Author's Notes: I hope you've enjoyed this! Special thanks to my friends Gigi, who helped quite a bit with the inspiration in general, and Starr, who specifically gave me the idea for Ashei's favor. Also, the title of this chapter is named after not a movie, but an episode of the animated series based on The Legend of Zelda. (Oh, my childhood...)
If It's Dinsday, This Must Be Castle Town
Chapter Five: A Hitch in the Works
My visits to Castle Town were normally separated from each other by between five and six weeks of time in Ordon, where my son Colin, in my absence, was engaged in the important work of trying to teach his sister Linka to say longer words. She would toddle after him on chubby legs and attempt to mimic him as he pointed out different aspects of village life. Following the visit on which Auru and Shad were so grievously injured, I arrived home to find that she had mastered a noise which might, to the indulgent ear, be interpreted to mean "reekfish." After congratulating her tutor on his success, I took Uli aside to explain the situation. She was in agreement with my plan to return to Castle Town after only three weeks at home, by which time I was hopeful that the potions from Trill would be rendered completely unnecessary.
Just two days before I was prepared to make my return, however, we were all quite surprised to hear the footsteps of the Postman as he jogged into the village. His appearance there was very unusual, except for the occasional messages exchanged between Mayor Bo and the shaman Renado in Kakariko, so it caught me a bit off guard when the letter he carried turned out to be for me.
"Da da da da da!" He presented me with a folded sheet of paper embossed with the royal seal. "My duty is done! Onward to mail!"
Curious, I unfolded the paper while the rest of the village tried to crowd around for a closer look. Talo kept jumping up and down in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the writing. "What is it? What is it?"
"It's from Link," I said, and there was a small cheer in response. I read the few lines the letter contained, read them again, and started to laugh. "Seems I'm being invited to a tournament of arms!"
"A tournament?" Uli shifted Linka in her arms and looked puzzled. "What tournament?"
"According to our favorite ranch hand, his wife is putting on a friendly little joust to celebrate Princess Midna's third birthday. I'm expected to attend in my official capacity as royal godfather." Rereading the end of the letter, I smiled and glanced at my son. "Do you think you'd like to come, Colin?"
His huge blue eyes were round with astonishment. "Can I?"
"Link says that if the village can spare you" - I exchanged amused glances with the other parents - "he'll save you a seat in the royal box."
The rest of Link's letter, which I saw no reason to share with the community at large, mostly just assured me that Auru and Shad were healing well from their respective injuries and I shouldn't worry much on their behalf. What he didn't tell me was what I could expect to find when Colin and I arrived in Castle Town a few days following his letter's delivery.
"Rusl, honey, come in here," said Telma effusively, "and let me take a look at this boy! Colin, angel, I haven't seen you since you were no bigger than your baby sister."
Colin made a brief attempt to hide behind me, but then he seemed to remember that he was just as brave as Link - his wooden sword was strapped to his back for the journey - and he straightened, moving forward to shake Telma's outstretched hand. "I'm very pleased to meet you again, Miss Telma."
She laughed, her eyes sparkling delightedly. "Aren't you darling! Prettiest manners I've seen on a young man since Shad."
"Speaking of whom, how is he?" I asked.
"Up and around again. He's pestering to get back to the ruins at the Temple of Time."
"Good sign. What about Auru?"
At that, her aspect changed. There was something strange in her expression, she seemed almost...girlish, and coy. "He's got something to ask you."
"He does? Where is he?"
"At the crossbow range, with Ashei. They'll be here for supper any time now."
"Correction," said a tired voice, "we are here." I turned to greet Ashei, who looked weary but calm, unlike the last time I saw her; Auru loomed behind her like a friendly specter.
"Long day, captain?" I asked.
"Bit brutal, yeah. Some of the recruits are coming along nicely, but there's one who's dead set on showing off for an audience, so he puts on a dramatic little show whenever he thinks someone's looking. Ridiculous, yeah?"
I glanced at Auru, whose eyes were full of mirth. "She's not talking about Shad," he said.
"Of course not." Ashei scowled at him. "Nerdling has more sense than that."
"Not least because you'd smack the sense into him if he didn't. Telma said you want to talk to me, Auru?"
As I asked, Ashei's expression brightened into something very nearly smug. Auru merely smiled and beckoned me to a slightly more private corner while Telma scared up a goblet of milk for Colin. "Why do I have a feeling," I said as we stepped aside, "that I have some idea of what you're about to say?"
"Link said you'd be in town for the tournament," he replied, "so we thought as long as you were on hand...do you think you'd mind acting as my best man, Rusl?"
I threw my head back and laughed. "That's about what I expected! So! You fell for your nursemaid, is that it?"
"Something like that."
"Of course I will, you know I will. I couldn't be more pleased, Auru." Glancing at the bride-to-be, I added, "Happiest I've seen her in many a day."
"Mm." It was all he said, but his expression was one of great contentment.
It was to be a simple affair, which I attributed to the fact that the bride and groom were older than the norm. Zelda invited them to recite their vows at the castle in the Chapel of the Triple Goddess, where she and Link had themselves been married following the repeal of twilight. The assemblage was small; Ashei and I attended the couple, and Colin and Shad watched the proceedings alongside Link, who carried his daughter on his shoulders. Zelda, as priestess of the goddess Nayru, performed the marriage rites herself.
Leaving Colin and Midna in the care of the princess's nursemaid, we adults all returned to the bar after the ceremony; Zelda would have gladly arranged a banquet, according to Link, but Telma decided instead to open her doors to all the regulars and allow the ale to flow freely. "Just don't drink too much, boys," she teased the guards in her flirty manner. "I'm looking to close up early tonight!"
Ashei alone seemed vaguely uncomfortable. As bridal attendant, she had reluctantly consented to Telma's request that she dress the part; gone were her usual comfortable garments of utilitarian design. Her braids were unbound and her hair, held back by a leather band, hung loose and shining down her back. She wore a dress of Farorean green velvet, and although she had agreed to leave off all of her armor, she had insisted on wearing her captain's sash - a badge of honor displaying the Triforce on the back of the Hyrulean eagle, indicative of her rank in the royal army. She hovered around the edges of the room, trying to avoid anyone's notice other than Shad's, as though expecting any of the other men to give her a hard time. This was convenient in its way, since Shad didn't seem inclined to look in too many other directions.
I started to approach them with a tray of meat pies, but checked myself before I got too close; they were standing so near each other, oblivious to most anything else as they spoke, and I wanted to listen. Shad was once again talking about the ruins at the Temple of Time.
"...but what I can't work out," he went on, "is whether those carvings in the doorframe have relevance. They look like an old dialect of Hylian, but they're so faded from the passing years that it's hard to be sure."
"I know, Shad. You were muttering about them in your sleep, for Din's sake, I thought it must be important." Ashei shrugged. "So I swiped Epona out of the castle stable and took a ride down."
"You shouldn't have done that." His tone was faintly scolding, but his expression was gratified. "Did you find anything?"
"Well, remember what you told me about the one rune - you said it looked like the word noble, yeah? I made a sketch of it and started going through the language books in the library. Think I found a match. If I'm right, it actually translates as 'virtue.'"
"Virtue...well, that would make a great deal of sense!" Shad's blue eyes shone with enthusiasm. "Well done, I must say! I'm deeply indebted to you for your researches in my, er, absence."
"Yeah, well, don't do that again." She scowled. "The absence thing, I mean."
I decided this was the appropriate moment to intrude. "Here, you two," I said, offering the plate. "Celebratory meat pies. You must be hungry."
Whether they were grateful for my approach or disappointed at having their conversation derailed, I couldn't quite tell. We stood together, eating and watching as the more inebriated guests launched into a raucous, somewhat bawdy song in Telma's honor. Auru looked like he wasn't sure if he was more amused or perturbed, but as Telma was laughing off the nonsense, he made no move to stop them. Link, one arm around Zelda's waist, steered her gently in our direction and away from the noise.
"I imagine you must be satisfied with the outcome, Rusl," he taunted.
"I couldn't be happier about it." It was true. "Of course, you know what they say. One wedding usually isn't enough and people are soon clamoring for a second."
"That's not unusual," Shad piped up, "though it arose more out of practicality than sentimentality. In the early days of our culture's religious observances, marriages were performed by traveling acolytes, and it was convenient to conduct multiple ceremonies while they were in a vicinity than to make multiple trips to the same location. In fact, there -"
"Shad." Ashei glowered at him. "It's a party. Enough with the history lesson."
"My thoughts exactly, Ashei," I said idly, glancing at Link. The glint in his eyes suggested he knew what I was about to do; perhaps it was less than appropriate, but I'd had a bit of ale myself and was finding myself caught up in the merriment. "Keep your boyfriend in line, there's a good girl."
Silence reigned for a few seconds, and I struggled to avoid the steely glare I was now receiving. Zelda appeared mildly shocked, and Link was just barely managing not to laugh. Shad, who had very nearly dropped his goblet in shock, managed to regain his grip.
"Oh, Rusl, no," he said, a touch of something forlorn in the words. "I'm - she's not - that is to say, we're not - " He broke off and looked at Ashei, perplexed. "Are we?"
She turned her head slowly in his direction, dark eyes flashing, and we all held our breaths. Her stance seemed defensive, her expression unreadable, and I feared I'd pushed them both too far. All those weeks of circumspection were about to be undone by a single tipsy comment.
Then, abruptly, she seized him by that ridiculous tie of his and yanked him in for a brief, firm kiss. Pushing him away again after a moment, she snapped, "Don't ask stupid questions, yeah?"
The morning of the tournament dawned clear and bright. Zelda, I discovered with some pleasure, had arranged for Colin to be dressed in the vestments of a royal page. He was given the very important task of guarding the ruby medallion which would be presented to the winner of the day, and if she had knighted him I don't know that he could have been been happier.
The tournament field had been erected adjacent to the crossbow training area, and well before noon most of the residents of Castle Town, as well as those from some of the more outlying areas, had started to cram themselves into the stands. As Zelda, Colin, Midna and I settled ourselves in the royal box, the herald began to explain that there would be four areas of competition - archery, crossbow archery, swordplay, and equestrian mastery. Contestants might participate in any or all of the categories, and ribbons would be awarded for excellence in each.
The equestrian mastery was exhibited first, so that the horses might have the benefit of the most daylight in which to work, and I couldn't resist a proud grin when Epona burst onto the field. Every person present, so far as I could see, immediately jumped to their feet and cheered lustily for the hero of Hyrule, the Prince Consort. He was dressed in his Hero's garments, the legendary stocking cap fluttering in the breeze as he steered Epona in a playful lap; his left hand lifted his sword in greeting to the crowd, and I saw the blue silk scarf tied around its hilt.
"Your favor?" I asked Zelda, who nodded. Her pale cheeks were prettily flushed with affection as she watched him; Midna, in my lap, gave a squeal and clapped her tiny hands.
Shad joined us, bearing a tray laden with goblets full of chilled water, toward the end of the horsemanship displays. "I haven't missed the swordplay, I trust?"
"Not at all, Shad, but I'm surprised to see you," said Zelda. "I truthfully expected you to attempt to enter the competitions yourself."
"I did consider it," he admitted.
"But?" I prompted.
"But...well...Ashei had other ideas."
"I'm disappointed." I grinned at him. "Thought sure you'd be out there wearing her favor like Link is wearing the Princess's."
"Well, as to that..." He trailed off, turning his attention to the field. The targets were being arranged for the crossbow event, and I saw a familiar graceful figure making her way onto the field. The sunlight gleamed off of her silver shoulder armor.
"Ah, there's our girl!" This time it was Auru who spoke; he and Telma had also been invited to sit in Zelda's box, and they hurried to make themselves comfortable before the action began.
"So, Shad, honey, is it true?" asked Telma, leaning forward. "Ashei's out there wearing your favor?" He turned scarlet, but nodded. "Aw, sugar, that's just about the sweetest thing ever - a little turned on its head to be sure, but very sweet!"
He looked embarrassed. "Well, Ash is the more skilled warrior." Jovially, he added, "Now, if Your Highness ever arranges a speed-reading competition, or a race to translate the most ancient dialects in an afternoon's time, I should be only too happy to take part and wear the honor of my lady's favor. But so long as these tournaments are to be tests of physical prowess, I'm afraid I must step back and allow the fair captain her hour of glory."
"In other words, she threatened your life if you put yourself in harm's way by entering?" I guessed.
"They're getting started," Zelda said, redirecting our attention to the field. "My word!" she added after watching Ashei take her first shot. "She's got splendid aim, hasn't she?"
"Link did put her in charge of the crossbow training for a reason," I pointed out. As though she knew we were talking about her, Ashei took that moment to turn toward the royal box, and lifted her crossbow in a sort of awkward salute. It was a charming gesture, but as she lowered her hands again, I took notice of the fabric tied around the pommel of the slim blade she always wore sheathed at her waist. Unless my eyes were deceiving me, it was decidedly...argyle.
"Shad...is that one of your socks?"
"It was short notice," he protested.
"It is a clean sock, I hope?" Auru deadpanned.
"Well, of course."
"It's going to look a little odd with the ruby medallion if she wins the day, you know," I pointed out.
"That's all right," Shad replied composedly. "We look a little odd together too."
"Not at all," Zelda interjected. "Sometimes the things that seem least likely to fit together are the ones that coordinate the best."
Nobody spoke for a moment after that, mulling it over. Smiles slowly grew into evidence.
"Well said, Lady Wisdom," I conceded. "Well said."