Before Zelda knew it, it was the morning of her coronation.
"Good morning, Your Majesty," someone entirely too cheerful said.
"Is it morning?" Zelda said, cracking an eye. Through the haze, she saw some candlelight, but no daylight.
That didn't bode well.
"Technically, yes," the cheerful person replied.
Zelda groaned and pulled the covers over her head. But a moment later, they were pulled back. "Come, now, Your Majesty," Tatiana said. "We have a lot to do."
Zelda groaned again, but begin rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
"I wasn't the one who planned this for first thing in the morning," Tatiana said defensively.
"Neither did I," Zelda said, grumpy. "But court's supposed to go on for hours and hours and everyone thought it best to start early."
Zelda moved slowly, as if she was still half-asleep, and let anyone do anything they wanted to her—so long as she didn't have to think or do anything for herself.
As she took a bath—or, rather, was bathed—she watched as the sky slowly lightened. The sun rose over the horizon while she sat in her underdress and let Meghan comb her hair until it dried.
Ceily brought Rayliss in as soon as Zelda was out of the tub, and she was likewise bathed.
"It doesn't seem fair that you got to sleep later than me," Zelda said.
Rayliss yawned. "'s not my coronation."
"When I come to Pallis for yours, I'm going to sleep in."
"The joke's on you: we do our coronations in the evening, right before dinner."
"What if you have a lot of business to attend to?"
"You don't—not on your Coronation Day. Now, the following day you might have a court that lasts all day long, but your Coronation Day is about you, not business."
"Why isn't my coronation being done like that?" Zelda demanded of no one in particular.
"Probably because you can't afford to feast anyone afterward," Rayliss said wisely. "If you do it all at once and have a really long court, people will just be grateful to escape at the end; they won't even notice that there isn't a feast."
Zelda supposed she could see the logic in that. She had sat through some long courts before, too, and after a couple of hours, escape was the only thing on her mind. The last thing she wanted to do was sit through a dinner that would last several more hours.
When Zelda's hair was mostly dry, Meghan pulled up the front section—forward of her ears—and braided it. Then she coiled the braid into a bun on top of Zelda's head and pinned it well. The rest of Zelda's hair was left hanging free down her back, and Meghan heated up a metal rod over a candle and used it to lightly curl the ends so that it hung in soft waves.
Then she sat Zelda's crown on top of her head, checking that it worked with her hairstyle.
"That looks nice," Ceily said, admiring it. Zelda's bun showed between the metal rods on the top of the crown and mirrored their shape.
"Yes, it does, doesn't it?" Meghan said with no small amount of pride. Then she called in a serving girl to take the crown to the hall; Zelda wouldn't actually wear it until it was officially placed on her head during the ceremony.
Next, Tatiana brought in the gown Zelda had pre-selected.
Rayliss looked at the dress curiously. "It looks like fire."
The dress had a full skirt, flaring at the hips, that was held out by numerous layers of stiff crinoline. It was fitted through the body—lacing up the back—and devoid of ornamentation or buttons. It had a sweetheart neckline and was off-the-shoulder with short sleeves.
But what made it eye-catching was the fact that it had been dyed in patches of red and orange and gold that blurred and swirled into one another like a watercolor painting.
"I thought it looked like fall leaves," Zelda said. "It seemed appropriate for a fall day."
"I can see that," Rayliss said, tilting her head as she studied it. "But it looks like fire the most."
"Well, you've certainly been through the fire," Tatiana said. "So it's appropriate."
Zelda laughed. "If Link was here, he would say something about it being appropriate because I'm a spitfire, or something like that."
Tatiana shook her head sadly. "That boy acts like he's had no raising."
"I like him just the way he is," Zelda defended. "In part," she added, "because I am a spitfire, and he likes me anyway."
Tatiana and Meghan helped Zelda into her dress while Ceily began working on Rayliss's hair.
"Oh, dear, I'm afraid I took this up a little too much," Tatiana said, tugging on the laces.
"It will just remind me to keep my back straight," Zelda said. "Posture will be important today."
"It will certainly do that," Tatiana said, tugging on the laces until Zelda felt like all the air was going to be squeezed out of her.
At last, Tatiana pronounced the dress acceptable.
"Do you want to try and eat a little something?" Tatiana asked her.
"If I do, either me or this dress is going to explode."
"I can take out some of the stitching and loosen it up," she offered.
"No, I don't want to be late; the day's going to long enough without starting late. But I will take some tea, please."
Tatiana called for some tea, then tackled Rayliss. They had picked out a dress for her of heavy white jacquard. It had long sleeves that came down over the hands in a point and it buttoned up from floor to neckline with silver buttons set with tiny white pearls. It had a small crinoline under it that held it out just enough that it lay smooth in the front and showed off all of the buttons.
"Now I'm lending you my clothes and crown, for a change," Zelda said, as Meghan put Zelda's silver circlet with the sapphire drop on Rayliss's head.
"I appreciate it."
"You can take that dress home with you," Zelda offered, as she pulled on elbow-length gloves. "You were right: I look awful in white. And if I can't wear it, then at least you can. My mother was your aunt, after all."
"If I still have any of my things, then I'll send you something, too," Rayliss offered. "That pink dress looked much better on you than it does on me. And I seem to recall that Link liked it."
Zelda laughed. "Yes, and as we know, it's all about pleasing Link."
Rayliss perked a brow. "Are you still pretending you don't like him?"
Zelda was taken aback. "I don't pretend any such thing."
"Well, granted, you don't do a very good job of it, but you do seem to be trying."
"I assure you, I'm trying to do nothing."
"You're trying to act like you don't like him, but everyone can see that you do," Rayliss insisted.
"Of course I like him; why would I pretend otherwise?"
"Alright, let me rephrase: you're trying to act like you don't love him, but you do and everyone can see it."
Zelda felt her face warm. She noticed that Tatiana, Meghan, and Ceily were all carefully looking away, as if they would rather not be hearing what they were hearing.
"Am I not right?" Rayliss asked, dragging the others into it, whether they liked it or not.
"Her Majesty's feelings are her own affair and none of my business," Tatiana said.
"Thank you," Zelda replied.
"Well, I'm your cousin and I can get away with it," Rayliss said with an air of superiority.
"Things are more complicated when you're queen," Zelda argued. "You're not your own person—you ought to know that. Sometimes… sometimes you can't have what you want."
Rayliss looked at her critically. "I would have thought someone who did everything you've done would be braver."
Zelda was stung. "It's not a matter of being brave; it's a matter of doing what's expected of you. And Link and I both know what's expected of us."
Without another word, she turned on her heel and strode out of the room, her silk dress rustling against the starched crinoline.
Rayliss had cut open a wound that she had been carefully ignoring for three weeks. She avoided thinking ahead more than one or two days because she didn't want to face a future that might not have Link in it.
When she was alone in a deserted part of the corridor, she stopped and put her gloved hands over her face, willing herself not to cry; she couldn't afford to have a splotchy face or red eyes—not now.
Maybe Rayliss was right. Maybe she was being a coward. But if she had had a younger sibling, she wouldn't have hesitated to abdicate in order to go live a normal life with Link. She wasn't afraid—or unwilling—to give up everything for him. The problem was, she wasn't in a position to give up anything. The Crown was her burden to bear and it came with sacrifices—not just for her, but for every monarch who came before her and who would come afterwards.
Link might have to be her sacrifice. And the idea of that squeezed her insides and chilled them until she felt like she couldn't move or breathe.
"Y-Your Majesty?" someone asked timidly.
Zelda jerked her head up. Braddock was standing off a little, as if afraid to approach. "Are you alright?" he asked.
She pasted on a smile. "Yes."
He relaxed a little. "Nervous?" he asked with smile.
His smile grew wider, but she didn't say anything. Let him think she was lying; it was better than him knowing what she was truly upset about.
He approached her and offered his arm. "May I escort you to the hall?"
She slipped her arm into his. "Yes, thank you."
"My pleasure," he said with a warm smile.
Was she imagining things, or did Braddock seem a little sweet on her?
The thought nearly sent her into another panic. It was everything she could do to maintain control of her breathing and keep a pleasant expression plastered on her face.
"Thank you for this suit of clothes, by the way," he said, as they walked down the corridor.
"It's the least I can do," she replied woodenly. "I can't afford to give much more than that right now."
As compensation for all the work that people like Braddock, Link, and Tatiana had been doing for her—without pay—she had parted with some of her precious money to buy them all something nice to wear to the coronation. It wasn't much—especially when they had lost everything they had because they supported her—but it was an acknowledgement of their work and a promise of more to come.
"You shouldn't be so concerned with paying me back," Braddock said. "I serve you because I want to."
Oh, gods, he sounded like Link!
He halted. "Majesty, you really don't look well. Is something bothering you?"
He frowned, looking at her dubiously. She could no more get a lie past him than she could Link—which was saying something, considering how well-schooled she was in lying.
"I can't speak of it," she said.
"I won't tell anyone. You have my word."
"I can't speak of it to myself," she said, tugging on his arm.
Reluctantly, he fell into step beside her again. "I wish I could help you."
"I wish you could, too."
"I'd do anything you asked of me."
Tears started to well up in her eyes and she came to a sudden stop. She looked up at the ceiling, trying to keep her tears from spilling out.
"Would you do something for me right now?" she asked, still looking up.
"Would you go into the hall and make sure there aren't any last-minute problems? And tell my State Advisor that we will be starting on time—not late, like my father usually did. He needs to have everything ready to go."
"Yes, Your Majesty," he said, still sounding a bit bewildered. But he bowed and hurried on his way.
Zelda allowed herself another moment to get a firm grip on her composure, then she went, alone, to a small waiting room beside the hall to wait until the last of the guests were assembled and it was time for her to make her entrance.
She concentrated on what she had to say and do—running through yesterday's rehearsal a couple of times in her mind. By the time Braddock came back to tell her that the ceremony was ready to start whenever she was, she was prepared to take her place as Queen of Hyrule.
"Thank you," she said rising to her feet. He started to offer her his arm, but she waved him off. "Go ahead and take your seat. I take this walk alone."
He nodded his understanding, then bowed a little and hurried out of the room.
She gave him a minute's head start, then she went out into the foyer. Two guards were standing at the entrance to the hall; the double doors were closed.
She stood before the doors and took one deep, steadying breath.
"Are you ready, Your Majesty?" one of the guards asked.
"Do I look alright?"
The other guard stepped forward. "Permit me?"
He knelt beside her and straightened out the hem of her dress, which had flipped up on one side. Then he stood up and walked around her once, looking for anything else that was out of place. But he apparently didn't find anything wrong, because he nodded.
"It's perfect," he said.
He took his place beside the door, then put his hand on the knob. "Ready?"
The other guard lightly rapped his knuckles on the closed door. Just inside, a fanfare began. As soon as they were finished with the introduction, the two guards whisked the doors open and Zelda found herself facing a long red carpet that led past a packed hall. All the people were on their feet and looking at her.
With her back perfectly straight—it certainly couldn't be anything else in the tight dress—and her chin up, she slowly processed up the aisle while the trumpets in the back continued to blare. She didn't look right or left; with proper regal decorum, she kept her eyes front and center, looking at the dais and empty throne which awaited her. But out of the corners of her eyes, she could see people bowing their heads to her, as was proper due for a Princess. Once she left the hall as queen, though, they would bow much deeper.
She stopped at the base of the dais where the Abbot and her State Advisor were waiting for her with the symbols of state.
With perfect timing, the fanfare blew to a conclusion, then fell silent.
Zelda picked up the hem of her skirt a little, then knelt on the silken pillow that was on the floor in front of her.
The Abbot turned to the State Advisor, who was holding a pillow with the crown on it. The Abbot took it from him, then turned to the audience and held it aloft for everyone to see. "This crown symbolizes the divine right of the Queen to rule over Hyrule," he said in a loud, clear voice—surprising for a man his age. "It reminds all who look upon it that she is the supreme law in the land. It also reminds her, through its weight, that the gods rule above her, and she must always be mindful of their laws—for just as they can grant kingship, so too can they take it away."
He slowly and dramatically placed the crown on Zelda's head. After the gravity of his words, it felt comically light, but no one ever needed to know that it had been made economically with a thin band and hollow metal points. It looked very regal, and that was all that mattered. Like everything else, it was enough to have the pretense of normality. Eventually, normality would actually return and they could have more than one nice set of clothes and hollow crowns.
…Although Zelda wasn't sure if she would ever give up the crown Hols made for her; she liked it just the way it was. She barely noticed she was wearing it—and while that might not be appropriate from a symbolic standpoint, from a practical one, it was excellent.
The Abbot turned aside to the State Advisor and took the next item from the pillow in his hands: the Soul Scepter. Like everything else of value in the kingdom, the original Scepter of State had disappeared during Nagadii's reign. Unfortunately, it was harder to remake than the Crown of State, since it required a lot more gold and gems.
The Council had fretted about it until Link suggested that they use the Soul Scepter instead. It was shaped like a royal scepter and was sufficiently bejeweled; no one need know that it actually served to call up the dead.
The members of the Council weren't very pleased with the idea—mostly because the scepter was covered in opals, which they viewed as bad luck—but Zelda pointed out that the scepter had only brought them good fortune, so, in the end, they consented to use it; it was better than admitting they had no scepter and were too poor to afford one.
Lifting the scepter high over his head, the Abbot spoke again in his solemn voice. "This scepter represents the might of the Crown and symbolizes the Queen's duty to defend this kingdom and her people from all enemies, foreign and domestic."
Zelda couldn't help but smile a little, ruefully, as she took the scepter from the Abbot. She had certainly proven that she was willing to fight for her kingdom against foreign and domestic enemies. She was even willing to kill the supernatural ones with the scepter itself.
The Abbot turned back to the State Advisor and took the next item from him: a long piece of parchment rolled around a long spindle and bound in the middle by a strap made from cloth-of-gold. It was only one of two pieces of regalia that had survived Nagadii's theft because it had no monetary value. Of course he would never value it for what it represented.
Despite the obvious weight of the scroll, the old Abbot managed to hold it up over his head. "While the Queen is given power over her subjects by her crown, and power over our enemies by the scepter, the weight of the law is greater than either of those two powers. This is not a weapon for her to wield, but a burden for her to carry, and it symbolizes the heavy duty that she owes to all of her subjects because our monarchy never has been, and—gods make it so—will never be, an absolute monarchy. Instead, we have a symbiotic relationship with our sovereign; she cares for us, as a mother, and, in turn, we give her all the filial piety due to a loving parent."
The Abbot carefully placed the scroll in the crook of Zelda's left arm, so she cradled it like a baby.
Her State Advisor came forward carrying the final item: a blue velvet cloak trimmed in white ermine fur. It had survived because Nagadii liked to wear it, pretending he was king in Hyrule. Zelda felt a certain sense of triumph as the Abbot and her State Advisor put it around her shoulders and clasped it in front.
He could steal her robe and her crown and her throne for a while, but in the end, all tyrants sowed the seeds of their own destruction.
"May this cloak be a shield that protects you from all dangers and ill-health," the Abbot said, like a prayer.
Then he and the State Advisor both took her by the elbows and pulled her to her feet; she was so weighed down by the cumbersome regalia and long dress that she could not have stood on her own for love nor money.
They stayed at her side, holding her by the elbows, and escorted her up the stairs. She moved slowly not because it was expected at such a formal occasion, but simply because she was terrified of dropping something. That would surely be seen as a bad omen, and no one wanted that; everyone needed a fresh start and hope for a brighter future.
She made it to the top of the dais without incident and, at last, she turned to face the audience. The Abbot and her State Advisor hurried to adjust her robe, draping it neatly across the seat so that it wouldn't wrinkle or look messy when she sat down. Then they gently tugged on her and she stepped back and took a seat on the golden throne.
The court herald stepped forward and his booming voice carried to the very back of the hall. "Presenting Her Most Royal Majesty, Defender of Hyrule, Wielder of Justice, Restorer of Peace: Queen Zelda. Do you now pay homage and attend Her Presence."
Everyone in the court bowed or made a deep curtsy.
She looked over the sea of downturned faces, but, as if by their own will, her eyes scanned right. There, on the dais, was Link. He alone knelt down on one knee, giving her homage greater than anyone else in the room. She had no doubt if she ordered everyone else to their knees, he would prostrate himself on the floor. And, unlike most, he would do so without complaint.
He was watching her, and when their eyes met, he smiled at her.
His smile was as radiant as the noon-day sun. Everyone else may have felt the need to conduct a solemn ceremony, in the tradition of coronations since time-out-of-mind, but for Link there was only one feeling: pure delight—not from himself—never for himself—but for her. He had finally completed the last stage of his mission: he had seen Zelda placed on her rightful throne. And he was happy for her.
She quickly turned back to her audience. "Thank you. You may be seated," she commanded. She knew from her own experience how hard it was on the back and calves to hold a curtsy for more than a few seconds.
Everyone rose from their bent positions and there was a general rustle among the court as people took their seats and whispered a few words amongst themselves. Zelda took the opportunity—with the help of the Abbot—to lay the Scroll of Law on the table next to the throne. But she kept the scepter in her hands; there was something comforting about it.
Or maybe she was just paranoid, like Link, who couldn't sleep without his sword in his hand.
Zelda's State Advisor stepped forward with a long piece of parchment held in his hands. "Her Majesty will now call forth those remaining members of our noble families to confer upon them title and accept their oaths of loyalty."
"Wait," she said, interrupting him. "I have personal business which comes first."
There was a ripple of murmurs throughout the court—especially on the dais, where every member present had rehearsed his part with precision. No one had said anything about interrupting the ceremony for the Queen's personal business.
Her State Advisor turned around—so his back was to the audience—and bent down, whispering in her ear. "Your Majesty, it is protocol to receive oaths from your nobles as your first order of business; to put anything else before them might be construed as an insult. Surely your matter can wait until afterwards?" he strongly hinted.
"No, it will not wait," she whispered. "I will do it first."
"Don't argue with me," she said firmly.
He looked at her in shock—no doubt he thought he would have some measure of influence over the young queen—but Zelda met his eyes with the firm gaze she had inherited from her grandfather, and, after just a few seconds, he bowed slightly and backed up, positioning himself so that he was just behind and to the left of her throne. The floor was hers.
It was a passive-aggressive move on his part. He should have asked her if he needed to make an announcement for her instead of leaving her to address everyone herself. But she wasn't intimated by the thousands of eyes on her; she had stared into the eyes of the worst horrors hell could produce—eyes full of malice and lust for her death. After such ordeals, the irritation and sulkiness of some of her advisors was of no more concern to her than a gnat buzzing around her head.
"Sir Link, come into My Presence," she said in a steady, projecting voice.
Her court herald looked at her quickly, clearly unsure if he should repeat her command, but as Link was already crossing the dais, it seemed a bit useless, so he mutely watched the scene, as confused as everyone else.
Link stood before her and, still smiling at her, bowed deeply. When he rose, she gestured for him to come closer.
He stepped forward and knelt on the silken cushion that had been hastily laid in front of the throne.
The audience gasped as he bent all the way down and kissed the hem of her dress.
Such a display had once made Zelda feel terribly uncomfortable, but now she took it for what it was: a declaration of Link's complete and utter devotion. That no longer scared her; she trusted his love more than anything else—even herself, at times.
He was smiling again as he sat back on his heels, and Zelda gave him a brief smile, too, to show that she appreciated the gesture. Then she lifted her head and addressed her audience.
"I am sure, by now, most of you have heard of Link—now Sir Link—who went with me on a great quest and wielded the Master Sword."
She paused as her words were echoed through the chamber. While the Chief Herald of the Court had the lung capacity and resonance necessary to make his words heard all the way to the back of the hall, it was expected that no one else did, so there were lesser heralds stationed throughout the hall. As needed, they would listen to the words being spoken up front, and then they would repeat them loudly for the benefit of the people at the back of the hall, who otherwise would not be able to hear and who might disrupt the proceedings by whispering to their neighbors to see if anyone else could make out what had been said.
"That I am here—that any of us are here—is because of his unwavering loyalty to this throne and this kingdom," she continued, pausing after every sentence. "He pushed on against heavy odds—against fatigue—against hunger and thirst—against pain. He very nearly lost his life. He saved mine on numerous occasions.
"And, at the very end, we fought side-by-side to defeat Ganondorf, the Ruler of the Dark World, who was trying to emerge from Nagadii's rift to take over our world.
"I haven't the time to tell you of all of Link's exploits over this past year. And I don't have words to express my gratitude and admiration for everything he has done for me personally and for our kingdom.
"How it came about is a long story—one that I will share one day—but I was privileged to stand witness to Link's knighting by the spirits of the Knights of Hyrule. I will not cheapen their powerful display by attempting to duplicate it here, and, as they informed me, it is not an honor that even the Queen of Hyrule can bestow; they alone choose their successors. But Link was deemed worthy—by a unanimous vote—to be their only living successor."
She looked down at Link. "Link, I hereby publicly acknowledge your knighting and your title of Knight of Hyrule. Now that you are our only link to that great, great legacy, I charge you to train and create more knights so that knowledge, courage, and devotion is never again lost to Hyrule."
"It would be my honor to do so, Your Majesty," he said, bowing deeply. Then, before she could speak again, he sat back on his heels and looked her in the eyes. "May I speak freely?"
There was another murmur from the men on the dais; this was even more unusual than the Queen getting off-script.
She smiled indulgently and gestured for him to proceed.
He slowly unsheathed his sword. Zelda noticed that he was wearing his family sword—the one that Hols had so recently repaired for him—in the scabbard that she had given him.
There was another gasp of disbelief. Only guards were allowed to wear swords in the Great Hall—that Link had his was because Zelda had expressly ruled that Knights of Hyrule were full-time guards of the monarch, and therefore not only entitled to bear arms in Her Presence, but required to—but no one ever drew their weapon in the Presence of the monarch, unless said monarch's life was in danger.
Zelda was the only person who was unfazed by the breach of protocol; her eyes were only for Link as she patiently waited to see what he was up to.
He held his sword in his hands and offered it up to her. "When we began our quest, I swore an oath to you," he began.
Zelda held her breath, her insides going still. She knew now what he was going do, and she knew she ought not let him do it; but at the same time, she wanted to see him do it. More importantly, she wanted her people to see it. Let this common boy—the son of a fisherman—shame them all publicly with his display of loyalty.
Link continued. "I swore an oath as a knight, but I was not yet one. And you accepted my oath as a queen, although you were not yet one, either.
"But now, with the fullness of time, we have both come into the titles we were destined to have, and with you as my queen, and I, as your knight, I hereby renew my oath to you."
He took the sword by the hilt and—holding it up, over his head, so the people behind him would be able to see (even Link knew when theatrics were needed)—he sliced open the palm of his right hand.
There was another gasp of surprise from the audience.
Link held his hand out to her, his fist clenched. Slowly, a droplet appeared beneath his little finger.
"Your Majesty," he said in a clear voice, so that the heralds could hear, "May the gods stand witness: I renew my vow to you, on my blood. I am yours—my sword is yours—from now until the ending of the world. Whatever you ask of me, I will give it.
"I make this oath as your knight and as a Knight of Hyrule."
Zelda leaned forward and clasped his hand between hers. "Sir Link, I accept your fealty and you shall be my knight and a Knight of Hyrule for as long as you live. May this truly, truly be the last blood you ever shed on my account," she prayed fervently.
He smiled, then, when she released his hand, he quietly resheathed his sword.
She turned and gestured to one of the pages standing nearby in the shadows. A handkerchief was quickly produced at her request, and she leaned down and personally tied it around Link's hand. She felt the disbelieving eyes of the audience on her, but she acted as if there was no one there—as if it were only her and Link.
"How am I doing?" she whispered to him so softly, no one but him could possibly hear.
"Beautifully—as I knew you would."
She smiled at him, then sat back on her throne. "Now, Link, for the real reason why I have called you before me…" she said, loudly enough for the heralds to hear.
There was a murmur from the crowd again. Was there no end to the Queen's attention to Link? He had already been given twice the time that anyone could expect on such a busy day.
But Link paid no more attention to them than Zelda had. He just looked up at her with a pleasant expression—waiting for her command, but longing for nothing.
Zelda paused for a moment to appreciate the fact that he was the one man in the room she could trust not to be motivated by greed. Anyone else called up for a special favor would already be looking expectant.
"Link, long ago I promised that I would take care of you and your family because you—and they—took care of me at my darkest hour and at great risk to life and livelihood. Today, it will be my pleasure—and a personal relief—to finally pay at least part of that debt. I will attend to your family shortly, but for now, we will discuss you.
"If I gave you everything I have—everything that is mine to give—that would not be adequate to compensate you for the trials you went through to bring me to where I am today. When I was orphaned—when I stood accused of patricide and regicide—when everything I knew was taken away from me and I was left alone and adrift, not even knowing how to take care of myself—it was you alone who stood by me—who defended me—who took care of me and provided for me. But you didn't just take care of me; you taught me how to take care of myself—how to feed myself—how to fight—how to survive. You changed me and I'm a better person for it. And the debt I owe you for that can never be truly be repaid.
"But even if I can never pay that debt in full, I must at least make some payment towards it."
She looked him in the eye and spoke slowly, so that everyone would know that she was completely serious. "Whatever is mine to give you, I will give it to you—land, riches, title. I will mortgage myself, if need be, to pay this debt. Name your price."
For a second, it was quiet enough in the hall to hear a pin drop. Then there was a great intake of breath and everyone strained their ears forward, wanting to know what would happen next.
For that matter, Zelda held her breath, wondering what Link would say. A part of her hoped that he would ask for her hand in marriage. It would be the perfect excuse to override every argument that anyone could possibly make against their union. It would be a matter of honor that she fulfill her promise to give him what he asked for.
He looked at her for what seemed like a long time—to the point that she was convinced that he could read her thoughts—but then a look passed through his eyes and she felt the nervous, excited knot in her belly relax. He would not ask for her.
As she had told Rayliss, Link knew what was expected of him—and asking for the queen's hand in marriage right now would be totally unexpected. He would never jeopardize her position to get what he wanted—no matter how much he wanted it.
"Your Majesty," he said at last, "long ago I told you that I did not do what I did for money or title or power; as you rightly point out, there isn't enough money or titles or power in the world to compensate me for what I went through—just as your people could never repay you for the sacrifices you have made on their behalf. You put your life on the line for theirs because you were born to be queen and it was your duty to do so. Likewise, I am descended from the Knights of Hyrule, and it is my obligation—and privilege—to serve you in all things.
"There has only been one thing that I have ever asked for—and which you did promise to me. Now, I would humbly beseech you to honor your promise."
"What did I promise you?" she asked quietly. She remembered her promise, but she wanted to hear him ask for it. There was a subtle difference in power between being granted a thing and asking for—and receiving—it. She was not the person in power at the moment; Link was. And she wanted to make sure everyone in the hall saw that even she was beholden to Link.
"You promised me that you would never send me away," Link said. "If you wish for me to train knights, then please let me train them here, in your castle. If you wish me to perform some other service, then command me. Only, please don't send me from Your Presence."
"Yes, I did promise you that," she replied. "And not only am I bound to keep my promise, but it is my honor and delight to do so."
She had lain her scepter across her lap when she had taken Link's hand in hers. Now, she gripped it again and she gently dubbed Link on the shoulders.
"Sir Link, Knight of Hyrule, I hereby grant unto you the post of Lord High Chancellor, First Man of the Realm, with all the rights and privileges and duties thereof. You who have been my companion in battle—who has faced death with me—who has saved my life—you shall continue to be my right-hand, even now in our time of peace. You shall see to it that my orders are carried out. When I am indisposed, you shall carry out the business of the kingdom in my name. You shall remain my protector and defender, and you shall provide me with the good advice that I have come to expect from you. And, when you have time," she added with a smile, "you will train Knights here at the castle."
Link smiled at her and she knew that he was pleased. Of course, if she had named him her Court Troubadour and bade him write poetry, sing songs, and keep her company, he would have smiled just the same. He would have been pleased if she ordered him to serve her dinner, so long as he got to do it every night.
Zelda offered him her hand and helped him to rise to his feet. "Take your place beside me," she said in a low voice.
He stepped beside her throne; her State Advisor—who looked as if he had just seen a demon—stumbled out of his way.
Zelda looked out over the Court. It sounded like a hive of bees; everyone was buzzing with the news. There had not been a Lord High Chancellor in generations; they were generally only appointed when the monarch was too young or mentally-incompetent to rule solely in his or her own right. Although Grand Viziers often did the same level of work as a Lord High Chancellor, it was always done informally and, usually, on a more limited basis.
The Lord High Chancellor was second in power only to the monarch himself. The people in the hall might not have been shocked any more than if Link had asked for Zelda's hand in marriage and she had consented.
"I am now ready to conduct the rest of my business," Zelda said loudly. No one noticed, however, until the Court Herald banged his staff loudly on the dais—which was hollow underneath and made a loud echo.
"Quiet in this hall!" he shouted over all of the voices. "May I remind you all that you are still in Her Majesty's Presence," he said sternly.
Chastened, the noise quickly subsided.
"I am ready for my next business," Zelda said more quietly.
Link—now in possession of the to-do list—leaned down to Zelda. "Lord Braddock is next," he said quietly. "He will be Baron of Toris through his father and Duke of Polchester through his mother's father," he said quietly.
Zelda felt more confident than she had earlier in the day; all nervousness and fear was gone. With Link beside her—as he should be—she feared nothing. All was right in the world.
She looked at the herald, who was waiting expectantly for her.
"Call forth Lord Braddock," Zelda told him.
He turned to the audience. "Will Lord Braddock present himself unto her Majesty and give fealty..."