A week passed.
Zelda wandered the castle like a ghost. She ate very little and talked very little to anyone. She spoke very little to her father, especially, even though she understood his reasoning. She just had no energy for it, no will.
The list of potential suitors began to pick up again, but her father failed to engage her in conversation on the subject. From time to time, she found herself glancing around, expecting to see Link coming back in from practice or ready to meet her for lunch.
On the seventh day, as she sat alone on her bed, one of her maids walked in, bowing respectfully and waiting for permission to speak. When Zelda gave it, the maid cleared her throat and said, "The king wishes to see you immediately in his study."
Oh great, that room again.
Zelda, still in her night gown, put on a robe over it and slippers, and went to her father's study. To her surprise, her father was standing, and after the young maid was dismissed, he had her sit down before himself.
"Zelda, my daughter. It pains me to see your heart aching so," he said, once she was seated.
"Father, you and I both understand why my heart weighs so heavily upon me. I also understand that there is little that can be done about that, due to the nature in which it is so hurt."
The king sighed heavily. "Let us not trouble each other with flowery phrases. Though he is no longer a part of court life, and a marriage between you would be impermissible… you do realize I would allow you to visit Master Tolrose, don't you?"
Zelda stared. "Visit…?"
"He has a house, a small duchy, really. Hour south of the castle. I would not begrudge my daughter any opportunity to visit someone that she considers a dear friend. Why… in fact, if you hurried yourself, you might be able to visit him for a late lunch now."
Zelda shook her head, her mouth agape with surprise. "But… I thought you did not want me to visit him, to have anything to do with him?"
"Of course not, my darling daughter. He is one of the few things that has made you happy. I won't take that away entirely."
Zelda hesitated. "You granted him a house?"
"Well of course… and, in light of far past events, a title. I suppose from this point on we should call him Grand Duke Tolrose."
Zelda stood. "I… I need to go get ready, father. I have someone I am meeting for lunch."
The king nodded and smiled thoughtfully as Zelda dashed from his study.
As she was riding south, she realized that she felt foolish at her overreaction of Link's departure. She'd be able to visit him, the same as any other friend. Why wouldn't she? The carriage ride was slow, and she stared determinedly out the window, wishing for a house to come into view.
"Where is it?" she whispered under her breath fiercely. How could an hour pass so slowly?!
When it did come into view, she admitted that she was impressed with its simplistic, rustic charm. It would make an ideal summer house, but it looked like it was a little bit… much for Link, she thought.
The carriage pulled up in the court way and Zelda was helped out by her coachmen. They waited for a few minutes for the guards to open the doors from the inside. Zelda shook her head. "Open the doors for me, please," she asked of her footmen. They did so, rushing quickly up and pulling them open. Zelda walked in, looking around the house. It was beautiful inside, but most of it was unlit, and as far as she could tell, there was no one around.
"Hello?" she called, nervously. Her footmen, a bit nervous, followed her inside and let the doors shut behind them. Zelda headed down the main hall, her eyes wide and adjusting to the dark indoors of the house. Everything was quiet. Had they not gone far enough? But this was the only house she'd seen, and they'd certainly ridden an hour. Zelda followed the hallway through to the main dining room, which, to her surprise, was very well lit with wide open windows that let in a fresh breeze. She headed to the far door beyond the tables, most certainly the swinging door to the kitchen, and pushed it open.
She was right. The kitchen was hot, even with the open windows, and there was a smell of something delicious in one of the massive fire places. Hunched in front of it, Link sat on a stool, stirring something around in a heavy iron pan with a wooden spoon. Zelda stood utterly still and silent, watching him cook. Link wore simple, rough clothes, his hair hanging in his eyes.
She wasn't certain, but she could tell the second he 'felt' someone was in the room with him. Something went taut in his shoulders, although he kept stirring. The same time he must've looked up, Zelda realized he'd hung a small polished mirror over the fireplace, just barely in view so that he could see into it without moving his head much and see if he was being snuck up on.
The rough rasping sound of the wooden spoon on iron stopped, and Link went very still. "Zelda?" he asked into the fire.
"I… came for lunch," she replied with a faint smile. "If I'm not imposing, that is."
Link set the pan down on a grate that sat suspended just over the flames, and stood up, turning around and grinning at her. Zelda smiled brilliantly as he walked towards her in long strides, scooping her up in his arms and hugging her tightly.
"A bit late to it, aren't you?" he teased, muttering in her ear.
Zelda laughed and buried her face against his neck, under his jaw, his skin hot from the fire. "Only by a week," she replied.
They hugged each other for a while, until, remembering his food, Link went back to his hasty meal and stirred it so that it wouldn't burn, and Zelda went to tell her men that all was well and they could wait in the carriage.
"There's plates in the cupboard next to the sink on the right," he said, pointing. Zelda hesitated, nodding when she realized he did, in fact, intend for her to get them, and took down two, setting them on the wide preparation table, nearest to the fire. Link portioned out the lunch, and they each carried their own plate back into the dining hall, sitting close together. They ate and talked, just like old times, and now and again they bumped hands or elbows, eating their food and drinking fresh water that Link had collected from a well dug behind his home.
"You like it here?" Zelda asked when they finished, and Link was washing up.
"Yeah," he replied. "Got my own rules, got my own things, get to do it all myself and my way, you know? I like that."
"Mm, sounds nice," Zelda agreed. "I'm sorry I didn't visit earlier, I… didn't know if I could."
Link nodded his agreement, turning around. "I understand that; I can't say that I knew if you would ever see me again. If you'd be allowed."
Zelda traced one of the grains n the wood of the prep table with her finger. "Will you visit me at the castle?"
Link thought about it as he dried his hands on a towel. "If I'm allowed to."
"If I say you're allowed, then you're allowed," she responded.
They stood in silence, not looking at each other. Zelda tried to break the ice. "You know, you're the first Grand Duke I've seen that… doesn't have an army of servants and the finest clothes imported from other countries."
Link raised his brows. "Grand Duke?"
"Yes, it's… it's the title father gave you. You knew that, right?"
"Well, I knew I had a title, but I didn't…" Link stared, surprised. "Bastard just keeps winging out surprises, doesn't he?"
"Link!" Zelda cried, a stunned half-smile on her face.
"Oh come on, I just… he gives me a house, money, a title… it's like he didn't really want me to leave the court at all, which I wouldn't've minded too much, honestly." Link picked at some grime under one nail.
Zelda smiled a little to herself. "In my opinion, it sounds to me like my father wanted to give you a chance at something greater than being a lowly soldier."
Link looked up sharply, his gaze focusing on Zelda's face. "What do you mean by that?"
Zelda shrugged. "Just a thought." She straightened, smiling at him. "Walk me out?"
Before Link pushed open the main doors to let Zelda out, he kissed her hand. "Will I see you tomorrow for lunch?" he asked softly, looking at her.
"Of course," she replied, in just as quiet a tone. "I'll try to come a little earlier though, alright?"
"Alright," Link answered. He bit his lower lip, and then reached out, cupping her face in his hands and kissing her. They kissed a little bit longer, and finally he let her go. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
"I already said yes," she answered with a soft laugh. They kissed each other lightly, one more time, and Link pushed open the main hall doors, escorting her out into the sun. Zelda's coachmen collected her, bowing to Link, who nodded in return.
Zelda climbed into her coach and opened one of the windows, sticking her head out and smiling at Link, even as they cracked the reins over the horses and started them going. They waved to each other until they could no longer see each other, but it was far more sweet; because they had a tomorrow.