A Crowning Achievement
Over the next several days, Zelda discarded the person she had become and fell back into her role as a royal. She had a proper bath for the first time in months—with soap and towels and everything. And she could take one as often as she liked—or, at least, as often as the staff could be spared to draw and heat the water. Many of the former servants were trickling back into the castle, resuming their old positions, but they were still short-handed, so Zelda tried not to take up too much manpower and resources by bathing too frequently… but it was hard.
Every morning, Vera came in and helped her get dressed. Her mother's dresses were a bit too long for her and didn't quite fit in the body, but Tatiana, Ceily, and Meghan all pitched in to alter them and she was soon looking every bit the heir to the throne.
She managed to reassemble most of her father's council of advisors. Some had survived Nagadii's purges in the dungeon, while others had had the foresight to go into hiding. The rest, however, had ended up on the block.
Much to his surprise, she invited Braddock to join her council.
"I-I have no experience with such things, Your Majesty," he protested. "I wasn't tutored in the affairs of state."
"Well, you're going to get tutored in them," she said. "You have the confidence of the people and that makes you very valuable to me. You also know more about what's going on around the kingdom than I do, since I've been gone."
"I will do my very best to live up to your expectations."
"It's not official, mind you," she said, as she escorted him to the Privy Council chambers for his first meeting. "I can't appoint a council when I'm not even queen yet, but I'll make it official afterwards."
She didn't mention that as the highest-ranking nobleman left in the kingdom, she wanted everyone to see that he was on her side. If he wanted to try and revive Nagadii's lie that she had killed her father, he could do so and vie for the crown as the next-in-line. That he didn't helped make her look legitimate.
That, and she genuinely liked him. He was intelligent and quick to take the lead when something needed doing. He reminded her a little of Link or a slightly less paranoid version of Sir Elgon.
While a part of her felt worn down by the old fuddy-duddies that made up her father's council and their strict adherence to royal protocol—even when she didn't want it or it wasn't practical given the situation—she had to admit she was thankful for their ability to organize a coronation, because she had no idea where to even start. But they started compiling to-do lists and guest lists and ordering supplies. They set the date for her eighteenth birthday, which was just three weeks away.
The only problem was that the royal treasury was nearly empty.
"How could Nagadii extort so much money out of my people and have nothing to show for it?" Zelda demanded.
"Well, he paid for mercenaries; I'm sure they weren't cheap," the Financial Advisor pointed out.
"They also ate like it was a feast every single day," the Head of Tax Revenues pointed out. "They spent a lot of money buying up produce and meat."
"Yes, but that money had to go back into the economy," Zelda argued. "It doesn't just disappear. It goes back to the people, then he would have taken it back through taxes."
"But food has become increasingly scarce, driving up the price," the Financial Advisor said. "With so many men conscripted in to the army, there weren't enough people left behind to grow things. Instead of being producers, he turned most of the population into consumers. Eventually, you consume more than you can produce and your entire economic system collapses."
"Do we have enough food to get us through the winter?"
"By 'us' do you meant the royal household, or do you mean the kingdom in general?"
The Financial Advisor and Head of Tax Revenues looked at each other. "We'll have to do a survey…" the Financial Advisor said tentatively.
"Do it," Zelda commanded.
"I think we ought to be alright as far as food for the household goes," the High Chamberlain said. "Although I wouldn't recommend holding any feasts."
The State Advisor startled. "No feasts?"
"I wouldn't—just to be on the safe side."
The State Advisor bent over one of his lists and crossed something out. Apparently Zelda's coronation would be sans feast.
"Is there even a crown for Her Majesty to wear at the coronation?" Link asked. She had invited him to sit on her counsel as well, although the older advisors looked at him with a mixture of curiosity and mistrust—as if they weren't sure what to do with him. The fact that he sat to her right and her State Advisor—who should have been her highest-ranking advisor—sat to her left raised more than a few eyebrows.
"If there is, we haven't found it," the Chamberlain said.
Link looked down the table at the two men in charge of the kingdom's finances. "Do we have any gold?"
"You mean coin?"
"Some. Although how we're going to manage until tax time again, I don't know."
Zelda thumped her fist on the table. "Even if our economic system is broken, all that coinage had to go somewhere. Nagadii didn't just make it disappear."
"That we know of," Link added under his breath.
She looked at Braddock. "Do we have any idea where those mercenaries were quartered?"
"There were some here," the Chamberlain said, "but certainly not all of them. I don't think Nagadii trusted them enough to keep them inside the palace walls."
"I can probably find out where they stayed," Braddock said.
"Find out and search their rooms; anything of value is to be reclaimed for the Crown. It's my money anyways," she added petulantly.
"I'll get on it today."
"Yes, do, before someone else has the bright idea to look for something lying out loose and ownerless."
Link looked at her. "We could melt some of the coin down and have a crown made for you. Hols might even do it for you."
"Not too much coin," the Tax Revenuer said. "Otherwise, we might have to melt it back down again."
After their daily meeting, Zelda sent Link to Hols with a bag of coin of a size to make her Tax Revenuer sweat—despite the fact that it wasn't much under normal circumstance. But the week before her coronation, Hols had Link fetch the completed crown.
"He wanted me to warn you that he's not a goldsmith or jewelry maker," Link said, as he came into the family dining room during supper. Everyone—Braddock, Sir Elgon, Rayliss, Long Fang, and Growder—all watched as he sat a bundle down in front of Zelda, as if it was the main dish.
She scooted her plate aside and, with a mix of excitement and nervousness, she untied the string on the bundle. The cloth wrapping fell away to reveal a glimmering round crown of gold. The band was thin and only about an inch wide. But it was studded solidly with round, white pearl cabochons. Every fifth pearl, though, was a much more rare black pearl. Along the top and bottom edges of the band was a tiny rope of gold that acted like a border to the pearls. From four equidistant points on the top of the band rose delicate-looking rods of gold that tapered to a point where they all conjoined in an onion shape over the top of the crown. On top of the point was a huge, perfectly-round pearl.
Zelda picked the crown up and held it up to the candlelight to admire it.
Braddock whistled low. "That must have cost a fortune," he said. "Did we get it on credit?"
"No," Link replied. "That's from the gold we sent; I don't think Hols even took anything for payment."
"What about the pearls?" Zelda asked.
"Those are a gift from the city of Olchi; they wish to congratulate you on your coronation and to convey their thanks."
Everyone but Zelda looked at him in confusion. "I… don't understand," Braddock said. "Isn't… isn't Olchi in Shi-Ha? Why are they thankful for Her Majesty's coronation?"
"We spent a brief amount of time in Olchi while we were on our quest," Link explained. "When we found out that Nagadii was marching on Shi-Ha, we got out of the city—but not before we let them know."
"The people of Olchi simply slipped their moorings and floated the entire city out to sea and away from danger. They left a beacon on the shore, and when Hols and his family went back, they lit the beacon at night so the people in the city could see it and row the city back into place."
"That's amazing," Braddock said, wide-eyed. "To just… pick up their entire city and leave with it."
"Wish we could have done that," Rayliss said, a bit sourly.
"Don't we all," Braddock agreed.
Link gestured to the crown. "The pearls are a gift from them to thank us for the warning; not only was no one in their city harmed, they didn't get plundered like other parts of the kingdom, so their livelihoods are still intact."
He sat down at the table and began helping himself to supper. "Hols worried that he had made it too thin and light, but there wasn't exactly a lot for him to work with."
"Listen, there is no such thing as a crown that's too light," Zelda said.
"Amen," Rayliss agreed wholeheartedly.
"See if it fits," Braddock said eagerly.
"He measured my head," Link said, as he spread butter on a piece of bread. "I figured we're close to the same size."
"Gods, I hope my head isn't as big as yours," she replied.
"Normally I wouldn't expect so, but you have been royalty all your life," Link bantered back.
Zelda put the crown on and found that it fit her perfectly. It was so light, it was hardly there. What a relief over the old state crown that weighed a ton! There were still people poking around the castle and places in town, looking for stolen wealth, but Zelda honestly hoped they never managed to turn up the old crown.
"That fits you nicely," Sir Elgon said.
"Are you hinting that my head is as big as Link's?" she asked with a straight face.
"You condemn me with her, Sir Elgon," Rayliss said before he could answer, "since my crowns also fit Zelda."
"If anything," Elgon replied, "I think it's a remark on Link—that his head is so big, he makes himself the equal of queens."
"But you are saying our heads are big?" Zelda asked.
Link picked up a spoon and offered it to Sir Elgon.
"What's that for?" Elgon asked.
"I thought I might help you with that hole you're digging for yourself."
After supper, Zelda retired to her room, but asked Link to visit with her for a little while before she went to bed.
"How is Hols and everyone?" Zelda asked, as she sipped a cup of tea and propped her feet up on a stool before the fire. The nights were beginning to grow cool again.
"Fine. He and Lia are very happy to be home again."
"I bet they are."
"But I told him as soon as we could make some time after your coronation, either he needed to come here for a while or I needed to go there so both of us can sit down and go over what I learned from the knights.
"He was as excited as a child with a new toy about the idea." Link suddenly laughed. "I wouldn't be surprised if he turned up any day, unable to wait."
"I wonder if they would be willing to consider moving here?" Zelda mused. "We could use someone of his caliber here in Hyrule, and if you're going to be giving away all the secrets of the Knights of Hyrule, I think it only fair that he stay and let us get the benefit of him."
"I don't know," Link said, sitting opposite her and putting his feet up on the same footstool. They tussled, playfully, for a moment over who would get the most space. "It's not easy to leave your home and go to a foreign land permanently," he added.
"Oh, I almost forgot," he said, getting up again. "I have something to show you."
He hurried out and returned a minute later carrying a sword. He proudly showed it to her.
She put her cup of tea aside and took the sword from him. "It's your family's sword."
"Yes. And you can't tell the blade's ever been broken. In fact, it looks better than ever; it had gotten some chips in it along the way, but Hols brought it back to a sharp edge."
"It looks wonderful," she agreed, admiring its polished gleam in the firelight for a moment before handing it back to him.
"I left my scabbard in Erenrue," he said. "I wonder if Sir Elgon would send it back to me once they get home?"
"A scabbard? You mean… like this?" she asked, reaching under her chair and suddenly pulling out a long, thin object wrapped in cloth.
Link was surprised. "What's this?"
"What did I just say it was, silly?" she laughed.
He unfastened the twine that held the wrapping on. It fell to the floor, revealing a hard, glossy-black scabbard. Tooled in the leather was the image of a dozen or so white-painted figures. Kneeling in the center was a figure clad in green, being dubbed by one of the white knights.
"It's my knighting," Link said in awe as he looked up and down the length of the scabbard.
"As best as I could describe to someone who wasn't there, and as best as it could be rendered in leather." She smiled up at him. "Happy birthday."
He looked startled. "Is today my birthday?"
"Yes." She laughed. "Need I tell you?"
"Apparently. I've been so caught up worrying about your coronation, I didn't think anything about it being close to my birthday. Even my mother didn't say anything about it."
"Maybe I should give you all a day off if you're that overwhelmed."
"I'm fine," Link said dismissively, sliding his sword into the new scabbard. He sat down opposite Zelda again, laying his sword proudly across his knees. "Although Mother said she and Uncle Alfon would go home after the coronation. Meghan and Ceily and Alons are all interested in staying, though. I thought the girls could be ladies-in-waiting for you and Alons really wants to be a squire."
"That would be nice," Zelda said. "I will be glad to have them stay on. It's so much nicer than having strange people I don't know helping me get dressed and doing things for me. I still get bouts of paranoia."
"Trust me; I do, too. I sleep with my sword in the bed."
Zelda laughed. "Do you really?"
"Is it a good substitute for me?" she asked with a grin.
"Not at all. But I got used to sleeping with it in my hand and I feel naked without it."
"I know what you mean," she muttered. She felt the same thing with Link missing; she had gotten used to sleeping with him next to her and being alone made her feel vulnerable.
He had not stayed the night with her since their first day back; she hadn't asked him to, but then she knew that he would refuse. The castle was slowly coming back into life and everything they did or said quickly became rumor around the city. The people outside the castle walls were starved for information about what was going on inside. Link was already the subject of wild speculation; they didn't need to give the ravenous wolves anything more to feast on.
"Speaking of going home," Zelda said, changing the subject slightly, "Rayliss and Elgon and Kara are all going home after the coronation, too. I asked Long Fang and Growder to escort them back to Pallis, and they agreed."
"I'm glad," he replied. "They'll be safer moving in a large group."
"That's what I thought. Long Fang still isn't fully healed and I wouldn't want Sir Elgon to have to protect Rayliss, Kara, Philippe, and Castor all by himself. So they can all take care of each other. Then Long Fang and Growder can take the mountain road back to their cave and avoid any trouble. It's not too much farther out of their way anyway."
"That reminds me; I need to give Elgon their key back."
Link dug around in his belt pouch and pulled out a key on a golden chain. "This is the one to the door into the mountains. Prince Zeyde gave it to us."
Zelda felt sadness wash over her as she remembered that fateful night.
"I can't believe you still have that after all this time."
"It's kind of remarkable, isn't it? But it's been safe at the bottom of my pouch. …Which is good; I think this is the only key they have left, and I daresay a magical door isn't easily picked."
She smiled a little. "I have a knife they can borrow if they need it."