… This one here is called the silent princess. It's a rare, endangered species. Despite our efforts, we can't get them to grow domestically yet. The princess can only thrive out here, in the wild...
Link was fairly sure ogling the royal backside was not an acceptable thing to do. If he really wracked his memory, he was, in fact, actually certain Master Impa had mentioned it explicitly during one of his many etiquette lessons, and that Link had, at the time, spluttered that he hadn't, that he would never, and anyway who would want to ogle someone so infuriating?
It wasn't his fault, though. The real problem, the real culprit, was that the princess' backside, for all that he'd tried and failed to dislike its owner, was a lovely shape, and clad in form-fitting black trousers that stretched over it anytime the princess bent over.
Which she was doing right now. For the second time.
Something twisted in his gut, something that felt uncomfortably like a pull, an urge… And he wrenched his eyes away, fixing his gaze somewhere on the horizon. There. Nothing to see, nothing to be concerned about. Nothing untoward for Master Impa to punish.
The princess, for her part, seemed perfectly oblivious to the torment festering inside him. She released her captured frog into the grass, the critter completely oblivious to how close it had come to being eaten in the name of science.
Not that Link would have eaten it, big green imploring princess eyes or not. He suppressed a mild shudder.
He glanced back at the princess. She had now collapsed into the grass, on her back, and was staring up at the pale blue sky, her hair splayed around her head like a golden halo. The flowers around them swayed in the breeze, the leaves overhead rustled. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, spring at its best.
Down the long slope to the south, the Royal Lab was bustling with activity. Zelda had insisted on visiting it today. So Link and his Order had spent a full three days making sure that the road to the Royal Laboratory was clear of danger, patrolling the area assiduously to ensure no Yiga attacks would occur, before Link had finally acquiesced to her visit.
She had been so excited by a recent discovery that Link hadn't had the heart to remind her that today was his birthday. He was confident they would return in time for him to go wandering Hyrule Castle Town like a wastrel with his fellow knights and squires. Until then, birthdays were no excuse to shirk duty, especially if duty merely meant dozing off in the shade of a tree.
Zelda's enthusiasm in the past days had been a little contagious, if he were honest with himself. A new sort of Sheikah Shrine had been uncovered ― a healing facility ― in the middle of the Great Plateau. Ancient text, she had explained, revealed that the shrine had once been used to heal grave wounds, and though all the scholars agreed this find was momentous, it filled Link with a sense of foreboding that he couldn't seem to shake.
The Great Plateau was too far to visit for now ― not with Zelda and her father arguing so often about her distractions from duty ― but much of the studies, drawings, schematics and writings had been copied down and sent to the Lab, which was much closer to home. So Zelda had pored over the material while Link went through his drills in the garden, trying to ignore the odd sense that this discovery was ominous.
Now it was midday, and she had decided to take a break. For Zelda, taking a break apparently meant stepping away to take pictures of more plants and wildlife.
But now she seemed to have run out of steam, her chest rising and falling with each serene breath, and Link sat back against the tall tree whose shade shielded them from the sun, feeling a strange sort of peace settle upon him at last.
"I wish things were different," Zelda said, breaking the comfortable silence.
"Me too," Link said.
She shifted, turning her head to look up at him from where she lay prone in the grass. "But then, perhaps we never would have had the chance to meet."
Link looked down, unable to explain the rush of blood that made his heart beat stronger. She was beautiful like that, with her hair loose around her, her clothing so ordinary, her eyes so wide and earnest. But he'd seen pretty girls before ― how was she any different?
"We would have met," Link said, firmly, looking away to calm his breathing.
He could hear the smile in her voice when she spoke next. "Oh? You sound so very certain."
Link shrugged, embarrassed. "I was among the best squires in my cohort. As soon as I was knighted, it was almost certain I would have been among the Royal Guard. Like my father."
She hummed in response. "But the Royal Guard serves my father, not me."
"One day," Link said, stubbornly refusing to look down at her. "One day the Order of the Guard and the Royal Guard will have the same purpose and will merge... To protect and serve the Queen of Hyrule." It was a reminder he kept desperately at the forefront of his mind, a mantra more potent than any other Sheikah exercise. She would be Queen one day, and he would never be anything else than a knight at her feet.
It was really difficult to remember that when she was bent over, or in her nightclothes, or like this, right now, lying in the grass at his side, as though she were nothing special at all.
"I almost don't want to be queen," Zelda said, absently.
Link couldn't help it. He glanced down. "Why not?" He frowned.
"I want to be a peasant girl," Zelda said, wistfully. "Free to roam the fields at my leisure, to do what I choose with my days."
"You would need an income," Link said, pragmatically.
"I'd raise cuccos."
"Cuccos?" Link echoed, snorting with sudden laughter.
"Why not?" She asked, defensively, though a tiny curl of her lip revealed her smile. "Would you object terribly to my chosen profession, Sir Link of Mabe Village?"
"Not at all," Link said, sobering up as much as he could. "I'm sure you'd be a great cucco farmer."
"I would be," she smiled, turning her attention back to the sky, a smile playing on her lips. "I would have simple gowns that don't need any maid's fingers to button up. I would rise with the sun, and work hard, and go to bed at night with the certainty of having achieved a hard day's work."
"You would be bored out of your mind," Link said. "You're too clever by half to stay in such a simple, unchanging life."
Her cheeks flushed prettily, and Link felt a conflicting mix of satisfaction at having caused that blush, and irritation at himself for thinking, even just a second, that if she were a cucco farmer he'd have no hesitation to ask her―
No. Bad Link. Thoughts of simple gowns and tumbles in a barn were no more appropriate than looking at her shapely backside.
"Well, then," she asked, recovering, even as Link took a deep, calming breath, "what do you think I could be?"
He glanced at her again, trying to swallow the lump in his throat. If he were honest, she could be anything. She was bright and clever and beautiful and full of life, and she had an arresting effect on his pulse.
"You'd make a great wandering scholar," he said, after a moment's reflection. "Going around, collecting the stories and histories of different lands, collating them into tomes." He could tell the notion was very pleasing to her, because she was smiling to herself, picturing this other life with a distant look in her eyes. "You could sell the books for income."
"I would need a protector," she said, and suddenly Link's chest constricted.
"Probably," he managed, ignoring the longing that flooded him.
The silence that followed came with a sad dose of reality. "Not that it matters," she finally said, the joy in her voice now muted, gone.
"Father wants me to begin my pilgrimage as soon as possible, before Farore's Fall," she said, her tone now greatly sobered. "But we have yet to visit Zora's Domain and check up on Vah Ruta. That will have to happen soon."
"Mipha will be happy to have us," Link said.
Zelda's gaze went to his face, studied him. "I think so too," she said, softly. Then, her eyes narrowed. "You grew up together, didn't you?"
"For a few years," Link nodded. "While my father trained Mipha to use the spear."
She didn't reply to that, apparently lost in thought. "Mipha is a good person," she finally said, softly.
"A better friend than most deserve," Link concurred warmly. The princess glanced at him, and he was surprised to see confusion in her green eyes. He blinked. "What? Don't you agree?"
"Yes," she said, slowly, carefully. "I suppose I do." She sat up, curling her arms around her knees, which she'd collected to her chest. "Though I don't know if I could presume to call her my friend."
"She thinks of you as a friend," Link said. She was being silly. "Don't overthink it."
Her eyes crinkled at him, a flash of irritation ―was it irritation?― sparking in her eyes for the briefest of moments, but it passed, and once again her eyes were green as new leaves in the sunlight. "All right," she finally said. Then she squinted at him over her shoulder. "And I suppose you have more advice on friendships between princesses."
Oh, he'd stepped into it. He sighed. "I don't," he said, duly chastised. Still: "Mipha is a good soul. If you allow yourself to think of her as a friend, she will return it wholeheartedly."
"I know," she sighed. Then, her shoulders sagged. "I suppose it was always easier to stick with Urbosa than it was to make new friends."
"New friends aren't so terrible," Link said, giving her his most charming grin, and he was gratified to see her hold back her own smile.
"No, they are not," she agreed.
Suddenly, she gasped, her countenance changing utterly. Startled, Link's hand moved to the Master Sword of its own accord, his entire body tensing.
"I almost forgot!" She exclaimed, scrambling towards her bag, and Link exhaled in relief, relaxing.
"Skies," he said, as she searched the confines of her bag, "I thought you'd seen something―"
"Don't be ridiculous," she said, pausing and motioning to the verdant fields around them. "If there were even the slightest danger, you would have kept me locked up at the castle under triple guard."
"Aha!" She was back to searching, and she finally recovered the object of her search. Triumphantly, she pulled out the parcel from her bag.
It was wrapped in festive green paper, and Link blinked in confusion.
"It's your birthday!" She exclaimed, cheeks flushed. She seemed awash in a mix of excitement and nervousness, and as usual when her nerves were at play, she assuaged them by babbling: "It's not much. The truth is that I had such a short time to find something― It's... " She thrust the package at him, and Link tried not to gape like a fish. "Just… take it, please."
Obediently, Link took the parcel from her hands. It was rather light, and carefully packaged ―she was nothing but meticulous, if her drawings were anything to go by.
"What is it?" Link asked, still stunned.
She rolled her eyes. "Skies, seas, stones and sands," she said, smiling, "the whole point is for you to unwrap it."
But Link was still reeling. In his hands, the package sat unopened, completely harmless, and he opened his mouth again to speak, then closed it, then reopened it, then blinked down at her offering in total confusion.
She got me a gift for my birthday.
Princess Zelda. Princess Zelda had gotten him a gift for his birthday.
He oughtn't have felt so flustered by it. There was no reason for his pulse to race, no reason to feel so childishly happy.
"Thank you," he managed to choke out, still in shock.
"You don't know what it is," she said, now evidently amused. She scrambled over to his side, much closer than usual, and curled her knees up to her chest once more, looking like a girl again, an ordinary girl, one that he only had to lean a little to the right to kiss―
Not that he was going to kiss her, because she was the princess, he reminded himself, tearing his gaze away from her mouth. She hadn't noticed, he was sure. It had only been a fleeting glance, nothing incriminating, just barely enough to notice how pink and soft her lips looked―
"Well?" She asked, and Link swallowed the flustered ball of nerves that fizzed in his throat when she spoke so near his ear. Did she know? Gods, he hoped she didn't. "Aren't you going to open it?"
Focus, Link. You're a man, not a boy.
He slipped a finger into the wrapping, carefully unfolding it. It was easier, safer, to think of deliberate motions than it was to allow his imagination to run wild.
As the paper came away, he found himself looking down at a book.
It was a small tome, a leatherbound confection with the engraving of a Triforce on the cover. He turned it over, admiring the quality of the leatherwork and craftsmanship.
Next to him, Zelda seemed to be holding her breath, so Link pulled the cover open and read the title page.
"A History of Heroes," he read out loud, slowly. "Tales and accounts from the Ages of the Sky, Time and Twilight, by Magister Rauru of the Temple."
Zelda had reached the limit of her capacity for silence, because the words burst out her lips with obvious enthusiasm: "It's the story of your predecessors! I found it in the library some months ago, but I was― well, I didn't think it would be of much use to me," she admitted with some embarrassment. Then, she perked up. "But it could be enlightening for you! It details the legends of the heroes' deeds, and it even describes a few of their sword techniques. Not that I can make much sense of them."
Link was leafing through the book. It was a beautiful piece of work, with colourful illuminations and engravings, and a clear, legible handwriting ― all the more credit to its author. He looked up at his princess, surprised to find that he was touched.
"It's splendid," he said, earnestly.
She flushed a pretty pink, possibly with delight. "Oh, you like it! Good."
Link turned to a page where a full-page illumination depicted the green-clad hero embracing a woman ―the incarnation of the Goddess― dressed all in white. Embracing her rather amorously, actually, their hands tangled and their lips joined. His brow rose, and he glanced at the princess, who noticed the cause of his reaction rather belatedly.
"Oh," she said, the sound a little breathier, perhaps, than Link would have predicted, and he tried not to smirk at her. "Well," she said, reaching over to try to close the cover over his fingers, "you can peruse it as you please later."
"I take it," he said, delighting in the pretty blush on her cheeks, especially since he could admire it from so close, "that the Goddess was not always a princess."
"I suppose you shall have to read and find out," she said, primly, still trying ― and failing ― to shut the book for him. She scowled prettily at her wasted efforts, and her green eyes rose to meet his. "Oh, honestly, Link, we're both old enough to know these things happen."
"Indeed," Link said, ignoring the sharp tug in his chest from hearing his name tumble from her lips with such familiarity. "Do I look shy about it? I'm not the one trying to close the book just to avoid looking at it." He pulled the book away from her reach, and she let out an indignant huff. Smiling, he said, "I don't know that it's that bad, even." He glanced back at the picture, stymying a little wave of… Jealousy? Longing? "They're fully dressed. It's positively prim." Though the way the hero held that Goddess was undeniably possessive. Link couldn't blame him.
"You're hopeless," Zelda said, her lovely ears still a deep pink colour. "I suppose I should have expected it from a man."
"Guilty," Link said. He turned the page and focused instead on images of various swords, some of which seemed reminiscent of the Master Sword, only not exactly. Several pages later, illustrations of keys and locking mechanisms were annotated with neat captions.
This book was truly a beautiful gift, an offering that surely would cost a deal of money to replace within the castle library.
With genuine appreciation, he looked into Zelda's green eyes. She was close. Very close. He ignored the urge that inevitably rose within when he was this close to her.
"Thank you," he said, as sincerely as he could.
She was wide-eyed, her cheeks pink, apparently at a loss for words. Then, she blinked, shifting ―putting a few more inches of distance between them, and cleared her throat.
"Ah," she said, her hand coming up. "Don't worry about it."
And she patted his arm.
Link flinched, only a little, the wound he'd suffered from the lynel still strangely raw under his sleeve.
He hoped she hadn't noticed, but she had, and her hand froze, and her lips parted, and before Link could say anything her eyes narrowed accusingly.
"Sir Link," she said, in that tone that warned of forthcoming reprimand.
"It's a great gift," Link said, desperately hoping she would let it go. "Thank you―"
She grabbed his arm, and squeezed. Not hard, but Link yelped.
"I knew it!" She exclaimed, standing, all trace of the blushing girl gone, replaced instead with the imperious conviction of a know-it-all princess. "You're still hurt!"
"I'm fine," Link growled, angry with himself for confirming anything at all. "It's just sore, that's all."
She was not having it. "Roll up your sleeve."
"Skies above," Zelda said to the blue heavens overhead, the pure exasperation giving her imploration a degree of feeling that she probably didn't infuse her regular prayers with, "do as I say."
"It's nothing," Link insisted.
But she had begun removing his bracer and unwrapping the striped cloth from his forearm anyway, and his protestations weakened on his tongue. Her movements were gentle, careful, as they were when she handled wounded animals.
And Link wasn't sure why, but even though he didn't want her to see, he couldn't find it in him to protest when she finally rolled up his sleeve and placed her hands under his arm to study the lacerations in his skin. The feeling of her fingers on him was like a warm shock, rushing up his arm and into his spine, tingling through the inside of his skull, into every nerve ending he had. Despite himself, his fingers twitched, the instinct to run them against her cheek difficult to overcome.
Princess Zelda might not have any sealing powers, but she certainly had magic in her, if her touch was any proof.
Fallen into complete muteness, he watched as she studied the deep cuts on his arm with the sort of detached interest and absent squeamishness of any blooded physician.
"They're not healing," she finally said, looking up at him with anger, as though it were his fault.
"It just needs more time," Link managed, his voice hoarse.
"Perhaps lynel claws leave some sort of organic poison," she wondered out loud, having apparently decided that his assessment was worthless. Her brow puckered. "But this isn't good. Even poison ought to have cleared out from your system. It's been a month."
"I'm fine," Link said, though without the degree of conviction he'd wanted to muster.
"We should head back to the Lab," Zelda said, and Link was touched to hear a small hint of worry in her voice. "I'm sure Purah or Robbie would have something to help speed up healing―"
"No," Link said, suddenly.
She blinked at him. "No?" Then, she frowned. "And why not?"
Link carefully brought his wounded arm closer to his chest. "No one can know. I'm the hero." He looked up into her eyes, and a flicker of understanding there convinced him she would at least listen: "The hero can't be hurt. The people need to believe―" He found himself at a loss for how to phrase the idea that kept haunting him.
"That you are infallible," Zelda finished for him, flatly. She sounded defeated. Her eyes fell to the open lacerations on his arm. "But I cannot in good conscience leave you like this."
"I'm fine," Link said, again.
She was ignoring his declarations though, rifling through her pack. After the tinkling of a few bottles and phials, she retrieved a squat little pot of unguent, returning to sit cross-legged at his side. A single raised brow from her, and he was extending his arm again.
Gently, with the care of an experienced nurse ― or the experienced touch of a scholar ― she applied the salve to his wound, and it helped to soothe the sensitive skin.
There was something about this moment, Link thought, that felt… right. Something about the attention in her eyes, something about the kindness of her touch, something about her unspoken discomfort at seeing a depiction of a kiss―
Link swallowed the lump in his throat.
This was a slippery slope, and he was already further down it than he'd thought.
He was in trouble.