Zelda's Birthday Party
Zelda didn't get to see Link again for a few days—although, while sitting idly at her window one day, waiting on her lunch to arrive, she heard some guards in the courtyard teasing.
"How's it going, Link?" a guard said with good-natured mocking. "Fallen off any more bridges lately?"
"Thankfully, no," came the reply. Zelda leaned forward to look, but the small group of guards in the courtyard were all in full armor, so she couldn't see Link's face—although she recognized him by the way he cradled his left arm against his body. He had put his armor on over the bandaging, though, so it didn't show.
"I do plan to stay in for a while," Link continued. "It's pretty dangerous out there."
The other men laughed, and one clapped him on his good arm. "The city can be a dangerous place for country boys like you, Link."
"So it would seem."
Zelda wasn't sure if she wanted to laugh at their ignorance, or be mad about it. She didn't think that any of the other guards would have done as well as Link, and if she had a choice of who to take with her in a dangerous situation, she would definitely pick Link above anyone else.
With all the excitement from the attack, and all the work involved with planning her birthday party, Zelda completely forgot that she had asked Link to play with her—and even if she had remembered, she wouldn't have expected him to actually come, given the condition of his arm.
So she was quite surprised when, on the night of her party, as she was setting up her harp to play for the guests, a butler came up to her and whispered, "Your Highness, there is… a boy outside who says that you asked him here to entertain."
"A boy? Where?" she asked, looking around in confusion, not even thinking of Link.
"He's at the door," the butler whispered. "I tried to send him away, but he said that you had specifically asked him to play the flute for your party, so I thought I had better check with you…." He sounded apologetic, as if he didn't really believe the story was true and hated to bother her with it.
But Zelda immediately remembered Link, then was surprised that he was there. "Yes, I asked him to come," she said. "But let me speak to him first."
The butler bowed obediently, then showed her to the door.
Link was standing outside. He was dressed in his usual green tunic and funny stocking cap. He bowed low when she came near. "I hope I'm not too late, Your Highness. I had to work this evening."
"No, no, I was just about to start," she said, looking at him. She felt it had been forever since she had seen him, but it also felt weird seeing him in the bright party lights and with so many other people around. He belonged to a different part of her life—the private part, not the princess part.
He showed her a flute in his right hand. It looked very similar to the one he had given her, although it was a bit larger. "I'm ready to play, if you still want me to," he offered.
"But… your arm…."
"I can manage."
When she looked dubious, he smiled. "Trust me, I practiced beforehand to make sure that I could."
"Well… if it doesn't pain you to do so…" she said hesitantly, not wanting to see him leave, but not wanting him to be in pain for such a silly thing as playing the flute for her.
"I think nothing would make me feel better than to play with you," he said.
"Your Highness," the butler interrupted, "I believe everyone is ready for you to start."
Zelda turned around and noticed that the hall had grown quieter and everyone seemed to be looking at her harp expectantly.
She gestured for Link to follow her, and they crossed the hall to the platform at the head of the room.
"Ladies and gentlemen, honored guests," she said, addressing the crowd formally, "I would like to personally thank you all for coming to my birthday party. It is an honor and privilege for me to host you this year, and I hope that you enjoy being here as much as I enjoy having you here. I look forward to this every year."
Lying was a necessary part of statecraft, her father always said.
There was genteel applause from everyone for her words. She paused to let it die down, then she continued. "I would like to entertain you tonight with a few pieces that I have been practicing under my tutor, Master Jehan. Also, I have…" she stopped herself before she introduced Link as her friend—that would never do. "I have someone here with me tonight who will be playing the flute. Quite by accident, I heard him playing one day while I was practicing my harp, and I thought that the two instruments together made a fine sound, so I asked him to join me tonight. I apologize in advance that we have not practiced together, but we will do our best."
There was another short round of polite applause and Zelda took her seat on a velvet-covered stool next to her harp and removed her gloves, laying them neatly across her lap. She leaned over to Link and he bowed his head close to hers.
"How are we going to do this?" she whispered to him.
"Do an introduction, then I'll come in. Don't worry; I've heard you play enough, I can follow you."
She nodded a little, then tilted the harp back against her body and played a few bars as an intro. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Link lick his lips, then he put the flute to his lips as if there was nothing wrong with his arm. Indeed, if she hadn't known to look, she might not even have noticed the bulge of bandages under the sleeve of his shirt.
As promised, he played along with her perfectly, never missing a note. She could tell he didn't quite play with the finesse and flourish that he had a few nights before, but she wasn't sure if that was because his arm hindered him, or if he was toning his performance down a bit so it didn't overwhelm hers. Regardless, they sounded quite good together, in Zelda's opinion.
And for once, she was able to ignore the hundreds of eyes on her and she relaxed, playing for fun, rather than performance. She was playing for herself and Link for the sheer enjoyment of it.
They played three songs back-to-back before she finally set her harp back on the floor.
There was appreciative applause as she rose from her seat and took a bow. She noticed that Link had subtly taken a step back, half-disappearing in the shadows behind her, but she gestured for him to step forward again and take his share of the applause. He did so, but kept his head bowed to her and the audience with uncharacteristic humbleness.
As the applause died, the regular court musicians took up their instruments and the hall once again filled with the low hum of conversation.
"Thank you," Zelda said to Link quietly as she slowly put on her gloves, not eager to rejoin the crowd.
He bowed to her. "It was my pleasure, Your Highness."
She noticed that there was a sheen of sweat on his face, and he looked very pale. He wasn't going to say anything, but playing had been very painful for him.
She caught the eye of a server standing nearby, and he was at her side almost as soon as she gestured to him.
"Bring us some wine to drink," she said.
The man bowed and disappeared swiftly into the crowd. He reappeared a moment later with a single silver goblet on his silver tray.
Zelda frowned; she had asked for drinks for both of them. Apparently the server had not even bothered to notice Link.
She took the cup and shooed the man away, then she offered it to Link.
He bowed again a little. "I shouldn't, Your Highness," he whispered.
"Drink. I can see your arm pains you."
He hesitated, but at last took the cup from her—a bit awkward with his right hand. He drained it in a couple of swallows.
She called the server back over. "Bring him another one," she said, gesturing to the cup in Link's hand, but Link shook his head, handing it back to the server. "Thank you, Your Highness, but I really shouldn't."
"Do you have to work again tonight?" she asked, as the server disappeared again.
"Then why not drink more?"
"I don't think it would be… wise for me to drink too much. In vino veritas. I don't want to lose control of my tongue—not here."
She noticed that he hadn't looked her in the eye once the entire evening. She had never seen him so deferential before, and while she had once found it annoying that he wasn't more deferential towards her, now she was bothered by his deference. He didn't seem like the same person at all, and, she had to admit, she rather liked Link when he was being his normal, self-confident self.
"That was very lovely," someone said, approaching Zelda and Link. Zelda seemed to recall the woman had been introduced as part of the diplomatic party from the eastern kingdom of Shi-Ha, although she had lost track of names long before the woman had passed through the receiving line earlier in the evening.
"Thank you," Zelda replied for both of them.
The woman smiled, looking at Link. "Are you one of the court musicians?"
Link bowed a little. "No, m'lady."
"Are you a student of Her Highness's music teacher?" she pressed, clearly eager to know who Link was.
"No, m'lady. I'm just a palace guard who likes to play when I'm not on duty. Her Highness heard me playing one day and graciously asked me to join her."
"Well, isn't that sweet?" the woman said in a somewhat patronizing tone. "It must be a big thrill for a humble guard like yourself to play with the Princess."
Zelda ground her teeth, willing herself not to give the woman a tart reply.
Instead, it was Link who was gracious. "It is always a thrill to serve Her Highness, in large ways and small. Her happiness is the the only thing I want out of life, and if I can please her, then I shall always be content."
The woman glanced at Zelda and broke into a big grin. "Well, isn't he a charming thing? I wish the servants back home were so erudite." She looked at Link. "That means 'well-spoken,'" she added for his benefit, with simpering condescension.
"Begging your ladyship's pardon, but I believe it means 'well-educated,'" Link corrected with a smile. "But why split hairs among friends?"
The woman glanced at Zelda again with a mildly-impressed look—as if she and Zelda were adults being entertained by a rather precocious child.
A moment later, she snagged a man out of the crowd and drew him over. A rather sour-faced couple—representing the rest of the Shi-Ha diplomatic delegation—followed him.
"Here, Mitchum, meet this young man," the woman said. "He really is quite remarkable."
Mitchum—looking rather bored—merely nodded at Link, who gave him a much more cordial bow.
"He's a guard here at the palace," the silly woman explained animatedly. "Princess Zelda just happened to hear him playing his flute one day and she invited him to play with her. Isn't that remarkable?"
"Quite," he lied, sounding even more bored then he looked.
"Where did you get that hat?" the other woman, lately come to their group, asked. She was eyeing Link's long, pointed cap with a haughty disdain.
"It's commonly worn by the people in my village," Link replied levelly.
"How… quaint," she said with a mocking smile.
"Hyrule is a large, diverse kingdom with several unique styles of clothing," Zelda said, unable to keep the frostiness out of her voice. "It's something of a point of pride for people of different districts to identify themselves through their clothing."
"Common people are just so fascinating," the snooty woman replied. She looked at her companion. "Wouldn't you agree?"
"I don't know; I don't bother to keep up with them." The others in the group chuckled.
Zelda clenched her fists, silently fuming. But before she could overcome her anger enough to think of a good retort, Link bowed to the group. "Excuse me, but I'm sure you have important matters of state to discuss; I don't want to intrude."
He turned and gave Zelda an especially low bow. "Your Highness, with your permission…."
Zelda wished she could send the Shi-Ha delegates away instead of Link, but she knew what he was doing was the wiser course of action.
"Yes, certainly. Thank you for playing with me today." She put her gloved hand forward, giving him a highly unusual honor.
He didn't miss a beat. He took her hand in his—so lightly, it barely seemed as if they were touching—and touched his lips to the back of her glove—as proper as any courtier in Hyrule. "The pleasure was all mine, Your Highness."
For the briefest of instants, he glanced up at her with that look in his eyes that made her want to be kissed by him. "Happy birthday," he said, speaking to her as if there was no one else around. And then, before she could thank him, he had disappeared.
"He seems a bit uppity for a common guard," the snobby man drawled, watching Link's green form slip through the guests and out the door. "In fact, he rather acts like he's one of us."
"He's certainly educated," the silly woman said. "He was correcting my speech."
"He corrected your speech?" the snooty woman gasped in disbelief.
"He's definitely uppity," her partner concluded.
Zelda glared at him. "No, he's educated. He went to a monastery somewhere in your kingdom."
"Well, I suppose that would explain why he can speak so well," the man replied. The others laughed superiorly, making Zelda grind her teeth again.
"Well, if you'll excuse me, I must attend my other guests," she said, practically snarling, and she hurried away before they could say anything else to irritate her.