The party descended into chaos. Servants were running everywhere—trying to prepare rooms in the castle for people who were suddenly staying in town longer than anticipated; going out to wake every blacksmith in the city; bringing in the best spies and scouts in town; making Prince Zeyde a pot of extra-strong tea.
King Ranis was in his element, barking out orders for staff and nobles alike. He called for his generals and advisors, then whisked off to the War Room. Men who were called away kissed their wives and daughters goodbye, then entrusted their safety to those who were staying behind.
Zelda was surprised to see that, while a few women were tearful, most seemed as proud and happy as the men. A few even talked about going to war with them.
It seemed she had accidentally stumbled on the national pastime of Erenrue.
She had always heard they were a rather war-like nation, but having some from a kingdom that hadn't seen war in over a hundred years, it was still a bit of a shock.
"Do you want to sit with the king's War Council?" Link asked her.
Zelda shook her head.
"Shall I escort you back to your room, then? It looks like the party is over."
"Yes, please," she replied. She didn't know if the night was finally catching up to her, or if the news of an imminent war was just so overwhelming, but she was suddenly exhausted.
Link took her arm in his and they tried to get through the press of people who were likewise leaving. But now there was a general feeling of every man for himself, so Zelda had to wait in line like everyone else.
The hallways were full of loud people talking about war or trying to find out where they were staying. But as Link and Zelda moved through the castle to the wing for the royal family, it grew quieter and they saw fewer people. Eventually, they were alone—save the posted guards, who quickly stopped their curious, speculative whispering when Link and Zelda came into view.
They stopped outside Zelda's bedroom door and Link opened it for her. "Do you want me to find some maids to help you get ready for bed?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No, I'm fine."
She took him by the hand and tried to pull him into the room with her, but he resisted.
"Your Highness," he whispered, "if the king finds me in here again, he really will have my head."
"I need to talk to you about that."
With some reluctance, he followed her into the room and shut the door behind him.
She turned to him. "Sir Elgon, the Captain of the Guard, wanted me to tell you that he has his best men guarding my hallway and that no one but us or the royal family can come through it without an escort. Also, no servants are allowed in my room uninvited, and the only ones that are allowed to serve me are Rayliss or Aunt Austina's personal maids."
She actually saw him breathe a sigh of relief. "Good."
"He also said that no one was allowed to disturb me in the mornings."
Link looked at her the same way she had looked at Sir Elgon: was she saying what he thought she was saying?
She just nodded.
He put his hand over his face in embarrassment.
"He said he would do the same thing—and continue to do the same—if he was in your shoes," she hurried to add. "Do you think… do you think he's worried that something might happen? Does he suspect someone?"
"I don't know. Did you ask him that?"
"No, I didn't get a chance."
"I'll find him tomorrow and talk to him about it. I would have talked to him about your security earlier, but most men in his position don't like to have their procedures questioned—especially by a nobody like me."
"You're not a nobody," she declared.
"Just because I've been playing the knight this evening, Your Highness, doesn't actually make me one. I daresay the king's Captain knows the truth about me."
"Well, even if he does, he spoke well of you—as if he respected you."
"That's nice to know; it'll make things easier. I'll talk to him about the situation tomorrow."
She looked at him expectantly.
"And I'll stay with you tonight," he added with a sigh. "With everything in disarray and extra people staying here, it seems especially prudent to do so."
He sounded as if he had to convince himself.
Zelda stepped into the closet to change into her nightgown. When she came out, Link was already lying in bed, his arms behind his head, looking at the ceiling thoughtfully.
"Tomorrow you're going to have to join the War Council," he said, as she crossed the room to her dressing table. "Obviously Nagadii's defeat is in your best interest."
"What about you?" she asked, pouring herself a basin of water from the ewer on the washstand.
"Oh, I'll be there, too. You and I are the only ones who have seen Nagadii and know the strength and weaknesses of the Hyrulian forces."
Zelda made a face. "That bothers me."
"What does, Your Highness?"
"The thought of going to war against my own people."
"I know," he said sadly. "That's been weighing on my mind, too. What will I do if I have to fight against the very men I once trained with?
"I would like to think that none of them would be a party to this, but what if Nagadii has their families? What if it's a choice between fighting for him or having their families killed?
"I'm not sure which thought wounds me more: my comrades being traitors, or me taking the lives of men who had no other choice."
Zelda sat at her dressing table and began to wash the makeup off her face with a cloth dipped in the cold wash water.
"You know," she said after a minute, "you don't have to fight. I would never force you to. I wouldn't even ask you to under these circumstances."
"Yes, but my honor compels me to fight," he replied. Then he began ticking off reasons on his fingers. "Nagadii killed my sovereign. He has stolen the throne from you and would kill you if he had the chance. He has been killing others of royal blood and has forced every man in Hyrule to fight a war he started for his own profit. And releasing those demons is a crime against humanity itself.
"For all these things, I should fight him every hour of every day until he is defeated.
"And even if he is invading Erenrue, and it is, technically, their fight, what would the people here think of me if I refused to help them in their hour of need? How can we ask for help, but give nothing in return?
"If I were in their shoes, I wouldn't think very well of me if I was suddenly nowhere to be found when our problem showed up on their doorstep."
Zelda was thoughtful as she finished cleaning up and took off her jewelry and let down her hair.
She blew out the candles, then crawled across the huge bed to Link's side.
He chuckled at her. "You could have come to the other side," he said, as she settled down next to him and nestled her head in the hollow of his shoulder. "I would have gotten up and let you in.".
He laughed softly. "You'll do it your way or not at all—is that it?"
They lay together in the darkness for a while, each lost in their own thoughts.
After a while, Zelda spoke. "Link, I think I should fight, too."
He looked at her. "What?"
"Everything you said is right. But you're not the only representative of Hyrule here. If people would think badly of you for not fighting, what would they think of me?"
"That you are a princess and that's why you have me."
"I don't think so. Besides, I think it's cowardly of me to send you out, alone, to fight my battles. The entire fate of the kingdom shouldn't rest on you alone."
He sighed. She could already tell he didn't have a counterargument to that. As a man who was strictly controlled by his sense of honor, he knew all too well what her honor dictated for her as well.
"I would prefer that you didn't," he pleaded.
"I know. But you also know that I'm right. I have to earn my title—you said so yourself many months ago."
He sighed unhappily again. "I know."
She hesitated, then made a confession. "Even though I know I must do it, I'm… I'm afraid of war. I've never been in a battle before. I've never even seen one."
"Neither have I."
"But I thought…?"
He shook his head. "I've trained for it, drilled for it, even practiced killing wild beasts, but I've never killed a human being before. Fought, yes; killed, no."
"How will we do it?"
"We will practice as much as we can and hope that when the time comes, fear for our own lives will motivate us to strike before the other man." He glanced at her. "I think I wouldn't hesitate to kill to protect you."
"I think I'd be more likely to kill someone to save you than to save myself," she admitted.
"Then we will stick together and just concentrate on keeping the other person alive. I think that's what it boils down to for everyone, anyways: you fight for the man standing next to you, not for yourself."
They grew quiet again, but Zelda still didn't fall asleep. It was strange that, as tired and drained as she was, she really wasn't sleepy; she had far too much on her mind. And given Link's quick breathing, he was no closer to sleep than she was.
And the longer she lay there, the more she became conscious of something nagging her—something other than thoughts of fighting and death. She thought it had something to do with her and Link; it felt as if something had changed between them, but she didn't know what, when, or how. It took her a long time to figure it out.
There was no longer any gulf of class or position between them.
She had felt it—although she hadn't been able to identify it—earlier that evening when they danced. Link had not intentionally held her close, feeling possessive and jealous; he had done it subconsciously because it felt natural and right. And she had let him do it because she felt the same sense of rightness when they touched.
Not only that, but dressed in his finery and collar of estate, Link had looked every inch the nobleman that evening; no one would have ever suspected—or even believed—that he had been born the son of a fisherman.
In a strange way, it was as if she was looking into some alternate future—the one she would have had if Link had been born noble, or if her father had approved of him.
Dancing close together; talking openly of their fears and weaknesses; making plans for the future; lying together in comfortable silence: this is what it would be like to be married to Link.
The idea surprised her a little, but the more she thought about it, the more she realized it didn't surprise her as much as it ought to. She had always avoided thinking about her future husband because she knew that she would have no real choice in the matter, so it did no good to speculate or get her hopes up. She had never thought about what qualities she would want in a partner or what she would expect.
But as she lay with Link, she realized that what she had with him was everything she could possibly want. She wanted someone who was intelligent and quick-witted; she wanted someone who would challenge her and who could match her stubbornness, but also—as Link had said—know when to yield; she wanted someone she could speak to openly and get an honest, well-reasoned answer; she wanted someone who inspired her to be a better person.
She wanted just what she had at that moment.
"Link," she said quietly, "you said earlier that you wanted to freeze time."
"I want to do that, too. I want to freeze this moment right now."
She felt embarrassed to tell him exactly what she was thinking. So she said the next-closest thing. "Because… the future is full of darkness and uncertainty and pain. But at this moment, everything is perfect. I'm safe and warm and comfortable; I don't want for anything. For the moment, we can pretend there's nothing wrong in the world; that safe and warm and comfortable is all there is; that it's normal. That this is normal," she added with a hint.
He turned his head and slowly kissed her hair. "I wish this was normal as well," he said quietly. "I wish it with my whole heart. …I have always wished it," he added.
And Zelda knew that he understood what she was really trying to say.