The Gown of a Thousand Broken Hearts
Everyone worked hard all morning putting the final touches on the decorations for the party. It was early afternoon before they stopped for a brief lunch then, in the tradition of Erenrue—whose parties tended to last most of the night—the royal family, advisors, and the staff supervisors all retired to their rooms for a nap.
Link and Zelda went to their separate rooms.
Zelda was actually asleep—sleeping during the day seemed to be easier than sleeping at night—when a soft knock on her door woke her up.
"Yes?" she called out sleepily.
The door slowly opened and a woman peeped in. "Zelda? It's time to get ready."
"Oh, alright," Zelda said, throwing back the covers and sitting up. She rubbed her eyes.
The woman who came into her room was tall and beautiful. She had thick, dark curling hair that cascaded down her back, nearly to her thighs, and she was wearing a full crown of silver set with mother-of-pearl. She was dressed in a watery blue silk dress which, as she walked across the room, shimmered in the fading sunlight coming through the western windows. But as she came closer, Zelda could see that she was frightfully pale and thin.
"I'm Austina," the woman said in a soft voice, offering her hand to Zelda. "I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to welcome you before now."
Zelda had suspected that the woman was Zeyde's wife, but she had never actually met her aunt before; Austina had been too frail to travel to Hyrule with Zeyde and Rayliss the one time they had come for a visit.
"That's quite alright," Zelda replied, taking Austina's hand in her own; it felt cold. "I'm sorry to hear that you haven't been feeling well," Zelda continued. "Has your headache gone away?"
"Mostly." When Zelda looked at her with pity, she just shrugged and smiled a little with the weary expression of someone who is resigned to their pain, but tries to make the most of life anyways.
"Zeyde asked me to help you dress," Austina said, gesturing to the maids who were standing at the door, looking in with curiosity. Their arms were full of clothes and jewel boxes.
"You don't have to do that," Zelda said. Helping someone dress for dinner—even if was an important dinner—was a servant's job, and surely the lady of the palace had more important things to do. Besides, Zelda didn't want Austina to exert herself in any way; she looked so weak, Zelda was afraid she might collapse.
Austina smiled sweetly at her. "Zeyde asked me to. Besides, I'm jealous that everyone else has gotten to meet you and spend time with you and I haven't."
Zelda understood then what she meant: Zeyde didn't trust Zelda to dress herself. Or, probably more accurately, he wanted her dressed a certain way, so he sent his wife to make sure that it got done.
She sighed inwardly and tried to remember what Link had told her: it was all a political game and she was still her own person.
It turned out there wasn't a lot to put on. The linen shift that was offered to her was hardly worthy of being called an undergarment; it didn't cover much of anything. It had straps—no sleeves—and a very low neckline. It had been hemmed up above her knees.
The next garment was a cross between a coat and a robe. It was made from a pale silver silk that was trimmed in thick white fox fur. It had long, bell-shaped sleeves—made heavy by the fur trimming the cuffs. The collar rose up in the back and framed her head, but, in the front, the v-shaped neckline plunged daringly low. The front of the garment was buttoned with half a dozen large, iridescent mother-of-pearl buttons. The hemline ended just above her knees and swept open and back into a small train.
"It's… um… beautiful," Zelda said, as she looked at herself in the mirror. A maid knelt at her feet, helping her into slippers made of the same silver silk.
"It's… a bit more… grown-up than I'm used to," Zelda said hesitantly, trying to be polite. In truth, she was a little horrified at showing so much skin in public. Her father would have never let her wear such a dress.
"I always wear a dress under it," Austina confessed. "But Zeyde said you were to wear it this way."
Austina shrugged and smiled a little. "I don't know, but he must have a plan."
The slippers had ribbons attached to the back, and the maid crisscrossed them up Zelda's calves and tied them just below her knees. This seemed to further accentuate her bare legs.
Zelda sat at the dressing table while two maids—one on either side—quickly piled her long blonde hair on top of her head in a messy sort of a bun. They left streamers hanging down, which they curled with rods heated over a candle flame.
When they were done, it was another maid's turn. She bent down in front of Zelda and began to apply makeup to her face. That was another thing that Zelda had never been allowed to wear; makeup was generally reserved for older, married women.
When the maid was finished, she turned to look in the mirror and gasped as she hardly recognized herself. Her eyes were outlined in black eyeliner and her eyelids painted a smoky, silver-gray that made her gray eyes seem very noticeable. The only color to be found anywhere was the pink of her cheeks and the deeper pink of her lips. A light dusting of some sort of glittery powder had been brushed over her face and down her bare chest and it gave just a hint of sparkle in the candlelight.
The finishing touches were a wide necklace made of white gold, pearls and diamonds, a matching set of dangling earrings, and a half-crown studded with diamonds and pearls which was placed in front of her bun.
Austina had been silently watching the progress with a smile. Her smile grew wider when the last maid finished.
"You look beautiful beyond words," Austina said.
Before Zelda could thank her, there was a knock on the door. Austina nodded to one of the maids to open it.
Prince Zeyde breezed in, moving more quickly than Zelda had ever seen him move—although his face was as calm as always. He was wearing a fitted cote of the same watered-blue silk as Austina's dress. It had silver buttons up the front, set with mother-of-pearl centers. His crown matched Austina's as well.
"Ready?" he asked. Before Zelda could answer, he gestured for her to rise. "Let's have a look at you."
Zelda slowly stood and turned to face her uncle. Slowly, he smiled.
"Magnificent," he declared.
"She is beautiful," Austina said, "but she made a good point earlier: don't you think this is a little… risqué for a girl her age, Zeyde?"
"A girl her age? She is a queen—or will be soon enough. She needs to look the part."
Zeyde crossed the room to examine Zelda more closely. He looked her over, then he put his finger under her chin and lifted it slightly. "Let me see that pride of yours," he said. "Tonight you are to be charming and gracious and pleasing to everyone you meet, but you must always be every inch the queen. Every man must think he has a shot of winning you, but he must also be intimidated by your greatness and feel unworthy of you."
He looked at her seriously. "Do you think you can do that?"
"I can," she said. She had grown up playing whatever role her father wanted; as long as she knew what was desired, she could act the part.
"And, whatever you do," he warned, "don't favor Link. We are putting it around that he's your knight, so it's not as if you have to ignore him or treat him as if he's common, but he is your retainer only. You are here looking for bigger fish—and an army. Link can't give you that; our nobles can. Remember that."
Zeyde offered his arm to his wife and turned to escort her out of the room.
Zelda stood up a little straighter, her chin tilting higher. "Just so long as you remember that I do favor him," she said haughtily.
Zeyde turned back to look at her and smiled. "How could I forget?" He held up his finger. "One more thing. You're to wait until I send someone for you; I want everyone assembled and waiting for you. You are to come to the back door of the ballroom. I want you to enter alone and walk to the far end where Father will officially greet you. Then we will introduce you to some of the more important people before dinner."
Zelda nodded and, with a parting smile of encouragement from both Zedye and Austina, they left, followed by the maids, and Zelda was alone.
She sat down at the dressing table again and watched silently as the last of the light faded from the sky. It was completely dark when she, at last, heard a soft knock on the door.
That must be Zeyde's messenger, she thought. "Enter," she said, rising from the stool.
A man entered, hesitating at the door. It was only when he slowly drew closer that she realized it was Link.
He was dressed in the finest garment she had ever seen him in. The cote was fitted tightly to his body—it had obviously been made for him; it wasn't one of Zeyde's spares—and was made from a silk and velvet brocade. The velvet patterns—which made curling scrolls all over the fabric—were black, but the silk underneath was a rich shade of blue that matched his eyes. The cote was short and he wore fitted black hosen underneath it. It buttoned up the front with what looked like a hundred tiny silver buttons, and there were dozens more lining the edge of each sleeve up to the elbow. It had a collar of solid black velvet that fit close around his neck and over his shoulders was draped a simple collar of estate in silver.
He approached her as if in a daze. Before she could say anything to him, he knelt in the floor and bent down, kissing the hem of her dress.
"What are you doing?" she asked in bewilderment.
He looked up at her. "The first time I saw you," he whispered, "I thought you must be a fairy because you were the most beautiful person I had ever seen. But now I see that I was wrong; you must be the Goddess Hylia herself." He bent down, kissing her gown again. "And I must worship at your feet."
Zelda chuckled, feeling equal parts embarrassed and pleased. "Link, get up."
It took a little encouragement from her, but at last she got him on his feet.
"Your uncle sent me to escort you to the ballroom, but I fear I'm not worthy of such an honor," he said.
She slipped her arm around his. "Funny you should mention that," she replied; "sometimes I don't feel worthy of you."
"How could you ever feel that way, Your Highness?"
"Because I may be pretty on the outside, but on the inside you are truly a good and noble person. …And that is the better quality to have."
"Who told you that you were not good and noble on the inside?"
"I don't feel that I am."
Link slipped his hand under hers and lifted it to his lips. "The fact that you don't live up to your own expectations is proof that you have goodness within you. You'll eventually find your balance."
Zelda smiled a little. "Link, how did you become so wise?"
"Well, Your Highness, I am a year older than you. When you've lived as long as I have, you'll be as wise. Just know that you'll never catch up to me."
Zelda laughed as he escorted her out the door.