“This is entirely your fault,” says the Queen.
Urbosa maintains her regal stoicism, staring straight forward, one hand resting at her hip, settled familiar on the hilt of her saber. The Chieftain of the Gerudo strikes an imposing figure – statuesque and dark, draped in deep reds and golds, her hair elaborately braided into a segmented crown of gold and amber. Amber, not diamonds, because they carry the protection of Din, so they say. Not that Urbosa ever needed more protecting, but it’s the thought.
She very purposely continues to ignore the woman standing beside her on the balcony. The thrones of Hyrule were set purposefully far back so a ruler would be forced to stand to speak with their people, lest they ever become complacent. Urbosa likes that. The Queen, personally, thinks someone carved the stone too far back and then didn’t want to admit it. She leans over slightly, speaking between her teeth as she smiles, incandescent and lovely.
“I told you not to encourage her and look where we are.”
She waves to the small assembled court, glittering and fine, royal guard and council, the summer sun laying golden lines across the central sanctum. An officiate is speaking to the crowd, blessing the proceedings.
Below the throne, on the ground level, Princess Zelda stands much like Urbosa. Fitted in lightly plated Sheikah armor, set with amber, a curved saber like-wise at her hip. Her long golden hair is bound up, braided against her scalp and looped up at the back of her head. The Queen cannot see it, but she knows the Princess is smiling that sweet summer smile she does right before it becomes a jackal grin.
Across from her: a stone-faced young man in a blue tunic stands square to her, boots set apart. His hands rest on the pommel of a naked blade, set point down on the floor, shining an eerie blue even in the sunlight. His dirty blond hair catches the sun more easily than the metal of his weapon. He’s both beautiful and expressionless as the ceremony proceeds.
Still under her breath, through her teeth, still smiling, the Queen says, “Our daughter is literally going to fight him.”
Urbosa clears her throat. “Dear –”
“She’s fighting him, Urbosa.”
“My love –”
“She’s sword fighting the Goddess’s Chosen Hero like it’s a bar brawl.”
“Honey, I think –”
“Gods above, it might be blasphemy for all I know. It’s not as though these voices from the spirit realm are especially clear on these matters, despite what I keep telling Zelda. No wonder she thinks she’ll never get the hang of it.”
“You’re hyperventilating, dear.”
“Hylia is going to strike me dead,” says the Queen of Hyrule.
“And then all of Hyrule will be plunged into eternal darkness, because our daughter is pig-headed and she punched the Hero of the realm.”
“If our daughter can punch out the Hero of the realm, he doesn’t deserve the title anyway.”
“That’s true, but I’m still mad at you.”
Urbosa jerks her chin toward the far side of the sanctum floor. “He looks mad.”
The Queen squints before remembering it's un-queenly to squint at her subjects and straightening up. “How can you tell? I don’t think I’ve seen his face change since the day I met him. I think he has the same face when beset by moblins.”
“He also doesn’t talk, apparently, unless pressed.”
“Zelda will hate that.”
“Indeed, but I think he’s upset.”
“Well, he should be,” the Queen says, drawing her golden head up a little. “He’s got the blade that seals the darkness strapped to his back, the one destined to destroy the great Calamity, the one he’s used for years now to protect this kingdom… and we’re making him tussle with our daughter to prove he’s worthy of bodyguard duty.”
Urbosa is grinning.
“Oh, you bloody love it, don’t you?”
She laughs. “Yes. It’s very Gerudo.” She folds her arms, expression sobering a little. “And, frankly, Zelda’s resentment toward this boy is childish. I’m hoping they can work it out here with a bit of violence and get on with what they need to – Oh, damn, they’re coming to the end of it. You’re up, love.”
The officiate is gesturing toward the throne dais.
The Queen moves forward, raising one lily-white hand, her palm glowing in a single beam of sunlight through the high glass windows. The room falls into complete silence.
“We go to first blood… or yield. Understood?”
Link and Zelda nod.
“Link of Lanayru, knight of this realm, do you accept this challenge?”
He places one hand over his heart and kneels, head bowed, rather than answer aloud. She waits until he again rises to his feet.
“Zelda Bosphoramus Hyrule, princess of this realm, do you accept this challenge?”
“I do,” she says, voice ringing through the hall.
The Queen drops her hand. “Then begin!”
Zelda draws her sword.
Link takes his own into his hand.
Then he closes his eyes for a moment, as if to get one last breath and… he vanishes. The room heaves simultaneously in surprise. Between their gasp and the exhalation, the world seems to snap back and Link is suddenly directly in front of Zelda and already spinning into a vicious throat-slitting swing. Zelda, startled, darts back, the clear ringing of metal signaling a first blow. Zelda leaps back and lands, cat-like, her saber held in both hands. The weapon vibrates in her hand, singing with the impact, the sound holding a strange note in the air.
Link raises the blade, one-handed, and circles to the right.
Zelda mirrors him.
Urbosa smiles, fingers laid against her lips, almost wondrous. “He’s not going to hold back,” she murmurs. “He’s going to really fight her.”
“Serves her right,” the Queen mutters, wringing her hands discretely in her gown.
They engage again.
Zelda attacks this time - darting right, coming in fast, feinting a cross-swing then reversing hard, suddenly, like a dancer’s spin on a precise queue, and cuts a vicious line from shoulder to hip… that Link deftly blocks before driving that strange blue blade directly through Zelda’s guard and just barely short of her heart before she twists, pivoting out of the stab. She breaks away. Circles. She keeps her blade up, wary now of the knight’s inhuman agility.
She cocks a brow… then brings two hands up across her chest, fingers forming a signal.
She vanishes. But, unlike Link, in a puff of smoke. She shadow-steps like a Sheikah, a charm even she can manage (no divine intervention needed) and she rips back into space directly at Link’s back-left shoulder and swings. Link ducks, pivots, the edge of her saber catching him across the bicep just barely… splitting open the fabric of his fine blue tunic and scraping scale-mail beneath.
Zelda immediately presses her advantage, shouting into every swing she rushes him – feint, stab, block, parry, step, parry, move, move, move never lose track of the footwork and again they are circling each other. Zelda lunges in again, engages him. Ten maneuvers later, they break apart. Again, she attacks. Again, they break apart and there are new hair-line tears in Link’s blue tunic. A shame – it’s supposed to signify his place as champion of the realm.
Link’s expression hasn’t changed an iota.
Cold blue eyes track Zelda’s gaze, seeking to divine her next move even as she does the same. Zelda feels a heat rise in her chest, hot and suffusing her bones with temper and the desire – powerful and certain as the dawn – to see his composure bloodied. She feels the amber in her armor like the warmth of the sun, a thin skin of protection laced over the light leather in her gear. Link shadows her movement, mirrors them.
“You’re shorter than I thought you’d be,” Zelda says just softly enough onlookers might not hear.
Link doesn’t immediately react.
Then, startling her with a shockingly deep Lanayrian accent, Link says, “Likewise.”
And attacks her. He flash-steps again, but Zelda has some… sense of it. Some notion of his moving through some parallel but present part of the universe, some forth dimension of existence and like the eddy of water reveals it’s submerged riverbed… she knows it when he breaks the surface tension of reality. She blocks, left, two-handed, the amber in the pommel of her blade humming hot as the sacred blade again makes violent contact with her saber. They locked out momentarily, blade to blade, and for an instant stand face-to-face.
Dangerously near, edged metal crossed between them.
Zelda thinks, through the ache in her arms, through the hum of her protections, that Link seems… angry. A flash of deep blue, like folded steel, eerie as the blade in his hand and he –
He fucking lets go of the sword with one hand, wrenching the blades so the cross-guards lock, torque right… and he punches Princess Zelda of Hyrule right in the nose. She yelps, stars erupting white then black in her skull and copper bursts hot and wet, pouring over her lips onto her tongue, dripping from her chin and soaking her palm. She immediately smashes the pommel of her sword into Link’s unguarded jaw, knocking him staggering back. She’s vindicated when he turns his head aside and spits blood on the sanctum floor.
It’s brief, however.
“First blood,” Chief Urbosa says, her deep voice booming through the hall. She points to Link. “The champion claims victory in this bout.”
Zelda, still bleeding profusely from the nose, lets it run freely down her face, dripping on her armor and the floor. She sheathes her blade with her bloody hand and stands, shoulders squared, glaring at the knight across from her. Still bleeding, she crosses the space between them, lifting her head and ignoring the throbbing, mind-numbing ache of what might be a broken nose. Link, to her very infinitesimal satisfaction, glances at her mouth as she speaks, her teeth a carnage of blood, her tongue slick with red.
“Hero of Hyrule,” she says, “chosen by the sword that seals the darkness. You have shown unflinching bravery and skill in the face of darkness and adversity and have proven yourself worthy of the blessings of the Goddess Hylia.” She raises her chin just a little and raises her voice to match. “Whether skyward bound, adrift in time, or steeped in the glowing embers of twilight…”
She can hear the silence now, ringing in the hall, that the eyes of court are on her.
She lowers her voice and offers Link her bloody hand.
“The sacred blade ,” she says, “is forever bound to the soul of the Hero.”
Link glances at her hand, then looks her in the eye. He sheathes the sacred blade at his back. Then he kneels before her. Zelda, raising one hand, places her wet fingers at the back of his head. A kind of knighting. His hair feels soft against her fingertips, sticking to her blood-tacky skin. In seconds, the back of his head is blood-matted. She blinks.
“We pray for your protection and that… that the two of you will grow stronger as one.”
There is more to the speech, but in that moment, staring at the back of Link’s bloody head… something violent clenches in her chest, a dull knife-wound of horror and sorrow and her throat closes. She swallows. Her fingers flinch up slightly from Link’s hair and he must sense something is wrong because he looks up at her. Through his bangs, his eyes are overwhelmingly blue and clear. His expression: neutral tinged with a question.
The blood is her blood.
It’s not his blood. It’s not his blood. It’s not. Zelda tells herself, reminds herself, and the fear that comes next is dull and baffled because she does not know why she needs reminding of that. Needs comfort in that. She lowers her hand.
“Rise, Link,” she says finally. “Champion of Hyrule.”
He does. His lip is bloody.
Up on the throne dais, Urbosa shakes her head while applause breaks out slowly among the gathered few.
“That could have gone better,” she says.
But the Queen is smiling, her eyes shining, her hand pressed to the notch at the base of her breastbone.
“No,” she says, “I think that went well.”