Prince Zeyde led them to a small, family-only dining room. The king was already sitting at the head of the table, waiting on them. He looked at Zelda and gestured for her to sit to his left.
Even though there was a servant standing behind each chair, waiting to serve that one person, it was Link who pulled out the heavy, high-backed chair for Zelda. She sat down and he pushed it under the table, then he subtly waited until she gestured for him to sit beside her. Across the table, Prince Zeyde and Princess Rayliss sat down as well.
"Where are Philippe and Castor?" Zelda asked when it appeared no one else was going to join them at the table. Philippe and Castor were Rayliss's younger brothers.
"They're not old enough," Rayliss answered. Zelda knew immediately what she meant; she had not been allowed to attend any formal meals until she had been twelve, and that was only because she was the only royal woman at court. Normally, royal children were kept more or less out of public sight until they were fourteen to sixteen years old. It sounded heartless, but it actually spared them the boredom and complexities of political intrigue until they were old enough to exercise both patience and a silent tongue.
"Now that you have had some sleep and food and a bath, are you in a better mood?" the king asked, looking at Zelda with a half-mocking smile.
"My mood varies from person to person," Zelda said, looking back at him levelly.
He laughed, then gestured for the servants to begin serving the food. Zelda found it disconcerting to have someone hovering behind her chair, just waiting for her to pause and look at some dish on the table expectantly so he could jump in and offer to serve her. Formal dinners in Hyrule were served the same way, but, as she had told Rayliss, it was as if she had been living in a very different world for the last month. She had grown accustomed to always being on the lookout, always defensive, because there was always something out to get her. It was hard to remember that this genteel, insulated world was the one she was actually supposed to belong to.
The second time the servant reached around her chair to do something for her—causing her to jump—Link subtly waved him away and began to serve Zelda himself. She relaxed almost immediately.
The king watched the exchange with interest.
Everyone was quiet for a time while they ate the first course. Then, as the servants were clearing away the food and dishes, the king looked at Zelda.
"So, what exactly is it that you want from me?" he asked. "If it's just food and shelter, that is no problem, but Link suggested you are not interested in going into exile."
"I need to remove Nagadii from Hyrule," she replied. "We have been told that he is eliminating anyone with a claim to the throne and that he is building up an army because he fears that Erenrue will march against him."
"And that's what you want to me to do? Take my army out against him?" He sat back in his chair. "You are asking me to risk the lives of my people—and make no mistake, there will be men who die in this endeavor—for what purpose? To put you on the throne of Hyrule? To bring to justice a Hyrulian criminal?"
He leaned forward again, looking at Zelda earnestly. "It's not that I don't have sympathy for your plight, Granddaughter, but why should I get my people killed to help you and yours? What's in it for Erenrue?"
An icy silence descended on the table. Even the servants dared not set the second course on the table.
It was Link who leaned in to answer the king. "You have a valid point, Your Majesty, but this is a problem which will spread beyond Hyrule. For one thing, do you think that Nagadii will stop with Hyrule? If he builds up his army, but you do not go forth to meet him, do you think he will send that army home? Or will he be emboldened by his success in our kingdom and attempt to take over yours or that of Shi-Ha?
"And that is to say nothing of the demons which are escaping into the world from the rift inside Hyrule Castle. Every person who is attacked—aside from Hylians—will be turned into a demon. It won't be long before you have no subjects—only demon-beasts.
"If we can't get to the rift in the castle, then we can't close it. And if we don't close it, the problem will grow worse and worse until nothing will fix it, save the gods. And I have it from Master Gardamon that the gods are content to allow our world to be overrun with demons and our people—humans and Hylians both—wiped out. Then, and only then, will they step in and save the land and remake it.
"This is not about putting Her Highness on her throne—although that will help matters, certainly; it is ultimately about saving all of mankind and the world as we know it.
"If you don't send your men in to die now, in an attempt to regain control of Hyrule, then they will surely die when the demons of Hyrule come for them. We have already encountered demons in the outer regions of Erenrue. They will come here. And no army—no matter how mighty—can defeat them.
"You need us. You need us to find the Master Sword and restore balance to this world. And we need your help to do so. Our needs are aligned; we derive mutual benefit.
"That is what's in it for Erenrue."
Zelda was a little surprised by Link's impassioned plea. She didn't think she could have framed the argument so well. She had referred to him as her advisor mostly because she wanted him treated with respect. But he clearly was worthy of the title on his own merit.
The king sat back in his chair, mulling over what Link had said. After a minute, he signaled the servants to serve the second course.
"You have a valid point," he said at last. "But I will have to work on couching the situation in those terms. My nobles' gut-reaction will be that this is for Hyrule's benefit alone. And while there are many young men who are out to prove themselves and want a chance at glory, they also expect there to be something in it for them. Obviously Hyrule is not our enemy, so there would be no plunder involved."
"Young men will fight for noble ideas," Link countered. "They just need to think that they are saving the world."
"Is that what motivates you?" the king asked, looking at him shrewdly.
"What's the other part?"
"A different noble idea."
Link glanced away. "Does Your Majesty seek to learn all of our innermost thoughts and secrets before the dessert course is served?"
The king chuckled. "Perhaps."
"You know what we need?" Rayliss spoke up, looking eager to contribute to the conversation. "A party."
Zelda frowned. "I hardly think this is the time for that."
But the king looked at Rayliss curiously. "What makes you say that?"
"You have said yourself that wine has won more people to your cause than weeks of negotiations. What better way to get everyone drunk and convince them that invading Hyrule is a good and noble idea than to have a big party?"
The king leaned back and slowly stroked his beard. Zelda could see a gleam growing in his eyes.
"That is an excellent idea," he said at last.
The king slammed his hand down on the table. "Fetch Isui at once."
They were halfway through their second course when a man with a long dark beard and long red robes came scurrying into the room. He bowed low to the king.
"You sent for me, my Liege?"
"Yes. I want you to draft invitations to all of my nobles inviting them to a state banquet and ball which we will be hosting in a week's time in order to publicly welcome the heir-apparent of Hyrule. And I want you to make sure that everything Link told us about the state of Hyrule—namely the part about Nagadii's demons—is leaked. I also want it leaked that there will be a discussion, at the reception, of our role in Hyrule's current predicament. And, lastly, I want it to be hinted that Princess Zelda—the uncrowned queen of Hyrule—has no marriage prospects, but is entertaining offers."
Isui bowed low again. "I will see that it's done, Your Majesty," he said, before hurrying out.
Zelda looked at her grandfather in confusion and a bit of alarm. "Why are you telling people that I'm entertaining marriage offers? I'm doing no such thing! I have quite enough to do without sorting through suitors."
"Link said it himself: young men will fight for noble ideals. And what ideal is more noble than love? …Especially when it comes attached to a throne."
Zelda gaped at him. "Are… are you suggesting that I offer myself in marriage to the nobleman who can field the largest army for me?"
"Not at all. In fact, that would be counter-productive. We need every nobleman to raise troops and fight for us. If you are seen to be taken, those who have lost out will not be interested in fighting. It is the fact that you are available that is the bait. If every man thinks that he has the opportunity to win your favor by feat of arms on the battlefield, then every man will try his best."
The king sat back and looked at Link with a smile. "That wasn't quite what you had in mind, was it?"
Link looked back at him levelly, never blinking an eye. "It works."