“Thank you for joining me,” Riju said as she welcomed Zelda into her room. She hoped the princess wouldn’t notice the stiffness in her voice. Aside from Link, whom she hadn’t actually invited into her private chambers, no one outside of her intimate circle of advisors and guards had ever been here. She cleaned the room herself, and she was very particular about its decor.
Now, however, she couldn’t help but see her bedroom through the eyes of a stranger. It might be possible that there were too many sand seals. In fact, there were probably too many sand seals. Definitely. She silently prayed that Zelda wouldn’t judge her too harshly. While the princess was fighting the Calamity, she had been accumulating a pile of sand seals big enough to dive into, and –
“I love them!” Zelda exclaimed, walking right up to a low couch covered in stuffed animals. She reached her hand out but then hesitated, withdrawing her arm before turning around to face Riju. “Do you mind if I touch them?”
Zelda's face had turned an alarming shade of pink, and it took Riju a moment to realize that she was blushing. “Please go ahead,” she replied as her embarrassment dissipated.
Zelda picked up one of the larger stuffed seals. She squeezed its soft body as she brushed her hand across the ridge of fur running along its back. She turned it over, using her fingers to wave its flippers back and forth as she admired the embroidery lining the pad of felt on its belly.
“Did you make this yourself?” she asked.
“Yes,” Riju answered. How did Zelda know?
“My mother taught me the same stitch,” Zelda said with a smile. “She told me she learned it from Urbosa. I wanted to learn it too, but I was never any good at sewing. I suppose I could have asked Urbosa directly, but there were always so many other things to talk about. Especially since she was such an ardent fan of sand seal racing. The way she described a race, you felt like you were right there watching it. Link tells me that you’re quite skilled at the sport yourself.”
Riju smiled and opened her mouth to respond but then shut it just as abruptly. She needed to choose her words carefully, especially since she knew that she tended to become overexcited about her hobbies once she started discussing them. Zelda didn’t seem like the sort of person who would mind; but, then again, they hadn’t known each other for that long. This was only the second time Zelda had visited Gerudo Town, after all, although she’d introduced herself to Riju almost immediately after Link defeated the Calamity. Zelda was much calmer than she was then. She'd seemed distracted when they met, and Riju wondered if she even remembered the conversations they’d had. Meeting Zelda informally like this was like meeting her for the first time, or at least meeting her real self for the first time.
Riju heard a soft rapping on the sandstone wall behind her, and Zelda shifted her eyes, saving her from the awkwardness of coming up with an appropriate response about sand seal racing. Riju turned to find a warrior-in-training, only a year or two younger than herself, holding a ceramic tray bearing two steaming cups of tea. Before they were allowed to wield their first weapons, the palace guards were trained to brew tea. Riju had been through the process herself. The purpose was ostensibly to help with balance, precision, and patience, but Riju suspected that the adults just wanted an excuse to have their juniors serve them tea.
“Come sit down.” Riju gestured to Zelda as she took a seat at the low table in the center of the room. The trainee seemed as if she wanted to say something to the princess, but Riju shook her head and silently mouthed the word later. The girl smiled and nodded in acknowledgment, withdrawing from the room as Zelda took a sip of tea.
“This is lovely,” Zelda remarked.
“Isn’t it?” Riju replied. “The leaves are harvested from the wild herbs that grow in the shade of the ruins by the Ice House outside of town.”
“Is hemp still cultivated there?”
Hemp? It took Riju a moment to understand what Zelda was referring to before she remembered what she had been taught in her history lessons. “No,” she answered, “we’ve let the fields lie fallow, although I think some people still use the land for small plots of hydromelons. It’s much easier to trade with the Rito than to manufacture textiles ourselves.”
Zelda regarded her with an expression of intense concentration. Riju could see her mind working, and she wondered if she should pursue this line of conversation. It would probably be polite to let the matter drop, but she decided not to.
“Does it interest you that we trade with the Rito?”
“It does.” Zelda nodded. “There’s still so much about this world that I haven’t yet learned.”
Riju recognized this as the answer of a politician. “But why are you interested in this specifically?” she insisted.
To her relief, Zelda didn’t seem bothered by being pressed on the issue. “Hyrule used to be the center of textile production in this region,” she explained, “and I’m wondering what we should specialize in now.”
“You’re wondering how you should restructure Hyrule’s economy, you mean.”
“Yes, precisely that.” Zelda lowered her eyes as she took another sip of tea.
Riju had been drilled on trade relations with Hyrule since she was old enough to read, and she was happy to finally be able to put her knowledge to use.
“Back in the time of the Seven Heroines,” she said, “Gerudo Town was apparently the center of textile production. Hyrule was a crossroads, and I was taught that it was mainly because of its location that a market sprang up around the castle. I think your kingdom was primarily known for its horses, plus a few agricultural products grown only in outlying villages, like pumpkins.”
Zelda frowned, and it occurred to Riju that her lecture had been wasted on the princess, who more than likely knew all of this already. Zelda’s next words surprised her, however.
“What do you mean, the ‘Seven Heroines?’”
“The Seven Heroines venerated by the Gerudo. Haven’t you heard of them?”
Zelda shook her head, so Riju explained.
“The Gerudo used to worship seven warriors who split a great power between them. Each of the heroines had a specialty, like ‘skill’ or ‘endurance’ or ‘flight,’ that sort of thing.”
“So, when you said that Gerudo Town used to be the center of textile production, do you mean during the era in which the Seven Heroines were worshiped, or when they actually lived?” Zelda asked.
It took Riju a second to grasp the distinction. “Oh, when they were worshiped,” she answered. “I’m not sure if they ever actually lived. If they did, their deeds are more legend than history.”
“Where were they worshiped, these Seven Heroines? Did they have a temple?”
Zelda’s look of intense concentration had returned. Riju didn’t understand why the princess of Hyrule was so interested in the Seven Heroines of the Gerudo, but she was interested herself, so she was happy to share what she knew.
“No, there was never any temple, but there’s a secluded canyon to the east with statues of the Heroines. They’re so huge that you can’t help but wonder who made them, and how, and for what purpose. I mean, they’re so monumental that they transcend ‘art,’ and I can’t imagine praying to something that big. Each of them was built on the same scale as Vah Nabooris.”
“Are they like the Divine Beasts, then?”
“No, not at all,” Riju answered, shaking her head. “For one thing, they’re made entirely of sandstone. They’re also either much older or much younger than the Divine Beasts. It’s hard to tell. Some archeologists here in Gerudo Town made serious plans to study them, and they set up scaffolding and everything, but then there was the trouble with Vah Nabooris…”
“I see,” Zelda said before taking another sip of tea. Her voice had lost its warmth in that brief response, but Riju had no intention of changing the conversation. She was intrigued by Zelda’s questions, and the best way to satisfy her curiosity was to ask questions of her own.
Riju picked up the teapot and refilled Zelda’s cup. “If you don’t mind me saying so, it seems as if there’s a reason you’re asking about the Seven Heroines. You can tell me what you’re thinking, if you like.”
Zelda’s face lit up with a smile of genuine pleasure. “You really don’t mind?”
“Of course not,” Riju answered, somewhat confused. “Why would I mind?”
“Well, you know, I…” Zelda paused for a moment before continuing. “I keep forgetting that people now don’t remember me from before the Calamity. I used to have to pray every day, and sometimes the process could take hours. What with all that praying, I never actually had a chance to study the origins and purpose of the rituals. Time was strange for me when I was sealed in Hyrule Castle, but I ‘saw,’ I guess you could say, some things that helped me understand exactly what I was up against. I never cared for all the old legends before, but now I understand that they’re a form of history. The books in the castle library have been remarkably well-preserved, and I’ve been going through them as we’ve been repairing the structure. Not too long ago, I learned that Ganon was first sealed by Seven Sages. I wonder if there’s any connection to the Seven Heroines…”
“That’s fascinating!” Riju exclaimed. “Why don’t you tell me about the Seven Sages?”
Zelda laughed and shook her head. “Oh, it’s a long story, and…”
She met Riju’s eyes and then looked down quickly. To her embarrassment, Riju realized that she’d been staring at the princess. She hoped she wasn’t coming off as pushy, but she really did want to know more about the story. How amazing it would be to solve a mystery that had fascinated people for ages! If Ganon was real, then what else might be hidden within the maze of history and legends?
“Listen,” Riju said, not bothering to contain her excitement, “why don’t we go see the statues for ourselves? They’re not that far away, and we can take a break at the Lookout Post, which has a great view of Vah Nabooris. Have you ever ridden a Sand Seal before?”
“You’re suggesting that we study the Seven Heroines for ourselves?”
“But don’t you have duties keeping you here in the palace?”
Riju laughed. “Of course I do! But I’m lucky to have people who will take care of them for me. It’s nice not to have to worry about doing everything myself. And besides, we might learn something important, right?”
“Right!” Zelda drank the rest of her tea and set the cup down on the table. “That’s a brilliant approach to the situation. I could get used to it, I think. When do we leave?”
“Excuse me, I’ve asked for Patricia and another sand seal for the princess to be saddled and waiting,” said a voice at the door, and Riju looked up to see the guard who had served their tea standing at attention. As she’d told Zelda, it was good to be surrounded by people she trusted. Riju winked at the young woman, who took it as a sign to escort Zelda outside.
Riju stretched her arms above her head as she followed along behind them, thinking that she and Zelda had a lot to learn from one another. There was no need to be nervous. Zelda was just a girl like her, albeit a girl who had resurrected a hero and defeated the Calamity. That didn’t mean Zelda’s life was over, however, and Riju wanted to think that their adventures were just beginning. They were both still young, and the world was still full of secrets waiting to be discovered.