The Language of Flowers
By Queenie Z
"Hey, hey, hey, Link, don't go hopping around like that! You'll scuff your boots!"
Link turned to his older companion and grinned bashfully. "Sorry. Guess it's a habit."
Alfonzo sighed and reached under his top hat, scratching at his hairline. "You know, for a top-rated engineer, you still act like a little kid. You always jump out the train like that?"
"Yeah, what about it?"
"...Okay, nevermind." The seasoned engineer looked down at his suit and frowned, clearly uncomfortable wearing such formal dress. "Haven't had to wear one of these in years - and it's hot as a boiler..."
"Don't worry, I think you look great."
"Heh, thanks. You too."
"I'm not sure what this thing is for, though," added Link as he flapped the silver silk tied around his neck.
"It's a cravat," said Alfonzo before pushing the boy's hand aside and straightening it, "and don't fiddle with it! You'll cover up your medal, and Her Highness wanted you to show it off tonight."
"Okay! Okay, I won't." He reached down and grabbed the gold medal that hung from a red ribbon around his neck. He twirled it in his fingers for a moment, feeling a small rush of pride as he looked at the insignia - a Hylian bird with its wings bent in a protective gesture - and remembered how happy the princess was to give it to him. Although she'd given one to Alfonzo as well for risking his life to protect her, Link liked to think that he was the one Zelda was the most proud of. He also couldn't help but wonder whether she would think he looked good in his fancy new vest, and -
"They really went all out with the flowers, huh?" Alfonzo looked out towards Castle Town, which was covered in colorful floral decorations from the station all the way to the castle gates.
The younger engineer blinked, broken out of his thoughts. "Huh? Oh, yeah, they did. Zelda said that, since they're celebrating the kingdom's one-hundredth birthday, they wanted to use flowers to represent how it's 'bloomed'. Or something like that."
"Well, they did a great job with it." With a slight smile, he turned back to Link. "Now, speaking of flowers and the Princess..."
"Y-Yeah! Don't worry, I brought it!" Link enthusiastically opened a small satchel he had been carrying and showed Alfonzo its contents - a single red tulip with a golden bow tied to the stem, a common symbol amongst young Hylians used to profess one's love for another. "I'm giving it to her tonight, just like you told me!"
"Well aren't you confident? When I gave a tulip to my first crush, I was sweating bullets!" He put his large hands on the boy's small shoulders and lowered his voice. "Now don't go giving it to her first thing. She's the princess, so lots of people will be wanting to talk to her. You make sure you catch her alone, understand?"
"And don't start stuttering either! You've fought demons, so you can't get all cowardly when you ask her out!"
"And one more thing."
Alfonzo removed his hands and softened his gaze. "Don't forget to smile."
At that, Link grinned with a confident laugh.
"That's it. Come on, let's head to the castle."
After gently putting his tulip back in his satchel, Link followed his mentor through the streets of town and towards the gates of Hyrule Castle, not noticing that his heart had begun to beat faster the closer they got.
Although he had seen the castle's ballroom a few times during his many visits, Link had never seen it quite like this! Wreaths and garland filled with all kinds of flowers lined the walls leading up to the northernmost end of the room, where a floral sculpture in the shape of the Hylian crest rested. On the floor was a mixed crowd of nobles and common folk alike from all over town as well as some familiar faces from other regions of the kingdom, mingling and enjoying all the food and drink that the royal house had to offer. The princess had told Link about the extravagant plans for the Grand Centennial Ball, but to see the event in person still greatly impressed him.
Looking at all of the flowers made his mind drift once again to his planned rendezvous with Zelda - yes, this was the perfect place! An elegant ballroom filled to the brim with flowers; wasn't this the kind of thing that girls thought was romantic? Ignoring the fact that she helped design and run the party herself, it'd still be a memorable moment for the girl he'd had his eye for close to a year now. At least, he hoped it would be.
"Psst," whispered Alfonzo as he nudged Link's arm, "Link, look over there."
Link saw that Alfonzo was pointing towards the back of the ballroom; however, he had quite a bit of trouble seeing exactly what he was pointing to, being one of the youngest attendees and thus one of the shortest. He made his way to the wall, stood on a chair, and scouted the room.
That was when he saw her - Princess Zelda, adorned in a gown covered with pink carnations and a headdress made entirely of them, going over her speech for the opening ceremony with the man she called Teacher.
The boy had a bad habit of blushing profusely at the sight of the princess' beauty, and this time was no exception. After gawking for a moment, he turned to Alfonzo, who simply flashed an "OK" sign and a smile. Once he realized that he should probably get off of the chair before everybody noticed his beet red face, Link hopped down and ran back over to his mentor, who tried hard to stifle a snort.
"You know you look like a very fancily-dressed tomato, right?" Alfonzo crossed his arms. "So did actually seeing her knock any of that confidence you had down a notch?"
"Are you kidding!" Link cried, "I'm more ready than ever!" He nodded and brought a fist to his chest, his whole form still brimming with the confidence Alfonzo was sure he would lose.
"I'm going to try not to be surprised. You always were a go-getter, Link." He gave the boy a gentle shove into the crowd. "Now go and see when she'll be free before your ego deflates!"
"Right!" Link squirmed his way through the throngs of attendees, eager to catch Zelda the second she was alone and careful not to crush his red tulip. Finally, he was almost at the perfect spot to watch for her - however, he stopped when he caught wind of a woman saying his name.
"...the little train engineer, right? That's the boy Her Highness is stuck on?"
Feeling his heart skip a beat at that sentence, Link decided to momentarily lay low by the nearby wall and see what the woman, who was clearly a noble, had to say about this supposed "sticking on him" to her friend.
"Yes, that's the one! He's a first-class conductor, but he's from that backwards little sea village, isn't he?"
"I know! It's just dreadful! They say love is blind, but could you imagine the scandal?" The first woman sighed and shook her head. "The Princess of Hyrule and a lowly train boy... Her Highness must set her sights higher, I swear!"
Suddenly, in one short moment, all of the confidence Link had felt - all of the excitement, all of the expectation - drained completely from him. He had everything perfect! He was supposed to tell Zelda how he felt, and he was supposed to impress her enough for her to return his feelings! But now one thought served to ruin all of his plans; one tug of guilt very nearly breaking his heart.
How could he have been so stupid?
His gaze stuck to the floor, the distraught boy shoved through the crowd and headed for the door at full speed.
"Hey, brat! Watch where you're going!"
Princess Zelda and Teacher heard the angry shouting of an attendee and looked up from the princess' speech.
"...Oh dear," murmured the old man, "it seems like there's already some kind of commotion..."
Zelda frowned. "And we haven't even started anything yet..." Suddenly, she caught sight of a small figure emerging from the crowd and running towards the giant double doors leading out of the ballroom. Although she couldn't see his face, she knew that wild, blonde hair and hurried gait anywhere.
She dropped her speech and placed her hands on her mouth. "Link!" She turned to Teacher. "Teacher, that's Link! What's happened to him?"
Teacher squinted his eyes and watched the boy shove open the doors and run out. "Well, Princess, he appears to be rather upset over something..."
"I think I can see that!" Zelda moved to rush over to her friend, when suddenly a conversation being held beside her caught her attention.
"I don't know about you, but I always found train workers to be just filthy creatures. Always working with steam and hot coals, sweating like pigs..."
"Oh, yes! I don't even know how Her Highness even stands his presence! That boy must smell awful!"
Zelda's eyes widened as she listened in - no wonder Link was so upset! Was this how her best friend in the whole world was being treated, in her own castle, no less! No, not if she had anything to say about it!
The enraged princess marched over to the two women and coughed loudly, startling them from their gossiping.
"P-Princess!" said the first, flustered. "W-why, don't you look lovely tonight...!"
"Why, thank you. I appreciate you not noticing the stench my friend rubbed off on me."
The noblewomen turned to each other, then nervously faced their monarch like a child who had been caught in a very poor lie.
"How could you be so insolent as to speak of Link like that! I will not tolerate such insults to a hero of the crown! You should be ashamed of yourselves!" Zelda turned to the nearest guard, who was perched near the corner. "You! Escort these two out of the castle! And learn their names - I never want to see their faces in this ballroom ever again!"
The guard, who seemed slightly afraid of her sudden outburst, saluted her before walking over to the mortified women and grabbing the arm of the second. "This is why you never make Her Highness angry. Come along, now."
As Zelda watched the two rude gossips being led away, she let her anger subside and make way for worry. She had wanted the ball to be special for Link; she'd wanted him to have fun and to be recognized for all the wonderful things he had done. But now, because of a few snooty ingrates, he probably felt horrible. Wanting to make things right, she hurried to the ballroom doors, knowing full well that her absence would delay the opening ceremony - right now, she thought, the person she treasured the most mattered more than any stupid ceremony.
The red tulip Link had hoped to give to Zelda landed in one of the courtyard bushes with a soft rustle as the disheartened boy kept walking. The words of the two partygoers he had overheard repeated themselves over and over in his mind, and over and over he cursed himself for his mistake. Of course, his mistake wasn't falling in love with Zelda, nor was it wanting to tell her so. After thinking of hardly anyone else for the longest time, Link had failed to think of things from the perspective of the person who mattered most: Zelda herself.
If Link began courting her, what would happen to her? All that talk about how she shouldn't ever set her sights on a commoner like him, about a whole scandal erupting from it - he'd never wanted that to happen to her! Zelda was a kind person and a benevolent princess; she didn't deserve her own people turning on her just for being with him. It was this lack of foresight that made Link feel so ashamed of himself, and it was this realization that made him decide to throw away his hopes of ever being more than just friends with her.
After all, if it meant that Zelda could stay happy... giving her up wouldn't be so bad, would it?
At least, that was what he thought before he heard Zelda's voice cry out his name. He turned around and felt a bead of sweat roll down his face when he saw his crush holding the red tulip he'd thrown away. As he gaped silently at her, he realized that tossing it around where she could easily find it wasn't the best of his ideas.
The princess, her cheeks bright pink, ran a finger over the tulip's petals. "I-Is this... is this yours, Link?"
The boy gulped. Then, unable to think of anything else to say, he shrugged. "Well... it was..."
"W-Were you going to... give this to me?"
Link looked down. "...Maybe."
The realization hit Zelda, and a wave of contrary emotions soon hit her. She knew what that flower meant, and she was happy, so happy, but...
She teared up, holding the flower tightly in her hands. "Link... I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry! What those two said - I don't think that way at all about you! It's not true!"
He shook his head. "I know you don't. That's not it."
"...I just didn't want to get you in trouble."
The princess inhaled, trying and failing to keep tears from falling. "You're always thinking about me..." She dropped the flower and ran to him, embracing him tightly and with a force that almost knocked them both over.
"No!" she cried, "No, no, no! Don't say that!" She furiously shook her head in Link's cravat. "I don't care who doesn't like it! I don't care what anyone says! I want you with me...!"
Link's blushing reflex triggered once more... but so did his reflex to return the embrace, something he'd always done for her when she was upset. "H-Hey, don't cry, Zelda..."
She looked back up with a tearful yet serious expression. "I won't if you give me that tulip."
"You - " He glanced at the red tulip on the ground, now half-wilted from being tossed around so much. He let go of Zelda and picked it up, handing it to her with a bashful smile.
"So, uh, wanna go out with me?"
Zelda snatched the flower from his hands and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Okay," she sniffled, giggling as Link touched the place where she kissed him with his fingers. Before long, he too was giggling; however, the giggling stopped when Zelda caught sight of the clock tower.
"Oh! That's right, I have to do the opening ceremony!" She grabbed Link's hand. "I hope Teacher's not angry!"
"He'll understand," replied the engineer. "Come on, let's go."
As the walked hand in hand back into the castle, the princess, now pluckier than ever, spoke.
"Oh, by the way, I kicked out the ladies who were saying those things about you. They won't be back anytime soon!"
"You did? ...You didn't turn into a Phantom and kill them, did you?"