There was a palpable tension in the air—not just in the castle, but in the city of Pallis. Talk of war was on everyone's lips, and young and old alike hurried through everyday tasks, as if they were afraid they were going to be caught unprepared at any moment. Blacksmiths throughout the city were working day and night to repair, refit, and construct armor for horse and man.
When they announced their intention to fight, King Ranis generously offered to have suits of armor constructed for Link and Zelda. Their armor—as fine as any made for the royal family—was being made in the armory at the castle. They were frequently called in for fittings and adjustments—Zelda more so than Link. As she was curvier than a man, it took more work to shape her body armor. In fact, the Master Smith was making hers personally.
The castle was full of guests, and messengers and generals were constantly running in and out. Occasionally, a message would come in from one of the scouts who were watching the movements of the Hyrulian army, and it would send everyone running into the War Room to hear it being read.
King Ranis practically lived in the War Room. He had a huge map spread out on a table, and it showed the entire known world. He had gold-colored blocks that represented units of the Hyrulian troops, and as every report came in updating the troop numbers or movements, blocks would be added to or scooted farther up the map.
Every morning, Link and Zelda went to the War Room and looked at the map, watching as the Hyrulian army slowly marched their direction.
"There is no land between them and us that gives us any sort of height or landscape advantage," the king said one morning, as he looked at army that was halfway to Erenrue. "So I think we should just plan on taking a position between them and the city," he said, using a wooden pointer to indicate the exact spot on the map. "That will at least keep them from getting behind us, and we can always retreat back into the city, if necessary."
"Should we just stay inside the city itself?" someone asked.
"No. If they besiege us, we'll almost surely lose. The longer we're pinned up here, the weaker we'll be."
"Yes, but we could always surprise them by coming out at night." The man pointed to the mountain above the city. "There's the passage into the mountains. Can we not go through that, then come down, out of the mountains, on their flank?"
The king shook his head. "No. I mean, if we were trapped in the city and had no other choice, that would be an option, but that passage is narrow; we couldn't move many men through it. And we couldn't take horses through it because there's no trail down the side of the mountain; everyone would have to climb down."
He shook his head again. "No, that is only an option if we need to break a siege. That should not be our first plan of action; it totally negates our best advantage, which is the size and experience of our army."
"Will you take a defensive position?" Link asked, studying the map. "Dig in and force them to go through you to get to the city?"
The king shook his head again. "We are an offensive army, not defensive. We can hunker down behind fortifications, but what good will it do us? We have no way to attack them; it would be the same as being sieged inside the city."
Link looked at him, startled. "Do you have no archers?"
"No, we're almost exclusively heavy cavalry. Which isn't to say we can't fight on foot, but we don't do archery."
Link blanched. "Hyrule has archers."
"I don't know; we've never been to war in my lifetime."
"We've not been to war in over a hundred years," Zelda said, speaking up. "But archery is a common pastime among our people. Any man who can draw a bow could be an archer."
"And how many do you think can reasonably do that?"
Zelda thought about it for a minute. "I'm not sure; I've never been allowed to mingle with the common people."
"If the palace guard is any indication, I'd say half or better," Link said. "We often had shooting competitions when we were off-duty, and we usually gambled on them. I would guess that there were additional men who could shoot, but weren't very good, so they didn't bother to compete.
"I happen to know that the armory has hundreds—probably thousands—of bows. It wouldn't be hard to outfit a large number of men with bows.
"And if Nagadii has any sense, that's what he will do. Most of his men are not soldiers and will not be able to fight well—if at all. And many of them will probably be reluctant to fight when they see Princess Zelda anyway. Turning those men into archers would be his best strategy because it means they won't have to fight hand-to-hand, and they can shoot in the general direction of our army without feeling like they're shooting at the Princess."
"What would you recommend?" the king asked, looking at him seriously.
"For starters, fight on foot. I'm not saying you can't have a unit or two of armored cavalry for quick movements and attacks, but the majority of your men need to be on foot. Horses go berserk when they're hit by arrows and they can turn around and trample your own men in terror. Under fire, they're worse than having no horses at all."
The king nodded.
"Secondly, the quicker we engage them, the less time we'll be under archer fire. Once we run in and commence battle, their archers won't be able to fire for fear of hitting their own men. Also, we know Nagadii isn't a general; he will probably be slow to react to anything we do and may not even know how to counterattack. So if we hit them fast, we will not only negate the advantage of their archers, but will probably cause confusion. We'll also force those archers, who don't know how to fight, to fight. And that's where your men have a distinct advantage.
"If you're going to have an offensive army, then be aggressively offensive. Control the tempo of battle. Nagadii has a plan all worked out in his head; if you attack faster than he can implement his plan, then he will constantly be trying to catch up or rewrite it; you will control the engagement and he will only be able to react."
The king nodded thoughtfully. "A very wise assessment." He looked at his generals. "We will have only two divisions of cavalry: mine and Zeyde's; everyone else will be on foot."
"Will they have cavalry?" one of the generals asked, looking between Link and the king, as if he wasn't sure who should be giving him an answer. "Should we arm some of our units with pikes to break up a cavalry charge?"
Link thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "I doubt they will have much, if any, cavalry. For one thing, Hyrule isn't outfitted for war; we don't produce war horses. Horses have to be specially trained to charge people, don't they?"
The king nodded. "Yes."
"Then there will be no cavalry," Link said with confidence. "Even if they conscript every horse in Hyrule, those plow horses and cart horses aren't going to run us down. The men and animals both will not be trained to move in formation, much less break our lines."
"What about a shield wall?" the same general asked.
Link shook his head again. "Even if they attempt it, it will not hold. A shield wall takes a high level of discipline, courage, and trust of the man beside you—all things they will not have gained even in a month of practicing."
"Everything hinges on us getting inside their lines as quickly as possible," the king said. "Once we're closely engaged, then they can't shoot us. So take your men in fast and aggressively. Punch a hole in their lines and then start destroying them from the inside out.
"I don't imagine there will be too much fighting before they began to run."
"And then?" the general asked.
"We attempt to take Nagadii, but we allow everyone else to escape. Remember, these people are not our enemies; Nagadii is. Once he is finished, then Zelda will reclaim her throne and everyone will go home in peace."
"I certainly wouldn't ask any man here to endanger his life," Zelda said, "but I would prefer to take as many of my people home as I can. So show them as much mercy as you can without risking yourselves. Allow them to surrender or retreat and don't finish off anyone who is wounded."
"What about ransoms?" someone else asked.
Zelda frowned a little. It was traditional for anyone who captured an enemy soldier to demand a ransom for his return. If anyone bothered to take common men, their price was set low. The higher in rank the person, the higher their ransom. Kings were worth, well, a king's ransom.
Ransoms—in addition to plunder—were how most men made their money from war. The king didn't pay his noblemen at all—they owed him military service as part of their fealty—and the noblemen paid the soldiers under them only a small wage.
There would be no plunder, since they were defending their own territory. That left ransoms as the only real form of income.
"I will pay ransoms for my people," Zelda said. "All of my people."
"You will do no such thing," King Ranis replied gruffly. Then he turned on his generals. "Gentlemen, this is not a war for glory or riches. This is a war to defend your homes and families. If we fail, your wives and children will be forfeit. That is your motivation—not money."
"Begging your pardon, Your Majesty, but what about the husbands who don't come home to their wives and children? No offense to Her Highness, but Hyrule has brought this war upon us. Should they not compensate us for our losses? Should they not help support the widow and the orphan?"
"There is a difference between paying a ransom to get back our people versus paying war reparations to your people who have suffered," Link said. "One goes to the people who have suffered and died; the other to the people who have triumphed and lived."
"What do you think I do with my ransoms, sir?" the general said, sounding a bit offended. "I distribute a portion of the spoils of war among my people who have suffered—the wounded men and the families who have lost a son or husband."
They went around and around for several minutes, but it was finally agreed that Princess Zelda, once she was returned to her throne, would pay war reparations to the families who lost someone on the field of battle. King Ranis himself volunteered to act as surety, promising to take care of the affected families until Zelda could regain her throne—which, admittedly, might take some weeks, or even months, depending on whether Nagadii was taken or killed, or if they had to hunt him down.
When Link and Zelda left the War Room, a servant was waiting anxiously for them. "Your Highness, Sir, the Master Smith asks you to come to the armory for your final fitting as soon as you are available."
"We haven't even had breakfast yet," Link said, sounding slightly annoyed.
The servant bowed. "If you'd like, I can have breakfast brought to you."
Link sighed and looked at Zelda. She just shrugged her shoulders, not caring either way.
"We better go," he said as much to himself as to her. "They're working on a tight deadline as it is."
They followed the servant through the castle and into a long, narrow room that stretched across the far-end of the courtyard. Tall windows looked out over the grassy lawn and let in a lot of natural light. Inside the room, there was a deafening cacophony of noise as rows of armorers hammered metal plates against anvils, shaping them into various pieces of armor.
They found Prince Zeyde standing in front of one of the windows, looking as if he was contemplating some great philosophical question. He was sipping a cup of tea with his right hand while, seemingly without his notice, an armorer and his apprentice were working on a gauntlet on his left hand and two more knelt in the floor working on pieces that covered his shoes.
"Good morning," he said pleasantly as Link and Zelda came to stand near him, waiting for their fittings.
"Good morning," Zelda replied. "Why weren't you at the meeting this morning?"
"Because Father goes over everything with me in excruciating detail for the rest of the day. I decided there wasn't much need to hear the same news twice. Besides, it takes me a little while to wake up in the mornings. I like to drink my tea and have a think before I try to tackle anything."
"Is that why you seem so calm all the time?"
"Do I?" he asked. Then he laughed. "It must be working, because that was the effect I was going for. Someone has to counter-balance Father, you know. Otherwise, he'd work everyone up until they have a heart attack."
Two armorer's apprentices dressed both Link and Zelda in their armor under the watchful eye of the Master Smith. He must have found the final look acceptable, because he nodded when they were done.
"Now, time to try it out and see if it pinches or binds," the smith said.
Link and Zelda clanked out into the courtyard—the Master Smith, Prince Zeyde with his cup of tea, and nearly a dozen curious armorers and apprentices following them.
"Let's try your bow first," Link told Zelda. "We have to make sure you can shoot while wearing all of this."
A servant was sent hurrying off to Zelda's room to retrieve her bow and arrows. There was already an archery target set up in the courtyard; she had been showing off earlier in the week to impressed onlookers.
The servant came back and, with his help, she managed to get her quiver strapped across her back. She fumbled a bit with pulling an arrow out, though, because of the leather gloves under her fingered gauntlets. She struggled even more to nock it. When she tried to pull the string back, she dropped the arrow.
She tried to unfasten the strap holding down the visor on her helmet, but the gloves made that awkward as well. One of the apprentices hurried over to help her.
"Alright, two problems," she said, as soon as her visor was lifted: "one, I can't manage with these gauntlets. I mean, I might be able to, if I had time to practice with them on, but I don't."
The Master Smith came over and pulled the gauntlets off her hands. "Roderick, go get a pair of demi-gauntlets and let's see how they work."
One of the apprentices ran back into the armory.
"What's the second problem?" the smith asked.
"When I draw my bow back, I pull my fingers back to my cheek," she said, demonstrating. "With the helmet on, I can't do that. I can compensate, but it will decrease my accuracy.
"Also, I think it's going to seriously hamper my sight. I can't shoot what I can't see."
The smith reached up and put her visor down. Then he pulled out a pin on the central hinge and removed it completely.
"Try that," he said.
She grabbed for an arrow, nocked it, drew her bow, and shot it at the target rapidly. It thudded home in the bull's-eye, just to the right of dead-center.
"That's much better," she declared.
"A lot of men who fight on foot don't like visors for the very same reason: they impede their vision," the smith said.
"With the Hyrulian army bringing skilled archers and unskilled soldiers, I would strongly recommend men wear the visors," Link said. "They're more likely to die of an arrow to the face than a sword blow they don't see coming."
The smith nodded. "I will warn people of that."
The apprentice brought back a pair of demi-gauntlets, which covered the wrist and back of the hand up to the base of the fingers. The smith put them on Zelda himself and she tried them out.
After sinking three more arrows into the target—all within the blue bull's-eye—she nodded her approval. "These will work. I just need an archer's glove for my right hand and I'll be set."
"What does that look like?" the smith asked.
"Well, they vary, but it's basically a leather glove that only covers the first three fingers."
"If that's all it is, I can cut up a leather glove for you and make it work."
"Mind it's a small glove," Link said. He took Zelda's hand in his and showed it to the Master Smith. "A man's glove will be too big, and you don't want a lot of bulk in the fingers."
"Never you worry, Sir Link," the smith assured him. "I'm one of the few armorers in this kingdom who can armor a woman. I customize everything because women's proportions are completely different; it's not a matter of just scaling pieces down to a smaller size. I'll get her a glove that fits perfectly."
"Very good," Link said. Then he took a step back. "Let's try this armor out for real. Princess, put on your full gauntlets and visor again. And if someone will bring us a couple of practice swords…" he hinted, before snapping his visor closed.
One of the boys ran back into the armory while the Master Smith helped Zelda change out her gauntlets again and reattach her visor.
The boy brought out a couple of rebated steel swords and handed one to Zelda, then the other to Link.
Link stretched a little, twirling the sword around in his hand a little to get the feel of it. Zelda felt a little nervous to be fighting against Link; she recalled the last time she did so, he pinned her against a wall with his sword to her neck. So rather than waste time and energy moving around, she planted her feet and took up a defensive stance.
"Ready?" Link said from behind his visor.
She nodded her head once.
He held his sword up in front of his face, saluting her, then launched into an attack. It was so quick and furious, he managed to ping Zelda three times—once on the left arm and twice to the back of the head—in less than a minute.
The blows to the head made her helmet ring to the point she felt like her eyes were vibrating.
Link backed off. "Were you not ready?" he asked.
"I thought I was," she said. Her words sounded too loud inside the closed helmet.
"Come at me like you did that night in the castle," he instructed. "Get mad."
She laughed instead. "I can't just get mad; I have to have a reason."
"Well, whatever motivates you, come at me like you intend to kill me. You need the practice."
She remembered what they had talked about a few nights before: they had to train so that, when the time came, they would hopefully be able to kill before being killed.
She launched into an attack, but Link deflected her blows easily—almost lazily. Part of it was that he was left-handed, so when they faced each other, they were holding their swords on the same side—which made it easy for him to block with his sword and that much harder for her to land a blow. But part of it was that he was right: she needed anger to motivate her.
"You're not killing me," he said.
She tried to step it up a notch, throwing blows faster, but he blocked everything she did.
Then he suddenly switched and went on the offensive. She was forced back as he rained blows down on her; it was everything she could do to block them with her sword.
And then he did something completely unexpected: he hit her in the face with his right fist.
It didn't hurt her, as she had her visor down, but it did stun her and cause her to stagger back, dropping her guard. The next thing she knew, her sword was flying through the air and she was falling. She got the breath knocked out of her a little bit as she landed flat on her back.
She had no idea how she had gotten there.
Link jerked at the strap on his visor and threw it up, looking at her angrily. "Highness, the men you're going to be facing in a few days' time are not going to show you any quarter. They're not going to play with you, like your guards at the castle did. They're not going to fight by any rules or have any code of honor. They're going to try to kill you.
"If you can't do better than this, then you're not going out."
Zelda flushed, angry and embarrassed at being scolded—especially in front of so many witnesses. While she would admit (probably) that Link was a better sword fighter than she was, she wasn't totally useless. But he was making her look like a fool.
She pushed herself to her feet and flipped up her own visor—the better to yell at him.
"Who are you to tell me where I can and can't go?" she demanded.
"I'm only the person who has to keep you alive," he retorted. "My best isn't going to be good enough when we're outnumbered three-to-one. You have to help me out—not be a stone around my neck. If you're stumbling around the field like you're drunk, you're going to get both of us killed."
That really burned her up. With an angry half-scream, she launched into an attack, hitting him with everything she had, holding nothing back.
She had caught him a little off-guard, so he had to go on the defense and had no time to change tactics. Zelda controlled the engagement, throwing blow after blow and chasing him around the courtyard as he tried to backpedal out of her reach for long enough to regroup.
She gripped the sword hilt with both hands, changing to a centered attack—as opposed to one to the right side—and made him work harder to defend the right side of his body.
Then she swung high and he tried to duck, but he was just a little slow and her blow caught him in the side of the head, near the top of his helm.
The blow unbalanced him and he fell to his side. Zelda brought her sword up with both hands and plunged it down into the ground beside him, demonstrating she had the ability to make the final, mortal blow.
She flipped her visor up and glared down at him. "Now who looks like he's drunk?" she taunted, panting for breath.
He flipped up his visor, too, and she was surprised to see him laughing. "See, I knew you could do better," he said. "I just had to find the proper motivation for you."
"You did that on purpose," she accused, her anger becoming replaced by annoyance.
"Yes, well…" he said with a shrug, before pushing himself to his feet. "It worked, didn't it?"
"I really don't know why I don't hate you."
"Because you know I'm right."
"That should just make me hate you even more."
"But you're smart enough not to cut your nose off to spite your face."
"If you're trying to soften me up with compliments, it's not working."
"Would it make you feel better to know that you've given me a ringing headache?"
"Maybe. You were asking for it."
"Yes, I was."
They turned to leave the courtyard, but stopped—both of them surprised to remember they weren't alone. The audience was looking at them in open-mouthed astonishment. Even Prince Zeyde was standing there with his tea cup half-raised to his mouth, as if the shock of what he had just witnessed made him forget it.
Zelda wasn't sure if the men were agape because the fight had been so vicious, or if they were astonished that Link and Zelda argued with each other like an old married couple.
This is going to be all over the castle, she warned him.
What? That we had a practice fight?
That you insulted me, then I beat you up.
Link laughed out loud. Well, the best thing to do is to keep them guessing—so act like nothing happened. Then they'll not know what to think about us.
This is just a ruse to get back into my good graces.
Do you want me to beg your forgiveness on my knees? I'll do it, he threatened.
No, that's not necessary, she hurried to say. She knew Link's display of abject humility would only get the wags' tongues gossiping even more.
"Um… Sir Link?" one of the armorers asked tentatively, as if he was afraid of getting in the middle of something.
"You, um… have a dent," he said, pointing to Link's helmet.
Link took off his helmet and looked at it. There was a noticeable crease in the side where Zelda's last blow had struck.
"Were you trying to take my head off?" Link asked her.
"Oh, first I was supposed to try to kill you, and now you're complaining I tried too hard."
"Well, there is a difference between acting like you're going to kill me and actually trying to do it."
He tossed the helmet to the armorer; the man was startled, but managed to catch it. "Hammer that out for me, please," Link said. Then he turned to Zelda. "I'm starving."
"We never did have breakfast."
"Wasn't someone supposed to bring us some?"
They walked back into the armory together, talking about food as if nothing had ever happened. The men in the courtyard stared at them in wonder.