be reminded." He eyed her as she rose obediently; she was young, barely in adolescence, and he didn't recognize her. "Who are you?"
"Inra, lord. Daughter of Ylani, horsewoman of Spiritwind." Her mother's name he recognized vaguely; so the girl was a third of fourth cousin, probably.
"What do you want, Inra?"
"Some Hylians arrived from the north. They have a letter from their queen." She held out a thick piece of parchment, folded and sealed with the royal crest of the Hylian monarchy.
Ganondorf took it blankly. This was a letter from Zelda—not written by her, perhaps, but more than likely containing her words. Zelda, the Hylian Queen. He'd heard the news from his mother, who'd had it from her spy-warriors, those who intercepted messages carried between the forts.
He broke the seal, unfolded the parchment and began to read.
From Her Royal Majesty Zelda, Queen of Hylia, We send greetings. We have received and accept your notice of surrender. Hereforth, We shall determine the planning and signing of a treaty between our nations.
You will send north the following persons: all members of the tribe of Spiritwind, including the headsister and witchsister, all headsisters and witchsisters of all tribes of the Gerudo nation, and anyone else who holds a leadership position in your nation. All of these persons will come immediately, as one group, to the Hylian palace. All headsisters will sign a treaty and agree to terms that We decide upon. We remind you that the terms of surrender state that absolutely no hostile act is to be committed by any member of your nation upon any member of Our nation or any other nation or holding in Hyrule until a treaty is signed. Should you violate these terms any treaty in planning will be nullified and we will commence war.
We allot seven days to gather the headsisters and witchsisters of your nation and travel north to Our palace. If you do not arrive within three days We shall consider your surrender void and commence war.
Zelda the Queen, The Royal House of Hylia
He couldn't help an ironic smile. So Zelda was taking an aggressive stance, even in the face of the Gerudo's surrender—good for her. He knew his people. They would take advantage of the slightest sign of weakness, although, as their newly-instated ruler, perhaps he could exert some control over his reckless sisters.
There was no mention of him anywhere in the letter, but that was expected. He hadn't let them put his name on the message sent north to the queen—he wasn't sure why. Perhaps he was simply afraid to let Zelda know what had become of him. After all, he had just become king of her nation's greatest enemy.
Then, in a rare moment of complete clarity, it came to him—he knew exactly what to do, he knew the solution, to his nation's problems, to Hylia's problems, even to his own problems.
He levered himself up out of his seat with more energy than he'd felt in days. "Inra, you said your name was?"
The Gerudo girl nodded wordlessly, gazing up at him with what seemed close to awe.
"Inra, take this letter to Sidh—" He handed it back to her, "—and tell her to follow its instructions exactly. Tell her to get the headsisters and witchsisters of the nation here immediately. When you're done, go around to the rest of the tribe and tell them to prepare to go north within a few days. Will you do that?"
"Of course," Inra said fiercely. "I am to do anything you ask, Lord Ganondorf." But she lingered momentarily, looking down at the letter. "Are we really going north? All of us?"
She looked up at him. "Are we going to do what they tell us, the Hylians?"
"Maybe," Ganondorf said distantly, thinking. "Maybe not. I'm going to make an offer to the queen that will change things for all of us—Gerudo and Hylians. She might accept. In fact, knowing her, she probably will."
To be continued.