The Opal and The Genie
Dedicated to, with love:
My little sister Torrey, who experienced all with me and who deserves a good love story. May she reap something better from this.
Jeremy's handsome, pale face said his words too well. He still had that sore on the side of his mouth from when he had stupidly licked his knife while peeling her apple. She had told him not to. She had told him he'd get cut.
The heavy, numb resignation within her wobbled like a newborn fawn. She shouldn't be here. She shouldn't face him. Not today, dressed in white, and clutching too hard to a bouquet of bluebells and white roses.
She opened her mouth to thank him, but nothing came out. What she wanted to do, more than anything, was to say 'I love you,' and to hear him say it back.
He bowed low to her, dark curls brushing forward, and vanished as her father and king appeared at her side. The fake joy in his broad smile stung.
"It's time," said the king. He took her cold hand across his arm and gave the signal for the doors to open.
The beauty and grandeur of the castle's great wall was lost on her as she restarted the war against her tears. The watching audience blurred to the edges of her watering eyes. Right when she thought she had accepted her fate—but she couldn't cry. She couldn't let her people see that, but then maybe it would make her father feel her pain. Maybe he'd feel guilty. Maybe her husband-to-be would feel the weight of what he was doing to her and let her free.
Just as she thought that, she looked up from the red rug to the man who waited for her next to the priest Rauru at the end of the hall.
She had heard of the Desert War hero. It would be remarkable if she hadn't, seeing as the whole kingdom had been set afire with stories of him. If it wasn't from Hope, it was from the maids and kitchen hands, who all seemed to have had some first-person encounter with the legendary man. Even though determined to not be impressed, she had to give him credit: a huntsman who came out of nowhere taking command in a time of chaos and facing the desert tyrant single-handedly was impressive.
So, to say, she wasn't too surprised by what she saw. Dark gold, almost brown hair, blue eyes, sunkissed skin, broad-shouldered and narrow hips; he could have been Jeremy's opposite.
Except his face held a boyishness in his round eyes and narrow jaw that didn't match the rugged strength of his body or the lines beaten into the skin around his eyes from too many days squinting into the sun. Most men she knew who had such traits never shaved in order to not appear like teenagers faking manhood.
As her father handed her up the steps, the Desert Hero opened his mouth to speak to her, but was interrupted by the high priest launching into his prologue on love. Zelda phased in and out of hearing. The man across from her, Link Knight, only ever moved his gaze to glance at the speaker now and then, but otherwise kept them on her.
"I swear it," said Link.
The priest turned to her. She wasn't even entirely sure what Link had just sworn to do.
"Princess Zelda of Karpathia, do you swear to support Link Knight as his wife in times of sorrow, in times of joy, in times of plenty, and in time of famine? Do you swear to love him and cling to him and only him for all time as the gods have made it?"
She thought of Jeremy.
Her palms went clammy with sweat. A few petals floated from her bouquet onto her shaking hands. She could almost hear the congregation's breath catching as the silence grew longer.
Link knitted his wheat gold eyebrows, and for a moment she thought he felt sorry for her. His hands twitched.
She glanced back at her father, but he just nodded. She couldn't wait to be rescued. She had made her decision not to run, and she shouldn't waver. She knew her duty. Even better, she knew the goodness and wisdom in that duty. Even more so, she had chosen to do this with honor.
So no crying.
"I swear it."
The words had a harsh ring of finality.
"Then I pronounce you husband and wife, sealed from this time forth under the vision and witness of those here and the gods above. You may exchange pendants and," the old man bowed to Link with a gifting grin, "you may kiss your bride."
With trembling fingers, she lifted the fine silver chain with the crystal pendant she had chosen, the one like an arrow's head, over her head as Link lifted his pendant, which turned out to be as opposite of hers as he was to Jeremy. It was hardly a delicate thing, with a thick, antique gold chain and a bulky locket that had never been made to hold pictures, but more like stones. At first, they just looked at each other, waiting for the other to make the first move. Zelda was surprised to find herself taking the initiative to slip it over his hair, which brushed like the threads of her soft sheep carpet against her knuckles. Link smiled and slipped the pendant around her neck, his fingertips lingering for just a breath against her throat. Then, equally gentle, as though afraid to startle a jittery colt, he rested his hands on her hips and brought her to him. Her heart thudded final, hard beats against her breast. Would it be wet? Gross? Would it feel like Jeremy? She had never kissed another man besides him.
But the hero's lips touched hers so softly it was barely a kiss at all.
As the room erupted into cheers a rebellious tear rolled down her cheek. She wished then that she had asked for a veil to hide behind; it wouldn't do to concern anyone who didn't need to be. Her new husband lifted a finger to her cheek and she was furiously pleased to see his face twitch with pain.
"Wonderful!" roared her father, butting in-between the two to give them both a bear hug that lifted their feet off the ground. "I cannot tell you how proud I am of both of you! I could sing! And no one wants to hear that. Now to the festivities!" he dropped them abruptly to face the old priest. "Rauru, if you're not drunker than me tonight, for shame! Drinks all around! Where's that accursed band? Tell them to get playing! And I was sure I got dancers, so where by the goddess are they?"
"Zelda?" Link wrapped a hand behind his neck. His face was still twisted as he reached for her uncertainly. Before he could say another word, Zelda turned on her heel and flew down the steps. White rose petals bled underneath her feet and fluttered up by the drafts of her passing skirts. Men cheered. Children threw flowers into the air. Chimes tinkled along the windows. And, in the distance, the Temple of the God's bells began to ring neither a happy or mournful tune.