Zelda ran her hand across the moss covering the outstretched wing of the stone statue of Hylia, appreciating how soft and springy it was under her fingertips. Perhaps in another era, the statue would have been cleaned daily, but she was practically the only person who visited the castle's inner garden these days. Small gatherings had been held here when her mother was still alive, but now only Impa accompanied her on her visits, and then only rarely.
This was a shame, Zelda reflected, as the garden was quite beautiful. It was located within the walls of one of the oldest parts of the castle, right next to the library. The white stone of the masonry had aged gracefully, covered as it was with ivy and heartvine. Judging from the fountain at the center of the area, which had been allowed to run dry and gradually fill with earth and clover, the garden must have once been purely ornamental, but Zelda's mother had grown a variety of medicinal plants here. Zelda maintained these plantings and continued to study their applications, even though she did not have frequent cause to make use of them.
Among them were some she hoped she would never use. Any medicine improperly applied could become a poison, of course, but some tinctures served only to bring pain. The most dangerous of the plants in the garden was a white bellflower ringed with blue. Impa referred to it as the "silent princess," as it was known within Sheikah lore for doing its work efficiently and then vanishing without a trace. It was difficult to cultivate, but it had been a favorite of her mother. Zelda admired its beauty, and she had to admit that she admired its power as well. She hoped she would never have to avail herself of the silent princess, but she also understood that her personal ethics would be forever subservient to her position as a monarch of Hyrule.
If what Impa told me is true, she thought, tracing her finger around the outer rim of one of the freshly blooming flowers, my coronation may be the least of my worries at the moment.
"It's rare to see such a flower grown in captivity," a voice said at her back. "What is it you Hylians call it? The 'silent princess,' if I'm not mistaken."
Zelda's blood froze.
"Good afternoon, Ganondorf," she said, politely acknowledging his presence as a reflex but unable to prevent her next words from leaving her mouth. "What are you doing here?"
"I was given to understand that this is not a private place," he replied, and she could hear the frown in his voice even before she turned to face him.
"That's true," she agreed, "but very few people enter this garden. It's a bit out of the way."
"Indeed it is, but it was you who showed me how to get here. Don't you remember?"
As soon as he said this, a shadow of a memory flickered through her mind.
"You brought me here after we first met," he added, a faint note of sadness in his voice.
"That's right," Zelda whispered, the memory suddenly as clear as if it had just been formed.
As a child, she hadn't been allowed to play with the other children in the castle. It didn't matter whether they were the daughters and sons of the staff or the nobility; if she so much as struck up a conversation, an adult would quickly materialize to usher her elsewhere. She was the only child of her parents, and, as such, she was precious. She could not be allowed to come to physical harm, nor was she allowed to compromise her reputation as the crown princess with any childish gossip or imaginings. Although Zelda had desperately wanted to play with children her own age, she had been strictly trained to be quiet and reserved. When the expectation that she remain still and silent became too much to bear, she found refuge in the library, where no one would interrupt her to tell her how to behave.
Late one afternoon Zelda had escaped from an interminable tea luncheon, fleeing to the library only to find a boy perhaps a year or two older than her sitting in a chair much too large for him. He was flipping through a book that he obviously wasn't reading. Zelda could still remember its title, An Agricultural History of the Zora River Basin. When she entered the room, the large oak door swinging softly shut behind her, the boy had given her a sullen look, as if annoyed by her intrusion. No one else in the castle, child or adult, would have dared to cast such an expression in her direction, and she was intrigued.
"Did you come here to read?" she asked as she approached him.
"Is not read. I go here to hide," he answered. His accent was thick, but his words were clear. In his voice Zelda recognized the intonation of someone who had been carefully instructed on how to speak in front of others.
He lowered his book, and Zelda was able to get a good look at his face. When she saw the large topaz stone adorning the diadem circling his forehead, she realized that this must be the Gerudo prince her mother had told her about. Her mother considered the Gerudo queen to be a special friend, and she had been excited that Zelda would finally be able to meet the queen's son, Ganondorf. When the queen had been presented during the previous evening's court, however, there had been no children accompanying her.
"Where were you last night?" Zelda asked him, taking it for granted that he would understand what she meant.
"Was bad. The food is..." The boy clutched his stomach to mime sickness.
"How rude," Zelda chided him, unable to help herself.
He shrugged and pointed at her. "Food is bad for you also, are too skinny."
For some reason this statement struck Zelda as unbearably silly. She started giggling, and the boy smiled at her.
"Our mothers are still at the luncheon. Do you want to go play outside while we wait for them?"
This was the first time Zelda had ever offered such an invitation. To her delight, Ganondorf accepted, and she had led him to the inner garden, all the while peppering him with questions just to listen to the way he used words. Within the hour he had grown impatient with Hylian and started to speak to her in Gerudo, and when the two of them were found sitting on the grass of the inner garden and braiding clover stems into chains their conversation was an equal mixture of their languages. Both of them found the other's way of speaking infinitely amusing.
It seemed that their mothers were always together, and there wasn't much room for children in the intimate space they created between themselves. The interruption of the queen's schedule affected Zelda's own, and during the Gerudos' visit she was mostly left to her own devices. She naturally gravitated toward Ganondorf, who also had little to do other than kill time while roaming around the castle. They played hide and seek in the hedges, chatted endlessly about inconsequential things next to each other at formal state dinners, and went on small adventures in the lonelier areas of the castle during the long summer afternoons.
Zelda smiled as she recalled these memories. "We were good friends," she said to Ganondorf, who was gazing at her with the slightly unsettling intensity that she had come to expect from him.
"Our mothers were good friends," he responded, as if correcting her. "But they never should have become so close. There cannot be true friendship between people who can never be equals."
Zelda recalled the way that the two women had spoken to and smiled at each other, and she shook her head. "I don't think your mother was subservient to mine in any way. And I don't think your position is subservient to mine, even if we are in my castle," she added. "It's been too long since we sat down and talked to one another. Why don't you join me for tea tomorrow afternoon? I hope it won't be an imposition."
"An imposition? Hardly," Ganondorf scoffed. "Is an invitation from the crown princess ever an imposition?"
Zelda decided not to respond to his implication that she had just issued an order. That had not been her intention, but a certain stubbornness kept her from correcting him.
"So you'll join me, then?"
Instead of answering her, Ganondorf raised his hand toward her. Zelda immediately stiffened, but he reached past her shoulder to pluck one of the silent princesses from its vine.
"If I must join you, then I will," he said lightly. He met her eyes and then dropped his gaze to the flower in his hands. Zelda glanced down and watched him squeeze the stem above his palm. When a drop of the poisonous sap fell onto his skin, she flinched instinctively. She looked back up at Ganondorf, but he was still regarding the silent princess contemplatively.
"But I hope you won't be offended if I tell you that Hylian tea is not to my taste."
Zelda swallowed and resisted the urge to bite her lip. If Ganondorf knew the Sheikah name of this flower, then he must know how deadly it was, but surely he could not be suggesting that she would try to poison him.
"Perhaps I could take tea with you," she offered.
"Hylians do enjoy taking things, don't they," he replied, surprising her with his boldness.
"Ganondorf. It doesn't have to be this way between us. Why don't you tell me what you want to say?"
"Yes," she insisted. "Please consider me a friend, as your mother was a friend of my own."
"Fine, then know this – As your kingdom rises, Princess, mine can only fall."
"That's preposterous, Ganondorf. Hyrule has no ill intentions toward the Gerudo, and your people are famously wealthy. Besides, if you truly believe that, then why did you come here?"
"Did I have a choice? Surely I don't need to tell you how it would look if my people failed to send an emissary to your coronation."
"No, I mean, I understand that," Zelda said in frustration, "but if you hate me and my kingdom so much, why did you come here, to this garden?"
Ganondorf seemed taken aback. "I don't hate Hyrule," he muttered, looking away from her. Zelda glanced down and watched him twist the stem of the silent princess around his finger in agitation.
"And I don't hate you either," he continued. "It's just that it's difficult for me, here in your castle. I sometimes feel that every room is haunted by the memory of my mother, and I wanted to go to a place that I don't associate with her. I remember, the last time I was here we read an old book together, something about magic. I seem to recall that you had a fascination with wizards."
Zelda was perplexed. How could Ganondorf speak of such personal matters in practically the same breath as he accused her kingdom of oppressing his own? She didn't know what to make of the situation, or of Ganondorf himself. Nevertheless, she did her best to salvage the conversation.
"I used to love stories about wizards," she admitted, "but they lost their luster when I realized that I have no talent for magic myself. The gift is supposed to run in my family, but it's never come easily to me."
"Magic doesn't come naturally to anyone," Ganondorf replied. "It's not the sort of thing that's supposed to come easily. You have to work at it, constantly."
"So you're able to use magic?" Zelda asked.
"Then show me," she demanded. "I'd like to see it." She was a bit shocked by her own forwardness, but her curiosity had gotten the best of her.
"It would be my pleasure," Ganondorf said, smiling slightly. He took a deep breath, released it, and began humming a simple melody. Each of the notes created a strange resonance in her heart, almost as if she had heard this song somewhere before.
Within seconds, a warm wind began circling through the garden, catching fallen leaves and flower petals and sending them up into tiny spirals. The wind also carried the subtle smell of the incense burned into Ganondorf's clothing as it blew across Zelda's face, striking her with a fierce pang of nostalgia for the brief time in which her days and hours had been her own.
The sky had grown vibrant with the hues of the setting sun, and Zelda knew she would have to excuse herself soon. She had only come here for a breath of fresh air after her afternoon audiences, and she still had a number of documents that she needed to return to her secretaries before she began to prepare for the evening court. She was scheduled to be fitted for another gown, so she had even less time than she usually did.
And yet she allowed herself to stand silently as Ganondorf continued to hum, the wind he summoned dancing through the garden. It occurred to her that he had sought her out here, just as he had before the dance yesterday evening, just he had the other morning in front of the library; just as she had continually sought him out when they were children. Perhaps this is what they did for each other, something that they could not do for themselves – together they found time to be no one other than themselves, if only for a few moments before they returned to the court and reassumed the weight of the responsibilities of their positions.