The Unwanted Hero
Princess Zelda of Hyrule giggled as a dark haired young man picked straw from her hair. She could feel the happy blush across her face and it served to just excite her more. With his hands still intertwined with hair and straw, the dashing soldier leaned around to face her with his deep brown eyes smoldering. The heat in that simple glance took her breath away.
"Ah, princess," he sighed, his voice breathy with his passion, "your hair is like unto spun gold, yet as soft as silk. Would you forgive me for wanting to bury myself within it and cling to you forever?"
"Jeremy!" she exclaimed in shock, though her insides squirmed with pleasure, "that is very forward of you."
"Not as forward as the past few minutes, princess. Must I bring forth evidence of it?" and he brought back his hand from her head, holding up a stalk of straw. Putting the straw into his mouth, he leaned forward even closer and proceeded to tickle her face with it, sending her into even more giddy peals of giggling. Her heart was fluttering in her breast in a way she knew it could never do for anyone else. The farther she pulled away the more he bent over her till she was back on her back in the straw and he hovered a mere few inches above her, a devilish smirk on his face. He let the straw drop to the side.
"Shall I continue to demonstrate my forwardness?"
At that moment the door below them opened up with a bang, sending the horses into a brief fit of whinnies and snorts. Jeremy froze.
"Princess Zelda! Princess Zelda, are you in here? Princess?"
Zelda groaned. She couldn't help it. It was hard enough getting alone time with Jeremy as it was, so this was bound to happen sooner or later. But it had just been getting good!
Jeremy bounded off of her as silently as possible into a pile of hay behind them. She quickly made sure to cover whatever patches of him that still showed with hay as she said loudly: "Yes! I'm here! What is it, Impa?"
She barely had time to put on a nonchalant look before Impa, her nursemaid and perpetual guardian, came clumping up the ladder in all her armored glory. The shiekah's red eyes examined her warily.
"Princess, what are you doing in the stables alone and covered with hay? This is the third time this month."
"Oh, you know Impa, just taking a nap. This is the only peace and quiet I can get away from the castle, and the sound of the horses calms me."
The great woman didn't seem to buy it. To Zelda's anxiety she thought she saw her sharp eyes fall upon the hay pile where Jeremy hid. Fortunately, Impa didn't press further and proceeded to go back down the ladder.
"Your father wants to see you. If you please, princess, try your best to make yourself presentable. I will be waiting by the door to escort you there."
The command in her tone was unmistakable. As she frantically ran her fingers through her hair, raining herself with bits of straw, she had the overwhelming urge to laugh. There was a wild daring in the knowledge of Jeremy being just behind her. He didn't dare say a word of good-bye, however, as she left down the loft and to Impa, who curtly brushed off the back of her.
"You would do well," she whispered as she did so, almost too soft for even Zelda to hear, "to not demean yourself or your station so by frolicking with young men in animal pens."
Whatever cloud of heaven she had been on vanished beneath her and she came crashing down to earth with an awful thud. She felt cold as Impa took her hand and led her out of the stable. The door creaked shut behind them. The imposing woman didn't say another word all the way up to the castle, and somehow that was even worse than if she had scolded Zelda the entire way. But that was how Impa showed her disappointment. She wasn't one for long, chastising rants. Where before elation bubbled forth there now grew a sizzling shame she did not understand. Why should she be ashamed? She was in love! How was love shameful?
Yet, despite her efforts to force the logic upon her conscience, the humiliation had still not left when they had arrived at the door to her father's study. Impa knocked.
She didn't let go of her hand until Zelda was inside and firmly situated in front of the king. The king himself was a tall, broad shouldered man with a strong jaw and frame that spoke of much strength once upon a time. But the years had not been kind to him, turning his hair and beard silver and lining his face. Neither had the delicious royal cookery.
"Thank you, Impa. Now please, if you'd just wait outside the door. Zelda will be right out."
Impa nodded and exited. Zelda traced her foot on the floor. She had a faint fear that her father knew as much as Impa had guessed, and the thought made her insides squirm uncomfortably. Taking a deep breath she tried to focus on the point of her slipper running along the triangles in the marble tile. Up, black, down, white, up, black, down, white…
"Is something the matter, Zelda? There is no need to look so. I didn't call you here for a scolding. You've done nothing wrong."
She straightened, forcing her foot still with a silent sigh of relief. So he didn't know. She returned her father's kind smile.
"Oh, that's good. It's just not very often you call me to your study like this, father. It sounds like you had Impa scouring the whole castle for me."
"Indeed I did. Forgive me, but I was just so excited I wanted to tell you right away! You know how I get." He chuckled. "Had to chase you down and share my good news with you right away! Though I could never tell if your mother was amused or annoyed with that part of me." The king shrugged his huge shoulders.
"I think it's cute." said Zelda.
"Thank you. I hope your mother thought so too. Bless her soul."
They bowed their heads and allowed a brief moment of silence in memory of her.
"She was a wonderful queen, but an even more wonderful wife. I hope I've impressed that on you as you've grown, my daughter, for I am hoping that you may find that same happiness that I found with her. Though our time was short I would trade nothing for Vivian's companionship."
For some odd reason she had a tickling feeling in the back of her mind that wherever her father was going with this, she wouldn't like it. She tried to focus more on her father but as he started she found herself wandering back to a few minutes ago in the straw with Jeremy. Yes, companionship. The thought of being with Jeremy forever, and not just in the rare stolen moments in the hay or in some abandoned tower, gave her chills of delight. Could such heaven be legal?
When she took a peer out of her giddy daydreams for just a moment she found her father beaming at her as though about to explode with pride. Her confusion flashed into horror with his next words.
"Which is why I have arranged for you to be married!"
The image of Jeremy's devilish grin in her head shattered. She gaped at her overjoyed, huge father.
"Married?" Please let her have heard wrong. "To whom?"
"A hero, my dear. A wonderful man. He's all I could ever dream of for you and will make a fine son-in-law." He stopped, becoming alarmed with her reaction. "My dear, what's the matter? I promise to you that you will be pleased with him too. He's very, very handsome. He's—"
"I don't care! No! No!"
"No? Are you saying you won't marry him?"
"Yes." Zelda turned her face away. "I refuse."
"But you don't even know him yet—"
"All the more reason."
The king's expression was darkening. Whatever silly excitement had been there before leaked away with the disapproving frown.
"This is quite sudden, Zelda. You have always known that one day I would choose a husband for you. It is the only safe way for you as a princess, especially as only heir to the throne, to find a good mate. As your father, it is my duty to find someone who will love and cherish you, as well as make a good king. What is the meaning of such a reaction? Of such disgraceful ingratitude?"
Zelda hesitated. She had always known that if she was ever to have a future with Jeremy she would have to tell her father. This was not the way she would've chosen to tell him. But she gathered her courage. It was now or never. She clenched the fabric of her dress. An unseen peace of straw jabbed at her hand from her petticoats.
"I love someone else, father."
"What?" his bushy eyebrows billowed over his eyes like a storm.
"His name is Jeremy, father. He's a soldier in the Hylian army, training to become a knight. It is him I want to marry."
Without a second thought the king replied with a blunt "No."
"I will not allow it. You will marry the man that I have chosen and the man I have chosen is Link Knight and that is final."
"Link?" the name sounded familiar, though she couldn't recall a face, just a man wearing a green tunic and a ridiculously long cap. The adventurer who had won them the war against the Desert People? The only time she had even caught a glimpse of him was on his horse as the people threw flowers across his path. Her father had chosen that pompous brute as her husband?
"Yes. After witnessing his works and gotten to know the young man myself, I could not make a better choice. My choice is made and I have given my word to him. You will be married in a week."
"A week!" cried Zelda. Suddenly her world was spinning and she clambered for a chair to hold to. She couldn't breathe. This had to be a nightmare. It was all moving so fast. A week—there wasn't nearly enough time in a week to… to do what?
"Really, Zelda, you are over reacting!" said her father, angered by her shaking legs and gasps. "Do you really have no faith in my choices?"
"It's not that, dear father! It's that I'm already in love with Jeremy!"
"You are too young to understand true love." He growled. "Too inexperienced. For all you know that boy is just playing you for his own ambitions."
"NO! Jeremy isn't capable of—"
"You don't know what he is capable of and that is because you are blinded by your own emotions."
Zelda's eyes were burning with oncoming tears. Seeing her overly bright eyes the king sighed, shaking his head. He approached his daughter with big warm hands outstretched.
"My princess, please, won't you just trust your old father this one time? The search for love in this world is a painful and heartbreaking journey. There are horrible men who treat women as a means to accomplish their own desires and men who will spurn your love for another. There are men who are even little more than beasts." He grasped her shoulders and rubbed them gently, the lines of his old face softening. "It is even more dangerous for you, my sweet, beautiful daughter. I've stressed about this day all of my life, praying I would find the right man in the sea of filth who could make you happy, who you could love, and who would love you as I loved your mother. It would be more difficult for you to find him, so easily blinded by love and young as you are, than I, who am an old man who knows how they think and knows you best."
Zelda didn't answer. Despite his words, she was weeping now. Her father's words rung with love and wisdom, and she couldn't deny that. But her heart still rebuked the idea. In fact it was now screaming as though being rent in two. Images of Jeremy, with his curly black hair and dimpled smile ran about her.
The mighty king wrapped his daughter tightly into his great arms. Though she wanted to rage and storm at him instead, she buried her face into his soft purple robes and let out a muffled howl of misery.
The king bowed his forehead to her blond head.
"I'm sorry it has to be this way, my little princess, and that you are so miserable." He squeezed her tighter. "But I must insist."
! #%#^$$$$$# ! #$%$^&%&%&$%^
The Great Hall of the castle had never been grander. Sunlight poured in from the tall, elegant windows onto cascades of white silk and flowers of every kind. Crystal ornaments sent the light showering into rainbows across every surface, and the royal red rug stood out like a streak of blood against the creamy marble and grey granite. People mulled about in their best, aglow with the happiness of the reunion that was about to happen. Gazes frequently turned to the groom standing tall and handsome at the end of the hall next to the priest Rauru, the very image of nobility in his white suit and sword buckled to his side. There could be no one more worthy of the princess than the great hero of the Desert War, who had defeated the Evil King Ganondorf single handedly and was known across the land for his great bravery and chivalry. Many people had been the receivers of his help in their various troubles. This also showed a sense of humility, some said.
But never before had Princess Zelda's opinion differed so much from her people's as she walked up before them in a vision of heavenly white. Her fingers clenched into her father's arm with one hand and the other threatened to squeeze the life out of her bouquet of bluebells and roses. The people rushed to clear the way the moment the grand doors opened, ooing and awing. From somewhere in the front beautiful orchestral music began to play.
This day should've been the happiest of her life and she just wanted to cry.
The king stepped forward and she stumbled into movement. She heard him comment on how beautiful she was, but she was too distracted to respond. Her mind was to the previous week, aching with regret. She had looked everywhere for Jeremy. In the first few moments of delirious agony she had thought to run away with him, to abandon her throne in the name of love. But, if anything, she loved her father so much that the idea of refuting her father so harshly brought her, if possible, even more pain than just leaving Jeremy would. So she had searched for him, hoping against hope that somehow they could work something out.
When she found him, however, she found him resigned and hollow.
"You are the princess, Zelda," he had said to her, and she had hated how he kept a careful distance from her the whole time. "This was bound to happen sooner or later. It's probably best if we don't see each other again. I'm sorry. I will never forget you. No woman will ever compare to you, but…I'm sorry, I can't compete with Link Knight himself."
And it was then that it had occurred to her that he had never mentioned marriage before or even ever said the simple phrase 'I love you'. Of course, this meant nothing. He had shown his love plenty of times before. Of course he loved her. He had to. But, either way, all of that was about to end now. Her week had gone by so fast. She regretted the time wasted that she could've spent with Jeremy, had he allowed it. She could've run. She could've done anything! And now any hopes for finding love were gone. Her Jeremy…
Her father led her carefully up the steps before leaving her hand with one last encouraging squeeze. A single tear slipped beneath her lashes as she lifted them to face her future husband.
To her surprise she was met with a tender gaze and a troubled, handsome face. His bright blue eyes were like the sky and they examined her face with concern. Dark blond hair framed his sun kissed skin. He opened his mouth to speak to her, but was interrupted by Rauru launching into his prologue about love. Zelda phased in and out of listening. The man across from her, Link, only ever moved his gaze to glance at Rauru now and then, but otherwise had them on her. She dimly took in his strong features, lined by a shadow of a boyhood he had yet to grow out of.
Still, she could only think of Jeremy.
"I swear it." said Link.
She was jolted from her thoughts as Rauru turned to her. She wasn't even entirely sure what Link had just sworn to do.
"Princess Zelda of Hyrule, 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 goddesses have made it?"
Swear to love him? But she didn't! She didn't even know him! She loved Jeremy, not him!
She could feel her palms sweating. A few petals shook from her bouquet because of her shaking hands. She could almost hear the congregation holding their breath as the seconds grew longer in silence.
Link knitted his eyebrows, and for a moment she thought he felt sorry for her. His hands twitched.
She glanced back at her father and he nodded. She took in a deep breath.
"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 goddesses 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 obediently lifted the fine silver chain with the crystal pendent over her head as Link lifted his own glimmering gold locket from his neck. At first they just looked at each other, waiting for one to make the first move. Zelda was surprised to find herself jerking forward to slip it over his hair first. Link smiled gently and slipped the pendent around her neck. Then, equally gentle, as though afraid he'd startle her, he wrapped his arms around her waist and brought her to him. Her heart thudded loudly with dread. Chills of horror were leaking down her back.
And he kissed her. In fact his lips touched hers so softly it was barely a kiss at all.
As the room erupted into cheers another tear rolled down her cheek. She wished then that she had asked for veil to hide behind. 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 both 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. Link nearly lost his balance, unused to her father's hugs. "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 Farore are they?"
"Zelda?" Link had a hand wrapped behind his neck. His face was still crumpled with concern and worry and 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 were swept along by her skirts. Men cheered. Children threw flowers into the air. Chimes tinkled along the windows. And, in the distance, the Temple of Time's bells began to ring neither a happy or mournful tune.
Yet a hole in her bosom was threatening to swallow her whole.