The prince struggles to read the next paragraph. Much as he loves books of all types, he’s done nothing the last three days but read tome after dusty tome of history and political intrigue. His fingers twitch against the thick pages - he wants to go down to the archery range, or maybe the magic hall. He wants to move. But his father is trusting him to learn all he can, before the old king passes away. And so the prince sighs and tries to focus on his studies.
He awakens at the touch of steel on his throat, and his breath catches. A soft voice drifts across his neck. “You are surprisingly defenseless, Prince of Hyrule.”
He can’t argue that - he had at some point fallen asleep atop his desk, blonde locks splayed across the pages of the thick volume. Ruefully, he wonders if it’s the same page that had plagued him for the hour before his impromptu nap. He can’t tell at the moment - the wind on his face indicates that the window has been opened, but the meager moonlight is not enough to replace the now-quenched candles.
Part of him is vaguely aware that he should be afraid, but he senses that his new friend does not intend to kill him, at least at the moment. And so he slowly shifts his aching shoulders and sits up. The assassin lets him, stepping back as he turns, but never lowering the blade from his throat.
“Good evening to you.” His attempt at austere calm is ruined by the realization that he’s got drool all over his face. The prince grimaces and wipes it away with a shirtsleeve, and the shrouded rogue starts to laugh. The dagger disappears in an instant - even Impa is barely faster than that - and the cloaked figure takes a chair across from the still-dazed prince.
“Good even, Prince Zelda. How does the night find you?” They’re mocking but almost friendly, and Zelda smiles.
“Well, it’s more exciting than I expected it to be a few hours prior…. Madame Gerudo?” The eyes are impossible to mistake, but he’s never seen a Gerudo so heavily garbed. Okay, so maybe he has never seen a Gerudo outside of the burlesque-hall renditions popularized across the nation, but it’s still unexpected for a desert-dweller to be cloaked head to foot in the height of a Hyrule summer.
It’s hard to tell under the cloth, but he thinks she - they? - make a face at the address. They pull the bandanna down and look him in the eyes. “I am Ganondorf, oh prince,” and oh. Well then.
“Are you here to be my enemy?” No accusation, just curiosity. Perhaps that’s what stops them from becoming just so - instead, they smile, and it’s a surprisingly warm expression. He returns it with good grace, and pulls one glove off. His visitor stiffens at the sight of the Triforce on his hand.
“So it IS you. I had wondered...”
“Because I am… not a princess?”
Ganondorf laughs, both amused and bitter, and unwraps their right hand to reveal the mirroring mark. “That’s one way to put it.” They give him an odd look. “Seems you know about this old tale, maybe moreso than I.”
Zelda stands and gestures for his visitor to follow. After a moment of hesitation, they do, and both make their way to the library.
Book after book is spread across the library desk, opened to choice paragraphs. Ganondorf’s eyes grow wider and wider at descriptions, diary entries, even portraits. Their fingers trail delicately over a particularly fine rendition of what may have been the first Ganondorf.
Zelda has just returned from retrieving a candle when the Gerudo pulls the headscarf off. He says nothing, only lights the candle with a spark of magic - he can FEEL himself getting rusty - and placing it at an empty corner of the table.
The rogue begins to speak, tracing a passage in one of the Triforce-marked volumes.
“Every soul born in the desert is female. No one knows why. And for some reason, men are loathe to remain there… except for one soul. Except for one man.”
“The Gerudo King,” Zelda contributes, taking a seat and listening intently.
Ganondorf nods, a bitter smile curling their lips. “Some say, that since only one male child is born every hundred years, then that boy contains the concentrated manliness of all the men unborn in that time.” They scoff in disgust, eyes hard and cold and sad.
“The old witches predicted the birth of the new king twelve months before time. My mother, the only one to become pregnant that year, was doted on, held aloft like a goddess. Worshipped.”
“And then you were born,” the prince murmurs quietly.
“And then I was born.”
“They named you before seeing you, assuming you would be just like all those who came before, that you would take up your role in our long-played tale.” He twists a few blonde strands between his fingers, speaking as if in a trance. “And when you - when you weren’t born right, they were confused, angry. They lashed out at you, your mother - perhaps your mother lashed out at you as well. And you always felt the weight of their disappointment on you.”
The Gerudo is staring at him in undisguised shock. Slowly, their expression turns to one of thought. “Prince Zelda.”
The Hylian smiles ruefully. “Myself, they adjusted for. But the only male child in a century, being born… female?” They nod confirmation, and he continues, “I can’t see that child having an easy life.” His eyes narrow in thought. “And you being here, you having the mark - there was no male child, was there?”
Ganondorf’s smile is cold and cruel. “It has been one hundred and sixteen years since the death of the last King... and only I to show for it."
Zelda is surprised mostly by the time - they’re only sixteen? - but shrugs. “You are female, but not, I feel, feminine?”
Ganondorf’s grin turns more friendly, and Zelda ignores the pricks of light in the corner of their eyes - definitely just a trick of the candlelight. “I thought myself manly anyways, for some time, but that may have been out of spite.” They shrug loosely, the many layers of their clothing shifting with the movement. “Now… I don’t know. I’m not a woman, I’m not a man. But I’m Gerudo, and I am Ganondorf.” They give him a calculating look. “You’re the first to ask since- ever.”
Zelda shrugs as well, his etiquette training forgotten. “Impa… my parents were disappointed, and then conniving, plotting over how to bring my glorious destiny to fruition. My nurse, Impa, is Sheikah, and since xe fair raised me, I learned a great deal more about proper terms of address and types of expression than most Hyruleans are taught.”
Ganondorf smiles at him, suddenly looking years younger, and he wonders how anyone like them could become some dreaded, evil monarch.
“Well they… xe? Did well, in my opinion.” The Gerudo stands and stretches, then offers a hand to the prince. “Now, oh Prince - if you are a prince - shall we?”
Zelda stands and takes their hand, and only then asks where they’re going. The Gerudo tosses their fiery locks with a laugh.
“Let’s go out on the town, shall we?”
Miles away, a blonde goatherd wakes with a start, and glances at the glow half-hidden by the homespun sheets.
Then the youth smiles contentedly, and goes back to sleep, knowing somehow that everything will be alright.