Disclaimer: All characters and places, save the few I make up, belong to Nintendo and some very rich Japanese man. All that does not belong to Nintendo and said Japanese man, including the plot of this story, belong to my imagination. Be wary, for my imagination is wild and does not take kindly to thieves.
Exposition: Knaves of Spades is a dramatic romance set within the Hyrule universe, in a season in which Hyrule is suffering from an economic crisis caused by natural disaster. Link, powerless against Hyrule's current misfortune, and Zelda, overwhelmed by the machinations of her father's court, must fight for the freedom to rule their own lives in spite of public opinion and threat of political intrigue. Enjoy.
Knave of Spades: Shuffling the Deck
"Almonds! Pecans! Aaapricots!"
It was a bustling morning in Castletown. The sky was overcast and the summer air was warm and thick enough to be cleanly sliced by the chimes of vendors and haggling townsfolk. A young boy came running through the market square weaving in between the crowd of merchants and buyers.
"Capt'n! Capt'n!" he shouted past the store windows. He stopped on the corner by the carpenter's shop. "Excuse me sir, do you know where I can find Capt'n Delluhein?" the little boy asked the carpenter. The carpenter pointed with his hammer down the avenue leading away from the square.
"Last door before the alley 'bove the tailor's." The boy thanked him and hurried on down the street to where there was a man standing on a ladder nailing a "For Rent" sign to the shingles of the apartment's front window.
"Hullo, sir! Is this where the Capt'n lives?"
"Not anymore t'isn't." The man paused halfway down the ladder. "But you can try upstairs."
Inside the tailor shop the little boy fumbled up the wooden steps littered with boxes. The first door at the top of the stairs was left ajar. He recognized the figure of the captain resting pensively against a crate in the otherwise empty room. Even out of uniform he was easily distinguished by his knee-high buckled boots and sword at his hip that unfailingly accompanied him. Otherwise, with his common and disheveled clothes, he more closely resembled a vagabond than an officer.
Underneath a green Hylian-standard vest he wore a slit-front linen shirt with a gathered collar and sleeves that were left unlaced by negligence. His fitted breeches were plain brown and cuffed sloppily above the turned-down tops of his leather boots. His tousled hair was long enough to reach the hard line of his jaw but too short to be tied in a lovelock, making it the perfect length to give him the sort of wind-blown appearance that best accorded the bronze tone his skin had achieved by the many hours he had once spent under the midday sun.
On the wall above his head, a Hylian shield hung proudly like the figure of a god. It was old and tarnished now, but it had served him well. Every dent and scratch was a blow that could have killed him. As the captain took it down, he could see a dull reflection of himself in the immortal phoenix with its fiery wings raised towards the heavens in holy exhalation of the Triforce. As he placed it down into the box, the door creaked open.
"Capt'n Delluhein?" the boy asked timidly.
"Yes?" he answered absentmindedly, placing the lid over the crate.
"My name is Samps'n, sir. I have a message for you."
The captain turned his attention to the boy. He rolled his sleeves up above his elbows and folded his arms across his chest expectantly. "Well, what is it?" he prodded.
Sampson handed him a folded up piece of paper. "I can't read."
As the captain unfolded the letter his blue eyes narrowed on the royal seal. A message from the King? That couldn't be right. The King had official couriers at his disposal. He would never entreat a message, however trifle, to a child. Either the letter was forged or—
"Are you really Link, the hero who saved Hyrule and slew the evil King Ganondorf?" the boy interrupted his thoughts.
Link. Only a handful of people still knew him by that name. The war had ended seven or eight years ago at least, long before he had been made a captain. He was only seventeen then, but he had been prepared to do all that was demanded of him. Called forth by the Sages, he took up the Blade of Evil's Bane and brought the Prince of Darkness to their mercy. Now they called it the "Imprisoning War," and for his service they called him a hero.
He thought it had been long enough ago for a generation of children to grow up without knowing what he had done.
The captain looked down at the boy who whose bright eyes were teeming with curiosity, and he couldn't help but smile. He had to admire the kid's audacity. "What makes you think I am?"
"Wull, everyone talks about the hero from the war..." Sampson looked sheepishly down at his feet. "...and mum says you're him."
So apparently it hadn't been so long ago that the marketplace gossips had lost interest in him.
"And who is your mother?"
Outside an angry voice called for Sampson, and the boy's eyes widened in fear. "Uh-oh." He froze, listening as the voice grew nearer. "Gotta go!" he shouted, "Goodbye Mister-Capt'n-Link-sir!" Before the captain could say another word the boy was down the stairs and out the door.
Alone now, the captain felt a twinge of emptiness. In the years following the war, he occasionally took to conquests abroad, expelling evil where he found it and upholding justice where it faltered, but not anymore. Now he had all but hung his hat up to that sort of heroism. Truth be told, the moth-eaten Hero's Clothes lay in a packing box somewhere.
The captain looked down at the letter in his hands. Upon closer inspection he verified the King's seal. It was most definitely real. The note said to report to the King upon being received. Damn. It was suppose to be his day off.
Even now the protection of Hyrule and its Royal Family remained at the forefront of his occupation. He had accepted the position of captain of the Royal Guard (a small but prestigious regiment of the Hylian Army) several years ago, and was now also the leading officer of the King's bodyguard. He was head of castle security and therefore responsible for recruitment, training, and regular assignments of the Royal Guard. Each day was more or less like the day before. It was an endurable existence except for the suffocating hours he spent in corners of the meeting room known as the "Tri Chamber", in the company of the King, his privy advisors, and the querulous Secretary of State, Lord Hestynne.
Ever since the rainy season began, the monarchy faced an onslaught of grievances by its citizens who suffered losses from its overgenerous outpouring. The torrential rains had filled Lake Hylia to excess, incurring floods, mudslides, road closures, leaky roofs and the ruination of all trade routes leading into and around Hyrule. The widespread crop damage raised the price of fresh produce above what the average household could afford, and likewise the inability to exchange goods left many inventories bare. The people of Hyrule grew weary and potentially riotous if mixed with equal parts of hunger and desperation. Consequently, the council was particularly occupied these days by the country's troublesome affairs.
Powerless against the forces of commerce and climate, the captain did his best to stand guard attentively while the counsellors discussed how to best rescue the economy. But he could be kept still no better than one can keep fire locked in a box. Inevitably his restless arms desired to swing and jab in thoughtless routine. He would spar his reflections in the windows and his shadows on the wall. These skirmishes left numerous unsuspecting ornaments and candlesticks disfigured.
Besides perfecting his technique against imaginary foes, he sought other means to relieve his boredom. He counted all the stone tiles lining the floor of the council chamber. Twice. Sometimes he played games of solitaire with a risqué deck of playing cards whose backs depicted the goddesses in the nude. And on at least one occasion he lined up several empty clay pots along the windowsill and tried to flick rupees into them from across the room. Link's lack of formal training in mechanics, however, resulted in poor estimation of the necessary initial velocity and angle of trajectory, and subsequently, a broken window. The King's council was not pleased.
It was around the time that several of the candlesticks he had decapitated were burnt to the end of their wicks that the council decided they could no longer tolerate the captain's presence in their meetings. Due to his age and declining health the King's daily activities had become increasingly sedentary, and thus being assigned to his bodyguard was perhaps not the choice occupation for the restive young captain.
"Ah there you are Captain Delluhein," an ominous voice called from the opposite end of the King's corridor. But it wasn't the King who spoke. It was—
"Lord Hestynne," the captain acknowledged.
"I must speak with you," said Lord Hestynne, motioning for the captain to walk with him. But the captain did not move.
"I am to see the King." Link's voice was unwavering as he held up the letter. "I received a letter this—"
"I know," the statesman interrupted, "I sent it." The captain's expression froze. He should have known. Only Lord Hestynne would insult him so by sending an illiterate child to deliver his mail. "The King is not well today," Hestynne explained, "He asked me to see you in his stead." The captain grumbled and begrudgingly complied.
"I was unsure of how to reach you," he added, stepping into his office, "I hope you don't mind I sent the Lieutenant's page." It was testimony to Hestynne's skill in the art of being subtly patronizing.
"It is of His Majesty's opinion that your services have not been put to good use. We know you are a fine warrior and agree it is an appalling waste for you to be so frequently stationed in the Tri Chamber."
This sounded like another one of Hestynne's implicit insults. "A waste, my lord?"
"Yes, entirely. I have a much better prospect for you, Captain." Though Link did not anticipate being too thrilled by whatever the statesman proposed.
"As you know, His Majesty's health has been progressively deteriorating over the past several months, and although it pains me to consider, this kingdom may soon cease to be under his command. We must devote ourselves to securing the future of Hyrule, and that includes a smooth transition of power.
"Since the Princess Zelda is His Majesty's only heir, we need to ensure her security, especially with the present political climate as it is. The council is seeking to appoint a new officer of the Princess's Guard, and for a trial period we would like to appoint you."
Link was speechless. As Captain, he personally saw to it that the Princess was well-protected, and presently her guard was not short-staffed. For what reason could the council suddenly find it necessary to append him to her entourage?
"Now this isn't necessarily permanent," Hestynne assured, "but I was hoping you would consider it."
The captain found this blatant undermining of his authority to be downright offensive, but he censored himself. "I assure you, my lord, that the Princess is quite safe. She has the highest qualified guards, I dare say, of the entire Hylian Army. I hand-picked them myself."
Hestynne was unmoved. While scrawling his final instructions he casually dismissed the captain's protest. "Yes yes, but we can never be too careful about these things, can we."
Link opened his mouth as if to argue, but said nothing. Hestynne's statement was inarguable.
He handed the parchment to Link. "Keep in mind that she is used to the academy where she could come and go as she pleased. They tell me she can be quite disagreeable at times, but don't let that dissuade you."
By disagreeable he meant generally unobservant of royal orthodoxy.
"I know there are others who keep an eye on her, but the King is especially concerned about her safety in public places. He would like you to accompany her."
Link had first met Zelda when he was only a child. Never mind destiny, he had thought she was pretty, and that was all the reason he needed to, against better judgement, put his life on the line and subsequently spend seven years suspended in time, all to satisfy a whim of the Princess. However foolish, this mistake brought them closer than their bodies could bring them. It was a connection that pervaded time, existing even after the clock was reset. He was given a second chance at a normal life, and for awhile he took it, that is, until the war.
For years they had maintained an intimate friendship that might have edged on romance had it not been for the upheaval caused by Ganondorf's uprising. Then after he was sealed and the war came to an end they saw each other less and less. Zelda was sent abroad to the northern country of Alderia to study at an esteemed academy, and Link never did stay very long in one place, for his courage directed him, like a bit in a horse's mouth, to strange and foreign lands. Only on the occasion that Zelda's holidays coincided with an interim of Link's various comings and goings did they see one another.
The months of separation were difficult for Link. He often sent her letters. Once he rode all day and half the night to Alderia just to see her. But nothing ever came of it. Whether she was truly blind to his affections or if her obliviousness was only a pretense for disinterest, none could say. In any case, the event marked a decline in their correspondence.
The thought of being assigned to her now made Link nervous, but he knew it would be unwise to refuse a king burdened by the threat of revolution, so at length he accepted with a mixture of eagerness and apprehension. It was then arranged for Link to assume his new position almost immediately. The following evening, in fact, he was to escort the Princess to the theater.
What Link dreaded even more than the awkward reunion of estranged friends was the upheaval of his schedule. His suffocating days in Hyrule Castle were partially alleviated by the freedom he had in the evenings, during which he frequently participated in mild instances of delinquency. He played cards and other morally illegitimate games of chance with a few of the other guards at the Clown and Bard tavern or in the loft of their barracks, worlds away from the stuffy afternoons amidst trade affairs and treaties.
Although gambling itself was outlawed in Castletown, the average card game between a few soldiers was easily permitted. Only high-stakes games like those that were hosted by some of the alehouses and taverns in the seedier parts of town were considered punishable by law (but seldom were). Even the captain was guilty of a hand or two—or several. The law had been passed just after the Unifying War in order to curb Gerudo influence on the "moral integrity" of the Hylian people of Castletown, or in other words, to claim that Hylians were morally superior to any race (but particularly, the Gerudo) who permitted gambling. If questioned, the captain would half-seriously claim his crime was merely a peaceful protestation of this assumption.
The walls of the loft where he usually played were adorned with the shields and weapons of former captains. There was a large window facing east and a smaller window opening to the west that overlooked the entrance to the ground level several floors below. The loft housed several tables with wooden chairs dispersed about the room and a well-used dartboard on the north wall.
Link slouched in a wooden chair, his boots propped up on the round table before him. He held his four cards close to his face as his eyes shifted to the other three players. Some nights there were more or less of them, depending on who was on duty or whose wife was waiting at home, but tonight he played Primira, a Calatian card game similar to Poker, with "the regulars": Rhoän Buusheine, Jesper Voel, and the captain's second-in-command, Lieutenant Temar Derghin.
Rhoän sat to the captain's right. He was twenty-eight and a broad-shouldered beast of a man with the strength of an ox. He did not speak often, but when he did, it was with a subtle accent that suggested he was not a native of Hyrule. No one knew where Rho came from, and none dared ask. Some said he left his homeland, swearing not to return until he earned enough money to marry his sweetheart, but it was more widely believed that he had killed a man and fled from justice.
Jesper, the ruddy-haired kid at Link's left, was the youngest among them. He was a lank young man of nineteen years who still lived at home with his mother. His clean-shaven freckled face and juvenile behavior allotted him the role of little brother to his fellow Hylian guards. Rho Buuchaine particularly had taken him under his wing, though loose-lipped Jesp seemed an unlikely companion for the famously reserved soldier.
Lieutenant Durkin sat on the other side of the table. He was a married man in his mid-thirties with two children and another on the way. He didn't resent his commanding officer for being a few years his junior. In fact, they were rather close friends. Although the captain possessed much natural skill, it was greatly refined by the lieutenant's wisdom from years of experience. He was a patient man and hard-nosed when it came to matters of fairness. Had he not been a soldier, he would have made an excellent magistrate.
Temar discarded two cards from his hand and picked up two others. "Wait just a minute, Captain," he interrupted one of the Link's famous adventure stories, "I thought'cha said she was a dancin' girl,"
"She wasn't just a dancer," Link defended.
Jesp smirked. "Heh, ain't that what yuh said 'bout that dancin' girl at Barkley's last week?"
"Oh shove, it, Jesp," the lieutenant admonished, "Your ma works at Barkley's." Barkley's was the most infamous brothels in town, and though his mother didn't actually work there, Jesp knew it would be best to shut his mouth. He shuffled the cards in his hand and discarded one.
Link threw five rupees in the pot and understated his hand. Ignoring Jesp, he continued calmly, "She was an oracle."
"An oh-ra-kul? Is that one off those expensif whores?" Rho asked innocently. He exchanged one card in his hand for another in the desk.
Link slapped his forehead with his palm. "No, an oracle is—"
"Was she any good?" Jesp interjected. He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Link sighed in frustration. His cheeks flushed, either in anger or in remembrance of the Oracle of Seasons—how he had been bewitched by her fiery eyes and limber body years ago in the woods of Holodrum.
Jesp snickered at the captain's silence, but ceased at the insistence of Temar's threatening glare.
"It's your turn, Jesp. Yeh gotta cover that bet," the lieutenant pointed out.
The cathedral bells sounded in the distance and suddenly Link rose to his feet. "I have to go," he said abruptly.
"What? Why? It's only nine o'clock, cap'n," they protested.
He threw his cards down on the table and hastily put on his coat. "I'm on duty tonight."
The three of them looked at each other skeptically. Only the rank and file were ever subject to night duty. They wondered if perhaps he was leaving because they had offended him.
"It's a new assignment," he assured their puzzled faces, "Just half a shift."
As the captain's boots thumped furiously down the stairs and out the door, Jesp turned over the four cards lying at the empty seat.
"Damn. Four queens."