The autumn evening was pleasantly cool and quiet in the streets of Hyrule Castle Town. Aside from a bit of rabble spilling out of the local tavern located at the end of a dark alleyway, the citizens who ventured out that night were engaging in their own moonlight trysts, completely encased in their small worlds. Roald and his love, Julia, were among these few couples. Locked arm in arm, the pair slowly strolled across the town's square. Roald had shed his ringmail for a more comfortable white shirt and khakis, and he replaced his royal purple tunic with a deep blue one. Temperance remained across his back.
Julia was the older of the two, though by only a year. However, in spite of her scant twenty years, she had the mind of a woman who might have lived a lifetime or longer. She hid this well though, often engaging in playfulness and constantly possessing an air of levity about her. This youthful attitude better fit her outward appearance. She looked younger than her age. Her head, draped with short, curly brown hair that just grazed her shoulders, barely came to Roald's chest, and her eyes were large and hazel. She held a particular love for bright dresses and was rarely seen in any colors darker than a robin's egg. Tonight, she opted for a soft pink dress with a white pattern of lace sewn around the hem, which ended just below her knees. A white ribbon was tied around her slender waist and came into a bow at the back.
Julia hailed from a line of rich noblemen whose fortunes managed to persist from the days of the Great Sea. Her family owned houses in every town dotted around Hyrule, but their main house rested in Windfall Town to the east. Julia's uncle, Lord Alexander, maintained the family's trade business. He owned a veritable fleet of trading boats that sailed out from a dock on the far end of Windfall Town. Once, when she was younger, Julia was invited to sail aboard one of the trading boats with her uncle and her mother and father. Roald always swore that it was because of that experience that she seemed so much wiser than most her age, though Julia disagreed.
"I'm not any wiser than anyone else," Julia would always say with a smile. "I just tend to be a little ruder, and a little more cunning. It's not my fault people confuse that with wisdom."
The pair arrived at the town gate. Hyrule Castle Town and its surrounding areas had remained peaceful and quiet for so long by then that the gate was typically left open through the night. Guards stood watch at the gate's mouth while sentries patrolled from atop the wall. Archers resided in the pair of towers that flanked the gate and inside another pair of towers at both far ends of the wall. The castle town was nestled into the side of a mountain, a dead volcano that had gone dormant thousands of years ago. The old volcano was steep, and the far side of it led to an almost completely sheer drop into the sea. With the mountain providing sufficient protection for the southern, eastern, and western sides of town, the original builders of the village saw it fit to only build a singular wall to the north, and no successive ruler since then ever saw the need to fortify any further.
Roald and Julia set their destination for Farore Hill for the night. It was a fair distance from town, but Roald felt inclined to make a return after he stood on the west-facing outcrop earlier in the day. As the two passed the pair of gate guards, Roald acknowledged them both. As Julia observed, she noticed Temperance.
"Do you have to bring that sword with you everywhere you go?" she asked, not unhappily, as they made their way out of the village gate. They were still locked arm in arm. "It looks so cumbersome to carry, and it reminds me that you're my Squire Prince instead of simply my prince."
The title didn't disturb Roald at all when it was floating from Julia's lips. "I am no prince, my lady, but soon enough I will be your knight," Roald reminded her with a smile. "A knight must always be ready to protect."
There was a festival approaching within the next few days to celebrate the young Princess Zelda's eleventh birthday, and during the celebratory feast a selection of squires were to be knighted. Roald was among them, and Julia was all too aware.
"Tell me the knight's oath again," Julia said, looking up at him. Roald met her eyes with his own for a moment, then looked forward again. Julia leaned her head against his arm as they walked and he began.
"As a knight of the Hyrule Royal Family, I vow to only speak the truth. To be loyal to my king. To be devoted to the realm. To be charitable, and defend the helpless and the poor. To be brave. To be on time for engagements of arms-"
Julia nudged him and Roald chuckled. This was a game they'd played a dozen times or more. "As a knight of the Hyrule Royal Family, I vow to always protect a lady," he said.
"Any and every lady?" Julia asked.
"Any and every lady, without exception." Roald unlocked his arm from hers and slid his hand down until he was holding the hand of his love. "But there will always be one that I protect exceptionally."
"The princess, right?" Julia said suddenly as she stopped in her tracks, catching Roald off-guard. She laughed at him once she saw his conflicted expression. As he tried to think of a suitable response, she propped up onto her toes and gave him a soft kiss on his struggling lips, rescuing him. Her hand rested on his cheek as she parted from him and looked into his eyes, smiling. "Sir Roald Tillman," she said quietly. "Sir Roald Tillman. Sir Roald Tillman."
"Saying it three times will not make it real any sooner," Roald teased, smiling as well now. Julia lingered for a moment to simply look at him, her smile appearing wan as Roald looked at her, then she lowered herself back to the flats of her feet. Continuing to hold Roald's hand, she brought her other arm around to hug his arm against her chest and she leaned her head against him again. Roald couldn't help but look at her for a moment, perplexed, but Julia silently propelled the both of them forward to resume their walk. She asked Roald how the scouting went that day and his story, footnoted with comments from Julia, filled the air until they reached the hill.
The night sky was brilliant and emblazoned with stars stretching across its deep blackness, some outshining and outsizing others but all existing together in the enormous cosmic display. The moon hid somewhere out there, shying away from showing its face to the people and creatures below, but even though the celestial beauty was not shining, the world was nonetheless lit by its millions of colleagues.
Julia sat down on the soft, cool grass, her legs pressed together and laying out to her side, bent in at the knee. She supported herself with her left arm until Roald dismounted the sword and scabbard from his shoulder and lowered himself to the ground next to her, at which point she turned her back to him and leaned against his side. Roald set down Temperance next to him and leaned against Julia comfortably, the both of them supporting each other as they silently looked up at the stars.
Roald took the moment of silence to let his head swim with visions of knighthood. He would begin taking part in the king's roundtable discussions, most likely as a mere observer at first as he learned the finer points of the meetings. Over time though, he would begin speaking and having some modicum of input, a prospect that excited him even if his words weren't taken with that much weight, for the king had his advisor, his maester, his queen, and his daughter, each of whom had more powerful voices than a hundred knights.
That was but one of the new duties that would be placed upon him though. He would join the castle guard; respond to urgent calls and emergencies; be expected to participate in tournaments and battles should they ever break out; and both recruit and train squires of his own (probably the job he least wished to do, for he had a difficult time relating to and teaching others). With the myriad of new responsibilities that were to be placed upon him, he would be required to live within the castle walls full-time unless he was specifically called to handle a matter outside, and that was when he realized why Julia must have been having a strangely difficult time that night.
As a squire, he already lived in the castle's barracks and spent the majority of his time there, but he lived according to a set schedule that did allow him to leave during the night and make visits. That was how he and Julia managed to persist for the past two years. Like so many other girls, Julia was one who looked and giggled when she saw Roald passing by on his horse with the other boys in Sir Barrick's host on their way out for their day of scouting. He paid her no mind at first, but one day, several days after she first saw him, she did something that no other swooning girl managed to do: she actually approached him.
Roald was a difficult one for a lot of girls to understand. Unlike some of the other squires in his group, who seemed to revel in the attention they got simply for being squires and took advantage of the fact by flirting and boasting endlessly, Roald was not much for speaking in general, much less flirting or bragging. He kept his words brief and polite, and he would never remark on the beauty of anyone, be it his own or that of the girls fawning over him. He was a man very much committed to his duties and training and expressed little interest in much else. Some theorized he was that way because his family was filled with people of the same ilk, but nobody knew his parents or his sister well enough to back up their claims. Others said that the very fact that so little was known of the nature of his family was all the evidence that was needed.
One day, though, after Roald's duties had come to an end and he was on his way to visit his family, Julia spotted him and rushed over.
"Hi," Julia said, a little clumsy as she came to a stop in front of her target. Taken aback, Roald's eyes widened a bit as he looked down at the girl. This was the first time he had actually seen her, her hazel eyes looking at him as her finger came up to hurriedly brush away a fallen lock of her hair. It took a moment for Roald to reply.
"Hello," he said in his usual polite manner, watching the girl curiously. It seemed like Julia hadn't planned out what she would say next. Or perhaps she had and she simply couldn't remember.
"I just…um," she mumbled, growing more flustered and frantic by the second. She wasn't exactly practiced at this. "I think you're very handsome and I just…" she said, her voice growing weaker as she struggled with her words and a fiery blush spread across her cheeks. She looked down, embarrassed. Roald couldn't help but break into a blush himself at the compliment. A moment passed in silent awkwardness before Roald spoke up again.
"What is your name?"
She looked back up at him suddenly, as if her heart had just been jolted with electricity. "Julia," she said quickly. Gathering herself, she said more slowly, "Julia Skylark, of the Skylark family of Windfall."
Roald got down on one knee and bowed his head. Julia's blush only deepened as she observed this. She got a glimpse of the broadsword across Roald's back as he introduced himself. "I am Roald Tillman, squire of Sir Matthew Barrick, knight of the Hyrule Royal Family. It is my pleasure to meet you, Lady Skylark."
"Please, you're very kind," Julia began, moving closer to Roald to help him to his feet, but she quickly stepped back, suddenly afraid of touching him, "but you don't have to kneel for me just because I'm a Skylark." Roald stood up and looked at her, a small smile across his lips.
"I do not kneel because you are a lady of the Skylark family. I kneel because you are a lady."
Julia's heart threatened to beat out of her chest at the remark. Roald offered to escort her to her home and, still extremely flustered, Julia almost denied him, but thought it better to let him do so and fulfill the honor he'd learned to hold above all else. It wasn't a far walk, and it was spent largely in silence until the pair reached Julia's home, where Roald bid his farewell and wished Julia a pleasant night. She returned the pleasantry and the pair split for the night. Roald did not see her again for another week, Julia having been too embarrassed by the encounter to seek him out for a second time. He, however, found himself having a difficult time removing her from his mind when he was allowed time to think such fanciful thoughts.
For as popular as Roald seemed to be with girls and young women, none were ever so bold as to approach him, and he was just as inexperienced at conversing with women as Julia seemed to be inexperienced at talking to men. Roald himself never felt any particularly pressing need to do much communicating with anyone at all outside of his family and his brothers in the barracks, and so he simply wasn't inclined to make an attempt at courting someone. But when Julia came to him, so clumsy and yet so cute because of that, he realized that maybe he was ignoring something he'd never even thought about in the past: romance.
That week he spent without seeing Julia was filled with days of wandering a little more slowly on his way home after his duties were done. He kept his infatuation hidden from his family when he saw them; he put on a good show of masking his disappointment when the girl he kept an eye out for was never spotted. He would go on to perform the same slow wandering when he left home later in the night to return to his bed in the barracks.
On the afternoon of the seventh day, as the scouting party was preparing to head back to town, Roald spotted someone on the incline of Farore Hill, heading up to its summit. It was a young woman carrying a basket and wearing a wide-brimmed hat to shade herself from the sun. Roald's heart jumped, an exhilarating and surprising feeling that rarely visited him. His chest was pounding and he took a moment to avert his eyes from the girl, take a breath, and calm himself down. Once he felt as normal as he anticipated he could, he begged pardon from Sir Barrick to leave the host for a moment to survey the hill. Barrick told him he had five minutes and Roald was off.
To his delight, he found that his gamble had paid off. Atop the hill stood Julia, beautiful and gleaming in the afternoon sun as she knelt down amongst the flowers and picked particularly choice specimens from different breeds. She wore a simple, clean yellow dress that day. Roald stepped forth gingerly, his ringmail lightly clinking and alerting Julia to his presence. When he was roughly a dozen yards away, she looked up at him but hadn't registered just yet who he was.
"Lady Skylark, it is a pleasure to see you again," Roald said politely, kneeling before her as he did seven nights ago.
Julia knelt where she was, frozen, looking at Roald's face once he brought his head up to look back at her. For a moment Roald was afraid something was wrong, but then Julia suddenly stood up, leaving her basket on the ground, and gave a quick, awkward curtsy. "Th-The pleasure is mine," she blurted out, her cheeks flushed. Roald took particular notice that she did not say his name, a strange thing to omit from a greeting courtesy. Perhaps she had forgotten it. The idea that she had made him feel strangely disappointed.
"What business brings you to Farore Hill this fine day?" he asked as he stood, attempting to sound as casual as he could. It may not have worked, for Julia picked up her basket of flowers and turned from him.
"I'm collecting flowers to make a bouquet for my mother," she said as she knelt down to inspect more flowers, making every effort to look away from Roald. "Her birthday is tomorrow," she added. Her voice was slightly more calmed.
"That sounds lovely," Roald said as he looked down at the flowers. "What is her favorite?"
Julia was a little slow to respond. She didn't seem ready for the squire to initiate simple small talk. "Um, well, she actually doesn't have a favorite. As long as it's alive and it smells sweet, she loves any flower equally as much as the next."
Roald searched for a moment or two amongst the myriad of flowers around him, then knelt down and carefully plucked one that particularly stood out to him: a yellow carnation. He stepped over to Julia and asked, "Do you think your mother would like this?"
Without a second thought, Julia instantly looked over, then stood up to better inspect the flower Roald held, her eyes slightly widened. "A carnation. It's beautiful. How did I miss this one?"
"Carnations are my favorite, personally," Roald said, looking at the flower too. Julia's eyes flitted up to look at his, but she quickly focused back on the flower. "They are so robust and brimming over with such vivacity, open and accepting of the world around them, and they seem uncaring of whether or not they loses a petal, for there is always another they can offer and still remain just as beautiful. They portray resilience to me, an ability to persist regardless of how many times it may be stripped."
By then, Julia was focusing solely on Roald, who was still focused on the flower. Eventually, though, he did jet his eyes back up to look at hers. This time, Julia didn't look away.
"Do you always speak so poetically?" she said, a mixture of fascination and slight confusion in her voice. Again, Roald smiled, slightly embarrassed.
"I apologize, my lady. It is how I was taught to speak." Julia suddenly realized what she'd just said and quickly but lightly placed a hand on Roald's, his right hand that was holding the flower. She seemed to do this without thought. Roald could feel his hand tingle on the spot she was touching him, and again his heart fluttered.
"No, no, I'm sorry if that was rude, it's just something I'm not used to," she said. "I think it's very gentlemanly. I like how you speak."
Holding his smile, Roald looked down at the carnation in his hand. "Do you think your mother would like this?" he asked again. Now Julia looked at the flower, then realized she was holding the back of Roald's hand. She swiftly took her hand away and used it to aid her other hand with carrying the basket in the front of her as she took a step back.
"Yes, I think she would," Julia said, looking down and blushing. Roald stepped forward and softly took Julia's right hand off the handle of her basket. He could feel her stiffen at the touch, but he pressed on and brought Julia's hand up to the stem of the carnation. He hoped Julia didn't pick up on the fact that he was holding his breath as he carried out the bold move.
Julia grabbed the stem and Roald brought his hands back to his sides. Julia put the flower in her basket quietly, still refusing to look at Roald. Regardless, the squire went down on bended knee once more and bid his farewells. "I must return to my host before we are set to leave back to Hyrule Castle Town."
He got up and before he could turn to leave, he noticed Julia had looked past him and was watching something down on the plains. "Would that be your host over there?" she asked, pointing. Roald followed her finger and, sure enough, Sir Barrick had rounded up the squires and the lot was riding back home. His unmanned horse was being led away by Yule. Roald took a quick few steps in the direction of his companions, then stopped and sighed, defeated. He could hear giggling coming from behind, though, and he turned to see Julia looking away with a hand over her mouth.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I don't mean to laugh," she said between breaths. "I just, the timing of it all, I don't know why I find this so funny." She began laughing harder. "I really don't mean to laugh!"
Watching her, Roald found himself unable to keep from letting out a chuckle as well. As he was joining her, Julia managed to get her laughter under control and calmed down. "I'm very, very sorry," she said, embarrassment running across her face.
"It is alright, my lady. It was my fault for staying here so long."
"Why did you come up here in the first place?" Julia asked, the question having never occurred to her before then. "Did you see something? Should I be worried?"
"I did see something, Lady Skylark, but I would hope there is no need for worry," Roald said. "I saw you."
Both had become dazed by the comment, the pair simply looking at each other in a state of shock at the brave words that just escaped from Roald's mouth. Now that he was the one doomed to embarrassment, Roald looked down, afraid to see Julia's reaction. However, seemingly emboldened now, Julia spoke.
"Maybe it's better that they left you behind," she said, causing Roald to meet her eyes again. Neither moved an inch, standing several feet from one another. "You hope to be a knight one day, don't you?"
"I do," Roald affirmed, albeit not without some perplexity, wondering about Julia's intentions.
"Isn't one of the knight's oaths to always protect a lady? And you almost abandoned me out here all by myself," Julia teased with a sly smile. Roald recoiled a bit, realizing that she was right.
"My lady, I deeply apologize, I meant no offense," he said, bowing to her stiffly as he cursed himself in his mind. "I simply...forgot."
"Hm. I may forgive you," Julia began, her attitude having suddenly taken a drastic turn; she wore her smile as if she had just won some great battle, not against Roald but perhaps against herself, "if you would behave as a proper knight and see me safely to my home."
Roald straightened from his bow. "It is my duty, and my honor, to act as your escort."
"Good," Julia said as she stepped closer to him. "Protect me," she added more softly as she looked him in the eye and brushed past him, momentarily reaching a hand out to gently graze the ringmail covering his arm. Roald couldn't feel her touch on his bare skin, but what he would have given to experience the sensation again.
Roald caught up to Julia and walked alongside her, pleasantly surprised by her suddenly coquettish personality. Roald's admittance of affection for her must have unlocked some part of her that she couldn't bring herself to expose before, this teasing, playful side that was so tightly restricted only minutes ago. By the time they reached her home, Roald had become completely and undeniably taken with her. He never expected he would fall for a woman like Julia, but neither had he ever met a woman who was quite like her. She made him laugh and smile and feel empowered but humble all at once. Simply put, he enjoyed being with her.
"Thank you for escorting me home, Sir Roald Tillman," Julia said once they'd arrived at her family's manor. Roald smiled. She did remember his name after all.
"I am no Sir, my lady, but to escort you was my honor, and my pleasure," Roald said, bowing to her. As he stood straight, he noticed Julia had come a little closer to him.
"You're as good as any Sir I've ever met," she said, her voice sweet. She suddenly looked away from him for a moment, her face betraying that she wanted to say something more, but despite how easily she talked and joked with Roald on the way home, Julia found herself regressing back to the shy girl she was before. Instead of speaking, she slowly, thoughtfully looked back at Roald, took another step closer to him so they were within inches of one another, pushed herself up onto the balls of her feet and softly kissed him on the cheek, a reward for his services. Roald's cheek stung with pleasure as Julia lowered herself and stepped back, still looking at the squire.
Overcome by the moment, his heart pounding, Roald swiftly but tenderly grabbed Julia's hands. She didn't draw away, her hands calm in his. "Please, my lady, forgive me if this is too forward," he said, stumbling nervously through his words, a rarity for the unusually well-spoken youth, "but I would like to see you again. It would be a great pleasure if I could see you again."
"When? Where?" Julia asked, sounding breathless as she broke her silence, overjoyed and nervous beyond comprehension all at once. Roald paused for a moment to think of an answer.
"At the square the night after tomorrow, after my duty with my fellow squires is done for the day."
"I'll be there." Julia smiled, trying hard to mask her excitement in much the same way Roald struggled to contain his.
Roald thought back on that day as he and Julia silently enjoyed the stars in each other's company. It was hard to believe there was ever a time she was so shy around him. It was also hard to believe that it had truly been two years, and that his journey through squirehood was almost at an end. And he still wondered whether or not the end of that meant the end of this, this happiness he had managed to find and fortify over the years.
Just how different would things be in four days' time?
"Roald," Julia said, bringing him out of his own mind. Her voice was urgent and quiet, and she sat up straight, parting herself from her beau. "Someone's coming up the hill."
Wordlessly, Roald grabbed Temperance, stood up, and unsheathed it. Julia silently stood as well and got behind him. Roald could see that the dark figure was holding something that gleamed slightly in the dim night light and he held his sword out with both hands, assuming a defensive stance with the blade angling out from him as he held the hilt with both hands. "Halt!" he commanded. Instantly, the approaching figure stopped in its tracks. "State your name and tell me what it is you carry!"
"My name is Ghim," responded the deep, slightly raspy voice of a man grown. "I am a friend."
Roald could see the shadowy figure lift his free hand into the air, surrendering, while he threw the glinting object he held in his other hand with just enough strength to land at Roald's feet. The figure then raised his now-freed hand into the air as Roald looked down at the object.
"I carry the Master Sword."