Duty, the Heart, and the Stars
By the time Link and Zelda had seen everyone off, it was nearly time for their morning meeting with the other advisors. Although Zelda didn't count herself as a morning person, she did prefer to have the Council meetings in the morning, over breakfast, because everyone left with a to-do list and it kept them out of her hair for the rest of the day. The only thing she hated more than getting up and going to work immediately was being pestered with questions—mostly the same questions over and over again—all day long.
When Link and Zelda walked into the Council chambers, they found that everyone was already there, drinking tea and speaking informally. Breakfast was sitting in the middle of the table, ready to be served.
Although Zelda had officially added Link and Braddock to her Council—as well as reappointed all of her father's surviving advisors—she had not refilled some of the positions that had become vacant simply because she didn't yet know who to trust. She preferred her advisors to be there on merit and experience, not simply because they were titled.
Everyone stood as Zelda walked in. "I had an idea yesterday," she said, as she took her seat and gestured everyone else to sit as well.
"Yes, Your Majesty? Her State Advisor asked. A servant stepped forward from the shadows and began putting food on everyone's plates—in accordance to their rank—while they talked.
"We have very little in the way of money, but we have a lot of land," Zelda said. "I still have possession of several counties and baronies, and even two dukedoms, that had no surviving heirs. They don't need to be allowed to lie fallow. I think we should appoint some stewards to take control of them in my name and make sure they're run as efficiently as any possession held by a noble."
"But we're past harvest-time now, Your Majesty, so you're not likely to get any revenue out of those possessions over the winter," her Tax Advisor pointed out.
"I understand that. But there's still work to be done over the winter to prepare for next year. The winter wheat needs to be planted—if it hasn't been already—and whoever takes command needs to be familiar with how things work before the spring rush."
The Tax Advisor looked confused. "Winter wheat, Your Majesty?"
"Wheat doesn't grow in winter."
She looked at the other advisors, but no one corrected him. Only Link sat back in his chair with a rather smug grin on his face.
"Winter wheat is planted in the late fall, after the harvest, and it grows a little bit before winter really sets in," she explained. "Then it lies dormant over the winter and as soon as it warms again in the spring, it resumes growing. It's harvested early, and then the normal spring crops—like vegetables, or summer wheat—are planted after it."
"How do you know so much about farming, Your Majesty?" her State Advisor asked.
"Master Ryu taught me." She shrugged. "I just assumed that was common knowledge to everyone."
A few of the men shook their heads.
Zelda looked at Link. "Make a note that we should consider creating a new post on the Council to advise us in matters of farming and animal husbandry. That will be important if I'm going to run several estates for myself."
"Yes, Your Majesty," Link said dutifully, picking up a quill to make a note. "And might I suggest someone to instruct us on fishing as well, since that's a large industry for us?"
"Your mother and uncle already turned me down once."
"They turned you down regarding advice on rebuilding the kingdom. If you ask Uncle Alfon about fish, though, he'll never shut up."
Zelda laughed. "Alright. And perhaps, instead of full-time positions for our agricultural advisors, we should make the positions part-time—say one meeting every quarter. That way they can spend the majority of their time out in the field—if you will—monitoring the situation, but we can be still be regularly briefed on how our industries have done and what our prospects look like for the upcoming quarter, so we can make adjustments to rules and taxation, as necessary."
"I think that sounds like a good idea," Link said, before making notes.
"That is all that I specifically wanted to talk about this meeting," Zelda said, picking up her utensils, ready to start in on her breakfast. "What's on our regular schedule for today?"
The older advisers all glanced at one another, as if they had something unpleasant to discuss, but none of them wanted to volunteer to bring it up. Finally, the State Advisor cleared his throat uncomfortably.
"Well, Your Majesty," he said slowly, "speaking of economic recovery, we have… a plan to help boost the economy—especially here in in Castle Town—although it will obviously trickle out into our outlying provinces."
Zelda was instantly suspicious of the slow, roundabout way he was speaking; if he didn't want to get right to the point, then it was something she probably wasn't going to be too pleased with.
She swallowed the bite of food she had in her mouth. "Yes?" she asked warily.
"Well, Your Majesty, we think…." He paused to look around at the other advisors, as if seeking their support. Several of them nodded to encourage him. "We think that… that you should marry. If, say, we could announce a spring wedding, that would really be a morale boost over what's going to be a long, lean winter."
"People love a royal wedding," the Tax Advisor said, looking eager to be in on the discussion, now that the bad news had been broken. "It will not only give them something to look forward to, but people will ramp up production in anticipation of our needs. And those who expect to come to the wedding—like your nobles—will want new clothing and gifts, so they will be ordering from their local craftsmen. And even the regular people will get in on it with souvenir mugs and festive dress to wear to the parade, and so forth."
"And a royal heir would also make people feel safer, since they know the line to the throne is secure."
Zelda dropped her silverware onto her plate with a clatter. "Wait," she said, holding up her hand before they finished planning the rest of her life. "Wait just a moment. How did you get from talking about a wedding—even though I'm not even engaged to anyone—to talking about a royal heir?"
"Well, Your Majesty, an heir would be a natural development after your wedding—gods willing."
"Let's take this one step at a time. Just getting to the engagement stage is typically a long, drawn-out process, but you're already trying to rush a wedding."
"I didn't mean to imply that we should rush," the State Advisor said. "I merely said that the promise of a wedding would be beneficial to the people during the upcoming months."
"Yes, and you also proposed a spring wedding."
"Well, summer then—whatever you prefer."
Zelda glanced at Link. "Can you believe this?"
He smiled ruefully as he shook his head. "You knew this was coming."
"But the day after my coronation?"
She rounded on the rest of her advisors. "So who, exactly, do you think—in your humble opinions—I should marry?"
"It would probably be best for you to marry within the kingdom," the State Advisor said, gamely plowing on; he either hadn't caught the dangerous tone of Zelda's voice, or else he thought if he was going to be hanged, it might as well be for the whole kit and caboodle. "Of course, there probably aren't a lot of nobles left in Erenrue," he continued, "and everyone's more than a bit sour on Shi-Ha at the moment, so I'd advise against looking to them at all. That leaves Hyrule—which I think is best under any circumstances. After everything that's happened, people will probably be skittish with a foreign king—even if he's from Erenrue; someone that they know is much more likely to meet their approval."
"So, do you have any names that you're putting forward?" Zelda asked, her voice still icy.
"Well, the most obvious choice is Duke Bradoock."
All eyes turned to the Duke, who was in the middle of sipping his tea. As soon as he was named, he coughed and sputtered, spilling tea down his chin. "What?" he asked.
"You are the only true noble we have left in the kingdom," the State Advisor pointed out.
Braddock wiped his mouth and mopped up the tea that had dribbled onto his clothes and the table. "Preposterous," he said. "Her Majesty created nobles by the dozens yesterday."
"Yes, 'created' is the operative word there. While everyone—or most everyone," he corrected, no doubt thinking about Link's family "—was descended from a noble, none of them was actually born noble; they were the younger children of younger children, two generations or more removed from any title of nobility by birth. You are the only man in the realm who was actually born a lord. And more than that, you are of the Blood Royal through your grandfather, which isn't even that long ago. It makes you a cousin of the queen, without running afoul of the Rules of Consanguinity—not that those couldn't be bent in exceptional situations like this one."
"You are the obvious choice," the High Chamberlain added. "You and the queen are close in age, and seem to be of compatible temperament—after all she invited you to be on her Council."
"Just because someone belongs to my Privy Council doesn't mean that that we see eye-to-eye," Zelda interrupted. "I chose people because I thought their advice would be valuable, not because they are necessarily compatible with me in any way."
"But you seem to like Duke Braddock," the Chamberlain pressed. "You have certainly shown him favor."
She perked a brow. "Just because I show worthy people my appreciation doesn't mean that I want to marry them."
"We… we were under the impression that you might be leaning in his favor," the State Advisor said, sounding very disappointed that this was not the case.
Braddock held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I didn't think that." He looked at Zelda almost imploringly. "I want to go on record as saying that I didn't think any such thing and I had no knowledge of this aforetime. I would have never allowed my name to be used in this… this… bushwhacking."
"But not only is he the most obvious choice, but you yourself said he has the confidence of the people," the State Advisor argued. "His leadership during the final battle here in the castle definitely didn't go unnoticed. The people are all talking about him."
"He is seen as strong—a natural leader," the Tax Advisor said, getting back in on the discussion. "You will need that in a king."
Zelda's eyebrows shot up. "Oh, really?"
"Who said I would make my spouse king? I'm under no obligation to do so, after all."
"But, Your Majesty," the State Advisor said, cajoling, "with everything that's happened, the people… well… I don't know if they would be happy with you ruling alone. I mean, under normal circumstances, that wouldn't be a problem, but after everything that's happened, I'm not sure if a woman ruling alone would inspire a lot of confidence."
Zelda's jaw actually dropped. She looked at Link, who was covering his mouth with his hand; it was hard to tell if he was trying not to laugh at the absurdity or if he was just covering his own open-mouthed shock.
Zelda turned back to her State Advisor. "Do you want to say that again?" she said in a low, controlled voice.
"Well, I don't think—"
Braddock threw his soggy napkin at the State Advisor and hit him in the face. "Gods almighty, man! She didn't mean for you to actually repeat yourself. Don't you know when you're being told to shut up?" he said. "And keep my name out of this," he added, shaking his finger. "I didn't live through Nagadii's purges just to be executed now because the lot of you can't keep your mouths shut."
Zelda pointed her finger at Braddock. "That is why Duke Braddock is on my Council; he's smart."
"Your Majesty," the State Advisor said, striking a more conciliatory tone, "one of the jobs of your Council—one of the unpleasant jobs—is to tell you what's best, even if it's not what you want to hear.
"The simple fact of the matter is that the people would prefer for you to have a king—ruling co-equally with you, if you prefer—and Duke Braddock is, by far and away, the best choice."
"I told you to stop bringing up my name!" Braddock exclaimed.
Zelda held up her hand, cutting off further argument. "How many 'people' have you polled?"
"I don't understand."
"You're saying that the people want this, but I'm asking how many of them have you actually surveyed? How do you know the desire and will of the people?"
He looked a bit affronted. "Just because I'm Councilmember doesn't mean that I'm not in-touch with the people."
"Unbelievable." Zelda sat back in her chair. "Unbelievable."
The State Advisor spread his hands. "Fine, if you don't want to consider Duke Braddock, then who are you considering?"
"I wasn't thinking about anyone before this morning!" she declared, although she knew as she said it, it was a lie. Even though she tried not to let herself think about it, Link was truly the only person she had ever considered marrying.
"Well, it's something you should be considering," he insisted.
"Because you don't think I can rule all by myself," she said, her voice dripping with acid.
"Because it makes more sense to marry sooner rather than later," he said diplomatically.
She looked at Link. "What do you think about this?"
"Oh, I think you know what I think about it."
"Please, enlighten my Council."
Zelda couldn't help but meanly laugh at her advisors' shocked faces.
"You can tell he has no breeding," the High Chamberlain whispered none-too-quietly to the Tax Advisor.
Zelda jumped to her feet, banging on the table with her fists, causing the dishes and silverware to rattle ominously. "The next man who says anything like that will be personally executed by me," she shouted. "And if you don't think I'm strong enough to do it, then test me. Test me right now."
There was dead silence in the room.
"I've killed men and animals and demons and a freaking dragon; don't think I'd think twice about doing the lot of you in." She sat down again, although she was still in a towering temper. "You may have led my father around by the nose, and you may have thought you'd do the same to me because I'm only a woman, but let me set you all straight: there will only be one ruler here. Me. You are here to give me advice when I ask for it; you are not here to rule this kingdom either individually or by committee. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," they all replied meekly.
She turned back to Link, who was sitting back in his chair, watching everything with an air of amusement. When her eyes caught his, his grin got a little wider and he winked at her.
Her anger evaporated immediately. What cheek to be winking at her right here in front of her Council!
"So, who do you think I should marry?" she asked him. Let's see how bold he's really feeling, she thought to herself.
"I think," he said slowly, "that you should marry whomever you're destined to marry."
She leaned over, looking at him intently. "And who am I destined to marry?"
"That would be a question for your star chart, wouldn't it?" he asked with a perked brow.
Zelda was surprised; she had forgotten all about her star chart. And then, another shock after the first: Master Ryu drew up the star chart; surely he would have put in it the answer she so desperately wanted at this moment.
"Bring me my bow," she commanded. A servant, standing by the door, hurried out.
"Y-your bow, Your Majesty?" the Tax Advisor stuttered. He looked like he was afraid of that execution happening sooner rather than later. Of course, Zelda had no intention of executing him… yet… but she didn't disabuse him of his notion, either. If her Council wouldn't respect her intelligence and martial prowess, then they could at least respect her power.
After a few minutes, the servant brought her bow to her.
Through everything—through very battle and deprivation—she had carried it, and her destiny, in her hands.
She twisted where the bottom part of the shaft joined the carved wooden grip, then gave it a pull. The two pieces came apart with a little pop.
She stuck her finger into the hollowed out chamber inside the handle and slid out the piece of tightly-rolled parchment that Ryu had given her so many years before.
She unfurled it and took her time examining it.
She didn't understand all the symbols, although the words were plain enough to her. She would be one of the greatest rulers Hyrule had ever known and she would marry a noble man.
There it was in black and white: she would marry a noble man.
She felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. She had thought—as Link no doubt had thought as well—that her star chart would be her ticket to a happily ever after with him. It would have been the one thing that her advisors would not be able to argue against; no one would have dared tell her to go against her destiny.
But it had betrayed her. Or, rather, her heart had betrayed her. She had fallen in love with the wrong man.
She stood up, casting the chart onto the table, where it rolled tightly up on itself again.
"What did it say?" her State Advisor asked nervously. But she ignored him. Instead, she went over to the far side of the room and stared out the window with her back to the rest of them. The day had not dawned at all, really; instead, the sky had just lightened from black to dark gray and rain was beginning to pelt the glass panes.
It looked as dark and dreary outside as she felt inside.
Her star chart couldn't have been more clear: she was supposed to marry a nobleman. Link may have been dubbed a Knight of Hyrule, and she may have made him Lord High Chancellor, but that didn't change a thing; he had not been born noble. Her advisors were correct: Braddock was the only true nobleman left in the kingdom.
But… why did the thought of him feel so wrong? And why did being with Link feel so right? If she was destined to marry Braddock, shouldn't she feel for him what she felt for Link instead? She liked Braddock—in part because he was like Link in a lot of ways—but when they had been alone the morning before, the idea that he might try to replace Link in her life had nearly sent her into a panic attack.
She had a sudden vision of standing before the Abbot with Braddock, repeating the wedding vows. Link would be there, of course, doing what he had promised to do long ago in Erenrue—to smile and be gracious and never show that he was dying inside. And she would have to do the same.
And she would have to take Braddock to her bed and offer her body up as a sacrifice for the good of the kingdom—never motivated by love or desire, but only by duty.
And always there would be Link—taking care of everything, supporting her in arguments with her advisors, encouraging her to be the queen she wanted—and needed—to be.
How could she see him every day, then go to bed at night with Braddock? What would happen if, one evening, if she and Link found themselves alone in a dark, empty room? What if the temptation got the better of them…?
But even if she satisfied her heart, she would break Braddock's. She could see it in his eyes—in the way he spoke to her and took her side against the other Councilmembers: he would fall in love with her. But he would always be in second place; he would never be able to eclipse Link.
How could she make him live like that? Even if he agreed to sacrifice his dignity and honor, how could he hold the heir to the kingdom in his arms and not even know if it was his child or not?
There was no room in the kingdom for two kings—one on the throne and one in Zelda's bed.
But she couldn't send Link away. She had promised him that he could stay with her. And sending him away would break his heart as surely as Braddock's would break when he realized that Zelda would never feel more for him than friendship and simple affection; she would never have passion and a deep understanding with him that she had with Link.
Link was a part of her soul—part of the fabric of her very being. She could no more live without him than she could live without air. He was the glue that held her together.
She pressed her forehead against the cold glass and tears ran down her face as rain ran down the windowpane.
She really only had two choices. One, was to not marry at all. When she died, her throne could pass to Braddock's heirs as the next most-closely related claimants. The other option was to marry someone other than Braddock. It didn't make the situation much better, but it did reduce the level of hurt from three people to two. And Braddock shouldn't have to suffer because she and Link were doomed to have an unrequited love affair.
"It's not fair," she muttered to herself. "Link's more noble than anyone I have ever known. Noblemen ought to aspire to be him, not the other way around."
Then, out of nowhere, an idea—or more like a realization—began to creep into her mind.
She suddenly wheeled around and raced back to the table, snatching up the parchment and unrolling it with trembling fingers.
It said she would marry a "noble man" not a "nobleman." There could be no mistaking Master Ryu's handwriting; he had clearly written two separate words.
While a "nobleman" was limited to those who had been born to a title, a "noble man" could be any man she deemed noble. And there was only one man she respected for his nobleness.
…A man who knew it was not—and never would be—his place to ask the Queen of Hyrule to marry him.
She tossed the star chart onto the table and turned to Link. "Do you want to marry me?" she asked bluntly.
He slowly grinned, his eyes lighting up. "I was beginning to think you'd never ask."
She burst out laughing.
"Y-Your Majesty!" her State Advisor stuttered in shock and dismay. "But… but this… this isn't proper!"
"You want me to get married as quickly as possible—for the good of the kingdom. You want someone who will be a strong king. And, most importantly, you have given me the choice. Well, I've made my choice: Link pleases me and meets all your requirements for leadership and so forth. You have nothing to complain about."
Before the Councilmembers could recover themselves, she offered Link her hand. He was on his feet the next instant, and they walked out of the room before the rest could even get to their feet.
Zelda was triumphant! She laughed and ran down the halls like she was a little girl again—to the bewildered stares of the servants. Link, however, laughed and ran with her.
She finally stopped running in a deserted, seldom-used corridor. She was breathless, but still managed to laugh between gasps. She felt as if a great burden had finally been lifted from her shoulders. Her life wouldn't have to be about zero-sum choices; she could fulfill her duty to her kingdom and her heart at the same time.
A moment later, Link pressed her against the wall with his body and kissed her deeply. They went about it for several minutes, but she still felt a twinge of disappointment when he pulled away.
"You know, you were really starting to make me sweat," he said with a smile.
"You and me both," she said seriously. "My star chart said I was to marry a noble man. And, at first, I thought that meant someone who was of noble birth, but when I looked at it a second time, I saw that it said "noble man"—two words, not one. And I feel you meet that requirement."
"I'm glad you think so."
She looked at him curiously. "Does your star chart say who you're supposed to marry?"
"I've never actually seen my star chart, but Master Ryu told me that you and I were meant to be together… if I could prove myself worthy."
"Then why didn't he write in my chart that I was supposed to marry you and just make it easy? Why make me wonder and doubt?"
"Well, he did say that I had to prove myself worthy—or, rather, noble. If I failed to do that, then you would have had the option to choose someone else."
"But… we're talking about our stars. Everything is already written. I should have to marry you regardless—if that's my destiny."
"Maybe your destiny is to choose," he pointed out. "Maybe everything hinges on you freely choosing me."
Zelda was thunderstruck by the idea. Link had said once that they had been together in previous lifetimes—always in a time of crisis. Had she been faced with this same choice before? And what course had she chosen?
The fact that they kept living the same lives over and over again hinted that she—or they—kept making the same choice over and over again. And Zelda had a feeling she knew which choice had been made in the past.
"What about you?" she asked, looking at him. "Do you choose me of your own free will, or because Master Ryu told you that you should?"
He smiled and reached up to touch her cheek. "Sweetheart, do I look like a man who's being forced into something against his will? I have loved you since the first time I saw you—before Master Ryu even told me that we were destined to be together.
"And that love has only grown over time. I love your intelligence, and your strength, and your wit, and even your temper. I understand you, and you understand me. We complement one another."
He put his arms around her and pulled her close. "I just hope we can make others see that we're better together than we are apart," he said with a sigh. "Your Council isn't the problem; they represent the problem. Many others will think as they do. I am, after all, a nobody."
"Leave that to me," Zelda said, a plan already forming in her head. "You won't be a nobody for long."