I know the three-week update schedule I've been on for the past few chapters might seem unjustified, but this close to the end I've been analyzing and reanalyzing my plans and trying to make sure absolutely everything is perfect and in place. And then I end up with the oddity of this chapter, and the realization of how much of this is basically lumped into the same chapter, yet considering what's happening in the next chapter, there isn't really a means to space it out and still have it in good taste at this point.

Chapter 131: The Eve of Battle

Sheila hadn't been sure what she was getting herself into when entered Ganondorf's bedroom, but she was genuinely surprised at his behavior after she did, and also surprised at her own. The wizard was obviously not one for talk during the act, and yet he behaved like no other lover she'd ever had in her three centuries of life. While the lovers she had in her younger days could be described at best as enthusiastic, and at worst as in too much of a gods damned hurry, Ganondorf moved slowly, almost methodically, in perfect control of himself.

The rough calluses of his hands scratched against her softer skin, yet his touch was surprisingly gentle as he explored her body. As he climbed into the bed over her, the sheer difference in their size struck her for the first time. He stood nearly twice as tall as her normally, yet he had to be nearly four times larger than her in sheer mass. She could only guess how many times he outweighed her, likely six or more.

And then there was the age. Ganondorf was four thousand years old or better, and made no secret of his promiscuity. How many women had he been with in his lifetime? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Even as she told herself the thought of a man with that many women should have disgusted her, for some reason, it was thrilling. It excited her.

His experience was just as clear, as he moved with practiced control, rather than jumping ahead as most men did, though never making a sound, even as the two of them moved in union and her voice was beyond her control. Sheila hit her breaking point, and her own cry left her ears ringing even as he continued through it, a moment later a single grunt was the only sound announcing his own release.

The two of them were covered in a sheen of sweat as he rolled to the side, letting his weight down on the bed next to her, while she fought to recover her breath, basking in the afterglow. It wasn't long before Ganondorf sat up, shifting so he was sitting on the side of the bed, back to her, and started to stand when something caught his eye.

"And what's this?" Ganondorf asked, leaning down to pick something up off the floor.

Sheila leaned up on her elbows, looking down at him at the foot of the bed as he sat back up. The black cover of the journal she had received was in his hand. The book itself was dwarfed by his big hand, and she thought for a second he could have easily crushed it in his fist if he desired.

"A bit of a strange present," she said, "I received it from a ghost on the way across the sea, if you will believe that."

"I've said it before, I have very little incredulity left in me," Ganondorf said, gently opening the cover and leafing through the pages, including the loose sheets of Sheila's own efforts at translation, "Oh, this dialect is old. It was old even when I was young. Looks like your translation is a fair way off the exact wording here and there, though I think you're getting the meaning fairly close."

The sun was down, the room dark except for the light of a single candle, to which he was angling to book to make out the words. Even in the dim light, Sheila could make out the single massive scar along the wizard's back, running from his right shoulder to nearly his left hip. Sheila knew this had to be the wound given to him by Aveil, the Gerudo chieftain who attempted to end his life before he united the tribes thousands of years ago. For as much battle as the wizard had seen in his life, his body was remarkably free of scars, but this one had been given to him before he gained the Triforce of power, and his inhuman healing ability. The only other visible scar she could see was the strange white scar on his stomach, which glowed faintly in the dark, though not brightly enough to do more than locate it with.

"What did you give this ghost, out of curiosity?" Ganondorf asked.

"Someone to talk to," Sheila said, "We spoke for several hours. About leadership, morality, that sort of thing."

"Pirates aren't usually philosophers," Ganondorf said, closing the book.

"He's been trapped on the coast for thousands of years," Sheila said, "I think he just wants to be free."

"And you want to help him?" Ganondorf asked, turning toward her, "You'd have better luck trying to drain Lake Hylia with a straw."

"Ghosts only stay in this world because they feel they have unfinished business," Sheila said.

"And if this guy's as old as I think he is," Ganondorf said, tossing the book so it landed near her, "he doesn't even remember what that business is. As I said: Lake Hylia. Straw."

"Is this the only way you can talk to people?" Sheila asked, snatching the book, "I don't think in the time I've known you that you've said even one thing that wasn't negative or backhanded in some way."

"You'd almost think there's a pattern or something," Ganondorf said, and glanced back over his shoulder, "Up to you how you want to take the fact I was right, though."

"Yes, yes, I remember, you can have any woman you want, even me," Sheila said, "You really wanted to reinforce the image in my head that you were a disgusting pig."

"And something has convinced you I'm not?" Ganondorf said.

"Well, I'm sure others would say I'm wasting my time, but you have those moments when you're willing to talk more than others, when you're not holding up that wall that your such a villain," Sheila said, and laid the book beside her on the bedside table, then sat up straighter, "I think I'm finally starting to understand you."

"This should be good," Ganondorf said, though he turned away from her, clasping his hands and leaning his elbows on his knees, "And what exactly do you think you understand about me?"

"Maybe there was a time you were everything both you and those legends Link and Zelda have told me you are, but I think you're different," Sheila said, "Your attitude and your personality are too inconsistent at the perfect times."

He didn't so much as flinch when she put her hands on his shoulders from behind, softly running her fingers along them and up to his neck, then forward as she leaned against his back. "I think that in spite of everything you say, you're a good man," she said, and put one hand over his heart, "Somewhere in here is the proof you're not what you pretend to be."

"Then you're even more of a fool than I thought," he said, standing up and pushing her off him as he did so. He took two steps from the bed and paused for a moment, then turned back to her. He was quite the vision, like a mahogany god standing there naked in the flickering candlelight, the shadows seeming to dance on his statuesque musculature, the white scar on his stomach clearly visible even though it seemed to shed no light as it glowed.

"I have lived for four thousand years," Ganondorf said, "Think of how many people I've killed since you've met me, and extend that back that far. I've been killing for longer than anyone alive today can even comprehend, and I lost count of the number of bodies in my wake millennia ago. I don't do it for any noble purpose or divine reason. I do it because they are in the way of what I want.

"The path I walk is of my own choosing, and it is without end. No matter how far I go, no matter how many corpses I step over, the killing will never end. And when it comes to it, that's what I want. Nothing is more exhilarating to me than the sound of clashing steel coupled with the smell of fresh blood.

"I am not a good man. And I will never be. And that is why you are a fool."

Sheila didn't respond immediately, and slowly lowered her gaze from him, but even as he thought she had given up, she suddenly looked up, a small smile on her face. "Who are you trying to convince?" she asked, "Me, or yourself?"

"Oh, don't start that crap," he said, "You're wasting both our time."

"No, no, I think that's it," Sheila said, slowly sliding off the bed and standing up, "The change in you, it's recent, at least by your standards. What came into your life that could have caused such a drastic change so quickly? It was your daughter. Or daughters. Kilishandra and Minerva. That look you gave me earlier, when you said you were burying your daughter today... It was so genuine. You let your guard down and real emotion was showing. You do have something more important to you than yourself. I was right."

"And you believe something so cliché as a villain changing because he has a child could apply to me?" Ganondorf asked.

"Something being cliché doesn't make it any less true," Sheila said, "In fact, clichés only exist as clichés because they are very real, and surprisingly common. You can't deny you very nearly killed yourself to save Kilishandra, and she is still among us as a result. I'd almost think..."

Sheila paused, realization striking across her face like a lightning bolt. "That's it!" she said, "You're playing up your villain act to draw attention away from her! She destroyed two cities, and there are those around who still remember and want her dead for it. You're giving them another target because you want her to be able to stay here after everything is over."

Ganondorf crossed his arms over his chest, but his scowl had slowly been changing to a smile as she spoke. "You finally put it together," he whispered at last, "I'll hand it to you, you're a lot smarter than I first took you for. You'll need to train that head of yours quite a bit yet if you want to actually keep up with me, though."

"So, what does this mean?" Sheila asked, "Are you intending to die before this is over? Just to get out of the picture for her?"

"No," Ganondorf said, moving back toward her, only to step around her and sit down on the bed, "As long as I've lived, as much life as I've seen end, there's one thing I've never been able to conquer, and that's my own fear."

"What could someone like you possibly fear?" Sheila asked, sitting down next to him, though this meant she had to crane her neck to look up at him.

"Death," Ganondorf said, and after a pause continued, "Everyone fears death. Anyone who doesn't is an idiot. The sermons the priests give about Heaven and Hell are nice stories, but I've traveled through so many different worlds, and encountered some that resembled what they described, but they were not truly the same. The truth is no on knows what becomes of us when we die, because no one has ever returned to tell it. There's no magic that can truly return life to the dead, and the gods no doubt intended it that way.

"I've thought about it, you know. Ending it once and for all. More than once, in fact. As long as I've lived, there's not much more for me to see. Suppose I succeeded in taking the world for myself. What would be next? Taking several? Leaping across dimensions, adding each to my kingdom, until finally I storm the gates of Heaven and take the Throne of Eternity? And then what? Where do I go from there? Maybe I'd find even more to scale, that there is a race of beings as far beyond the gods as the gods are beyond us, and they'd be next on my list.

"That is the tragic path of a conqueror," he concluded, "A never-ending climb toward an impossible goal. And the more I think about it, the more disillusioned I become. But in the other direction... It is not physically dying that I fear. I've seen enough die to know the pain doesn't last long. It is what comes after that which I fear. The unknown. Do I find release and peace from this bloody path I currently walk, or is my torment just beginning?"

"You're right," Sheila said, "Everyone fears the unknown. But can't you find another way to live? You don't have to keep fighting, you know."

"But I do," Ganondorf said, "It's the only thing I'm good at. The difference between a soldier and a warrior. You see, a soldier may be very good at what he does, and willing to fight for what he believes in, but it goes no further than that. A warrior simply does what he's good at. He fights because it's all he knows, and he enjoys it. You, Sheila, are going to fight for Hyrule in this coming battle, and you will do well, but when it is done, you will stop. This is because you are a soldier. I, however, am a born warrior. If I don't fight, and challenge myself, I start to get the itch. I can't stay in one place, and have to find something.

"It happened before. I tried to settle down, to live a more peaceful life after the war in the world which Kili was born in. I didn't make it ten years before I had to go, and I came straight back here, spoiling for a fight with Link and Hyrule. This is who I am, and it's not going to change."

"Maybe what you need is someone to share it with," Sheila said, "Have you ever loved anyone, since Nabooru? She pass thousands of years ago. There must have been someone you cared about."

Ganondorf shook his head. "No one," he said, "Kilishandra... but that's different. The pain I felt when Nabooru turned on me... I'm afraid my heart is simply too hard to risk real love a second time. And if that is your intention coming here tonight, don't waste your time."

"I wasn't," Sheila said, "At least, when I came here, I told myself this was a one time thing. It was something I was going to regret, at your own suggestion, but now..."

"Don't," Ganondorf said, turning his head to look down at her beside him, "If you try to follow this, you will regret it, far more than you even know. Even if I could, you and I would not work."

"And what if I said I'd found something to hold on to?" Sheila asked, climing up on the bed and moving around behind him, leaning again against his back, her arms reaching around his neck, hands resting on his chest, "What if I want to help you?"

"Then you are the single most foolish person I've ever met," he said.

"I'll even keep your secret," Sheila said, "Play the villain around the others, but when we're alone, you'll have someone you can really talk to. And as for me, we'll just take it one day at a time and see what happens. I'm not expecting to find something that lasts here, but I'm feeling better now than I have for weeks, and I think a secret lover is exactly what I needed."

"So you're past your dead boyfriend, then?" Ganondorf asked.

Oh, gods, Richard. The thought struck her so quickly and hard, and suddenly she saw it again, his severed head flying through the air, blood staining the snow and the heat of it splashing across her face. Ganondorf flinched as she fisted her hand in his chesthair and gave it a sharp tug. "I think how close I keep that is my business," she said.

"This can only end badly," he warned her.

"I'm expecting it," she replied, "Now, are you ready to go again?"

"I'm really sorry," Alex said for probably the fifth time as he and Silviana walked the castle grounds after sunset, "I thought I was doing something good."

This time, Silviana finally responded, breaking out of her own thoughts. "You were," she said, "I should have told you earlier. It's not your fault."

"Oh, thank gods," he said, "I thought this was going to be another mess."

"Well, to be honest, I knew who he was," Silviana said, "But I didn't expect him to reject me like that. I guess... Well, I guess people are different. I guess I thought when I did finally go to him, he'd accept me without question. I'm such an idiot."

Arthur caught her hand, making her stop walking. "No, you're not," he said, "You're the most amazing woman I've ever met. If anyone's the idiot, it's him for not seeing it."

"No, he's really..." Silviana started, then stopped herself and smiled, "Never mind. You never struck me as the sharpest tool around. And that's part of what I like about you."

"Hey, wait a... Yeah, okay, I get that," Alex said, starting irritated and stopping mid-sentence as he processed what she said more completely.

"You're so bullheaded, you charge straight at any obstacle," she said, "Never quitting, whether it's a solid stone door, or even my own reticence."

"Oh, yes," Alex said, remembering the stone door that had locked them in the vault beneath Tyr seemingly ages ago. He didn't know what he'd been thinking, punching it repeatedly as he had. Thinking back on it now, he knew he would never have accomplished anything that way, yet back then had actually said, "The next punch might be the one that breaks it."

And then he'd broken a bone in his hand on it. It hadn't stopped him at the time, though his grip had suffered considerably because of the pain, and the healers in Darimar had fixed it up when they got back as if nothing had happened

"You know, I've actually been thinking," he said, deciding to change the subject, "You mentioned you liked it out in Ordon, and I'm not exactly a fan of city life myself. What do you say we head back out that way after this is done, and see about getting a plot on the village edge to build a house? I could probably get a job helping with the animals or farming, and maybe you could be a sort of guard or scout? As far as I could tell, the only guard the village has is that Rusl character, and he's not the youngest guy around."

"That is actually a wonderful idea," Silviana said, "I'd love to go back there."

The city was growing quiet and the night watch was going on duty as the pair made their way back to the castle. Though Silviana had protested at first, Zelda had given them rooms in the castle, from among those finished and furnished. Silviana had expected to be sleeping in the courtyard, with the refugees, but Zelda had insisted, saying that while there weren't enough rooms to accommodate them all, the party of heroes deserved decent lodgings for what they'd already accomplished, until they could be properly rewarded later.

The rooms Silviana and Alex had been given were not completely furnished, still lacking basics like carpeting and mirrors, and were essentially bare stone floors with a bed and wardrobe. They counted themselves lucky the windows actually had glass to keep the wind out.

"So, my room's down the hall," Alex said as Silviana opened the door to her room, and perhaps he was the only one who didn't realize how awkwardly he asked, "Unless I can come in?"

"Well, it's not like we haven't slept together before," Silviana said.

Alex's face suddenly felt very hot as he glance around and was glad the nearest sentry was posted at the far end of the hall. "Okay, but sleeping is all that happened last time," he said.

"Oh," Silviana said, humor sparkling in her eyes, "So you were suggesting something, then?"

"Unless you don't want me to," Alex said, "In which case, I'm not..."

"Just come in, you big doof," she said, motioning for him to follow her into the room.

The door was barely shut when he kissed her, and her arms were around his neck as he lifted her from the floor. There was a clatter as his sword fell to the floor, and shortly later it was followed by her bow and quiver, then two more clatters as her forearm length blades fell next to them. Alex sat her on the bed, laying her onto her back as he climbed onto the mattress after her, only to sit up as something jabbed him in the stomach sharply. He looked down to see the culprit, and Silviana pulled a short dagger from her belt, where the hilt had caught him, and tossed it onto the floor.

"Hey, slow down," Silviana said as he leaned back down, "There's no rush. We have all night."

Link expected it, and wasn't least bit surprised that Ilia jumped up from the fire and hugged him when he walked into sight. "Are you all right?" she asked after releasing him, even as she started looking down at his ripped and tattered tunic, "You weren't badly hurt, were you?"

"Just a few bruises, actually," Link said, "I was fine in literally minutes. Was everything fine on this end? No trouble getting back?"

"Other than delivering a baby halfway here, nothing spectacular," Ilia said, "We're all fine. I've been helping around here however I can. Usually it's just cooking."

"That's good," Link said, "I thought I'd let you know I was able to check in back at Ordon on my way here, and everyone there is fine. Your father was very worried about you."

"That sounds like him," Ilia said, then finally noticed Midna hovering a short distance behind Link, "Wait... I thought you were changed back?"

"It's complicated," Midna said.

"Better I don't ask, then," Ilia said, "Are you two hungry? I think I have enough left here..."

As they seated themselves by the fire and Ilia went to get a pair of bowls, Link noticed Maylow sitting on the opposite side of the fire, barely in the light. He was looking intently at a necklace he was wearing. It looked like a single bear-claw, but the elf was clearly deep in thought about whatever it was.

"Hey, long time no see," Link said, and Maylow snapped up, looking over at him.

"Oh, you... Yes, I remember, you were with Miss Anthress," Maylow said, "Sorry, I don't remember the name."

"We only spoke for a few minutes," Link said, "I'm Link."

"Right, that was the name," Maylow said, "Glad to see you're still alive, all things considered."

"Alive with good news, if it hasn't gotten around already," Link said, "We got the bastard who dropped the castle on Darimar."

"Good," Maylow said, "I hope it hurt. There's talk going around that it isn't over yet, though. That the battle will be coming here."

"Well, we've dealt with nearly everyone that worked with Khall and Tharkus," Link said, "Problem is there's still one left that we're aware of."

"And speak of the devil," Maylow said, looking past him, "There she is now."

Link turned, and saw Maylow was indicating Kilishandra, who was walking the courtyard path by herself, eyes turned toward the sky as she was thinking about something. Link suddenly remembered that she was the one who had destroyed Whitos-Neiki, Maylow's kingdom, and how many were dead because of it.

"Now hang on," Link said, turning back to Maylow, "She's with us now. She's trying to make up for what she did."

"What she did was kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people," Maylow said, "There's no making up for that."

"She was cursed, forced to obey," Link said, "She is not responsible for that."

"Good luck explaining that to the people she slaughtered," Maylow said, "They can't hear anymore."

The elf rose to his feet, and turned to walk away from the fire, into the darkness.

"He's going to cause trouble," Midna said.

"He's angry," Link said, "And I have a hard time blaming him. He just needs time."

After a few minutes Ilia returned with two bowls full of beef and vegetable stew, offering them to Link and Midna. "Where'd Maylow go?" she asked.

"To cool off, I hope," Link said.

"There's talk going around that the city is going to be attacked," Ilia said as she sat back down, "The princess said as much, but she didn't really explain where it's going to come from."

"I don't know any more than that myself," Link said, "I think tomorrow I'll arrange for a carraige to take you home to Ordon, where you'll be safe..."

"No," Ilia said.

Link blinked at the blunt interruption. "What?" he asked.

"I'm staying here," Ilia said, "Link, I know you want to protect me, but I'm helping these people here, even if it is in such a small way. I want to stay."

"I promised your father I'd get you safely home," Link said.

"You shouldn't make promises that depend on more than you," Ilia said, "I'm staying."

Link watched her for a long moment, hoping just the strength of his glare would make her relent, but she only crossed her arms and shot back a glare of her own.

"All right," Link said, "You're staying. I hope we both don't regret this."

"Do you need a tent to sleep in?" Ilia asked, changing the subject, "We do have a few spares around here."

"No, we're taken care of," Link said, "I don't think I'm going to sleep much tonight anyway."

"Why's that?"

"I don't know," Link said, "The air feels heavy. Like something's about to happen."

"You see, it's that kind of talk that gets people nervous," Ilia said.

Zelda couldn't believe how nervous she was. She'd stood up to the council and even had most of them on her side, in spite of how insane her claims sounded. They'd agreed to various methods of increasing the defenses and word had already been sent to the surrounding villages of the threat, and they were ready to seek shelter in the city walls if the danger suddenly appeared on the horizon.

That seemed like it should occupy so much more of her concerns, and yet now, as she paced back and forth in her own bedroom, she couldn't simply sit down, her hands were shaking, and she was utterly terrified just because she was about to tell Arthur he needed to sleep with her.

Okay, she told herself, it was time to be realistic. Her education wasn't missing vital gaps here. She knew how sex worked, at least mechanically, and she knew that under the right circumstances it would feel good. The Triforce's bizarre effect on her wasn't even her first experience with orgasms, though she had always been alone before. This man was head over heels for her, though she wasn't certain she felt the same about him at this point. There was something there, and she did like him, but something always held her back.

Maybe the reason she was so hesitant was the fact she knew he had been with many women, and she had never been with a man. She was afraid she was going to do something, or not do something, to ruin it.

She had changed out of her new armor, donning her light purple gown, though not bothering with the frills, like the jewelry and regal metal shoulders. She had thought about putting on more makeup, but quickly thrown the idea out due to the fact she hated wearing much at all, and Arthur was used to seeing her without it entirely. Then she had spent ten minutes staring at her jewelry box, looking for something else she could put on to go with the gown and the Triforce shaped earrings she was already wearing, and couldn't find a single thing she liked.

And now she was pacing back and forth like a fool, yet unable to stop herself, going over what she should say again and again, never the same way twice, and unable to stop thinking she was going to ruin what she had.

A knock at the door caused her to jump nearly a foot in the air.

She quickly cleared her throat and tried to make some quick adjustments to her hair before saying, "Enter."

The door opened, one of the guards leaning in. "Arthur is here, your majesty."

"Let him in," Zelda said. The guard stepped aside and the young man stepped into the room, Zelda's empathy telling her he was plenty nervous himself, and she ordered the guard out and to close the door.

"I know why I'm nervous, but why are you?" Zelda asked once they were alone.

"Well, you wanted to see me," Arthur said, "There was something I wanted to talk about anyway, but I wasn't expecting you to call me in here. Wait, you're nervous? Why?"

Zelda swallowed, and found even with all her efforts at rehearsing, she had no idea how to approach this. "Let's talk about what you wanted first," she said, "It'll give me time to collect myself a bit."

"Well, all right," Arthur said, and glanced at the table and chairs, though not moving to them, as Zelda was standing, and rather rigidly at-attention at that.

"Oh, have a seat," Zelda said, realizing what it was about, and moving to one of the seats herself. He sat down across from her, and she suddenly had an idea, and reached to the cubboard to the side of the table, removing a bottle of wine and two glasses from her personal rack. It wasn't the snowberry wine, but much less expensive grape-wine, though still high-quality vintage. Zelda was never much of a drinker, but thought a glass right now might calm her a bit.

"Well, part of why I'm nervous," Arthur said as she found the corkscrew and started twisting it into the bottle's stopper, "I went out on the town the other night... Here, let me get that," he offered to finish job, and Zelda handed the bottle and screw to him, her hands shaking so badly she couldn't get it started.

He twisted the screw into the cork and then with one pull the cork popped free, foam rising from the neck of the bottle and he quickly lifted it to his mouth, taking a pull to stop the overflow before setting it back on the table, the overflow stopped.

"Never thought of that," Zelda commented.

"Well, different wines foam differently," he said, "That one wasn't bad, but there are kinds I'd have been wasting my time with. Anyway," he attempted to continue as she picked up the bottle to pour into the glasses, "I went to a bar just off the town square."

"The Drunken Monkey," Zelda said, "It's where most of the town guard go when off duty."

"That's the one," Arthur said, "Well, while I was there, a woman approached me..."

"What?" Zelda said without thinking, looking up at him from the glass.

"No, don't jump to the wrong idea," Arthur said, "Nothing like that happened. Though it almost did. I was... Hey, careful with that."

Zelda looked down and quickly turned the bottle upright, realizing she had overfilled one of the glasses and it was running over on the table. "Oh, gods," she muttered, reaching for a cloth to dry it, too slow as it ran over the edge, splashing directly onto the lap of her gown, eliciting a rare curse from her, "Oh, damn!"

Zelda stood up quickly, moving away from her seat as she found a piece of cloth to dry the table with, and then tried uselessly to wipe it from the fabric of her gown as well, only to find it a lost cause, and the red wine was surely going to stain.

"Are you okay?" Arthur asked.

"No, but that's beside the point," Zelda muttered, and gave up, throwing the cloth on the table as she sat back down heavily before turning a rather sharp look his way, "Anyway, this woman?"

"Oh, well, okay, let me just say I was getting a little frustrated at the time," Arthur said, "I shouldn't have, really, and was being stupid, and I went home with her, but nothing happened with her, okay?"

"Well, you're not lying," Zelda said, "What do you mean by frustrated?"

"Well, you know, you didn't have time to see me, and I was getting restless," he said, scratching his neck, his own nerves now getting to him, "Look, it was a mistake, and I'm sorry about it. But the real thing I wanted to talk about is this woman's son."

"What about him?" Zelda asked.

"See, he was in the courtyard the other day, watching the soldiers train," Arthur said, "I recognized him from the night before, and talked to him for a bit. I actually offered to teach him to use a bow, and his mother gave permission, and when I was on my way to get him earlier today for that reason... Well, long story short, this woman already has another man coming around, and he hurt the boy. The kind of bruises I saw, no correct discipline would explain. And when he saw me there, at the house, he attacked me."

"Oh, no, you're not hurt, are you?" Zelda asked, her initial distrust suddenly replaced with worry.

"I'm fine," Arthur said, "The training I had back in Darimar put me well above that thug. Here's the thing, though: I almost killed him. I wanted to, because of what he did to the boy. I didn't, though. I wasn't going to do it in front of the kid, at least. And I knew if I took the boy with me, even to keep him safe, they'd have the guard on me for kidnapping."

"Yes," Zelda nodded when he looked to her for confirmation, "You did the right thing there, as much as it might feel wrong."

"Is there anything that can be done, though?" Arthur asked, "I'm not familiar with your laws here, so I don't know if the government involves itself in this kind of thing. But there's nothing that justifies what was done to that child."

Zelda drummed her fingers on the table as she thought for a moment. "I'm afraid without a witness willing to testify, and confirm your belief of what happened, there's nothing I can do," she said, "And even then, unless the boy has other kin willing to take him in, he'll just end up in an orphanage."

"I was afraid of that," Arthur said, "Well, I gave that thug a pretty good scare. Maybe things will be better, but I think I'll go check on them tomorrow."

"Don't kill the man," Zelda said, "At least, not unless he attacks you first and you have other witnesses. Our laws regarding murder and self-defense are plenty clear, at least."

"And having an in with the princess herself does nothing to help me?" Arthur asked, though his smile made it clear he was kidding her, as if her empathy couldn't already tell.

"I might be able to give some leniency, but there's a limit to my patience as well," Zelda said, and slid one of the wine glasses across the table to him.

"So what is it you wanted to see me about?" Arthur asked, picking up the glass and taking a sip of the wine.

Zelda sighed, thinking that even the extra few minutes hadn't helped her come up with any better way of explaining it. Well, he was being honest with her, so maybe she should just do the same.

"Okay, do you remember when I blacked out during the battle at Darimar?" she asked, looking away, not able to muster the courage to look at him directly.

"Yes," Arthur said, "The wizard explained... Well..."

She looked back toward him and saw that he had turned crimson. "It's okay," she said, "We believe we know why I have that difficulty with the power I wielded there, and a way to solve it, so that it doesn't happen when I have to use it."

"Well, that's good, right?" Arthur said, "If you need it, you'd have to be able to do it without passing out."

"Well, that's why I wanted to see you here," Zelda said, feeling her own face growing hot. She clenched her hands, feeling them starting to tremble again. Gods, did everyone go though this the first time this kind of matter was facing them?

"I don't know anything about magic," Arthur said, "What do you expect me to...?"

He stopped as she looked at him out of the corner of her eye, and saw her fists clenched tightly, even trembling now.

"Wait a second..." he said, "If you're saying what I think you are..."

Zelda swallowed, feeling like she was swallowing a rock. "All indication we have says that my... problem... it's because I am a..." she paused, swallowing hard a second time, wondering why it was so damn hard to just say it, "It's because I've never..."

On the other end of the spectrum, this was a subject Arthur had considerable experience with, compared to most, and his own nervousness, while not completely vanishing, he was able to put aside. Or perhaps if she weren't so nervous, he would have been. At the same time, it was quite a change from the strong, confident woman he was used to seeing in her.

He reached across the table, taking her hands in his own. She suddenly turned her face toward him, nearly startled by his sudden move, but he only held her hands gently, looking into her eyes with a soft smile on his face.

"Look," he said gently, "I'm completely smitten by you. I have been since we met. I've never been completely sure that you've felt the same. You know I want to be with you, but do you feel the same about me? I'd hate to think I'm going to be used just for this reason. You are the only woman I've ever felt this way about and when it happens... I want it to be real."

"You... You want it to be real?" Zelda said, managing to keep her voice from shaking, "You, of all people, as many women as you have been with, and me, with no experience at all..." She laughed and added, "How would either of us be sure it's real?"

"I don't know," Arthur said, "I just expect for there to be something that was never there for me before. I saw the way that that other pair, Link and Midna are there names, the way they look at each other. There is something there, something they share that no one else can really see or understand."

"What they have, I don't know if I can," Zelda said, "I really doubt most people find what those two share. As for me... I'm sorry..." She stood up, pulling her hands away from his, turning away and walking several steps from him. "My responsibilities... My kingdom, they must always come first for me. I can't devote myself so completely to a single person."

She heard his chair slide on the floor, and footsteps move up behind her. Arthur put his hands on her shoulders, leaning close and whispering by her ear, "I never said that. But what about your own needs? When you're finished for the day, and are here in the dark... Do you have to be isolated? Or can you share that time with another that you care for?"

Zelda had no education on this matter. Ever since she was a child, she had been trained to lead. Her education had included extensive sessions of everything from art and literature to politic and military strategy. Politics had included a great deal of emphasis on the nature of political marriage and allegiances from it, but the subject of love was one she had no real experience or knowledge with. She liked Arthur, she knew that, but did she care about him like he wanted her to?

All her life, she had expected to be married to a noble, more for politics than anything, but had held onto hope that something would bloom from it. Her memories of her parents were faint, given how young she had been when they died, but she did remember quite clearly when her mother told her that her own marriage to her father had been arranged for those very reasons, and yet real love could bloom even from that. And when Zelda had asked how she knew, her mother had only smiled and responded, "Because your father tells me he loves me every day."

And here was opportunity knocking at her door, a chance without the machinations of office and nobility. And she was so hesitant to grab hold of it, and couldn't comprehend why.

"I want nothing more than to be close to you," Arthur whispered, drawing her back out of her thoughts, "But I don't want to simply be used. If you don't feel the same, I'll leave you be."

"I don't want you to leave," she said, "But I'm afraid... I do care about you, and I'm afraid this will change something between us."

"It will," Arthur whispered, "But for the better."

Zelda's heart was pounding as she turned, looking up at him. He smiled at her, and reached up to push her hair away from her face. Her breaths were rapid, her nervousness still holding strong, as he leaned down and kissed her. It was like lightning had struck her, as a jolt went through her entire body. The feeling of his lips against her own was electrifying. She had been deathly afraid of beginning, but now she suddenly found herself with her arms around his neck, holding on to him and not wanting to let go. Her heart was still pounding, but now from the excitement, which redoubled as his hands slowly caressed her back, down to her hips, and back up again, where he began undoing to ties that held her clothing in place.

His hands were rough and calloused, scratching on her bare skin, yet it felt wonderful as they slipped inside her clothes, the feeling on her back like nothing she had ever felt from another before. The world seemed to melt around them, and Zelda was surprised when she found herself on her bed, completely nude as he climbed up beside her. She felt a lump catch in her throat again when she realized she had no idea what to do from here, and whether she should wait for him, or move for him first. But Arthur was a practiced hand, and was in no rush. He kissed her again, before sitting up and telling her to lie on her stomach. Zelda wasn't sure what he hand in mind, until his hands reached her shoulders again and gently started to knead her muscles, slowly working down.

It was a long, slow massage, and Zelda relished it, not realizing how tense she had been, but the stress of everything had certainly been catching up to her, and soon she was lying flat, her arms out to the sides as Arthur gently worked the tension from her back and shoulders. She had no idea if it lasted minutes or hours, but it was just the beginning, and she shouldn't help but laugh at the tickling sensation when he leaned down to nuzzle her neck, and gave her ear a gentle nip.

"I think the best part of a Hylian lover is when I want to nibble an ear, there's plenty of it to nibble," he whispered, getting another giggle out of her as she turned over, looking up at him, on his hands and knees above her.

She didn't need to say anything, as now they began in earnest. It was even more wonderful than Zelda had ever dreamed, being so close to another person, with no secrets and nothing hidden, the warmth of their bodies growing to a high heat, until both were covered in a sheen of sweat from the exertions. And as for Arthur, even with such an inexperience lover, it was easily the best night he had ever experienced. There was something there, something he had once thought never actually existed, an intangible feeling that made the experience all the greater. It was a feeling of intimacy like he had never experienced before, and it was as though their souls mingled even as their bodies did.

In this relatively short time of bliss, Zelda forgot all the troubles of the world, at least for a while, and reveled in the experience. As they lay beside each other, panting from the exertions and basking in the afterglow, all their worries had melted away. The world would return again come morning, but for now, everything was perfect.

And as for whether or not this would actually help her use the Triforce of Wisdom's power without the previous problems, she no longer cared.

Some time after dark, Kilishandra had been pacing the courtyard, trying to put her thoughts in order. She wasn't sure where to go from here, except to keep following her father and Zelda. The survivors brought through the portal had been seen to by the doctors and given food, and were now resting as comfortably as one could expect. Most of them had been too weak to even speak when they came through, and even those walking under their own power collapsed into the waiting arms of those willing to help.

And Minerva... Gods, why did it have to end like that? The girl that had been such a nightmare when they first met, and then Ganondorf had saved her from herself, in a way. It had been so strange at first, to have her basically move in, but she had done as Ganondorf said, and never used her magic without permission, and slowly she had been educated on the concepts of morality, something she had no grasp of previously.

And it had always been Khall with her. Kilishandra couldn't remember a time around then that Minerva was far behind him. Kilishandra had thought Khall looked much like an elder brother, guiding and helping Minerva with whatever she needed. He always had time for her, in spite of everything, it seemed. And then Minerva had started to grow. In fact, she had grown abnormally fast. Ganondorf had been gone by this point, so he had not seen it happen. In a way, it seemed as though she had grown because she wanted to, because she wanted to be an adult, and the way she had looked at Khall had changed...

Well, at least they'll be together now, Kilishandra thought. Maybe they'll have peace in the next life. The problem was, what was she to do now? Saving her own world and people had been a climatic failure. An entire world lay dead because of Tharkus, and he had been connected to Shaklator even back then, so the blame was to her as well. And everyone knew she was on her way here.

How many people had they actually managed to save? Nineteen or twenty. It just wasn't enough. It didn't feel like anything good, like they had failed utterly.

It seemed the only thing she had left now was to avenge them. To kill the last one responsible for this nightmare. But after that... what then? It was an empty space that Kilishandra couldn't fill in her head. In a bizarre twist of fate, she had fallen in love with a man whose heart belonged to another, perhaps the gods even punishing her for so ignoring Mur'neth. He was friendly enough, but it was clear he didn't care about her in that way, and it hurt every time he smiled at her, knowing it would never be more than that.

And she had committed crimes against the people of this world that would not be easily forgiven. Most likely if she survived until the end of this, she'd be beheaded. Maybe that would be best. At least then she wouldn't have to live with the things she'd done. It was depressing to think about, though.

Even as she was lost in thought, she was being followed in the darkness. Barely visible in his dark clothing, Maylow walked quietly about thirty feet behind her, stewing in his own thoughts. He had seen firsthand what she did to the people of his kingdom, and such a crime was utterly unforgivable. As many as they had managed to save, it simply wasn't enough, and most of them had died in Darimar anyway, killed by the monsters this woman had called allies, until she had a convenient change of heart.

No, he thought, there was no forgiveness for a monster like this, and he owed it to his people to see her punished for her crimes. The princess of this nation was far too forgiving, that she not only allowed this beast to live, but to walk around among them like this, it would only bring a greater disastor when she did betray them. He thought this as he quickened his pace and silently drew his knife from his belt, closing in behind Kilishandra quickly but quietly. She was so absorbed in thought, she never heard him coming.

And he was so focused on his target that he never noticed his own doom approaching, not until the enormous hand clapped over his mouth and under his chin, the other hand snatching the hand holding the knife, the far larger hand clamping down around Maylow's own fist, making it impossible for him to even release his grip. Ganondorf's strength was far greater than Maylow's, who was completely helpless as the blade turned toward him, and was slammed back into his own chest, the hilt still gripped in his own fist, and his pain was completely muffled by the hand over his mouth.

"I'd say it's nothing personal, except intent to kill my daughter is extremely personal," the wizard whispered in his ear, "Not to mention, when it comes to it, she's a hell of a lot more useful than you are."

Maylow struggled, but Ganondorf's inhuman strength was too great for him to break free, and the wizard twisted the knife, the pain redoubling as it cut a swath of destruction in the stab wound.

No... Maylow silently pleaded, Not like this! It was for the good of all! We'd be better off without her! Why like this?

And the fact he had been so focused on this monster that he had forgotten the worse one, the one that created her. The princess's poor choices in allies would no doubt doom this nation, just as the five of Mystara had been doomed.

And so strange, his thoughts slowly drifted away from this, and the image of the dark elf woman from earlier in the day, claiming to be his mother. Why she was coming to his mind, and why the bearclaw necklace he wore suddenly felt so heavy...

The only comfort Maylow felt was when the pain finally subsided, and shortly later, he knew no more, falling limp in Ganondorf's arms.

And now there was another headache he didn't want to deal with. Careful not to let the body bleed on the courtyard ground, Ganondorf gathered him up, and with the barest effort, lifted off, flying into the night sky, over the wall and out of sight of the guards. He found a secluded alleyway and dumped the body there, sure it would be discovered the next day, but none the wiser of who was the killer.

With that task completed, he continued on his way to meet Vargus for their raid this night. He wasn't even halfway there when Vargus found him.

"Is something wrong?" Ganondorf asked as the ninja beckoned him toward a side alley, a different path to the church for which they were bound.

"As a matter of fact, yes," Vargus said, "We have a new problem."