Zelda hummed happily to herself as she put her official seal on her Council's proposal and wrote out papers authorizing the use of Treasury funds to cover the expenses. There was still tension amongst her Councilors, but they were improving and the shouting matches had ceased, to which her ears were most grateful.
"I see you've inherited Daphnes' bad habit of working at night," Zorion said as he walked in carrying a bottle of whiskey and two glasses.
"That's the pot calling the kettle black," she snickered as she put aside the letter from Selene that she'd been about to read. "Do you really expect me to drink that?" She questioned as he poured a healthy amount of the strong liquor into each of the glasses.
"Aye, I do," he told her and thickened his accent purposely. "Drink with me to a job well done, lass," he said more seriously and handed one of the tumblers to her.
Recognizing that she was going to lose, she accepted the glass, and drank it down after clinking their drinks against each other.
The potent liquor scalded her throat as it burned its way down to her stomach. She was able to keep herself from coughing but she did nothing to hide the grimace from her face.
"You get used to it," Zorion said reassuringly as he chuckled at her expression.
"Who said I want to?" She asked once she could talk again. "What do you mean a job well done?"
"Everything," he said quietly and refilled his glass as he paced her study restlessly. "It was hard to do nothing when Hyrule was invaded, and then nothing again while you had to deal with traitors in your midst and whilst needing to concentrate on reestablishing some semblance of normality."
"You're making it sound like I did everything myself," she noted as she watched him in concern. "I assure you that I had help in everything that I've done. You sheltered the Sheikah from Zant, thus allowing me to have a backup plan if something happened. Link is the one who saved Hyrule from Zant and Ganondorf, not I. Without him and the Clan, I wouldn't have been able to get rid of the people who plotted my father's death."
"And I'm sure you were nothing but sweet and docile the entire time you had your home invaded, and just waited to be rescued," he snorted and gazed at her steadily. "I know better than to believe that, lass."
"I did what was necessary to protect my people," she said hesitantly, unsure of what Zorion was trying to get at and unwilling to answer questions he wasn't asking.
"I swore to your father that I would look after and help you however I could," he said and she was finally able to put a name to the emotion she heard in his voice. Guilt. "He would be disappointed to see how miserably I've failed to keep my word."
"I'm no longer a child," she said gently but firmly. "Father would not have expected you to try and protect me indefinitely. You and Aunt Saida did save me after Father died; you gave me love and a place to recover when I was lost. For that I don't have enough words to express my thanks and love for you both… It is enough that you sheltered those I sent to you, had you done more you'd have attracted Zant's attention and extended the Twilight to Aquaria. Hyrule is mine to care for and to protect."
"And your young Commander's?" He asked knowingly.
"Do you believe in destiny, Uncle?" She asked curiously and grinned at his puzzled look at her question to his question.
"No, I believe each man, or woman," he allowed with a nod in her direction, "makes their own way in life."
"Spoken like a true sailor," she said approvingly. "I believe that the Goddesses set before us the paths they wish us to walk upon, and give us markers to help guide our way," she said and looked down at the Triforce that marked her hand. "I believe the ultimate decision of whether to walk that path, or not, is left for us to decide."
"Most people are willing to grab onto a good thing," he shrugged. "That's just common sense."
"Common sense like a queen refusing to flee to safety? Or was it a good thing that caused a young man to leave behind all that he knew to rescue those he loved? Was it simply common sense that convinced him to take on a burden he didn't have to, and fight to rescue a kingdom that was lost in the Twilight?"
"Now you're talking about what is right and wrong, my lass," he countered confidently. "It is a good queen who remains with her people; it is a good man who fights for his country."
They regarded each other silently for a time and Zelda wondered if there was any way she could explain the terrifying power Ganondorf had used upon Hyrule, or how twisted Zant had been to turn his own people into beasts that had no choice but to do his bidding. In silence she studied the broad man in front of her and realized that she didn't want him to fully understand. Guilt was already eating at the man she knew regarded her as a daughter. If she explained everything to him, made him fully understand, how much worse would it be if he knew that despite any strength he could gather, all courage he would muster, it would have been for naught when faced with Ganondorf's power.
"I think we'll agree to disagree?" She offered as she refilled her glass and held up the bottle to him.
"I can drink to that," he agreed and handed her his glass to refill as well. Together, they drank down their drinks and Zelda discovered the burn was just as bad the second time as it was the first.
"How did you and Father do this?" She gasped while he laughed at her.
"I trust Link implicitly," she finally answered his initial question once her breath no longer burned her. "It is hard to explain this in a way that won't have you dismissing me as silly… I knew that I could trust Link from the moment I met him, that even though we did not know one another personally we recognized each other as allies." She smiled as she remembered the fierce glare he'd given her as a wolf upon their first encounter. "Link knows of my desire to make Hyrule anew, to bring a golden age for our people, and he supports that. It is why I made him my Champion."
"I'm not saying I don't like the man, I do. I think even Daphnes would approve of your Commander and you caring for him."
"I care for all my subjects," she said easily with a serene smile that faltered not a bit under his hard stare.
"Alright lass," he said evenly and lowered his massive frame into the chair opposite hers. "He is part of the reason why I came to see you tonight," he admitted. "I'd like you to bring him to Aquaria when next you come."
"Of course, but why?" She replied curiously.
"He reminds me of someone from when I was a lad myself," he confessed and rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.
"Like his parents?" She asked excitedly and leaned across the desks. "Did you know them? Are they from Aquaria?"
"Hold!" He pleaded. "It was a long time ago, my memories are rusty and I could just be imagining things that aren't there. I know it'll take some time before you can arrange a visit, and that will give me some time to do some discreet digging. I'm also going to ask that you not mention this to Saida," he added the last bit nervously.
"Why?" She frowned. "It isn't like Link is your love child; I can look at the two of you and assure you of that much."
"Zelda," he said warningly. "I love you dearly but there are things that I do not tolerate from anyone."
"I'm sorry," she apologized immediately. "I didn't mean to imply any disrespect to you or Saida but I don't understand why you don't want her to know what you're doing."
"Some of the people I need to talk to may be women that I courted when I was a much younger man, and before I fell in love with Saida. Plus I'd like to keep this between us so that as few people get excited as possible; after all I could simply be mistaken."
"Wouldn't that make it more important that you tell her?" She asked, still not understanding his reasoning.
"Women are tenderhearted Zelda," he sighed. "You can't expect all the members of your sex to be as rational minded as you, you've been trained since birth to think like a Harkinian ruler first, a Clansman second, and then yourself," he continued knowingly. She fought the urge to sigh or roll her eyes.
Blah, blah, blah. She thought to herself. Not that he was incorrect in how she'd been raised, but it was the way he said it that irked her tender heart, not to mention that it was steadily becoming clearer that he'd been drinking long before he wandered into her study.
"It's the last woman that's the important one, lass," he continued on blithely. "None of the ones that came before can compare to the one that steals your heart, the last one."
"Does that work for women too?" She couldn't resist asking. "It's fine to go through any number of men until you get to 'the one?'"
"And just how many were you thinking on going through?" He asked her darkly.
"Well how many would you recommend?" She asked innocently and couldn't quite stop her laughter when he stood up so swiftly he knocked his chair over.
"Now see here you…" He trailed off as he stared down at her. "Brat," he said when she continued to laugh, but his voice was affectionate. "That wicked humor of yours comes straight from you mother, and I'm sure she came by it honest from the rest of your mouthy Clan."
"Jessica said something along those lines to me not so long ago," she recalled as she watched him straighten the chair back up.
"She'd know," he agreed. "Aerilyn gave your father a merry chase of it, bless her. Told him she didn't care if he was royal or not, if he was after her for her pretty face to keep moving along!"
"As much as I like hearing about my parents, I'm more interested in Link's currently." She stopped him before he became too lost in his musings.
"I won't forget," he promised. "I'll write to you when I learn more," he added and picked up the bottle of whiskey thoughtfully. "Tomorrow is the day eh? Do you still refuse to go to their Tomb?"
"I do," she answered.
"Take this with you where you go," he said as he handed her the bottle. "Tell them that I remember them, and miss them."
"But you're going to the Tomb tomorrow; you can give this with your respects then."
"That isn't where they are," he said with great authority. "That's the thing about parents, lass," he said and his voice was rough with emotion. "We do not go to where people expect us; we go to where our children need us. One way or another."
"Wait please," she called softly but it was enough to make him pause before the door. "I'll walk with you; Saida would be upset if anything happened to you on your way back to you quarters."
"Like a wee thing like you could catch me," he laughed but he wrapped a large arm around her shoulders anyway. "It'll take more than this bit I've drank tonight to give me trouble."
They walked in a companionable silence with Zorion not stumbling at all; instead he seemed more inclined to talk about antics he had dragged Daphnes into when they were younger. They were all stories that she'd heard before, and she couldn't help but grin as he retold them. When they reached the guests' chambers, Zorion's wife opening their door quickly dashed his hopes of sneaking back into bed without his wife finding out about his little drinking episode.
"Good night my dear," she said and kissed Zelda's cheek after giving her husband a slightly reproving look.
"Good night," Zelda said and returned the affectionate gesture. "Don't be too upset," she whispered. "He's missing Father."
"We all do," Saida admitted and reached out and pulled her into a tight hug. "To bed with all of us," she said with a warm smiled that Zelda couldn't help but return.
After the door shut she returned to her study and picked up the whiskey bottle thoughtfully for a moment before returning to her quarters with it. Tomorrow would mark the fourth year of her father's death, and while the majority of Hyrule would remain unaffected, those that lived in the castle would wear black and perhaps visit the Royal Tombs. It was usually a sleepless night for Zelda, and this year was proving to be no different despite the lightness of her heart.
A quick glance out the window told her that while it was very late, it was not yet the predawn hours that she'd thought it would be. Deciding it didn't matter; she stripped and then hurried through her bath and pulled out a gown from her closet of a color which she wore rarely. The black dress was soft under her fingertips and even the beading had been done with jet beads so there was no other color on it anywhere.
Using magic, she was able to lace herself into a corset, and then into the dress with little difficulty. She would wear no jewelry today, only a plain black ribbon around her throat and another at the nape of her neck to hold back her hair. Finally, she pulled on a simple black cloak and boots, grabbed the bottle of whiskey, and headed out the door.
The castle was very still as she made her way through corridors and rooms as familiar to her as her own hands. Here and there she would pass by guards who straightened at her approach, and she thanked them for their diligence with a smile. The soldiers of Hyrule were much changed after accepting Link as their Commander, and she was grateful for their efforts. Some, whose shift would last into the daylight hours, even wore black armbands on the upper part of their left arms. They would continue to do so until she married and there was a new king, as they had done for her mother until Zelda had been crowned queen.
The entrance to the Royal Tombs, normally closed and forbidden to anyone not related to the Royal Family, would be opened to any who wished to pay their respects. She shuddered just remembering the times that her father had forced her to go past those ornate gates. It wasn't that the Tombs themselves were scary or foul, on the contrary they were kept very clean deep within the depths of the castle.
To a younger Zelda there had just been an unnatural stillness about the Tombs that she'd never liked, a dislike she'd carried into adulthood. Perhaps it was because when you went that far down within the earth the air was always very cold and dry, with the only illumination coming from cool colored mage lights that stayed lit perpetually but gave off no heat.
Beautiful murals depicting the lives of previous kings and queens decorated those hallowed halls, but she hated them in a way she'd been unable to articulate as a child. The weighty judgment of history and ancestors always seemed to press more heavily in those unchanging halls and she felt suffocated under the expectations their gazes seemed to hold for their descendants. Of course it could also be that some part of her rebelled against the thought of being placed so deep within the earth, rather than having her body returned to the sand with fire as the Clan did. Whatever the reason, or reasons, she did not go to the Tombs willingly.
Instead her destination was a place where she always felt at peace and could still feel the strong imprint of her parents' lives. With a gentle hand she opened the door to her mother's music room and deftly made her way through the obstacles of musical instruments to the doors that led to the garden. Softly she smiled as she made her way past the little table and chairs where she'd introduced Link to Selene, deeper into garden she went, ducking beneath the bare branches of a weeping willow that stood as a silent sentinel to the alabaster statues that served as her personal memorial to her parents.
Of course her mother's statue had been placed there first, and the artist had done an astounding job of immortalizing the deceased queen in the marble. As a child, Zelda had been half convinced that one day she truly would step off her pedestal and come to life, but she never had. Instead she remained as always, a beautiful figure caught laughing with her hand reaching out, as if to invite others to laugh with her.
Zelda had asked the Goron who carved her mother's statue to do her father's as well. Her only request had been to have him reaching out to take the hand of the woman he'd loved. He'd done as she asked and carved the king with a soft look on his face as he reached for the hand of his chosen queen.
"I'm sorry Mother," she apologized and settled down on the cold ground before them. "It's too late in the day, or too early if you prefer, for me to play something for you."
"I do have this for you though," she said as she took the bottled whiskey out from a pocket in the cloak. "It's from Uncle Zorion rather than me," she added and poured the liquor on the ground in front of their statues. "He said to tell you both that he misses you." Task completed, she laid back on the ground and looked up at the slowly lightening sky.
"It's been four years today," she said in disbelief. "Sometimes I dream and in my dreams you're still here with me and Selene, scolding me for disappearing to take the afternoon off to read or swim. But then I wake and have to face the reality that you're gone," she covered her eyes with her hand as unbidden tears trickled down her face.
"I miss you," she whispered as the maelstrom of her deeply buried emotions overwhelmed her and she let them. There, in that secluded part of a little garden, a queen became a simple eighteen year old girl mourning for a father she'd never be able to see again. The only witnesses to her grief were two smiling statues and a lone willow tree, who would never tell anyone.
"Commander!" The panic in Jessica's voice cut through the haze of sleep like a knife and Link leapt from the bed, grabbing his sword and raising it defensively.
"Commander!" She said again as her mouth dropped open and red infused her face. Abruptly she spun around and crossed her arms in displeasure over her chest. "Has it ever occurred to you Commander that it is uncivilized to sleep in the nude?" She asked, her voice fairly oozing disdain to cover her embarrassment.
Isn't it uncivilized to just come storming into someone's room? He wanted to retort as he felt his own face flush. However, Uli and Rusl had taught him to be respectful towards his elders so he said nothing as he quickly pulled on a pair of pants and a shirt.
"I apologize for startling you," he said as he finished pulling on his boots and adjusted the harness for his sword. "What is it I can do for you Mistress Jessica?" He asked, and wasn't quite able to keep the disgruntled note out of his voice.
The light of the early morning sun did nothing to assuage his temper with the old woman who turned to face him. Today was supposed to have been an off day for him, and he'd been very much planning to sleep in for a change.
"It's the Queen!" She exclaimed in distress as she turned around. "You must go and fetch her back!"
"Zelda has been taken?" He asked and was at once fully awake and aware. "Who?" He demanded and was unable to see the fierce glint in his eyes, or notice the deadly tone of his voice. Jessica observed both and took a frightened step backwards but refused to be cowed.
"Who would have the nerve to kidnap her from within the castle?" She scoffed. "You Commander," she said and pointed a finger at him. "Are going to fetch her back, politely, from the, the, the red light area," she made herself say. "And if that quack of a doctor gives you any nonsense you may hit him."
"I don't understand," Link said as the woman effectively bewildered him. "Why would-"
"Why does it matter!" She snapped. "You are the Queen's Champion. Her safety is the utmost of your priorities! Just how safe do you think any young woman is in that section of the city? Much less the Queen."
It was annoying, but she was right. Plus he'd rather hear Zelda's story and deal with her rather than Jessica who seemed halfway ready to blame him personally for Zelda's disappearance.
"I'll go find her," he said and made a polite half bow before snatching up a cloak and fleeing his own quarters. As he made his way out of the castle he noticed a large number of the female servants wearing mourning wear of all black, as Jessica had been, and the men were wearing black armbands around their upper left arms but he was unaware of anyone who had died.
He picked up his pace as unease prickled through him. First he needed to locate Zelda, and then he'd see about getting his questions answered.
The red light district was located within the slums that he had once followed Tarak through after Zelda's coronation. He had thought they were bad at night, but in the full light of the morning they looked even worse without the darkness to conceal their decrepit state. Unlike the more prominent parts of the city, there was trash everywhere, mingling with the unpleasant scents of body fluids and fire. The pungent smell was so repellent that he was grateful to have never wandered there while trapped in his wolf form.
Shoddily built homes and establishments only further emphasized the derelict conditions of the slums. Haggard looking women in threadbare clothing were getting flowers ready to sell while their children played nearby. It was immediately apparent that more than one building had recently burned and the charred remains stood out like blights against their counterparts.
"I'm telling you Doc, I don't want your help!" He heard the man's angry voice carry over the still morning air.
"We're just trying to help!" Dr. Borville's familiar voice protested. "It's not like you're going to need to pay for anything anyway."
"You want to feel up my girls then you need to be the one to pay!" The man all but snarled and Link quickened his pace towards them. "And you chit," he heard the man say, just before he saw him grab the doctor's companion, a figure who'd been kneeling next to an exhausted looking woman with soot smudges on her face. "If you're looking for some work how about I try you out and we'll see how much you're worth?" He leered as he pressed his body against hers.
Link didn't need to look at Dr. Borville's paling face to know who the woman was. He'd recognized Zelda's form, cloaked as she was from the cold, as soon as he saw her.
"No thank you," she said coldly. "I'd rather you let Dr. Borville and I do what we came here to do."
"I'll let you do anything you want to me," the man said huskily, completely oblivious to the coldly furious man stalking towards him.
"Anything?" Zelda's voice asked almost playfully.
"Sure," he said agreeably and ran his hands down her backside.
"Don't regret it," she continued in the same tone and as the man pulled her closer her hand came up quickly and jabbed something into his neck.
"You bitch!" He snarled even as Link yanked him off of her.
"Now now," she said pleasantly and handed the syringe to Dr. Borville. "You did say anything. I'm just putting you to sleep."
"Too bad it's not permanent," muttered the doctor as he put the needle away in a thickly woven bag. "At least it's fast acting though," he added as the man literally fell to ground at Link's feet. He sidestepped the disgusting cretin with a silent snarl of distaste before heading over to Zelda.
"Are you alright?" He asked and was relieved that her face was as covered as it was when he first met her in the tower. Like Jessica, she was dressed all in black but the severe color only made her look more mysterious and alluring; her lack of jewelry and crown allowed her to blend more easily as a simple assistant.
"I'm fine," she answered and gently pulled him out of the doctor's way as he went to examine the woman. "What are you doing here?" She asked once they were a safe distance away and able to speak freely.
"Jessica ordered me to bring you back," he answered and found himself wanting to do just that as his battle-honed instincts made him uneasy to have her so close to potential danger.
"Ah," she mused thoughtfully. "She's quicker than I thought."
"Ze-" he started but she covered his mouth quickly and shook her head.
"Please," she said softly and glanced around to make sure he hadn't been heard. "I'd rather not draw any attention to myself."
He wasn't happy but he nodded anyway and her hand lowered. "What are you doing here?"
"There have been a number of fires in this area lately," she said and he could hear the frown in her voice.
"Isn't the Council supposed to be dealing with that?"
"With the rebuilding yes," she agreed. "There've been so many recently that I wanted to find out the why. Unfortunately the answer is all too clear."
"You mean the condition of the establishments?"
"In part," she said slowly. "Honestly everything needs to be torn down and rebuilt. I've tried having both Regal and Auru attempt to make some headway with the owners of these establishments, but they'd rather let the places burn than put up the money to build something decent. Or let these women receive any medical care," she added the last angrily and her hands balled into fists from her frustration.
"What are you planning on doing?"
"That's the problem," she admitted. "What to do and how to do it? Simply issuing a royal command of 'fix this or else' isn't helpful without a master plan. And to have a master plan I need a great deal of information. Have you ever been to any of the places in this area?"
"Of course not!" He answered and stared at her in disbelief. He'd never gone near an establishment where women serviced men and was deeply offended that she had assumed he had.
"Oh," she sighed absently and he grabbed her hand to get her attention, bringing her focus back to him.
"Are you implying that you'd have wanted me to?" He asked although the very idea revolted him. He did manage to keep his voice down, not wanting to offend anyone near them.
"I'm sorry," she apologized as her cheeks flushed and it was obvious that she finally realized the full implications of what she'd said. "I wasn't thinking when I asked that question. I meant if you'd ever been to this area, perhaps randomly or cutting through the city. If you'd had, then I could have asked who are the usual people you see in this area? Is it crowded? Are the people local to this section or from other parts of the city?"
"I didn't mean to insult you or imply that I'd want you to… patronize any of the businesses here," she said very softly. "I wasn't thinking about what all I was asking."
"Girl!" Dr. Borville said and snapped his fingers at her. "Quit your chit-chatting and bring me my other bag! And you," he said and looked at Link pointedly. "Either make yourself useful or go away."
So the two of them separated and set about helping Dr. Borville as he directed. Although Link had no medical training, he was useful in keeping the more unscrupulous citizens of Hyrule at a distance so the two could work in peace, and in helping to move people who were too injured to do so. As they worked Zelda would ask the women questions as she slowly convinced them to open up to her.
"It's a hard business honey," one woman told her warningly and her voice was raw from the smoke she'd inhaled. "My best advice to you is to never get in it. Go with that handsome young man with those fierce blue eyes and never look back."
"I'm just here to help Dr. Borville as I can," Zelda said gently and coaxed the woman into drinking a potion to soothe her throat. "Why are you here?" She asked the svelte woman.
"I made too many bad choices when I was younger," the woman admitted and her lovely face was temporarily marred by deep regret. "Most of them came from getting involved with the wrong man, some were because I was too stupid to know what I was getting into, and others because I simply quit caring."
"But you care now."
"Yes," the woman admitted with a sigh. "I have a daughter now; this is the last place I want her to end up."
Not all the women were so willing to open up and deeply resented Zelda's attempt to ask about their lives. Others actually enjoyed their profession but hated the terrible conditions of their workplace. Sometimes the owner's glares would silence the girls, not that the men would lurk around too long once Link told them to leave and come back later.
"What's going to happen to them?" Link asked when they'd treated their last patient. She and Dr. Borville had just finished putting away used linens and salves before washing and disinfecting their hands for the umpteenth time. Five places had burned during the night, they'd spread to each other, and there had been many injured and three deaths.
"The more critical ones are going back to the doctor's clinic for more extensive care," she said and gestured to where some young men were helping people into wagons. "Others who have a home, will go home, and the rest… will try and make do."
"Girl!" Dr. Borville said as he shuffled over to them. "You've been helpful today," he admitted and his gaze cut to Link. "I'd rather the Apprentice next time. He's not as strong as this one, but has skills that are more useful to me."
"I'll be sure to tell him," Zelda promised and they watched him clamber awkwardly into a wagon before directing the driver to his clinic.
"What now?" Link asked.
"Walk with me?" Zelda asked and slipped her hand around his arm. To his surprise, they slowly traversed the entire area before she would let him lead her back to the better kept and safer parts of the city.
"You look like you have a lot of questions Link," she said.
"I do," he admitted. "Shall we head back to the castle and talk over something to eat?"
"Or you could take me back to Telma's and we could eat there," she countered.
"Won't they miss you at the castle?" He asked in concern.
"Not today," she admitted and her voice was quiet. "Jessica only knows where I was today because she happened to run into me on my way out."
"What happened today?" He asked as they continued along towards Telma's Bar. "Why are so many people wearing mourning clothes?"
"My father passed away on this day four years ago," she answered after a brief silence.
Idiot. He mentally berated himself for not thinking of that sooner. "I'm sorry I didn't realize it was today."
"It's fine," she said and lightly squeezed his arm. "I am well known for disappearing on this day so no one will try and look for me too hard."
"That's dangerous Zelda," he reprimanded her immediately.
"So is me attempting to cook but you let me anyway," she countered.
"I might not have had I realized just how lethal the results were going to be," he muttered and grinned at her.
"Excuse me for my flaws O Perfect One," she teased. "I am merely a woman and cannot be expected to compare to your Flawless Self."
"Right," he snorted. "But truly, you shouldn't be so careless about your safety. What if someone who wanted to harm you learned that you always keep to yourself on this day?"
"I have you," she answered simply, and he was humbled by the trust she held in him. "Plus I'm not exactly helpless," she added with a bit of a feral grin.
He made a noncommittal grunt as they finished traversing the rest of the way to Telma's Bar in relative silence. It was already midday and the both of them were starving.
"Link!" Telma greeted him enthusiastically as they walked in.
"How are you Telma?" He returned as they made their way to the empty bar; the other patrons had chosen to sit at the tables instead.
"Doing well," she returned with a smile and her sharp eyes took in the woman seated next to him. "Who's your friend?"
"Ah… about that…" He trailed off, not sure what to say.
A long-suffering sigh came from his companion and she spoke in Sheikah to the woman as she had last time. Telma listened intently and asked a few questions here and there, never taking her eyes off from the disguised queen, although she did laugh at one point during Zelda's story.
"He actually called you Girl!" Telma exclaimed in Hylian when Zelda was done speaking and a broad grin split her face.
"It could have been worse," Zelda laughed as she also switched back to Hylian. "Poor Link was relegated to being You, and Regal is the Apprentice."
"I swear, that man," she sighed.
"Telma," Link said plaintively before they could get going again. "We're starving here. Or I am anyway," he added with a pointed look at his companion.
"I hear you," Telma laughed as she placed a pot of tea and two mugs in front of them. "Give me a minute," she added as she disappeared into the kitchen.
"So Telma is part of the Clan?" Link asked.
"She is… Uidan Lmyh."
"And that means?" Link asked of the obvious Sheikah word as Zelda poured them each a cup of tea.
"Literally it translates to Outer Clan," she answered. "It is someone who has left the Clan but still remains on good terms… they can be trusted."
"But how did you know that when we first came?" He asked. "Or had you met Telma before?"
"The dots under her eyes," she replied. "It is something only the Uidan Lmyh do so that they may be known on sight."
"What about people who completely leave the Clan?" He asked curiously.
"They become the same as any other person of Hyrule. They're kept informed and involved in family affairs of course, but Clan business is not discussed with them."
"Can anyone return to the Clan?"
"You're very curious about this," she noted before answering him. "Anyone may return who does so with the blessing of the Goddess and before you ask," she continued and held up her hand. "It's different for each person and is left to a High Priest or Priestess to figure out."
"Unquestionable trust," he murmured. It was amazing to him the degree of faith and trust Zelda, and any of the Clan, would place in someone just because of a few dots under their eyes or because they happened to be related. "What happens if you're betrayed by someone in the Clan?"
"Then they will be judged according to their crime, as would any other Hyrulean."
"But you don't believe anyone of the Clan ever would," he persisted although he had no idea why he was so adamant about pursuing this strain of thought.
"Would you ever betray Rusl or think he'd betray you?" She asked gently, and he remembered his hurt when Rusl hadn't known him as a wolf and had tried to attack him.
"Not intentionally," he conceded.
"Because you're family," she said softly. "The bonds between you are those of love and trust. They are willing bindings that we must choose to accept or they simply don't exist. You cannot force love, although you can create fear. Even if you can demand obedience you cannot steal trust. Only that which is freely given and reciprocated will create ties that can withstand testing and time."
"You've given this a lot of thought," he noted as they thanked Telma for the meal she brought out to them. Spicy curried rice with cuccoo, pumpkin fritters, and winter greens. It tasted as good as it smelled too, because his first bite tasted pretty much like heaven.
"Well I guess it's maybe because I'm an orphan," she said thoughtfully after she opened her black scarf enough so that she could easily eat. "But although I am the last of my bloodline I've never felt like I was without a family thanks to Selene and the Clan. Selene has been the only mother I've ever known, and when I was younger the Clan treated me like simply another youngling."
"What, no special treatment?" He teased her.
"Hardly," she laughed and shook her head. "I was so shy and timid the first time Selene brought me to the Village that I just tried to blend in and not be noticed."
"You?" He asked in disbelief. "It's hard to imagine you as timid."
"I wasn't used to being around other children my age," she returned. "The only other person who was my age that I was around constantly was Ty," she said and the disgruntlement in her voice came through loud and clear.
"What did he ever do to displease you so much?" He asked curiously.
"He was guilty of being too perfect," she said ruefully. "When we were small he was the wonderful older brother who didn't mind getting into trouble with me. Then one comment from his father and poof," she said and gestured with her hands. "He turns into this annoying, must be perfect and always well-behaved, tattle-tale version whose sole mission in life seemed to be sucking all the fun out of mine."
Her ranting description of the competent man Link knew had him almost choking as he fought not to laugh.
"I could see how that might be upsetting," he said neutrally.
"I know you're laughing at me in your head," she said and nudged him in the shoulder with her hand. "Poor Ty, I was the bratty hellion of a little sister that no one should ever have to put up with. But," she said gaily. "We survived into adulthood without maiming each other permanently so it turned out well."
"I'm surprised you didn't try and sabotage his relationship with Kiterey."
"You knew about them?" She asked in surprise.
"Tarak mentioned that Tynan had planned to ask her to marry him."
"I see…" she said and was quiet as she ate more of her food. "Ty was the reason that Kiterey and I first got acquainted. She wanted to make sure that I wasn't trying to steal her future husband," she laughed and shook her head. "I think we were maybe five? I'm pretty sure my response was something along the lines of 'can you marry him now and keep him from blabbing to our fathers about every little thing? Shall I tie him up and put a bow on him for you?' We were pretty much friends from that moment on."
"Women are terrifying," he muttered, pushed aside his finished plate and poured them some more tea.
"Oh really? So tell me about this story involving you and Fado and some spiders."
Link froze and stared at her in shock. "Rusl told you about that?"
"Actually it was Uli," she answered wickedly. "So what's your version?"
"It's probably pretty close to the one Uli told you," he admitted. "As kids, Fado and I didn't really want to hang out with Ilia, her being a girl and younger than us, so we used to pull little pranks on her. Usually it was just something stupid like hiding her things so she had to find them instead, but she upset Fado pretty bad when she hid one of the baby goats to get back at us."
"Of course Fado found it in her house, so to get back at her we caught a whole bunch of spiders without really knowing what we were going to do with them. We were in the process of building a fort in the barn when Ilia found us and we got the brilliant idea to just dump them on her, we didn't take into account just how scared she was of them."
"So what happened then?"
"She ran home screaming and crying, after she jumped in the water to get them off of her. Thankfully, she wasn't bitten, just scared. But Rusl, Major Bo, and Fado's dad were not happy with us. We got in tons of trouble and had to do so many chores, after we apologized profusely to Ilia of course. It took her awhile to forgive us for that one."
"I don't blame her," Zelda said wryly. "I guess you must have had some redeeming qualities for her to have learned to like you," she teased and he flushed in embarrassment.
"I guess," he said and went quiet when Telma wandered back over to them.
"Finished?" She asked and Link noticed that there were very few remaining from the lunch crowd.
"Yes," he answered and handed her the rupees for the meal. "Everything was very good."
"Thank you," she said with a wink before turning her attention back to Zelda. "I'll think about what you said and let you know something soon," she said and looked back at Link. "And you keep her safe," she ordered as he helped Zelda from her seat.
"Always," he promised with a grin and didn't notice the older woman's brief look of surprise that changed into a knowing smile as she watched the two of them leave.
"So back to the castle?" He asked.
"Are you wanting to go back?" She countered.
"Not really," he admitted and smiled slowly as an idea came to him. "Will you go to the South gate and wait for me? I won't be long."
"Alright," she agreed without pressing him for more information. He stopped himself from touching her hand and instead headed back towards the castle to fetch Epona. If they were going to skip out on their duties for today, he'd rather not have to worry about Zelda being discovered as they wandered around the city.
She was waiting for him as promised, but rather than slow Epona, he simply reached down and hooked her around the waist to pull her into the saddle as they galloped by.
"Link!" She yelped but she was laughing and it was nice to be on the outside of the walls of the city for a change. Things had been so busy and hectic that Link hadn't had a chance to take Epona out for quite a while.
"Are you warm enough?" He asked her when Epona slowed to a trot as they neared Lake Hylia.
"I'm fine," she answered and pulled back her hood as she smiled at him. "It's been quite some time since I've ridden like this," she said and gestured to her dress. "Especially without a sidesaddle."
"Are you uncomfortable?" He asked. He hadn't really thought about the difficulties of riding in a dress seeing as how he'd never been in one.
"Not at all," she answered and leaned her head comfortably against his shoulder. "It's nice to get away for a change."
"Remind me to keep you away from Uli," he joked. "She'll tell you every bad or embarrassing thing about me."
"You mean like your wrestling matches with Fado to impress Ilia?" She asked smugly and he groaned.
"What all has she told you?" He asked warily.
"Nothing bad," she said with a laugh and pressed a kiss against his jaw. "She and Rusl are both extremely proud of you; it's easy to see they love you very much."
"I know," he said. "I love them too," he added quietly. "So what was Telma talking about?" He asked curiously.
"I asked her if she might be interested in employing some of the women we helped today."
"Zelda," he said reprovingly and stopped Epona abruptly. "Telma doesn't run that kind of place. I can't believe you'd ask her something like that."
"Where are they going to go while things get rebuilt Link? They have to work to be able to support themselves and their families. And who said they'd be employed as whores?" She said bluntly, shocking Link enough with her language that he didn't even attempt to stop her from sliding off Epona. He could tell that she was upset as she walked away into the winter blooming heather and stared out over the water.
Surrounded by a sea of purple flowers, the utter stillness with which she held herself reminded him again of when he'd first met her in the tower. It discomforted him to see her looking so alone and so far away in her thoughts; he dismounted and made his way slowly to where she stood, unsure of what her reaction would be.
"Do you think that I'm being unrealistic?" She asked quietly when he stopped just shy of touching her. "Do you really think that Telma wouldn't want to hire them to cook in the kitchen or serve drinks to customers? Or that the women themselves would possibly want a chance to change their lives?"
"That's what you wanted Telma to hire them for?" He asked and felt regretful for his earlier comment. Of course Zelda wouldn't want them to continue on with their current circumstances if she could provide them with better options.
"Yes," she answered and her gaze finally turned to him. "Is it foolish?" She asked but her eyes were guarded and bleak.
"I don't think it's foolish to want to give people a chance to make their lives better," he said carefully. "I just don't think it's going to be as easy as all that. Some of those women have substantial debt they owe to the men holding their… contracts," he fumbled with his words but kept going. "Some of them don't want to change their lives," he reminded her as he remembered what some of the women had told her earlier.
"But," he said and cupped her face in his hands. "I think you're wonderful for wanting to give them an option. For seeing people as people, rather than commodities or problems."
"I'm sorry for snapping at you," she apologized and he kissed her forehead with a low chuckle.
"I suppose I deserved it," he admitted. "I forget sometimes that you look for a way to make things better at the core of a problem rather than simply solving the immediate issues."
"I do what I can to keep you on your toes," she said wryly.
"You do," he said and let her pull him down to sit in the heather. "I take it you're going to bring this up with the Council?"
"Yes," she answered as she flashed him an amused look while her hands played with the flowers. "Especially since I'm not exactly sure where to begin…or how."
"If everything was simple you'd be bored," he said knowingly.
"I'd welcome a little boredom," she said with a smile as she placed the crown of flowers she'd woven on his head. "You look so pretty," she sing-songed at him, while her mouth trembled from the effort of not laughing. "Interested in switching jobs for a little while?"
"Absolutely not," he answered instantly and the look on his face was enough to set her off into peals of laughter.
"Do I look that funny?" He asked and reached up to take it off.
"No," she replied and grabbed his hand and pulled it back down. "Well, you do look a little silly," she admitted. "It was the look of absolute distaste on your face that made me laugh though."
"I'm glad I can amuse you," he said but he was happy despite his dry tone. He liked seeing Zelda more relaxed and laid down on his back, tugging her down with him. "Jessica is going to skin me alive when she sees me," he said aloud as he recalled the woman's stern orders to return the queen immediately to the castle.
"Don't worry," Zelda said reassuringly as she settled her head more comfortably on his shoulder. "She's much more likely to be upset with me for telling her where I was going, and then disappearing before she could get another word in. Actually I take it back," she said and he glanced down to see a wicked smile play across her mouth as her eyes lit with humor. "Zorion is the one she'll go after."
"Because he was Father's oldest friend and usually the cause of any trouble my father got into when he was younger. Personally, I think he just likes to rile her up and she just likes to fuss at him."
"Was your father a lot like you?" He asked curiously. Zelda rarely spoke about her father unless it was in passing.
"In some ways," she said thoughtfully. "Father was serious by nature but there were times where he was lighthearted and playful. I would say that I'm more inclined toward gaiety… or rather that I was when he was alive. It wasn't until after his death that I realized how much freedom he allowed me, and how much care he took in preparing me to become queen."
"I thought you were very serious when I first met you," Link mused thoughtfully. "And sad."
"I think we all were… Hyrule owes you much for setting us free of Ganondorf and making it possible for laughter and peace to return to the people."
"I'm owed nothing," he denied softly but firmly. He'd done what he'd had to do, and there was nothing that he wouldn't do for his family and friends. They were both silent for a long time, remembering the circumstances that had brought them together.
"Link… if it were possible for you to be able to know who your parents are- were?, would you want to know?"
"I don't know," he answered honestly as he mulled over her question. It hadn't been something that he'd thought of; he'd always assumed that his parents had simply passed away. "Rusl and Uli are the only parents I've truly known. I have vague recollections of my mother… I remember she always seemed sad and I think she was lovely but I honestly don't remember her face or what she sounded like."
Link paused to shift his arm so that he could wrap it around her shoulders and pull her more tightly against his side. The warm sun in the cloudless sky kept the weather from being too cool, but he didn't want to take any chances, and it was nice to be so close to each other.
"I don't need to know my birth parents to be happy," he continued. "I have Uli and Rusl, Colin and little Corrina as my family." He stopped but decided to say it anyway. "And you… one day."
Zelda raised herself up on her arm and looked at him. It was still difficult to say such intimate things, saying 'I love you, I need you' were so much harder when you said them to the person you most wanted to hear them .
She reached up with her free hand and traced his features with a feather-light touch. "I'd like that day," she said gently and lowered her mouth to his and ghosted her lips across his as delicately as her hand had touched his face. Although her words were as much as she could pledge aloud, the deeper kiss she gave him acted as an unspoken promise that he accepted as eagerly as he would have her words.
"I love you," she said as she sat up a bit and the look that she gave him, a mixture of trust, love, and something else, was the look he loved best from her because he was the only one to receive it.
"I love you too," he said as he also sat up and leaned his forehead against hers. "So don't ever change your mind," he teased.
"I won't," she promised and grinned back at him. "I guess it's time to head back," she noted and they both looked up to check the position of the sun. Due to winter, the days had grown shorter and the time they could spend outside the castle grew shorter as well.
"If you're ready," he agreed and got to his feet easily before helping her up.
"Not really," she sighed and watched with a little smile as he picked up the flower crown she'd woven and placed it in a saddlebag.
"We could always not go back," he joked as he lifted her into the saddle.
"Kidnapping, Commander?" She grinned as he climbed up behind her. "Whatever would your men say when they learned you were being held hostage?"
He laughed in surprise and started Epona towards the castle. "They'd probably be jealous," he teased her right back and was pleased at the faint blush that dusted her cheeks. "At least until they had to eat your cooking," he added and kicked Epona into a gallop as Zelda burst into laughter.
Sadly it didn't take them overlong to return to the castle and Zelda had to make sure that her face was properly concealed before they approached the gates.
"You can let me down here," she said once they were inside the city.
"I'd rather not," he answered honestly although they were clearly in a safe area.
"I'll be fine," she said and slid off unassisted. "You worry too much Commander," she scolded as she looked up at him.
"It's my job," he shrugged and looked down at her sternly. "You are going back to the castle?"
"I promise," she swore and he watched as she deftly mingled in with the crowd and headed towards some secret path that only she knew. Which was starting to worry him more than he cared to admit, especially when he thought how easily someone could lie in wait for her to just come waltzing by.
I'll be glad when Selene and the others return. He thought to himself as he headed towards the castle as well. He'd welcome the extra protection, as well as people with the ability to somewhat boss Zelda around like Rusl could do with him.
"I'm sorry for asking you all to gather so late in the day," Zelda apologized to her gathered Council, and to Link. Because she'd called the meeting so late she had asked them to join her for dinner in her personal dining room rather than going to the Council Room. It was the first time that any of them -save Link had been in her private quarters and they looked anything but at ease as they sat at the table.
"Why are we here Your Majesty?" Auru asked as the servants cleared away the dishes to bring tea, and kava for those who liked it, along with cream and sugar.
"I want to talk about the red district," she answered as she poured Link a cup of tea and handed it to him. She ignored Shad's reaction, as he almost dropped the entire pot of kava on the floor, and continued to pour Rusl and Auru a cup since Ashei also liked kava.
"Do you mean the rebuilding?" Rusl asked after thanking her.
"Not exactly," she admitted and took a sip out of her own teacup. "There have been even more fires in that part of the city, so I went and assisted Dr. Borville with the people who were hurt."
"Milady!" Ashei exclaimed and her brown eyes went wide with shock. "That was no place for you to be!" The others nodded their agreement even as a few of their eyes slid to Link who continued to casually drink his tea, giving the impression that he had not a care in the world. His casual pose was betrayed only by the interest in his eyes as he listened.
"Wherever my people are so shall I go," she said gently. "I did go in a disguise so that I could be of actual help to the doctor and there were no incidents." She added and ignored the sharp look that Link gave her.
"That was still an incredibly risky action on your part. Both Regal and I have been down to that area in an attempt to get the building owners to work with us and they don't take kindly to anyone interfering," Auru said. "If anything happened to you while you've yet to have an heir, the kingdom would fall into chaos."
"Our lives are in the hands of the Goddesses," Zelda countered. "And if it is my time then I doubt it will matter where I am. However," she added as she held up her hand. "I did not ask you here for your comments on my activities. Frankly speaking, the conditions of that part of the city are appalling and are only going to get worse. Ideally, I would like all the buildings that don't meet the qualifications of a Master Architect torn down and rebuilt using proper materials."
"So you want to remove those people from the city then?" Shad asked.
"I'd like some of them gone simply because they're a miserable waste of flesh," she muttered and ignored the surprised looks she got. They really need to drop this 'perfect queen' image they have of me, she thought but kept the grimace off her face.
"Obviously to redo this area we'll need to shuffle people around quite a bit. Winter is upon us and they're going to need shelter from the weather and employment to keep food in their bellies and clothes on their backs. I need a workable solution to make this happen."
"What about when the rebuilding is complete?" Regal asked. "Do you think they'll simply want to go back to their old lives?"
"I don't know," she answered honestly. "I think the best solution would be to find alternate work for them while the rebuilding is going on, but with employers who would be willing to take them on full time. This way they don't have to go back to a lifestyle of servicing patrons unless they choose to do so."
"No one is going to want to hire those women for anything other than what they do now," Ashei said firmly. "Thinking otherwise is simply deluding yourself."
Zelda kept her face neutral even though she felt her hope shatter all the same. If her Council was unwilling to entertain the idea then how could she hope others would?
"I don't know about that," Regal said thoughtfully. "Some of those women have valuable skills that they could offer to employers willing to take them on."
"I didn't expect you to be so forthcoming about your off hour activities Lord Regal," Ashei said deliberately.
"Regal has been assisting Dr. Borville," Auru chided his daughter. "And I've spoken with some of those ladies as well whilst trying to talk sense into the owners of those buildings. Some of them were once women with respectable positions."
"Then how did they get to where they are?" Shad challenged him to Zelda's surprise. Shad was typically unwilling to challenge his lover's father but maybe he was starting to lose some of his awe, and just a little fear, of the older man.
"Not everyone has a family or friends to support them when they lose themselves," Rusl said quietly with a faraway look in his eyes. "When you're hungry for food, or desperate for medicine to save someone you love, there isn't much a person wouldn't do. Even if it means sacrificing one's pride."
"However," he added with a warning look at Zelda. "Just because people are able to understand the circumstances that drove these women to where they are now, does not mean that they will be accepting or without judgment. It will be very hard to accomplish anything when people's perceptions are going to be far from positive."
"I still can't simply do nothing," Zelda said gently. "I cannot pretend to not see the suffering of my people when I have helped heal their wounds and seen their grief."
"You're right that we cannot turn away and pretend these problems don't exist," Ashei said with a sigh. "But that still doesn't give us a clue on how to begin to take on this problem."
"Perhaps the best thing is to call it a night and think on it more tomorrow?" Shad suggested. "It's a touchy situation to be sure and should be handled delicately."
"That's a fair suggestion," Auru said and the others nodded their agreement. Zelda also coincided and granted them permission to leave as they bade her goodnight.
"It's not a bad beginning," Link said, startling her out of her thoughts.
"I'm sorry Link," she apologized as she focused on him.
"You looked very far away," he noted.
"I was thinking," she said and finally noticed that they were alone.
"I know," he said fondly as he gazed at her. "Why don't we call it a night as well and meet up with everyone tomorrow?"
It was sound advice and Zelda could feel her own weariness from lack of sleep from the previous night pressing unforgivingly upon her, but at the same time her mind was wide awake and relentlessly working to find a possible solution.
"You're right," she said as she took in the fatigue on his features. Causing herself discomfort was one thing, causing it to the man she loved was something else entirely.
"What are you thinking about now?" He teased with an affectionate look on his face.
"You," she answered honestly and was delighted that she'd managed to surprise him as a faint flush reddened his features. "I love you," she said and her smile softened further when he took her hand in his.
He opened his mouth to speak but a swiftly approaching pair of heels had the pair draw apart, and when Jessica entered the room Zelda was pouring them both another cup of tea. Her sharp eyes quickly took in the two young people but noted nothing out of order.
"My lady," she said coolly and turned her gaze to Link. "Commander."
"Jessica," she answered easily. She was very well aware that her earlier excursion was the cause of the older woman's ire and was curious as to what Jessica had planned to express her displeasure. "Would you like a cup of tea?" She asked and rose to get an unused cup without waiting for her answer.
"That's not necessary," she said in surprise.
"I don't mind," she said with a hidden smile as she made Jessica a cup of tea the way she liked it. Not for nothing had she spent years learning to dance around her attendants and how to assuage their ire with her.
"Well Commander," Jessica said and shifted her focus to him. "It took you much longer to return with the queen than I had anticipated."
"That's my fault," Zelda said easily as she handed Jessica her tea. "I put him to work helping me assist Dr. Borville."
"You shouldn't have been there in the first place," Jessica said pointedly.
"And you couldn't have sent anyone better to assure we stayed safe," she said lightly and affectionately squeezed Link's forearm.
"Hmph! My intention was for him to bring you back."
"Next time I shall endeavor to be more accommodating," she replied and like Link, hid her smile behind a sip of tea.
"As accommodating as a cat I bet," Jessica said dryly but there was an amused smile on her face. The three stayed and chatted for a time until Link asked to be excused to return to his quarters.-Well that was easy.
"The time got away from me completely!" Jessica exclaimed in embarrassment after Link had bid them a polite goodnight. "Do you need me to help you undress?"
"I'll be fine," Zelda declined her offer with a smile. She walked with Jessica to the door leading out of her private quarters to bid her goodnight and then made her way to her sleeping chamber.
She was weary and looked longingly at her comfortable bed, but then the images of the women from the day appeared in her mind and her restlessness returned to her full force. How was she supposed to sleep when she knew that she had people without a roof to shelter them? Would a fire start again tonight, and if it did, how many lives would it take or wound?
As she paced an idea, a crazy, improbable, sure to upset people idea slowly began to form in her mind. It was not an idea to bring up with the Council, not with their noble hearts and desire for sterling actions.
As she stripped out of her clothes she started to dig out the plain clothes that Selene still had hidden away for her. She stared at them undecidedly, uncertain if she should go as herself or as Sheik. The dress would normally make it harder to sneak out but since she didn't need to leave the city she had no cause to get Blackjax as Sheik. Outside of the castle she was still more likely to draw attention as a woman than as a man, but she needed to speak with people and her identity as Sheik was a closely guarded secret.
She finally began to put on the plain clothes for a woman and ignored her misgivings. Thanks to the winter weather, she would be sufficiently covered and could put an illusion on herself to make her look exceedingly unattractive. Still, she wasn't foolhardy enough to venture out without a weapon and buckled a dirk around her waist before pulling on her cloak.
By now her quarters should have been completely empty of servants, but she still created an illusion of herself sleeping in her bed just in case anyone should wander in. She hesitated for a moment in the passageways and was tempted to go and tell Link what she had planned but his obvious exhaustion made her unsure. Finally she decided to make her way to his room and see if he was still awake, if he was then she'd tell him and if he wasn't then she'd continue on.
Happy with her decision, she made her way confidently through the passageways. Her soft soled boots made less sound than a cat's paw as she deftly made her way to Link's quarters. Using her magic to ensure silence she bade the door to his room open slowly. No glow of candlelight greeted her eyes as she stepped silently into the room but she stood still and carefully noted where everything was before moving away from the wall. Just because there were no lights lit didn't mean that he wasn't awake and she had no desire to burst in on him, or anyone battle trained for that matter, when he wasn't expecting it.
Her caution served her well as she moved deeper into his quarters and she had to step nimbly around his discarded clothes and shoes. In his bedroom there was a small fire going to take the chill from the room and there was no mistaking the figure or the face of the man bathed in the gentle light of the fire. Apparently he preferred to sleep without a shirt and was a restless sleeper if the rumpled covers that had gotten tossed about and pushed down to his waist could be used as a clue to his sleeping habits.
She would be a liar if she said that she wasn't tempted to go to him. In sleep he looked more relaxed and younger than he did awake, and she longed to touch him. However, her better sense prevailed over her desires and she did not linger long enough for him to sense her presence and awaken. She blew him a soundless kiss before leaving as silently as she had entered.
She made her way stealthily towards Telma's Bar and to her pleasure, no one who passed her gave her a second glance. She entered quietly and made her way around a party of young men who were celebrating the upcoming nuptials of one of their friends. She managed to get a seat at the end of the bar, which wasn't so difficult when most of the patrons were more interested in giving advice and slaps on the back to the young man who was to be married.
"What can I get for you?" Telma asked as she kept an amused eye on the activity in her bar.
"I'd like leevish if you have it," she answered and felt the other woman's full attention focus on her after she requested the drink the Clan made from honey collected from desert bees and fermented desert fruit.
"Not too many order that," Telma noted as she poured her the drink.
"Not that many carry it," Zelda returned and pushed back her hood enough that Telma could recognize her while still keeping her face hidden from the other patrons.
"Where is the rest of your company?" Telma very nearly scolded her as her gaze shifted about the bar, no doubt looking for Link or at least a guard of some sort.
"I'm alone," she said and felt the full weight of the woman's disapproval.
"A little foolhardy of you I think."
"Perhaps," Zelda allowed. "But I needed to speak with you."
"I still don't have an answer for you about putting those girls to work," Telma said in Sheikah before Zelda could say anything else.
"I see," Zelda answered in Sheikah and didn't try to hide the disappointment in her voice. "I was hoping maybe you had but that's not why I'm here."
"I need someone who can see things frankly and tell me their take on things."
"Isn't that what your Council is for?" Telma asked pointedly.
"Some things are better discussed with people of the Clan," she answered honestly. "I need plain speech and knowledge that only someone who lives in the city would know."
"Well say your piece then," Telma said although she was secretly flattered that the young queen had come to speak with her.
"Do you think it's possible to eliminate the red district and the need for prostitutes in the city?"
"No I don't," Telma answered the blunt question honestly. "Frankly speaking wherever there are cities there are always going to be persons who seek those specific kinds of pleasures. And there are always going to be those who actively search and want that kind of job. If you try to eradicate the red light district you'll simply drive it underground and make the conditions worse for those who live and work there."
"That's what I was afraid of," Zelda admitted and stared moodily into the amber depths of her drink. "What if someone were to buy out all the current prostitute owners and their contracts? And then that owner could establish a set of rules that their patrons would have to abide by and treat their girls fairly."
"You're basing this off the houses that the Gerudo used to run?" Telma asked curiously.
"In part," Zelda admitted. Once, long ago, the Gerudo had run their own pleasure houses but unlike now, the women had been the one in charge. This made sense when the main reason why they were there was to find men to father their children. But once the Gerudo and the Sheikah began to merge the houses slowly died off until they were no longer in existence.
"You'd need an extremely rich person who doesn't care to make a profit off those contracts to make a success of what you're thinking," she said warningly.
"What if I was that person?" Zelda asked quietly and Telma couldn't have looked more surprised if she'd slapped her. "I could use an alias and –"
"It would never stay quiet," Telma interrupted with a shake of her head. "Those funds would eventually get tracked back to you one way or another, and no matter how beloved a queen is, there are few people who would be forgiving of their ruler being a madam."
That too had been one of Zelda's fears but she'd been hoping that the older woman would know of a way that it could be possible.
"Still," Telma continued after she was sure that she'd crushed all thoughts of Zelda being the one to purchase the houses and contracts. "There may be someone with enough gold and enough regret in their life to want to try and make a difference in others."
"Who?" Zelda asked and wasn't able to keep the excitement out of her voice.
"Jovani," she answered and gestured to the diminutive man who was sitting off in a corner by himself as he nursed a pitcher of ale. "He's a noble who learned the hard way that not all things worth having in life sparkle and gleam. He's had a good long while to sulk and cry over his mistakes and should be ready for the opportunity to do some good."
"And you think he would be a fair master?" Zelda asked worriedly.
"I think he's exactly the man you need," Telma answered her decidedly. "He may not seem like much but he's no longer the miserly man he once was. I think he'll be excited at the opportunity to help make life a little better for others, and perhaps atone for his own regrets."
"I'll go and speak with him then!" Zelda said excitedly and started to get up when Telma's hand reached over and held her down.
"Settle yourself," she scolded, though she was pleased at the same time. Their young queen, for all her noble lineage and regal appearance, obviously cared and loved her people as much as they loved her. Although she'd only spoken to her these few times she could easily understand how Link, though he hid his feelings well, was enamored with her.
"I'll make mention of my concerns to him, enough so that he can put the pieces together and make up his own mind of what he should do."
"But what if he decides not to or that it's too much trouble?" Zelda worried.
"Oh honey," Telma laughed. "That's why women were born. To gently lead men along the right path so that when it's all said and done they think they were the ones who thought of it in the first place, and couldn't be any prouder of themselves."
"If you say so," Zelda said hesitantly. She wasn't exactly sure how true Telma's statement was but the older woman looked very confident, and Zelda greatly appreciated the candor in which the two had been able to converse. "Do you think he'll reach this conclusion soon?" She asked as her thoughts returned to the possibility of fires.
"Sooner than you think," Telma promised. "If I were you I'd be more concerned about telling your Commander about your little solo excursion here."
"Why would that matter?" Zelda asked and confusion darkened her eyes. "I'm not in a particularly dangerous part of the city and I'm sufficiently trained and armed to be able to handle myself."
"As you say," Telma allowed, but the little smile she wore didn't make Zelda feel any better. "Was there anything else you needed to speak with me about?" She asked kindly.
"No, you've been terribly kind. Thank you for listening to me and for your help."
"Of course," Telma waved off her thanks with a little shrug. "Be careful on your way home," she said sternly. "I'd expect to see Jovani within days were I you. Once an idea takes hold of him he's not one to sit idle."
"I will and thank you," Zelda said sincerely as she reached over and squeezed Telma's hand with her own before slipping out back into the night. Telma watched her go with a discrete eye and hoped that Link wouldn't come to any great heartache while he dealt with his feelings for the queen.
Zelda made her way back without any incident, but with Telma's words weighing heavy on her mind she went back to Link's quarters. She entered as silently as before but this time she froze from surprise at the soft candlelight that greeted her eyes. Cautiously she continued on but her unease was heightened by the now clean floors, and she kept to the shadows as much as possible. She'd returned to his room mainly to assure herself that he was still sleeping and couldn't be aware of her excursion out of the castle. She hadn't considered the possibility that he could have visitors late in the night.
The last thing she wanted to do was encounter any of Link's family whist in his room and she decided to err on the side of caution rather than continue on. Or she would have if Link hadn't chosen that precise moment to enter the room she was intent on leaving.
The two stared at each other in surprise. She because he was up and mostly unclothed except for a pair of sleeping pants that hung low on his hips. His hair was still mused from sleep but his eyes were very alert, if sleepy looking, as they roamed over her figure. She'd seen him without his shirt before, but that had been before she was aware of her feelings for him, and she was embarrassed by how very aware of him she was now.
"You were here earlier," he said as he walked over to her and pulled off her hood. "Why didn't you stay and wake me?" He asked and his voice was rough from sleep.
"You were asleep," she protested quietly and watched him as he doused the candles he'd lit before leading her into his sleeping chamber. "How did you know I was here earlier?" She asked curiously.
"I just knew," he answered and tried to smirk at her but the effect was ruined by a yawn. "I always know when you're close," he said seriously and wrapped his arms around her. "And when I woke after you left I could smell you."
"I'll have you know that I took a bath before I ever assembled the Council," she said with a frown. She was fairly positive that she didn't stink enough for him to smell her.
"I know," he answered with a chuckle. "You smell like the oils you use in your bath, and underneath that of yourself," he continued and she felt the heat from her blush as he drew her close and kissed her thoroughly. "What were you drinking with Jessica?" He asked curiously.
"It was leevish and I had it at Telma's," she answered and was sorry to see the sleepily content look fade from his eyes as he stared down at her.
"You left the castle by yourself?" He asked for confirmation and she slowly nodded her head. Instinct warned her she should be wary of the darkening of his eyes but at the same time she knew that there was no safer place than where she currently stood. Without another word he let her go and doused the remaining candle before lying down in his bed with his back to her.
"Link, I'm sorry but I knew you were tired and I didn't want to wake you," she apologized and placed her hand softly on his shoulder.
He grabbed her so quickly that even after it was all said and done she wasn't quite sure how he managed to pull her over and into the bed with him. Silently he unbuckled her dirk and tossed it carelessly on the floor. She was very well aware of the muscled arm that lay heavily over her as well as the hard chest that her arms were pinned against.
"Are you angry?" She asked when he continued to stay silent.
"No," he answered and opened his eyes as he looked at her. "Yes," he changed his mind. "You went to Telma to ask her about the girls?"
"Yes," she admitted.
"And you saw me sleeping and decided to go on your own," he concluded and she nodded silently. "I understand why you didn't. But wake me next time."
"But – "she tried to protest but his mouth swallowed the words she tried to say. She initially tried to push him away to speak but the lips on hers were too demanding and the bare skin against her hands felt so hot and soon she was unable to think of anything but him.
"I'd rather wake and go with you than awaken the next day, having gotten a full night's sleep, and discover that something had happened to you because you were alone. If it's something that you feel you can't wake me for, then it should be something that can wait till the next day. Agreed?"
"I'll try," she replied and reached out to bring him close to kiss him.
"No," he said and had her pinned down under him. His eyes had darkened considerably but not just from passion, there was ire there too and she belatedly remembered the gentle warning he'd given her about not being a meek man.
"Trying isn't enough," he said and his tone was almost as dark as his eyes. "I want your word that you'll consult with me before making decisions on my behalf instead of deciding on your own what's best for me. Especially considering you've no care that harm may come to you."
"I'm quite capable of looking after myself," she said and fought to keep her voice light. She didn't want to start an argument and had no desire to be pushed into one either.
"Is that so?" He asked and his voice was quiet and steely. "Then free yourself," he challenged her.
It was unfair, he'd had her pinned down from the start and a dress was a cumbersome thing to fight in. She was still wearing her boots and could have triggered the press release which would force out the knives from their hidden sheaths, but the probability of one of them getting hurt would go up significantly. Instead she struggled, lashing out with elbows when she got an arm free and fighting to kick him off with legs entangled in the folds of her dress.
With magic she could have removed him, it would have been simple, and she was sorely tempted when he continued to use his larger size and weight against her. What stopped her was the pained determination in his eyes. She only considered magic because she trusted Link, if it had been a stranger holding her down she would have been free to fight as dirty as she wanted, but without the aid of magic.
They continued to struggle, and she did not make it easy for him, but from the beginning she knew she wasn't going to win. With a disgruntled sigh she surrendered by laying still and quiet. Both of them were breathing hard and eyeing each other somewhat warily as they recovered their breath.
"What is it you want me to say Link?" She asked.
"I don't want to make you feel trapped," he said hoarsely. "But you have no thought for yourself about going into situations that you have no idea if they may or may not become dangerous. What's worse is that you went after checking in on me. If something had happened to you tonight how was I supposed to live with myself that I hadn't been there?"
"I am responsible for my own actions Link," she said softly. "There is no one who would hold you accountable for my decisions so why would you want to place that burden on yourself?" She argued.
"Because I love you," he answered. "And you love me," he continued. "And that makes you accountable to me, and me to you. Agreed?"
She was fairly certain that it wasn't as simple as what Link was making it seem but she froze as she realized that perhaps it was that simple. Her father and Selene had never been married, although they'd loved each other there had always been a simple but very clear line in their relationship. Daphnes was king and beholden to no man or woman for any reason save it pleased him, and Selene had never questioned or challenged that. She had been a master at using gentle suggestions or infallible logic to get her way when the two had disagreed. Zelda knew that Link, on the other hand, would never accept anything less than the full partnership she'd observed between Uli and Rusl. Both of them had equal say in the decisions affecting their family, and equal responsibility.
"Agreed," she also wanted nothing less for them and her voice was soft but sure. "I'm sorry for being thoughtless."
"I don't think you're thoughtless he countered as he gentled his grip so that he has no longer pinning her down. "Just used to doing things your own way and getting around people who could call you to task for it."
"I think you just called me a brat," she couldn't help but laugh and was happy to get a rather reluctant smile from him.
"I'm not ready to stop being angry with you," he said but his eyes had lost their hard edge and there was still a hint of a smile about his mouth.
"Let me know when you're ready," she teased and with her newly freed hand, she delicately used her fingertips to trace over his features.
"Are you trying to memorize me by touch?" He asked curiously after she traced over his mouth.
"Yes," she answered quietly and couldn't stop the smile that played over her face.
He dipped his head and tenderly brushed her lips with his. He kept his touch feather light and playful. She ran her fingers through his hair in an effort to draw him closer but he continued his gentle teasing. She trailed her hands down his bare back and felt him shudder under her fingertips.
"Does that hurt?" She asked hesitantly, unsure if he'd hurt himself during a training exercise and she'd pressed down on a bruise.
"No," he answered roughly.
"But – " She tried to speak but she shivered involuntarily and felt goose bumps form on her skin when he placed an open mouthed kiss against the side of her neck.
"It's like that," he explained as he continued to place those teasing kisses over her neck.
"Link," she said his name half in question and half in exasperation. She wanted him to kiss her, she needed him to kiss her and she tugged on his hair in an effort to bring his mouth to hers.
"I'm here," he said in amusement and she nipped at his bottom lip to reproach him for laughing at her. It was like hitting a switch with how quickly his mood changed from being light and playful to demanding and wanting. Her whole body felt electrified and she cried out softly from surprise and pleasure as he ran his hands down her arms, her skin felt so sensitive that even through her clothes she could feel the heat of his body.
Neither of them were exactly gentle as they used their lips and tongues to tease, taste, and entice each other. They were so completely absorbed in each other that neither of them noticed when their Triforces began to glow faintly on their respective hands. It did not take long for the unusual light to gather attention and they drew apart in surprise. Immediately, the light from the Triforces faded and became the normal markings on their skin that they were used to.
"What was that about?" Link panted but she could only shake her head, she didn't know either.
"Are you alright?" He asked after they'd managed to recover their breath while he ran a thumb over her cheek.
She nodded and covered an involuntary yawn that she couldn't stop. "I'm fine," she said in embarrassment.
"I'm sorry," he apologized. "I should have realized earlier how tired you were."
"I didn't make any protests earlier," she reminded him. "And I don't have any complaints now," she added before he could say anything. There was some truth to what he was saying, she was exhausted, but she wanted to spend time with him more than she wanted to sleep.
"I still think you should get some rest," he said as he leaned down to kiss her again and she wrapped her arms around him happily. "I don't think this is working," he groaned and the full weight of his body pressed down as he laid his head on her shoulder. "I want you to stay but I don't know if… I don't want to lose…"
"Link," she interrupted and pressed a kiss against his hair. "It's just me."
"That's the problem," he said ruefully and shifted so that he was lying next to her. "I only have so much self-control when it comes to you and having you here this late in my bedroom…" he trailed off and brushed her hair back from her face.
"I want you too," she admitted and was thankful that it was dark enough that her blushing face wouldn't be so apparent. "I love you and I can't help but want to be with you and touch you. Especially when you pull me into your bed and the only thing you're wearing is a pair of pants… I'm talking too much," she covered her face with her hand and wished she was invisible.
"No you're not," he said in amusement and pulled her hand away. "Is it only when I have my shirt off that you feel your control slipping or are there other things that I can do to tempt you?"
"Are you making fun of me?" She laughed.
"Never," he said solemnly. "I just want to know for future reference in case you come sneaking back into my room to compromise my honor," he managed to say with a straight face but lost it when she started to laugh.
"I haven't come before this," she protested around a smothered yawn. "I can't stay," she said regretfully and kissed his chin. "If I fall asleep here I don't think I'll wake up in time to go back to my quarters."
"I can't promise Jessica won't come bursting in here either," he sighed as he remembered and kissed her forehead before getting out of the bed and helping her out as well. "I miss having you near when I sleep," he said as he picked up her dirk and buckled it on for her.
"I feel the same way," she admitted and gave him a tight hug. "I love you," she said quietly.
"I love you too," he said and held her in his arms for a long moment before leading her back through his quarters to the room she'd entered through. Silently she activated the magic trigger that opened the door and felt him draw her hood up.
"You're welcome to sneak in whenever you want," he said and she laughed as she reached up to kiss him. "Go to sleep once you get back."
"I will," she promised and squeezed his hand before letting go and stepping into the doorway and let it close and become solid stone once more. For a time she didn't move, she was torn between wanting to return to Link and needing to go to sleep in her quarters. With a soundless sigh she pushed herself away from the wall and made the trek back to her rooms.
Once there she noticed quickly disrobed and neatly folded her clothes and hid them away again. She was half tempted to just crawl into her bed, but practicality had her pulling on a night gown and laying a robe across the divan placed at the foot of the bed. Lastly she built up the fire and finally slid into the welcoming sheets; as she drifted off to sleep her thoughts were of Link and how she wished she'd been able to go to sleep in his arms.
I just want to say thank you to all you wonderful reviewers who are keeping up with this story and for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. And a super big THANK YOU to naraku-doll for being my beta and correcting all my mistakes and providing wonderful feedback as she fixed my grammar (cause she's awesome like that).
So good news is that the next update shouldn't take so long, hoorah for vacations and being healthy again instead of laid up in bed.
Thanks again for reading and let me know what you think!