A Trap is Laid
"I'm sorry those people from Shi-Ha were such asses," Zelda said when she and Link were able to meet again, nearly a week after her birthday party. They sat together in a dark corner of the monastery where there was no one to overhear them.
Link merely shrugged. "I don't let it bother me."
"Well, it bothers me," Zelda said, still feeling hot under the collar about it.
Link chuckled. "That's because you perceive it as an injustice."
"And how do you perceive it?"
"As nothing more than a bit of hot air blowing across my face."
Zelda looked at him in astonishment, then laughed.
"Well, it's true," he said. "Why should I care what such insignificant people think about me or anything else? What are their opinions to me?"
She looked at him, then smiled. "They were right about one thing, you know."
"Oh?" he said, sounding a bit surprised. "What?"
"You are pretty uppity for a commoner."
Link laughed loudly. "Maybe that's because I don't see myself as a commoner," he explained.
"What do you see yourself as?"
"I see myself as a Knight of Hyrule… or, at least, a squire in training for that role. I don't think I'm yet worthy of that title, but one day I will be—once I've gone on my quest," he added, almost as an afterthought.
"What quest?" Zelda asked eagerly. A "quest" sounded terribly exciting.
"I don't know, but it's written in my stars that I will go on a great quest. I've been training all my life to fulfill my destiny, and if I pass the test—by completing my quest—then I will know that I have, at last, earned the title that I carry in my blood.
"Every title must be earned," he went on to explain. "It doesn't matter who you were born to, but what you were born to be. If you don't work to earn your title, then… well, then, you're like those dignitaries at your party: people puffed up with pride, but hollow inside and lacking any real substance. Why wouldn't I—or anyone else—feel contempt for them?"
"Have I earned my title?" Zelda asked anxiously. She hoped Link didn't think her hollow and lacking substance.
He looked at her with a critical eye. "Yes, Your Highness, I think you are a good princess. Of course, being a queen is a different matter all together, but I think you're still practicing and learning, as am I. I think we are both on the road to becoming people of true substance."
Zelda felt better. She valued Link's opinion more than anyone else's, except maybe Master Ryu's and, in certain instances, the Abbot's. If Link didn't find her wanting, then she was doing well.
The King sat at a large table in his bedroom, brooding over the pile of letters from various people who were interested in seeking the hand of Hyrule's one and only princess.
"This is a weighty decision," the king said, as he glanced at one letter, then another. "Whoever I choose will be king of this kingdom."
"Your Majesty would be wise not to choose someone who is too eager for power," the Grand Vizier, Nagadii, said smoothly.
Nagadii was certainly one to talk about men eager for power, since his whole life had been consumed with the process. He had become a powerful magician at an early age and had been quick to take up a post in the palace. He took great pains to appear wise and ingratiate himself with everyone. When it was rumored that the King had taken a dislike to Ryu, Nagadii had done everything possible to worm himself into the King's good graces in order to secure the position of Grand Vizier for himself.
The king threw the letters to the table in aggravation; it was more thinking and study than he normally cared to do. "Who do you think I should marry her to, Nagadii?" the king asked, leaning back in his chair. "What sort of man would be good?"
"Someone wise, certainly," Nagadii replied. His voice was so soothing, it eased the king's troubled mind. And although he wasn't anyone's idea of handsome, the women of the palace seemed to swoon every time he spoke to them. Only Zelda disliked the way he talked, complaining (only to Link and Rayliss) that he sounded oily, like a con artist.
"The Princess can be… headstrong," Nagadii added, apologetically. "She has Your Majesty's drive and determination, but that's not an asset in a woman, as it is in a man."
The king nodded silently. While Zelda strove to be an obedient daughter, there were times when she—literally—put her foot down and would not be budged. As a young child, there had been more than one occasion when a guard had to pick her up and take her to her room when she otherwise refused to go.
"If you would have her rule in her own right, then she will need a weak husband that she can dominate. But if you would have a king who rules in her stead, then you will need someone strong enough to overpower her."
"I don't think anything short of magic can overpower that girl if she has her mind set to something," the king said sadly.
Nagadii smiled a little. "I could help with that, Your Majesty."
"I might take you up on that offer," the king replied, before looking at the letters and sighing again. "So much rests on this."
"I agree. I think you are very wise to take your time with this decision."
The king made a little noise of disgust. "Ryu would have had me betroth her to a fisherman's son. Can you imagine!"
Nagadii shook his head in sympathy. "It is inconceivable. I'm afraid Master Ryu… how shall I say it?… has gone a bit addled. When a person starts to reach an advanced age, their mental powers start to fade a bit, you know."
"I hope it hasn't ruined the Princess' education," the king said, sounding a bit worried.
"Oh, I don't think so. From all the conversations that I've had with the Princess, she seems well-learned. …Although I think that might be due in large part to her natural-born intelligence, rather than the tutor. I know you to be quite intelligent, of course, and I heard that the late Queen was very wise as well."
"She was," the king said sorrowfully. "She could smooth over any hard feelings; she always knew the right thing to say."
"I wish I could have met her."
The king sighed heavily again; he still missed his wife, even after seventeen years. Zelda had taken up her mother's mantle in almost every aspect of governance, but she still lacked his late-wife's experience. That, and Nagadii was correct: Zelda was strong-willed. She acted more like him than her mother.
"You know," the king said, steering the subject away from his late queen, "I never have believed that the boy died—that fisherman's son," he clarified. "It was all too convenient. First, Ryu says that this boy has a big destiny and something bad will happen if he and Zelda come together, then suddenly this child of destiny falls off a cliff and drowns in the ocean?" The king shook his finger. "And I happen to know that Ryu left the palace immediately after that and was gone for a month. You can't tell me he didn't get that boy and do something with him."
"It certainly sounds like he did."
"I think the quicker I marry Zelda, the sooner I can relax. I don't want there to be any chance she and this boy end up together—none. It weighs heavily on my mind, and that weight only grows heavier as she gets older."
"Who was this boy?"
"I don't know. I just know he was born before Zelda—maybe a year, I think—and was the son of a fisherman from Kakariko Village."
Nagdii stood up straighter, a visible shudder running through his body.
"What is it, man?" the king asked, alarmed. "Do you know this boy?"
"Did Your Majesty not see?"
"See what?" he asked, looking around.
"The boy who played the flute at Her Highness's birthday party."
"What of him?"
"He was wearing garb peculiar to that region of Hyrule. In fact, that silly-looking hat he was wearing is specifically worn by fishermen."
The king sat bolt-upright. "Are you positive?"
The king slammed his hand down on the table so hard, he upset a bottle of ink. A servant who had been standing unobtrusively in the corner, waiting to be needed, hurried forward and started trying to blot the ink out of the silk carpet.
"He has put that boy right here under my very nose!" the king roared.
"Quite possibly," Nagadii said with a bit more caution.
"Your Majesty," Nagadii interrupted, before the king could work himself up into a towering rage, "would you permit me to investigate this matter?"
"In what way?"
"I will observe this young man and make inquiries about him and delve deeper into this matter—as only I know how," he added with just a touch of a smug smile for his magical skills. "If he is the boy we think he is, then we can trap him and Ryu together. Ryu will be exposed as a traitor and this boy in collusion with him. Then it would be up to Your Majesty to determine a fitting sentence for both."
The king thought about Nagadii's plan for a minute. "I think that might be best," he said slowly, looking as if he was warming to the idea. "Ryu is clever; if he were to suspect anything, he and the boy could disappear without a trace, leaving them to try again."
"Then we must keep this between you and me," Nagadii said with a smile.