The Pride of Erenrue
Link followed the guard into the courtyard, glancing around curiously. The courtyard was not as wide and impressive as Hyrule Castle's, but Erenrue's castle was more spectacular. It ranged across multiple levels, making it tower over its own courtyard. It looked like a mountain peak all its own.
Hyrule's beautiful, ornate castle was meant to display the kingdom's wealth, but Erenrue's castle was meant to display its strength and power.
Link followed the guard up a wide set of marble steps that opened onto a large veranda. They were high enough up they could not only look out over the courtyard, but they could also see over the castle wall and into the city beyond.
The guard led him inside. They took several turns and went up even more flights of stairs until, at last, they stopped before an impressive set of doors in a wide hallway. Link didn't have to be told that it was the throne room; the throne room in Hyrule's castle had a very similar set of doors.
"Wait here until you're called," the guard commanded.
The guard marched smartly out of sight, leaving Link alone. There were chairs and couches along the walls in the hallway—Link was certainly not the first person to have to wait—so he took a seat and leaned his head back against the wall, resting.
Although he closed his eyes, he never truly went to sleep; he was aware of the sounds of scurrying feet and the groan of the heavy door as it opened to admit people. Link assumed that the rumor of his arrival was quickly spreading around the castle and that the king was gathering his advisors so they could all hear the news at once.
After a half hour or more, the door opened and a voice called out to him.
"Messenger of Hyrule, you are called into His Majesty's Presence."
Link quickly stood and went to the door, but the guard blocked his way.
"You must disarm before going before His Majesty."
That was standard protocol, so Link didn't argue with him. He unbuckled the strap which held on both his sword and shield and handed them to the guard. Then he leaned down and pulled the knife from his boot.
"Anything else?" the guard said, looking him over with suspicion.
"Turn around," the guard said, looking at him with distrust.
Link slowly pirouetted on the spot, holding his arms out to the side to show he had nothing to hide.
The guard was still frowning when Link completed his turn, but he didn't seem to find anything that he could complain about.
"You may attend His Majesty," he said reluctantly, stepping out of Link's way.
Link walked to where the enclave at the back of the room opened out into the throne room proper and he paused. Normally, a person would be announced before coming into the king's presence, but Link had not given his name and no one had asked.
The king didn't seem to stand too much on formality. He gestured for Link to come forward.
Link walked briskly up the white carpet runner which was laid out on white marble tile. It made him think of snow.
At the other end of the hall, there was a raised dais and two men sitting on thrones. The younger man—obviously Crown Prince Zeyde—sat on the smaller throne to the right of the older man.
The prince was a very handsome man—tall and slender. He had long black hair, tied back loosely at the nape of his neck, and as Link approached, he could see that the prince had the same light gray eyes as Zelda. In fact, but for the dark hair, there was a close resemblance between him and his niece.
Prince Zeyde watched Link with a detached curiosity. His entire being radiated tranquility and wisdom. Link liked him immediately; he looked logical and reasonable. He would consider facts and not easily be swayed by rumors and gossip.
The prince's features were the opposite of his father, though. The grizzled old war veteran looked to be of medium height and had a strong, muscular build, even though he was close to seventy years old. He had bushy gray hair and beard that framed his face like a lion's mane. In fact, that was Link's overall impression of him: a proud old lion. There was a hard fierceness in his gray eyes; they were as steely as Zeyde's were kind.
But Link liked him, too. He had always heard good things about King Ranis and knew him to be a strict ruler and man of action, but fair. He always made wise, calculated decisions—which was more than could be said for Zelda's father, King Marcus, who often acted first and thought later. In fact, King Marcus had never done much thinking for himself, but he had been wise enough to hire people to do the thinking for him—up until he took on Nagadii.
Zelda's grandfather, though, was highly independent. Link knew he had run off many would-be advisors because he did not place as much importance on them as they thought they deserved. (And Link knew this because those same men had come to Hyrule looking for employment under King Marcus.)
Link knelt before the king close enough to be able to talk, but far enough away to be unthreatening. It didn't escape his notice that there were several heavily-armed guards arrayed behind and beside the thrones. And off to one side was a gaggle of men in long robes who looked eager to hear the news. Link assumed they were the king's counselors.
"You are welcome in my Court, Messenger of Hyrule," the king said in a slow, gravelly voice, "although I fear you bring me ill news."
"I fear so, Your Majesty."
The king gestured for him to rise. "Tell me only what you know to be the truth," he commanded Link. "I have had enough of rumors."
Link began by telling him of the star charts and of the common boy whom King Marcus feared. Leaving out only a few details—such as the fact that he and Zelda could turn into animals and he could talk to the dead—he told the king how everything had progressed up to the death of Zelda's father and her escape from Nagadii—including the problem with the rift and the demons
He also left out one other small detail: he failed to mention that he was Link. He referred to himself in the third person the entire time he was relating what had happened.
The king was silent for a long moment, his chin resting on this hand as he digested the news.
"How do you know about the demons?" Prince Zeyde asked in a quiet, gentle voice.
"Two great scholars—men beyond reproach—told me about them. That, and I have seen them with my own eyes."
"Have you?" the king asked, looking at him sharply.
"Yes, Your Majesty—on my way here."
"And they can't be killed?"
"I will be honest: I didn't stay around long enough to check. One beast very nearly got me, and then we were set upon by an entire flock of bats; fighting them once was quite enough."
The king sighed. "This is distressing news. Worse—far worse—than we had heard."
"I don't know," Prince Zeyde said, "hearing that Zelda killed her own father was quite bad."
Link knelt on the floor. "Your Highness, I swear to you on all that's holy, Her Highness did not kill her father."
"And you know this how?" Zeyde asked, looking at him shrewdly.
Link bowed his head. "Because… I was there." Slowly, he reached up and pulled off his stocking cap, revealing his Hylian ears.
"Ah, so now we have it," the king said, leaning back in his chair and looking at Link appraisingly. "You are the boy who caused all of this."
"Begging Your Majesty's pardon, but I did not cause anything—unless my mere existence is guilt enough."
"Perhaps." The king leaned forward and gestured to him. "Stand. Let me have a look at you."
Link stood up and looked the king in the eye. The king twirled his finger, and Link held up his arms—as he had for the guard—and slowly turned on the spot.
"Fearsome," the king said mockingly when Link had completed his turn. "I can see why Marcus trembled over the very thought of you."
Link smiled a little; it wouldn't do to be seen openly mocking his late monarch, but he appreciated that King Ranis seemed more reasonable that Zelda's father.
"See, when I want someone dead, they get that way and stay that way," the king continued. "That you escaped Marcus proves that he was messing with something that was beyond his ken. I warned him of as much."
Link was surprised. "You did?"
"Yes." He leaned back in his chair again. "I corresponded with Vizier Ryu for some months over the matter. He hoped that I would talk some sense into Marcus or, failing that, take Zelda into fosterage so that he could raise the two of you together without any interference."
"Marcus was not a brilliant man, but never think that he was an idiot; he saw through my offer."
"That is why Zelda was never allowed to leave Hyrule," Zeyde said sadly. "We were allowed to visit her, but she was never allowed to come here."
"Marcus thought if he could keep her isolated, he would keep her from meeting you," King Ranis continued.
"Which is why Master Ryu had me placed in the household guard," Link concluded.
"Right under his very nose," King Ranis said with a smile. Then he shook his head. "Never interfere with what the gods have planned."
"I try my best to do what they want me to do."
"And what of my granddaughter? How does she feel about her destiny?"
"That is not for me to say, Your Majesty. But if you wish to ask her, she may answer."
"Oh?" the king asked, sitting up straighter. "Is she nearby?"
"She is. She would like to ask for your help in reclaiming her throne."
"Why is she not here to ask that herself?"
"She is… somewhere safe. I wanted to come alone and gauge the mood. If my news was not well received, then I would not have allowed her to come."
"And that is why you did not reveal yourself from the beginning," Zeyde observed.
"Yes, Your Highness. I would prefer to leave here with my head as well."
The king waved such an idea away. "There is nothing to fear. I will not harm my granddaughter. Or you."
Link bowed his head. "Thank you, Your Majesty."
"You may bring her before me."
But rather than leave, Link contacted Zelda telepathically.
The King has asked for you, Link told Zelda.
There was a long pause—Link assumed she ducked into some corner to transform—then, Oh, Link, I forgot about my clothes. I can't present myself before him looking like this.
Link considered the problem for a moment, then he dropped back to his knee. "Your Majesty, may I ask a favor on behalf of Her Royal Highness?"
"What?" the king demanded. "I haven't even seen my granddaughter yet and she's already asking for favors?"
Link merely bowed his head. There was no good answer to that question.
"What does she want?" he growled impatiently.
Link had the impression that Ranis was acting more gruff than he really was—he actually seemed to be intrigued by Link and what was happening—but he didn't want to appear to be too consenting. Of course, there was always posturing involved when two monarchs met; it wouldn't do for one to appear to be weaker than the other. Everything always required negotiation. Just deciding what to eat for breakfast and where everyone was going to sit could require an hour of talks.
In a way, Link supposed they could take it as a compliment that King Ranis wanted to begin the typical diplomatic wrangling; it meant he, at least unofficially, recognized Zelda's claim to the throne.
"Princess Zelda requests something to wear," Link replied. "After traveling for more than a month—and surviving a shipwreck—her clothing is not fit for either her or your Court."
"Your clothes look fine," the king argued.
"Begging Your Majesty's pardon, but I am not royal; I am not held to such high standards. That, and my clothing was made by fishermen for working at sea; it has fared much better than Her Highness's."
The king looked thoughtful for a moment. "So, let me see if I understand this correctly," he said slowly, as if working out a puzzle: "my granddaughter comes here to ask my help in reclaiming her throne—no small request, by any means—but before she will come before me as a supplicant, she demands I give her nice clothes?
"Does anyone see a problem with this?" he asked, looking to his advisors. They all snickered.
"What's next?" he continued. "Beggars at the kitchen door refusing food that doesn't meet their standards?" He turned back to Link. "She is queen of nothing at the moment, therefore she can have no standards. Let her beg in her rags."
"Oh, Father," Prince Zeyde softly chided, "quit being a hard ass. You would ask for no less if you were in her place."
"Possibly," the king allowed. He appeared to consider the matter again, then he finally relented. "Very well, we'll find something for her to wear." He waved his hand at an attendant. "See if Rayliss has something Zelda can wear."
"No need, Your Majesty," Link said with a smile. He had been repeating everything they said back to Zelda and she had not taken her grandfather's words well. "She is on her way now," he advised. "Although I might warn your staff to get out of her way."
Zeyde looked at him curiously. "How do you know that she's coming?"
"I can speak to her telepathically. I have conveyed everything that's been said here to her."
Zeyde gave his father a now-look-what-you've-done look.
A moment later, one of the hall doors was thrown open. Zelda stormed through in all her beauteous rage—like a storm at sea. Her blonde hair was loose and disheveled, her shirt and pants torn and tattered in places. Her boots were worn and discolored. But her head was held high—proudly high—as she came in, trailing sputtering, helpless guards and attendants.
Two of the inner court guards tried to stop her—she was still wearing her quiver and bow—but she pushed them roughly out of her way and walked up the carpet to the throne, uninvited.
The breech of protocol was so egregious, it left them struck dumb. They could only look at the king pitifully, wanting some command that would restore order to their regimented world.
The king just waved them away with a little gesture.
Link stepped to the side, out of the way, so Zelda could have the floor to herself. He had warned her that her grandfather was just grandstanding—as all monarchs did when they were together—but Zelda had decided that two could play at that game. Besides, after everything they had been through—including sleep-deprivation and hunger—she was short on patience.
She walked right up to the foot of the dais, but rather than make her obedience, she jerked off her bow and threw it on the floor at her feet.
The king's ministers gasped at the horrible show of disrespect. If anyone but another monarch had done such, it would have been a crime punishable by death. But even with it being Zelda, it was the highest level of insult to disrespect a king in his own kingdom. Wars had been started over less.
Zelda pulled off her quiver and threw it down, too. A few arrows fell out and scattered on the carpet.
"There!" Zelda said. "That is all I own." She gestured to Link. "This is the only retainer I have. What you see is all we have between us. Are you sufficiently pleased with my poverty? I have paraded through your castle and have appeared in your Court, before all your ministers and servants, in all my glorious poverty. Am I sufficiently humble now? May I have your hospitality, or do you want me to grovel on the carpet?"
The king looked at her for a long moment, then looked away. Link thought he was trying not to smile.
After a minute, Ranis looked back at Zelda levelly. "I don't think you know the meaning of the word 'humble,' Granddaughter."
There was a long, tense pause.
"Grovel," the king said.
Link stepped up before Zelda could explode with rage. He knew King Ranis was pushing her just to see how she would react, but the king didn't realize that he didn't want to know the answer to his question. Link was actually a little worried that Zelda might pick up her bow and shoot her grandfather. Her father's trademark temper was up and there was going to be a major international incident if he didn't do something to stop it.
Link got down on his knees and bowed down, putting his forehead to the floor. "Your Majesty, on behalf of Her Royal Highness, I beg for your hospitality and assistance."
This clearly caught everyone off-guard because no one spoke for a long minute.
Then Zelda grabbed him by the back of the shirt, trying to pull him up. "Link, get up! I won't have you debasing yourself like that—much less for me. Get up. We're leaving."
"You're going nowhere," King Ranis said. "You will stay here with me and I will give you my hospitality for as long as it is mine to give."
He gestured to Link. "Rise, Link."
Link pushed himself to his feet.
"I suppose I shouldn't expect humility from Marcus's daughter," the King said gruffly.
"Personally, I think you shouldn't expect humility from any descendant of yours," Zeyde retorted.
The King suddenly laughed. "This is true."
He stood and descended the steps of the dais. Link quickly picked up Zelda's bow and quiver and arrows and discreetly stepped out of the way.
King Ranis clasped Zelda on the shoulders, looking at her. "You need fire in your belly if you're going to fight and reclaim your throne. But when this young man steps in on your behalf, you should follow his lead. You have the fire, but he has the sense."
Zelda sniffed. Her air was still haughty, but she looked willing to be appeased. "I have sense," she said coolly. "After all, I made him my retainer, didn't I?"
The king smiled a little. "You are definitely your father's daughter."