Kiss and Tell
"Bed" was a relative term, Zelda learned. In the tiny cabin—her clothes closet was three times as large—there was a canvas hammock, and a small wash basin and a table just big enough for one person to sit at, but no bed.
Zelda only knew what the hammock was because an officer in the Navy had described it to her during a state dinner one evening. She thought they sounded rather impractical, but the man told her that the sailors couldn't sleep in a regular bed because they might roll out when the waves grew rough.
Now she was faced with the daunting task of getting into one.
She quickly learned that one benefit of being in a tiny cabin was that there really wasn't room to fall down. Even though she was dumped out of the hammock a couple of times, she only bumped into the wall or the table.
Finally, after three tries, she managed to get in. There was a pillow and blanket on a built-in shelf, and she used both and carefully settled into place, trying not to flip herself out.
She blew out the lantern, as Link had said, and hung it on a nearby hook. That was the other benefit of the tiny cabin: everything was within easy reach; she didn't even have to get out of the hammock—for which she was very grateful.
She tried to go to sleep, but her mind kept coming back to Link's family. She hoped they weren't in trouble because of her. She was grateful for the unwavering loyalty they had shown her, even though she was at her lowest point. She had every intention of keeping her promise to ennoble them once again.
She finally drifted off to sleep wondering whether she should make Link a baron or a marquis.
Zelda awoke when sun streaming through the small cabin window fell on her face. She still felt sleepy, and she tried to roll over—that didn't work too well in a hammock; it was meant for sleeping on one's back—but after a little while, she had to give up; she couldn't get back to sleep.
When she opened the cabin door, she found her clothes—Meghan's dress and her own rather beat up shirt and pants—folded up neatly outside the door. Her bow was there, too.
She put on Meghan's gray dress, knotting the ends of the underdress around her belt—as Link had shown her—to keep it out of her way. She would have to think to ask Link if there was a needle and thread on board; she thought she might be able to mend her shirt and pants the way Greens had shown her to mend sails.
She went up on deck, squinting against the bright light. The sun had burned off all the fog and the day was cloudless and the sky a beautiful shade of turquoise blue.
She climbed the stairs to the quarterdeck and found Link sitting on the wooden crate, occasionally giving the wheel a little adjustment one way or the other. He looked exhausted. He also looked very red in the face; his sunburn was clearly getting worse.
"You didn't sleep long," Link said.
"The sun woke me up."
"Yeah, the fog's all gone now. It's good sailing weather," he said, looking up. Zelda looked up, too, and noticed that all of the sails were full and they seemed to be moving at a decent speed.
She looked back at him. "You're getting sunburned."
"Yeah, I know," he said with a grimace. "I can feel my face getting hotter."
"Didn't your mother say she was going to give us medicine for sunburn?"
"Yes, but she hadn't loaded it on the ship, yet. I checked our supplies, but there's nothing we can use."
He thought about the problem for a minute, then stood up. "Take over," he said.
Zelda took his place at the wheel while he went down into the hold. He came back up a few minutes later carrying an arm full of canvas sail, some ropes, and a few of the hooked poles that the men used to handle the fishing nets.
"I'm going to need your help," he said, as he came back to the quarterdeck.
It took them the better part of an hour, but when they were through, they had a sunshade of canvas that stretched the entire length and width of the small quarterdeck. The net-poles held it up at two corners; it was tied off to the standing rigging at two other corners.
"There," Link said at last, looking around at their handiwork with satisfaction. "That should keep both of us from burning.
"It does feel better to not be in the direct sun," Zelda admitted.
Link went back down—Zelda assumed to go to sleep—but he came back up a few minutes later with what looked like part of a fishing net.
"What are you doing?" Zelda asked.
"I've been thinking about how we're going to sail the ship," he said, as he began doing something to the end of the net; it looked like he was lacing the end through a length of rope. "We have to take turns sleeping. I thought I would take the night shift and sleep during the day. But I don't want to be too far away, in case we run into trouble, so…."
A moment later he tied the rope to some rigging near the back of the ship. When he stretched the net across the corner and tied it to a ratline, Zelda could see that he was making himself a hammock.
When he was sure it was tied off tight, Link hopped up into the hammock—with much more ease than Zelda had—and stretched out in it. "I can sleep right here, in the shade and fresh air," he declared. "And if you need me, you only have to wake me up."
"Are you sure you wouldn't prefer to be in the cabin?" Zelda asked. "I would think it would be easier to sleep down there where it's mostly dark."
"No, here is fine," he replied. And then, as if to prove his point, he fell asleep within minutes.
Link woke sometime around noon.
"How are things going?" he asked, stretching and yawning.
He chuckled. "After the past few days, I'm looking forward to boring."
He hopped out of the hammock. "I'm hungry. Did you eat anything for breakfast?"
"You don't have to stand there the entire time," he said. "If you need to step away to get something to eat or go to the head, that's fine. We're not going to get very far off course—nothing that can't be corrected. And…"
He showed her a couple of pieces of rope with loops at the ends; one had been tied off on the compass post and the other to the deck railing. "If the ship keeps pulling to one side, you can slip the loops around the wheel's spokes to keep it from turning. It won't work long-term to keep us on course, but it helps short-term if you need to leave it for a little bit. Just check it regularly."
"Alright." Inwardly, Zelda sighed a little in relief. She had been very worried about keeping the ship on a direct course and she had been standing at the wheel for several hours without a break. She was glad to hear that Link was more casual about it.
Link went to the galley—it was located under the quarterdeck, next to the captain's cabin—and within a half hour, he had a brunch prepared for them. He found a couple more crates, and he brought them up on the quarter deck so they could both have a place to sit and could use the third as a table.
"How long do you think it will take for us to cross?" Zelda asked, eating a candied orange. She had already polished off a bowl of seafood soup and a couple pieces of hardtack (they weren't too bad softened up in the soup).
"You assume there's a destination," Link said, as he checked the compass. He gave the wheel a little correction, then returned to his own hardtack.
"This isn't called the Endless Ocean for nothing," he added.
"Yes, but it can't really be endless," Zelda argued. "After all, the world is round. If there's nothing out there—no other land—then, eventually, we must circle back around to the east; we must land in Shi-Ha."
"Your logic is sound," Link allowed, "but experience hasn't borne that out. No one has ever crossed the Endless Ocean. No one has ever made it to Shi-Ha. Either people get turned back or they're never seen again."
He looked out at the pacific blue water passing them by. "My own father went out one day and never came back. That was thirteen years ago; if he had ever managed to sail around the world and land in Shi-Ha, he would have walked back home years ago."
"But Master Ryu thought Gardamon might have made it across?"
"He didn't know. All he knew was that Gardamon set sail to try to find the end of the ocean and no one ever saw him again."
"This is like looking for a needle in a haystack," Zelda said despondently.
"I think it's more like looking for a specific needle in a stack of other needles."
"You know, your optimism is really one of your best qualities," Zelda said dryly.
Link laughed. "Well, I'm here, aren't I? If I knew it couldn't be done, then we wouldn't be here. But with a miracle from the gods, we might accomplish our mission, so it's not impossible—just 99.99% impossible. I'm betting on the .01%."
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as one day bled into another in an endless cycle of monotony. When Zelda woke up in the mornings, she and Link shared breakfast, then he stretched out in his hammock and went to sleep. Zelda had nothing to do but sit on one of the boxes and occasionally adjust the wheel to correct their course. If the wind shifted, she woke Link up, and he adjusted the sails to take advantage of the wind's new direction, then he went back to sleep.
He usually got up sometime in the afternoon and made a late lunch. He managed to whittle some dice out of a bit of spare wood, so they wiled away a few hours every afternoon playing dice games. Then the sun would set—in all its blinding glory—and Link would make dinner. When they were done eating and the dishes were cleared away, he would take over for the evening and Zelda would go below to sleep.
Insignificant things became immensely interesting as they were all that made one day different from the one that came before or after.
On their second day out, Zelda managed to repair her shirt and pants while Link slept. She thought it looked sloppy, but Link praised her needlework. She couldn't be sure, though, if he was being truthful or if he was trying to be kind. He did mention that common women often applied embroidery to their clothing to cover up repairs, but there was no thread in the sewing kit that could reasonably pass for embroidery thread, so Zelda just had to live with it the way it was. But she liked the idea and vowed that if she couldn't get new clothes the next time they returned to civilization, she would at least get a bit of embroidery thread to hide the repairs.
On their third afternoon, Link spotted dolphins swimming off their bow, and he and Zelda both hung over the rail and watched them race the ship—occasionally getting ahead and jumping out of the water—until night fell and it grew too dark to see.
On the fourth day, Link finished the little flute he had been carving at night while Zelda slept. It had a high, trilling sound that wasn't as beautiful as either his regular flute or the smaller one that he had made Zelda, but he pronounced it "acceptable" given his limited selection of wood and the quick nature of the carving job. When they grew tired of playing dice, Link would play and Zelda would sing until they both grew too hoarse to continue.
On the fifth day, Link pronounced his arm healed and he told Zelda to take out the stitches.
"What?" she asked in alarm, backing away as he offered her his knife.
"I can't do this myself," he said. "I need you to do it for me."
"I'll cut you."
"I hope not."
He showed her how to pinch up the ends of the thread and pull them taunt, exposing the knot. "Do it like this, then cut right below the knot," he said.
"This looks like it would hurt," she said, gingerly taking up the ends of the thread.
"It does a little—which is why I would prefer you were quick about it. But don't rush it too much and cut me," he added.
"You're making me nervous."
"I'll shut up then."
"Do you even know how?" she retorted.
"I do when it's for my own good," he said with a smile.
He was true to his word and didn't speak again until Zelda was done. And although she worried about cutting him the entire time, it wasn't really as bad as she thought it would be. The stitches were soon cut and pulled out.
"That looks much better," Link said, looking at the thin pink scar where once there had been an open wound that refused to stay closed.
"I just hope I never have to sew you up," Zelda said, handing him back his knife.
"I hope you never have to, either. I'm rather over being injured."
Because they didn't have anything better to do most of the time, they spent hours talking—picking up where their winter evenings at the monastery had left off. Their conversations slowly became more personal until there was little they didn't know about each other.
"So… how many girls have you kissed?" Zelda asked one day while she was sitting at the helm and Link was still lying in his hammock, obviously feeling too lazy to get up.
He laughed. "Are we back to this?" he asked.
"Your Highness, the last time you started this line of questioning, you got mad and barely talked to me for hours."
"I won't be mad this time," she said, even as she secretly hoped she could keep her promise. She was slowly coming to the realization that when it came to Link, she had a bit of a jealous streak.
"Do you promise on your crown?"
"Have you kissed that many?" she asked, appalled. Surely he wouldn't be making her swear such oaths unless the news was particularly bad.
"I won't say until you swear on your crown."
"Fine. I swear on my crown," she said shortly, then she braced herself for the bad news.
"Just one," was his reply.
It took a minute for his words to register. Without realizing it, she let out a breath she had been holding. "What?"
"I've only kissed one girl. Well, besides you, of course."
"I thought you had done it a lot."
"Well, I have—just with one girl."
"Oh." Zelda wasn't sure if that was better or worse than a bunch of girls. At least if he had been stealing kisses from every girl in town, it wouldn't mean anything. But if he only kissed one girl, he must have been serious about her.
"So…" she asked, trying to sound casual, "what happened to her?"
"Nothing happened to her; she still sells bread in the marketplace."
"Are… are you still dating her?" Zelda asked, her voice rising in pitch, despite her best efforts not to sound concerned.
He laughed. "I knew this was coming."
"What?" she said innocently.
"Your Highness, what sort of man do you take me for? Do you think I would be dating someone and kissing you at the same time?"
"Well… no," she admitted. She hadn't thought about it like that before, but Link was definitely not the type to be so dishonorable as to play with a girl's affection.
"For your information," he said, finally revealing the whole story, "Madge is a married woman now—and has been for a few years. And she and I never dated; I didn't have any interest in her that way, and I'm several years younger than her and she had no interest in me that way, either."
Zelda was confused. "But… why did you two kiss if you didn't like each other?"
"I don't dislike her," he corrected. "In fact, she's a sweet person and I consider her a dear friend. I still visit her when I go into the city."
"But not to kiss her?" Zelda hurriedly asked.
"Definitely not," he said with a chuckle. "I think her husband would rather disapprove of that."
Zelda turned around on the box so she was sitting facing him. "So, what led to all this kissing between you and her?"
She may have been imagining it—after all, Link still had a little sunburn on his face—but it looked like he blushed.
"Well…" he said slowly, with some reluctance, "when I was… oh… about twelve years old, I noticed that some of the older soldiers and servers around the castle had sweethearts. And I observed them kissing.
"So I asked one of the older boys I knew how one goes about kissing a girl. Is it something you know how to do instinctively, or is it something that you have to practice?
"When he finished laughing at me," Link said with a grin, "he told me it was a little of both—you can do it without any practice, but you're not going to be very good at it at first.
"So I asked him where I could go to practice.
"When he finished laughing at me again, he said to ask Madge, the baker's daughter who sold bread in the marketplace. He happened to know she was rather fond of kissing.
"So, on my next day off, I marched to the market with great determination and seriousness and asked Madge if she would teach me to kiss.
"When she finished laughing at me, she told me I was too young for her and to come back in a few years.
"But I told her that it was important that I learn, and wouldn't she please reconsider?
"She asked me why it was so important, so I told her. She seemed rather compelled by my case and told me to come back the next day for her answer.
"I went back the next day and took her a flower, hoping to bribe her—because one of the older boys told me that women really like flowers.
"When she saw me with the flower, she smiled and said, yes, she would teach me to kiss.
"Kissing seemed—from my observance—something pretty simple, so I expected to master it within a few weeks, but I actually ended up going to Madge weekly for about a year. Not because it took me that long to get good at it," he clarified, "but because Madge took it upon herself to teach me much more than simple kissing. As she said, any fool can kiss a girl. Some fools can even do a good job of it. But, she said, it took a gentleman to really win a woman's heart.
"And that's what she taught me: how to be a gentleman. She taught me how to make conversation. She taught me poise and patience and charm.She showed me what to do and what not to do. She taught me what women like and what they don't like. She even taught me to dance.
"After about a year, though, she got a serious boyfriend, and she admitted to me that despite the fact that I was younger and she wasn't at all serious about me, nor me about her, her boyfriend felt a little threatened by me.
"And then she smiled and said that was proof-positive that I had mastered all of her lessons and there was nothing more to teach me.
"She ended up getting married a few years ago and perhaps because of that, her husband mellowed towards me. He doesn't pay me much mind when I stop to visit, but then Madge and I are just friends. I don't practice my charm on her anymore. …At least not when he's around," Link added with a laugh. "I do occasionally take her a flower and ask her advice. I feel I owe her a large debt of gratitude."
Zelda felt considerably better for knowing the truth. She could just imagine a twelve-year-old Link marching up to an older girl and asking for kissing lessons with the same stubborn determination and self-confidence he always possessed. The thought made her laugh.
A few minutes passed before Zelda thought to ask another question. "What did you tell her that made her want to help you?"
She wasn't imagining it; he was blushing. "I… told her I was in love with a girl, and I had to learn to kiss so that one day I would be worthy of her. Gods forbid I approach such a girl with some inept, slobbery, son-of-a-fisherman kiss."
Zelda felt her relief melt away and her heart sank back to her feet. "Who were you in love with?" She hesitated to asked if he was still in love with the same girl.
He smiled at her rather strangely, then lazily lifted his hand and gestured for her to come to him.
What? Was he afraid someone was going to overhear?
Frowning, she walked over to him.
He looked up at her with a cocky smile and his old, smoldering look that made her heart skip a beat. He took her hand in his and slowly lifted it to his lips, gently kissing it.
"Your Highness," he said softly, "after all this time, do you really have to ask?"
Zelda felt a warmth slowly seep through her as she came to the realization that everything Link had done had been in anticipation of one day wooing her.
"There has only ever been you," he added, looking up at her. "From the first time I saw you, there was only you. And there will only ever be you."