The dungeons of Hyrule castle were neither expansive nor all that frightening, as peacetime in this country produced little more than pickpockets or fraudsters. Its tenders swept them clean every morning, gave its "guests" a clean bed of straw, and provided simple food and water. Not a comfortable place by any means, but certainly preferable to cold winter nights as far as debtors were concerned.
The Shadow Temple just outside Kakariko village, however, was another story.
"Temple" was a misnomer, a name given to hide its true identity. This was where the Shekiah, the shadowy guardians of the Royal Family, brought enemies of the Crown. Often those who entered never left, with smears of crimson on its floors and fresh dirt in the potters' field the only evidence they had ever existed. In peacetime its halls lay empty, waiting for the next cycle of chaos that the unfortunate country seemed to experience on a regular basis.
For the first time in many years, the Shadow Temple had a visitor. Like all of those preceding him, he did not come of his own free will. This one, however, had required more "persuasion" than the usual guest. Because of this, the Shekiah kept him chained, in a far corner of the Temple, and with a magical barrier surrounding his tiny cell. For he was no ordinary man, but a sorcerer, and a King in his own right.
He had committed the worst crime possible in Hyrule; attempting to steal the sacred icon that held the very fabric of the country together, for his own control. The fact that he still lived spoke volumes about his power, both physically and in terms of magic. But slowly, surely, the Shekiah moved toward putting an end to that.
He half-stood, half hung against the wall, as the chains did not allow him to lie down or sit. His head nodded forward, eyes shut, trying to rest in the welcome silence. Angry welts and open gashes crisscrossed his dark skin, and brown clotted blood stuck in his red hair. His amber eyes opened ever so slightly as his ears picked up the sound of footsteps.
He felt the barrier disappear, and the door opened; a young, lithe Shekiah stepped inside. He raised his head and gave his visitor a biting, scornful look. "Drop the act. I know who you are," he snarled, then added with relish, "Traitor."
"It was you who betrayed me." A woman's voice spoke from the boy's mouth, and then her form shifted to show her true identity. Princess Zelda's sapphire eyes stared out just as hard as the amber ones of her prisoner. "To think you would do this…all those assurances you made over the years…nothing but lies! If I did not have my own duties I would join the Shekiah in carrying out your sentence…"
"Stop speaking nonsense," Ganondorf spat. "You honestly believe what that Kando fool has told you?"
Zelda straightened her shoulders. "What he said does not matter. We found you in the Temple of Time, about to open the door to the Sacred Realm…you cannot deny it."
"I do not," he stated with solid confirmation. "But I did not go there to steal the Triforce for my own designs…I went to keep it safe by taking it out of his hands."
Zelda's eyes narrowed. "You are a fool," she said simply. "Your misplaced contempt for Ocine is disgusting. All this out of jealousy…"
"Jealousy?!" The man planted his feet on the ground, rising up and leaning forward. "You think this is about jealousy? What happened to that Wisdom your bloodline is supposed to possess, that you cannot see what a threat Ocine is to your people as well as mine?!"
Zelda stood silent, but kept her gaze steady. "I know he is not an ideal ally," she said softly. "But the fact remains…one person committed the unspeakable crime, and that was you, not him."
Ganondorf sighed, slumping back into his original position. "I suppose there is no point in arguing," he said half in anger, half in sadness. "You are not the person you once were."
"Neither are you." Zelda turned on her heel and stalked out the door, slamming it behind her. He shut his eyes once more as the magic barrier crackled to life around him.
The girl would not sit still. She got into everything, and Ganondorf had his hands full chasing her around the Fortress. 'You'll be the best of friends', she says, he thought angrily to himself, his mother's words echoing in his head. 'Just treat the Hylian Princess as you would any one of your sisters,' she says.
Fat chance of that. He doubted very much that he would be allowed to whale on the impudent little girl, not that he ever did so with any of his sisters. They had an ounce of sense. They didn't pick up scorpions from the ground as if they had found a new toy, and not something that would kill them within a half-minute of a strike from their tail. In fact, he was convinced that the Gerudo babies had more sense than the Hylian Princess.
To make things worse, she seemed to find darting between his legs just as he made an empty snatch in the air to be the most fun of games, and the proud Prince – nearing adulthood at twelve – was forced to play babysitter.
All color drained from his face as she scrambled out a window into the darkness of the night. He'd never find her if she ran away from the Fortress, especially the way the wind was blowing in the desert tonight. He snatched a torch from the wall and practically dived through after her.
To his relief, she stood stock-still outside, staring up at the sky. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back. "Come on, that's enough fun for one day. Let's go back, huh?"
"So many stars…" She stood in awe, eyes wide, and Ganondorf followed her gaze.
"Yeah, the sky's clearer than usual tonight," he said off-handedly, pulling at her arm again.
"I've never seen so many!" Zelda turned back to the Fortress and scrambled up an outside stairway. "We've got more torches at the castle…and I'm not allowed out after dark…"
Ganondorf rolled his eyes. Not allowed out after dark? Great Goddesses…
Zelda clambered up toward the watch-fires, Ganondorf puffing behind her. Finally she got to the higher end of the Fortress and instantly lay down on the roof, staring up at the stars above her. "That one's the Hero," she stated with much authority as she pointed to a set of three bright pinpoints of light. "See, those three are his belt, and you follow those up to his hand, holding his sword."
Ganondorf shrugged, sitting down next to her. His people used the stars for guidance in the desert, not for entertainment. "If you say so."
She giggled. "I like it here," she said. "It's more open, more free…" she rolled to one side and looked at him. "Do you think I'll be able to come again?"
He shrugged. "I suppose so," he replied, and felt surprised to find that he did not mind.
Zelda nervously tugged at the collar of her dress. At sixteen, she would be introduced as a woman, instead of a girl, to her country for the first time. She had a lot riding on this; her entire reputation and future respect as a sovereign leader, for example.
Her tutors had forced her to run through the motions much more than necessary, so she walked through the ballroom on automatic pilot, offering her hand and accepting bows and curtsies just as she should. She greeted all the usual courtiers first, then the representatives of the other races. Ruto was as giggly as ever, but Ganondorf had become moody over the past few months, probably because she had been preoccupied with palace things. This was hardly her fault, and she told him so, but he gave her a short, clipped answer and walked off. Zelda sighed and left him alone.
"Hello." Zelda stopped her praise of a lady-in-waiting's new baby to see Ocine, the young prince from Kando, standing next to her. His dark hair had an odd violet tinge that was nonetheless quite common in his home country. "I haven't seen you in several years. You've grown into a beautiful young woman."
"You're very kind to say so." Zelda found this exchange of pleasantries exhausting, as one word could have a hundred different meanings, based on inflection and context.
He smiled warmly. "I brought a birthday gift for you." Ocine handed her a small box. "I know it's early, but when I saw your dress, I thought it would go quite nicely with it."
She opened the box and found, to her surprise, a gold necklace with several precious gems studded across it. The people around her marveled, pressing in for a closer look, the metalwork and quality of the jewels much finer than most of the riches she herself possessed.
And yet she hesitated to touch it, for she had heard where the Kando got their labor for the mines, and what they did to them. She knew that many refugees from the country had fled to Hyrule, and had listened to many of their stories as they pleaded for asylum. Zelda did not want to walk among her people, seeking their respect, with blood diamonds around her neck.
Of course, the courtiers had no idea that was what they were, and pressed her to try it on. She hid her reluctance as she did, briefly wondering who was really in charge here, if a Princess could not impose her will on those below her. But it was more complex than that. There were rules to be followed.
The small quartet began tuning their instruments, a signal that they would soon be playing the Debutante's Dance. Here Zelda would be expected to bring most of the male attendees onto the floor with her, but special meaning was attached to who she chose first. Ocine touched her arm with a little smile, and Zelda felt a small wave of dread wash over her.
But when the quartet launched into song, it was a lively Gerudo tune. Ocine frowned slightly, but said, "Well, I'm not familiar with this one, but if you'd like to…"
"Actually, I know someone who is," she replied, and walked away. A little abrupt perhaps, but considering the circumstances…
Ganondorf stood up against the wall, as if attempting to make himself an inanimate decoration like the suits of armor. He looked up in surprise as she extended her hand, then his face split in a wide grin.
She could see a few looks of surprise among those assembled, but she didn't care. For a few brief moments she could be herself, in the company of a close friend, without worrying about what should be done. As he led her over the dance floor, she took heart in his eager guidance.
Zelda ran her hands through her hair, driven to distraction by the numerous requests she had been given just in the past half hour. She had retreated to her room, unable to concentrate on anything but the betrayal of one that had once been close to her – and what she had to do to him to uphold the laws of her country.
Link, her bodyguard and constant companion, knew what she was thinking without asking. "I know it can't be helped, and I'm sorry," he offered, significant words from the person who had brought the Gerudo King down in the first place. "People change, over time. I guess he's not the same person you knew as a child."
She stared off into space. "I get the feeling I'm doing something terribly wrong," she said. "But there's no denying what he was about to do, and what would have happened afterward."
He put a hand on her shoulder. "You're doing the right thing, I know it."
Somehow, Zelda was not so sure.