Zelda had to admit that her advisors had been correct about one thing: the news of an impending royal marriage did wonders for the economy. Many men—and some women—rushed to Erenrue to work in the mines until spring. Most of them sent back a portion of their wages, which their families used to buy food and the tools and raw materials they needed to restart their various businesses. And, as Link predicted, some of the more enterprising merchants took up transporting the extra payloads of fish to Erenrue and brought their profit back to Hyrule to spend.
As the date for the wedding grew closer, spinners and weavers began increasing their production and tailors and seamstresses began constructing new clothes. Zelda announced that a portion of the seats available at the wedding would be awarded to the populace by lottery, and many people hoped that they would be one of the lucky ones and were ordering the finest clothes they could afford. But even if they couldn't personally attend, there would still be the royal procession to watch and dinner parties and dances that would go on all night.
Florists reconstructed greenhouses vandalized by Nagadii's mercenaries got a jump-start on spring, anticipating a lot of demand both from the castle and the population, who would decorate their own homes for the festivities. Caterers and cooks spent the winter experimenting with new dishes that were heavy on seafood and light on more scarce ingredients so that celebratory meals would be good, but affordable.
Zelda was, of course, happy to see the kingdom's economy recovering—she didn't want her people to struggle—but there was also a rather selfish reason why she was pleased by their growing success: it kept her advisors busy. She had half-expected some continuing protests from them after her announcement, but they seemed to know when they were beaten and not one of them had said a word. Of course, it was clear that they weren't happy, but they soon forgot to be sullen as the work of planning a wedding and overseeing a recovering kingdom took up all of their time. Zelda was careful to accept as many of their suggestions as was reasonable and Link spoke little in meetings. It was still a tentative truce, but a truce nonetheless.
Of course, she wasn't so silly as to announce Link's coronation in advance and break the peace. Her Council had already demonstrated they handled bad news better after the fact.
It seemed to Zelda that the time simultaneously flew by and dragged. When she went to bed at night, the wedding date seemed so far off that it could never arrive. But every day she was busy from sunup to sundown planning the wedding, sending out invitations, writing thank you notes for the gifts that were already arriving, and, when she had a moment, she had to oversee the running of a country that was still clawing its way up from of the darkness that Nagadii had hurled it into. She hardly seemed to have enough hours in the day.
And then, like a shock, it was the day before the wedding. Everyone in the castle was in a high state of excitement and stress. Page boys were running up and down the halls, carrying loads of food and linens and fresh flowers, as well as messages from various people requesting more supplies or more time or further directions or a final guest list. The High Chamberlain seemed to be doing nothing but directing traffic. He was constantly shuffling staff from tasks that didn't need much labor, or were close to done, to chores which were labor-intensive or getting behind schedule. As guests began to arrive, it was he who assigned them a room and dispatched a page or guard to carry their luggage and show them to their quarters.
Zelda spent the morning caught between a last-minute fitting—Link's mother, who had come back the week before to help, didn't want to make the same mistake she had made with the coronation dress—and trying to greet all the incoming guests.
Luckily, Rayliss arrived mid-morning, and when she took one look at Zelda, she sent her to room to stay, then promptly took over. Rayliss was in her element when planning a party, and she was faster, more efficient, and better-tempered about it than Zelda. Instead of Zelda being constantly interrupted by a thousand-and-one questions, Rayliss intercepted all queries and, almost without exception, she was able to deal with them and send the inquirer on his or her merry way, leaving Zelda time to calm down, relax, and focus on getting her dress fitted.
Rayliss came to Zelda's bedroom a short time later, just in time to see Zelda in the nearly-completed dress. Tatiana sat on the floor at her feet, finishing the hem.
"I really like that on you, even if it is mostly white," Rayliss said, looking Zelda's dress over with a critical eye. "The gold offsets it and keeps it from washing you out."
"It was my mother's wedding dress," Zelda replied. "I picked it out without even knowing that; it wasn't until Vera saw it that she remembered it's what my mother wore."
The dress in question was made of numerous layers of a watery white silk, so thin and frothy, it seemed to be made of sea foam. Along the bottom hem was a wide band of silver embroidery, studded with tiny seed pearls, that glittered in the sunlight flooding through the windows open to the warm spring air.
Meghan was solely responsible for the sparkle. The dress, abandoned for nearly two decades, had still been in perfect condition, but the silver embroidery had tarnished with time. Meghan had spent many laborious hours polishing it—careful not to transfer the black tarnish onto the white silk, and equally careful not to snag the exceedingly delicate threads.
Over the dress, Zelda wore a bodice of cloth-of-gold brocade—which had also been polished until it glowed—that was cut something like a coat. It was sleeveless, with wide straps that were almost off the shoulder, and she would wear elbow-length gloves with it to cover most of her arms. The front of the bodice had hidden lacings on the inside that closed it up to the waist, then the fabric was cut away so that it gently curved out and around her hips. Attached in between the two halves of the bodice, low across her hips, was a long, narrow, rectangular piece of fabric like a stylized apron. It was heavily embroidered in silk and threads of silver and gold. It was the only thing on the outfit that had any color. At the top were the arms of Erenrue in blue and white. At the bottom were the arms of Hyrule in blue and gold. In between the two was a gold Triforce.
"Do you think there's a problem with wearing this?" Zelda asked, showing Rayliss the apron. It had been created to celebrate the union of Erenrue and Hyrule, but it wasn't applicable to her and Link, as they were both from Hyrule. "It comes off, if it needs to," Zelda added, showing how the apron clipped onto rings hidden on the underside of the bodice.
"Are you asking me if I have a problem with you wearing the arms of Erenrue?" Rayliss asked.
"Yes. I thought it might not be appropriate to look like we're marrying Erenrue and Hyrule together."
Rayliss considered it for a moment, then shook her head. "I don't have a problem with it. Link is, after all, a knight in Erenrue. And you are an heir, too—the third heir, but a named heir nonetheless.
"Think of it not representing a marriage of our two kingdoms," Rayliss continued, "but an acknowledgement that you are a part of both—and that Link is a part of both. You fought for us and saved us; I think my people would like to claim you in any way they possibly can."
Zelda laughed. "Alright, then, we'll leave it on."
"Do you have something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue?" Rayliss asked.
"The dress is old. My crown is still practically new. I'm going to wear your gold necklace as my 'borrowed'. And this will serve as the blue," she said, gesturing to the apron again.
A moment later, there was a knock at the outer door and Rayliss hurried off to deal with another question while Tatiana finished the hem and cut her thread. The query must have turned out to be something serious, though, because Rayliss quickly left with the page boy who had come to the door.
Seeing that they were alone, Tatiana got up and hurried to shut the bedroom door. "Your Majesty, may I have a private word with you?" she asked.
"Certainly." Zelda sat down on her bed and patted the spot beside her, inviting Tatiana to join her.
She noticed Tatiana was wringing her hands rather nervously and she immediately grew concerned. Link's family had seemed perfectly comfortable with the idea of their marriage and they had spent the last week at the castle helping out, but what if they had just been keeping up pretenses? What if they really didn't approve? By marrying her, Link was taking on a lot of responsibility and stress that he didn't have to otherwise deal with. He would be in the public eye and constantly judged. Although it seemed glamorous from the outside, being a royal was no one's idea of a good time. Tatiana had probably spent enough time in the castle and around Zelda to see the reality of the monarchy for herself.
Tatiana sat beside Zelda. "Your Majesty, I know you didn't grow up with a mother and… well… if it's not too forward of me to offer, I hope that you will see me as something of a surrogate mother."
Zelda's eyes began to water. "I would like that," she whispered with a smile. In eighteen years, no one had ever offered to act as a mother to her. Vera had loved her and raised her, but she was always conscious of her place. Hers was more like a grandmother's love; it had never truly been motherly. But Zelda liked the idea of calling Link's mother "Mother" because the plump older woman fit Zelda's ideal image of a mother. She was strong and determined, but giving; forthright, but kind. She seemed to be just the right mixture of firmness and love.
"While we're on the subject," Zelda said, "I would like for you to call me 'Zelda.'"
"That wouldn't be proper, Your Majesty."
"What's not proper is my mother-in-law calling me by a title."
They had to argue over it a bit—Zelda saw immediately where Link got both his stubbornness and his sense of propriety—but Zelda finally managed to negotiate a compromise: Tatiana would address her formally in public, but in the privacy of the royal apartments or in the company of family, she would call Zelda by name.
"I'm glad we got that settled," Zelda said when they were finished. "I would really like to think of you—of all of you—as my family, too, but that's hard to do if you're formal all the time. It makes me feel separate—like an outsider."
"We certainly don't want you to feel that way. If you want to be a part of our family, we're all too happy to count you amongst our number. And, really, ever since Link brought you home, you have felt like a part of the family. I've worried for you and prayed for you every bit as much as I have for Link."
Zelda smiled, feeling tears stinging her eyes again. "Thank you. I was worried that you… that you might not approve of us getting married. But I'm glad to know that you accept me."
"You have more of a reason not to accept Link than we have to not accept you."
"Yes, but he's taking on a lot by marrying me."
"I understand. And when he first indicated to me that he was in love with you and would pursue marriage, if that was possible, I worried that he was biting off more than he could chew. But he's not ordinary—and has never been. I've always known he was born to a great destiny, but it wasn't until I saw him leading—like a commander on a battlefield—that I realized that there is nothing that he can't do—and do well."
"I have to agree with you," Zelda said. "I realized early on that he is an amazing individual."
"You complement one another quite well. After all, you are not an ordinary monarch… if you don't mind me saying so."
Zelda was surprised. "In what way?"
"You came back with Link, dressed like a warrior, and you were just as brave and confident and commanding as him. And you have turned this kingdom around and put it back on the road to normalcy and prosperity in less time than I could have ever thought possible. Now, I know you were raised to be a queen, but I daresay you weren't taught how to deal with such a big mess. And I know you weren't trained to be a warrior, like Link. He, at least, was prepared for his destiny from childhood; you weren't."
Zelda had never stopped to consider that before. It was true that her training had been wholly inadequate to what she had needed to do. She was just lucky that Master Ryu had put her onto archery and swordplay early on. Those were about the only skills of value she had had when they set out on their quest. But, gradually, she had learned how to take care of herself—how to hunt, skin, and cook game; how to build a fire and a shelter; how to dress wounds; even how to fight much better and put her Hylian talents to good use.
She had come a very long way in just one year.
"I guess the real reason why Link and I are compatible is because we're both stubbornly-determined people," Zelda said. "We don't back down from challenges."
"No, you don't."
She suddenly chuckled. "Duke Braddock saw us arguing over what outfit Link would wear when we came back into the city, and he asked us how we managed to get along if we were both so stubborn and prone to arguing with one another.
"And, I have to admit, I have sometimes wondered the same thing, but Link says it's because we're both smart enough to know when to yield."
"That's marriage in a nutshell," Tatiana said wisely. "There will be times when he's right; there will be times that you're right; there will be times when something is important to him and times when something is important to you. A successful marriage is all about admitting when you're wrong—or when the other person is more correct than you—and identifying the things that are important to your spouse and helping achieve them. It's constantly give and take. And it takes quite a while to figure all of that out. It's a rhythm of sorts, and it can take a little time for both of you to get on beat. Of course, you and Link have a huge head start over most newlyweds, but getting married and becoming equals and ruling together will change your rhythm and it might take a little bit to get back on beat. So don't worry if you have a few rough patches; that's normal."
She suddenly laughed. "I remember the first time Mars and I had a fight. I don't remember what it was about—something fairly inconsequential, though—and I ran home to my parents, flung myself on my bed, and declared that our marriage was over.
"My mother let me cry myself out and rant about how he didn't love me anymore because he wouldn't do whatever it was that I wanted to do, and once I had it all out of my system, she ordered me to go back home. She said that arguing over things was perfectly normal—especially when you're just starting to learn how to share your life with another person—and that people who love one another can argue and still love one another—even as a parent can spank their child for misbehaving but still love it with their whole heart."
"Well, Link and I did have some rough patches to start with," Zelda admitted, remembering the time in Erenrue when she had lashed out at him and insulted his honor. She had worried then that she had permanently damaged their relationship—maybe even caused his love for her to diminish. "But I think we're past the worst of it now," she added.
"I hope that you are. But sometimes, when you've been together a while, you can suddenly butt heads worse than ever and that can really shock you. There you were, thinking you had everything together, and suddenly it looks like it's all fallen apart. But it will pass—the same as your early problems passed."
Zelda smiled and put her hand over Tatiana's. "I'm glad that we've gotten to talk. I haven't had anyone to talk to, really, except Link, but sometimes it's really nice to have another woman to talk to."
Zelda stood up. "I think I better go check on Rayliss; she's been gone a while—which doesn't bode well for whatever's going on."
But, before she could move away, Tatiana caught her hand. "Actually, Your—Zelda," she corrected, "that's not exactly what I wanted to talk to you about."
Zelda sat down again. "What did you want to talk about?" she asked, curious.
Tatiana looked away, as if suddenly too embarrassed to make eye contact with her. "Well, like I said, I know you didn't have a mother to talk to you about… women's things… and I didn't know if you knew… everything you need to know."
"Like… what to expect… on your honeymoon," she said hesitantly.
Zelda was puzzled; she had no idea what Tatiana was hinting at. "We're going on a tour of the kingdom for our honeymoon," she said. "Is there something going on somewhere that I should know about before we go?"
Tatiana was already shaking her head. "I don't mean that. I mean… your wedding night. Do you know what will happen then?"
Zelda suddenly understood where Tatiana was going and it was her turn to suddenly look away, heat rising in her cheeks. "I… know how children are conceived, if that's what you mean," she said.
"Well, yes… partly. But has a woman told you what to expect, or did you just learn about reproduction in your studies?"
"I learned it." Zelda looked at her quizzically. "What else is there to know?"
Tatiana took a deep breath, as if steeling herself. "Quite a bit."
Link was up before dawn the next day; he had barely slept all night; he was too excited. Finally, after years of hoping and praying and working hard to live up to everyone's expectations—most especially Zelda's—the day he had been waiting for all his life (it seemed) was finally here! He was getting married!
When his father and brother came in a couple of hours later to help him get ready, they found him sitting in a chair by the window, happily humming to himself, completely dressed and ready to go.
"How long have you been up?" Mars asked, looking him over.
"Son, you have a long day ahead of you. Don't you think you should try to get a little rest? Maybe a quick nap? We're not due in the hall for another hour and a half."
"I couldn't sleep if I wanted to," Link said cheerfully.
"Will you at least eat a little something?"
"I could probably do that," he replied.
Mars sent Alons off to get breakfast, then he sat down across from Link. "I want to talk to you about something."
Link sobered… slightly. "Yes?"
"I know you and Zelda have been together for a long time—together in a way that Tati and I weren't before we were married—so you've probably got a lot of this relationship stuff figured out already, but I wouldn't be doing my job as your father if I didn't go over it with you now."
"Alright," Link said, sitting up a little straighter, curious.
"This is what my father told me before I got married, and one day you'll hopefully tell your son, too."
"Today, you are embarking on a new phase of your life. Up until now, you've only had to worry about yourself, but today you will take responsibility for someone else, and you will have to love that person as much as you love yourself.
"And as a husband, you have two things you have to do—without fail. One, is to protect and provide for your wife. The other is to protect and provide for your children. Now, you can go on quests to save the world," Mars said with a smile, "and you can take care of other people, and build up a great business, and do all sorts of good things in the world—and that will certainly make you a good man. But you won't be a man at all if you don't take care of your wife and children. Those are your only two obligations; everything else is optional.
"Of course, with you becoming royalty, you probably won't want for anything again, but as we've seen, firsthand, sometimes life can take an unexpected turn and you never know what may happen. But, no matter what happens, you must always look after your wife and children.
"A woman gives up a lot when she decides to get married. A man gains her help and wisdom, and, gods willing, children, but she loses her freedom and independence. Unmarried, women can own businesses or work trades, travel, and so forth. But when they get married, they usually tie themselves to their husband's business and trade. And once they have children, they have to put all their energy into taking care of them and the home. That's why it's a man's duty to provide for his wife—to give back what she's given up.
"And a man will never, ever fully understand and appreciate what it takes for a woman to bring his child into the world. She risks her health and her very life every time she goes through childbirth. It's only proper that a man should then risk his life to keep that child safe until it's grown and able to provide for itself. If you don't provide for and protect your children, then you're saying your life is more valuable than your wife's—that she can risk her life for the child, but you can't be bothered to risk yours.
"Marriages only work when both people are equal. If a woman is putting all her energy into raising a family and keeping house, but you're not contributing—you're lying about and not working and putting food on the table—then your wife will come to resent you. She will ask herself why she is providing for all the little children by herself, plus one big child who is old enough to take care of himself and his responsibilities; why live with that additional burden when she doesn't have to? And once her patience is gone, that's when you'll see a man tossed out on his ear and he will figure out quick enough how much she has been giving while getting nothing in return.
"My disappearance put your mother in a hard place. She had to do her job and mine, too. But the fact that she grew the business while I was gone and completely rebuilt it after it was destroyed ought to be proof to you that a woman can do whatever a man can do—and more besides. If I had lost her, I would have been in terrible straights trying to raise Meghan and Alons by myself—especially Meghan. I could not have substituted for her as neatly and cleanly as she was able to substitute for me."
"But let me tell you something else: it's not all work; it's not all self-sacrifice. It makes you feel proud to do for your family. And it will make you proud to know that your wife didn't need you, but she chose you anyway—chose you, over all other men, to be the person she will rely on—the person she will have children with. You will never regret doing what you're honor-bound to do. It won't be a burden, but a privilege. Because, trust me, living alone—just taking care of yourself—is a lonely, boring existence. I had grown numb to how lonely and bored I had become until you washed up on shore and, for a few brief days, I had a purpose again: to take care of my son. But after you left, it all came crashing down on me worse than ever, to the point I didn't think I could go on. It was only the knowledge that a reunion with my family might somehow be possible that kept me going."
Link looked at his father with pity. "I'm sorry."
Mars waved his hand dismissively. "I don't mean that as any sort criticism against you. I had my own part to play in your destiny; I had to be shipwrecked so that I would be in place to help you when you needed it most. And that thought comforted me when I was alone at night and had nothing to do but think. For most of your life, I was absent—either because you were gone to school or because I was lost; for most of your life, I wasn't the father I should have been—and truly wanted to be. But when you washed up on my shore, for a brief moment I was the father I should have been. And that made me proud."
Link felt tears well up in his eyes. "Father, you ought to be proud for more than just that. You were the father you wanted to be—even if you didn't know it. Growing up, I carried the few memories I had of you in my mind, and they were good memories. And Mother and Uncle Alfon talked about you to the point that I felt like I had known you for much longer than I really did. And I was proud of you and wanted to be the sort of person that would make you proud, if you had been there to see me. You didn't convey that to me directly, but you left a legacy that stayed with me—with the whole family—long after you were lost at sea."
Link could see tears swimming in his father's eyes. "I'm… glad to know that," he said in a choked voice.
He got up and came over to Link. Link stood and they embraced—a hug to make up for all the ones they had missed for the past fourteen years.
They were still like that when Alons returned pushing a cart filled with breakfast foods. Link and Mars both had to take a minute to wipe their faces dry and compose themselves. But once they were seated at the table with Alons, digging into the fresh pastries and soft cheese and hot tea, they became joyful again. Mars told stories of silly things he did when he was younger—both as a new bridegroom and further back, when he and Alfon were children—and he kept them in stitches throughout the meal.
Before Link knew it, the time had flown past and the High Chamberlain was knocking on his door, asking if he was ready.
"Give us a moment," Mars said, as he pushed himself away from the table.
He had Link stand, then he took his linen napkin and dusted the breakfast crumbs off Link's tunic and gave him a serious once-over. Link had chosen for his wedding outfit an emerald-green silk cote. He had sent it to his mother months before, however, with the appeal that she turn it into a Kakariko tunic. She had removed the buttons and cut away the buttonholes, then stitched it closed up the front. She had also shortened it, cut the sleeves off short, and removed the collar—instead, widening and deepening the neckhole. It wasn't as loose through the body as a normal Kakariko tunic, but it was the same in every other respect. Once altered, he had turned it over to Meghan and Ceily, and they had embroidered it richly around the hem, neckline, and sleeves with decoratively-knotted ropes of gold, silver threads in an undulating pattern like waves, and with whatever gems they could find. Most of what had come into the castle as wedding gifts—the nobles of Erenrue had been most generous in that regard—ended up on Link's tunic.
No one would ever know to look on it that it was a cast-off; it was richer and more magnificent than anything even Prince Zeyde had owned. Link felt that he was representing the people of his hometown well.
Mars looked Link up and down, then nodded. "You look every inch a prince today—a worthy match for the queen of Hyrule."
The three men followed the High Chamberlain to the seldom-used back entrance to the hall, where they met up with the Abbot and Sir Elgon. While the High Chamberlain slipped up the stairs to make sure everything was ready for their entrance, Elgon and the Abbot shook Link's hand, congratulating him.
"Thank you," Link said, smiling broadly. "Thank you for joining me today."
The Abbot scoffed. "After being with you from the beginning, did you think I would miss this?"
A moment later, the High Chamberlain came back down and told them that it was time. They formed a line—the Abbot first, followed by Link, his father—as best man—and Sir Elgon and Alons as groomsmen.They climbed the spiral stairs and came out on top of the dais where the thrones sat.
The Abbot positioned himself in front of the thrones and Link stood to his left with the others lined up beside him. He looked out over the sea of faces—the hall was packed and a horseshoe-shaped balcony had been added across the back of the room to accommodate more guests—and he awaited Zelda's arrival.
Zelda stood outside the doors to the throne room with Rayliss—who was her maid-of-honor—and Meghan and Ceily, who were her bridesmaids. Tatiana was there, too, straightening dresses and making sure every hair was in place. Zelda was wearing her hair as she had at Rayliss's coronation—down to the elaborate knots tied in the locks hanging in front of her ears. The only difference was that she was wearing a veil of the finest white silk lace over her hair.
The other three women had their hair down, too. Meghan and Ceily were wearing flower chaplets in their hair with curling ribbons cascading down their backs. Both chaplets and the bouquets they were carrying matched their dresses: Kakariko tunics over fine white linen underdresses almost as ethereal as Zelda's silk dress. Meghan's tunic was a pale blue that matched her eyes, and Ceily's was a dark purple that looked beautiful with her dark hair and eyes.
Rayliss was wearing the midnight-blue dress that Zelda had seen her wear in Erenrue—the one that reminded Zelda of the night sky. On top of her black, curling hair, she wore an elaborate silver crown studded with twinkling diamonds that only enhanced the resemblance to stars in a night sky.
The High Chamberlain came hurrying around a corner a moment later. "Are you ready, Your Majesty?"
She took a deep breath. She couldn't believe she actually felt a little nervous!
"I'm ready," she said clearly, not allowing her nerves to show. She had no hesitation about marrying Link and she didn't want anyone to think that her nervous excitement in any way indicated that she had doubts about getting married.
Tatiana carefully flipped Zelda's veil down so that it covered her face and she spent a few seconds adjusting it so that it was perfect. Then she nodded to the Chamberlain and stepped out of the way. The Chamberlain signaled to the guards at the door and they swung the double doors open. That was the cue for the heralds to being playing the fanfare.
Everyone seated near the doors turned to look, craning their necks to see the bridal party. Meghan went first, walking sedately—as they had practiced the afternoon before—and smiling brightly. Ceily went next, her back straight and her head held as high as if she had been born a noblewoman. Zelda knew there had been some consternation over her raising lowly fishermen so high, but the entire family possessed the inborn nobility that King Ranis had seen in Link. Fishermen or not, they carried themselves proudly and honorably.
When Meghan and Ceily were both on the dais, the fanfare changed to one announcing the presence of a monarch. Everyone in the hall rose to their feet as Rayliss came in. Like Meghan and Ceily, she was dignified, but all smiles.
Once Rayliss had ascended the stairs and joined the others on the dais, the fanfare changed once again—this time, announcing the bride.
Zelda took a deep breath, then began her slow procession up the aisle. As she passed, people bowed. But in amongst the crowd, she saw familiar faces. In the back, near the door, were the fishermen who worked for Tatiana and Mars—the same men Link and Zelda had gone to sea with at the beginning of their quest. Greens—the old man who had befriended her—was smiling brightly. Lars, ever taciturn, couldn't manage a smile, but he did bow deeply.
Link had told her that when Lars arrived at the castle the evening before, he had asked to see Zelda so that he could apologize personally for giving "Penelope" such a hard time; he had no idea at the time that Link's girlfriend was really the Princess of Hyrule. Zelda was too busy to meet with him personally, but she sent a message back that she accepted his apology, but only if he changed his ideas about women on fishing ships. Because, she warned, he never knew when she might come back in disguise.
Nearby, she saw Madge and her husband, the baker; Link had introduced Zelda to them some months before. Zelda had worried that she might feel a little jealous of the first girl Link had kissed—even if it had just been business between them—but Madge was just too friendly and good-natured to dislike. And she was beyond delighted to know that the determined youth she had helped years before had finally achieved his heart's desire. "I guess I was a good teacher," she had said with a laugh.
Farther up was Hols and his family, also smiling happily as they bowed. They had finally accepted Zelda's offer and had moved to Hyrule. After she and Link got back from their honeymoon trip, Link was going to begin training Hols to be a knight. He didn't expect it to take much, since Hols had received the same training he had received at the monastery. Hols would then be put in charge of training the next generation of knight-blacksmiths and passing down the secret lore than had long been ignored in the monastery's archives.
Zelda saw Kara in the audience, too. The old woman's health had deteriorated over the winter, and Sir Elgon had written to warn that her age might have finally caught up with her. But despite her infirmities, she had insisted on coming to the wedding, so Sir Elgon had carefully bundled her up—she was cold constantly, despite the fact that the weather was warm and pleasant again—and she had ridden to Hyrule in the carriage with the royal family. But despite the fact that she was frail of body, her eyes were still keen and she was as feisty as ever.
At the front sat Long Fang and Growder, Anne-Marie, and their three cubs. The kittens were frolicking around their feet, not paying attention to anything but their game, but the three adult tigers were looking at Zelda proudly.
Beside them were Austina, Philippe, and Castor. Austina was smiling, but seemed to have tears in her eyes. Was she just happy for Link and Zelda, or did she remember many years ago when, as a young woman newly-married herself, she had watched as her sister-in-law had walked down that same aisle wearing that same dress?
Zelda had walked into the throne room many, many times over the course of her lifetime, but it seemed to have grown longer overnight. Even if she was moving at half-speed, it was still taking too long to get to the end.
And then, at last, she drew close enough to see Link's figure standing at the top of the dais. She had not seen his outfit—although she knew Meghan and Ceily were spending every spare second working on it and requisitioning gifts of gems before Zelda had even had a chance to see them.
But it was worth it; they had really outdone themselves. Who now could laugh at the "odd" dress of Kakariko when it was obviously so beautiful?
Then she was close enough that could see him smiling at her. He had always been a happy person, but she didn't think she had ever seen him so happy before. His whole face was lit up. Even his scars didn't seem to show.
All of her nervousness vanished and she seemed to float down the last bit of the aisle and up the stairs. Link stepped down to meet her and offered her his hand, and together they walked up the last few stairs. It wasn't until she was triumphantly at the top that she could hear laughter in the room behind her.
Link leaned in, whispering in her ear. "You, um, moved a little fast at the end there. Anxious to marry me?"
She turned her veiled face to look at him. "I've been waiting for this day for a long time—since I first met you," she admitted. "I don't want to wait anymore."
If possible, Link's grin got even wider. He gently raised her hand to his lips, kissing it even as he looked at her with his smoldering eyes.
Mars clapped him on the shoulder. "Now, now, wedding first," he whispered, making Link and Zelda both chuckle.
The Abbot was smiling at them, too. He lifted his hands to the audience. "You may be seated."
Zelda handed her bouquet to Rayliss, then turned back to Link. He took both of her hands in his and that was all she saw or knew. She heard nothing the Abbot said about marriage or what it meant for the stability and continuity of the kingdom and royal line. She focused only on Link's face, the veil over her eyes making it look like he was in a fog, like a dream. And she felt like she was in a dream. It had only occurred to her, when she saw Link smiling down at her, that she really had been waiting for this day since she first met him. Even as he had infuriated her, he had intrigued her; even when she felt repelled, she was drawing nearer. He was like her, and yet unlike anyone she had ever met. From the first, he was the only person bold enough and daring enough—wild enough—to ever suit a free-spirit like Zelda.
All her life, she had been like a bird in a gilded cage, there to look beautiful and to perform tricks for the entertainment of others, because that's what little birds were supposed to do. Then Link came along and opened the door of the cage. He took her with him and showed her how to live as the free, wild bird she had always been inside.
Your turn, Link warned her.
She startled out of her thoughts and glanced at the Abbot questioningly.
He smiled indulgently at her. "Is it your desire to wed this man, Your Majesty?" he repeated, causing some in the audience to chuckle a little.
"Of course," she replied. "I wouldn't be here otherwise."
The chuckles turned into laughter.
The Abbot looked as if he was trying not to laugh, too. He turned to Link. "And Sir Link, is it your desire to wed Her Majesty?"
The laughter in the hall died away in an instant. Zelda felt her stomach fall to her feet. Surely she hadn't heard what she had just heard.
Link looked her straight in the eyes and held her hands firmly in his. "It is my desire to wed Zelda," he said loudly and clearly, his voice carrying through the hall.
Zelda's vision began to waver as tears formed in her eyes. His choice of words might not make much sense to anyone else, but Zelda knew exactly what he meant by them—because it was she who had begged and cajoled and pestered him to call her by her name for the longest time. But even after he had finally given in, he had been very careful to only address her by her title in public.
Now, he was publicly acknowledging her name. She would never be "Your Majesty" to him again; she would only ever be Zelda. The last pretense of propriety—the last barrier of rank separating them—was now gone.
The abbot quickly recovered from the unorthodox vows and began the exchange of rings. Both Link and Zelda's rings were plain bands of a gray metal that had a soft glow rather than the flashy glint of silver or gold. Hols had made both of them from a remnant of the star that he used to repair the Master Sword. They seemed a fitting reminder of their quest—the quest that had forged them into an inseparable pair. And even if the rings weren't as rich or flashy as most, who else could say that their wedding bands were made from a star? They were unique in the world—just as Link and Zelda were something far beyond the ordinary.
Then, at last, the Abbot made his pronouncement.
"You may kiss the bride."
Zelda was practically crying with happiness by the time Link lifted her veil and folded it back over her crown. But she saw that there were tears in his eyes, too, and as he put his arms firmly around her and kissed her, sealing their marriage, their tears mingled cold and hot on their faces.
Zelda felt as she had the first time Link had kissed her. Her insides were clenched with excitement, but she was practically trembling with nervousness, too.
It had happened. It had really happened.
They were married.
It was only when Mars tapped Link on the shoulder that they came up for air—to the laughter and happy shouts of the assembly.
Zelda knew she was grinning just as much as Link as they looked into each other's eyes.
"I love you," he whispered over the noise.
"And I love you."
If possible, his grin grew a little wider. "Now you can't get rid of me."
She scoffed. "Link, I figured that out long ago."
He laughed. "If you can't beat them, join them—is that it?"
"Something like that."
The wedding party filed out of the hall—Mars beaming proudly as he escorted Rayliss, Sir Elgon paired with Ceily, and Alons escorting his sister.
The happy noises and general milling of the crowd as they prepared to also leave suddenly turned to speculative whispering. Why did the bride and groom not leave first?
Tatiana came through the back door a minute later, followed by Alfon, who was carrying Zelda's Robe of State. He fastened it around her shoulders while Tatiana removed Zelda's veil.
The buzzing in the hall grew louder as they realized there was going to be a joint wedding-coronation ceremony. Those weren't common, but neither were they completely unheard of, either. The real question was what title was Queen Zelda going to bestow on her new husband?
A moment later, Braddock came onto the dais carrying one of Zeyde's old crowns—gold, set with diamonds and emeralds—on a silken pillow.
When everything was ready, Zelda nodded to Link, and he knelt in front of her.
Zelda spoke clearly so her voice would carry as far as possible. "Link, we have faced hardships innumerable, and together we have always managed to triumph. You comforted me in my darkest hour, and I lifted you up when you despaired. We have seen many times that, together, we are stronger than we could ever be separately.
"I will be the first person to admit that I cannot—and do not want to—rule this kingdom without your counsel or your help."
She turned and took the crown from Braddock, then held it aloft. "By the divine right granted to me by the gods, and as Queen of Hyrule, I hereby crown you King—my co-ruler, equal in all things."
She carefully placed the crown on top of Link's ever-unruly, sandy-blonde hair.
"This crown is to remind all who look upon it that you are the supreme law in the land," she continued. "It also reminds you, through its weight, that the gods rule above you, and you must always be mindful of their laws. …And also mine," she added quietly with a smile. "After all, we're doing this fifty-fifty."
"I got that part," he bantered back. A few people on the dais who were close enough to hear chuckled.
Tatiana reappeared with another ermine-trimmed, blue velvet Robe of State that matched Zelda's. Zelda wrapped it around Link's shoulders and snapped the silver clasp closed. "May this cloak be a shield that protects you from all dangers and ill-health."
She offered her hands to Link and he took them, letting her help pull him to his feet. With practiced ease—when had he practiced it?—he swept the long cloak back with one hand and turned to face the audience with as much grace as any man born to be king.
Although it was traditional for the queen to stand to the left of the king, Link stood so that Zelda was to his right. They had grown accustomed to standing that way—their non-dominant hands to the inside and their sword hands free—although Zelda would not have put it past Link to maintain that arrangement so that she continued to be in the "dominant" right-hand position.
Braddock turned to the audience and spoke to the assembly in a booming voice that had to make the court herald proud. "Presenting His Most Royal Majesty, Sole Heir of the Knights of Hyrule, Heir to the Viscounty of Western Kakariko, Hero Chosen by the Gods, Defeater of the Dark Lord, Restorer of Peace, and Defender of Hyrule, King Link, and Her Royal Majesty, Queen Zelda. Do you now pay homage to them both."
"You're as bad about titles as they are in Erenrue," Link whispered out of the side of his mouth as everyone in the room—save Rayliss, Austina, and Long Fang, who were monarchs in their own right—bowed before them.
"I just wanted to make sure everyone knows how qualified you are for the position," Zelda whispered back.
They made their way down the aisle, smiling and nodding pleasantly to the people they passed. It looked like they hadn't been the only people tearing up during the wedding ceremony; many people—even some men—were wiping their eyes dry.
Outside the throne room, the hallway was filled with servants who clapped and smiled as Link and Zelda passed. Even the castle guard—who were supposed to be emotionless and blend in with the decor when they were on duty—couldn't help but grin at Link as he passed by.
Link and Zelda went out the front door where an open carriage was waiting to take them on procession around the city. Link helped Zelda up into the carriage, then he helped her arrange her gown and robe so they weren't wrinkled up. When she was settled, he climbed in and sat down beside her.
"Um… Y-Your Majesty?" the footman said nervously. "I-I believe you are supposed to sit on the opposite side, sir." He gestured to the rear-facing seat on the other side of the carriage.
Link took Zelda's hand in his. "I've waited all my life for this woman, and you expect me to sit way over there by myself?"
The footman turned bright red and stammered. It was clear he wasn't sure if Link was joking or chastising him.
Zelda waved him away casually. "We're fine like this. Let's move on."
The footman hastily bowed his head. "Yes, Your Majesty."
He sprang lightly onto the back of the carriage, and the driver called out to the two men stationed ahead of them, who were carrying Link and Zelda's heraldic banners.
The men took off at a trot and the coachman cracked the whip in the air over the matched pair of white carriage horses—fitted out with gleaming, silver-studded black tack and blue ribbons in their braided manes—and they trotted after the lead men.
Behind the carriage, an honor guard of four men—friends of Link's from his days in the guard—rode on white horses and carried the fluttering blue flags of the kingdom.
The courtyard was more sparsely populated than the hallway, but there were still a number of people—grooms and stableboys and gardeners—who clustered around the front gate to watch the beginning of the procession.
The riders didn't slow down as they approached the gate. With timed precision, the guards threw open the doors, letting the procession pass through without a pause.
Outside, they were greeted with a deafening shout. Every street was tightly packed with people behind barriers; there was barely enough room for the carriage to pass through, and it had to slow to a brisk walk.
Zelda automatically plastered a smile on her face and began to wave as they passed by the people. Royal processions were formal and much, much longer than the informal parade they had arranged for Link months before. It would be a long time to smile and wave; both the smile and the wave had to make it to the end of the trip.
A few streets later, though, she felt Link squeeze her hand. She glanced at him and saw him looking at her with his smoldering blue eyes. Almost with an air of defiance, he brought her hand up to his lips and slowly kissed it.
Zelda felt a warm yearning course through her body, leaving tingles in its wake. She didn't even hear the shouts of the people growing louder as their monarchs engaged in a very un-monarch-like display of public affection.
"I want you," Link said boldly, although with the ruckus in the street, it was unlikely that even the footmen behind them could hear him.
Zelda felt her cheeks go hot. Suddenly, he laughed.
"There's my blushing bride—not the processional queen."
He gave her a saucy wink, then turned back to waving at the people.
Zelda watched him for a minute as he grinned and waved as if he was genuinely happy to be there. Someone leaned far over the barrier, offering up a pink rose. Link snatched it up with ease, threw the generous citizen a salute, then turned back to Zelda, passing the rose to her.
"For my rose in winter."
She laughed as she accepted the flower. "In spring, you mean."
"You're wearing white."
She turned back to the crowds and waved and smiled much more genuinely. Link was right to be happy. They now had everything both of them had ever wanted. What wasn't there to be happy about?
Once she abandoned her queenly persona and went back to being the happy bride again, time seemed to fly by. Before she knew it, they had circled the city and were pulling back through the gates of the castle.
The footman opened the door to the carriage and Link hopped out nimbly, his cumbersome robe draped over his arm and carried out of the way. He offered Zelda his hand and helped her out of the carriage.
Inside the front doors, there were servants waiting to take away the heavy Robes of State.
"Ah, that's better," Link said, rolling his shoulders. "Those things are hot."
"Tell me about it."
He offered Zelda his hand again. "Now whereto, my queen?" He said "my queen" as if he was calling her "my pet;" gone was the formality that he used to have when addressing her.
"Now we eat."
"Ah, good, I'm starving."
While they had been on procession, all of the guests had been seated in the feast hall, so everyone was ready as soon as Link and Zelda walked through the big double doors with a great fanfare.
At the high table, Link pulled out Zelda's chair—as he had always done—and let her sit first. Then he took his place beside her.
The feast consisted of dozens of courses with a dozen dishes per course. No one could eat more than a bite of anything, lest they get full too soon and miss out. Even though the meal took hours, the time seemed to fly by. In the middle of the hall, there were entertainments between courses—jugglers and jesters and pairs of acrobats and contortionists who boggled the mind with their rubbery joints. And there were magicians—some from other kingdoms—who all competed, unofficially, to see who could pull off the most complicated trick and most please the audience.
Occasionally, Zelda would glance at Link. Despite the fact that he had not wanted to be king, he was acting the part beautifully. He walked with all the proud bearing of a king and the practiced grace of someone born to the life. He never once displayed any nervousness and he never hesitated as if he didn't know what to do. He never fidgeted with his crown or even acted like he was wearing it—although he was careful to keep his head up when he leaned down to talk so it didn't slide off.
Gods! How long had it taken her to learn that? And here he was, acting like it was natural!
He was charming to everyone who came to speak to them. He showed his intelligence and wit when he spoke to ambassadors. He was generous to the entertainers with praise and treats and coin and easy laughter. He never failed to acknowledge the presence of the servants, looking them in the eye and thanking them every time they brought something to the table or took it away. Several times he sent them back to the kitchens with messages of thanks and praise for the cooks and staff.
At one point, the Head Steward—who was personally refilling their drinks—accidentally sloshed a little red wine on Link's white pants. The man began profusely apologizing, trying to blot up the stain with trembling hands. Zelda knew he was mortified beyond words; you didn't get to be the Head Steward by being clumsy, and to spill a drink on the new monarch, on his wedding day, was the ultimate humiliation. More than a few kings would have dismissed him on the spot—or worse.
But Link just laughed and pushed him away. "I guess that will teach me to keep my napkin in my lap," he joked. Of course, he hadn't had a napkin because they were between courses; dirty ones were taken up after every course and fresh ones brought out before the next one. But he acted as if he was the one at fault.
"I-I'm so sorry, Your Majesty," the steward said with a trembling voice, sounding—and looking—close to tears.
"It's nothing," Link said, waving him away casually. "Don't worry about."
"I… Nothing like this has ever happened before. I-I don't know what happened…."
Link took him by the shoulder and pulled him in closer, looking him firmly in the eyes. "It's alright. Don't worry about it."
The steward looked unconvinced, but bowed his head. "Yes, Your Majesty."
Link smiled encouragingly at him and patted him on the shoulder. But Zelda noticed that, for the rest of the evening, Link was careful to keep a napkin in his lap at all times. She wasn't sure if that was because he was afraid of getting another spill on his clothes, or if he was just hiding the stain so the steward didn't have to see it every time he leaned in to pour another drink. She suspected the latter.
He made being chivalrous look so easy.
Near the end of the meal, Zelda leaned in to him. "How are you doing?"
"Me? Oh, I'm fine," he said with a smile.
"These state things drag on an awfully long time."
"Tell me about it; try standing guard duty for one of these. Which reminds me…."
Without another word, he stood up, loaded his plate with food, grabbed a pitcher of wine from one of the serving girls, and headed out of the hall looking everything like a servant. It took most people several minutes to realize he was up, and he was nearly to the door before everyone hurried to rise to their feet and bow.
He waved them away. "Sit. Eat. Enjoy yourselves. I'll be back."
And with that, he slipped out the door.
He was gone through the next course. Zelda was just thinking about going to look for him when he slipped back into the hall, almost going unnoticed again.
He sat down with a satisfied sigh and a grin on his face. Somewhere along the way, he had lost the pitcher, and his plate was completely empty.
"I thought some of the men on duty might like a little taste of the festivities," he explained.
"Are you getting my guard drunk?"
Oops, she was going to have to get in the habit of referring to everything in the plural. The guard was his now, too.
Link laughed. "Nah," he said dismissively. "No one had enough wine to get drunk—just a little taste."
"Are you happy?" she blurted out.
He looked at her in confusion. "Of course. Why would you think I'm not? You know this has always been my heart's desire."
"No, I have always been your heart's desire, not the throne."
"The throne?" He looked confused for a second. "Oh, that. I thought you were talking about the wedding." He turned back to the food on the table and began to put a small sample of almost everything on his plate. "I don't mind."
"You don't mind being king?"
"No.""Will you tell me if it makes you unhappy?"
He perked a brow. "What are you going to do? Demote me?"
She hadn't thought about it that way. What would she do if Link didn't want to remain king?
He went back to putting food on his plate. "Sweetheart, I figured out a long time ago that you're a package deal: if I wanted the woman, I'd have to take the title—and obligation—that goes along with her. And that means a title and obligation of my own."
He stopped what he was doing and glanced at her. "That was a trade I was willing to make."
After the final dessert course was served (there were three!), Link leaned over to Zelda and whispered, "I'm ready to get out of here."
"So am I," she replied.
It was late afternoon and they still needed to change clothes before heading out with their court—which included many of the nobles—to take their month-long honeymoon tour of the kingdom. Part of the reason for the trip was so that everyone would get a chance to see their new king and queen, but it was also business, too; Zelda wanted to see for herself all the farms and businesses in the kingdom so she could understand better how her economic policy might affect people outside the capital city.
It was going to be a long month.
Link rose from his seat and offered Zelda his hand. She stood up, too, but when she did, she swayed a bit on her feet. She hadn't realized how much wine she had been drinking, since it had been spread out over several hours, but now that she was standing, she realized she was a bit tipsy.
He glanced at her, his eyes instantly assessing the situation. He tightened his grip on her hand, to steady her, and turned to address the quiet crowd.
"Zelda and I would like to thank everyone for joining us today to celebrate the happiest day of our lives."
There were smiles from the audience.
"I have been hoping and praying for this day since I was eleven years old and Master Ryu first brought me to court. As soon as I walked through the gate, I saw Zelda running in the courtyard, flying a kite, and I thought to myself then that she was most beautiful creature in the world.
"And I can tell you, after trekking across the world multiple times—after going places no man has gone in centuries—after dancing with all the ladies from the great houses of Erenrue, and even after making the acquaintance of three Great Fairies—I can still say, with certainty and all honesty, that there is no woman more beautiful on this earth. And every day I thank the gods that they allowed me the opportunity to prove myself worthy of her.
"And now that they have blessed me not only with my heart's one desire, but with the kingship of this great country, it is my task to now prove myself worthy of this crown, and, more particularly, worthy of all of you."
There was applause at his words and Zelda breathed a sigh of relief when she noticed that many of her nobles were smiling, as well as clapping. Perhaps they would take to Link after all.
Link spoke again, as the applause began to die down. "Now, if you will excuse us, we must get ready to leave. But please feel free to stay here and eat and enjoy yourselves."
There was a loud noise as benches were scraped across the stone floor and everyone rose to their feet as Link and Zelda headed for the door. Tatiana, Meghan, and Ceily trailed out behind them, following at a respectful distance.
"I hope you know that I don't worry about you being a good king," Zelda said, as they headed for her bedroom.
"I mean, me asking you if you were happy being king—I hope you didn't think I was worrying that you wouldn't be a good king. Because I know you will be; you've already proven it. I just wanted to make sure you're happy doing it."
Link laughed. "I've been on the job a few hours, and you think I've already proven myself a good king?"
He laughed again.
"I've been watching you. You act exactly the same as you have always acted, despite the fact that you are now a king. And I have every confidence that you will continue to act that way. And that alone will make you a good king."
"Kings need to know diplomacy and politics."
"You seem to know that well enough. You certainly figured out my grandfather and the Erenrue mindset quickly enough. And it was you who taught me to wear masks and play games for the greater political good."
Link frowned. "That's not the sort of lesson I'd like to be known for teaching."
"But, still, you get it—you get how to play the game."
Link was thoughtful for a moment. "Do you know what I would like?"
"What?" she asked, eager to give him anything he wanted.
"We are in a unique situation. We are both young and—let's admit it—rather unconventional. And most of our nobility is young as well; many have inherited titles they never expected to have. And you have more titles yet to award.
"I think we have a unique opportunity to change what it means to be noble in this kingdom."
"How so?" Zelda asked curiously.
"I don't like playing games. You don't like being something you're not. Neither of us cares for false flattery or manipulation or outright lies—all things courts are known for.
"I think we can put a stop to it, though, if we make an effort to be open and honest with everyone and we insist that everyone do the same with us. We reward those who are truthful and loyal and we discourage anyone who is not."
She thought about what he was saying for a moment, then nodded. "I like it," she declared.
He grinned at her as he stopped to open her bedroom door. "Well, then, in the interest of being honest, maybe I should tell you that I've had my things moved into your room."
She was surprised. Although she had no intention of sleeping away from Link—now that, at last, she could do it without fear of being shamed—it had always been tradition for the king and queen to maintain separate rooms. They visited each other, certainly, but at the end of the day, they each had their own space.
"When did you do that?" she asked.
"Oh, I had it done while the wedding was going on," he said casually. "Just to make sure you can't get rid of me, you know."
She laughed at him. "I don't think you have to worry about that."
"I don't doubt you, certainly. But I thought I better do it while none of the advisors were around to complain about how I'm corrupting tradition or being unseemly or something. Gods forbid we actually imply the king and queen sleep together."
Zelda burst out laughing.
"Now that I'm entrenched, it will be a lot harder for them to get me out," he said triumphantly.
"I'd definitely bet my money on you," she agreed.
Once inside, Link went into the closet to change, while the women helped Zelda out of her wedding dress.
Tatiana smiled at her shyly and offered her a large box. "Your Majesty, I have a wedding present for you. …I hope you will like it."
Curious, Zelda took the box and opened the lid. Inside was a silver-gray dress like the one she had borrowed from Meghan the first time she stayed with Link's family. It was cut in the Kakariko style and was heavily embroidered with flowers in pale pinks, blues, and lilacs.
"It's beautiful," Zelda said, taking it from the box.
"It's not fancy, like your court dresses," Tatiana hurried to say, "but I thought you might be more comfortable traveling in it."
"I think it's quite fancy," Zelda contradicted. "The embroidery work on it is amazing." She suddenly felt tears well up in her eyes for the umpteenth time that day. "Thank you," she said, clutching the dress to her chest. "I love it."
Tatiana looked like she was about to cry, too, and she hurried to give Zelda a hug.
And, for a brief moment in time, Zelda knew what it felt like to be hugged by a mother who loved her and wanted to make her happy.
Zelda finally pulled away, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. "I've got to quit this," she said with a shaky laugh. "I've reached my limit for a wedding day; anymore tears, and I might as well be at a funeral."
The women helped her out of her underwear and into a new white linen underdress. It was very lightweight and soft and had a full skirt that would make it easy to move and ride. Over that went the silver tunic. It had wide, three-quarters bell sleeves, and the hem fell to the bottom of her knees. It was made of a much heavier fabric, so that even if it was beautiful, it was still durable.
"Shall I braid your hair, Your Majesty?" Meghan asked hopefully. "It will get all tangled if you ride with it down."
"Yes, I would like that," Zelda said. She sat down on a bench while Meghan quickly wove her hair into a basket pattern.
"I seemed to recall that Link liked you hair like this," Meghan said.
Zelda laughed. "I had forgotten that. But, yes, I think he did."
She glanced down at her lap, looking at her dress. "I also seem to recall he liked me in your dress, which was gray like this one."
"Why do you think I picked that color?" Tatiana said with a smile, as she looked on.
"It does look very nice on you," Ceily added. "It matches your eyes."
"And she does have very pretty eyes," Link said, emerging from the closet. He was wearing an outfit almost identical to his wedding ensemble, except he had changed his wine-stained white pants for the heavier-duty beige pants that he normally wore, and his dress shoes had been exchanged for sturdy knee-high boots. He had on a green tunic, but it was of a heavy cotton, not silk, and the embroidery was worked in colored threads, not gold and gems.
He came to stand with the others, watching as Meghan braided Zelda's hair. "Almost done?" he asked.
"My, aren't we impatient?" Zelda teased.
"Impatient to take my wife on our honeymoon? Of course. What man in his right mind wouldn't be?"
The others laughed; Zelda just blushed.
After a few minutes, he looked at his sister seriously. "Meghan, we really do need to go. We have a long way to go tonight."
"It's not like we can't stop on the way," Zelda said. They were taking a rather large wagon train with them on their trip—including tents and camp furniture. Even when they couldn't spend the night in some noble's manor, they would still be well-housed in their tents.
"Yes, well, I don't want to stop," he said.
Zelda was confused by his impatience, but a moment later, Meghan put Zelda's crown back on her head and declared, "I'm finished," so it didn't matter anyway.
Link took Zelda by the hand and strode rather quickly across the bedroom; Zelda had to hurry to keep up with him.
Alons was standing outside the door. "All clear!" he chirped.
Link just nodded and hurried down the corridor. Zelda's sense of confusion only grew as she trotted alongside him. His mother and the girls hurried along behind them.
Why on earth were they in such a hurry? It wasn't like anyone was going to leave without them. And they were planning on being gone a month; they had plenty of time to make all of their scheduled stops.
But rather than lead her out the front door, Link turned and opened the door into the throne room. It was empty now except for Link's father and uncle, who stood at the far end of the room.
"Everything's ready," Mars said, as they approached.
"Thank you," Link replied.
Mars grinned. "Have a good time."
"I plan on it."
Everyone but Zelda laughed.
Link hugged his father and his Uncle Alfon, then all three women and his brother.
At the last minute, he took off his crown and handed it to his father. Then he took Zelda's off, too, and handed it to him as well. "Look after the kingdom for us. You shouldn't have to do anything—just make sure the advisors don't go crazy."
"Don't worry; we'll handle it."
"If there's any problem, tell Hols; he'll relay the message to us and bring us back, if need be."
Mars clapped him on the back. "Go. Don't worry about anything."
"We're on our way out," Link said, climbing up the stairs to the dais.
"Link, where are on earth are we going?" Zelda asked, following him.
"On our honeymoon, of course."
"But… I don't understand. The trip…."
"Slight change of plans. Just trust me."
He leaned against the back of Zelda's throne and pushed it forward, revealing the secret steps to the monastery.
He bent down to pick up an already-lit lantern that was sitting nearby, then he waved to his family. "Thank you for everything. See you in a week."
They waved back. "See you! Have fun! Be safe!"
Link took Zelda's hand again and went down the stairs, pulling her along behind. He only paused briefly to throw the lever that closed the entrance.
"What did you mean when you said we'd be back in a week? Zelda demanded. "Where are we going?"
"It's a surprise."
"But… everyone's expecting us," she complained as he hurried her down the old stone passageway.
"My family is going to take care of that; they'll let everyone know. When we come back in a week, we'll go on progress, just like we planned. In the meantime, all the people who are going to go with us can stay at the castle and enjoy themselves. Father and Uncle Alfon have it all planned out—games and entertainments and everything. Everyone will have a good time. They'll hardly notice we're missing."
He was talking as fast as he walked.
Zelda still felt confused. Obviously Link's family was in on this secret and had been making plans for quite some time. She just couldn't figure out what those plans were. Was he really taking her off somewhere for a week while everyone waited on them?
Link pushed open the door at the end of the corridor and entered the crypt. But he passed through it without a pause and opened the door into the sanctuary.
Zelda wasn't sure if she should be surprised or not when she saw the Abbot standing there, looking expectant.
"Ah, Your Majesties," he said with a smile and little bow, as if it was a great pleasure to address them as such.
"Everything ready, Abbot?" Link asked.
"Yes, of course," he said, gesturing towards the front door. "Just as you wanted."
Link blew out the lantern and handed it to him. "Thank you."
The Abbot smiled. "I'm just glad I could help you both this one last time."
Link laughed as he led Zelda down the aisle, towards the door. "It might not be the last time, Abbot! We may need to sneak out for a reprieve from time to time."
"The door will always be open, then."
Outside, a lone monk was holding a white horse—one from the Royal Stables—tacked up and ready to go.
Link hopped lightly onto the back of the horse—still hurrying as if they might be caught—then he leaned down and offered his hand to Zelda.
With the monk's help, he pulled her onto the horse behind the saddle. "Thank you," Link told the monk.
The man grinned up at them. "My pleasure, Your Majesty. Have a good trip and may the gods be with you."
Link laughed. "They're always with us!" he said boldly. Then he spurred the horse out the gate.
He circled behind the monastery, then turned west and galloped across the plain.
"Everyone seems to know where we're going but me," Zelda said, having to speak loudly in his ear to be heard over the wind rushing by.
"No, actually, only a handful of people know," he corrected. "We kept it a secret."
"So… can I know now?"
"No. You'll see when we get there."
They rode hard across the plain and made it to the woods just as the sun was beginning to set. Unlike their previous escape from Castle Town, though, they didn't try to cut through the woods; instead, Link took one of the less-traveled roads which led directly to the coast.
An hour or two later, they emerged from the trees and saw the stars sparkling over a dark, calm ocean. A spring breeze came off the water, warm and tangy with salt and ocean smells.
Link turned the horse northwards and rode on the hard, compacted sand near the waterline. He kept the horse at a gentle lope most of the time, and the rocking motion soon began to make Zelda very sleepy. It had been a very long, very tiring day.
She put her cheek against Link's back and tightened her arms around his waist. He felt so warm and solid against her, she still couldn't believe that he was, at last, really hers. She half-expected him to stop at any moment and tell her that things had gone far enough and that they must be proper.
But he didn't say anything—he just glanced back every once in a while and smiled at her—and soon she fell into a light doze.
She didn't know how long she napped, but after some time, he pulled the horse to a stop and announced, "We're here."
She startled awake and sat up. Link hopped lightly off the horse while she tried to wipe the sleep out of her eyes and focus. It took her a moment to recognize the little shack on the rocky coast.
It was the place where Link had rescued her from the sea.
She glanced down at him. "Why on earth are we here?"
He reached up and pulled her off the horse and carried her in his arms to the hut.
"Because I wanted to have you to myself for a little while," he confessed. "I have been waiting a very, very long time for this, and I didn't want to share it with anyone. I didn't want our days to be filled with court business and us only able to snatch a few moments in private at night when we were exhausted after a long day of traveling."
He opened the door—Zelda noticed that it wasn't half-hanging on its hinges anymore—and he carried her over the threshold. Inside, in the dim moonlight filtering through the door behind them, she could see that someone had made some improvements. The walls had been finished on the inside so there were no longer any gaps for the wind to blow through. Shelves had been mounted to the walls and they were stocked with food. There was wood stacked up neatly by the fireplace, ready to burn. The rough old table was spread with a tablecloth and set with nice pottery dishes. And on the other side of the cabin stood a four-poster bed. It was simple—it had to be, since the cabin was rather small and it took up almost all of the width of the room—but it was hung with white curtains and green swags of ivy.
Link paused just inside the doorway, giving her a moment to take it all in.
"Who did this?" she asked.
"Mother, Father, and Uncle Alfon." He carried her to the bed and laid her down on it. She immediately felt the soft comfort of a feather ticking. "They sailed up here and fixed it up just before the wedding," he explained.
"So you've had this planned for a while."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"I wanted it to be a surprise." He perked a brow. "Do you not like it?"
"No," she hurried to say. Then she smiled and reached out to touch his arm. "I like the idea of being alone with you. It's like old times."
He grinned mischievously. "I thought about taking you to the hot springs in the mountains, but there wasn't really a place to stay there—not by ourselves, anyways—and it's a really long way to travel without Hols there to teleport us. Then I remembered this place. It's so isolated, we shouldn't see another living soul for an entire week."
He leaned in closer and Zelda's breath caught in her throat. "And I can be alone with my wife," he whispered, before pressing his lips to hers.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer.
A wife. She had prepared all her life to be a queen, but she didn't have any training to be a wife.
When they broke off their kiss, Zelda whispered, "I don't really know how to be a wife. I mean, your mother talked to me a little bit about things married couples do, and how to get along, and things like that—"
Link's laugh interrupted her. He pulled back, then began to unbuckle his belt. "Yes, Father gave me a similar lecture on how to be a proper husband, to take care of my wife and children…."
He bent down, unlaced his boots, and kicked them off. Then he laid down on the bed next to her. The moonlight shone through the single window and she could see the intensity in his blue eyes.
"You know what?" he said. "I think we probably have the better part of this marriage thing figured out. We already know when to yield, how to give and take, how to work together for a common goal, and gods know I believe in taking care of you and providing for you."
"Very true," Zelda said.
"So, there's really only one thing left for us to do."
"I don't know what to do," she suddenly confessed. "I mean… I know what happens, but I'm not sure how—"
He put his finger against her lips, cutting her off. "Don't worry," he whispered. "I'll show you."
He leaned down again and kissed her deeply. Zelda began to feel herself melting away—all her pride, all her self-control, all her ego. She wanted nothing more than to give all of herself to Link—to lay her soul bare and offer it to him.
She didn't question; she didn't doubt; she didn't hesitate. She trusted him completely.
And he didn't disappoint. …But then, he never had.