Poison and Pardons
Zelda had a succession of strange, feverish dreams. Some of them she forgot as soon as she had them—although she tried to remember them later, even while having new dreams.
She dreamed that she was trying to fly a kite, but she couldn't get it off the ground. Horace offered to try, so she let him take it, then she climbed on top and he launched it and her both into the air. She flew for a long time.
At some point, she dreamed that a wolf tried to attack her and Link, but he played his flute and tamed it. Then he got on its back and pulled her up, too, and they rode around the plain all night.
Then she was in bed and Link was giving her something to drink, but she didn't want it because it made her feel sick to her stomach. But he held her down and forced the liquid on her until she vomited. Then he did it again. She was sure he was trying to poison her, but since she couldn't keep it down, it didn't harm her. That didn't stop him from trying to do it again, though.
She had no idea why Link would want to poison her. She thought he had been in love with her. Maybe it was just a ruse on his part to get her alone so he could kill her and take her throne.
The thought made her cry.
"See, I told you," her father said superiorly. "I told you he was after the throne. But nooooo, you chose him over me—your father—your own flesh and blood. Now look at the mess you're in. I'm dead and you soon will be, too."
Zelda cried harder.
"Crying about it won't help," he said unsympathetically. "You might as well give up and just let him finish you off. Better poison than having your head chopped off—less painful that way."
Then Link was holding her and trying to pour something in her mouth.
With tears running down her face, she decided to listen to her father and just give up; she drank the liquid. It was warm and rather fishy-tasting. It didn't taste like poison. And it didn't make her sick.
Suddenly she felt as if her stomach was trying to turn itself inside out—not from poison, but from sheer hunger. Her stomach, at least, knew what her feverish brain didn't: food was being offered. And it wanted it. Now.
Zelda tried to grab the cup of broth, but she was adrift at sea again and her arms were moving through water. Only the water felt thick and she could barely move against it.
"Shh… here," Link said, giving her more broth.
She gulped it greedily, not caring about manners or tidiness. When the cup was empty, she bit at it, convinced it was a rather-tough cracker.
Link chuckled, pulling it away. "Hey, don't eat that; it's the only one we have."
He laid her down and got up. Zelda watched as he walked across a low-lying fog that filled a strange wooden room. He went to the blue-burning fire and did something, then he skipped lightly across the fog to her side.
He sat down on the edge of the cloud where she was lying and he took her gently in his arms, offering her more broth. She downed it quickly.
When she was through, he laid her down again and looked at her closely. His eyes were made of the same blue flames as the fire.
"Princess, can you understand me?"
She tried to answer him, but only a tiny squeak came out. It was a struggle to find her voice—long disused and long abused by cold and saltwater.
She tried again. "Y-yes," she croaked.
He brushed his hand over her forehead and cheek. It felt nice and cool. "Do you know who I am?"
She nodded a little.
"Do you know who you are?"
She had to think about that one a little bit harder. She thought she knew who she was—in fact, she was certain she had known the second before he asked—but now she wasn't sure what her name was.
"Do you know who you are?" he repeated.
She finally shook her head a little. She wanted to tell him to give her more time—she'd figure it out eventually—but that was far too many words to speak; she'd never get it all out. It was too much effort.
"If you know who I am, what's my name?" he pressed.
"Alright," he said, seeming content with that answer. He brushed his hand over her forehead again.
She wanted to ask him why he was trying to poison her earlier—and if he still planned on doing her in—but she fell asleep before she could gather the strength to string together an entire sentence.
She was in the cold ocean. She had been in it for days, but there was still no sign of land. She was dying of thirst and her stomach cramped painfully from hunger. She had never known real hunger or thirst before; she had never wanted for anything. But now she was alone and there was no help. Link—the only person left in the world who would care for her—was gone—drowned at sea.
Sometimes she could see large fish in the water around her, circling. Sometimes they even got close enough to brush against her leg. She tried to climb higher onto a little panel of boards which represented the largest part of the ship that had survived. She didn't know anything about fish, but the ones circling her were so large, she was afraid they might eat her. She was pretty sure some fish ate people.
The sky remained overcast day after day, so she couldn't even figure out what direction she was moving—or even if she was moving. For all she knew, she was bobbing in the middle of the ocean, going nowhere.
One night it began to rain. It was as if the ocean—denied its victim—had asked the sky to help; either from below or above, she was going to be drowned.
The sea began to toss her and her little piece of wreckage around. It was going to clean up everything it missed the first time around.
Zelda cried out to the gods to end her suffering—to give her either rescue or death. She couldn't stand living in between the two anymore.
In the storm, a scrap of canvas became wrapped around her and she couldn't move her arms. This was surely it. She was going to go down into the dark depths of the sea and never been seen or heard of again.
Then Link was stroking her hair. "Shh… Shh, it's alright."
She struggled against the canvas, suddenly changing her mind—suddenly wanting to fight for life.
"I… I can't move. I'm drowning. Don't let me drown!"
"You're not drowning."
She struggled harder, not hearing him. She couldn't get free of the fabric wound around her body. She was sinking down, down, down.
She screamed, kicking and jerking her arms harder. But instead of getting free, thick ropes encircled her, holding her tight.
"Princess, Princess, shh, you're alright. You're not drowning. Be still."
She still cried and struggled. She began to hyper-ventilate; a full-blown panic attack was setting in.
"Princess, please," Link begged, "you're making things worse."
"I… have to get out. I'm going to drown. I'm going to drown."
Then the rope bands around her released. She struggled with the sail, but, magically, it melted away.
Warm, dry air washed over her body. She was floating on top of the ocean, finally free. The storm was over and the sun was shining; it was a beautiful day.
She breathed a sigh of relief, calming down.
After a minute, she actually began to enjoy the feeling of floating effortlessly on her back. It felt good to be naked.
Something about that didn't seem right.
She opened her eyes, only to discover that she was not floating on the ocean, basking in the sun; instead, she was in a dark cabin, lying on a ratty excuse for a bed. But she was naked.
Link was standing beside the bed, holding a blanket. He looked at her worriedly. "Princess, do you know where you are?"
"No," she said shrilly. "And why am I naked?" She curled up, trying to cover herself.
Link gently draped the blanket over her. "I had to take your clothes off because they were soaking wet and you were almost frozen to death. I had you covered up, but you were screaming that you couldn't move and were drowning. I was afraid you were going to hurt yourself if I didn't 'free' you."
Zelda heard only one thing that he had said.
"You took off my clothes!?" she shrieked. It was one thing if she had lost her clothes at sea, but for him to strip her of them….
Link dropped to one knee. "Forgive me, Your Highness, but I had to."
"Where are they?" she demanded.
He got up and walked across the room to a table. He brought her shirt and pants back; they were carefully folded.
She snatched them from his hand. She had to hold the blanket up with her other hand to keep from exposing herself again.
"What kind of perverted man strips a woman naked when she's helpless?" she railed. "I thought I could trust you."
He rocked back, looking as if she had just slapped him across the face.
Link was stunned past the point of speech. He merely bowed to her, turned, and walked quietly out the door.
Zelda huffed angrily and threw back the blanket. She tried to sit up, but she became so dizzy, she nearly fell out of the bed. By blind luck, she managed to grab the headboard and steady herself.
That shocked her out of her anger. And as she struggled to dress herself, she slowly came to the realization that she had been—and still was, to some degree—very ill. It seemed to take forever to pull on her pants. And she nearly fell out of the bed three more times as she tried to get into her shirt.
After ten minutes, she finally fell back into bed—dressed, but so exhausted she felt that she could never lift her head again.
But, despite the fact that she was physically drained, her mind was steadily clearing and she started to see the difference between reality and her fever-induced hallucinations. She was pretty sure her dreams about being adrift on the ocean for days were based on reality. But she was quite positive that Link had not been trying to poison her.
In fact, she was sure that he had been taking care of her for some time—maybe even days. …Which made her feel like a complete ass when she thought about what she had just said to him. She didn't even know why she had reacted the way she had. She hoped he would believe that it was the fever talking, not her.
"Link?" she called out, hoping he would still talk to her.
He opened the door a second later—he must have been standing right outside—and walked in, his head bent and his eyes downcast. She could see in his face that she had wounded him deeply.
But before she could say anything, he knelt beside the bed and bowed forward, putting his forehead against the dirt floor.
It was the ultimate gesture of abject humility. Only the very desperate—such as those convicted of a crime—begged that way. And Zelda had seen a few condemned men go to the gallows rather than humble themselves that much—even to their king.
"Link, what are you doing?" she asked, completely bewildered.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry and I humbly ask your forgiveness."
Zelda stared at him in open-mouth shock. She should have been the one on her knees before him—not the other way around.
"W-what…? What…? No…. No, no, get up."
But he didn't move. "I did something which was improper and offensive to you," he said, "and for that I beg your pardon. But please know that I only did it because I felt there was no other alternative. I was truly afraid you were going to die."
Zelda felt tears stinging her eyes. She felt a million times more guilty than she had just a few minutes before.
"Link, get up. Please."
"Not without your pardon," he insisted.
"You don't need my pardon. It is I who wronged you. I hope you know that I wasn't in my right mind when I said those things. I know you would never take advantage of me. You are the most steadfastly loyal person I've ever known. And I trust you completely. If you say that you needed to do something for my well being, then I believe that it needed to be done."
He didn't budge.
"You're not going to get up, are you?"
"No, Your Highness—not without your forgiveness."
"I've told you there's nothing to forgive."
"Well… you may not remember it, but I did shout and curse at you because you wouldn't call me to you. I only did that because I knew you desperately needed my help, and you weren't listening to me, but… I probably should have handled that better."
Zelda sighed, too tired to argue with him anymore. Besides, he was the only person more stubborn than she was; he would never give in.
"Sit up; I can't reach you down there," she said wearily.
He slowly rose, sitting back on his heels. Zelda stretched out her hand and laid it on top of his head. "Link, for whatever wrongs you think you committed against me—and I still think that you didn't commit any—I forgive you… on one condition."
"Anything, Your Highness."
"You must forgive me."
He smiled a little, and that's when Zelda knew everything would be alright between them. "I already did."