So in this chapter, I took some liberty with the history. There are a lot of gaps and unanswered questions in the timeline, so I want everyone to know that most of the history in this chapter is purely from my *wishful* imagination! Enjoy :)
Chapter Thirty: The Diplomat
"We used to take a boat like this when my father and the King of Zoras had their meetings," Zelda said. "Of course, it was bigger and more technologically advanced. We would've been there by now, I suppose."
She paused to catch her breath. She and Link were rowing a small, sturdy boat up the river. It was the type of labor she had never done before, and though she was willing, it was more difficult than she had been expecting. Of course, she was not about to tell Link that.
"I always loved the boat rides," she continued. "The water fascinated me. I counted the fish I saw every time. And I would think about the next couple of days with Laruto. She was my best friend."
Link's response wasn't enthusiastic or truly questioning. It seemed as if he were just humoring her. Zelda was accepting of that in the nostalgic state into which she had suddenly descended.
"Yes. When we weren't together, we wrote letters to each other. But as we grew older and more responsibilities fell upon each of our shoulders as princesses of our respective kingdoms, the letters became less and less frequent. Even today...or before the invasion, I suppose, we still write the letters. But they are few and far between."
Memories of her time with Laruto, the childhood they created together, were the only memories Zelda could summon. They made her smile and gave her the motivation to overcome the soreness in her arms and keep rowing. Link, of course, had barely broken a sweat. His muscles flexed and relaxed with the rhythmic rowing, and his breathing fell into time as well—unlike Zelda's hurried and unsteady breathing. For him, it was almost effortless, as one would expect. In the heat of the sun, he had had the luxury of taking his shirt off; Zelda, on the other had, was clad in her outfit as well as the cape to cover her face from any passersby. The heat was nearly unbearable. But imaging Laruto's smile and the hug they would inevitably share helped her continue.
"Laruto is wonderful. Have you met her before?"
"No. I've sent messengers on secret missions, but we as Loyalists have never formally introduced ourselves to the Zoras."
"Why is that? Why not create an alliance earlier, to ensure their support should something like this happen?"
"It was never necessary. We know that the Zoras have a strong connection with the Royal Family and always have. Because of that, we figured that should anything like this happen, the Zoras would support the Royal Family regardless of the circumstances."
"But we never expected kidnappings."
"And we never expected the kidnappings to be blamed on you."
He paused again.
"And we never expected you to 'go missing.'"
"Our main purpose here is to convince Laruto that the Zoras who have gone missing are not your doing; on the contrary, you were trying to help find them. Considering the relationship you two have, it should be easy enough."
Link's logic left him as cold and hard as a statue. And the way his jaw tensed, the way his fingers tightened their grip on the oars, gave Zelda the uneasy feeling that he was hiding something.
"There's another reason, isn't there?" she pried. "For seeking an alliance, I mean. Something bigger that you're not telling me."
"There's nothing, Princess, I assure you."
Zelda shrugged her shoulders, accepted that Link was lying to her, and became determined to figure it out gradually. She was a diplomat as well as a princess, and she would find out one way or another. She silenced herself for the moment, and sneaked hasty glances at her companion. Suddenly, as her eyes fell upon him, a sickening jolt ran through her body. The princess bit the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming as it rushed through her veins and left her drenched in sweat. The boat stopped moving because Zelda had stopped rowing. When she closed her eyes, she saw a flash of the images from her dream. The prophetic dream. She had nearly forgotten about it in the midst of the ambush they had met in Kakariko Village...but now it came back to her as clear as day. And it put her body in immense pain for a reason she was struggling to deduce.
She heard Link's voice, but it seemed distant. And it echoed. Then she heard her oar fall to the floor of the boat, and at the same moment, a jarring pain hit her right hand. A scream was struggling to escape her pale lips, but she resisted, and closed her eyes more tightly. She saw herself in front of the mirror once more, staring at the hero...
Princess Zelda forced her eyes open. The pain in her hand was becoming unbearable. When she looked down at it with bloodshot eyes, the symbol was shimmering once more: the Triforce. Link was watching as well, unsure of how to respond, as Zelda's entire being struggled.
"Link," she breathed through clenched teeth. "Link, look at my hand."
"What do you see?"
Zelda lowered her hood to be able to look into his eyes. She was barely able to maintain eye contact without doubling over in pain, but a voice inside of her, an invisible conscience, told her that she needed to ask him. Shakily, she lifted her right arm and showed him her hand. The color drained from his face at an alarming speed. His mouth was open, and Zelda leaned in eagerly to hear his words, but he was silent.
"What do you see?" she repeated, urgently. "What is this?"
"It's a symbol," he stuttered. "A symbol of the Royal Family."
"What is it called, Link?"
Now Zelda was screaming. She could no longer control her actions.
"Tell me what this is!"
Link's voice trailed off and his eyelids drooped. The pain in Zelda's hand increased, finally enough to make her scream. As she did, Link groaned, put his left hand to his forehead, and crumpled into the boat, unconscious.
The pain blinded her.
By the time her vision cleared and the pain was gone, the matching Triforce on Link's left hand had disappeared. Zelda had not seen it.
She was left shaking, wondering what in Farore's name had just happened while Link lay at her feet in the floating boat.
Link's eyes slowly opened, and the first thing he felt was comfort. He was lying on something soft, almost caressing, and not a single burden was to be felt on his shoulders. With a soft grumble, he turned onto his side and pulled the blanket, blue and silky, higher above his bare chest. He blinked a few times and tried to make out his surroundings; they were unfamiliar. Everything in sight was blue and made of stone—the walls, the floor, the ceiling. His bed was the only exception; it was blue, but not made of stone, to his relief. After a few moments of silent, almost happy confusion, he heard voices. One he recognized immediately as the princess's. The other was a voice he had never heard before. It was muddled, as if someone were trying to speak while underwater. He could just barely understand, and he guessed that the voice was a woman's.
Link gathered the energy to sit up, and he saw the princess standing at a door on the far side of the room. Beside her was a Zora, watching Link with wide and curious eyes.
"Link, you're awake!" Zelda said, and rushed to his bedside.
Her cape had been cast aside...as well as the burly, manly clothing she had been given before the journey. Instead, she was wearing a golden gown that flowed like water, in a way that Link couldn't exactly describe. It shimmered in the light reflected off of the blue stones in the room and was constantly moving, as if it truly were a river of golden fabric. And yet, it hugged her body in a manner that Hylian fabric could never be able to do.
"You've been asleep long enough! It's about time you woke up."
"How long, exactly?"
"About a day."
Link sat up in bed so fast that the blankets fell to the floor.
"What? A day!"
"Calm down," Zelda laughed. "We haven't wasted any time."
"Do you even know where you are, Link?"
As she spoke, the Zora woman waddled up beside her, a smile playing on her scaly face. The fin that acted as her hair flipped around joyfully while Link looked around the room one more time, and he was finally able to make sense of it all.
"We're at the Zora's domain," he murmured. "Where Laruto lives."
"That's Princess Laruto to you," Zelda corrected. "And this is Thalassa, one of Princess Laruto's advisors. She's the one who saved us."
The last thing Link remembered was rowing the boat. One second he was there, pulling and pushing the oar in his hands, and the next he was waking up in this bed. He was reminded of his childhood, playing in the fields and then suddenly finding himself asleep in bed. Only this was not his bed.
"Yes. We were in the boat, and you fell unconscious. And Nayru knows I could never row that boat by myself. We got lucky," Zelda explained.
"Yes," Thalassa cut in, with her gargled, underwater voice. "I was sent to give a message to one of the Zoras keeping watch down at the lake, and I stumbled upon you two in the boat. The princess was a mess, and you were unconscious."
"Why...what happened?" Link put a hand to his head and tried to remember. But everything was just a blur, wrapped in a thick haze. Then, through the fog, one single memory appeared. It was a voice, calm and clear and soothing, calling his name, and a gentle hand on his cheek. But in a moment, the memory was gone, and he was thrown back into the darkness. He looked at the princess, hoping for answers. Zelda shrugged, but there was something in her eyes. Fear or worry or anxiety, he couldn't exactly tell, but it was something that rendered her silent.
"How do you feel?"
She changed the subject.
"Just fine," he said, "but Princess, what—"
"I've been talking to Princess Laruto while you slept."
"That's why I was telling you that no time has been wasted," she smiled. "I know her well enough to have political discussions, and she understands. I trust her."
"What do you mean you 'trust' her? Do you trust every Zora?"
Thalassa crossed her arms and listened intently.
"I haven't shown every Zora my identity!" The princess laughed and absentmindedly played with a golden lock of hair. Link watched her fingers twirl and tried to listen with an understanding ear. "Only the princess and her advisors. It only seemed logical. She's my best friend, after all, and they need to know who I am if I expect them to listen to a single word I say. And how was I supposed to expect poor Thalassa to help us without being able to trust us?"
"What have you told them?"
"Well first and foremost, I made it clear that I should not be given away and, as I said before, I thoroughly trust Laruto and her advisors. Isn't that right, Thalassa?"
The Zora smiled and nodded proudly.
"You couldn't be more right, Your Highness!"
"Right. And I already told them about the Loyalists, and it's exactly as we thought. In times of turmoil, the Zoras have always been supportive of the Royal Family, and they're not about to stop now. Oh, and I also—"
"Princess, please, slow down!" Link interrupted. "You're making my head spin."
Thalassa and Zelda looked at each other, smiled, and then looked back at Link. He was on his guard, incredulous, and confused. How had the princess even known what to say, and to whom? The Zora beside her was calm and collected, as if she had known Zelda all of her life, and there was not the slightest atmosphere of hostility, tension, or even confusion or skepticism. This Zora, an advisor of the princess of the Zoras, did not seem shocked or surprised. She seemed almost as if she had been expecting Zelda, and was relieved that she had finally arrived. Then, as Link tried to make sense of it, Sheik's words echoed in his head.
She is a princess. If anybody knows how to be a diplomat, it's her. And she can be quite convincing...
Finally, he spoke.
"So...everything has gone well, then?"
"Good. Then, Miss Thalassa, I would like to request an audience with her Highness."
"Certainly. When?" Thalassa turned to him obediently.
"What time is it...?"
"Then this evening."
"After dinner," Thalassa nodded. Link grinned back. His mind had wrapped itself around the situation and was more than accepting of it. He was finally starting to believe that bringing Princess Zelda had been the right decision.
"After dinner then."
"It started when we were children, and Ganondorf realized he was going to be the Rebel leader one day. When everything suddenly became too real. Nothing had ever been wonderful or perfect—far from it, actually. We Gerudos have become nearly extinct, and have been dwindling since before the time of the Hero of Twilight. We've scavenged for food, struggled to keep our land here in the desert...everything has always been difficult," Nabooru began.
"Even now, things aren't too wonderful." Damita said. It was hard to hold in her excitement; for once, her questions were going to be answered.
"No, Damita, I don't think you understand. During the Hero of Twilight's life, even two centuries ago, nobody knew that we Gerudos still existed. Everybody thought that we were extinct."
"Yes. The Hero of Twilight himself travelled here in the Gerudo Desert. We were in hiding."
"I'll tell you why. We didn't have a king for centuries. Without a king for years and years and years, we became weak. Very weak."
"You...didn't have a king? But isn't a male Gerudo born into the race every one hundred years?"
"You're right. But for some reason, there was an awfully long span of time in which no male was born. Centuries before the Hero of Twilight was even born, the last Gerudo King was defeated by a different hero."
Damita held up her hand and signaled for Nabooru to stop for a moment.
"Are you saying that the last Gerudo King—before our King, I mean—was defeated during the time of...?"
"The Hero of Time. Yes."
"Whoa. People hardly remember him..."
"Exactly. His time is forgotten. And likewise, our Gerudo King was forgotten...until the Hero of Twilight."
"Oh yeah. He defeated a male Gerudo, didn't he?"
"Yes. The very same king. He returned from being sealed away by the Hero of Time, was killed by the new Hero, and another Gerudo king was finally allowed to be born with his death."
"This is a bit too much to process. Who was the one who founded the Rebel camp?"
"Honestly, I don't even know. What I do know is that she appeared before the Gerudo King reappeared—so the Rebels were founded before the time of the Hero of Twilight. And I know it was founded by a Gerudo, bitter about the exile of the Gerudos and the Royal Family's treatment of us. When the Hero of Twilight was travelling, the Rebels were just beginning to find their footing. And when Ganondorf was born, after centuries without a King, it was inevitable that he would become the Rebel leader. Which was good. Because he was perfectly suited for the job."
"Wait, tell me about the relationship between you and Ganondorf."
"Patience! I'm getting there," Nabooru laughed. But it was a dry, humorless laugh. "My family had been a part of the Rebels for generations, as is the case with every Gerudo. I was born knowing who I was going to be. But Ganondorf had it even worse than I did. You see, I was a born a few years before him. By the time he was born, even I knew what he was destined to be. The unfortunate thing is that nobody told him until he was ten years old. Their argument was that if he knew, and disagreed, he would shy away from an early age. They wanted to instill the ideas of the Rebels in his mind before he could truly make a choice—so when they decided to tell him, he was all too eager to inherit the position.
"When he was born, I felt something very strange. It was a very...maternal, protective feeling. I felt that I was responsible for him and his well-being. I wanted to be his protector, his guardian, everything to him. Because for some reason, I felt as if I could already understand him. Something in me told me that he needed me. So from the moment he was born, I looked after him. And by the time he was ten, we were the best of friends. I loved him like a mother loves her son, with the strongest fire that you can imagine. But believe it or not—"
"The fire got stronger, didn't it?" Damita interjected. Nabooru sighed and tightened her grip on the reins of her boar.
"Yes. It did. After he found out that he was going to be leader, he changed. He grew. He became mature with the weight of responsibility. He wanted more than anything to be the best leader that he could. So he grew to be that leader. And as he did, my fire did grow stronger, until I was in love with him. I was in love with him for years. When I turned seventeen, and he was but fifteen, I knew that I loved him and I wanted to be more than his protector. For three years, I suffered, loving him in silence, because I was afraid to ruin our friendship. And then, when he turned eighteen, my prayers of three years were finally answered."