Chapter 7 - Princess in Name Only
She set down the sapphire into its place stand and stepped back a few paces to admire it. How long had it been since she had last seen him? Almost a year she mused. What a wicked boy to not come see her after all these moons. She turned her head to the side to glance lovingly at her father who was sitting on his rocky throne, content to snoring loudly as always. Water brushed past his royal cape as the current split around his seated bulk. She shook her head slightly and smiled in thought. Where had he gotten that stupid red cape? It probably washed ashore near their domain. Thinking it regal, a distant ancestor probably picked it up and claimed it as a royal object of the Zoran nobility.
She was a princess of the Zoras, an aquatic race of people who had evolved from simple ordinary fish into walking sentient beings. They had the body structure of a human, but their skin was of cyan hued scales. Their arms had fins attached to the outer forearm to assist in their travels through the water. Their webbed like feet ensured deft movement and speed when making tight turns.
A hierarchy had emerged in Zoran culture. A king or queen was crowned and each successive ruler would pass his or her power to the next king or queen. There were no sexual prejudices in their society. Her father was the current king and had really let himself go. He was a rotund figure, doing not much these days but sit on his rocky throne overseeing the rest of his domain. His scrawny arms and legs indicated many cycles of neglect. The only things he seemed to do these days was sleep and eat.
Unlike most Zoras who had an elongated tail (as it were) coming out from the back of their heads like that of a dolphin, Princess Ruto was unique. The most distinct thing about Ruto that differentiated her from the rest was that she had acquired a type of anvil shaped head. She was also more proportioned like a female human would be. Most Zoran males or females were usually shaped like a male human. Many were fascinated by this and claimed that she was the start of a new evolutionary chain of Zora descendants but no one could prove it.
At the tender age of 12, Ruto had assumed the role of heir to the throne shortly after Link left her almost a cycle ago. He had come swiftly with purpose. He convinced the king to let him see the great Lord Jabu Jabu; their patron deity who was ever watchful of his children. At the time, Lord Jabu Jabu was unwell and refused to eat anything they had offered him. It wasn’t until Link did the impossible: he went inside the great fish! The Zoras were stunned, it was almost as if he knew exactly what was wrong with their Lord. When he emerged from the fish maw, Lord Jabu Jabu was well again!
As they talked in reprieving isolation together, Ruto grew more enamored with his strength, his courage and his tenacity. She would be the first one to admit she had fallen head over heels for this young human boy who had completely swept her off her feet. She didn’t quite understand all that he had said; he was spouting things like coming back from the future. He appointed himself the task to undo the wrongs for both the Gorons and the Zoras that Ganondorf had accomplished prior to his arrival. His confidence was infectious. Very few people knew the entire story of his adventure to stop Ganondorf; most of the populace were oblivious.
Without a second thought, she handed to Link their family’s most royal possession, the Zora Sapphire, a mysterious gem that had been inherited through the generations of the Zoran family. It was more than just a symbolic gesture of appreciation it was also a Zora engagement commitment. This was the man she was to marry, the fact that he was a Hylian be damned! She stared dreamily into his eyes as he recounted his stories. She truly was listening but she was far more interested in him rather than anything he was talking about. He was always jumpy around her and it was unbelievably cute; she would always want to be near him and breathe in his forest-like scent. She had never smelt the like and it was an aphrodisiac to her.
Which made the split all the more tortuous for Ruto; Link had returned the Zora Sapphire to her claiming it was for the Zoras to keep possession of. He said that it was safer with them than where he was going. How Ruto cried that day. No one could console her for the emotional hurt was too great. Her only love had forsaken her and given back the engagement symbol. Ruto still kept a glimmer of hope in her heart that he would come back one day and sweep her off her feet and hold her dearly in his arms kissing her furiously.
She left the throne room and walked down the calcified walls of the cavern towards her room. She sifted the curtains aside and stepped into her private space. She looked around the room; it was decorated as one would expect from a creature of the water. Her bed was an open clam shell with plush sponge pillows. The vanity was a sheet of thin mirror like glass situated on top of a bed of coral. The light in the room came from some plant bulbs hanging from the ceiling; glowing only in purest darkness.
On the nearby bed stand were two figurines made of clay. One was clumsily made to look like a Zora, while the other resembled a human boy with a little spit of clay that was meant to be his sword. She sat down on a shell in front of the stand and rested her head and arms on it gazing dreamily at the two figures. Sometimes late at night, she would enact glorious scenes of love and heartfelt emotion. She flushed slightly at the thought of sometimes making the two figurines kiss.
She heard a light tapping on the rock wall just outside her room. She drew up irritated that she couldn’t be alone with her figures. She pushed the curtain aside to see a Zoran guard standing at attention in front of her. He saluted in proper fashion before relaying his information. She just nodded at his salute, dismissing it. She never did care for petty etiquette.
“Princess Ruto!” He said with halting tones, scared stiff of even addressing royalty; Ruto smiled at what was obviously a new recruit, “I have come to inform you and the king that our scouts have confirmed the existence of the southern army! The Lost Woods is burning. We are unsure of what happened to the wood folk. They have not discovered our submerged passages yet, but they are pushing north into the fields.”
“So why are you telling me and not my father?” Ruto grinned.
“Uh…um…” The guard looked absolutely dumbfounded at this question, it took him a few moments to recover, “Well, I…er…had saw the king sleeping and I…did not wish to wake up his royal highness!”
Ruto smiled at the young Zora, he couldn’t have been older than 15 cycles, not much older than her. She did love to tease them so. She really should stop doing that. Despite the jovial joshing with the guard, she never did find any of her kind all that attractive. She placed a hand to her cheek lost in deep thought, something she was prone to do of late. She looked him over and didn’t see anything abnormally wrong with the man. He was strappingly built and his muscles were firm and tight. When he grew older he would definitely be quite the heart throb.
“Ahem,” Ruto was shaken out of her reverie, “Princess?”
“Yes, yes.” She said with a wave of her hand, the guard was clearly dismissed. “I will go to my father and tell him the news. Thank you. That will be all.”
The Zora hastily saluted her again and with a flurry of movement, he stumbled and tripped over his spear in awkwardness. The guard was mortified to be so inept in front of his princess. He was quickly making his way down the corridor when she called to him; flinching with the thought of embarrassing himself further, he turned slowly back to Ruto.
“Yes princess?” He asked meekly.
“What is your name soldier?” She probed curiously.
“Veraca, my lady.” If Zoras could sweat, he would be perspiring by now with nervousness.
She smiled, “Thank you. You may leave.”
She watched him blunder off down the hallway before tripping and falling headfirst into the lagoon below with a terrific splash. She cackled at his clumsy nature. Veraca was a bit lanky for Zoras his age and he was still probably growing into the young man he would ultimately become. He probably wasn’t fully used to his growing body yet, such an awkward time for a Zora. She sighed and turned back towards the royal throne room, time to wake father.
Warming to the guards standing at the entrance to the royal throne room, she nodded her head as she climbed the steps to the dais opposite her father. He awoke with a start and looked around him quickly before accessing what actually happened. He gazed down from his thrown at his youthful daughter, such a pretty thing she was. Took after her mother, Goddesses rest her soul.
“Ruto my dear,” he spoke in a warbled chuckle, “what brings you to disturb my beauty sleep?”
She sighed and rolled her eyes at her father’s stale attempts at humor, “Father, I was just informed from one of our forward deployed scouts that the rumored army of the south has taken the Lost Woods. They are pushing northward into the fields and will most likely be on our doorstep within a few moons.”
He leaned forward slightly so as to not fall off his perch with his massive bulk. “And of our secret routes? Did they discover any of those?”
Ruto shook her head, “No father, all routes into our domain are secure. Not one has been found.”
He leaned back against his throne with visible relief, “Good,” he squawked, “I would like to have the valley pass to the west secured with more soldiers. I want the northern pools to be patrolled at all times. Furthermore I want the passage to the Lost Woods sealed off. With that area taken, I do not want them catching us by surprise.”
For such a lumbering king, he had a tactician’s mind. His wit was as sharp as ever and his skill at warfare was unrivaled in their country. When King Zora spoke everyone listened. Ruto walked around trailing the edge of the throne room as she hiked up the ramp to where her father sat relishing in the cool rush of water flowing past his legs; it was soothing to him. He leaned in as best he could to nuzzle his daughter’s head as she went to hug him.
“Father,” she said while still holding his massive frame, “I’ve heard other rumors about this army.” With a small croak from her father to continue, “Some say that the end of this army has yet to be seen. They are still pouring in from the south. What hope do we have against such a multitude?”
The king chortled under his quivering mustache of scales. “My dear Ruto,” he cawed, “Our intent is not to fight this army but to wait it out. We will let the Hylians or Gorons or other races deal with this threat. When it is all over, we can open up our borders. We might even start a new line of trade with the victors.”
Ruto backed up from her father rapidly, “You can’t be serious!” She put her hands on her hips and gave him an accusing glare, “We owe our allegiance to the royal family of Hyrule or have you forgotten? We need to come to their aid, not hole up here like a bunch of scared curs!”
King Zora straightened up to his full height (as best he could), his gills puffing up in agitation as he confronted his daughter, “Know your place Ruto, you are not yet queen. You may be a princess, but you are still my flesh and blood. As long as you live under my roof, you will not talk to me in that manner!”
Ruto huffed, crossed her arms and turned kitty corner to her father, a visible affront if ever he did see one.
The king’s eyes flared, “What of our home that we have lived in for centuries and which we will continue to live in for centuries to come? We have tended this place and made it our own; should we just abandon it like that?” He continued grilling her, “And what of Lord Jabu Jabu? Should we not save and protect him too? What, pray tell, might we use to move Lord Jabu Jabu? We cannot simply whisk him away from here. No, my dear Ruto-”
“But father!” She snapped back stamping her foot on the ground, “What are we supposed to do? I came to you hoping you would see sense here. We know our duty, we should fulfill it. The Lost Woods is gone now, Link’s homeland is-”
King Zora bristled at the name of that boy, “You do not speak to me of that child. I do agree and understand he helped our patron deity; for that I am thankful. However that does not excuse your behavior with him!” He continued to boom, “Running around like a love sick puppy, doing his every bidding! I do not want that boy around you! He is not right for you and I will not allow it!”
The king was breathing heavily, never had he exerted this much energy in many moons. Ruto cringed at her father’s anger. She hated it when she got him irate. She looked off towards the throne room entrance and noticed the two guards trying their best not to look like they were eavesdropping. She snorted in disgust. They should just drop the pretense and just join the argument. With a sudden idea, she turned her head towards her father.
“Then I know my duty,” she said coolly, “and I’m going to fulfill it.”
With a flick of her fins she turned around and casually strolled down the ramp towards the inner cavern. King Zora’s eyes dilated with indignant fury. His bellow could be heard throughout the hall.
“Ruto you will obey me! We are staying! Every Zora here will be staying! There is no reason to run away from an enemy that can be beaten! If they can bleed, they can die! I will not permit you to leave! Guards!”
Ruto recoiled from the central pool of the room as two Zora men rose up from the depths and saluted their king. The nearby plant lanterns illuminated their bluish bodies still dripping with the water, they resembled wraiths of death. They were fully grown and far outmatched Ruto in both strength and size. She knew better than to take them head on. Ruto wanted to run away but her feet felt like stone and refused to let her go. She looked up in dismay at her father as he did the unthinkable.
“You two,” he jabbed a thin finger at the two men, “see to it that my daughter does not leave Zora hall. If need be, confine her to her room and don’t let her out until I say so!”
“Father no!” Ruto screamed. With an inner resolve she didn’t know she had, the mental bondage on her legs released. She was scampering down the rest of the ramp. She frantically stooped under the two men at the entrance as they made a grab for her. She side stepped another guard coming up the passage and tripped him making the poor man face plant against the cold stone floor. She cringed as she passed over his twitching body.
“Sorry!” She chimed back.
“Somebody stop her!” The king’s bellow reverberated throughout the hall as all Zoras trembled in fear of disobeying King Zora.
Every single friend had turned enemy as every Zora groped and grasped Ruto as she flashed past. Tears were starting to emit from her eyes as she saw dear friends with malice in their eyes as they attempted to block her escape. Being as young as she was, she had little difficulty ducking, weaving and dodging most of the attempts to seize her.
She beheld the base of the cavern filling up with Zoras with more pouring in from the lagoon and other waters around. She knew it was a foolhardy decision but she leapt from the height and splashed into the water below with a graceful dive. Within seconds men and women were speeding through the water towards her with deadly accuracy, like a knife cutting through malleable flesh.
She dove deep just as several Zoras were upon her. They lurched past her but each kicked a foot out to slow their momentum as they switch backed in her direction. Several others could see her intended goal: the Lost Woods passage. Two Zoras surged in from the left intending to cut her off. She did a swift back flip through the water and kept plowing towards the passage before they even realized what happened.
Determined and furious, she picked up speed and rushed towards the gaping hole in the cave floor. She had almost made it when a Zora swam in front and knocked her unconscious with a spear butt to the head. The last thing Ruto saw was the surface of the water high above her tumbling further and further out of reach.