"Well, no sense in putting off what must be done." Ganondorf turned to Antiada. "We don't have much time. We need food, lots of it, and a way of preparing it."
Antiada blinked. "My Lord?"
"An event like this needs the proper kind of show," he said, more to himself than to her. "And you don't drag your unwilling subjects to a celebration they'd rather not attend without having something there for them."
"Ah, I see." Antiada nodded. "A feast. In that way, we are not all that different from the Hylians."
"We have more than just Hylians with us, and we have to find a way to feed them as well." He made a face. "The Zora only eat fish. I have no idea how to prepare it."
"I will inquire at the inns in the castle town. Hylians eat fish, too. They can help us prepare some of their own dishes as well."
"It's the Gorons that will be the bigger problem, no pun intended," he said as he scratched thoughtfully at the side of his face. "There's no way we can haul in enough rocks to feed them, and we can hardly ask them to fetch their own food themselves." He stared at Antiada until she nervously asked what he was thinking. "I want you to go to all of our people and ask them to give up some small bauble – set stones, preferably rubies, emeralds, diamonds."
Antiada clutched her thin necklace of small rubies, her entire worth in possessions in one band. "But, My Lord…!"
"Those who have more can spare more, for the benefit of those who have less." Ganondorf gave her a small smile. "Come, Antiada. As King of Hyrule I can request more reasonable rates from them in terms of polishing and setting new ones."
"Of course," she replied with a hint of reluctance. "I…I hope it will be enough."
"Gems are candy to them. Hopefully they will bring their own food if we offer dessert."
The Traveler's Inn had just reopened. Despite the fact that nobody had more than two rupees to rub together, much of its old clientele – the ones that were left anyway – had come in for a drink and a few words with old friends. Its owner, Todd, kept busy refilling flagons while his new wife, Amelda, swept dishes from the tables and into the dishwater. She barely had them cleaned and dried before their hired cook, Janson, barked for more from the kitchen.
The front door opened, and the cacophony in the room died to silence as three women stepped in. The diners stared openly as the dim lamplight glinted off the halberds of the two Gerudo flanking the third, who only held a small knife in her belt as a weapon. Even in the sudden hush, their small shoes made no sound as they walked toward Todd.
Todd clutched the mug he had been about to fill, not even bothering to pretend to clean it. "W-what can I do for you ladies?" he asked in a voice almost too soft to hear.
The woman in the middle smiled ever so slightly, the small friendly gesture contrasting sharply with the other two scowling down their long noses at him. "The King of Hyrule requests the services of a fine cook," she replied. "Do you have one to spare?"
Wordlessly, Todd turned toward the kitchen. Janson emerged slowly, folding thick arms over a barrel chest. The small tattoo of the Royal Seal on his shoulder spoke volumes, as did the scar over his skewed-shut left eye.
"Ah," Antiada said delicately. "A military cook. So you have experience in making meals for large numbers of people."
His face did not move, but Antiada could see the sharpness in his one eye. "And what would the King want that someone like me could cook for him?" he asked just as delicately in a deep, scratchy voice.
"Food for Hylian and Zora guests," Antiada replied. "We do not eat fish, and our own dishes are often…an acquired taste."
Janson said nothing, but walked slowly, purposefully, toward the Gerudo on Antiada's right hand side. "Do you remember me?" he asked pointedly.
She frowned slightly, looking him over. "You're the one that doesn't like chilies."
"That's right," he said with a lopsided smile. "We've met before. Did anything come of it?"
She stared back at him, defensive bordering on hostile. "Yes."
"So my daughter…will she be getting any of this kingly food?"
"She's not your-" the woman snarled, but Antiada interjected.
"Everyone will have plenty to eat. There will be a celebration tomorrow."
Janson swallowed a sneer. "A celebration of what?"
"I'm not at liberty to discuss it," Antiada replied demurely.
He paused for a moment, then smiled slightly. "Very well. I accept the King's offer."
"Excellent. Gather what you need, then come with us," Antiada instructed, hoping her relief did not sound too obvious. The woman who had spoken snorted, but said nothing more.
"You sent for me?" Damun asked, his arms crossed. Ganondorf couldn't tell if he was on the defensive or if that was just his natural posture. When Gorons were friendly, they held nothing back. When they weren't, you couldn't tell them apart from simple stone.
"I did." Ganondorf picked up a covered bowl, about the size of his open hand. Large enough to dish out soup for a Hylian family, but only snack-sized for a Goron. "Has Zelda discussed with you her plans for the future of the kingdom?"
"She did, on the way here from the desert." He stood as silent and still as…well, stone. "She didn't seem coerced."
"She was not."
"Just what, exactly, happened in the Spirit Temple?"
Ganondorf's voice hardened ever so slightly. "That's none of your concern."
"You might win more allies if you were more open about it."
Eyebrows quirked in surprise, Ganondorf said, "You're probably right, but…I'm not at liberty to discuss it. This goes above even me."
Damun watched him, glittering eyes in a face carved out of granite. His voice dropped. "Did you actually speak with the Goddesses?"
Ganondorf did not reply.
"I see." Damun nodded toward the bowl in Ganondorf's hands. "When you first called me here, I thought you were going to offer me a bribe. But it's something else, isn't it?"
His face breaking into a grin, Ganondorf said, "And a very poor bribe it would be. You see, we plan to offer food for our celebration tomorrow, but I cannot ask my warriors – strong as they are – to bring a feast fit a whole tribe of Gorons. So I can offer only this." He lifted the lid from the bowl.
If Damun was impressed or insulted by his offer, Ganondorf couldn't tell. But he caught Damun's eye traveling from the empty setting on his own armor, to the large amber jewel at the top of the pile.
"We don't need tables piled high with food," Damun said at last. "This will be more than enough."
The ceremony came and went as quickly as possible without suggesting a scandal. Zelda borrowed from somewhere a simple white dress, and Ganondorf asked one of his warriors to fetch his ceremonial silk from the Fortress. The two stood together comically mismatched, the small pale woman next to the huge man in loud red robes. The young cleric standing at the head of the Temple nearly fainted halfway through, surrounded by both Zora and Gerudo bristling with weapons as the Hylian nobles cursed their ill fate with smiles on their faces behind them. Once all the proper rites had been observed, everyone left with relieved faces as they made for the long lines of tables set in the town square.
There, the mood lightened considerably. Having eaten earlier, the Gorons played host and entertained their guests with stories and armfuls of dishes piled high. The common folk had always greatly outnumbered the nobles, now so even more; and neither the Gerudo nor the Zora bothered to chase off small peasant children that came wandering over toward the newly blessed King and Queen, eyes wide open.
The food was simple but abundant. The fruits of the Zora's labors showed in the numerous kinds of fish laid out for sampling. Hylian dishes were also well represented, a bevy of bread, cheese, and fruit. The Gerudo contented themselves with the same simple stew as always, chattering amongst themselves and ignoring the open stares of the Hylian men. But Zelda picked at her meal, a little furrow forming between her eyebrows.
There was no real planning for entertainment, but nobody except the jilted nobles seemed to care. A few would-be minstrels picked up battered instruments and made a game attempt at a quartet. Young couples rose from their seats and coursed across the cobblestones, happy for an excuse to be together. Children ran around them and dodged between ladies's skirts. A few of the dancers looked expectantly toward the royals' table.
"Why are they staring at us?" Ganondorf demanded. His boredom had continued unabated for the past several hours and he began to get impatient.
"Just old traditions, nothing important," Zelda said shortly.
"Hm? Oh. Better than sitting around and stuffing your face, don't you think?"
She stared at him.
He rolled his eyes and sighed. "One of the things I had to learn in order to be able to set foot in the court of the Hylian throne. At least you're nimble enough that I don't have to worry that I'll tread on your feet, no?"
She looked away. "I don't want to."
"All the same to me," he said lazily, then looked around the table. "I'll ask one of my own people."
Her head snapped back toward him. "You can't do that."
He frowned. "Why on earth not?"
"You can't be seen with other women, not now!" she hissed.
He opened his mouth and closed it again. He hadn't considered this. "That's going to make things difficult among the rest of my tribe," he said in a low voice.
"What?! You can't possibly suggest…"
"I'm not trying to offend you. But I don't think they will want to go back to Hylian men again, not while they have a living King…"
Zelda buried her face in her hands. "Oh, Goddesses," she moaned. "I didn't even think of this, on top of everything else…"
"Come! Stop worrying about problems before they even exist. There must be some way around it." When she didn't answer, he rose and offered his hand. "I've had enough of ceremonies, saving face and tedium for one day. It's not doing you any favors, either."
She lifted her head from her hands, then stared at him with a little frown as if looking for some ulterior motive. Finally she took the proffered hand and followed him into the center of the square. The other couples made room for them, but both could feel curious eyes upon them.
"I expect they are waiting for me to fall flat on my face," Ganondorf muttered, half amused and half annoyed.
"Or me," said Zelda. "I haven't had much practice with this sort of thing."
He smiled slightly. "You have a Shekiah's deftness and agility. Imagine staying one step ahead of your enemy."
She bit her lip. "How appropriate."
Ganondorf kept the memory of the Shekiah-princess dancing on the walls of the courtyard to himself. No need to make her even more self-conscious, in front of the whole damned country. They moved slowly at first, keeping in step with the simple waltz that the musicians had managed to coax out of their instruments. Zelda learned quickly, easily grasping the repetitive one-two-three movements and gracefully placing herself opposite his every step.
He ignored the shouts of the Gerudo at first, but the whistles and drunken encouragement became too much very quickly. The women gathered up instruments of their own, and played music that dared the feet to travel much faster. Several of the Hylian couples dropped out and stood on the sides of the makeshift dance floor. "Do you want to stop?" he asked Zelda.
He was taken aback by the stubborn look on her face. "I can go as fast as you can."
Giving her a little half-smile, he replied, "Gerudo don't do anything halfway, Milady. They can play much faster than this."
"I don't care," She set her jaw, and he could tell that she was attempting to trade one challenge for another.
"I have to say, I do respect your willingness to attempt the impossible," he said with relish, and nodded toward the women who were now howling with excitement.
They picked up the tempo considerably, and Zelda realized with a mixture of amazement and relief that the tune they had chosen resembled the Bolero of Fire. That at least she knew well. But she was nearly jolted out of her thoughts as he pulled her hard to the right. "You have to keep up!" he said with the slightest hint of a teasing tone.
She couldn't help a small smile, for those were the same words Impa had spoken, tense with worry, when she first started teaching Zelda the ways of the shadow-walkers. Zelda blocked out the rest of the square completely, focusing on the push-and-pull that had been part of her training, knowing when to counter with her weight and when to travel along with the force that pulled her. She kept her attention on the tense of his muscles, the slight twitch of arm or leg that told her which direction he would move next. And for a brief few moments she let herself go, caught up in memories that for all their sadness also brought back trust.
And then, finally, they stopped. The outside world roared back into her ears and she could see waves of enthusiastic cheering and clapping. Zelda pulled her hands free and fought the urge to wipe them on her dress. She could feel Ganondorf's curious expression upon her for the rest of the feast, but she did not meet his gaze.
The atmosphere changed considerably later that night. Ganondorf felt stifled in the loose trousers he had chosen, but he had a feeling that a half-dressed man in her bedchamber was alien enough to her.
She sat on one side of the bed, her back to him, picking at the modest nightdress she wore. He could smell her fear, it hung heavy in the air around her shoulders, making the room seem darker than it really was.
He spoke before she could say anything. "You have your half of the bed, and I have mine. Sound fair?"
She turned and stared at him, pupils wide in the darkness. "What? But.."
"Listen. I don't know what the reasoning is with your people, but among mine no man has any right to force a woman into this. I doubt very much that you will suddenly become infertile, or chase other men, or whatever else your people fear if nothing happens tonight." He got into the bed and rolled over as far to one side as possible. "It is late. Get some rest."
She did not move for several minutes. But finally he could hear the creak of springs as she got into the other side of the bed. He could sense her gratefulness in the way that she settled down against the pillow, and once her breathing become steady he drifted off to sleep himself.