Disclaimer: I don't own The Legend of Zelda.
He moved with the grace and silence of a wavering shadow, slipping from tree to tree beneath the day's dying light. Guards armed with long spears and garbed in clinking chainmail patrolled the courtyards ceaselessly, but very few would say that Hyrule's strength lay in its soldiers and watchmen as much as it ought. The golden days of its glory, in nearly all respects, seemed to have passed into a graying twilight, and the weak hearts struggling beneath the weighty armor and royal heraldry were a shaming proof of it.
And so, it took pitifully little effort to ghost ever deeper into the castle's interior. At times, with a discontented scowl, the noiseless intruder dared even to flick little twigs and pebbles at the dimwitted guards' heels from behind. Those who noticed such a minute disturbance found nothing out of the ordinary within their sight when they turned, and each resumed his rounds with a weary, exasperated sigh, as though wishing for a more glorious task.
It was unnecessary, this skulking and stalking. He might have walked straight up to and through the castle doors, head held high and unassailable, shielded from harassment or even delay by the favor of higher powers. Much higher powers.
Yet he could not resist. It was not his way to walk as a starched-collar noble, nor as a grizzled veteran, receiving his dues of authority and respect for services rendered to crown and country.
He preferred to slink like the wolf that he knew himself to be at heart.
And further, he did not wish his presence—nor his purpose—to be known to such men as these. Only two here were aware of him, and it pleased him for this to remain so.
He would be seeing both of them soon enough.
Three hundred and seventy-one heartbeats. It took him no longer to pass unseen into the castle's very halls, and verdant grass gave way to thick carpet as he slipped through an open window. The sound of his footsteps deadened to the barest whisper of movement, he followed two chattering maids down half a corridor before sidestepping behind a standing suit of polished armor. Pausing as a clerk juggling ink bottles and scrolls strode by, muttering endlessly all the while, the castle's unknown guest shook his head in cool disappointment.
Were he only a mere assassin…
He traveled up a flight of stairs, his keen ears having caught not a single brush of fabric against flesh from that way. Coming to another hallway branching off from the first at the top, he took a moment to stand alone in the crossing. Having attracted no attention from a pair of soldiers on his left at the far end, facing each other and commenting casually on the court's affairs, the visitor soon continued on unimpeded.
Another few minutes, and he stood several floors higher before a set of glass doors, through which shone the sun's fading rays. Drawing a breath, and releasing it slowly, he reached out his hand and pushed.
Stepping into the fresh air, he surveyed the terrace patiently. The lateness of the day had dyed the potted plants golden and cast a blinding sheen on the reflection pools. Above, the sky seemed ablaze in rich honey; through the soft haze broke puffy masses of cotton dipped in molten bronze and silver.
Letting the door fall shut behind him, the silent figure moved beyond a row of slender fruit trees and hedges, shielding himself from the sight of any who might pass by the lofty courtyard's entrance.
Not a soul would consider coming through those doors for another hour, save out of treachery or genuine need.
It struck him that such a vast private garden on one of the castle's lesser roofs was quite unnecessary, all things considered. Yet, the very fact that he stood here alone, without escort or listening ears, told of its immediate use. It suited him well.
Stopping within a smaller grove within the greater garden, he made a show of looking around. A pointless exercise, but part of what he viewed as a game of sorts.
Some moments later, a single shadow shifted into a more solid form. Blue eyes met crimson, but the silence stretched ever tighter between them.
At last, the guest acknowledged his host—one of two—with a nod and a small light of appreciation in his gaze. Before him stood the only truly competent guardian in the fortress: a fact not unknown to the protector himself.
An answering nod followed the first, and the crimson-eyed youth disappeared from view a moment later. He would not be seen again that night, most likely. He might even have retired to a distant corner of the wide terrace, though never too far away.
The first figure, enheartened by the reliable, shadowy presence of the second, moved on. Beyond a slender tree, its boughs weighed down by many ripe apples, he stepped into the inner sanctum. Met by the soft babbling of a clear fountain, the gentlest scent of roses hanging in the warm summer air, and the merest suggestion of a mystical tune, he allowed his eyes to fall half-closed. Standing there, still as the ivory sculptures that peered at him impassively from the bushes, he soaked it in as cloth draws up wine.
When he felt the peace of the place at its zenith, he let out his breath and dutifully turned his mind to other matters.
He found her as he expected. A narrow book lay half-open and forgotten on the bench; a silk pouch sat atop it, only just hinting at its contents; and two chalices rested modestly atop the fountain's edge.
And she, with golden tresses bound perfectly beneath a gemmed tiara, dress settled without crease upon her legs, and fairest skin glowing radiant, sat serenely in the twilight playing upon the ocarina, eyes closed.
He waited for her. She'd known of his coming long before, and sensed his entrance in more ways than one. He felt gratitude that she wished to prolong the moment.
With one last lingering note held in the air, she pulled the ocarina from her pink lips and cast her awakened sapphire gaze upon him.
"Link," she greeted without other formal preamble.
Her tone was warm, and her eyes shining. So invited, he stepped forward and took her gloved hand in one of his own. Lifting it upwards, he brushed his lips against her knuckles and let her withdraw, all in the fashion of the court.
She smiled gently and inclined her head. As he sat down beside her on the sun-soaked bench, the princess asked pleasantly, "Did you and Sheik exchange any words?"
He shook his head mutely. As though she expected differently.
Laughing lightly, she cradled the ocarina in her lap. "That my two men remain silent, save only when they wish or I demand, is a jest that my father would have appreciated. He was much that way with Mother."
Not able to resist the rise of an eyebrow, he fixed her with a look half-amused and half-bemused. He had not expected teasing so early in the evening.
An element of smugness found its way into her smile, and he conceded her victory with a sniff that would make a courtier flush with pride and a wolf perk up its ears.
Parlor games already set aside, the princess folded her hands over the ocarina demurely. "I trust your journey was fruitful?" she questioned, tone shifting toward the curious and expectant.
Nodding, he withdrew a wrinkled scrap of paper from a pouch on his belt. Upon the piece was written the answer to a particular riddle which the princess had posed some time ago. An answer required to set the stage for things to come.
Sometimes Wisdom needed an outside source to find its way.
She looked at the writing for some long moments. He watched her eyes as they took it in. When at last she raised her gaze to meet his, she brought a mellow mirth with it. The corner of his mouth lifted up in response, and he nodded.
As predicted, when the princess tucked away the paper into her own pouch, she withdrew two silver rupees. He held up his hand, shaking his head, but she took his wrist and pressed them into his palm with a smile that said 'humor me.'
He had been relatively wealthy even before all this. Roaming a wide land full of dungeons and strange beasts guarding forgotten treasures was nothing if not profitable, provided an explorer kept his wits sharper than his sword. Rupees from the royal treasury were hardly needed, but he had given up refusing them from her hand. She was too insistent that he be rewarded in some tangible way for his labor, for she knew his predilection for privacy (negating the value of fame) and his indifference regarding the opinions of others concerning himself (disregarding honor from strangers).
In the end, it came down to an old dance of ready giving and reluctant taking. They both liked it that way.
They sat until dusk, she speaking and he listening. On rare occasions, he would speak a few words to answer or to prompt; when he did so, she remained attentive and her smile grew wider. They sipped from the goblets now and then to ease their thirst, but otherwise they stirred little. When the last rays of the sun and the first of the evening star mingled, however, the princess cinched her pouch and tucked it behind her dress's waistband. Taking the book in one hand, she gestured with the other to leave the chalices; they would be taken care of, she assured him. As if he didn't know.
Once they stood on their feet, she paused, and a troubled look crossed her face for the first time that evening. He tensed unconsciously, hackles raised.
"I feel that, somehow," she began slowly, sight lost in the dancing waters of the fountain, "time is running short."
"Mm." He understood the sentiment once she voiced it. The outside world was changing; not just growing dark, as it had been before, but changing. And Hyrule's strongest had fallen along the wayside in years past.
Yet, their work together brought hope. In piecing together the past, the future became somewhat clearer, if no less difficult to navigate.
The princess's form, slowly losing color to the night air, nevertheless remained solid, and her presence potent. He took this in, turned it over in his head.
"…the dawn's there, beyond the pale."
She turned to him and studied both his words and his eyes. In time, as starlight kindled silver lights in his gaze and set a flame on his brow, she slowly nodded.
"And it is at that, if grace prevails."
Their left hands tingled, but the sensation was accepted as thought it had not occurred at all.
Her smile reappearing, the princess affirmed, "Future generations may not see our stories in full, nor think of them as the greatest woven in history's tapestry, but yes. Our work is good, and cannot fall to naught."
She leaned forward, stretched up, and kissed him upon the cheek. "And so, my noble Link, let us await the new day."
Twilight passed into deepest night, and from there to another golden radiance.