AN: Hello, and thanks for taking the time to read my story. I hope you also take a few moments to leave a review after you read because it's the only way I can improve as a writer. I've had a lot of fun drafting Principatus which will be about thirty chapters when it's all said and done. Updates will be continuously posted on my homepage. Also please keep Nendil, my fabulous beta, in mind as you read. Her work on this chapter was invaluable and you should check out her wonderful LoZ stories if you haven't already. Thanks again!

Full Synopsis: To have seen such darkness, such tragedy, and then for no one to remember any of it, made their suffering seem like a cruel joke, a bad dream. For five years, Zelda and Link tried to piece together fractions of the lives they lead before the King of Evil. However, after Link inherits a medallion that once belonged to his mother, he leaves the Lost Woods to seek answers... and to warn the princess about haunting nightmares concerning a wedding, a river of blood, and a man with a glowing glass eye.

This time, it's not enough to fight from the shadows. With the help of the sages, a ranch girl, a headstrong commander, and grizzled old knight, the Princess of Destiny and the Hero of Time must grow into new roles and find another way to save a kingdom on the brink... even when a relic from the past reaches out with answers...

Principatus, Chapter I

Thunder rolled above him, shaking the ground below his feet.

He stood in a high-arched chamber. Stone columns stretched from the floor to the vaulted ceiling. At the end of the corridor, a small marble altar and a large stone door with ancient Hylian markings carved into its surface came into view. He was in the Temple of Time.

Hundreds of starched, stoic spectators filled the rows of wooden pews lining the sides of the hall. A long rolled out carpet of black velvet marked the pathway between the halves. Link quietly tip-toed into the hall and slid into the back pew, craning his neck to better see the figures at the altar. There were two men, one whom he recognized as a priest with his long white robe and black stole. The second man, back turned to Link, wore a black cape lined in smooth dark fur, and his right hand rested firmly on the hilt of a silver sword.

The stone walls shook as lightning cracked outside of the sanctuary. Suddenly, the cast bronze doors near the back of the room burst open. Link could make out drops of rain pooling at the steps beyond them. A row of trumpeters began to sound, announcing the presence of an encroaching party, though no one else in the audience turned around to look.

Immediately, Link's attention isolated on the woman at the point. A black veil concealed her facial features, but her tall, slender silhouette and floating gait seemed familiar. Another woman, yards behind her, carried the end of the black, puffy dress' long train. Link immediately recognized the tall, muscular woman in steel armor as Impa, the Sage of the Shadow Temple, and guardian to Princess Zelda.

Link watched impatiently as the party made its way along the velvet carpet to meet the male figures at the altar. Not a single person in the audience moved, twitched, or even showed a slight change of emotion. The trumpets silenced, and the droning sound of an organ reverberating off the stone walls filled the void. The veiled woman drew up alongside the man with the sword, and as the two turned to face each other, the minister began to recite something in ancient Hylian. Link craned his neck but could not hear very well, though it sounded vaguely like a poem.

"Sorry," Link whispered as he inched forward three rows, trying to find a better view of the proceedings. The patrons he displaced did not notice his interruption.

"Through their commitment to one another, may they find happiness and prosperity all the days of their lives," the minister continued in a droning tone. Link's concentration turned, again, to the veiled woman. There was something about her figure, the way she held her shoulders, and the soft line of her chin... An instinct in Link's gut made the hair on the back of his neck stick up and his fingers twitch with nervous anticipation.

The girl was in trouble. That much he knew.

Just then, the black-garbed man leaned over to the woman and peeled back her veil, revealing her identity, and confirming Link's sense of distress.

"Zelda," he gasped, heart sinking. Forgetting about the formal proceedings, he ran instinctively toward the altar, reaching for the sword on his back, only to find air. "Zelda, what are you doing? What has this man done to you?" He stammered.

No one noticed.

"Zelda!" Link lunged toward the cloaked man, but instead of meeting flesh, he passed right through, and collided with the black velvet stairs on the other side.

"What the..." Link whipped his head around just in time to see the man lean in for a kiss on the princess' pale, quivering lips...

Link gasped as his eyes shot open. Sitting up, he ripped the green hat from his head and ran his fingers through his shaggy, blond hair, a nervous habit, before collapsing back down onto the hillside with a sigh. Sleep did not come easily to the young Hylian, and when he could dream, restless visions of past pains and haunting memories flooded his subconscious. This dream, however, presented something far more sinister. It felt so detailed and tactile.

Link rolled over onto his stomach, letting the sun beat down on his exposed neck. He had experienced this particular dream before, a phenomena which Link knew from experience did not bode well. He closed his eyes and allowed once more the contents of the dream to mull over in his mind. He wondered whether she experienced a similar dream as well.

A rustling from some nearby bushes caught Link's attention, and he bolted instantly to his feet, reaching for his knife. The muscles along his shoulders and biceps tensed for conflict. Instead of battle cries and ear-shattering screams, however, the squall of laughter met Link's ear as four giggling Kokiri rolled into the clearing. A bouncing ball of arms and legs bounded toward the young Hylian, who quickly pocketed his knife before impact.

"Oouf!" Link hit the ground with a thud. The four small children's combined weight knocked the breath out of him.

"Ouch, Mido, you're stepping on my arm," a soft, feminine voice squeaked from underneath the pile.

"That wasn't me. Hey!"

Link rolled out from under the ruckus, grabbed the little red-headed Kokiri who had taken out his legs by the ankles, and hoisted the child, kicking and screaming, into the air.

"What's the meaning of this? Put me down, put me down now!" He demanded and pointed his finger threateningly at Link.

The other children squealed with delight.

"I want to be lifted, Link!"

"Me next." The three Kokiri closed in a semicircle around him.

"Well put me down first," Mido, dangling upside down, grumbled.

Link smiled and obliged, gently lowering the boy to the ground. Mido, a freckled, ginger-haired Kokiri boy, scrambled to his feet and brushed himself off. "Just because you're taller than a tree, doesn't give you the right to get any funny ideas. I'm still the boss of the Kokiri."

"I know, Mido. I didn't mean any harm," Link chuckled, sentimentally remembering the days when Mido's assertion of authority left him feeling like an invalid.

"Come play with us, Link!" Fado- a blonde Kokiri girl and tallest of the four- suggested, her hands clasped with joy.

"Yeah, let's play hide and seek!" One of the shaggy brunette twins chimed.

Link shook his head. "Not today, guys. I was just getting ready to head back to the village." His denial was met by a chorus of disappointment.

"Aww, come on, guys. We're not good enough for Link anymore. He's a grown-up," Mido snorted, arms folded across his chest.

"That's not fair, Mido. I said I'll play tomorrow."

"And what are you going to do instead?" The Kokiri boss narrowed his eyed. "Sleep some more? Grown-ups are so lazy."

Link huffed, faintly remembering a time when he would have groveled at the feet of Mido to let him play a game of hide and seek with the others. However, now towering almost three feet taller than the boy, Link only wished to keep the Kokiri's curiosity diverted from himself. If participation in a round of hide-and-seek with Mido and the others would buy him a moment's peace in the future, then so be it.

"Ok, fine," Link sighed, shoulder's slumped. "What should I count to?"

Four pudgy-cheeked, wide-eyed children beamed back at him. Fado and the twins took off running toward the brush, giggling with delight.

"Humph, okay then. Count for one minute," Mido huffed, puffing his chest out to make himself appear tougher. "And I better not catch you cheating, either."

"Whatever you say, boss," Link chuckled, throwing in the last word for amusement. Mido nodded, satisfied, and turned to follow the others into the depths of the Lost Woods. Alone again in the clearing, Link sighed heavily, and collapsed lazily onto the grassy hill.

"One, two, three..." He began counting out loud, timing his seconds with the slow pattern of his breathing.

Since he returned from his adventure in Termina almost three years ago, his position amongst the Kokiri had changed almost as drastically as his physical stature. Mido and the other children accepted his explanation that he was not a Kokiri at all, and that actually he had been born into the world beyond the forest—the realm of the Hylians. Since then, Link assumed a big brother-like role amongst the village. He taught them skills such as how to fish and shoot a bow. He took them for rides on his horse Epona, and most importantly, became the main attraction at every bonfire as the whole village of children gathered around eagerly to hear the many stories of his adventures.

"Fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty, all right." Link finished his count and stood slowly, his eyes wandering around the clearing, before setting off in the general direction the children had scattered. He cut through the brush swiftly, pausing for a moment to allow his eyes time to adjust to their new, darkened surroundings. Locating the thin, winding foot trail before him, Link set off at an ambling pace through the Lost Woods, knowing that the children would not have drifted far from the marker.

"Filia, hide, Link will see you." A soft whisper caught the young Hylian's attention hardly half a minute along his stroll. He jerked toward the source of the noise and noticed a small, flickering light emanating from within the narrow hollow of an old pine tree.

Link crept toward the tree quietly, avoiding twigs and piles of leaves on the musty forest floor. Hunching over so the Kokiri child would not see him through the hollow, Link dodged around the back of the trunk and waited in silence.

"You're squishing me!" the tiny fey whose light drew Link to the tree argued with her charge.

"Sorry, there's just not enough..."

"Gotcha!" Link leapt around the side of the log.

A high pitched squeak reverberated off the bark walls of the small hideaway, followed by an echo of joyous giggles. It was Bairn, one of the brunette twin boys. He shot to his feet inside the log and jammed his head on the ceiling.

"Ouf, geeze Link. You scared Filia half to death."

"You screamed," the bouncing fairy objected.

"Only because you did," Bairn mocked.

Link shook his head. "Ok, guys, how about you help me look for the others?"

Further down the trail, Bairn noticed Fado hiding high in the branches of a flowery dogwood tree, and they unearthed the other twin, Kern, ducking behind a pile of rocks. The young Hylian then set off with the children to find Mido, but the sudden flash of a figure streaking through the foliage caught his attention and stopped him dead in his tracks. The others, preoccupied with chatting amongst themselves, failed to notice the newcomer who, Link assumed, preferred to remain hidden by the way she silently sunk into the brush around her.

"What's wrong, Link?" Bairn piped up, noticing Link lagging behind the group.

"Did you see something out there?" Fado asked. "Is it Mido?"

It was Saria, one of the Kokiri children from the village, and Link's oldest friend. Her green hair and clothes camouflaged her with the flora, but her deep blue eyes pierced through the brush and locked with his. There was something on her mind—something urgent.

"I-I'm going to have to call it a day, guys." Link waved and turned his back on the small group following him. Saria fled.

"Aww, come on Link, you haven't even found Mido yet," complained Fado, stamping her foot.

"Sorry, guys. You'll just have to find him for me." He turned his back on the trio and strode toward the spot in the wood Saria disappeared from only seconds before, without giving the Kokiri a second chance to object.

Moving swiftly to gain distance between himself and the others, Link paced through the dense forest to the spot he knew Saria awaited him, the one safe haven in the forest they could meet and converse without worry of being interrupted or overheard. The deeper into the forest he traversed, the thicker the shadows submerged him. No sunlight peeked through the thick canopy of trees, and a thin mist began to pool around the moss at his feet.

His instinct carried him mechanically and absentmindedly to his destination. A small tunnel of light illuminated his pathway ahead through the thicket, dancing with the silvery glow of the forest fairies who congregated in the Sacred Meadow Link and Saria made their hideaway.

The soft, whistling sound of an ocarina met his ears as he crossed the clearing toward its most striking feature— the vine and moss covered stone facade of a perforated, decaying temple. The crumbled remains of a staircase stretched high above the forest floor toward a small, dark entryway into the interior of the ghostly building. Sitting calmly in the shade of the staircase, atop the stump of an old oak tree, waited Saria, tapping her feet in the air to her lively song on the ocarina.

Link sauntered over to her and reclined in the grass facing his green-haired friend on the log. She continued her song, eyes closed, as if she hadn't noticed Link's entrance, although the young Hylian knew that was not the case. Saria believed in making time for music and always let her songs play though to their entirety. As the last notes of her song died on the breeze, Link looked up at her from his position at the base of the stump and smiled. "You wanted to see me."

Saria flushed. She reverently lowered the instrument from her lips and slipped it into the satchel beside her. "An important matter has been brought to my attention." She nodded and fixed him with a sad, steady stare. "But first, I want to talk about you. Link. I've been watching you a lot lately, and I am concerned. You hardly sleep, though you often try. You keep yourself isolated, even from me."

"Saria," Link exhaled, diverting her gaze, "you know I don't like to burden other people with my problems."

"But you should also know," Saria said gently, leaning forward, "that your problems could never be a burden to me." She smiled softly. The light of the forest fireflies danced impishly in her eyes. "You've been having dreams again, haven't you? The kind of dreams that feel real. The kind..." She craned her neck to meet Link's gaze. "The kind that come true."

His silence was answer enough. She sighed and leaned back onto her palms, eyes diverted toward the heavens. Link hung his head low and breathed deep, allowing the sounds of the forest to interlock with his thoughts.

"The dreams," he began, hesitantly, "always begin with me standing in a grand hall covered in black silk and velvet for a ceremony. It's full of people, but no one notices me."

"Is it a hall you recognize?" Saria asked, relieved Link took the initiative to speak.

"Well..." Link closed his eyes to fully grasp his mental image of the room. "It's the Temple of Time. I'm sure of it."

"Then what happens?" Saria pressed.

"It's a wedding ceremony. There's a man clothed from head to toe in black with a silver sword. I never get a good look at his face though. It's always slightly hidden in shadows."

"I see." Saria scrunched her nose in thought. "So this man is the groom, I assume."

He nodded. "The thing is, though, he doesn't do anything out of the ordinary. It's just the feeling I get watching him with his back turned, when he reaches out to her and pulls back her veil. I know there's more to the situation than what I am seeing."

"Who's the bride?" Saria cast him a curious glance.

Link fidgeted slightly. "Um, Princess Zelda," he replied sheepishly.

"Well, Link, don't you think you should warn her?" Saria pulled back, slightly shocked. "She could be in danger."

"Warn her about what?" Link shrugged. "That I had a dream about her marrying a guy with an affinity for black?"

"Link, don't be ridiculous," replied Saria, pointedly. "You and I both know you wouldn't be having these dreams if they didn't present some sort of warning. You said yourself that the man made you feel uneasy."

Link remained silent. He understood the nature of his dreams and likewise knew somehow, somewhere danger stirred. The man in black was no more a concoction of his imagination than Saria, sitting right beside him, and wherever that man was at this moment, a dark shadow followed.

"I know this man presents trouble," Link protested, "I'm just not sure what I can do about it. I don't even know if he's in Hyrule."

"Well the other prominent figure in your dream is the princess, and you do know where to find her."

"I know," Link paused, his mind drifting. "It's just been a long time. There's so much history there."

He recalled the last time he had been in the presence of the Princess of Hyrule. Shortly after he vanquished Majora's Mask and found his way back to his homeland, he returned to Hyrule Castle to restore the Ocarina of Time to its rightful place at Zelda's side. He remembered that day vividly, with the sun reflecting off the crystal water of the moat. She was so relieved to see that he returned safely. He recalled the warm feeling that shot up his hand the moment he pressed the ocarina into her palm, and all of the memories of the adventures they shared resurfaced—memories Link had been trying hard to bury.

"What about the Great Deku Tree? I'm sure he could shed some light on the situation," Saria chimed, wrenching Link from his memories. He knew that the guardian spirit of the forest would be her fallback.

When Link said nothing, Saria continued, "Well, the Great Deku Tree has felt your plight." She ignored how Link winced at the thought. "You are still connected with his spirit whether the bonds that kept you young have been severed or not."

"Perfect." Link dropped his head. He had mixed feelings when it came to the guardian spirit meddling with his life and his supposed destiny, an emotion Saria could not comprehend.

"Link," her eyes sparkled with tears. "The Great Deku Tree entrusted me with this painful task, but it is my duty as his faithful servant to see it through, no matter how much I cannot bear to see you leave my life."

"Saria, what are you talking about?" Link furrowed his brow and sidled up closer to the log. A cold strain in his oldest friend's tone of voice led him to deduce that their conversation had just taken a dramatic turn, and involved something very painful for the young Kokiri girl.

She pulled from her satchel a small bundle of green silk, grasped Link's bare hand, and pressed the parcel into his outstretched palm.

"What is this?" Link eyed the parcel with curiosity. The weight of the bundle suggested it was more than green silk, and whatever was inside it led Saria to believe it would drive him to leave the forest.

"Open it." She nodded with a bittersweet smile.

Slowly reaching out, as if expecting the parcel's contents to leap from his hand and bite him, Link peeled back the corners to reveal a small golden medallion that glistened in the twilight.

"What?" Link scrunched his brow curiously and pressed the medallion closer to his face. It seemed vaguely familiar. Its markings were clearly Hylian.

"It belonged to your mother, Link," Saria whispered.

Link's head shot up, and he dropped the little golden trinket. "Come again?"

"I've wanted you to have this for so long, but the Great Deku Tree insisted the time was not right. It was attached to the cloak she wore on the night I found her in the woods and brought her before our guardian. This green silk is all that was left of the garment that was not tattered or stained. I tried to preserve it as best I could."

Although she was sitting right next to him, Link heard Saria's words as though they were being whispered though a long tunnel. He gazed absentmindedly at the medallion shimmering on the ground, afraid to touch it, fearful that it would disintegrate upon contact. He still clutched the silken rag in his left palm. A shield surrounded by a large dog and bird of some sort traced the edges of the token. The longer he stared at it, the more clearly he could place it in his vision.

Link often saw his mother in his dreams, although her sacrifice was all he know of her. After he dispensed of Ganon's shadow and awakened Saria as the Sage of the Forest Temple, the Great Deku Tree's sprout induced a vision within Link of the night of her death. Her hair was long and golden, but matted and tangled by leaves and twigs. The hem of her white, flowing dress was stained in mud, and blood poured from a deep wound on her right shoulder. All color was drained from her complexion. He watched as she collapsed onto the forest floor to die had Saria not found her and swiftly guided her to the sacred meadow of the Great Deku Tree. Then he watched as she took her last breath with a smile, knowing her son would live to see the dawn of a peaceful day.

Link had been angry for a time. Furious at the old, fossilized carcass of the Great Deku Tree, and incensed at its sprout, though it was guilty of nothing except revealing the truth to him. The truth, at the time, meant that his life up to that point was a lie. He did not want to be a Hylian; he wanted to be a Kokiri, what he was raised and believed to be until that fateful day. Time, however, with its mystical sobering powers, had long since eased his anger into acceptance.

"And the Great Deku Tree knew you had this all this time. You two kept this from me?" Link exhaled.

"Don't be angry, Link," Saria rebutted. "The Great Deku Tree had his reasons."

"Of course." Link shook his head. The guardian spirit of the forest had a knack for withholding information from Link until he saw fit, and the Hylian in Link could not comprehend this. The Great Deku Tree, and his sprout, preached about Destiny to Link, a future which is already written; however, for all the young Hylian had already endured, Link could not bring himself to accept the idea of a predetermined future. He knew, however, there was no sense in arguing with Saria, who only acted as the Deku Tree commanded.

"Link," Saria whispered softly, placing her small hand on his cheek. "Are you alright?"

He mechanically reached forward for the medallion, folded his fingers around its precious metal surface, and shook his head. "I hardly know."

"I wanted so badly to tell you," said Saria softly, one lone tear cascading down her cheek.

"Then why didn't you?"

"Because I... I just couldn't. It was not my decision to make," she answered, tenderly.

"Then what makes today the right day?" Link eyed her curiously. "Why give me this now?"

"Link," Saria whispered. "You know why..."

The young Hylian bowed his head. A cold wave of realization knotted his stomach. "The forest... is the only place I've ever called home." He found himself saying aloud.

"But it is not the home of your blood, your kin," Saria urged. "It is not the home you fought valiantly to save, whose people owe you their lives. I know you returned to the forest to try and find some sort of peace of mind— but it hasn't worked. You know it hasn't, but there's someone out there who can help you. I know she can."

"Wow." Link blinked.

"Wow, what?"

"For a Kokiri you have a pretty solid understanding of the complex nature of Hylian emotions," laughed Link.

"Well, I am the Sage of the Forest," Saria smirked. Link smiled as well, opening his palm once more to stare at the medallion.

"You are a Hylian, Link," the not-so-young Kokiri girl whispered. "And the life of a Hylian does not so easily evaporate from the annals of history. Perhaps it is time you stop thinking about the future you've already seen and return to the past."

Her father's study was her favorite and most despised room in the castle. A round, high-ceilinged chamber, it encompassed three stories in one of Hyrule Castle's dozens of towers. A large mahogany desk, backed up to an arched window, and overlooked the castle's central courtyard. The walls of the study were lined with books and tablets Zelda remembered pouring over as a child while she watched, even idolized, her father at work. As she grew up, however, the fond memories of a doting father allowing his daughter to watch him work were replaced by those of a sovereign king struggling to properly groom his heir.

Another lecture. That was what Zelda knew she was in for as she sat in one of the rigid wooden chairs lining the wall of the windowless, musty foyer that led into her father's study. Barnabus Gerasim, a beady-eyed old man, who remarkably resembled a bulldog in a curly white wig, scribbled away furiously at a desk in the room's far corner, while Absalom de Caulmont and Percival O'Tool— two of her father's Gentlemen of the Bedchamber— muttered quietly amongst themselves.

Zelda sat awkwardly, hands folded in her lap. She watched the tip of Barnabus' voluminous quill wiggle furiously in the air, and tried to ignore the judgmental glances and sniggers Absalom and Percival directed at her.

Finally, after a few deadly silent minutes ticked away, a small piece of parchment squeezed out of a golden slot on the door and tumbled to the floor. The grizzled secretary snatched it up, adjusted a small pair of glasses teetering on the precipice of his nose and pronounced, "Your Highness, the king is ready for you."

"Thank you, Barnabus." Zelda rose regally from her seat, head high, shoulders back, and strode through the dark cherry door into the study beyond. In the past, Zelda had unfettered access to her father at work, whether it was just to spend quality time with him or to borrow a book from the study. That began to change after Zelda's numerous confessions of prophetic dreams, which the king deemed 'dangerous nonsense'. The study became her primary sentencing room.

Closing the door carefully behind her, Zelda crossed the soft maroon and gold-patterned Gerudo rug to the desk beneath the window where her father sat with his nose buried in a long scroll. He looked tired. His red velvet, white-trimmed robe draped down the back of his chair, rather than gracing the king's shoulders. Even his crown sat on the desk beside him rather than nestled in his thick, white, shoulder-length hair.

"Good afternoon, father," Zelda began.

"Good afternoon to you too, sweetheart," the king replied without looking up from his scroll. "Please have a seat."

Zelda drew up a small wooden chair alongside the desk and waited a few awkward seconds before the levy broke. "Father, it was not my fault. Prince Alec fell from his horse all on his own."

"I know that, dear, but you and I both know that is not the entire story," he replied without looking up from his reading.

"He should have just told me he was not a natural rider." Zelda shrugged. "I would have graciously obliged the young prince, but it was his pride, not mine, that goaded him to attempt something unfamiliar to him."

"But it was your pride, my child," the king raised his voice, slapping the scroll onto his cluttered desk surface, "that seized the opportunity to show off."

"I did no such thing," Zelda deflected. "Prince Alec claimed he knew how to canter, and it has been quite a while since Adda's been able to stretch her legs. Hyrule Field was so beautiful today."

"But you knew, Zelda, that Prince Alec would not refuse a woman, especially when he feels like he's being challenged."

Zelda grew furious at this latest accusation, but before she could articulate her vexation, her father continued. "And while his logic may be flawed, you still bent his judgement to your will, which by definition is taking advantage of someone."

"But—" The princess opened her mouth to speak before pausing to gather her thoughts. "Father, you know I opposed this courtship in the first place. I've known Prince Alec since we were both small children, and neither of us has ever found the other remotely interesting."

"I'm only trying to help you, Zelda," he lectured. "I want you to meet some nice suitable young men from kingdoms beyond Hyrule. There has not been an arranged royal marriage in our country for generations. However, that entails responsibility on your end. The burden is yours to choose a partner that will strengthen the monarchy and this kingdom."

"But Father, setting me up and forcing me to spend time with starched elitists like Prince Alec who—may I be so bold as to insinuate—cannot dress himself properly, let alone understand how to love, is hardly granting me freedom to choose the man I shall marry."

"It is only in your best interests, Zelda." The tired king shook his head.

"According to your gentlemen I presume." The princess rolled her eyes.

"That is hardly appropriate."

"But it's the truth!" Zelda's voice rose. "I know they don't like me, but they've never given me a chance, passing me off as flighty or indifferent because of my dr— because of some of the things I've said."

She began to say dreams, but held her tongue, knowing that it would prove frustrating and ultimately fruitless to revist the oft-debated topic of her prophetic visions.

"They only care about what is best for the realm." The king stressed, holding his chin in his hands.

"And you believe I do not?"

"Not at all sweetheart. I know you do. It's just... I want you to meet some acclaimed suitors from beyond our borders."

A frustrated sigh escaped Zelda's lips. "Because it would strengthen our foreign political alliances."

"Well, of course it would, but does that prospect not make you happy?"

"Not at the expense of love, it does not," she spat and eyed her father cynically. "Besides, what I believe the people of Hyrule truly need is a queen whom they can look to as a strong and sovereign leader, who they know will always have their best interests at heart. How can I be that icon when I am strapped to a man whose heart only belongs to the political ties he's creating for his home country?"

The king raised his voice to object, but Zelda cut him off tactfully. "Not the Duke of Ele'Daz, the Viceroy of Borhan, the three different Allendian princes, nor Prince Alec Lionheart of Selbee—not one of them have ever, ever expressed interest in knowing me as a person. The Kingdom of Hyrule needs a leader who is strong, father. I cannot be that rock trapped in a societal engagement. I am only sixteen, after all. I still have a few years left of being a catch."

The king bowed his head and rubbed his temples with his thumb and forefinger. "I understand, darling. I do. It's just that I married your mother when I was seventeen, your mother fifteen, and we were so old when you were finally born. So many years between those two joyous occasions were wasted fretting over my ruling without an heir."

"Father..." Zelda rose to her feet and swept behind the desk to embrace the king's broad shoulders.

"It's just..." he continued, solemnly. "With me getting along in age, the hour where you will rise to the throne is fast approaching. I don't want you to feel the same pressure, the unnecessary burden, as I did early in my reign."

"I know, father," Zelda sighed. "I just want you to trust me. Have a little more faith, and stop listening to what your so called friends say about me."

"I do, and I will, my darling, only..."

"Only what?" Zelda held her breath.

"Just meet this last suitor." He picked up the scroll he had been pouring over earlier and fanned it out for Zelda to skim. "For your father, sweetheart."

The princess furrowed her brow, but before she could open her lips to argue, the headline of the mysterious scroll channeled her frustration into curiosity. "This is an interesting text, father. I hardly recognize..." She could vaguely decipher the looping, vertical characters, though they were not of a foreign language the princess had studied extensively. "Father," Zelda gasped, "this is written in Ten'al-tarian."

"Correct, Zelda. The suitor is Prince Zel-Taren of Ten'al-taria. His father Zel-Aran was recently crowned Czar and will be arriving in Hyrule in the coming days."

"Father, you cannot be serious. You know what the Ten'al-tarians were guilty of during the Civil War. You know better than anyone they cannot be trusted."

"It would be foolish and impudent of me," he continued monotonously, "to allow the sins of his father to mar my judgement of Czar-Aran and his new regime."

"And the sins of his grandfather, and great-grandfather, and great-great..."

"Hold your tongue, Zelda. Czar-Aran and the young prince will be your guests here shortly, and you must be cordial. I only ask that you allow Zel-Taren to be your escort during their visit while I meet with his father. If you set aside your pride, I'll set aside mine, and perhaps Hyrule will benefit because of it. Our relationship with the Ten'al-tarians has been so frosty in the past, the only possible outcome of this meeting would be to our mutual advantage." The king paused and leaned back in his chair. "Now, does that sound reasonable?"

"Uhh..." Zelda shook her head. She was cornered. While the prospect of entertaining another suitor did not appeal to her, she could not under the circumstances refuse her father. Perhaps he even had a point. Setting a hospitable, open-minded tone for the dignitaries could only serve to strengthen Hyrule's relationship with their once most detested neighbors to the northwest. "I suppose."

"Good, then we have an agreement." The king smiled, straightened the scroll out onto the desk, and signed his large, looping signature on the bottom. "Our business here is concluded, then. Please leave this with Baranabus on your way out." The king rolled up the scroll and passed it firmly to the slightly mystified princess.

"Very well, then." Zelda snatched the scroll and crossed the room once more. With one hand on the door, the other tightly grasping the parchment, she gazed back over her shoulder at her father, already buried deep in another document. He never used to work this hard, she thought to herself. Rather than saying anything, however, the princess resorted to a half-hearted, "See you at dinner, I suppose," before passing again into the foyer.