Disclaimer: All rights to the Legend of Zelda Series and characters belong to Nintendo.
Chapter 1: Evening Masquerade
"Presenting His Lordship and Her Ladyship, the Count and Countess of North Eldin!" Princess Zelda Harkinian, fourth child of King Daphnes Nohansen Hyrule, ambivalently sipped her glass of merlot as she sat at one of countless cloth-laden tables set along the outer rim of Hyrule Castle's enormous ballroom. Her silk-blue dress shimmered underneath the glow of hundreds of floating lanterns, enchanted to hang suspended for hours on end. The young woman watched in mild boredom as guests to her eldest brother's betrothal celebration arrived and took their places on the dance floor. A masquerade, the hall was alight with mystery as dance partners exchanged banter full of wit and mirth. Although she was barely into her twenties, and full to the brim with youthful vigor, Zelda could do little but wonder how much longer she could remain on the sidelines, staving off the dreaded moment at which point she would be beckoned onto the dance floor by some smiling count or baron. She took another sip as the valet announced more arrivals. "Presenting His Grace, the Duke of Lanayru! Presenting Her Ladyship, the Baroness of New Kasuto!"
"Oh come on Zelda, try to look excited, at least." Zelda glanced to her right to see Midna, her elder sister of twenty-three years of age, approached wearing a dress of shining black laced with silver, her matching mask framing her gorgeous ruby-red eyes. With ink-black hair and curves that would make any woman desperately envious, the third child of the King was as celebrated for her dark beauty as she was for her mischievous behavior. Zelda sighed, reaching up with one thinly gloved hand to tuck a strand of her golden locks behind her ear. "I am excited, for Daphnes," she replied, referring to their eldest brother, Daphnes Nohansen II, heir to the crown. "It's just that these parties are always such a bore."
Midna pursed her full red lips as the dance ended, the guests applauding the musical troupe that the Kind had contracted for the evening. "So make them entertaining," she advised, gesturing with a suggestive grin at the guests, particularly at the male guests.
Zelda chuckled, momentarily shutting her clear blue eyes. "I don't think that I get quite the same enjoyment out of toying with men as you do, Midna."
Midna's smile grew more mischievous, and leaning closer she whispered in Zelda's ear, "That's because you've never tried 'toying' with them with your clothes off."
"Midna!" Zelda gasped, grateful that her silver mask covered her reddening cheeks.
"Oh grow up Zelda, we aren't teenagers anymore. Besides, what was the point of learning contraceptive enchantments if we never use them?" And with that, Midna winked at her and strode back towards the dance floor, her hips swaying seductively as the band started up again. Zelda shook her head. She wondered sometimes how it was that she and Midna were even siblings. With Zelda's blond hair and more modest (but admittedly still alluring) body, they looked little alike. They even practiced different disciplines of magic. Whereas Zelda had followed the route more closely associated with the Hylian pantheon, primarily that of elemental magic, Midna had chosen to devote her studies towards the ethereal art commonly referred to as Twilight magic. Furthermore, while both disciplines were arguably equally potent, Zelda could honestly say that of the two of them, she was in all appearances the more gifted sorceress.
Nevertheless, despite their ostensible contrasts, and even their dissimilar personalities, they loved each other as much as any two sisters could. Being only one year apart—and with their youngest sister, Saria, a year behind Zelda—all of the King's daughters had been able to relate with each other from a young age. Their older brothers, Daphnes II and Sheik, who were in the latter half of their twenties, were slightly more distant from them, if only because they were, as the King's two male heirs, given more administrational duties as their father groomed them for the crown. Still, Zelda loved her brothers dearly, and her father too. It often gave her a pang of regret to have never really known her mother, who had died shortly after giving birth to Saria, but on the whole, she was very satisfied with the family left to her in life, especially when taking into account the unfortunate fact that royal status often created tension in familial bonds.
"Presenting His Lordship, the Count of Upper Hylia! Presenting His Lordship, the Marquess of Ordon! Presenting His Grace and Her Grace, the Duke and Duchess of Faron!" Zelda shivered at the last announcement. She utterly loathed the Duke and Duchess of Faron; they were unbearably snobbish, and she would be damned if she could discern a pair of nobles who spoke in a more high-handed and unflatteringly bombastic manner.
"Midna says that in her opinion, you're being an antisocial prude," an upbeat voice sounded from behind her. Zelda turned in her chair to gaze into the unfalteringly cheerful (albeit masked) face of her younger sister, Saria. Her brunette hair curled just beneath her nape, and pleasantly matched the earthy tones of her dress. Her chocolate eyes shimmered playfully as she beheld her older sibling. Eyes narrowed irritably, Zelda promptly told Saria exactly what Midna could go do with her opinions. The King's youngest daughter laughed softly at the outburst, replying, "Alright, so just antisocial then." Zelda failed to stifle a small smile, and Saria matched it. "See," she implored, "you should be out there, on the dance floor, enjoying yourself. I know you like to dance."
"It's not the dancing that's the problem," Zelda answered. "It's the dance partners that I can't stand. None of the men here are interesting enough."
"So dance with the women, then."
Zelda raised an eyebrow. "Now you're sounding like Midna," she teased.
Saria sighed resignedly. "I'm just saying, now that Daphnes is engaged, there's going to be a lot more of these parties. You can't mope around at all of them. Forget the men, just enjoy the dances!"
Zelda smirked, adopting a playful tone of censure. "Forget the men? Saria, if Midna heard you saying that, I think her heart would stop."
Saria giggled, throwing up her hands in mock exasperation. "Fine, be difficult. As always."
"Presenting His Lordship, the Count of Lon Lon! Presenting the Ladies Malon and Cremia!"
Zelda swiveled back around to peer at the hall's entrance. "The twins are here!" And indeed, two slender young women were making their way into the ballroom, following their father, the kingdom's most successful milk merchant and horse breeder.
She stood up intending to greet them, but at that moment, Daphnes Nohansen II, immaculate in all white, appeared at her side, absolutely giddy with the night's festivities. "Zelda, you must come dance with me!" he exclaimed, his handsome features fixating on his sister.
Zelda looked to Saria, and then back at Daphnes. "But brother, Malon and Cremia have just arrived, and I must go welcome them!"
"You'll have plenty of time to do that later," Saria chided in, and in a flash of suspicion, Zelda wondered if her siblings had all conspired together to coerce her to take part in the celebration; they knew how she disliked parties.
"Come on Zelda, it's my betrothal party!" Daphnes extended a hand, which the Princess reluctantly took. She was immediately drawn onto the dance floor, and in short manner she and her brother had adapted to the cadence of the music. Daphnes smiled down at her; whereas Zelda was perhaps five inches above five foot, the crown prince was well over six feet tall, with well-groomed black hair and the muscled body of a warrior. He was in every way his father's son, and assuredly a fitting choice for the position of king. Zelda's other brother, Sheik, in contrast, appeared to take more after their mother, and his shaggy blond hair and leaner frame suited him more to feats of agility than of strength. He was, however, at least in Zelda's opinion, in no way inferior as a candidate for the sovereign title, being just as kind and just as learned as Daphnes. Although Zelda very much doubted that Sheik would ever be king, especially now that Daphnes was engaged.
Zelda was in all honesty very happy for her eldest brother, who in a year's time would be marrying the beautiful and widely respected Lady Ilia, daughter of the Count of Western Eldin. Daphnes had spent the past two years courting her, and over that time Zelda had met her future sister-in-law on several occasions. Ilia was a very sweet and intelligent young woman, a few years older than herself. She was sure that it would be a happy union, and that several children would follow. In all likelihood, this meant that not only would Daphnes one day succeed to the throne, but that he would have at least one or two male heirs to designate as being next-in-line. It was therefore a likely assumption that Sheik would not in any foreseeable scenario become King of Hyrule. Not that he particularly minded much; he was far more of a free spirit than Daphnes, and far less content than his older brother with the idea of tending to all the tedious responsibilities that were accorded to a monarch.
And further to point, it was even more of a relief that the marriage of Daphnes, and the subsequent children to follow, would put Zelda and her sisters out of the societal spotlight. With the royal line fixating on a specific child of the King, and his offspring, the pressure upon the remaining royal children to secure politically ideal spouses was lightened, leaving Zelda and her siblings more freedom to marry as they wished (and obviated any fallout that might result from the sexual scandal that Midna would in all probability find herself caught up in one day). This was perhaps of greatest relief to Zelda, who, lightly put, did not consider herself to be much of a people person, and ill-imagined the chances that an arranged marriage would be of pleasant consequence for her. Better that she be allowed to choose her spouse freely, and therefore find a man with whom she could be truly happy.
The song ended, and Zelda stepped back from her brother to applaud softly, dipping in a slight curtsey as he matched her motion with a bow. Zelda was just opening her mouth to excuse herself from the dance floor when a tap on her shoulder alerted her to the presence of another noble who clearly wished to partner with her for the next song. She had barely enough time to register a smug look of triumph crossing her brother's strong visage before turning to greet the new man. It was the Marquess of West Gerudo, a large man named Golo. His grainy mask reflected the sand-ridden conditions of his homeland. "Are you enjoying yourself this evening, Your Highness?" he asked respectively as they stepped to the upbeat tempo of the musical troupe's performance. His voice was rough and deep, but warm all the same.
"Yes I am, Your Lordship. I am very happy for His Highness my brother."
They shifted partners and Zelda found herself dancing with Daphnes once more. "Sorry Zel," he whispered to her as she glared at him with a look of betrayal. "I'm just trying to get you to have a little fun tonight." He was spared her response as they shifted back again, and Zelda continued to dance with Lord Golo.
"Your Highness, if I may be so bold," the Marquess spoke as they gracefully moved along the ballroom floor, "a good friend of mine, the Count of Lower Hylia, has asked me to inquire, on his behalf, what you think of his eldest son, the Lord Linebeck III."
Zelda suppressed a grimace. She had known the Count of Lower Hylia and his family for a number of years, and while they were on the whole decent enough to converse with, she had never found their eldest son, Lord Linebeck III, to be particularly interesting. It was a potential union that her father had encouraged, the Count and his family being prominent members of the nobility. It would be a politically astute match, but nothing more. Linebeck III was a little too self-absorbed for Zelda's taste, a flaw that she found in many of the young nobles whose families had opted for a possible courtship. And then of course there was the small matter that he was not especially attractive, at least not in Zelda's opinion. "I find Lord Linebeck III to be a most polite and genial man," she replied to the Marquess, forcing a slight smile, "but I am afraid that I have no desire to make our relationship anything but cordial."
Lord Golo smiled, perhaps guessing Zelda's personal thoughts about Linebeck. "Thank you for indulging me," he said, conceding with a slight bow. "I was merely asking out of friendship to the Count, and I am sure that he will be respectful of your answer."
Zelda felt her smile become genuine. "How long do you intend to remain at court?" she queried, knowing that the journey from the far reaches of the Gerudo Desert to the Capital was extremely cumbersome.
"A few months, I think, Your Highness. I wish to pay my proper respects to your brother His Highness, and to the Lady Ilia, regarding their engagement, before returning home. I will of course be sure to make the journey once again in time for their wedding."
"I am glad," Zelda said to him, and she slowed her movements as the song came to an end. "I find that I rather enjoy your company."
Lord Golo bowed deeply this time, his voice rumbling warmly, "I am honored, Your Highness."
Zelda curtseyed in response. "Especially," she added, but stopped herself.
The Marquess chuckled, his eyes crinkling behind his mask. "Especially in the presence of some of the, shall we say, 'less humble' nobles who frequent the court?"
Zelda grinned. "You have it exact, My Lord."
Lord Golo bowed for a final time. "I wish you a pleasant evening, Your Highness." And he walked away to engage a new dance partner.
Zelda remained on the dance floor for another hour, enjoying herself despite her earlier sentiments. Her subsequent partners were not nearly as entertaining as Lord Golo, but they were pleasant enough to speak with while twirling and dipping to the music, and the only real problematic encounter was the Duke of Zora, an older man about her father's age. He was tremendously tall, but had the lean body of a man who had spent his entire life in Hyrule's most prominent seafaring town. Zelda was very close friends with his youngest daughter Ruto, but did not find the Duke to be much for conversation. That and the fact that he was a notoriously horrible dancer; Zelda considered herself lucky that he only managed to trod upon her feet twice. Still, she made it through the song, and after thanking the Duke for attending the celebration, she at last exited the dance floor. Making her way to one of the side tables, she signaled to a servant for some water.
"Din Almighty," she swore under her breath, taking a seat and providing relief to her now rather sore feet.
"Now that wasn't so bad, was it?" Midna taunted as she joined her sister, holding a plate of grapes and suckling on one absentmindedly.
"You didn't have to dance with the Duke of Zora," Zelda shot back reproachfully, but at Midna's insisting expression, she allowed herself a reproachful smile. "Alright," she admitted, "it was more fun than I expected."
Midna grinned triumphantly. "I told you so," she gloated.
"Mleh." Zelda stuck her tongue out at her older sister. "So what have you been up to?"
"I have been sending boys to different rooms down the hall with promises that I shall soon follow." Midna's eyes glinted in self-satisfaction.
Zelda chuckled. "And do you intend to follow any of them?"
Midna pursed her lips thoughtfully. "No, none of them were entertaining enough. There was one who I could see myself doing unspeakable things with, but he didn't seem to be very interested in me."
"Really? A man not interested in you? Oh, the blow to your ego that must have been."
Midna swatted a hand at Zelda's sarcastic tone. "I don't need to put up with this. I think I'll go hang out with Daphnes; he's never been quite the smart-ass that you are. Also, feel free to take my place with any of those men…" Blowing Zelda a kiss, she headed toward the far side of the room where Daphnes was chatting with several partygoers.
Deciding to take a breather for a while, Zelda remained where she was, turning her back to the rest of the crowd as a hopeful discouragement to anyone else who might desire to ask her to dance. She did not mind sitting alone; for all Midna and Saria's teasing about her being antisocial, she would readily admit that it was at least partially true. Zelda had always been more of a loner than her other siblings. She had friends, of course, and she did intend at some point in the evening to greet and talk with Malon and Cremia, the Count of Lon Lon's daughters. But she also appreciated the value of occasional solitude, of leaving herself to her own thoughts and taking a break from the rest of the world. She even had a favorite getaway, a secluded grove in the woods adjacent to the Castle grounds where she would stay for hours on end just to be alone, often bringing along a book to read, or a magical tome with which to practice her sorcery.
Just then, someone behind Zelda cleared his or her throat, snapping her out of her reverie, and the Princess turned in her chair to view a man of average height, dirty-blond hair, and deep emerald attire standing a few feet from her, his hands clasped politely in front of him. He looked to be no older than twenty-four or twenty-five, and very handsome; it was true that he was masked, but it did not hide elegant bone structure of his face, nor his strong jaw and piercing blue eyes. His lips were curled in just the slightest of smirks, and Zelda knew in that instant that she was dealing with yet another arrogant young noble who thought that he was the goddesses' gift to women, and that he had a shot with one of the Princesses of Hyrule.
Frowning, Zelda quickly resolved to dissuade him of these notions. "Yes?" she snapped impatiently.
The man appeared unfazed by her harsh greeting. His voice was smooth and elegant as he spoke in a confident tone: "I was wondering why you were sitting here by yourself, Your Highness. Surely you of all people deserve company at a party like this."
Company which he was all too willing to provide, she was sure, Zelda thought irritably. "The quality of said company is far more important to me than the quantity," she shot back. "And at present, I find the quality to be rather lacking."
The man chuckled, apparently amused at her rebuff. "You say that only because you don't know me very well, Your Highness."
"I know enough about you to recognize that your ego far outstrips your actual worth."
"I would disagree, Your Highness. My ego is appropriate to my level of competence."
Zelda exhaled softly in frustration. This stranger simply did not know when it was time to relent. "Competence of what sort?" she asked, still glaring at him through her mask.
The man chuckled once more, and Zelda felt the urge to wipe the smug expression from his face as if it were a physical compulsion. "Competence of an all-encompassing sort, Your Highness."
Something about his tone, and the careless surety with which he spoke, struck a nerve in the young Princess. Quietly determining that sharp words would not prove sufficient to deter the man, Zelda cast about for magical resolution for her current situation. Deciding to bestow a harmless but extremely embarrassing fate upon the stranger, she cast her thoughts in front of her, reaching with her mind to fixate upon the noble's pants; muttering the simple severing enchantment in her mind, she willed them to split. But to her great astonishment, and horror, the handsome young man held up one elegant hand and blocked her spell.
"Now now Zelda, you really shouldn't be so petty," he chastised in a mocking voice, and Zelda was not sure which she was more shocked by: the fact that he had managed to neutralize her enchantment, or that he had referred to her by her name instead of her title.
"How dare you," spoke the Princess in indignation, referring to both.
The corners of the man's lips curled even more smugly, his blue eyes glinting with mischief. "I think you would be surprised at how much I dare."
Zelda was finding it difficult to suppress her shock. While the magical arts were not uncommon among the people of Hyrule, most possessed only amateur levels of talent, and could do little more than spark a fire in their hearth or move their doors ajar a by a few inches. In significant contrast, Zelda was, despite her young age, one of the strongest magical users in the kingdom, able to summon small cyclones and teleport short distances. So although the spell that she had cast had been a simple one, with her immense magical weight behind it, most Hylians ought not to have been able to negate it. Which meant that this irritating man before her must have an above average proficiency in sorcery. The only question that remained was how above average he actually was.
Zelda shook her head, more at herself than at the noble. "Alright," she conceded at last, in utter loathing that her curiosity had triumphed over her revulsion. "You want a dance, I presume?"
The man's striking blue eyes alighted with self-satisfaction, and it was all Zelda could do to restrain herself from cursing him. "The thought hadn't even crossed my mind. But since you're asking…"
Zelda felt a muscle in her cheek twitching in irritation. "Don't push it," she muttered through clenched teeth.
He relented, bowing to her with a flourish, and at the same time extended his left hand. "I would be honored, Your Highness."
Zelda reluctantly stood up and accepted the politely light grip of his hand. To her surprise, she felt thick calluses, a rarity among Hyrule's leisure-laden nobility. "My condition is that while we dance, you answer my questions," she told him sternly. "And once I am done, you will leave me alone for the rest of the night."
The stranger grinned good naturedly, although with no less smugness than before. "As you wish, Your Highness." Together they made their way towards the dance floor. Their timing was ideal, for a new song was commencing. Gripping Zelda's shoulder blade with his other hand, the man began to gracefully lead the Princess across the dance floor. Despite her sharp dislike of the man, Zelda had to admit, to herself at least, that he was an excellent dancer.
"So what is your title, exactly?" she asked as he directed her into an elegant twirl.
The man smiled further, and muttered, "I am the Marquess of Ordon, Your Highness."
"Of Ordon? I seem to recall that the Marquess of Ordon's family line went extinct recently." It was true; the Marquess of Ordon, the elderly Lord Fado, had died the previous year in a hunting accident, and had left no heirs.
"You are correct, Your Highness. And with the title of Marquess vacant, I, being a native of Ordon, applied to the King to be bequeathed the rank."
Zelda snorted at this. "You mean that you paid for the title."
"Yes, Your Highness."
This revelation gave Zelda pause for thought. To purchase a position among the Hylian nobility, even such a minor rank as Marquess of Ordon, was obscenely expensive.
"Your assets must be considerable, Your Lordship."
The man chuckled at her use of the formality. "Please, Your Highness, Lord Link shall suffice."
And so she had his name. "Lord Link, then," she acquiesced, drawing away from him and then moving back into position in time to the music. "And what living do you make for yourself, Lord Link? Are you from one of Ordon's merchant families?"
"No, Your Highness. I was orphaned from a young age, and have no other known relatives."
Despite herself, Zelda could not help but feel some sympathy, for she too had experienced the loss of a parent, although admittedly it could not begin to compare to growing up as an orphan. "I am sorry, Lord Link."
"It is quite alright, Your Highness. I have no memories of my parents, which has helped to mitigate any sorrow that I might have. And in answer to your first question, Your Highness, no, I am no commercial merchant, although I have traded with many people in many distant lands. Rather, I have been something of an adventuring vagabond since the age of twelve, and have spent my days far away from Hyrule. Over the course of my journeys, I have managed to accrue a vast fortune, and have recently decided to return to the place of my birth so that I may better come to learn of my homeland."
"An adventurer?" Zelda found herself perplexed. Although she had no idea what the precise extent of the Marquess's fortune was, she had hardly previously held the conviction that the life of a vagabond could bring much financial windfall.
Lord Link's soft laughter rang once again in her ears, and she knew that he found her confusion to be highly amusing. Her sudden interest began to rapidly wane in the face of her irritation. "Very well," she snapped, twirling a little more forcefully than the tempo required. "Adventurer or no, now that I know who you are, you may tell me, what sort of magic do you practice?"
Leading her to the center of the ballroom, Lord Link answered, once more with a cocky grin, "A very wide variety, Your Highness. I have learned much in my travels."
Zelda's red lips turned downward. "A jack of all trades, then? That never leads to superior skill any one area of the Arts."
"Perhaps not in this land's Arts, Your Highness, but I assure you, where I have been, splitting one's attention between the gods and their respective domains is a most practical method of approaching sorcery."
This response gave Zelda pause for thought, and she almost lost pace with the rhythm. "Between the gods? Not the goddesses?" she inquired.
Lord Link chuckled once more. "Your Highness," he explained in a distinctly patronizing tone, "the deities of our land are not the deities of every land."
"You appear to show some disdain for Hyrule's pantheon."
Lord Link tilted his head, as if contemplating his next words. "Hyrule's divine are not particularly vast, nor diverse. Although don't get me wrong, Your Highness; Din, Nayru and Farore are all exceptionally powerful deities, and certainly the spiritual and magical legacy of Hyrule is extremely potent."
Talking to the Marquess in this way, Zelda felt her animosity erode in the face of their increasingly interesting conversation. Lord Link was being direct with her, and she had to admit that in this moment, she found him to be absolutely fascinating, and legitimately intriguing. Zelda began to wonder if her irritation had been misplaced.
It was of course at that moment that a cocksure grin returned to the Marquess' lips. "Well, Your Highness," he whispered in her ear as he dipped her, the song coming to an end, "How's the quality of said company now?"
Any second thoughts that Zelda had had concerning Lord Link's character instantly vanished. Drawing away from him as soon as he had set her fully upright, the Princess quickly strode over to the nearest man, the Count of Central Gerudo, and held out her hand, inviting him to dance. The Count immediately took it, and turning around to face the Marquess, she smiled at him, and with a mocking geniality replied, "The quality of said company has just exponentially improved."
Lord Link said nothing in return, but remained where he was, his smug expression not once faltering. As the next song commenced, Zelda found herself guided by the strong arms of the Count, doing her best to ignore the staring presence that stood less than ten feet away. It was only a few minutes later, as the Count was directing her into a twirl, that she chanced a glance at the Marquess. To her great surprise, however, he was gone, and peer as she might at the other dancers, Zelda failed to locate him. When the dance ended, after thanking the Count, she continued her search among the other guests, but to no avail. Lord Link had vanished from the party.