The rain came down in sheets. Sharp stinging drops hitting against the stones like arrows. Wind blew in tumultuous gales, shaking the glass in the window panes. In the distance, sharp blue light sparked in the sky as lightning struck the ground below. Thunder echoed through the air, reminiscent of a monster’s roar.
The young prince buried himself in his blankets, fear causing his body to shake as he pressed his face against his pillow. Salty tears trailed down his cheeks, weak sobs lost to the mighty sounds of the storm outside. The prince mumbled to himself, tiny hands rubbing his face as he repeated the words his father had told him.
“It’s only a storm, you’re safe it can’t hurt you”
Alexei was cut of from his mantra as another flash of lightning lit up his room. Blue white light stinging his eyes in a sudden flash. He let out a yelp, pulling the sheets over his head in an attempt to hide from the thunder outside.
“It can’t hurt you” he muttered to himself clinging to his pillows “it can’t hurt you, it can’t hurt you”
The windows shook and Alexei decided that enough was enough.
He wasn’t allowed to be scared anymore. He was 3 years old for goodness sake! Soon he’d be a big brother and then he’d need to be strong and brave like Pa. No more getting scared at sounds in the distance and lights in the sky, no more crying like a baby at the drop of a hat. Pa didn’t cry! Neither did Mama! Wiping his tears away, Alexei threw the blanket off of himself.
His determination lasted for all of 5 seconds before the lightning stuck again.
Terrified, he grabbed his blanket and leapt from the bed. The freezing cold stones burned his bare feet as he raced through his room, his blanket flowing behind him like the cape his father sometimes wore. His cheeks stained and his eyes blurry with fresh tears as a wave of fear took hold of him.
“It can’t hurt you” he repeated, reaching for the door that would take him to his parents rooms. He jumped frantically trying to pull the handle that would open the door. Thunder clapped again and Alexei could feel his heart pound against his ribs, desperation forcing him to jump higher, reach further.
His fist latched onto the handle, the metal cold to the touch. Using his entire body weight he pulled down, causing the door to swing open and send him tumbling across the floor to the reception area. Alexei looked up from his place, sprawled across the stones, taking in the way the room looked in the dark. The shadows seemed to loom over him, draining all the light from the world. The fire pit, once a source of brightness and warmth, was now cold and dark, and the furniture was nothing but vague shapes, illuminated periodically by flashes of blue and white. And somewhere an old clock could be heard over the din of the storm, a comforting tick tock that steadied his heartbeat.
The young prince pushed himself up from the floor, shuffling into the middle of the room next to the table where he played cards with Mama. The memory brought him a shred of comfort as he pulled himself onto the couch, the cushions frosty to the touch. Once seated as comfortably as possible, young Alexei looked around the room for the clock.
A flash of lightning lit up the room as the prince stared at the clock face. For a second he could see the hands and the numbers, proudly displayed in ancient wood, the big hand pointing to the 7, the little hand pointing to the 8. Mama and Pa won’t be in bed yet he lamented, biting back tears at how hopeless he felt. He’d wanted to go to them, to cuddle in between his parents, wrapped in sheets. His father’s comforting snores drowning out the storm, his mother’s warm embrace helping him to sleep.
But that wouldn’t be possible now. They were at dinner, Mama had dressed up pretty so it must have been important. He could remember the way the candle light had twinkled against her dress as she came to sing him to sleep. A Galaxy of stars wrapped around her.
“It’ll be alright sweetheart” she’d cooed, pressing a kiss against his forehead as the storm had started, “Mama’s here”
Another crack of thunder broke him from his daydream, his small yelp muffled by the blanket. He felt the tears well up, his vision going blurry and turning the already dark room into a mess of shadows.
“Mama” he sobbed “Pa… help me” Tears flowed down his cheeks, hot and painful as he cried out. Wailing in fear as the storm raged outside. “I’m scared”
Dinners with dignitaries were not Link’s forte. Give him a sword and a bow and he could solve any problem, win any fight. But put him in a room with a bunch of posh, smartly dressed, windbags and he faltered. This was Zelda’s battleground not his.
She sat at next to him at the head of the table, lost in conversation with one of her ministers. Her eyes drooped slightly, fatigue already settling in, as she balanced her chin on one elegant fist. Link was astounded by how she made the action look so wonderful, how she managed to give the illusion that she was raptly listening to everything that fell out of the ministers mouth.
In the distance thunder cracked and Link fought back the shiver that ran down his spine. He hated storms. He supposed it was natural, all animals feared storms in some capacity or other. He couldn’t remember hating storms per say. In fact he had a few fond memories of sitting in the barn with Fado keeping the goats calm as thunder and lightning shook the earth. It was only after his quest did he begin to find discomfort in the way the sky churned.
Poor Alexei wasn’t a fan either.
Link tried not to think about his son, worry gripping his heart like a vice. He’ll be fine, he told himself, He’ll sleep right through it. He began to shovel soup into his mouth, trying to distract himself from the image of his little boy shaking in fear. A few of the dignitaries looked at him strangely as he swallowed loudly.
Zelda glanced at him from the corner of her eye, a gloved hand slipping under the table to hold his knee. Link felt himself shudder, her touch more electric than the lightning outside. He turned to catch her eye, thanking her for her silent support.
She smiled at him. Excusing herself from her conversation she leaned closer to him. Her floral perfume making him feel at peace.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, her thumb tracing circles over his skin, “is it the weather?”
Link just shook his head, dropping his hand to hold hers, his pinkie grazing over the silk at her wrist. “Alexei” he replied, voice low so only she could hear him.
Zelda glanced at the door, then back to him, her violet blue eyes glinting in the candle light. He watched as she worried her bottom lip between her teeth, the same fears playing on her mind.
“Go check on him” she whispered, squeezing his hand.
“I can’t. You know how difficult it is for him to get to sleep, if I wake him up now he’ll be up for the rest of the night”
Zelda’s shoulders dropped, defeat clear in her eyes. Link had a point, Alexei was a terrible sleeper. She had taken to sitting on the edge of his bed and waiting for him to drift off. But time had been of the essence tonight and she’d been unable to do more than sing a lullaby for him before being dragged away to the dining room. She blamed Link, he had delayed her dressing with his wandering hands and distracting smile, a tactic she normally had the strength to avoid. It had been downright scheming of him to take advantage of her current state, knowing just how receptive she was to his touch.
Though it wasn’t like she could complain, he’d have stopped if she’d asked him to.
She tried not to linger on his distraction, instead turning her thoughts to her son. Little Alexei would hopefully be asleep, blissfully unaware of the tumultuous weather outside, though for some reason she doubted that that was the case.
“We could ask-”
“I ain’t sending a nanny in there Zelda” he cut her off, his tone growing hard, “if he needs help then I’m gonna be the one to help him, not some stranger”
Zelda squeezed his knee, “alright” she surrendered “we won’t send a nanny in”
Link seemed pacified with that, turning his attention back to his soup. His appetite now gone entirely.
Alexei watched as the big hand moved to the 8. Mama and Pa still weren’t back, they probably wouldn’t be for a while. Maybe when the big hand is on the 9? He wondered, pulling the blanket up higher around him, but that’s too many tick tocks! I can’t sit here that long!
With the next roll of thunder Alexei made a plan.
Zelda pushed her vegetables around on the plate. Beside her Link drummed his fingers on the table. His half eaten soup had been taken away from him, replaced by a mouth watering roast beef dinner. All of the dignitaries had greedily tucked in, eating as if they would never get the chance to again. All, that was, except Link.
Zelda put her hand over his, her pinkie grazing his wrist under his shirt cuff. His drumming stopped as he glanced at her.
“You haven’t touched your food” She said her eyes glancing down at his plate, still full. Link followed her gaze, staring guiltily at the bountiful meal in front of him. It was still hot, steam curling off the plate in elegant whisps.
“I can’t eat” he murmured, feeling her hand squeeze his in support.
Alexei had been around the whole castle before. Pa had taken him on walks, Mama showed him the art on the walls, and Uncle Shad and Auntie Ashei had lost numerous games of hide and seek.
But that was during the day.
At night, with a storm brewing overhead the castle became a much more sinister place. Every shadow held a new and terrifying monster, every sound became a reason to run. His heart raced as he turned the corner, clinging to the stone walls, his blanket trailing behind him.
He had left the safety of his rooms on his very own quest. He needed to find Mama and Pa, he couldn’t be scared anymore. Pa wasn’t scared on his quest, The young prince thought as he snuck past empty suits of armour in scary shadowy alcoves. Pa’s a hero! Nothing scares him!
Building up his courage, Alexei snuck through dark and secretive hallways. The night threatened to suffocate him, closing in on him at every turn. He tried to stay in the light of the lanterns that lined the walls. Their orange glow much more comforting than the electric bright light of the lightning strikes.
The Prince came to a split in his path, the corridor turning left and right in front of him. He knew that Mama and Pa would be in the fancy dining room, she’d worn the pretty dress and Pa had put on a cool doublet! They must be there!
The only issue was that Alexei didn’t know where the fancy dining room was.
He’d been there twice for his birthday, that he knew. He also knew it was somewhere with tall windows and that it faced the gardens. He remembered sitting on his mother’s lap as they watched the gardeners working.
“Every job is important” she had said, bouncing him on her knee “even the most seemingly meaningless jobs are important. We should never judge anyone based on the job they do. Only the kind of person they are”
Thinking of his mother filled him with the confidence to continue. He had a 50% chance of heading in the correct direction, of finding safety and comfort, of not being trapped in the dark twisting labyrinth that the castle became.
Taking a deep breath Alexei turned right.
“You’re worried about him” Zelda said, her own appetite rapidly vanishing. Link had his head in his hands, his elbows resting on the table. He didn’t care that it was bad manners, he needed to check on his son!
“The storm’s stronger than we figured it’d be” he grumbled “He ain’t ever been in one this big! What if he’s scared?!”
Suddenly the door to the dining room flew open. A hush of silence fell upon the room as every nobel and guard turned to stare at the newcomer. Link moved himself in front of Zelda, unable to see who had entered but ready and willing to lay down his life to protect her.
The silence grew heavy, everyone holding their breath. Zelda pulled on Link’s sleeve trying to tell him something. From her seat at the head of the table she could see everyone who entered that door. Link was about to turn and face her when a small, scared, voice echoed through the cavernous room.
Link leapt out of his seat, his heart practically stopping in his chest when he saw his son.
Alexei stood in the doorway, blanket wrapped around his shoulders, fresh tears falling down his chubby little cheeks. He looked so small, so frightened as he stared at the room of strangers. Unable to find his parents faces in the crowd he fought back a whimper. I have to be brave, I have to be brave.
Link’s chair clattered on the ground behind him, his footsteps rivalling the thunder as he ran from the table. He ignored the scandalised gasps of the nobility, he needed to reach his little boy.
He scooped his son up in his arms, his hand threading through Alexei’s hair as he hummed and murmured, “I’m here” he was saying “I’m here it’s okay”. Another clap of thunder caused Alexei to yelp, his little arms wrapping around his father’s neck as he buried his face in the thick fabric of Link’s doublet.
Some of the dignitaries had the common decency to look away and give the family some privacy. Others, mostly the lesser nobles, continued to gawk at the boy prince and the hero.
Zelda’s footsteps could be heard shortly after. She was slower than her husband but no less hurried as she rushed to join her family. Her and Link shared a look as Alexei let out another heartbreaking sob.
“I’ll have your food sent up” she said leaning in to press a kiss against her son’s head, desperately trying to blink back tears. “Take him upstairs” Before these idiots upset him even more.
Link bowed his head in understanding before leaning forward to press a kiss to her cheek. Lifting his son higher in his arms, and wrapping the blanket around him more comfortably, Link departed through the open door; leaving his wife and the nobility behind
Alexei clung to his father as he was carried back to bed. His tears had long since dried, now content and happy in his father’s safe embrace. Not even the Thunder could hurt them now.
Link opened the door with his foot, carefully balancing so he wouldn’t drop the child in his arms. The thin blue blanket that Alexei had wrapped around himself was beginning to fall loose, tangling around Link’s knees as he walked to his and Zelda’s bedroom.
The rain continued to pound against the window as father and son sat down on the bed. Piles of cushions and quilts, perfect for keeping out the winter chill, coated the bed. And as Link lowered Alexei down the young prince found himself perfectly happy to bury himself in the mountainous throws and pillows.
“I’m gonna get ready for bed, you okay here bud?” Link asked, brushing his son’s pale gold hair behind his ears. Alexei just nodded, wrapping his arms around his mother’s pillow. Link pressed a gentle kiss to his chest before disappearing behind a changing screen.
The rain was beginning to let up, thunder growing distant and lightning growing weak. Alexei found himself falling into a semi peaceful sleep, only interrupted by his father muttering to himself about how there was far too many buttons to be reasonable, what is this madness?
Link emerged from behind the screen just as a knock sounded at the door. He shot his son a comforting glance, promising to back as soon as he could before leaving the room.
Alexei hugged the pillow tighter. It smelled nice, like Mama. Had Mama been angry with him? She’d told Pa to take him upstairs… did she not want to see him? Had he messed up? Anxiety began to flood his chest as fresh tears clogged his throat. Did Mama hate him now? He didn’t want her to hate him! He was almost sobbing again by the time Link returned, a plate of roast beef in his hands.
“How’ya doin kiddo?” he asked, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. Not getting a response, Link slid the plate onto the bedside table, turning so he was sitting with his back against the pillows, his son at his side.
Alexei buried his face into Zelda’s pillow, his little body shaking with sobs. Link pulled him into a hug, rubbing his back and kissing his head, muttering soothing words as the rain came to a stop.
“I’m sorry” Alexei sobbed, his voice almost lost in the cushions and pillows that surrounded them, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry”
“Hey, hey what’s this about?” Link whispered, pulling back so he could wipe the tears from his cheeks “what’s brought this on?”
Alexei’s lip quivered, his eyes dropping to the pillow he held grasped in his hands. “I got scared and now Mama hates me”
“Mama doesn’t hate you!” Link soothed “Mama could never hate you”
“B-but I...I messed up” Alexei began to sob again, Link’s heart breaking at the sound. Turning to the bedside table Link fished around in one of the drawers before pulling out a hankie. It was one that Colin had made for him when he moved to castle town, he’d always been hesitant about blowing his nose in it, however this seemed like the time to use it.
Wiping away Alexei’s tears, Link shuffled further down the bed so they could see each other eye to eye. The young prince still clung onto the pillow, his face red and his eyes shining.
“How’d you mess up?” Link asked, rearranging blankets and pillows to make the two of them more comfortable.
“I was meant t-to be strong. B-but I got scared again and…and I need to be brave because Mama’s got a baby in her tummy and I’m gonna be a bigger brother so I need… I need to be brave and I can’t b-be brave if I’m scared”
“Well that’s not true” Link huffed, tucking his son’s hair out of his face, “that’s the only time a person can be brave, when they are absolutely terrified”
Alexei fell silent. His hands slipping from the pillow, fingers reaching for Link’s hand. The hero offered it up, a small smile on his face as his son traced the skin over his knuckles.
“D-do you ever get scared” he asked timidly, unsure of what answer he wanted.
“All the time. It ain’t a bad thing, being scared means you’re smart. If you didn’t get scared you’d never know when something could hurt you, or hurt someone you care about” Link rubbed a hand down Alexei’s back, “Mama doesn’t hate you. She loves you so much, and so do I and so will your baby brother or sister”
Alexei pushed forward, burying his face in Link’s chest as he wrapped his little arms around him. Fresh tears falling, but these tears were happy tears. Link returned the hug, relishing in the silence and the comfort that the end of the storm brought them. How right it felt to be surrounded by cushions, his son in his arms. Nothing could ruin this moment, not even the sound of his stomach rumbling.
The prince let out a joyful giggle at the sound as Link pulled out of the embrace.
“Sounds like I’m hungry” he joked, pulling his plate off of the table and sitting up, “You wanna help me finish this? There’s a lot here and I wanna save room for pudding”
Alexei nodded enthusiastically as Link began to cut the meat into smaller bites, lifting his arm so his son could snuggle against his side.
When Zelda came back from dinner she found them tangled up in blankets, an empty plate on the bedside table, a mountain of cushions strewn across the bed. Link lay sprawled out on his back, Alexei draped over his side. His blue blanket had been lost at the bottom of the bed. Letting out a gentle sigh Zelda pulled it from the pile, draping it over her little boy’s shoulders, taking a moment to admire how calm and happy he looked.
Zelda pressed a kiss to his head, then a kiss to Link’s cheek, before she slid behind the screen and got ready for bed. Excitement and pride filling her chest at the thought of her little family growing in the next few months.