Zelda still wasn't talking to Link by the time they hauled in the last catch of fish and sailed within sight of home.
"Today was a pretty good day," Greens said as they dropped anchor.
"Was that a normal haul?" Link asked.
"A little better than average, I think."
"So women aren't bad luck after all," Link said, glancing at Zelda, as if trying to placate her.
"Does your arm still hurt?" Lars retorted.
All of the men laughed. But Link, with his characteristic good humor, laughed along with them. Zelda was the only one who wasn't amused—although she was finding it increasingly difficult to stay mad at Link. She didn't think he had purposefully set her up to be swamped with fish, but he had definitely laughed about it—even if only on the inside. And he had tricked her—pretending that his arm was hurt when it wasn't.
The men loaded the bottom of the rowboat full of fish—many of them still wriggling and flopping—their eyes bulging and their mouths gaping for air. Greens and three other men started to jump down into the boat—meaning to take the first load to shore—when Link's mother came down to the shore and waved at them.
"Link… come in!" she called. "And you, too, Your… Penelope."
"This is not my fault," Link muttered under his breath, as he climbed over the side and into the rowboat full of fish.
Zelda just sighed, too tired and windblown to complain.
She climbed down the ladder—it was much easier with her dress tied up out of the way—and let Link help her into the boat. She managed to sit on a board in the middle and prop her feet up on another bench so she didn't actually have to put her feet down among the fish. And like some sort of royal sea nymph, she was rowed ashore.
Link's mother splashed into the shallows and helped the men drag the boat up onto the sand. Zelda felt a little ashamed as she watched Tatiana pull her own weight, equal with the men. Tatiana had never had the luxury of servants to wait on her hand and foot; when she was left a young widow with two small children to care for by herself, she had to become father and breadwinner as well as mother and housewife. She ran her own small kingdom with no help at all.
Link helped Zelda out of the boat and onto the sand. "What's wrong, Mother?" he asked, looking anxious.
"Nothing. Your Uncle is here and wants to see you, is all."
Zelda tried to discern from Tatiana's face and the tone of her voice if there was something wrong that she didn't want to say in the presence of the fishermen—perhaps someone had come looking for them—but Tatiana didn't seem upset or nervous in any way. But Link glanced at Zelda with a look that told her he was wondering the same thing.
There was no chance to talk as they made the long climb up the cliff-side stairs; even Tatiana, who was used to the climb, was winded by the time they reached the top. Silently, they went into the house.
Link's uncle was there, as was a girl Zelda had not seen before. She was beautiful—with black hair, dark flashing eyes, and a rather ample figure. She looked to be somewhere around Link and Zelda's age.
Alfon and the girl both rose from their chairs near the fire when Zelda and the others entered. "Ah, Link!" Alfon said. "I heard you were out learning the ropes today."
"I told Tatiana that you would only need a little reminding—not a real lesson. With a lineage like yours, there is no way you could be anything less than a natural seamen. Too many generations have poured their salt into your blood for you to be anything but."
"I'm glad you have confidence in me," Link said. "I'm attempting no mean feat. Far better than me have failed."
"If it is your destiny to do this, then you will," Alfon said with absolute confidence.
Link went to the beautiful girl and gave her a tight hug. Zelda felt a pang of jealousy shoot through her and she immediately wondered if this pretty girl was the one he had kissed "more than twice." Well, if he thought he had been getting the silent treatment before, he was in for a rude surprise; she was going to ratchet the coldness up by a factor of two or three.
Link smiled warmly at the girl. "It's so good to see you again, Ceily."
"And you, Link. It's been ages."
Make that a factor of five. In fact, he could go back to sleeping on the floor.
Link turned to Zelda, but apparently didn't notice she was shooting daggers at him and the beautiful girl. "Your Highness, this is my cousin, Ceily. Ceily, this is Her Royal Highness, Princess Zelda."
Ceily gave a deep curtsy. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Your Highness."
Zelda immediately felt guilty. She hoped her face wasn't turning red, because it felt hot. "Likewise," she replied.
"Everyone have a seat," Tatiana said, gesturing for all of them to move to the table. "Supper is almost ready, and I know Link and Her Highness are probably hungry."
Zelda hadn't thought about it, but now that Tatiana mentioned it, she was famished. She wasn't sure why, since they had had a hearty lunch and she hadn't done anything more than help with a bit of canvas repair.
"How was your first day at sea, Your Highness?" Tatiana asked, as she put a grilled fish on the table that was large enough to be worthy of a banquet hall in the palace.
"I think it went pretty well," she replied evasively.
"My day was horrible," Link said, as he picked up a pitcher full of cold well water.
"What happened?" Meghan asked, as she helped her mother put bread and plates of vegetables on the table.
"Her Highness wouldn't talk to me for most of the day," he said sadly. He took up Zelda's cup and poured her some water before serving himself. "It darkened my entire day—like the sun being covered by a storm cloud."
"And what did you do to earn the silent treatment?" Ceily asked, looking at him critically.
"I didn't do anything!" he said, protesting his innocence.
"You only let them dump a bunch of fish on me," Zelda countered.
"I did no such thing. They just hauled the catch in and opened the nets. I didn't have anything to do with where the fish went."
"You told me where to stand; I thought I was going to be safe and out of the way."
"I thought so as well; I didn't know the fish would go everywhere like that."
Meghan wrinkled her nose in disgust. "What happened? Did they drop them on your head?"
"No, but they slid across the deck and buried me up to my knees."
"Ew!" Meghan and Ceily both squealed.
"And I came to your rescue," Link said, defending himself. He began to put food onto her plate, serving her first. "I waded in and got you and carried you out. And what did I get for all my trouble? The silent treatment!"
"No, you got the silent treatment because you laughed at me."
"I did not."
"I couldn't help that," he said, even as another grin began to creep onto his face.
"Look, you're doing it now!" she said, pointing an accusing finger at him.
"You mustn't mind him, Your Highness," Ceily said. "He's always been lacking in sympathy."
"I am not!" he declared.
"You are. Remember when I was about five years old and I fell into a mud puddle and scraped my knee? You laughed at me."
"Yes, and I distinctly remember putting you on my back and carrying you all the way home. And then I washed you off and put a bandage on your knee."
He looked at his uncle imploringly. "Don't I get any credit at all for taking care of them?"
Alfon shook his head. "Women are sensitive about their feelings; they would rather you not laugh and just leave them in the mud than take a moment to find humor in the situation and then help them out."
That created a lively debate—about whether women preferred their dignity over an offer of assistance—which raged back and forth across the table for the rest of the meal.
Finally, Alfon pushed away his plate and shook his head. "We're going to have to give in, boys," he said to Link and Alons; "they outnumber us."
"Well, if I've learned one thing from this," Link said, tossing his napkin onto his empty plate, "it's that I'm always wrong, even when I know—or at least suspect—that I'm right."
"That sounds about right to me," Tatiana said with a teasing smile.
Ceily looked at her aunt. "Do you think he deserves his present now? He sounds pretty repentant."
"Yes, I think so."
Link perked up. "A present?"
"Yes, I made you something."
"Okay, I take back all the times I laughed at you… even if I couldn't help it."
Ceily chuckled, then rose and went to a large canvas sack that was lying near the door. She pulled something out of it, hid it behind her back, and returned to the table. Then, with a wide grin and a flourish, she produced a green stocking cap.
"A cap!" Link said joyfully.
"Father told me that you had lost yours."
"Yes, and I've missed it." He pulled it on—although Zelda noticed he didn't bother to cover his ears, as he once did. "It felt especially wrong to be on a ship today without one," he added. "What if I had fallen in?"
"Thank goodness you didn't," Ceily said.
Meghan smiled shyly at Princess Zelda. "I'm making you one, too, but I didn't have time to finish it today. I should have it done by tomorrow."
"Thank you. I'm sure it will be very nice," Zelda replied.
"More than nice, Your Highness," Link said. "It might end up saving your life."
"Yes, you can use it to keep yourself afloat," Tatiana explained.
"Link told me about that; it's quite ingenious."
"Well, I suppose it's my turn now for presents," Alfon said, clearly eager to share as well. "Ceily, bring me the bag."
Ceily fetched the canvas sack and he reached down into it. He pulled out a leather quiver full of arrows and handed it to Zelda. "These probably aren't as nice as what you're accustomed to, Princess, but they're good hunting arrows; they'll fly true for you."
Zelda took the quiver from him, clutching it to her chest like a treasured possession. She hadn't realized, until that moment, how vulnerable she had felt without some sort of weapon. Although, unlike Link, she had not grown up wearing a weapon, nor had she ever had any need to use one—hers had just been for practice—her recent turn in fortune made her long to have one in her possession at all times.
"Thank you," she said with heartfelt gratitude.
Alfon looked a little surprised, then blushed under his bushy black beard. "You are most welcome, Your Highness," he replied.
He returned to his bag and drew out a sword that he held with the sort of reverence reserved for a holy relic.
"Link," he said, uncharacteristically solemn, "this sword has been passed down through our family for generations. It is said that it once belonged to Laertes, one of the last Knights of Hyrule and our ancestor. For certain the last hero of Hyrule wielded it, and it is clear to me that you are his heir. It is yours."
Link rose to his feet and hesitantly stretched forth his hand. He took up the sword and slowly pulled it from its scabbard, as if it was too wonderful a thing to look on all at once; it had to be savored.
"It's still in wonderful condition," he said in awe as he held it up before him in all its naked splendor. The colored flames of the driftwood fire and the candlelight flashed on the gleaming steel blue and green and yellow.
"I have maintained it," Alfon said with pride, "as did my father and his father before him. Always it must be ready to answer the call of the king."
"We have no king," Link replied. "Only a queen."
He turned to Zelda and knelt before her, offering up the sword. "I cannot yet call myself a knight, but I will endeavor to live up to this sword and to the men who wielded it before me. It is yours—and I am yours—from now until the ending of the world. Whatever you ask of me, I will give it."
Zelda had to repress a shudder as a chill ran down her spine. She had seen her father entitle many a nobleman's heir, and she had seen the same swear fealty, but nothing they ever said or did compared to what she was now witnessing. No man had ever more genuinely promised all of himself to his monarch.
She rose to her feet with all the dignity she could muster, determined to show Link the same respect that he now gave her.
She laid her hand on the sword. "I cannot yet call myself Queen, but I will endeavor to be worthy of your boundless loyalty. I accept your fealty and you shall be my knight—if not in name, then in deed."
Link took the sword and—before anyone could stop him—he sliced the palm of his right hand with it.
There was a gasp from the women in the room, but Link's eyes never left Zelda's. She felt riveted in place by them.
"May the gods stand witness: my blood is my bond," he declared.
Zelda felt another chill go through her. Master Ryu had told her about the powerful oaths that the Knights of Hyrule had once sworn—oaths so powerful, they had gone to their deaths rather than break them—oaths made on their blood.
It was an ancient form of magic. It had no visible effect—no lights or smoke or noise—but woe be unto him who broke his oat: misfortune and death followed—and not just on the oathbreaker, but down through time unto the tenth generation.
Zelda didn't like to think of Link held by so heavy an oath to her, but she felt compelled to complete the ceremony nonetheless. It was like leaving an incantation half-uttered; there was no telling what might happen with the words left uncompleted.
She clasped his fist between her hands; she could feel his blood wet and sticky on her palms. "May this be the last blood you shed on my account," she prayed.