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East Wind

Chapter Text

The first wispy tendrils of false dawn threaded through the gnarled trees to pool at his feet, somnolent and seductive. Another morning, he might entertain their embrace, and steal a slice of serenity and solitude for himself alone. He knelt, singing soft and low to the spirits of the wasted hillside, calling them to dance with the gray dawn, and weave a cloak of silence for his warriors - and their horses.

Ganondorf stood, satisfied by the stately pattern of the rising mist. The spirits would spin on until he released them back to the chaos of their death. By true sunrise, the fog would stretch to the very vault of the heavens. The manor and its little village would fall, and the ignorant Hylians would never even know it was the anger of their own unhallowed dead that unraveled them.

He turned, casting a critical eye on the terrain below. Behind him, his Zharu mumbled in her sleep like a child clinging to dreams, her feathered hooves pressed deep into the dark loam. It was well that she could nap in these rare quiet moments. This broken country did not suit her majesty any more than it suited him, but the Vosterkun province was difficult to secure precisely because of that. Nabooru's reports suggested there could not be more than two divisions spread across the whole of it, and perhaps nine career soldiers in Avosgart if one stretched the definition generously. She sneered at such a small prize for the first raid of the season, but Gan preferred to court omens of victory rather than dice for extravagant gain.

Vosterkun grew little grain, and what they did plant was mostly forage stuff. But they did trade for preserved barrels of lowland wheat and barley, and their rambling wild vineyards and groves conjured abundance from shale and dust. They herded goats and sheep - much as the people did - though Vosterkun stock was fatter, and softer, if fatally stupid. This would be a fine raid, yielding more than enough to feed his warriors for another month and still send a caravan home.

Avosgart might even make a passable settlement, once the precinct was liberated. Of course, the manor would need to be moved to more defensible ground, but that could wait until summer. No need to draw on the demon gem when solstice magic would serve just as well.

"Be ready to move," he said.

Nabs hissed in irritation - she was justifiably proud of her stealth, and hated him for hearing her before she wanted him to. Eleven years since she had been able to surprise him, and still she tried. One day, she would learn to accept the pattern of the world, and his position in it.

"Yeah, I think we're all ready. These clouds -"

"Are to our advantage. Pass the word for full veils, and half rations for anyone that draws her sword before my command."

"Of course, Sun's Ray, the enemy will never see us," she said, though she did not veil her annoyance half as well as she thought. "Three divisions of heavy horse would make enough thunder to wake them a league away - I will send the forward units afoot at once-"

"The charge will go forward in one mark as planned," he said, watching the first shards of morning embroider the jagged hills hemming in this valley. "There is a lowland caravan expecting to reach Avosgart tonight - offload the pitch and black powder here to remove temptation and save weight. Division leaders may keep a few charmed bolts in the event they have hidden cannon or fireflower."

"Clever, to weave another ambush with the prize itself," she said, and he could hear the muffled chime of maile when she planted her fist on her hip. "Border people are pragmatic, so as long as they don't light the watchfire when they hear us, we should be able to take the manor and clear away the waste by midafternoon. Though if your Stalfos were good for anything but-"

"The watchfires will not be a problem."

Nabs bowed, muttering in graceless deference. He decided not to notice it - this time. Victory was always the most perfect censure, and she was more effective when she could speak freely. The Rova did not agree, but they rarely left the temple now, and had never understood armies or politics in any case. In the field, it was far more important that his Exalted be the best warrior, thief, and tactician.

Flattery did not see the People fed.

Chapter Text

The horses did not like running in the fog, but though they complained, they followed Zharu and her master down into the valley and across the fallow fields towards the veiled bulk of slumbering Avosgart. Where the lead mare went, so also went safety - and with every uneventful rod of land they put behind them, the mood of the people grew more confident. They all accepted the perfectly even ground without question - a fortunate circumstance and nothing more.

Ganondorf murmured praise for Zharu's loyalty as she gathered herself to leap low stone walls she could barely see. He could spare little enough attention from the delicate magic of sweeping away furrows and rabbit holes from their path like a tailor smoothing cloth before their knife. He remained in the saddle more by reflex than anything else. Where a lesser creature would take advantage of a rider's distraction to wander or laze about, she led the herd with complete confidence in her master's will. He promised her the path ahead was safe, that he would stay with and protect her, and that was enough.

Three more low fences overtaken, and the town lay directly ahead. He could feel the dead stone walls rising up from the earth, and the attention of the restless Poes outside them. Soon enough, he would call on them - but for now it was less expensive to persuade them to indifference.

Especially as half their attention already centered on some other traveler, near the gatehouse.

Ganondorf weighed the cost of far-looking, and decided to signal the flanking divisions instead. A few letters wrought in flame orange strained him not at all, and they floated off towards their targets at once. The muffled rumble of his warriors fell away, vanishing in the enchanted mist behind him as they dropped back.

Ganondorf shaped the smoothing spell into a more pointed wedge, urging Zharu to another burst of speed along the verge of the road. He counted a long one hundred, then let the spell go as he frayed the mist directly ahead. If any of his riders lamed their mounts now, it would be in reckless stupidity.

The heavy oiled brass and beechwood gate reflected the glow of the watch torches ranked along each side of the road, a curious stage for three arguing Hylians and a sprawling chaos of cargo at its foot. Gan cursed them all roundly, forced to recenter his attention on guiding Zharu through the mess of stray crates and barrels and toppled amphorae. The verge this close to the gate would be too dangerous for her - but she followed his touch with perfect grace.

"I don't care if you're the fucking Princess," bellowed one of the armored Hylians ahead. Too little light to see his livery, but likely town watch. "The gate stays closed, and we ain't leaving it for all the godsbedamned shine in Vosterkun. Now get this shit out of the road and your skinny ass out of my sight."

"You foolish man - for your own good I warn you-" said a fourth as angrier of the lesser guards jabbed him with the butt of their halberd.

"Crazy outlander," said the lazy guard, leaning on her halberd.

Gan drew Zharu to a halt ten paces away. None of them noticed him yet - even thinned, the enchanted fog veiled him from sight and sound unless one of them chanced to look directly at him. Unlikely, given the guards' complete preoccupation with the unlucky young man in gray.

Fully half of all that was wrong with Hyrule, distilled.

He watched the pathetic demonstration for less than a tenth of a candlemark, gathering his power and waiting for Nabooru to adjust their plan to accommodate the chaos of the road. There was another gate to the east, but circling around to another safe crossing of the snowmelt tributary that supported this town would take them miles out of their way, and even he would be hard pressed to maintain the fog that long without a natural storm system nearby.

In the end, though, Ganondorf did not get to choose his moment. Another annoyance - but one that piqued his curiosity. The seventh time the guards knocked the stranger to the ground in rebuke, he twisted as he rose, his sharp jaw canted at a stubborn angle. He pushed his fair hair out of his face impatiently, and glared up into the mist.

His expression said, I know you've been watching.

Gan laughed in spite of himself, shifting his grip on his steel lance.

The man in gray planted one fist against his slender hips and made a sweeping gesture to encompass all the random cargo littering the road.

"Well?" he said, with a bitter twist on his lips. "Stop gloating and take what you came for, hopeless."

The guards looked at each other, and the lazy one made the universal gesture for lunatics. The cruel one agreed, and drew back their halbard to aim another blow at the young man's back. The leader followed the stranger's gaze - and shrieked, startling the cruel one midthrust.

Zharu lifted her head with pride - she possessed a wicked sense of humor, and enjoyed the effect they had on people when they rode together, all hundred and twenty odd stone of them, plus another dozen in chainmaile and tack and boiled leather. Ganondorf didn't fault her for it - he took especial pleasure inflicting such surprises on petty Hylian tyrants. The defiance of the one in gray though - that amused him in such a novel way that it took a moment to realize the man had not addressed him in Hylian.

In that moment, the cruel guard regained their wits, and started running for the gatehouse door - and the alarm bell within. Ganondorf stood quickly to add a little more thrust behind the lance throw, shredding the mist behind him as soon as the steel barb left his hand.

"Leave them alone," demanded the one in gray, without turning to see where the lance ended.

Ganondorf grinned at him, summoning a fresh lance from the ether as the first buried itself in the cruel one's thigh and bore them to the ground. "Why should you care for the fate of tyrants?"

"Farore have mercy - look!" cried the lazy guard, whose gaze was fixed on some point behind Zharu's rump.

Good. Nabs had brought the rest in close. Ganondorf raised his fresh lance high, illuminating it with a little twist of rust and gold skyfire. "You address the wrong god, girl."

"I said, leave them alone. You came for supplies and spoils - here they are. Take them and go."

Ganondorf drew an arc in the sky and punctuated it with a thrust through the center of it. Behind him, a hundred swords rose to greet the morning.

The leader of the guard lost their dignity, and ran. Unwisely, they too chose the delusion that the gatehouse offered safety, and fell in much the same way.

"You have spirit," Ganondorf said, summoning a third lance to hand. "I admire that. But. What you do not have is any way to stop me, little hero."

"Don't," he said, still in accented Geldo. He folded his whipcord arms like he meant to haggle the price of bread, not hold off an army. "You came for the caravan - here it is. You came for land - deeds to half of Avosgart are in the blue chest. You waste your time seeking a duel with the marquis, as he is hiding in a cupboard."

"Why," said Ganondorf, directing Zharu to approach. She tossed her head, making a show of every step - but the little hero held his eye instead.

The madman smiled, but his wide blue eyes held no mirth. "Unlike these fools, he believed me when I showed him my real face."

Ganondorf loomed over the tiny, brave, unarmed Hylian. There was nothing impressive about him whatsoever, except for his mad defiance. He had the broad shoulders of a swordsman or a laborer, but he was otherwise painfully thin. His moon-pale skin stretched taut over sinew and bone, and if his charcoal colored boots had once been fine, they were ruined by weather and hard travel now. His mourning dove gray shirt and breeches both hung loose, though from their cut they were clearly meant to fit closely.

Ganondorf needed to know how this mad traveler knew his own plans more completely than his Exalted, and in time to gather such a substantial bribe to divert his course. But - hostile ground was never made for conversation.

"To what end do you bargain so desperately, little hero?"

"The only end that matters," he said. "These things - more than you'd have gained by bloodshed - for peace in Avosgart."

"Why trade for half when I can take all?" He gestured broadly, calling a small knot of magic to ready.

The madman made a rude sound, undaunted. "And surrender all chance of attaining your true desire, to rule one provincial border town? Don't be stupid."

Chapter Text

Ganondorf rearranged the meat and vegetables in his bowl for the third time, but still it held no appeal whatsoever. No Geldo campaign had met such extravagant success since ancient days. He should be triumphant, or at least content.

He forced himself through the tedium of another bite, refusing to acknowledge Nabooru's sharp look. She thought she knew what drove him - and she wasn't entirely wrong. He did despise the manner of their acquisition. Not, however, for their nearly bloodless method. He hated the fact they were unearned, extravagant bribes.

The tightly packed, banded blue chest in his tent gave them the rights to the rents and disposition of nearly half of the arable land in Vosterkun now, and hunting privilege in two thirds of its forests. Not, curiously enough, any mining rights to the silver and copper veins here. The Geldo already possessed rich gem deposits, and apparently their benefactor saw no need to add such comparatively poor yields to their holdings.

That, Ganondorf mused over a bowl of excellent Hylian brandy, was the problem. Not that the madman was mistaken - but because he wasn't.

An aide approached, bowing deeply, reaching to clear away his almost untouched dinner. One of the younger girls - a skittish sort ill suited to her duties but not yet distinguished in anything else. He noticed her hands trembling, and the demon gem stirred. An example needed to be made, even if he spent half the night choking down tasteless stuff so he could have time to think.

The girl yelped and burbled pitifully as six slender darts flew from the ether to pin her wrist to the table inside a clever angled gauntlet. They barely grazed her skin in passing - just enough to draw a bloom of fresh blood.

Ganondorf calmly picked through the bowl for a strip of spiced beef still pink and oozing. He dropped it on his tongue without flourish, well aware every eye in the tent was on him. He kept his own gaze on the bowl as he chewed, picking through for another. Most of the meat was unfortunately quite tender, and he could not find any gristle to provide further excuse to prolong the moment.

The girl whimpered, sinking to her knees on the other side of the low table, trapped. Even the demon gem fell silent with anticipation.

Ganondorf licked his fingers clean as he finished the second tasteless piece, and reached for the brandy. Now he turned his gaze to the girl. Leilani. That was her name. Leilani avadha Ramal, youngest sister of Avish avadha Saiev, Roc of the fourth division.

To her credit, she bit her lip and made a valiant but futile attempt to stop her tears. She had the same coffee colored eyes as her older sisters, though she made no attempt to adorn them further with malachite or alabaster. She wore little jewelry, mostly copper and lapis, though her spirit gem was a stunning example with many gold inclusions.

Ganondorf banished the darts to the ether again, and savored the brandy. Leilani drew a shaking breath and withdrew her bloody hand to kneel in full obeisance. Badly shaken then, and by morning the whole camp would be reminded that glorious battle or no, he was a War King.

"Did you know," he said, pausing for another sip. The stuff was nearly art, intended for the extensive cellars of the dissolute marquis of Duzhar. "The Hylians make this from the same fruit as their red wine. Yet it is nothing like - neither in color nor strength, flavor or setting. Why do you suppose that is, Leilani avadha Ramal?"

"Forgive me, Sun's Ray," she said, mostly to the rug.

Ganondorf cradled the small bowl in one hand, measuring the silence of his officers. "Taste it," he said.

Silence.

The manipulations of the elusive madman in gray were eroding his authority. By design, no doubt. The perfidy of Hylians went beyond the bounds of reason, and he could not puzzle through why the man would bother. What did he stand to gain, extorting spoils or frittering away a fortune on entire caravans of goods? By what strange magic did he manage to vanish in full view of the whole army and less than an ell from his own hand? And how did he know where they would ride next?

The imperfections of magic-fueled Stalfos were an eternal lesson on the limitations of pure obedience. Yet his authority on the field must be above question - and the maintenance of his strength was an essential component of the same. The great Ganondorf, War King and protector of the Geldo, would be done with his meal when he declared it so and not a moment before, irrespective of the petitions awaiting him after.

He held the brandy toward Leilani, both amused and annoyed at once. The demon gem muttered, and he grinned widely at the cringing girl before him. She sniffled, sitting back on her heels and reaching for the half-empty bowl at last. She trembled still - but had the grace to manage a meditative sip without spilling so much as a drop.

He watched her lick the flavor from her lips, her expression carefully neutral. Yes, her spirit was wasted ferrying dishes from fire to table. He would give her care of his armament for a moon, where he could watch her more closely.

"Its spirit speaks to me of flame, Sun's Ray, and of loss. It has become wholly new through adversity, marked by oak and honey both."

Ganondorf lifted his chin, tempering his amusement with stern reproach as he swept his gaze over his officers. He knew well his golden eyes were different from others, and no few of the women flinched under his appraisal. Not, unfortunately, Avish or Maedra. They grinned like a pair of rock cats, their rich brown skin flushed with drink and desire.

And there were three other petitioners awaiting his attentions besides them.

"Taste it again," he said, without looking at her. "This time, tell me how long was the road from field to tongue."

Which of them told the girl to hurry him along?

Varesh wore a bright countenance, and her humor made a pleasure of duty. He'd given her one handsome child already, fat and cheerful as their mother, and looked forward to more. The law demanded he attend her last though, as she had already one boon. She complained of his absence only in jest - and if she did tell Leilani to clear his table it would be to send some more attractive dish to wake his appetite.

Nialet was the eldest, some twenty years his senior. She had first claim above all the others until a seedling took in earnest, but she owned a great store of patience. He liked her also, and genuinely hoped she sought him for another, after. She was a brisk, pragmatic woman, sturdy of build and dry of humor. She showed no interest whatever in glory or rank - she fought for the chance of land, and the dream of a farm and family. That life would suit her - she could coax fruit and flower from anything that grew. Yet - she had come to him often since the early end of the last campaign, to no avail.

Reiva he barely knew. Like Avish and Maedra, this was her first petition cycle, but where he worked closely with the latter, the former was a first-year warrior with neither triumphs nor failures to summon his attention for any reason. Any of them could have persuaded the girl to folly.

Maedra though, had challenged Nialet to a sparring match three or four towns ago, and lost.

"Forgive me, Sun's Ray. The spirits seem to speak nonsense-"

"I did not ask if it made sense."

Nabooru winced, and toyed with her own wine - an excellent red from some lowland vintner, also liberated from the marquis of Duzhar, but not by them. Not directly.

"They seem to sing of a glorious summer with blue mephitic winds in the east, and fields rich with potash. Then they sing of blades and fire, oak and darkness for a dozen years at least, marked only by the solstice culling, and then only of darkness in the prison of glass until this very day. But the last eruption of Death Mountain was over two centuries ago-"

"Two and one half, in fact. Do you like the taste, Leilani?"

Silence. Now Avish's grin faltered.

"It is surely too refined for mere-"

"That is not what I asked," he said.

"I do not," she said, placing the bloodstained bowl on his table with great care. Leilani sat back, chin high, as if the shame of tears were a trifle to her. The cuts marking her wrist and hand welled only sluggishly now - even without intervention they would heal swiftly enough.

"Roc Avish," he said, reclaiming the brandy. It was, after all, a sin to waste. "Remind us all what is significant about a wine that remembers the last eruption of Death Mountain."

Avish bowed where she sat, buying another moment to think. Now, perhaps, she would realize there may be more than one reason for a man to lose his appetite. Better still if concern for her sister's grave peril led her to withdraw her petition for a cycle - or nine - or forever. Triumph itself if this rebuke persuaded her to argue less and obey more.

"Hyrule suffered a blight, Sun's Ray, three generations after. If not for the ironvine rootstock the last King sold them, they'd have made no more wine."

"They did not honor their promise of fair trade, did they, Roc Avish?"

"No," she agreed, folding her arms. "But we did gain by it, and it is useful to put an enemy in one's debt."

"Hn," he said, rolling the brandy over his tongue, savoring the sharp flavor of that ancient east wind. "Maedra avadha Saiev, you will relinquish command to your second and assume the duties Leilani is unfortunately no longer able to attend. The rest of you may go. I will hear no petitions tonight."

Chapter Text

The demon gem lay silent and sullen in a nest of violet skyfire, refusing to lend its power to his spell. Ganondorf swore at it, threatening to drop it into the cauldron of Death Mountain. He wove his desire around it again, hardening his will.

It demanded blood.
Royal, by preference.

He snarled, and snapped the steel casket shut, sealing it with a twist of his own power. The lamps flickered in their amber glass bowls, swaying with the creaking tent poles as the tempest prowled around his tent, fencing with his wards. Another cantrip, and he vanished casket and gem through the ether.

He would not allow a rock to dictate anything. He was King.

The veiled elite saluted crisply when he thrust aside the curtains partitioning off his makeshift workroom. Yet. None of them would meet his eye. They were afraid of him.

Fine.

"Summon the Rocs. Now."

Nabooru was going to hate this plan.

 

- o - O - o -

 

Ganondorf leaned against the central tent pole, pretending he didn't desperately need its aid. He knew better than to work greater magics at this time of year, and leagues away from stable reservoirs of power. The demon gem could have mitigated that - and kept the Rocs out of it - but it grew both more bold and more stubborn with every use. Casting such a complex, layered thing not just once but thrice inside a week from his personal stores drained him dangerously low.

And yet, if anything, this third illusion was the best of the set. She even moved right.

Then again, perhaps that part of it had nothing to do with him. Or not his magic, anyway.

"Stand. Aside. Refuse again and I'll see you both assigned to the wasteland gates for the rest of your careers." Nabooru used her field voice, harsh and pitched to carry. Half the camp would know her mood in a quarter mark if they didn't already.

"King's orders," returned one veiled Elite with equal force.

"He is not to be disturbed until morning," added the other.

"Too bad," Nabooru said.

A moment of silence, interrupted by the sharp, subtle click of blades closing. He grinned to himself, proud of his stubborn, loyal guards. Defying the Exalted Nabooru nearly qualified as a spirit trial.

"You've made your point, we're very impressed, yeah? You followed orders, you really did," she said, laughing. A smacking sound of her clapping one on the shoulder, followed by a startled grunt and thump. Because of course she threw them both to the dust. "Now don't make me remind you why I'm Exalted and you aren't. Go have a drink, there's a good girl. You too, run along. If he says so much as boo about it tomorrow, you come directly to me, understand?"

Nabooru marched through the tent with purpose and no little profanity, shoving aside the curtains partitioning the space impatiently. She circled sunwise around the curtained central workroom, kicking over his desk chair as she passed through his office. She was particularly eloquent about the condition of the sleeping platform in the south 'room', crowded as it was with drowsy petitioners - among them Roc Avish and Reiva avadha Tavaru, fast asleep and well hidden at the center of the nest of blankets and companions.

Nialet laughed, sobering only slightly when Nabooru marched right through the middle of the wreckage of debauchery and pushed through the heavy layered draperies of silk velvet on the far side.

"You," Nabooru growled. "How dare you? You may be king, but I will fucking disown you if you pull anything like this again."

Ganondorf raised an eloquent brow, perversely pleased by her fury, though he wasn't sure what provoked it so thoroughly. No doubt she'd elaborate.

She fumed , standing nearly toe-to-toe with him, fists on hips, head tipped back and jaw set. Five, six heartbeats passed in silence. She struck without so much as a twitch of warning, rocking up on her toes to deliver a lightning-quick yet disdainful backhand across his smooth-shaven jaw.

He folded his arms across his chest, watching her shake the sting from her knuckles, completely undaunted.

"Answer me, you smug son of a thrice-cursed wind," she snarled, jabbing at the hollow under his ribs, though it was twice protected by plush, tailored black wool arming suit and good brain-tanned Hylian leather adorned with subtle runes and the pattern of the gods' teeth. "I've held my peace through your dramatics before, though the Mother knows it's been a trial. Your irreverent disregard for tradition is one thing. But this? Have you gone mad?"

Ganondorf waited.

Nabooru sliced the air with her hands, barely half a hand from his abdomen, leaving no doubt of her desire to pummel him. "Your behavior this week has been appalling - and that stunt on the sparring field this afternoon? Disgraceful! Wagering like a dissolute foreigner, leaving your right side wide open in eight matches of every ten, and letting your horn lead your steps in broad daylight like some Hylian lech. I don't care if you've sand for brains, you will conduct yourself with better manners than a half-trained stallion or mother save me I'll break you myself."

Ganondorf almost choked trying to smother his laughter. She was livid.

"You will keep your fucking pants on in decent company - and I don't care how many petitions you have to attend," she snarled. "And if you so much as drop one more arrow in practice - wipe that damn grin off your face!"

That did it. He threw his head back, laughing loud and long, shaking the tent poles with his mirth.

Nabooru froze, still staring at his mirror image in front of her. Nialet smirked down at her, arms still folded, enjoying her role quite as much as Reiva and Avish obviously were.

"Oh, no. Do go on," he said, when he could breathe again. "Mutiny, assault, trespassing, blasphemy - and all inside a mark. What else would you like to add tonight Nabs? Arson perhaps?"

Nabooru turned slowly, her features a mask of pure horror. She'd stalked right past him in her rage, and he wasn't even wearing shadows. "Mother of sands."

"Tsk, more blasphemy."

"What have you done?"

"What is necessary," he said, crossing his ankles and resuming his casual stance leaning against the horseapple wood tent pole. It creaked in predictable protest. If she guessed how badly he wanted to get off his feet entirely, she wouldn't give him away, but she wouldn't care either. "I expect no less from you."

"You're messing with that cursed stone again, aren't you?"

He shrugged. "I didn't need it for this."

"You're a terrible liar. Why in the name of whatever you still consider holy do you think this necessary?"

He shrugged. "It fooled you, didn't it?"

She folded her arms, resuming her stubborn resistance. "I suspected madness this afternoon. Now-"

"Don't," he said, tucking his chin and averting his eyes. He hated how badly he needed her to understand. "I've already given orders to the Rocs. We divide the army tonight. They know nothing but that I will join them late - two marks after they set out. You understand the grave danger our people face, Nabs. You will lead the heart of our strength and all of the petitioners save Reiva and Avish south. Sever the bridge behind you and await word from me."

"This plan is stupid. How long will these phantoms last anyway?"

"They aren't phantoms, and the glamours will persist until I unravel them. And don't hit Nialet again however much you decide to hate me. She's with child."

"Finally," she snorted, crossing her arms and glaring at both of them. Precious little unsettled Nabooru, but he had to admit Nialet's wry grin looked positively wicked on his face. "I don't like this. This kid has you going against all reason, dividing our strength. Where will Avish be? Reiva? She's only first year, how could you-"

"Reiva will be with Roc Korosh circling west to the mountain shrines and hamlets along the old Termina road. Avish rides east with her division to take Yarat as planned. Or its tribute anyway, if it's anything like the rest of this farcical campaign."

"And you?

"North," he said. "I'll have the Elite and three sections from the First, half scouts, half ten-year."

"You are mad, storming Snowpeak with three sections and no artillery to speak of."

"Karazhin village first, and all the ten-year are handy with incendiary shot. I'm going north precisely because it is mad. This will either flush out the traitor feeding that 'kid' intelligence or force him to tip his hand."

"And when the Baron of Karakut sends his division to meet you? His personal guard are no small part of why Vosterkun actually has weight at court." She shook her head, refusing to acknowledge his point.

"So I'll meet him," he said, holding her gaze. "We could do worse than ally with a Darknut clan which wrests a Barony from Hyrule and manages to keep it."

"You're riding into the jaws of the wolf, and you know it. You've turned into one hell of a warrior, but you're an idiot for sending away the only fighter who can best you."

"That, Exalted, is where you are mistaken. I send away the general who can keep our people safe."

Chapter Text

The lowering gray-green clouds pressed against the proud mountains, rumbling their murderous intent. Yet they released no rain, holding tight rein on the crackling violence brewing within.

Ganondorf sat back in the saddle as Zharu stalked around the ugly market square, amused by the morbid poetry of it all. He let the heavy trishul trail from his hand, deceptively casual. The children were screaming, of course, and a handful of the weaker Kharazhin townsfolk wept and wailed over their misfortune. Annoying, but unimportant. The most foolish among them were no longer an issue.

Zharu shied, pulling hard to the left. A minor rebellion - neither rein nor hand allowed her the room to follow through. She laid her ears back and bared her teeth in warning, refusing to answer the full command. Every thudding step over the fallen bodies of his valet and her partner was a protest.

Not that the Hylians would appreciate her display of sentiment over cold meat. They would see their own hatred and violence reflected back at them and fear him all the same, whether they understood the significance of his regard or not.

The mill downstream of the village exploded behind him, raining bits of wood and stone onto the road and the wall, dropping sparks into thatch. The miller bared her teeth at him, murder in her looks.

He lifted his trishul exactly ten degrees.

She spat, and turned away, wedging herself between two blank-faced herd boys and cutting ahead toward the market corral.

Ganondorf drew a low, languid knot in the air with the triple-bladed weapon, letting his gaze wander over the miserable crowd filing into the corral. Enough of them understood the mingled promise and threat to dampen their noise somewhat. A handful of veiled First poured oil over every post and rail, and another handful herded the idiot villagers into it with their heavy hooked blades.

The remainder moved from building to building, stripping each of preserved food stores, gold, rupees, furs, silks, and weapons. Everything went onto one vast horde in the center of the bloodied market square, heaped at the foot of the standard-pole which would shortly gain a new adornment.

"Mayor Ibas," he said, and half the villagers turned from gawping at him to stare instead at the rotund elder kneeling between his remaining Elite at the foot of the growing pile of spoils. "I understand you have a son."

"You got everything you could want from us. Just take it and go!"

"Categorically false," he said, directing Zharu to pause beside the bound Darknut Knights they'd discovered at their leisure in the tavern. "I cannot even take away all that I brought. Where is he hiding?"

"Winter is bad enough - this early in the year there is nothing - the goats haven't even kidded - we will starve!"

"You have not answered my question," he said, watching the Darknut for their reaction. Their ears twitched, but no more. Impossible to read.

"He's only a boy. Young and foolish-"

"He left childhood behind the moment he drew blood," said Ganondorf, glancing toward the rising noise northeast of the square. The warriors' whoop and cry told him of their success without needing to see what they dragged behind them. "I'm sure your charcoal-burners will be willing to educate you in the arts of gleaning and poaching and scavenging."

"Please, my lord-" said the mayor. "It is my fault he didn't understand-"

Ganondorf nudged Zharu forward, tucking the central blade of the trishul under the mayor's double chin, forcing them back on their heels, staring up at him in abject terror. "Yes. It is all your fault."

"O Great King Ganondorf-! We bring you a sacrifice," crowed the Lance of the First.

He resisted the temptation to roll his eyes at her dramatics. She had every right to vent her grief - his late valet had been her younger sister. "Throw it on the fire with all the rest."

Mayor Ibas gave a strangled cry. "Fire?"

Ganondorf smiled. "You didn't really think I would weigh down my warriors with all this trash, did you?"

"Good goddesses, have mercy," Ibas begged. "You've already burned half the village - what do you want? I will pay, my lord - I and no one else-"

"You people are obsessed with prices," he drawled, withdrawing the blade to watch the First drag their captive into the square. They'd bloodied the youth already, and made sure the whole village had the opportunity to see. They'd stripped him to his singlet, and shorn him of his fair hair except for a narrow cockscomb running from brow to nape. White down feathers clung to his skin, and the foolish boy swore with every stumbling step. "I'm sure you understand the complications of market scarcity, supply and demand, difficulty of transport, hazards of trade-"

"Please my lord," begged Ibas. "Have mercy."

"Exactly as much as my people see," he answered.

Ganondorf raised the trishul, summoning his power as he scribed a triple whorl in golden skyfire. Crackling light whipped around the standard pole, crawling over the pile of loot until the whole of it glowed with potential. The elite stepped out of its circle, shoving Ibas to the cold stones of the square. Bound, Ibas could not break their fall, and rolled pathetically onto their side, doughy face smeared with blood.

A single Word completed the spell, and flames rose from the woven light to lick at the stars. It cost - exchange spells always cost - but the delicate work of trading only half the pile for fuel and calling firesparks at the same time hollowed him out. Even after drinking in the bitter power of violent death visiting Kharazhin.

"I take it back," the youth screamed, voice cracking. "You filth aren't thieves, you're monsters!"

The First hauled him to his feet ungently. "Mind your tongue or lose that too."

"Evil," he spat, with all the craven violence of a caged wild thing. "Foul, stinking, grasping-"

Ganondorf laid the long blade on the boy's shoulder so the flanking one pressed against his throat and stemmed his cowardly venom. "In light of your misfortune, I invite you all to join our victory feast."

His people laughed.

He smiled at the youth, watching the blood drain from his pale face. "We have enough roast cucco for everyone."

"That's enough," said a voice like the black wind. "Let them go."

The Darknut lifted their long muzzles, ears high and focussed on the bonfire behind him. The First swore, and his Elite moved away from the petrified Ibas to guard his left. Ganondorf weighed the fearful hush of the Kharazhin villagers in their pen, and drew back to strike.

The trishul exploded in his hand, sending Zharu into a screaming, rearing fit. Blinding many-colored light swept the steel fragments into a quicksilver whirlwind, slicing through leather and flesh in a hundred places.

"I said, enough. They don't have what you want."

Ganondorf fought to regain control of his terrified mount, swearing. The challenger must be a powerful mage of some kind - he would have to summon the gem as soon as Zharu settled and damn the price.

"I told you not to do anything stupid," said the voice, and a white light as fierce as summer crashed over them all, driving the Elite to their knees.

The demon gem whispered from its prison of steel and shadow, rich with promise. Ganondorf kicked free of the stirrups as Zharu overbalanced, tumbling to the ground in a practiced roll. The nearest Elite surrendered her heavy blade without need for the order, though she struggled to regain her feet.

"Bold words for a charlatan," he bellowed, squinting against the firelight and smoke and dazzling aftermath of the light spell. "Your tricks won't save you."

"Don't be stupid," sang the familiar accented tenor. The slender figure of the madman in gray walked calmly from the towering fire, hands spread at his sides, apparently empty. "I'm not the one in need of saving."

"You," said Ganondorf, lowering his borrowed steel. No weapon he'd tried against the madman could strike before the other could vanish. His magic was unlike anything he'd ever seen or read of - and his arrogance was boundless.

"Me," agreed the mad stranger, circling right, undaunted by Zharu's trembling, walleyed hostility. He wore the same unremarkable gray shirt and breeches as before, but this time his short hair was matted with gore and there was a glint of green and gold flashing under cuff and collar. "Go home, Desert King. Feast and grow fat on what you have already. Their blood can't buy what you want."

"You're a terrible spy, little hero. You can't ransom every pathetic little village in Hyrule-"

"Watch me," said the madman, offering his hand to Zharu. The traitorous beast shoved her nose under it and heaved an enormous sigh, fear forgotten.

Ganondorf laughed, and held up his fist to forestall the arrows before they could fly. They'd never find their mark anyway. "As it please you. But there is no ransom you can levy for faithless cowards - his life is mine."

"Death will teach him nothing, and gain you less."

Ganondorf shook his head, turning his attention to the whimpering, witless hostage and gathering his will to call the demon gem. The Elite were already uneasy, his army divided. It was more than time to claim his full power.

"Don't," said the madman, barely above a whisper.

Whatever the madman thought he knew mattered less than the vulnerability he betrayed in that single word. Distantly, Ganondorf wondered where he'd learned to speak the language of the People with such nuance and still have that lilting accent.

"How did you know to come to Kharazhin?"

"Because I already tried every other settlement and shrine in striking distance," said the madman, wide blue eyes cold and unwavering. "Let him live with his shame - a far greater curse."

Ganondorf folded his hands over the wide pommel of the sword, resisting the dragging weight of exhaustion. The villagers huddled together against the far side of the corral, as far from the threat of flame as possible. No - he didn't need the gem after all. "As you live with yours?"

"Let them go."

"They owe me a blood debt."

"I will pay it."

Ganondorf turned, hefting the great black sword. The madman dropped to his knees, dry-eyed. He didn't flinch when the chill metal came to rest at the hollow of his throat.

"You will pay with your life, little hero."

"I know what I said," returned the madman.

"Good," said Ganondorf. "Put him in the warded irons. We ride in half a mark."

Chapter Text

Light from too many unshielded lamps pressed against his eyes, stabbing down clear to his jaw. He craved darkness and rest - he knew better than to indulge yet. He dared not sleep until he'd secured the nameless madman more effectively, and he dared not attempt the spell until he'd eaten, though the thought of food repulsed hm.

Ganondorf knew he'd drawn too much magic this cycle without replenishing it, and the weak spring sunlight in these mountains didn't help. Kharakut manor would keep at least another week, and the fixed camp wards should be sufficient to turn away wild things and scouts until then.

Leilani folded her arms, her silence eloquent.

"There were explosions," he said, grinding the heel of one palm against his aching brow. It didn't help.

"Your servants would prefer you embrace fewer fireflowers, Sun's Ray."

"Hn," he said, tossing his shredded gloves onto her workbench and starting on the laces of his soaked vambrace. "Wasn't that. Salvage what you can. Bring me one of the spares by morning."

"You're wearing the spares, my king."

Right. Because using his gear as part of the enchantments kept the cost reasonable. For certain values thereof.

"Unlace me then, and be quick about it. Requisition whatever and whoever you need to make acceptable repairs."

Leilani raised one dark brow as he turned, giving her access to one of the side plackets. She let the moment stretch - censure of the highest order. Not only did he return his armor to her care in ridiculous condition, but he asked her to assert authority over sisters 20 years her senior and add to her duties those of yet another servant.

He would have laughed, except that would make his head all the worse. She might make an able steward, after the season drew to a close. Already he felt confident she would report matters exactly as they stood, whatever her opinion. Perhaps governor of Vosterkun, with Avish as her First Roc.

"I didn't see Eidalu when we were setting camp-"

"Nor will you," he said, unwinding the boiled leather plate and linen padding from his arm, tossing it onto her workbench without looking.

Another moment - he'd just managed the knot on the right vambrace when she understood, and made her decision. She pried at the soaked cords binding him into the armor without further comment, all efficiency. Bad luck that the storm broke before the tents were up, but even the Darknut couldn't track them in this downpour.

And they did hold reasonably high ground. For certain values thereof, given they were surrounded by mountains.

Leilani stripped him down to his quilted arming suit, glaring her disapproval when he pulled away before she could finish with it. True, it was cold and heavy and thoroughly distasteful, but her lingering over the cinch at the small of his back held no appeal whatever.

He missed Eidalu's complete indifference already. Damn that boy.

"Enough, I can do it faster," he lied. "Send for hot water, and that brandy."

"Of course, Sun's Ray," she said, but her expression was anything but obedient. "Shall I bring a tray-"

"We feast victory at moonrise," he snapped, stalking toward the south end of the tent, pushing aside the hanging partitions with irritation. It would be nice to have a door. Or time to retreat to what passed for private space on campaign.

For a week.

In truth it took him twice as long to peel himself out of the sodden wool and linen than usual, and that was even after slicing through the impossible spiral lacing down each sleeve of the coat and half the knots on the drawstrings of his linens.

He tried not to even look at the sleeping platform as he pulled on a fresh singlet of finely knit lowland wool and heavy silk loincloth. The whisper of gossip on the other side of the curtains pressed his temper, but when Leilani rattled the bell and bead curtain to announce herself, he was already shrugging into a long black caftan.

She collected the sodden mess of his discarded clothing from the chair he'd thrown it over, nattering about feast preparations. He ignored her, working instead to find and slice free the stitches keeping his hair confined. How he would restore it to proper order alone, he wasn't yet certain.

A puzzle to solve after he'd shaven.

Leilani lingered, frowning at him by way of the greenish reflection of his looking-glass.

"You may go," he snapped.

"And what shall I tell Farou, Sun's Ray?"

"Whatever you like," he said, annoyed that he hadn't caught the question. Or who Farou was that they expected an answer from him. "So long as it takes you elsewhere."

Leilani hitched the heavy bundle higher, chewing her lip. "And the petitioners?"

Damn. "I said we would feast, did I not?"

"Of course Sun's Ray, which is why Farou begs the grace to hear the King's wish. She trained beside Varesh, O Great One, but she has never led a kitchen-"

Right. Because when his valet fell, so did Tareil, the underchef he'd selected. Her bonded partner. Damn.

"And Farou is who? A rank apprentice?" He growled, but she stood her ground. "Nevermind. Beef then, served sweet. Have her roast whatever fresh goods we have, and I expect butter and honey at my table."

"And the petitioners, O My King?"

"Tell them to bring tribute before me at the feast if they have the courage to face me direct. I will manage my own appointments hereafter."

Leilani dipped a shallow bow, but her tone underscored her disapproval. "Your strength is our greatest treasure, O Great Ganondorf - to be entrusted with its safekeeping the highest of honors, of which your servants endeavor to be worthy."

He snorted, trying not to laugh and set his head to throbbing any worse. He tossed the little shears onto the dressing table, shaking out his disheveled braids. The petitioners would eat her alive trying to get to him.

"Your loyalty does you credit," he said, meeting her eye through the reflection. She was sweating with nerves, but she didn't flinch. "You don't want that job, girl."

"I think only of your welfare, Sun's Ray. May it never be said your command of your servants is less than perfect."

She had a point. He didn't need anything else undermining his authority, even if it meant entrusting her - or another like her - with more duties than he wished.

Still. She seemed so young.

"Set out one blue lantern then," he said, drawing the golden key to his jewel box from the ether. "The second, after two marks, and bring me a full report on the prisoner then. We will consider matters over the feast."

She had no free hand to accept the key - rather than drop her burden, she took it in her teeth and bowed her way out.

Spirit indeed.

Chapter Text

Ganondorf savored the complicated burn of brandy on his tongue, watching the play of lantern-light over the revelry. The warriors' mirth held more than a little fury in it, accelerated further by an abundant harvest of stolen wine. Veterans nearly to a hand, and still the disaster of Karazhin sunk its venom into their hearts.

The demon gem muttered from its prison - he should have burned them all for violating the negotiations so egregiously - and then having the arrogance to hide the coward in the aftermath. To shield him from just vengeance. They should all have burned with their pathetic town, as Eidalu and Tareil burned with poison in their veins. Then at least the fools would have been useful.

Death energy was bitter as willow and aconite, but effective.

Ganondorf set the brandy aside in favor of another honey-cake. It wasn't even near the glory of Varesh's nut-meat pastries, but it was good all the same, laced with candied ginger from one of the tribute towns. It did not soothe his temper, but it was fuel, desperately needed.

There was not enough honey in all of Vosterkun to restore half the magic he'd used in the attempt to evade the madman. Who found him anyway. Who knew impossible secrets, and hinted at others. Who answered every question with a riddle. Who watched him feast with his warriors, jaw set, silent, resolute, though he'd been strung up on the central tent pole for hours now as merely one more prize to celebrate.

Ganondorf ran his fingers over the jewelry spread out on his table. Green garnets and bright enameled gold, all fashioned the likeness of young storehouse snakes. A complete set, an artisan's masterwork. Pectorals and cuffs, rings and a great set of cloak brooches, earloops and haircombs, all charmed for peace and healing.

He'd worn these for many of Nialet's visits - at first because she loved all things green, and later to ease the aftermath of miscarriage. He didn't bring them on campaign, because they were more beautiful than sturdy. Potions and surgery were more efficient for purely physical wounds anyway.

Yet somehow, the madman had stolen them. From his locked treasury. In the hidden fortress. In the sand sea.

Perhaps the blindingly powerful spirit empowering the painted mask belonged to a divine thief, a rival of the gem? He'd tried asking. The gem gave no answer, and the mask doubled his headache. He knew better than to even touch the thing again without more information.
Which, clearly, only the madman held.

The demon gem muttered.
He could have burned the townspeople anyway, once the boy was safely chained.

Except maybe not.
Just because he hadn't tested his bonds yet didn't mean anything. A mage of such power he could walk through fire unscathed, destroy an enchanted weapon with no apparent effort, and escape from impossible circumstances until he chose to allow it - he would be a fool to underestimate the boy. No doubt whatever he would have done something if Ganondorf failed to honor their dire bargain.

And then he'd never have discovered an artifact powerful enough to make the demon gem demand its destruction.

The madman watched him, his wide blue eyes revealing none of his secrets. Of which there were surely many. The First had taken turns questioning the man, and he wore the marks of their frustration with complete indifference.

Ganondorf settled back against the cushions, letting the petitioner on his left - Sidoo -lay out the main course. It smelled good enough, but his stomach still turned at the thought. Her partner Marish, to his right, poured more brandy for him, delivering it to his hand with far more touch than the act warranted. He let her hands slide over his arm, across his chest, trying to relax into her touch.

The madman watched.

Marish seemed to enjoy the contrast of wool and silk, velvet and gold bullion - which was fine. So did he. And her appreciative touch was pleasant. That wasn't the problem.

Sidoo preferred to rest her hand on his knee whenever the opportunity offered, but their request had been most specific. They sought far more of him than this - and he didn't precisely mind that either. The tribute they offered was in excellent proportion to the elaborate - and explicit - details of their petition.

Any other time, he would have been more diverted. Perhaps as the week unfolded - and his headaches withdrew - their pursuit of his attentions would gain more charm. They seemed to enjoy encouraging him - drawing out the rituals might well serve their needs as much as his own.

It certainly seemed to capture the madman's interest.
Which interest in turn amused his warriors.

No doubt the man understood the bawdy jokes at his expense, but he paid them no attention whatever. His eyes remained fixed on his captor and all that passed at his table. He made no attempt to speak unless addressed directly, nor did he display any sign of either fatigue nor distaste for his condition.

Amusing.
And annoying.

It was beyond impossible that he could be anything near as indifferent as he liked to appear. The sheer effort (and nevermind the fortune) necessary to interfere with every raid this season beggared belief. No sane creature would expand half so much effort for a cause which commanded their full passions.

Yet no mad thing possessed such perfectly just arrogance, nor such effortless control over strange and fell magics.

Ganondorf toyed with his brandy, studying the one other artifact his Elite had liberated from the captive. A kind of stone flute, which the demon gem wanted given to it as fervently as it wanted the mask destroyed. The man carried nothing else on him but his clothing - and less of that, now. One of the ten-year archers had laid claim to his worn black boots, and Ganondorf hadn't seen any reason to stop her.

What matter old boots, when the man carried such treasures?

Somewhere in the middle of slogging through the meal, some minor argument led to thrown bread at the other end of the tent. Which, of course, escalated. Ganondorf ignored it - they could afford a little waste now, and better they smash bowls of spiced fruit than anything more important. The melee spread - and the madman ignored the chaos to watch him instead. Even when one of the five year lances dumped a cup of wine across his front, he only sighed.

It was an accident - but the warriors howled in approval. A tracker brought another cup of wine, pouring it over his blonde head, soaking his shirt further. Someone suggested he might be hungry too. An archer who was old enough to know better picked up the nearest dish and brought it over so they could smear that over his face and chest as they ‘fed’ him.

Ganondorf watched.

The question of what madness moved behind those unreadable blue eyes captivated the entire company - a ten-year whose name he couldn’t remember hopped onto a table.

“If he’s not hungry, and he’s not thirsty - our guest must be bored! Sisters, have you a song?”

Wild cheering followed, and a slurred but enthusiastic rendition of What He’s For. Complete with dancing. Sidoo and Marish had the presence of mind not to join in - but they did laugh. Especially when the bolder women teased a gasp from their captive.

The madman’s eyes never left his.

Sidoo’s hand crept up his thigh, and Marish leaned against him as she grew bolder in her caresses. By unspoken agreement they timed their advances to compliment the wild dancing - a distressingly effective tactic, despite the headache. He growled his irritation and reached for his brandy again as Marish slipped her fingers under the placket of his crimson tunic. The madman licked his lips - but surely that was because of the handsome archer stealing the laces from his own ruined gray shirt.

First Lance Dashil interrupted the song a little short of the ninth verse, chiding the others for their poor hospitality. “Our guest is too pretty for such coarse habits. Can't you recognize a fine gentleman when you steal one?”

Everyone laughed - especially when she made the madman turn his head to show off the bruises he’d collected earlier that day. She smiled at him as she did it, combing his wine-soaked hair out of his eyes. “Pity that pale skin shows every little blemish. If only he took a little more care to preserve his beauty he might even earn his keep.”

He glanced at her only briefly.

She slapped him. Hard.

A murmur of interest moved through the tent as he worked his jaw, tossing his head to get his hair out of his eyes again. The warded chains rattled with his movement, but otherwise he remained silent.

Dashil stalked around him, kicking stray treasures and forgotten cups out of her way. One of the scouts suggested a bath to restore his charms. Another agreed he’d be better without the rags. A third unwound her partner’s gauzy, glittery shawl and waved it at Dashil.

She took it, lifting the fine cloth so the scattered gold threads trapped in the weave caught the lamplight. “Shall we see if we can make him half as pretty as us?”

The warriors cheered, and Dashil resumed her circuit, meeting his gaze over the madman’s shoulder. She grinned wide, but her eyes were flat and hollow.
She had yet to mourn Eidalu.

Ganondorf raised his cup to her and drank.

The madman drew a hissing breath, leaving no doubt he understood the gesture.

“Strip him,” Dashil ordered.

Her unit cheered, tripping over each other in their haste to obey. With the chains still in place, they had to cut his clothing off of him, and they teased him with their blades. Within heartbeats his breath quickened, and sweat stood out on his brow, but he did not flinch. Even when Dashil herself cut away his breechclout. The warriors whistled and cheered, calling for his chains to be let down so they could get a better look.

Ganondorf made no move whatever to allow his release.

Dashil scolded them for such impatience, and tied the borrowed shawl around the captive’s narrow hips. The effect was the opposite of modest, especially as she made sure the knot fell to the side of his troubles along his left hip, under his odd scar. Too clean to be a battle wound, perfectly following the arc of muscle underneath.

A few scouts scattered to gather supplies, and one of the ten-years returned to her komuz. Ganondorf picked at the remains of his meal, watching the women decorate their captive. They were right - he could be beautiful, with proper care. His hair was too short to dress properly, but someone tied a gold veil behind his ears to make it seem longer, and several others loaned glass beads and gold chains to drape him with. Powder from the Kharazin spoils muted the red-purple marks of his misadventures, and a heavy border of kohl lent a smouldering elegance to those impossible blue eyes.

He could have resisted their efforts - any other Hylian man would have howled about the humiliation - attempted to dodge their brushes and render their artistry absurd. The madman pretended obedience instead, adjusting at the directions of the women to make their work easier.

One of them tied a bright shawl around his chest to mimic a breastband, teasing him for his labored breaths. He seemed to ignore her - but his lashes fluttered when she trailed her nails down his back.

Dashil noticed it too.

She stepped in to add a heavy belt of gold-plated brass chains and dozens of blue rupees, pretending to difficulty with the clasp. The madman bared his teeth as his flesh answered the tease in his stead, only provoking more amusement. Dashil wound her fist in the chains binding the madman to the tent pole.

"Let's see if he tastes as good as he looks,” she said.

"Ripe and ready he is,” called the kamuz player.

"Yeah - just look at that virtue-" cried another with a whistle.

Marish snickered, repeating a tasteless joke about the little follies of youth.

Sidoo snuck her hand under the long tail of his tunic, teasing her partner about her appetite as she indulged a discreet inquiry.

Ganondorf frowned. "That's enough."

Sidoo pouted - but not only did she not remove her hand, she traced the curve of him through the cloth of his trousers, clicking her tongue when he twitched.

One of the other lances slid her hand down the side of the captive’s face and licked her fingers theatrically. "Salted just right for to roast," she said.

"And he'll talk for us now - oh yes -" said one of the First.

Dashil pressed her hips against the captive’s side, purring in his long ear as he tightened his jaw, blinking a little too often. "It's time and more we had our trifle, don’t you think, ladies?"

Ganondorf set his empty cup down a little heavier than he needed to, ignoring Marish’s efforts to reach his ear with her tongue. "I said, enough."

Dashil cast him a heavy look over one bare shoulder, her voice pitched to carry as she pulled the boy tighter. "You promised us a feast, O Great Ganondorf.”

"He won’t mind,” snickered one of the scouts as Dashil set her teeth on his ear.

He sucked a shaking breath, and the women laughed at his deepening blush and the tenting of the gold-threaded shawl.

“Asking for it anyway,” said another.

“That and more,” put in another lance with a lewd gesture. “Show him what Hylian cowards are good for.”

Sidoo and Marish caught his mood, pulling back without comment when he tensed to stand. He unfolded in one fluid motion just as Nabooru taught him so many years ago, too annoyed to properly enjoy its impact. “Enough. The boy is mine.”

"Which makes him ours," said Dashil, but her eyes didn’t match her flippant tone.

"We'll get him ready for you," said her second, grabbing the captive’s ass.

He bit his lip, fighting to maintain his indifferent mask as his flesh answered their teasing in spite of his efforts. He ducked his head a little, looking up through his lashes - not at his tormentors - but at Ganondorf.
As he had all night.

"Train him well,” sang the komuz player.

"Yeah - proper respect-" said another scout.

"Touch him again and it you’ll be in chains next,” he said, lowering his voice as he stepped over the low table.

Dashil grinned, running her left hand down the madman’s chest. "Promise?"

Laughter rippled through the tent.

Ganondorf took a single step, and the warriors pulled back with a titter of nervous laughter. "Hands. Off."

Except Dashil.
Who made a great show of licking the madman’s cheek.

The tent fell silent at the resounding crack of his open hand descending in rebuke. Dashil stumbled, pulling the madman’s borrowed finery askew and making his chains rattle. She ran her tongue over her teeth as she absorbed the sting.

The madman rolled his shoulders back, waiting.

Ganondorf studied Dashil as she straightened with a wicked grin. Her movements remained too precise for her to be truly drunk - and though she had a reputation for fierce wit, she had no record of rebellion. She was one of the better fireflower keepers - he thought he remembered Nabooru saying something about assigning Dashil to the training cadre next season.

She held his eye as she pulled the tail of the gold-threaded shawl, loosening the tenuous knot securing it around the madman’s slender hips.

A hum of anticipation rose around them as he wrapped his hand around her throat.

She licked her lips.

Images flickered through his mind, too rapid to focus on any one. He couldn’t hear the tent over the chaos of her thoughts. But he felt her move - she pulled the gauzy fabric free - and he twisted, shoving her to the ground away from the half-naked madman.

The silence pressed heavy on him - every eye in the tent pierced him through. The demon gem murmured a thousand punishments.

Marish and Sidoo rose swiftly at his command, their beautiful long hair draping over opposite shoulders as they bowed.

“Thrash any fools who attempt to steal from me,” he said.

“As you command, Sun’s Ray,” they said in unison as Dashil struggled to her feet.

He wound his fist in her high horsetail, pulling her up short. “You will obey.

Dashil laughed, thin and harsh. “Make me.”

Chapter Text

The rain soaked through the waxed canopy strung between the feast tent and his own, dripping in so many places it almost made conditions worse. At least his Elite had cut enough branches to make a kind of thick, crude mat so he didn't need to use his magic to avoid the mud.

He steered Dashil ahead of him on the windward side so every chill gust would soak her through. The walk wasn't a long one - but between the miserable weather and her artless stumbling off the edge, by the time he dragged her past the Elite into the shelter of his tent, she looked every inch of her disgrace.

Leilani and two archers he didn't know looked up from their work, expressions carefully guarded. Dashil grinned like a cat in mint even as he tightened his fist in her beautiful red hair.

"Strip," he said. "I will not have you defiling my rugs with your dripping filth."

Dashil laughed, and one of the archers whistled as she shimmied out of her mud-splattered clothing. He glared at all of them - Dashil was making every effort to entice her captor and her audience, and thus doing her best to undermine the entire purpose of this exercise. It was important that the warriors understand she was not here as that sort of petitioner, lest their discipline erode further.

"Three blue lanterns," he growled. "The petitions of Marish and Sidoo are accepted. They are occupied guarding the hostage until further notice - therefore unless the enemy mounts an attack I expect not to be disturbed."

Leilani frowned, flicking a glance at Dashil's nakedness. "For how long, my King?"

"Until I am done," he said, twisting Dashil's long hair around his fist until she was forced halfway to kneeling at his feet. She grinned even as she wobbled and flinched for the discomfort, pretending indifference to the cold. "Let it be known the next fool who defies me will pay an even higher price than this... example."

Leilani paled as he wrenched Dashil to her feet again, driving her ahead of him into the depths of his tent. His headache surged again as he passed through the edge of the wards on his workroom. He could chain her in there and let her sulk - gagged, perhaps, so he could sleep. The others would spin their own stories to explain the silence, and he could deal with that once he'd heard Leilani's report in the morning. Or preferably, afternoon.

Ganondorf paused between the sleeping platform and the workroom, weighing the choice. Dashil used the moment to tip her head back and howl a victory cry, stealing the choice from him without any consciousness of what she did.

It wasn't fair to hit people for being stupid when it wasn't their fault.
He hit her anyway.
It wasn't just about being stupid. A half dozen cloth partitions and the convenient fiction of selective deafness was all they had of privacy.

He dragged her behind him through the dim room, cursing as he threw back the lid of his red and gold chest. No doubt her voice carried to the dining tent and well beyond - she would need to be heard even further, now. He ignored her provoking speculation, digging out a gilded steel collar, still threaded with its matching heavy chain.

"Oh yes, my king," she purred at him, though her eyes remained flat and expressionless. "Show me the depth of my miserable place - use me-"

"You have no place asking anything of me," he said, snapping the collar in place. He untangled his hand from her hair, shoving her off balance. "You will obey your lord and master, and you will regret every act of treachery and defiance."

"I beg you to correct me," she said, licking the blood from her split lip.

Ganondorf coiled the lead chain in his hands, bending to growl in her ear. "Do you have any idea how grave your peril?"

She groped him by way of answer, a calculated, possessive sliding and squeezing of heavy flesh. Dashil had never petitioned him, and he might have forgiven her curiosity had any other circumstance brought her into his space. Under the weight of the headache and the ugliness of necessity the only firmness he had left was owed entirely to the tautness of the loincloth. But by her hum of approval she didn't realize - and he didn't see a reason to tell her. Yet.

"I didn't give you permission to touch me," he murmured as he stood, looping the chain around her body, pinning her arms to her sides.

Dashil grinned, unrepentant. "I am only anticipating, my king, that you will want to use my errors for your pleasure."

"Your weakness disgusts me," he returned, collecting a set of jeweled manacles from the chest and stalking toward the sleeping platform. She stumbled after him, pulled along too quickly to untangle herself. "I should give you exactly what you've asked for."

"Yes-" Dashil moaned the word as he threaded the chain through a steel ring set into the edge of the platform. "Use me as I'd have used the boy. Take what you want - fuck me until I beg for mercy and then fuck me harder."

Ganondorf locked the manacles to the end of the chain. "You don't deserve such attention."

"You don't have to go easy on me," she said, twisting to unwrap the loops of chain. "I spar with the Elite back home, you know. Spent last winter with Oraani, and she was as vicious off the field as on. I've heard the rumors, how you're big enough to plow a woman helpless in a single thrust."

"Hn," he said, catching one wrist. He'd heard the rumors too. Vicious lies, many of them, spread by petitioners jealous of their claim on his time, others by veterans for the express purpose of teasing the young. But Oranni - she'd fallen in Kharazhin. An accident. Rear guard for the team assigned to take down the mill after Ibas' son violated the truce - caught by a splintered timber flung farther than they expected.

"I heard how it hurts for days to be opened by the Sun's Thorn," she said as he encircled that strong brown wrist in steel and gold and topaz. "How careful you must have to be with the petition-blessed, when your glory carves a hollow inside that can never be filled-"

"Foolish woman! Do you really think," he thundered, "That you will ever have petition rights restored to you after what you've done?"

Dashil's smile held nothing of mirth. "Punish me until I beg your forgiveness, O my King. Take me like a Hylian whore-"

"That's what you want, is it?" Ganondorf cut her off, leaving the other manacle empty and spinning her around so the chain jerked taut. To stay upright she had to allow her left arm to be wrenched out behind her. He unfastened the toothed clasps and woolen ties keeping her hair confined, tossing them away into the shadows. She shook her head to resettle the damp waves, and he circled around her, close, draping the glorious fall of it over her right shoulder. "You have not the slightest idea what misery you court."

She cried out when he hooked his smallest fingers through the heavy gold loops piercing the bloom of her areolas and pulled. She rose on her toes in a vain effort to ease the intensity of the sensation.

"Yes, I do," she hissed between her clenched teeth.

"You would be consumed entirely," he said, releasing the piercings only to engulf her magnificent breasts in his hands, squeezing the tender flesh. "Overwhelmed by my power, used and discarded as befits honorless filth. To be taken for my amusement alone is to be conquered, broken."

"I am at your service," she began, but he shoved her away. She stumbled, and he advanced, looming over her as she retreated. She tripped over the slack in the chain and he caught her by the arm, hard enough to leave a bruise. He dragged her to the edge of the platform, making her bow over it. The angle highlighted dozens of pale scars fanning out over her back, neat and thin and regular.

"For your trespass I can strip away your Name," he said, dragging his hands over the curve of her ass with enough force her own softness pressed into the honeyed valley and made her moan. "I have the power to make you nothing but a pound of flesh to impale whenever and however it amuses me. Yes?"

She moaned.

He struck her ass with his open hand, both hard and loud. "What did I tell you about dripping on my rugs?"

She rocked her hips back and up, slurring something unintelligible.

"I didn't give you permission to make a mess," he said, striking her again. She moaned, and he struck her harder. "What is going to get through to you?"

"Fill me-" she said, winding her hands in the blankets.

He punctuated his rebuke with three more strikes. "You're thinking about fucking when you should be thinking about your shame. You will obey."

"Make me-" she said, twisting to look over her shoulder. She had a fierce beauty made only richer by the marks of his hands and the bright gold confining her.

"I prefer my meat tender," he said, pulling back. She stayed mostly where he'd put her as he shrugged out of his long black kaftan and folded it over his vanity chair. He watched her reflection in the green glass mirror, stripping off most of his jewelry. Without Eidalu looking after his things, better not to risk what finery he had left on this campaign. He'd been forced to leave the madman's artifacts and thefts behind, but he didn't have the energy to summon them now. The green garnets might have helped the work he was about to do, but it might serve just as well to have Leilani fetch them afterwards. "Meditate on the doom you've courted. The humility you ought to show. Think of how I will break you - and know you are too miserable and low a thing to interest me. Your shameless display eroded the work of more loyal hands. I had every intention of filling them both tonight, until your pathetic interruption."

"Take me instead-"

"I would sooner bed a poe."

Dashil sighed, and twisted to sit down on the edge of the platform with a wince. She sighed again as he stripped off his long red tunic, and even in the reflection he could see how her eyes wandered over his body. "How can I please you, my king?"

He debated the wisdom of keeping singlet and trousers as he bound back his hair with a gold ribbon. Both would need laundered if he did - like almost everything else. The push towards Kharazin hadn't allowed much time for maintenance - but now they had the madman. They could rest here, wait out the rain. If he spent the following day with Marish and Sidoo - if he could get some sleep in between - he wouldn't really need any of it, and Leilani had enough sense to delegate that work and keep her own focus on repairing his armor. He plucked the strop from its hook beside the mirror, snapping it in his hands. "I expected better service from you. Your record was a good one. All now wasted in your pathetic weakness."

Dashil licked her lips as he turned back to her, hollow eyes focussed on the heavy leather. "I heard you ordered fifteen for Varesh, that time she gave your honey cakes to that wandering foreigner and lied about it."

"Hardly equivalent," he said, collecting Eidalu's tall stool. He'd pressed it into similar service before, but this would be the last time.

Dashil licked her lips again, pressing her knees together. "I saw you give Maedra twenty five for sneaking into your tent after you turned her away."

"Do not envy her," he said, placing the stool just barely within the reach of her chains. He remembered now a comment Eidalu made once about her sister's habits. Sneering at ignorant camp gossip which painted her as cold as Snowpeak itself. "She paid not only in flesh but in rank for her folly."

She tossed her head, her expression flat. "She was stupid anyway."

"Exactly," he said. He crooked a finger, and pitched his voice to carry. "You were an honored First Lance, yet when truly challenged, proved so weak you would have vented your selfish lusts on my hostage, spoiling his value. Not only without my leave, but with complete disregard for your orders. What use are you to me now?"

She rose at his wordless command, crossing the small space silent but for the soft clatter of the heavy chain. She leaned across the stool, tucking her left hand behind her and grasping the chain for balance. Her position put her eyes not much above his navel.

"Vent your fury upon me," she said, dropping her gaze. She licked her lips.

Oh yes, she was most certainly familiar with restraint.

"Ignorant fool," he said, resisting the temptation to push back at the pressure behind his eyes. He could not afford to show the slightest weakness. He lashed out with the strop, cracking it across her bare back. "How many for insubordination to a Roc?"

She cried out, startled.

"Answer. How many?" He struck again, angled to mark a fresh place. This time she was more prepared, and only hissed as she absorbed the sting.

"Five - but you are greater than any Roc - all the Rocs-"

He whipped the strop around so it fell even harder the third time. "How many for getting caught thieving?"

"Ah - depends on the theft-"

"Wrong answer," he said.

"Nine," she gasped through the whistle and crack of the strop. "Nine lashes for a theft from the People, one for each ray of the sun."

He pulled back to give her a moment of rest, letting the strop dangle from his fingers. "Hn, and for trespass?"

"Four."

"Treason?"

"Fifty, my king-" she began, licking her split lip as he snapped the leather taut between his hands.

"Sedition?"

"Fifty, but-"

"Fostering rebellion?"

She resettled her weight, bracing herself for the next strike. "Also fifty."

"How many for all these crimes together, salted with blasphemy?"

"Why not," she said, flippant in spite of everything. "Make it an even two hundred?"

"Hn, why not, indeed." He laid the strop over the seat of the stool and caressed her cheek. She frowned, confused as he corrected a loose curl, smoothing it back among the rest. "How many have you had?"

"Um," she said, distracted by the lazy whorls he was drawing down her neck, along the edge of the collar. "Four?"

Ganondorf smiled at her, and for the first time all night he saw uncertainty in her eyes. "Wrong answer," he said.

"Ah - ten?"

He ignored the flaring pain as he opened a tiny rift in the ether and withdrew a slender steel rod made of twenty-one smaller rods, with a bright red silk tassel threaded through handle which bound them all together. Dashil swore under her breath - even if she'd never seen such a tool before, she knew at once what it was for.

"None," he said, twirling the flail so the rods whistled in warning.

She swallowed hard, fidgeting as he circled around behind her. "Forgive me, O my King-"

"You're dripping on my rug again," he drawled, enjoying the fine balance of the flail.

"Forgive me," she began. "It is only - the glory of the Sun's Ray-"

Thwip-smack across her inviting ass, and her flattery gave way to a primal howl.

"Count," he suggested.

Chapter Text

She shivered, but she obeyed. Too well - within a few strokes she had the feel of the flail, and absorbed each successive strike with little more than a wince and measured breath. She rose to the challenge of his order, counting faithfully though her voice did waver.
A little.
Eventually.

Her rigid discipline spoke of long practice, and he wrestled with frustration and impatience as she endured. The demon gem began to whisper - but it was a half-hearted, distracted muttering. He pushed it away, pouring his attentions into building a steady rhythm. He marked her flesh over and over, anointing her back, her ass, her thighs until they bloomed with pain.

Still she refused to bend - so he poured another measure of his strength into his arm. By the time he pulled unfettered and unregarded yowls from her, he'd begun to sweat despite the chill. She leaned on the stool for support now, face pressed against her right arm, consumed by the challenge. She probably didn't even realize the last strike broke skin. There was hardly a thumblength of unmarked flesh from neck to knee, except for the thinnest places directly over bone.

Her strength had become dangerously brittle. Such reckless behavior must be corrected before the shards of her willful destruction caused even greater damage. Losing her to the poison could still be used to restore a measure of his authority over the camp, but he didn't want such a beautiful spirit to go to waste.

He trailed the steel rods up her thigh, tracing the tangled path of bright rivulets flowing from her center. She moaned as he slid the warm metal between her parted thighs and up, pressing the whippy shafts against her swollen folds. He heard the faint song of bells from the other side of the partition - he drew back and struck her squarely over the meatiest part of her ass, flinging glittering droplets across her back.

She cried out the correct number - but she slurred. He seized on the opportunity, growling a reprimand as blood welled up from the shallow wound.

She lifted her head with mumbling confusion. He rolled the tips of the flail through the blood, holding it in the light, so she could see how the wet steel glistened.

"Now look what you've done," he said. "What did I tell you?"

"To count-"

He cut her off with another careful strike. "Wrong answer."

"To - to not make a mess?"

"Hn." He traced the curve of her spine, and she shivered. "You brought this on yourself, with your filthy, pathetic rebellion."

"Correct me, my king."

He struck as wide and shallow as possible across her shoulders. Her lovely skin split again, and she howled the next - unfortunately correct - number.

"Wrong answer," he drawled, counting heartbeats in the aftershock of another stroke that drew a cry, drinking her in with his gaze. The strength of her spirit blossomed in the confinement of a clear and simple task, in complete surrender to another will, given a focus apart from her own thoughts. Again he caught the sound of bells - one of Leilani's helpers, no doubt, too curious for her own good.

"But - my king-"

"If only you could follow orders, none of this would be happening, would it?" He tapped her thigh lightly, looking for a safer target.

"But - I am counting - I haven't missed any - I am sure that was the-"

He cut her off with another strike. "Before that. What did I tell you?"

"To - to not make a mess," she gasped.

He struck. "Before that."

"That - the strap didn't count?"

He struck. "Before that."

"I am useless to you - miserable-"

He struck. "Why?"

"I - I am weak-"

He struck. "And?"

"Willful -"

He struck. "Before that."

"Covetous -"

He struck again, swearing silently. The truth she refused to face could not be run from - yet she preferred to destroy herself than change course, even now. "You should have known better."

"Yes," she hissed. "Should have-"

He struck. "Should have what? What did I tell you to do?"

"Stupid - worthless - can't even count," she muttered, curling over the support of the stool.

"Answer," he said, flicking blood from the flail so it splattered down her side. "What were your orders, Dashil? What did I tell you to do?"

She moaned, and he gave her a count of five to answer. She didn't - so with a blasphemous oath he hooked the leg of the stool with his foot and dumped her to the ground. He snapped the tips of the flail across her hip, raising more welts.

"Are you become an idiot or do you think I have? Answer the question. What did I tell you, before?"

"To stop," she whimpered, dragging herself to his feet. "I deserve it - It's all my fault - if I - if I just hadn't been stupid- I deserve it - all of it - my fault - I failed -"

Ganondorf twirled the flail so it sang, shedding a mist of sweat and blood over both of them as he listened to her rambling confessions. Reaching no farther back than the feast.

"Why did you fail? You, an honored First Lance," he said, using the tips of the flail to lift her hair away from the lacerations woven across her back. "The Exalted put your name forward for training master - your career was bright - your victories brighter still - all to hide the truth that you were never good enough? That you would betray us all?"

She wound her hands in the hem of his loose trousers, mumbling something incoherent as she pressed her forehead to his boot. So long as she refused to admit pain, the poison would only fester.

He weighed the cost of attempting to redirect her with magic, feeling the edges of the sore hollowness around his diminished power. The demon gem was a blunt instrument at the best of times, and the stripped-down puppets Koume and Kotake made from deserters and criminals likewise lacked elegance. He could preserve her fighting strength with either method, or gamble away more of his energy on a piece of theatre that had exactly as much chance of moving her as the flail.

The sound of bells on the other side of the partition decided him. What use a fireflower lancer with no more volition than a Stalfos? If she did not bend before morning, the demon gem would still be waiting, and he could salvage whatever remained.

A silent Word woven in the air, and the stool exploded.

The wild lightstrike might as well have split his own head open along with it - his vision clouded as the splinters flew, and the bright shattering pop of cracking glass told him the blast - or its target - flew wider than he intended.

Which, actually, was perfect.

Dashil cried out, cowering at his feet - and he let her, until the throbbing misery of his headache let him see again.

"Look at what you've done," he said, stooping to turn her head with the flail. "I gave you orders - you had only to obey. And this is the service I get from you."

"Forgive me, my king," she said with hurried breath. A thread of true feeling at last, even if it wasn't the one she most needed. "I don't understand - I didn't - I can't! - I haven't any magic - I swear to you-"

"What use has anyone for a faithless, filthy, clumsy wretch," he growled, flicking his wrist to snap the flail - lightly - against her cheek. She yelped - and cringed away from a second tap from the humming steel.

At last.

Without another word he pulled away, stepping over the chain and the wreckage of the brightly painted stool. The rugs of his sleeping quarters glittered with the scattered shards of his mirror and some number of bottles from the vanity. He ignored Dashil's impotent pleas for forgiveness, counting backwards from three hundred as he stalked from the room without pause.

She wailed in despair when he flung back the layers of beaded and belled curtains.

Ganondorf ignored this also, stepping out of her line of sight and into that of their not-so-hidden audience. He bit his tongue to keep from laughing - it would only hurt, and undermine his work. He didn't need any magic to know the shape of Leilani's thoughts.

She glared at him as he opened the clever little cabinet clock on his chest of books, and set its pendulum in motion. The click of gears wove with the discord of Dashil's desolate keening and Leilani's borrowed bells as she stabbed another stitch in his quilted arming coat.

She was wearing every piece of his green and enameled gold summerstone snake jewels.
Sitting in his chair.
At his desk.
With his teapot steaming on a tray beside her and the remains of his gloves in pieces on top of his papers.

Next to the mask and flute.

Requisition whatever and whoever you need.

He loomed over her to no effect whatever. "Where are your lovely assistants?"

"Elsewhere," she snapped, stabbing another perfect stitch without looking. "As I could not remove the tyranny of distraction from them, I removed them from it."

He raised a brow, idly tapping the flail against his thigh. Two seventy four.

Her lip curled in disgust as she set another stitch, though she was trembling with fear and fury.

"Perhaps they too require a lesson in discipline," he said.

"Perhaps the Great Ganondorf prefers to engage his next glorious battle naked," she snarled. "Though it is said truly worthy opponents tend to fight back."

He grinned at her, pouring himself a cup of tea that was at least a quarter honey. "Hn. Report on the captive?"

"He does nothing," she said. "He neither speaks nor moves without an order to do it, and even then exerts himself as little as possible."

Ganondorf sipped his tea, tapping the flail against his thigh. Two forty eight."And has he been given orders that violate mine?"

"If you wanted him pure and innocent, you'd better have put his eyes out," she said. She set another couple stitches. "But no, no one dares touch him now."

He nodded, pouring a second cup of tea, as sweet as the first. Two thirty one. "Notice anything when you touched the mask?"

"Aside from that it turned my guts inside out? Sorrow and death," she said, tying off her thread as Dashil moaned and wept alone. "Also it's tied to him somehow."

"Hn - good," he said licking honey from his lips. "Faithful service is not without its hazards, but-"

"Don't speak to me of reward, O my King," she snapped, starting a new thread.

He nodded to acknowledge the point, drinking his tea in silence. Or - if not precisely silence, the absence of speech, while the clock gave rhythm to Dashil's grief.

One ninety eight.

"This is an unfamiliar blend," he said, quietly.

"I drugged it," she said.

"You're a terrible liar."

"I thought about drugging it," she grumped. "Really hard."

"Hn," he said, pouring a third - perhaps unwise - cup. "Your devotion to your work sets a standard few could hope to exceed. Where did you get this?"

"A whole bag of it fell out of the mask when I picked it up," she said with a shrug. "Link - that is, the hostage - said its from the great forest, and that you would need it soon."

He frowned. How could anything fall out of a wooden mask, even if it did house a thief-spirit? Much less a perfect, priceless blend of dawnflower and brambleberry leaf and goldentree bark and bogberries and souring-root?

"It isn't really poison, or even sleep-leaf," she sighed, dropping her work in her lap and folding her hands over it. "I checked."

"Remind me never to task you with an assassination," he said, listening to the broken pattern in Dashil's sobs. One fifty. "Brew another after this, and if I do not come out for it before it stops steaming, bring it to me."

Leilani frowned, sweeping her eyes over him in wordless rebuke.

He set the empty cup aside, watching her examine him. His headache remained, but it wasn't actively trying to claw his eyes out from inside his head anymore. He dropped his voice too low for Dashil to hear even if she'd been able. "You kept count."

"Someone had to," she shot back.

"Your ears lied to you," he murmured, holding her gaze. "The number is two hundred and ten for anyone who asks."

She frowned, and he gave her a moment to untangle the puzzle.

One twenty.

"I don't understand," she said, softly. "Is the truth not vicious enough already?"

"There are many truths," he said, holding up the flail so it shone in the lamplight. Dashil's keening sobs gave way to breathless, hiccuping moans. "I will not have fools among my warriors, led to believe her fate anything other than miserable."

Leilani shook her head. "No one could doubt the wretchedness of one in the shadow of the Sun's Ray."

One hundred one.

"As it should be," he said, turning back toward his work. "It is only from the embrace of shadows that one can begin to understand the light."

He could feel Leilani's eyes on his back as he slipped through the curtains. Dashil knelt in the middle of the wreckage next to the sleeping platform, weeping over splinters of the stool. She looked up only when his shadow fell over her, and she dropped the splinters at once to wrap her arms around his leg and beg him to stay.

"What did I tell you to do, Dashil?"

"Break me for my trespass O my King," she sobbed. "It was all my fault - I failed - I should have known - I-"

He tucked the flail under her chin to lift her eyes to his. "No - it is time to bend. What were your orders this morning outside Kharazhin, Dashil?"

She choked down the threat of another sob, and her answer wavered. "Neutralize the town guard, but-"

"No excuses," he said. "Repeat your orders exactly as given."

She sagged against his knee, stammering an incoherent reply. He stooped to brush her tangled hair back with his free hand, and caught flickering images of Kharazhin in flames. Less chaotic than before, at least, though just as dark.

"Again - repeat your orders, First Lance, and only then will I correct you."

He waited - eventually she managed to stumble through a broken recitation. To neutralize the guard for the negotiating party. To find any Darknut and capture them alive. In the fallout of the broken truce, to destroy the smithy and set charges in the weaver's guild and tavern, and then to join the hunt for the hand that loosed the poison darts.

"Did you obey?"

"Forgive me," she sobbed. "I should have-"

"Did you neutralize the wall guard as I asked?"

"Yes, but-"

"Where were the negotiations?"

"In the square, but-"

"So you were not in the square when it happened."

"No, but-"

"Did you set the charges as I asked?"

"Yes, but-"

"So you did not take down the mill."

"No, but-"

"No excuses," he said. "Which order did you break, Dashil?"

"I touched him," she said at last.

"No," he said, still caressing her hair. "Before that."

She sniffled. "I don't understand- you said to stop, and I-"

"Less disobedience than a clumsy petition. You asked for punishment," he said. "For what shameful betrayal did you need to atone?"

Her answer came in a whisper as the beat of the cabinet clock slowed. "They shouldn't have died."

"No," he agreed, tossing the flail on the sleeping platform. "Nor was it in your power to prevent it."

She argued, denying the truth with her tongue, but she wept the brokenness of her grief and guilt and the treasonous rage she was too loyal to voice: he gave the orders that led to the disastrous raid, and he struck the bargain that denied the People vengeance for the lost.

He lifted her to her feet, gathering her gently to his chest. She gasped at the pain - awake to it at last. He tucked her ear against his chest and combed her disheveled hair through his fingers as he sang for her alone. An old poem about afternoon dreams and evening stories, a song of rest and healing. A memory of wholeness less voiced than breathed.

This magic came easily, a gentle greenness, no doubt amplified by so many summerstones nearby. Once her flesh began to re-knit in earnest, he tucked his hands under the ledge of her hips and carried her to the sleeping platform. She wound her arms around his neck, burying her face in the soft wool singlet, and he indulged her. He leaned back among the cushions, drawing the softest silk coverlet over them both, wrapping her in warmth and lullabies.

He was on the edge of sleep himself by the time Leilani brought the tea. She poured two cups without comment, heavy with King's Honey, and piece by piece removed her borrowed jewels to adorn him instead.

Chapter Text

Rain became sleet by afternoon, pouring over the mountains and rendering even the most sound paths treacherous. Ganondorf relayed orders for game nets to be strung out flanking the camp, and all sections not already handling provision and waste be detailed for repair and inventory.

No few of his people grumbled about it, but they obeyed. Enough of them had campaign experience in the wetlands to remember worse conditions. Cold could be held back more easily than the miasma that rose in wet heat.

Ganondorf paced a circuit in his curtained workroom, listening to the storm. The enchanted firestone in its bowl of sand worked beautifully, driving out the chill entirely, even though he hadn't bothered to dress. The sky-mirror, however, did not. Its inky surface reflected only roiling clouds in every direction for as far as the magic could see. Which was usually clear to Death Mountain.

Usually.

Something had to be wrong with it - no storm could possibly be that large. So he’d unpacked his box of windneedles. They too defied his will, dancing in slow nonsense whorls across their wide, bright tray. Normally, they danced a little, but otherwise arranged themselves in sensible patterns representing the prevailing currents in the three tiers of the heavens above for seven leagues around him.

Normally.

What enchantment could ever hold a rival mage with such power? Leilani reported his hostage slept as little as he did, maybe even less, but made no attempt whatever to escape his bonds. The first was unremarkable: Dashil's ability to sleep well and deeply while bound hand and foot wasn’t all too common. In any other circumstance, the latter would hold exactly as much note as the former: he forged all seven pairs of those irons personally not long after he took the War Crown.

One skinny madman with an appetite for danger wasn't exactly the prey he had in mind five years ago.

And yet.

He paused in his circuit, studying the stark features of the painted wooden mask. No record in his possession mentioned such an artifact. That the demon gem feared its power he had no doubt - but it had yet to speak of the madman himself. Perhaps the fell powers he’d witnessed belonged entirely to the mask, and not the man.

But why would either pursue him? Why interfere in the affairs of one remote province of the Hylian empire? And how to unwind the man from the object and unlock its secrets for his own use?

The mask gave him no answer. Shining white eyes without pupil or iris seemed to stare through his skin, and carved lips remained fixed in that subtle frown.

Ganondorf wrapped his hand in black silk and held the mask before the lantern, turning it from one side to the other. Lightweight, yet incredibly strong. Stylized on the face of it, yet sculpted with eerie sensitivity on the reverse. Not the slightest glimmer of light passed from one side to the other - the mask had no provision for sight, breath, speech.

A death mask.

For who?

Or what?

 

- o - O - o -

 

Leilani answered every detail of his request before the cabinet clock could measure a full hour. She arranged raw meat and scraped bones on the sideboard, and hung sheltered red lanterns at every point of his tent. His Elite would never voice their questions, but he heard others through the tent walls. Despite the weather, the people saw him demand a nonsense assemblage of things from Kharazhin’s ‘tribute’. They saw division leaders summoned and dismissed. They saw their King stalk abroad at twilight, bloodstained and unabraced.

The faint murmur of speculation following him to the feasting tent amused him. Not quite enough to lessen the sting of sleet on his skin, but he’d seen and endured far worse. No one looking upon him would guess he had any care at all for the elements. Rather, as the current rumor would have it, the elements should take care to avoid him.

The madman lifted his fair head when Ganondorf entered. Marish and Sidoo standing guard beside him thumped their spears in salute and withdrew. A handful of officers looked up from their meals to watch him accept a golden plate from Leilani.

“The Name of Dashil is returned to the sands,” he said, pausing to pick up a single curving rib from the plate. Exactly as he asked, Farou had dressed the rack of raw venison in red Hylian wine thickened with sugar and harissa and whiteroot powder to a perfectly grotesque result. “Any debt or grievance with the one who once possessed it may be petitioned from the crown, and be considered.”

One hiccuped, and scrambled to her feet to leave. Three others paled, gulping their own wine nervously. No one who still watched him found the strength to look anywhere else as he stripped meat from bone and handed the plate back to Leilani.

“The ranks will be reordered for the march to Kharakut. Divide the spoils as usual and be ready to seize victory when the storm breaks.”

Ganondorf smiled at them all, licking his lips. Though he would prefer the richness brought by at least a little fire, the flavor certainly wasn't bad. Leilani followed exactly one step behind and two to his left as he paced around the pile of remaining tribute.

“Oh. One more thing,” he said as half the room eagerly rose to depart. He returned a clean bone to the golden plate and selected another. “We require the arms and armament and whatever else was salvaged of the Elite who once answered to Oraani.”

“No,” said his hostage. Dry. Rasping. Resolute.

Ganondorf raised a brow in the silence, toying with the meat. Every eye in the room followed him as he circled around the chained man.

“Don't push your luck, Desert King,” said the madman. “Let the unhappy dead rest. Their bones cannot bring you what you desire most.”

“Hungry?” Ganondorf offered the dripping meat to his captive. Three days without any real food or drink might not be enough to break him, but even a grain of sand can tip the scales.

“I once had a friend like you,” said the madman, but his inflection suggested a loss more dear. Where did he learn the speech of the sands with such nuance?

“Get used to it,” said Ganondorf with a shrug. “We all did.”

“You chose the War Crown,” said the madman.

“First blood was written in Hylian ink,” Ganondorf snapped. “My people starve for your greed. That for your notion of first blood.”

“And thus you play into their omens of blood and greed, fulfilling all their worst opinions of you.” The madman closed his impossible blue eyes for a moment, squaring his shoulders as much as the chains would allow. “Have you not questioned why Hyrule left Avosgart so poorly defended?”

Ganondorf shrugged and decided to eat what his captive refused. “Why should they indulge the expense of soldiers when they already sent you?”

“They didn't send me,” the man said, opening his eyes. “Nor is this the conquest you crave. Vosterkun is a distraction, an opportunity for Hyrule to weaken upstart rebels and inconveniently independent vassals, pitting one against the other.”

“You are the worst spy who has ever survived the road into my camp,” Ganondorf said, laughing. “Marish - see that he has a bath. His stink offends me.”

 

- o - O - o -

 

Ganondorf paced the confines of his office, annoyed at the weather and the occupied state of his bed, the glare of red and orange lantern light and the delayed laundry, the blood and sweat on his skin and the snarls in his hair, the headaches from lack of sleep and poor food, but most of all, the necessity of all of it.

There must be some leverage he could apply to the madman. A key of some kind. He must want something.

Ganondorf wanted a bath, a sharper razor, and his hair properly dressed by someone competent who was also not him. Fresh clothes he could live without more easily if he could remain in relative privacy until laundry and repairs were both complete. Which he couldn’t.

The perception of his warriors required careful management. Any serious challenge to his authority demanded answer, of course, but this campaign in particular levied more than any other before it.

In no small part because of Link.

The only person who seemed to understand how truly critical a swift and comprehensive victory was.

Somehow, inexplicably, the man always knew where to be and what to leverage to divert him from his immediate object with a terrifying efficiency. Even in chains.

Why?

What was he after? Why did the man pursue and subvert his work now? What was so precious to command such expense and sacrifice? What made this campaign different?

Ganondorf shied away from the last thought - there was no possible way Link could know that. Even truthsight magic had limits. He took great care maintaining the shields around his own mind, and even if he didn't, he’d never actually touched the man.

“And won't,” he growled under his breath, selecting a book at random from the limited selection he could afford to bring on campaign.

Leilani chose that moment to rattle the bell-curtain.

“I'm busy,” said Ganondorf, flipping pages without really even seeing them.

“Forgive me,” she said through the curtain without the slightest inflection of remorse. “You requested tea, Sun’s Ray.”

He rationed out a tiny wisp of power to open the curtain for her by way of apology as he retreated to his desk.

Leilani bowed, laying out a bright tray heavy with not merely tea but a heaping plate of nutmeat cakes as well. Farou seemed to be finding her strength in the kitchen after all.

“Report,” he said without looking up. He turned another page, dismayed to discover as he traced across the text that the words were upside down. He snapped the book shut in frustration and laid it aside.

Leilani didn't notice - or prudently held her tongue if she did. “Sidoo altered one of her sirwal to the captive’s size, and Marish wants only your word on which essence you would prefer on him.”

Because of course they decided to make an entertainment of his hostage. No doubt they’d painted his face and dressed his hair too. Anticipating his preferences without quite disobeying his orders.

“Spicewood resin and dragonsblood,” said Ganondorf, accepting the first cup of tea. “No - do not bow your way out yet. Sit with me, avadha. Your work will wait for you, patient as stone.”

Leilani made a face, folding herself gracefully - and silently - on the bench across from him.

“Hn,” he said, cradling the blessed warmth of the fine ceramic in his hands. “Do not forget - maintaining your strength and sharpness is among your ongoing tasks. Requisition additional hands as you require them.”

Leilani winced. “As you wish, Sun’s Ray.”

“Although,” Ganondorf mused, tasting the tea. “It may be that you may soon need a more constant... assistant. I will not see your talents wasted.”

Leilani frowned. “I have few for war and less for magic, O my King.”

“The arts of war are not all blade and spear,” he said. “How did you acquire the hostage’s name?”

“I asked him, O my King.”

“Hn,” he said. “And did you ask our guest any other impertinent questions?”

“I didn't touch him,” she snapped.

“Hn.” Ganondorf sat back in his chair until the wood squeaked. Her vehemence amused him. “That is not what I asked.”

Chapter Text

Incense smoke coiled into the shadows from three dozen brass bowls hung from the ridgepoles. The Elite stood in two glittering arcs flanking the makeshift throne, and an elongated ring of clay lamps defined an arena at the center of the cleared space.

Ganondorf stood on the threshold of his diminished office, watching Leilani light a fourth red lantern for the cluster outside. He was confident his officers would answer swiftly, whatever their current entertainments. They would stand witness to this battle, and they would obey.

He was not so certain how he would handle Marish and Sidoo afterwards. He did not want anyone at all in his bedroom, and less still did he want to open his workroom for any reason. He’d moved everything of critical importance within its wards and sealed it. Anyone who assumed the layered cloth vulnerable to a blade would meet an electric rebuttal - and with Dashil chained in the center of the relay, the wards had enough power to flatten half the Hylian army before they could fail.

Gan let the curtain fall shut, and stood alone in the shadows, measuring his breaths. The freezing rain still drummed against his tent’s walls in defiance of all reason. He stripped off his caftan, bracing himself for the inevitable chill. It was imperative that his people believe the weather carried no significance to him whatsoever. They must never question his strength, or his control. Nor could he afford the slightest chance of them attributing its probable cause to the unknown powers of their hostage.

Leilani waited beside the throne, arms folded, eyes narrowed. She did not approve of his strategy or his minimal dress - but she had arranged a carpet of furs under his cross-brace desk chair as he asked and draped his sun-crown coverlet and gods’ teeth mantle over it perfectly. In lieu of a proper mirror, she’d hung a polished roundshield behind the throne, with four spot-lanterns arrayed to make it blaze like noon, and disguised the whole trick of it with three layers of midge veils flanked by battle standards.

He stuck his twin swords into the damp dirt on either side of the makeshift dais and claimed his seat. Leilani corrected the angle of his layered pectoral jewels, and smoothed his unbound hair with oiled hands. A King does not have such mundane difficulties as frizz or flyaways.

The first division leaders to arrive did gawk at the dramatic change to the public half of his tent, but they bowed, and held their tongues. Leilani escorted each officer to their places on the layered rugs outside the tiny arena, and directed the cooks when they arrived with the same calm efficiency.

No one dared a comment on the pile of bones at his feet. No one even dared to look at them for very long. Not even Roc Belosa, who had led the First since before he was born, but refused to retire.

The mood of the assembly did mellow some, once they all had wine and food. Ganondorf did not eat, but he indulged himself in tea, kept warm at his side upon a cleverly draped warchest. Not the madman’s tea - a good roasted black, with costly cinnamon and ginger.

Marish and Sidoo brought the last guest in late. From their bright cheeks and breathless laughter, he had little doubt the two of them had relieved a little of their frustration before attending to their duty. They bowed with great flourish, and delivered their charge into the arena without needing explicit direction. Leilani gestured to an open place farther from the throne than they probably wanted, but well lit, and provided with a few more actual cushions.

Link looked at nothing and no one in the room but him. Whichever of them applied his cosmetics possessed a subtle hand - kohl and smoke mica underscored the intensity of his impossible blue eyes, and his earnest focus had blossomed into radiant, sharp-edged beauty.

They did not give him a chest covering of any kind, but somewhere they’d found a strap woven in the god’s teeth pattern and fashioned it into a matching collar and browband. His golden hair still fell in his face, but trimmed now and combed with a little fragrant oil. The delicate, shaded blue of his sirwal softened that rigid discipline further, and the ornamented rust-dyed sash they’d given him lent elegance to his slender build.

Gan found his own discipline sorely tried by the sight. By will alone he remained silent, lounging at rest upon his chosen ground.

The soft murmur of his officers’ speculation fell away to silence, and still Link neither moved nor spoke. Gan waited, watching his priceless captive stand there and look at him. He could easily read the man’s calculated appraisal of his jewels, his swift notation of the swords. But that was all. Any other thoughts or feelings he might harbor about his position remained opaque.

Gan sharpened his will to a fine point, unlocking only the leg irons.

Link took one full step forward, leaving the enchanted metal where it fell.

Ganondorf smiled at him, and with a twist of purple skyfire, his newest Stalknight assembled itself from the shattered bones of a once-proud Elite, patchworked together into a stronger whole with skyfire and steel and sculpted deer bones. A wave of sound rolled from one division leader to another as it raised its shield and blade with purpose. One covered her face, turning away from whatever would come, but she did not dare leave.

Link flicked a glance at the thing, and held his ground. He waited as the Stal edged closer, feinting to draw him out.

Link refused, remaining exactly as he was until the Stal committed all its force to a wild lunge. He sidestepped neatly, with the least possible effort necessary to evade the wicked steel.

Gan watched the man move, evading a dozen attacks in much the same fashion. A sliding step here, a twist there. Confident but not showy. He simply knew how the Stal would strike, and ensured wherever the blade was, he was not.

Gan drew the Stal out of its pattern for only a moment, rationing out a little more power to increase its tempo. Link matched its new speed with hardly more effort than before, as if he had practiced this dance a hundred thousand times before.

Gan waited to feed it a new pattern until Link’s back was turned to both him and the Stal. The edge of the shield slammed into his shoulder and spoiled his balance. A murmur rose from the audience as Link turned more of his attention to the dance.

He settled into the new step too quickly - Gan measured out another drop of power to raise the tempo a third time and dial back the defensive moves in exchange for more varied advances. Link took another few minor blows, but found his stride soon after. He danced away from every strike, his pale skin bright with sweat. Gan shifted the patterns again, watching his captive’s breath become ever more labored - but still he refused to fight back.

The division leaders watched with rapt attention, whispering to one another about this exchange or that. They understood now he did not call this servant to dance purely for entertainment, and some began to wonder if he arranged this display as a rebuke. That was good. They should never allow themselves to become complacent in their skills.

Stalfos were only ever as good as their weapons and orders. It may never tire, but what few understood was every layer of complexity demanded more power than the last. Another blow landed, sending Link sprawling. The division leaders gasped as the Stalfos followed through, pressing in for the killing blow. Link caught the blade between his hands, wrenching it forward as he rolled. He scrambled to his feet, circling and tumbling through another narrow escape.

The Stal threw its shield, knocking him off his feet again. It paused its advance to collect it again, and Link managed to scramble away from the descending blade. He did not quite evade the backslice this time - the Stal opened a shallow gash across his back, and pressed him to the edge of the arena.

Still he refused to fight, circling back, weaving under one lunge and dancing aside of another.

Gan removed the boundary spell from the lamps, and poured himself a cup of tea. He wondered vaguely if anyone besides Leilani realized the Stalfos was neither a puppet nor entirely independent. Perhaps Dashil, who should be observing the echo of this display through the priceless skybolt glass in his workroom. She was clever - if he could manage to train her even in these ridiculously limited conditions, she would make a formidable candidate for the champions’ axe.

The Stal pursued Link across the arena, pivoting in the same heartbeat as its prey, closing his avenues of retreat instead of attacking directly. Link dropped into guard half a pace from the lamps, waiting for the Stal to circle and chase him along the edge of the arena.

The Stal feinted right. Link moved left, directly into the path of the flying shield. He fell over the marked boundary and nearly into the lap of a startled division leader. He took too long pulling himself back to his feet, ignorant of his peril.

The Stal lunged, completely indifferent to the screaming division leaders within range of its wild slash. Link scrambled to knock the blade aside with a stolen honor knife and took a deep wound across his left arm in exchange.

The Stal drew back to strike again as the women scrambled to their feet and tried to organize some answer to the unexpected threat. Link charged, dropping his shoulder to ram into his opponent’s chest. The Stal gave little ground - it could not feel pain or lose its wind - but it could not reverse its grip on the sword quickly enough to strike so close. Link wrapped his hands above its elbow and wrenched the bone violently from its socket. He followed the momentum in a whirling strike, knocking the Stal back into the arena with its own arm.

Gan set down his tea.

The Stal’s arm tried to whip around and strike its wielder to no effect. The Stal roared with a chilling, eldritch fury, and its wayward arm flung the blade towards the center of the arena. The Stal plucked it out of the air with its off hand and stumbled, not yet adjusted to its imbalance. Link broke its arm across its patchwork face and leapt at his opponent barehanded.

But not exactly unarmed. He knocked the Stal to the ground and looped his hands behind its head. He hauled savagely against its riveted spine, using the short chain between his manacles to magnify his strength. The noise of the watching officers rose - they were not sure whether to cheer or attack when Link managed to pull its skull from its body.

He leapt to his feet, chasing down the hopping, chattering, confused head. He grasped it fearlessly and spun, hurling the skull with devastating accuracy directly at Ganondorf.

Gan laughed, catching the thing easily with a twist of magic as he stood. “Do not crow so quickly, little hero, that you find the weaknesses of a failed prototype.”

Link acknowledged the point with a slight bow, breathing hard.

Gan banished the skyfire lending the Stal its power, and let the bones fall as they would. The division leaders held their tongues, but they shifted uncomfortably. They could not decide how to move next - even Roc Belosa looked uncertain. She just stood at the edge of the arena, scimitars in her fists, looking to him for a more explicit order.

Ganondorf smiled. “You’ve had your leisure - now. Show our guest how true warriors dance.”

Roc Belosa understood first, bowing deeply and entering the arena. Leilani grumbled under her breath, striking a training pattern on a small shield-drum as he signaled others into the ring. She did not like her orders, but she obeyed.

They danced through the sword-flower engraved in their hearts, steel flashing, graceful and fierce as the wind. They lunged and feinted and parried in whirling symmetry. Link spun in place at the center of it all, raising his hands in impotent guard against deadly attacks darting at him from every side. Not a single blow connected - this was discipline. This was true skill.

Anyone could take a beating. Only a warrior could attack with full strength, and never, ever miss.

Ganondorf collected his swords and Leilani signaled the warriors with a buzzing roll and polyrhythm. Half the warriors pivoted, dancing backwards through the patterns, sparring with each sister they passed. Link whirled first one way and then the other in baffled, helpless circles, bracing himself for blows which would never land.

Another roll and the warriors reversed. Gan stalked directly through the center of the glittering clash, blades held loose. Not one warrior broke her step to avoid him - nor did any need to. He crowed with pride at their practiced perfection, and half a hundred voices rose in answer.

Now Link saw him. He dropped halfway into guard, forgetting for a moment the chain would arrest his reach. His eyes pinned, and he retreated the single step his position allowed.

Ganondorf ticked his blades up.
The drum stopped.
A tight pattern through the frozen moment.
Warriors dropped to their knees, swords flat in the dirt.
Link gasped at the chill steel embracing his neck.

“Never underestimate your enemy,” said Ganondorf with a smile.

Link fainted.

Chapter Text

Ganondorf stared at the darkness, listening to the slow, whispering hiss of misting rain layering more ice on his tent. This miserable weather made him ache, and four strong hands kneading tension from his flesh after the challenge had improved his temper some. But the unnatural weather only softened while Link remained unconscious. It did not stop.

He lay back on his bed, turning the little stone flute over and over in his hands, learning the shape of it with his fingertips. It did not feel of any strong enchantment. Yet it must be ensorcelled. Whether the flute was made by man or spirit, the stone it was carved from was like nothing else he’d ever seen. It seemed to glow in the darkness - not much. Just enough of a purple-blue haze to make him question his eyes. Around the finger holes and mouthpiece, the glow shifted slightly brighter, and more blue.

Likely, the magic inside remained dormant until the player woke it. Not a thing to be played at random to learn its secrets. Who could say what any melody might do? Neither whisper nor song teased his ears - the banished demon gem must have fallen asleep. It would cost more to rouse it next time, but the quiet pleased him.

Ganondorf listened, silencing his wandering thoughts one by one, as with temple candles. He heard only the soft rustle and thump of his Elite rotating their guard.

Marish and Sidoo had withdrawn to their own tent, and presumably their rest. Dashil sat in silent meditation, still holding the ward relay faithfully. Even if she slept, the magic would hold, albeit with more sluggish response. Leilani worked to restore a forward corner of his tent into some semblance of arming room - but either she owned far more stealth than she admitted, or she too, had gone to bed.

Link lay unconscious on the bench in the office, exactly as the Elite left him. Or perhaps by this time, he slept. Either way, he had not roused for the scent of food, and no tell-tale rattle of silver or pottery betrayed his interest now.

Perhaps he too pressed his magic beyond rational limits.

Link surely must have worked three times as hard to arrive at every village well ahead of his army, offering as ransom exactly the spoils Gan most needed from each. How he solved the puzzle of the three false commanders, Gan did not like to think about. Whatever he had done, it was done, and there was no unraveling it now. All that mattered was forward.

But if Link did not humble his ridiculous pride soon and eat-

Gan lay in silence, feeling the edges of those dangerous thoughts. He had yet to pull from his captive any confession worth the name. He wasn't any closer to solving the puzzle of the mask than before. His only clue to the significance of the stone flute was that it shared the color of the man’s magic glittering on his skin when he caught a blow to his middle. And he still didn't know why the man paced him all the way to the Vostre mountains, to the very edge of the Karakut barony.

Link spoke with authority on the stratagems of the Hylian King and the intrigues of the court, but teased his captor with only the vaguest hints that he possessed knowledge of the enemy’s sacred weapons. Perhaps he didn't actually know anything at all, and Gan had given him a weapon with his reaction to the bluff. But - the man had shown too many other fell abilities on this campaign to dismiss him so lightly.

Anyways, the stal fight and sword dance granted him leverage to rebalance the scales. Whatever moral high ground Link felt he gained by avoiding the violence he excelled in, he would abandon it without hesitation to defend another.

Gan rolled out of bed, debating the virtues of trousers. The odds of shocking his captive into a confession of any kind seemed slender at the moment - so he decided for warmth instead. He realized as he fixed the last button that if chains counted as adornment, their state of undress would nearly match.

Ganondorf shrugged into his black caftan also, and tucked the flute into one pocket as he parted the beaded curtain.

Only the thinnest veil of lantern-light filtered through the cloth walls, but the shadows had always welcomed him. Link twitched and stirred at the sound as one dreaming. He frowned in his sleep, his hands balled into fists. For a moment, Gan considered leaving him to his rest - but while exhaustion and hunger should both weaken his strange magic, the latter would kill him faster.

The spirits do not give him peace, but nightmares, Leilani had said.

A King did not have such concerns himself, and did not waste his time considering the troubled conscience of his enemy except as it offered immediate strategic advantage.

“Soon all of Hyrule should share your dread, little hero.”

The madman’s impossible blue eyes snapped open, searching the darkness. Link didn't move - he barely even drew breath, his pupils so pinned with panic he was doubtless half blind.

“You are brave little hero,” said Gan. “But foolish, to think you can stand against the Great Evil, King Ganondorf of the Geld'o."

Link tracked his voice in the shadows, eyes wide and fathomless. “I’m - not dead? No. You didn't - you didn't kill me.”

Ganondorf laughed, slipping behind his desk and regretting for a moment that he had not ordered his chair restored to its proper place. “I have bones enough in my service already - you are more interesting to me alive.”

Link licked his split lips and pushed himself upright with a rattle of chain. Though his pupils swelled to draw in the smallest crumbs of light, he could not fix his gaze on any single point. He worked his jaw and let the words fall into the silence between them. “For now.”

Ganondorf smiled, though he doubted the madman could see it. “Do not pretend to any great fear of death, little hero. Do you think I cannot see the truth already? Such pathetic lies don't suit you.”

Link snorted in derision, and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Nor you, Demon King. Truth is as much a stranger to you as mercy. I told you not to do anything stupid-”

Link cut himself off with a guttural exclamation and scrambled gracelessly off the bench as Gan summoned a tiny, crackling ball of lightning to hand. Link stumbled and fell, brought up short by his chains.

“Indeed,” drawled Ganondorf. He lofted the little ball of lightning into the delicate brass lantern above his desk, letting its power fill the faceted stone inside and overflow to the next lantern, and the next, and the next, until the whole of the tiny cloth room glowed faintly yellow-green. “Meanwhile, you are stupid enough for ten. Stop wallowing about on the floor like a beast unless you have a great yearning to be fed like one.”

Mage or no, a man with a guilty conscience, delirious with sleep deprivation and hunger, might say any number of wild things. Anyways, he was a foreigner. A Hylian. An enemy spy, possibly a would-be traitor, or a pretender to the same. It wasn't as if they shared any real understanding, even if the man possessed an astonishing command of the desert language. Waste of energy to bother getting angry about it.

Link stared at the lanterns, agape and blinking, as if he couldn't understand what they were. Under his breath, he mumbled: “Beast.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, trying to untangle the man’s strange reaction. He lifted a lid from one of the covered pots, which proved to be some sort of mashed vegetable with butter and garlic. Perhaps Farou thought Leilani fetched a second dinner for him, instead of breakfast for their mad captive. “That can be arranged. Unless perhaps you have grown fond of one of my subjects and wish to surrender your share of my attention to her.”

The madman blinked at him, wide blue eyes fixed with uncomfortable focus on his face as he uncovered the rest of the dishes. None of it fancy - roasted apples, unidentifiable poultry in savory sauce, a dish of honey pastries cut in tiny wedges - but his own stomach rumbled just looking upon it all.

“That isn't - no. Don't. You have embraced tyranny enough already,” said Link at last, leaning on the bench for support to regain his feet. “You will never gain your greatest desire if you continue that path.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, perching on the edge of his heavy olivewood desk and eating a slice of apple. “What does an ascetic little hero know of desire?”

“Enough,” snapped Link. He looked away to his left, jaw tight.

Ganondorf summoned an ornate silver fork from the ether, twirling it in his fingers. He watched his silent captive for a hint of how the man might move. He needed to uncover what drove Link’s madness, what pattern might explain his wild contradictions. A fell mage and masterful fighter, and at the same time, a most submissive hostage. Morbidly disinterested in his own welfare, yet he instinctively moved to avoid the minor discomfort of a mere handful of lightning which wasn't intended as a weapon anyway.

Why?

“You do realize you could end this at any time,” said Gan quietly, offering the fork handle-first.

Link twitched, fixing his opaque gaze on the bright silver instead of meeting his eyes. “So can you.”

Gan raised a brow. “Perhaps you have not noticed that even without your charming ransoms, I am winning this war in every way that matters. Hyrule will bow to me before another year passes.”

Link snorted. “You underestimate your enemy. Every cruelty of yours is another arrow in their quiver - and another reason for the provincial lords and client kings to unite under the red lion banner against you.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, twirling the fork in his fingers again. “But now I have you, little hero.”

Link snatched the fork away, pale skin flooding with rose, his chains jingling merrily. “Yes. For now. For only as long as I deem it necessary.”

Gan laughed, equally amused by his captive’s defiance and embarrassment. “Next will you claim to eat nothing but wind and drink only moonbeams?”

Link’s nose wrinkled when he scowled, and his blush spread to the very tips of his pointy ears. He speared an apple slice and ate it in two savage bites.

Ganondorf laughed.

Sleet layered more insults on his tent, and his captive frowned even deeper, ridiculous, red-faced, sullen, and deceptively frail. Ganondorf laughed harder.

“Stop it,” Link muttered, eating a few forkfuls of mashed vegetables. “You're not that funny.”

Ganondorf laughed until his eyes watered. No one defied him like this.

“You are a fool,” said Ganondorf at last, scrubbing a hand over his face as he stood. “It is well you are inconvenient or I should be tempted to keep you.”

Link scowled, swallowing another mouthful of food. So he’d found his appetite after all. “Then what are you waiting for, Demon King?”

“Hn,” said Gan, thrusting his hands in his pockets. “Don't be stupid, little hero. I'm not going to kill you. I want the things you know.”

Link picked through the bowls, eating in sullen silence.

“Tell me,” said Gan, “about these little toys you carried into my camp.”

Link’s gaze snapped up to meet his in unmistakable challenge. “No.”

“Very well,” said Ganondorf with a shrug. He drew the little stone flute from his pocket, studying it with as much discipline as he could muster. He didn't much want to give the lovely instrument to the demon gem, though he couldn't exactly untangle why. Only that the thought displeased him in much the same fashion as the prospect of actually having to destroy it. “They were annoying me anyway.”

“Don't,” whispered Link.

Gan tossed the flute in the air and caught it again before he bothered looking at Link. He was a little surprised to find the man drawn and white-knuckled at such a thin ploy. “Why not?”

Link swallowed hard, but said nothing.

“Why defend a pathetic piece of rock before your own life?” Gan asked before he could think better of it.

Link nearly whispered his answer. “It is a thing worth saving. Let that be enough.”

“Hn,” said Gan, closing his fist around the stone flute. “Enjoy your dinner, little hero. Fight as well tomorrow, and I may even give you wine.”

Chapter Text

Sleet turned to a cold fog and anemic snow somewhere just before dawn. The winds calmed by midmorning, and noon sparkled in every direction, mazing the eye. Though the day seemed warmer, the snowy fog held fast.

Ganondorf began to regret launching his campaign so early this spring. But - he had not thought to reach the edge of Karakut estate quite so soon. He shrugged off the thought. All that mattered was forward.

Dashil roused from her meditations when he slipped through the ward and curtains into his workroom. She knelt at his feet, silent, and more serene than he’d seen her in days.

Ganondorf smiled. He vanished her golden chains through the ether and back to their place. He followed that with a fragile ward bubble of silence, stretching it out within a thumbswidth of the innermost partition of black silk. Dashil bowed, forehead pressed against the rug, awaiting his command.

“Rise, and dance the sixth pattern,” he said, offering her the blackened two-handed blade of his Elite.

Dashil bolted upright, mouth agape. “With that? But - I am not from the sword-courts - forgive me, O my King-”

“Crescent blades are as the roc’s talons: an extension of the arm, swift and graceful,” he said, drawing the first pattern in the air with his off hand. “The greatsword is instead an extension of the soul, and demands more perfect discipline. Rise, and dance the sixth pattern.”

Dashil stammered, bowing deeply to buy herself time to think. “I - have no wish to displease you, Sun’s Ray.”

Ganondorf said nothing.

Dashil drew a deep breath, standing on the release as she made her choice. She braced herself against the expectation of great weight and grasped the hilt in both hands.

Ganondorf folded his arms and paced the edge of the workroom, watching her learn the balance of the vast blade. He corrected her grip and let the pattern itself adjust her stance. After the third repeat he opened the chest of gear left behind by Oranni. Nothing about the long scale cuirass or heavy boots or closed helm distinguished it from the base armor of any other Elite, not anymore. He’d erased all such marks, and the horsehair crest from the helm. He’d spent considerable energy enchanting the surface ornaments to reflect his power and adjust the steel to her proportions already, although the final details still needed to be finished in situ.

Dashil was not stupid - she grounded the greatsword and leaned on the hilt to gather her strength for his next order. The silence shrouding them would hold perhaps another hour at best, and anyways there were only two other basic patterns which could be danced in such a small space without adjustment. He needed her in full veils now. She could earn the rest in (silent) service with the others.

 

- o - O - o -

 

Morning passed into afternoon, and the snow continued. The windless bright fog blurred the other colorful tents to broad splotches of more subtle, faded hues than any Geldo weaver would countenance - but his Elite had judged well the proper scale for an arena in these conditions. Only when his servants carried the fight three-quarters of the way across the field did the fog veil them at all, and even then the torches burning at all fourteen stations of the enormous sword flower transformed both man and constructs into gilded silhouettes.

Leilani refreshed his tea, and the mugs of his petitioners and darknut guests. They murmured thanks, but their attention remained fixed on the fight. If the Baron’s knights were half as faithful in service as his information suggested, they would be delivering him a most explicit report on the strength of the Geldo before the week closed.

The man would be wise to consider twice before mounting opposition before the King who enslaved such an exquisite warrior as a mere gladiator to entertain his army.

Ganondorf leaned back in his makeshift throne, infinitely glad to have his arming suit back from Leilani’s needle. The shelter of the tent above and his wards stretched across the open side did assist the braziers - but the longer Link played out his circuitous, defensive strategy, the less good any of it seemed to do. The darknut sitting at his left had fur to insulate them against this miserable weather, and his soldiers bundled themselves in full kit and their cloaks besides.

A King bowed to no one and nothing.

The Rova would become even more tiresome nags if they guessed his captive had seduced the weather from his control. Ganondorf wore his caftan open with rigidly affected unconcern, and the black wool of the arming suit beneath served primarily as a striking backdrop for his wealth of topaz and amber and the emerald-crusted snake jewels. That it kept the snow off his skin was incidental.

Not that this seemed to affect Link in the least, for he answered this challenge with the same critical, smouldering obstinance as before. Sidoo reported that he hadn’t said a word when they gave him doeskin slippers and gloves and long tunic before the fight. He only shook his head in silence, and in silence allowed them to dress and paint him as before, and lead him onto the open field.

When Gan summoned the third stal and gave it a bow, Link cast a withering glare at him. He unbent enough only to pick up one of the wooden shields defining the edge of the arena, refusing any of the blunt weapons arrayed between.

“I am bored with waiting for your liege to offer a ransom for your return,” drawled Gan, sipping his tea.

One of the darknut dragged his attention from the fight, grip tightening on his mug. Gan let the vague threat hang in the air, his own gaze firmly upon the four combatants. Not that this was particularly difficult - the madman had let the stal pin him against the edge of the arena. His shield bristled with arrows, his chains heavy with frost, and his thin clothing was soaked from tumbling across the snow. Yet he waited for the constructs to close around him, lunging under the reach of one so the mace of the other came down on animated bone instead of living flesh.

“I have one further use for you,” said Gan, considering whether to add a fourth stal to the challenge - perhaps one of the lizal constructs or a larger blin - or if he should vary things and summon a lesser poe. He could risk a living fighter against the man - but which could he spare?

Marish and Sidoo murmured to one another at his right, and Leilani snorted in disapproval. She served faithfully regardless, but her opinion of their conversation told him everything he needed to know about how the entertainment affected them.

“I find myself with a pair of extra horses, and no particular interest in feeding them in this miserable country either,” said Gan, watching Link lead the damaged stal around the arena. “Take them, and this message to the Baron: the Great Ganondorf comes to these mountains to sharpen his sword. Let him send his most elite champion to face my best warrior, so I may judge if his army is worth my time.”

The darknut both licked their lips, ears taut with nervous energy. Gan finished his tea, turning the empty cup in his fingers. A subtle unspoken charm made the gods’ teeth pattern seem to undulate over its surface, grinding sky against rust as the hum of brewing lightning whispered across the snow.

Link cried out when the next arrow struck his shield, and both darknut sat forward, eyes and ears focused on the madman again as he tumbled to the ground with golden light crawling over his pale skin, sizzling on his warded chains. He dropped the buzzing shield and scrambled to his feet a moment later, but not quickly enough to avoid a tap from the electrified staff of the second stal.

Gan let Leilani pour him more tea, though he no longer had any intention of drinking it. The lightning pushed his captive to replace his shield twice more as he fled around the arena to avoid the sting. He chose a crude wooden spear after the archer knocked his third shield from his hands, dashing in a wild loop that tangled his opponents on one another for a few precious heartbeats.

Link used the bulk of the mace-wielder as a screen between himself and the archer, tempting it to fire in vain. He rolled under the descending mace in the exact moment of the arrow’s release, dashing forward and throwing all his weight into a thrust at the archer’s forward hip. The hardened point slid across the cup of the ilium, dislodging the femur and dumping the construct on its face.

Link wasted not one breath. He whipped the spear around and smashed the archer’s patchwork skull with two brutal strikes. He used the second as leverage to catapult himself to the far side of the bones before the staff wielder could swipe his feet from under him. He dropped the spear, raising the stolen bow and a stray arrow just in time to knock the mace wielder back.

In another handful of breaths the fight was over, all three skulls smashed and the stalfos’ enchantments likewise shattered.

“Hn,” said Gan, propping his chin on his fist. The madman would no doubt continue to deny any particular terror of light, but his vehement response on the field left no doubt of its hold over him.

He held exactly three points of leverage against the man who claimed to know his most private motives in raising the war banner this year. Threat to a noncombatant, threat to the mask and stone flute (for he seemed completely indifferent to the loss of the stolen snake jewels and the white marble pebble), and now the touch of lightning.

Ganondorf summoned Dashil from his workroom with a inconveniently expensive flourish of violet smoke.

Link stepped back, frowning up into the fathomless shadows of the enchanted horned helm.

Dashil stood in perfect, unmoving guard, her armored gloves crossed over the fat pommelnut of the black sword.

Gan waited, letting Link circle around his newest Elite, letting his little army drink in the purple darklight mist veiling her from their spirit eyes, and the low hum of the layered seals and enchantments engraved into the steel.

Link completed his circuit, turning his scowl from his next opponent to his captor.

Gan smiled.

Link’s spear shattered under the first blow of the greatsword. One after another, he broke weapons of bone and wood against Dashil’s ponderous but unstoppable might.

Somehow though, by the third time they looped around the heart of the arena, he recovered a fistful of arrows still crackling with lightning. The anxious intensity of the soldiers - and guests - observing the display swelled to a roar when Link raised the forgotten bow. The wet, half-frozen string snapped after the second arrow, but the lingering magic stunned Dashil long enough for him to kick the sword from her hands and spin her around.

The greatsword proved too heavy for him to lift easily, but he strained to master it anyway. His eyes sparked with fury more than desperation, even when Dashil lunged at his back and pinned him to the snow.

Link could have attempted to break her hold if he released the sword - but he refused, baring his teeth as the army cheered.

Gan set aside his cold tea, striding into the arena despite the unpleasant chill. He vanished the black sword to the ether for a moment, annoyed by the painful twinge of warning that he drew close to the dregs of his personal reserve.

Dashil wound her fist in the sodden linen tunic Marish had chosen for the captive and stood, lifting him to his feet and then into the air so his cold blue eyes were level with Gan’s. She remained silent under the restrictions of his magic, but he held no doubt she was coming to appreciate the advantages of her new form.

“You could end this at any time,” drawled Gan, gesturing with a subtle flick of his fingers to the arena and the noisy crowd at its edges. Even the darknut were chattering noisily about the fight - only his Elite retained their discipline.

“So could you,” rasped Link.

“Hn,” said Gan, shaking his head at the madman. “Miserable weather for a battle, isn’t it?”

Link curled his lip in contempt, though his feet dangled well off the ground. In no possible world could he be in a position to threaten his captor, but he refused to surrender. “Pity you’ve become too pigheaded to heed Nayru’s warning.”

“What are you after? What in all of this,” said Gan, gesturing to the chained man and the obedient servant holding him. “What could you possibly think to gain here?”

Link said nothing.

Gan summoned the leg irons back to their place binding Link’s ankles, shaking his head at the man’s folly. Dashil dropped him. Link sprawled gracelessly in the snow at their feet as Gan returned Dashil’s sword from the ether. Link only sighed when she rested the curved end on his chest, more or less indifferent to the threat of death, as usual.

Gan studied the mood of his army, divided as they were between votes for execution and for profitable forms of mercy. He rumbled low enough only his captive and his servant could hear him ask again: “What do you want, little hero?”

“Peace,” said Link, meeting Gan’s eye with the same opaque expression as always.

“Hn,” said Gan, turning heel for his tent. Marish and Sidoo stood with perfect grace, brows arched and eyes bright. “See that he eats, and that our guests are provisioned - appropriately.”

“At once, O my King,” they said together, bowing.

“Hn,” said Gan, running his tongue over his teeth as he considered the shape of their spirits - and the attitude of his darknut guests. “My Elite are more than sufficient to oversee the work of servants.”

Both women grinned wickedly, licking their lips in anticipation.

Gan rationed out another drop of power to shift his four lanterns from red to blue.

Somewhere in the crowd outside the komuz player made her instrument laugh as his Elite closed the tent wall behind them.

Chapter Text

Steam coiled in lazy tangles towards the peaked canopy of the little bath enclosure. Sometimes he was immeasurably glad the King was set apart from the people in a hundred thousand little ways. From the sacred pattern of the gods’ teeth on a pure field, to the subtle tone-on-tone labyrinth of the spirit trials, from his bright slender blades to his dark sorcery, his entire world was woven of light and shadow.

Ganondorf savored the rare brandy and pressed his back against the waxed and warded bullhide wall of the campaign bath until the folding steel frame creaked in complaint. Somewhere in the Vostre mountains lay a cave with hot springs nestled inside, but the most reliable sources placed it on the far side of the Kharakut estate. If it existed at all. Until then, he could either stretch or soak, but not both. And that only in stolen moments. The paired flameblades sheathed in the sidewall worked well enough, or at least better than a handful of firestones and an ewer. Lingering in the hot water in the middle of campaign while Marish and Sidoo braided his hair was an unmatched luxury he should be grateful for.

And in truth, he felt in a better mood now than he had for weeks. Dashil progressed quickly towards earning the champion’s axe and gauntlets. The Hylian madman submitted to his chains. The darknut rode for Kharakut with his challenge for the baron. Two beautiful warriors attended his hair for him.

He simply couldn’t forget even for a moment why they were in this position to begin with. Why he had fire and honey and oak and ash on his tongue. Why he'd needed to give Leilani so much time to make repairs.

The Rova would sneer to see him indulge himself in the green snake jewels to blunt the edge of the headaches - but the skybolt glass was still safely swathed in black silk inside the warded workroom - and likewise his bedchamber on campaign was always curtained in the same fashion.

In any case, the soothing enchantments had already proved to be of use with Marish and Sidoo. Another handful of sessions, perhaps, and their petition would bear fruit. Already Sidoo had recovered more confidence in her beautiful skin, though she’d wrapped herself in his caftan for warmth. Even with firestone braziers about and thick furs underfoot, his tent still wasn’t quite comfortable .

Marish, on the other hand - her frustration at the temporary opposition of desire and mending flesh only delayed her healing further. He admired her resolve, but her absolute fixation on reclaiming mastery of unconventional lovemaking pleasures without first tempering her appetites presented a formidable challenge.

“Nearly half done,” said Sidoo, sealing the end of another tiny braid. “The Sun’s Ray is truly blessed in his beauty.”

“Hn,” said Gan, rolling the brandy over his tongue. “The gods would do better to bless him with more hours in his days. Have you enough of the gold beads or shall I fetch another casket?”

“I think we will run out of rubies first, my king. If it please you, we could add in summerstone and sapphire. It would be festive,” said Marish with a sly lilt.

“I should be interested to know what festivity looms when we are but halfway to equinox,” said Gan.

“Victory, of course. As soon as the rain breaks, we will throw a feast in your honor in the ruins of Karakut,” said Sidoo, her clever fingers weaving another plait. “If you want me to add the other stones, this would be a good layer to begin on.”

“No sapphires. This batch is too pale for a campaign wardrobe,” he said, stirring the gems in the open casket beside the bath. He hadn’t summoned the box with the most summerstone beads either - but these were a little more yellow than average. Maybe woven in the lower layers they wouldn’t clash too badly.

“We’ll be happy to dress your hair afresh for the feast if it please you, Sun’s Ray. Red and gold is after all most fetching against your armor,” purred Marish, slipping a bright bead onto the little plait in her fingers.

“Hn,” said Gan, rocking the glass of brandy in his fingers and summoning a casket of rubies and red garnet. “Keep it simple this time then. Sooner finished, sooner you can be at your leisure.”

“Serving the Great Ganondorf for one hour is more rewarding than a hundred nights of leisure,” murmured Marish, leaning so close her breath tickled his ear.

“Hn,” he said, tilting just enough to accept her offered adoration without disturbing Sidoo’s work.

Her lips and tongue on his skin felt pleasant as always, but in the time Sidoo wove, adorned, and sealed two more braids, Marish’s devotions still aroused only a vague renewal of interest. Which was annoying. Any other season, and her kisses would have had him hauling himself out of the bath already - or her into it. The thought was amusing, but not quite enough to overcome his disinterest in exerting himself to do it.

Maybe after they finished his braids, it would be easier. Maintaining his appearance without a valet was proving far more tedious than he anticipated. The ploy of the barbaric warlord had some utility, but at a decidedly physical cost he owned dwindling readiness to pay.

Granted, handling certain petitions more attentively could help restore a measure of his vigor. Perhaps it would even improve his mood.

He clicked his tongue and beckoned Marish to circle around where he could see her. Slight dilation of her eyes, deeper color at cheek and throat, her hand trailing along the edge of the bath, fingertips brushing the surface of the water. He tipped his chin just enough to emphasize how he consumed her body with his gaze. “You wish to withdraw one petition in exchange for another?”

“Not at all, Sun’s Ray. I serve at your pleasure,” she returned, licking her lips and leaving the unsaid to spice the silence.

Any service he wished, in exchange for personally driving out and overshadowing unfortunate consequences they both acquired from a failed raid two years ago - and concurrently retraining her body to accommodate all she craved. Ideally, training both of them, as the one wished the other the opportunity to experience the delight of her own unusual hobbies.

“Prove your loyalty, avadha,” he said, raising his left hand.

Sidoo giggled, sectioning out another plait, not at all offended to have lost her partner’s assistance. Rather, she adjusted her position to better watch Marish kiss and caress his fingers while she continued braiding up his long hair.

Sidoo’s experiences and general interests tipped that particular facet towards the theoretical, which was always an entertaining challenge. Creating a rich enough scenario through staging and illusion and suggestion and perhaps a fraction of the thing they thought they needed, and yet still satisfy the same deep mental and physical cravings in a petitioner? That sort of triumph carried its own reward.

If only it didn’t take so much time .

Ganondorf withdrew his sodden hand from Marish’s reach, rubbing his fingertips together. Her eyes flicked from his face, to his fingers, to the depths of the water and back again. Ganondorf sipped his brandy, amused by her frustrated desire.

“You think that pathetic little performance sufficient to earn a reward , do you?” Gan rumbled with practiced indifference.

Sidoo snorted. Whatever else came of their petition or didn’t, she definitely enjoyed seeing Marish flustered.

“Present,” he rumbled.

Marish licked her lips, unwinding the bright shawl she’d knotted around her nakedness after their earlier shared indulgence. She turned about, bracing herself against the side of the bath as she bowed for him.

Gan clicked his tongue at her in mild rebuke. “Spread.”

Marish drew a sharp breath through her teeth, rearranging her stance and sinking her fingers into her own ass and thighs. Milk and honey still oozed between her dark folds, and a light pressure on her hooded clit betrayed her swift pulse.

Gan withdrew his touch with a scornful grunt. “You think such thin artifice will earn you favors in my army? You think I have not already seen a thousand warriors pretend to lust they do not have?”

“Oh but I do crave the glory of the Sun’s Thorn,” Marish pleaded. “Have mercy O my King, it is only that I am-”

“Attempting to seduce your way into a promotion and a larger share of the spoils? Oh yes, I know your kind,” he said, sucking his finger clean to Sidoo’s amusement. “I admire your ruthless ambition, persuading your innocent lover to sacrifice her body to my needs as well. Perhaps I will make her my bodyslave, for her clever little fingers, and chain you to my bed to ruin whenever I don’t have a willing cunt in hand.”

“But - I am willing, Sun’s Ray,” Marish whined, dropping her open posture to turn and beg him directly, her hands cupped around his left. “You have only to ask, to allow me to touch a little more of your glory and I-”

Ganondorf raised a brow. “Sidoo. Did I give her permission to move?”

“You did not, O my King,” she answered at once, with patently false gravitas.

Marish sucked her ample lips between her teeth, eyes wide as the pieces clicked together in her mind, and resumed her position. “Forgive me, Sun’s Ray.”

“Beg,” he suggested, savoring another draught of the rare brandy.

“I am a miserable slut for your pleasure, it is only my flesh is slower to flower for you than it once was,” said Marish. “Please don’t punish me for a moment’s weakness, O my King.”

Ganondorf teased a fingertip a hair’s breadth from her flesh, right down her center, enjoying her anticipation. “Louder.”

“Oh please, don’t punish me,” she cried, her voice trembling in a most satisfying fashion when he swirled his finger around her taut gates. “Have mercy, O Great Ganondorf.”

“Hn,” he said, pulling away to smack his damp palm across her muscled ass. The sharp crack of it provoked a smothered giggle out of Sidoo, and a squeak from Marish. “ Louder .”

“Don’t - I beg you my King, don’t hurt me! Don’t touch me that way, please, what are you doing? Have mercy - oh don’t hit me - I will obey - I obey,” she gasped wildly, even as her cunt throbbed and glistened with fresh honey. She rocked back into his sensual touch, and moaned at his little rebukes.

Sidoo snickered at her overwrought ‘objections’ and Ganondorf shushed her, finger to his lips. Marish whined, craning her neck to see what drew his attention from her, only to whimper as he slowly licked a drop of her honey from his hand.

Since she decided to watch, he offered his hand to Sidoo. She obliged his wordless request with absolutely theatrical enthusiasm. Not to be outdone, Marish offered to prove her loyalty upon - and ‘spare’ her lover - that same hand.

Ganondorf teased her mercilessly, encouraging new variants to her pleas with every caress. Sidoo snickered and had to pause in her work more than once to smother her giggles. Especially when he probed his finger into her lover’s throbbing core and she nearly lost her balance right there.

“Hn,” he said, wriggling deeper, until his knuckles rested against her sodden folds. “If your knees turn to jelly for so little , you might as well give up and catch yourself a Hylian boyfriend next raid.”

“No,” she moaned. “I don’t want a Hylian boy. I don’t want a skinny little-”

“They’re not all little,” giggled Sidoo.

“Don’t worry,” he rumbled. “Hylians come in many sizes. Tall, short, square as a box, round as a sugar melon-”

“Strong as an ox,” added Sidoo with a sly tone. “Broad shouldered, with a trim waist. Shapely arms to labor for you and a heart-shaped ass to discipline when he dares to sass you.”

“You’re so mean,” whined Marish. “I want him it’s just - been too long and - and the stupid thing happened - and-”

“Is that what provokes her to make trouble, Sidoo? Is it too long since she’s ridden an easy stud? Shall we send a raid to catch a few Hylian soldiers for her to pick from?” Gan drawled with affected boredom, concentrating on the feeling of her pliant flesh in his hand.

“Don’t want a soldier ,” whined Marish.

“Of course not - too common,” he agreed. “A veteran lancer such as you deserves a proper knight in the traces. More likely to have a fetching little scar or three, and whatever he lacks in manners will surely be outweighed by his vigorous loyalty.”

“Nooo,” cried Marish. “Who cares about longeared idiots? Your hands do feel so good and warm and I want, I want, I swear it - oh don’t stop .”

“Stop?” Ganondorf teased, putting a light but constant pressure against that subtle squishy texture within her.

“No no no no,” she babbled.

“Louder,” he reminded her, beckoning her desire to increase still more.

She howled increasingly desperate denials as he worked her depths open - but her throbbing gates remained nervously tight. He tested her with a second finger twined tightly against the first, but there was still no way he could reach deeply enough to caress her pleasure without her tearing.

Don’t ravage me with that monstrous thorn - I will do anything you ask ,” howled Marish, fully embracing the spirit of the game, and likely oblivious to the conflicted state of her own flesh.

“Then you had better not cum,” he teased, sipping at his neglected brandy. “I do so enjoy thrusting my spear deep into a cunt that’s still convulsing in orgasm.”

“I won’t, I can’t, oh don’t make me,” begged Marish.

“Can you imagine it? My heavy cock plowing you wide open? What you’ve seen before is nothing ,” he rumbled at her. “I enjoy conquering the spirited ones. Breaking the rebellious ones. Filling the selfish ones so full their bellies bulge with the harvest of their folly.”

“No - I obey, I obey, don’t punish me like that,” cried Marish. Her voice wavered and cracked - she was close.

Sidoo knew it too, for she hurried to bind off the last braid without remembering to slip the beads on first. “Tsk. All your boasting about getting big men between your thighs and you’re going to cum with the King’s rod still soft?”

“No,” howled Marish. But - she did twist to see the truth, worry written all in her looks.

The broken reflections surely veiled him a little - but Sidoo wasn’t completely wrong. Concentrating on a delicate task often had side effects, and he’d forgotten for a moment that it would spoil his efforts if she chanced to notice.

Gan handed the half-finished brandy to Sidoo and withdrew his touch from Marish, smacking her ass to distract her. “Tether her to the bed like the spoiled mare she is.”

“Shall I fetch the stud for you, Sun’s Ray? To breed the - ah - mare?”

Gan paused in the act of lifting himself from the water, momentarily baffled. “Stud.”

“In Hyrule they breed mares in cages you know, hobbled and blindfolded,” said Sidoo with an arch tone. “They cannot reject the stallion their master chooses for them. And only the best and most obedient get bred to the king stallion.”

“No-! I will be good, so good,” babbled Marish as Sidoo teased her and tugged on her hair. “Oh glorious Sun’s Ray - don’t listen to that hussy.”

“Ah,” said Ganondorf, dragging his shattered thoughts back into order. Embellishing their petition with that particular fantasy hadn’t occurred to him. It likely should have, given their histories, but that was a delicate kind of work, more properly done at home. Well rested, better fed, with all his tools at hand. And above all, in private . Where his performance need only consider them , and not the perception of half his most veteran warriors and one insane foreign mage. “It is distantly possible that I may be persuaded.”

Marish howled in transparently false despair.

Sidoo snickered and clicked at her lover as one would encourage a lazy horse, stealing a tie from the borrowed caftan to make a mock bridle.

Ganondorf toweled off, watching them embroider this new twist to the game. His cock helpfully decided to stiffen as he stood witness to their absurd folly. He knew better than to imagine even the most expensive oils and hours of careful provocation would make it possible to properly mount either one, but his flesh chose instead to remind him of a wild summer interlude with Nialet and Varesh. How divine it felt to plunge inside while they drank from one another.

Then again, he could perhaps borrow their lips. Thrust through the folds of one and into the hungry mouth of the other. Grinding against a happy woman was always a treat. He wouldn’t be able to feel them cum that way - by design arranging them thus would steal the very thing each needed to achieve climax. Unless they could reach their clever fingers inside their partner without also getting in his way. Assuming of course the ‘mare’ and the ‘meadow’ didn’t drive each other over the cliff before he managed to cross the room to join them.

Not that he minded, really. It was a silly game, withal.

He collected the strop from his dressing table, snapping it against itself dramatically. He almost laughed, soothing his inconveniently complete arousal with his off hand as he teased and taunted them with threats and promises he had no intention of seeing through. Marish-the-mare squealed into Sidoo’s soft mound, shrieking with shock and delight when he tapped her with the stiff leather. If they felt the promise of release in this wildly fantastic round of make-pretend, why not help them along? Flesh rarely listened to reason, and only slightly more often to discipline.

What did it profit anyone to correct them? Catch a Hylian stud? In the Vostre mountains, in this weather? Breed his warriors to a foreigner in the middle of a desperate campaign?


How absurd.

Chapter Text

Ganondorf stood in his shadowed workroom, toying with his empty cup. He hadn’t really expected the windneedles to correct their poor behavior, but checking them had given him an excuse to finish a matter of personal business and drink a cup of sweet majir in peace.

Outside, the snow turned back into sleet.

Wine couldn’t take the place of sleep, and he would never hear the end of it if anyone realized he left two lovely and enthusiastic petitioners to entertain themselves while he idled about. And at this hour, if he lifted the veil from the skybolt glass even for five minutes, odds were his mothers would be actively looking for him. He had less than no interest in negotiating with them until he had Vosterkun subdued.

Better if he fetched a fresh bottle of wine and returned to bed. Marish and Sidoo would happily massage his tension away, and by the time he settled in they should be sufficiently recovered from their romp to serve. He closed his eyes, reviewing the inventory in his memory, trying to decide on a vintage before he opened up the chests of tribute. Lowland sweet red? Spiced mountain black? Bright, twice-fermented forest rosé?

He didn’t bother with the light in his disaster of an office. He knew precisely where he’d put the bottles of apple wine. Hyrule raised apples enough, cooked and preserved them - but small cider and ice wine were wildly different beasts. A curiosity in some degenerate Marquis’ cellar? Or his captive’s unwitting mistake?

Gan didn’t feel like trying to pry Sidoo out of his caftan, so he slipped into a thin shadow-labyrinth sirwal only recently mended. He considered removing the snake jewels, and decided against it for now. Let the man be reminded of his position.

Only a few lamps still burned on the public side of his tent. Dashil no longer needed them, and Link had no ability to refresh them. But given his surly expression and his untouched dinner, he wouldn’t have bothered in any case.

Ganondorf stood over the man, waiting for him to react. His long pale ears and his slender neck both flushed with red, but he knelt in rigid silence, fists resting on his knees, staring fixedly into the middle distance. Dashil twitched her helm a thumbswidth right, then left. So he’d said nothing, done nothing since she dragged him in here and parked him in front of the tray. Which, incidentally, Leilani had arranged at the foot of the makeshift throne.

“You are either impossibly brave, or immeasurably stupid,” said Gan.

Link worked his narrow jaw, and said nothing.

“Either way, if you think to inconvenience me by dying of thirst before the Baron sends his champion to test your strength, be assured I can force you. I understand it’s an unpleasant experience,” said Gan, cutting the seal on the wine.

Link snorted in disdain, shifting his blue eyes off to the right.

Gan crouched in front of the man, stealing his silver water cup and drinking it off. Pure spring water, better even than fresh snowmelt. And there was a whole ewer of it beside the tray, separate from the washing bowl. How could anyone stare at that for four hours and not even touch it? The man had to be drained from combat.

Link watched him pour the golden apple wine, but pressed his lips tightly and refused the cup.

“It’s not poisoned. That would be stupid ,” said Gan, taking a sip to prove it.

“I accept no gifts from the hand of a tyrant,” said Link, baring surprisingly sharp eyeteeth.

“It’s not a gift,” said Gan, setting cup and bottle on the silver tray. “I promised you wine if you fought well today, did I not?”

Link winced. “That - wasn’t why I did all of that.”

“It’s hard for you not to fight back, isn’t it? You’re quite the swordsman, little hero. Why do you hide such fierce talent under - all of that?” Gan gestured to encompass all of him.

“Explaining discipline and sacrifice and the greater good to you is as useful as describing art to a pig,” snapped Link, expression cold. “The only thing you care about is power and getting more of it. How could you ever understand why I choose not to use mine?”

“Bold - and completely wide of the mark,” drawled Gan, choosing a savory cheese pastry from Link’s dinner. He wafted it under the man’s delicate nose, and delivered it to his own tongue, making his captive watch him savor the stolen morsel. And watch he did, cheeks bright and pulse swift. “Tell me about the little toys you brought into my camp.”

“No,” said Link.

Ganondorf shrugged, rising and moving behind the makeshift throne so he could lean over its back and stretch out his aching legs. “If I chose to exert my full power as you seem to think I am compelled to do, you’d be a damp splotch on the gates of Avosgart. Your wit might prove sharper if you would actually, I don’t know, eat .”

“Bring me food that isn’t stolen,” snapped Link, raising those cold blue eyes in challenge. Broad strokes of smudged kohl suited him much better than the sharp winged style.

“Says the man who stole my jewelry,” drawled Gan, scraping a bit of dried honey from under a nail.

Link started to deny it, but trailed off in the middle of a word, his pale face now burning pink.

“Have some wine. It might clear the cobwebs from your empty head,” said Gan, watching the man intently. “It’s an interesting vintage. Not so much rare as exotic. It’s not the sort of thing that suits Hylian taste. And yet - I’m quite certain it’s from one of the ransom chests you so generously brought me.”

Link narrowed his blue eyes, searching his opponent’s face for a tell.

Gan gave him nothing.

Link’s chains betrayed his fidgets, and his eyes drifted to the massed enameled snake jewels with a thousand faceted green garnets studding their sinuous backs and wedged between their fangs.

“Go on. Humor me. Taste it,” said Gan, gesturing so as to make the hidden bells in the wristlets chime.

Link opened and closed his delicate mouth, but no words came forth. His broad shoulders sagged, and he reached for the silver cup with a trembling hand.

“This - isn’t wine,” he said after a moment.

“Fascinating,” said Gan with a disingenuous air, deeply entertained by his captive’s discomfort. “Tell me more.”

“It’s made from apples?” Link hazarded. “Or - mostly apples. I guess. Hyrule does grow apples...”

“But that bottle wasn’t distilled in Hyrule,” said Gan. “Was it.”

“Imported?” Link countered, but the truth was in his looks. He hadn’t intended to mix his personal stash of bootleg apple moonshine in with the tribute.

“What are you after, little hero?” Gan leaned over the throne-chair, holding Link’s nervous gaze with his own.

“I am here because of that which you desire most,” murmured Link.

“Whatever it is you think you know, even if by some wild chance you were right, there is no future in which you can stop me,” said Gan, firmly ignoring the ice crawling up his spine.

“I have stopped you in a hundred thousand yesterdays, and I will stop you again if you force my hand,” said Link, resolute and dispassionate.

“With or without your little toys?” Gan checked the wards around his mind to soothe his rising panic - not one crack, not one flaw. He’d never spoken of it aloud. He dared not even think of it directly, lest his mothers or the demonstone overlisten. Yet Link knew . Somehow. Impossibly. As he knew the patterns of the stal. As he knew every smallest objective of this campaign. “Perhaps in your delirious hunger you forget your life belongs to me now. You chose to walk that pretty little ass into my chains.”

“And you into mine,” said Link. “Without my cooperation you will never achieve your greatest desire.”

“What is it you’re afraid of-?” Gan murmured, half to himself. The madman could be bluffing. He could still be an agent of the Hylian King. His entire performance could be nothing more than a calculated distraction - but even the most dedicated spy still had a breaking point.

“I’m not afraid of you or anything,” said Link, snarling like a cornered beast.

“Perhaps - the noble, selfless little hero needs a lesson in the true power of desire,” said Gan, pressing the first point of leverage at hand that wouldn’t necessarily require him to cast anything. “After all, I have yet to properly reward your victory today. And I believe Marish and Sidoo have been teasing you, haven’t they?”

“What are you-” began Link.

“Would you like to get them back, little hero? Teach them a lesson?” Gan lowered his voice to the barest rumble, intrigued by how the man leaned forward to listen more closely.

“You can’t do that. Treating people like things,” said Link, all color draining from his face.

“Oh can’t I?” Gan stood to his full height, signaling Dashil. She snapped to attention with a delightful clamor of steel plate, and he harbored no doubt she could anticipate his design. “They are my loyal subjects and they will do what I tell them.”

“It’s wrong ,” said Link, his voice harsh with barely suppressed rage.

“Is it? Do really expect me to believe that’s why you’re sweating?” Gan taunted, drawing his fingertip down from his brow in mirror of the trickle ornamenting his captive’s youthful face. “Did you hear them scream and moan for me?”

“Who could not? You made sure the whole damn camp could hear you abuse them,” snapped Link, his chains jingling as the veins in his slender neck throbbed.

“Hn,” said Gan, arching a brow and dropping his eyes significantly. “And did that - ah - increase your troubles?”

Link shifted, tightening his shapely thighs. “No.”

“You’re lying ,” Gan smiled down at him, folding his hands behind his back. “How delightful.”

“Shut up,” snapped Link, the reflexive twitch of his fists betraying his violent thoughts.

“Mmmno,” said Gan, drawing out the sound as he debated the expense of power to summon a blade to provoke the man further. “I am enjoying this far too much to let you go back to glaring at your dinner now. Come - feast your eyes on my work, since you refuse to feast any other way.”

Link froze. “What.”

“Come, on your feet - or had you rather I drag you? I can you know," said Gan.

“You’ll have to,” snapped Link.

“You are feisty tonight,” said Gan, signaling Dashil to pull the man to his feet. “Are you excited little hero? Come - I want you to see. You handed me a great victory today, and loyal service should be rewarded. Don’t you agree?”

“I didn’t do it for you. I will never agree with the wickedness of an evil tyrant-” began Link, interrupted by Dashil’s pointed shove in the direction of the private half of the tent. He stumbled, wheezing, and Dashil prodded his ass with her blade to keep him moving. She stayed exactly half a step behind him, silent, obedient, and inexorable.

Gan stood beside the bedroom curtain as Dashil shoved the madman through. He nearly gave himself away with laughter as Link stared, dumbfounded.

“Look at them,” purred Gan, using a thin tendril of power to click the man’s mouth shut. “Which one do you like better?”

“You - shouldn’t treat people like this,” stammered Link, barely above a whisper. His blue eyes darted about the room, drinking in the discarded clothing, the silk tethers, the open chest of golden chains, and the banquet of naked brown flesh.

“You must be very frustrated,” Gan murmured into his elegant pointed ear. Simple gold hoops didn’t suit him. With his fair complexion he should be wearing many hoops and chains of bright enamelwork, or jewel-encrusted silver. Garnet. Sapphire. Ruby. Diamond. Bold, pure colors.

“Gan-” rasped Link, shaking his head in denial, working his lips as though he would continue in just another moment, just as soon as his tongue would obey him.

“No doubt you regret leaving the wine now. Fear not, little hero. There is more where that came from - but first! You look so uncomfortable. Let me adjust your chains,” he said, vanishing the enchanted irons to the ether as the drowsy women stirred awake again. “You are my guest here, after all, and it is my desire that you enjoy a little of the Geldo hospitality you so richly deserve.”

Link shook his head no.

“Go on. Take one,” urged Ganondorf.

“No,” whispered Link.

“No?” Ganondorf circled to the man’s left, leaning in so his voice stirred a few stray locks of that golden hair. “You aren’t fooling anyone in this room with your noble act. I know how you Hylians rut. We all know what you’re really thinking. What you’ve fantasized about doing to them from the moment I assigned them your keep.”

Link shook his head in mute denial, backing away from the tableaux. He forgot Dashil stood behind him - she waited three heartbeats after he collided with her chest, then shoved him to the ground. He stayed there on hands and knees, wide eyes staring a hole in the rug beneath him.

“Drop your mask, little hero. You don’t need it here,” said Gan. “I can see your thoughts. Your dreams. Your desires. Every blasphemous fantasy you’ve never confessed. Every violent urge you’ve strangled and locked away in a prison of rules.”

“No,” breathed Link.

“Go on, pick one. They are both ripe and accommodating,” urged Ganondorf, winking at his curious petitioners as he gestured to Dashil. “None of your foolish Hylian modesty here.”

Dashil bowed, hauled the man upright by his collar, and released him. The women giggled - though Dashil’s mirth remained locked in the spell of perfect silence, a secret between the two of them alone. Marish and Sidoo whispered to one another in turn, their eyes brightening with shared mischief.

“But-” stammered Link.

Ganondorf snapped his fingers, diverted to see the women scramble off the sleeping platform at once. “Present.”

“Goddess bright,” breathed Link.

“Delicious aren’t they?” Gan crossed the room, teasing his fingers across the curve of their generous rumps and up their spines as he chose his ground between them. He caressed their faces, silently assuring them of his perfect command. He turned, completely unsurprised to find Link red-faced and covering his arousal with both hands, as if denying the truth would ever change it.

“Go on, take one,” said Ganondorf with a lopsided grin, cupping the soft curve of bare ass in each hand. “They won’t bite. Much. Will you, avadha?”

“As you command it, O Great Ganondorf,” they answered in unison, only slightly marred by the threat of giggles.

“Please,” whispered Link.

“Hn. Spread,” said Ganondorf, perching on the edge of the wide platform as Marish and Sidoo sucked their painted lips between their teeth and moved to obey. He slipped his hands between their strong thighs and traced the glistening rivulets of milk and honey up to their source. “Can’t decide? Fear not, little hero - I am feeling generous tonight. You may take both if you have the stamina for it.”

Link shook his head faintly, his question so soft and quavery it wasn’t even intelligible beyond the why .

“How long has it been, little hero? Which was the last village you took a little tribute of your own from? Not Karazhin certainly,” mused Ganondorf, sliding his hands over two soft, sodden cunts in full bloom. He paused now and again, punctuating his questions with a parting of his fingers, making the women gasp.

Link shook his head, pulling his lower lip between his teeth.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, caressing the hot, pulsing swell of clitoral mound on each side. “You’re right. That wouldn’t be heroic enough. Celibate since you made arrangements to ransom Avosgart - or since you left … the capital? Your wife? No, of course not. Heroes don’t marry until they retire . Betrothed, then? A country sweetheart? Is there perhaps - an artist of pleasure somewhere who will be mourning the disappearance of a loyal patron?”

Link shook his head in desperate denial. Merely refusing the offer - or had he truly no lover at all?

“Come now, if you are too distracted to eat, and yet too coarse to appreciate my most beautiful warriors, perhaps you had prefer I give you to my army for a night or seven,” said Ganondorf, dipping his middle fingers just barely past their gates. “After all, there isn’t much else they can do as long as this miserable weather persists, is there ?”

“Please stop,” whispered Link, bowed in discomfort, his knuckles white, his whole face red as a ripe voltfruit.

“Which will it be, little hero?” Ganondorf arched a brow. “Your choice. Feasting? Fucking? Or fucked ?”

Link stammered something incoherent, and promptly fainted.

Chapter Text

The drone of the scouts’ reports washed over him, and the report of the quartermaster after that, and the drillmaster after that. The darknut should be reaching Karakut manor shortly after sundown - and Ganondorf examined his temptation to use the shadowroads to spy on them directly.

Interesting as that would be, it was not how they greeted their master which carried significance for his objective. Rather, he needed first warning of how that master responded. Everything he knew of the baron’s rise to power suggested a shrewd and patient tactician, but Hylian gossip assigned him a quick temper and overblown pride in his martial successes. His true nature surely lay somewhere between. The speed and force of the baron’s answer - which could not possibly be evident before the following dawn - should give him a more accurate target for his next volley.

If the man sent an entire division of heavy infantry, they would find their own mountains turn against them, and Karakut itself would surely fall within another fortnight, rain or no.

A handful of light rangehounds though - they might evade the gauntlet entirely if they felt confident enough in the target’s position. Ganondorf would need to move two-thirds of his forces six leagues in rough terrain less than twelve hours, without alerting enemy scouts. If they didn’t have any mages, he could burden his warriors with half the supply and carry them through twilight, but they would have to either leave the horses or use them as bait with the strike team.

Aside from the manor, the nearest acceptably defensible position for any amount of cavalry lay across the Karakut pass itself. An impossible distance without using the demonstone - and a gate that substantial could potentially reveal his activities to Hyrule.

If the division riding east with Roc Avish hadn’t already.

If the madman hadn’t slain them entire.

All that mattered was forward.

Ganondorf ordered half the tents struck and all non-essential gear prepared along with it as seventy-stone bundles in the dining tent. The warriors could sleep close tonight, whether dawn saw them to the gauntlet or to the new camp. The drillmaster would ensure every warrior knew her position for whichever order he needed to give - and Roc Bellosa would personally paint the luminous seals for every one of them.

Starting with him.

Ganondorf shrugged out of the black and rust roc’s wing caftan and folded himself into lotus. He poured a full measure of King’s Tears into the vast topaz chalice, singing the first hymn of thunder. His elite saluted, and carried the rhythm forward with shield and spear. His officers lifted their voices in contrasting bright rondo, invoking the warmth and brilliance of home.

Ganondorf closed his eyes and drank.

Leilani took the chalice from him reverently, for the remainder of the Tears must be blended with voltfruit and bloodlime mash and returned to the chalice for the People. He turned his attention inward, following the complicated burn of the distilled liquor as it wove into his flesh. The subtle fragrance of the luminous dye followed him into the darkness, its silken cold carving sacred signs into the cage of his flesh.

He listened to the People as Bellosa worked. With every long breath, their minds grew louder, scouring him with their anxieties and grief and rage and hunger. The rain. The enemy. The long stalk. The cold. The labor. The greed.

Here and there he felt distinct spirits, stronger ones, and he paused, examining each one as a jeweler considers her diamonds. Most seemed well-fit to their rank and pattern in life. All questioned the decisions of their King. They could not understand why he divided the army, why he led them to Karakut instead of taking prizes to send home. They worried about displeasing him. Many feared his temper - that a wrong word, a small lapse in deference, an error on the field might offend him and he would consume them for it, like Dashil. Roc Bellosa’s strict rule over her division, and the excesses of the previous Exalted Sun held more sway over his veteran warriors than he’d hoped.

Too many did not understand the difference in scale, and he did not have time to correct it. If the Baron sent rangehounds, he needed his own warriors to obey swiftly and without question or he could never carry so many over the shadowroads. Time enough for softness after the victory feast.

Gan passed over the clear, shining spirits of his Elite, the deadly brilliance of Dashil, the jagged crystalline beauty of Marish and Sidoo, the keen faceted prism of Leilani. He knew their souls already.

And at the center of everything, from the middle of his warded workroom, the incandescent fury of the death mask. Wherever the madman stole it from, Ganondorf could no longer doubt its nature as a relic of some powerful spirit. Likely an ancient one, canny and capricious. A spirit dangerous to mortals whether ally or enemy.

But perhaps - open to an arrangement. The demonstone wanted it destroyed, so perhaps the spirit in the mask harbored the same enmity. The madman likely offered the spirit some kind of access to and influence on the mortal realm, but if he could dangle an rival in front of it, the mask might give him the leverage he needed to-

Ganondorf slammed another layer of wards around that thought before it could escape. Only one spirit reacted to the reverberation of that spell - at the edge of his awareness, the faint greenish shape of a man, and a flickering golden silhouette of an enormous wolf.

Turning his attention upon it directly made both vanish. Because of course it did.

Ganondorf held a corner of his attention on the unwavering spiritlight of the mask as he oversaw final preparations. He didn’t really expect it to change, sealed away from all other influence as it was, but if the spirit retained any independent awareness, he wanted it to know he owned those seals and the only way free lay through him.

Maybe the wolf inside the man could be likewise lured by the promise of freedom - but what prey would speak to his hunger? Negative desire rendered brittle every point of leverage so far. He needed to know, to control his access to whatever fed his enigmatic passions, his obsessions, his absolutely fathomless arrogance. Physical chains, howsoever warded, clearly weren’t enough for the wolf.

The man glared at him over the rim of his teacup, naked but for banded breechclout and jewelry and paint. Marish and Sidoo had outdone themselves this time. Elaborate red ochre whorls bloomed over his pale skin, and underneath he saw the telltale shimmer of luminous dye in radiating primal patterns.

“I hope you’re pleased with yourself,” grumbled Link, adjusting his seat on the edge of the sleeping platform. His chains clicked and groaned, for despite the extra length he’d chosen to fold himself in descending lotus as far as possible from the anchor ring.

“Always,” said Ganondorf, turning to Leilani. “Where are your sisters?”

She rolled her eyes at him, but Link wasn’t looking at her or how she plunked empty pottery back onto the inlaid tray. “Whatever do you mean, O my King?”

“They were told to feed and prepare my guest for his next engagement, and I return to find this instead,” said Gan, gesturing at the entire tableaux.

“Avadha Leilani always brings the food,” said Link, frowning in confusion, his phrasing unusually haphazard. “They said - this is your orders.”

Gan paused, raising a brow at his captive. “What precisely ? This heavy-handed kohl? This pebble and tin wire trash as jewelry? You even stink of perfume-”

“They said you wanted it,” cut in Link, setting his half-finished tea with the crumbs of his dinner.

Gan glanced at Leilani.

“They must have come after I took away the breakfast dishes,” she said, bowing excessively low. “They were gone before I returned with dinner, Sun’s Ray.”

“Um,” said Link, blushing.

Gan gestured for him to rise. “Where are your clothes?”

Mine ? That poor girl from the feast destroyed-” began Link.

“Seeing ghosts, little hero?” Gan raked his eyes down the man’s body, amused to note his fidgets and deepening blush. “How thorough were they? Exactly?”

Link snapped his mouth shut and glared.

Gan leaned in, lowering his voice. “Did they touch you?”

“No,” said Link.

“So,” said Gan, grinning down into those blue eyes. “You think you can protect them from me.”

“What,” said Link, flat.

“Show me how they touched you,” rumbled Gan. The madman didn’t look away. He didn’t even flicker, though he did forget the sleeping platform behind him and try to back away.

“I - what?”

Ganondorf stepped back, pointing to Leilani. He summoned a little pot of dye from his vanity table, levitating it with the smallest possible thread of power. “Show me. Touch her as they touched you.”

“No.”

“Hn,” said Gan. “Did I not issue explicit and public orders that no one is to touch my property?”

“Even the lowest servant heard you say it, O Great Ganondorf,” said Leilani, and it was a minor miracle that she did not roll her eyes.

Link grabbed the hovering dye pot out of the air so he could step forward again, sidling a little when the chain pulled him up short. “You mustn’t punish them. Or her! She’s been nothing but kindness.”

Gan folded his hands behind his back, stalking around Leilani as he spoke. He could feel her exasperation with the game, but she obeyed. For certain values thereof.

“You are faced with another choice , little hero. Tell me in precise detail how they betrayed my orders and left their duty unfinished. Or,” said Gan, pivoting to loom over Leilani’s shoulder. “Show me how they touched you when they were supposed to be preparing you for battle. Either way, their fate is already sealed, but I do prefer the wretched know why they’ve drawn my attention.”

“This is evil,” said Link in a tone almost like regret, shaking his head.

“Is it?” Gan nudged Leilani forward. “An army with poor discipline is soon defeated. Allowing insubordinate, greedy warriors to run about unchecked is to invite death to harvest as she pleases. I have no interest whatever in sacrificing a dozen or more warriors to the enemy to satisfy your squeamish, irrational Hylian morality. As necessity demanded an example made of the Nameless ‘poor girl’ who would have stolen from me, the greater good demands another sacrifice in direct proportion to their transgression.”

“How dare you pretend torture and execution and - Din’s Fire, you couldn’t even let her rest in death,” cried Link, his raw distress radiating like heat from firerock. He’d bought every last crumb of the illusion. Clearly. “How is any of it justice for stripping a prisoner of war?”

“Hn. Are you really so naive that you do not realize what she intended to do to you? Or is this merely further evidence of your fetish for noble sacrifice? ” Ganondorf cupped Leilani’s shoulders, guiding her well within the madman’s reach. He slid his hands down her strong arms with deliberate, provocative slowness. That arrested the man’s attention exactly as he expected - and it no longer mattered that she cast her gaze up at the tent canopy. Link would surely read her exasperation as resigned dread.

“Don’t drag her into this,” said Link.

Ganondorf closed his fists around Leilani’s elbows, just hard enough to dimple the flesh around. “Right here. Right now. Show me how they touched you.”

“They - said it was your orders to - to paint a certain pattern,” said Link, breaking his gaze away at last. “But they didn’t touch me. I swear it.”

“No? What tribute will you offer me to ignore the witness of my own eyes? And if I conjure away this little rag,” said Gan, directing a significant glance at the patterned breachclout. “Do you swear on your honor I will see no evidence of their work beneath?”

Link worked his narrow jaw, his silence answer enough. Gan waited for his next move. Two whole minutes rolled by, then Link grabbed a silver spoon from the dinner tray. He grimaced as he dipped it in the dyepot, and his artless expression begged forgiveness from Leilani as he reached out with it to draw a heart on her skin, just above the low neckline of her binding vest.

“Pfft. Is that all?” Ganondorf scoffed, releasing her with a calculated nudge so she would ‘accidentally’ stumble against the the man as if she’d been straining away from his grasp. “And here you implied they’d done something interesting .”

“Um,” said Link, fumbling with dyepot and spoon as Leilani played up her role.

“Ready or no, it is time. Bring him around the east side of my tent,” said Gan, turning heel for his office. He slipped his arming coat back on, letting the front panel lay half open so he could leave most of the ties loose. He debated the matter of jewels, deciding in the end for the entire box of topaz, even to the fussy hair ornaments.

His assembled warriors seemed a little awed by the extravagance of a hundred firerock braziers to warm the public side of the tent, they snapped to attention the moment he stalked through the beaded curtains. All but his Elite stood in tight ranks around the little arena, a fierce crescent facing his makeshift throne. Yet they were not unified in spirit. Not yet.

“I do not recall giving the order for tea,” he murmured aside to Leilani as he took his seat.

“Good, because I didn’t brew any. Shadows gather about your eyes. You're going to have to rest sooner or later,” she returned, thrusting the elegant cup towards him. “O my King.”

"Later,” he said, taking the elegant cup with little intention of drinking it. The madman watched with closed expression from his place in the center of a flower of blunt, dye-soaked weapons in the center of the oblong arena.

“Sooner,” she said. “I put a little help in your wine."

Ganondorf raised a brow and peered into the cup. “No you didn't."

"I thought really hard about it," she grumped, taking her place behind and to the left of his throne.

"Remind me to never task you with an assassination,” murmured Ganondorf, unsurprised to find the majir almost painfully sweet with King’s Honey.

He snapped his fingers once, and the warriors dropped into thorn formation, each crouched lower than the one behind, their spears bristling toward center. A single Word of power vanished the madman's chains, and a second plunged the tent into perfect enchanted darkness. The luminous paint revealed itself at once. Every spear, every blade, every spirit gem glowed in the shadows without casting any ambient light around it.

Ganondorf watched his captive turn in place, drinking in the effect - and no doubt measuring the limits of his field for this contest. He wondered if the man realized his function tonight, that he would serve the People as an omen of their victory, as a focus to drive away their doubts, to unify them in bloodlust and battlemind.

He wondered if Link understood the significance of the patterns Marish and Sidoo had woven on his skin, invoking the spirits of the dead to vent their fury through his arm.

He wondered what thoughts filled Link’s mind when he saw the glowing heart he’d painted on Leilani. How long he stared at the seal of the ancestors and the glowing spikes of the war crown before he realized he was staring at his captor.

Ganondorf raised the first endarkened stalknight, and sent it to its doom.

Chapter Text

Midnight tipped toward morning, and the sleet softened into snow. Ganondorf sat on the edge of his desk, wrapped in shadows, listening to the night and the camp and the murmurs from the bedroom side of the cloth partition.

Dashil shared her silenced laughter with him, describing for him the inventive torments Marish and Sidoo devised for his mad captive. They were supposed to be dressing his battle wounds - and they did - but they managed to do so with every possible implication of how much more they could be doing.

“Please avadha, that’s enough. Only hand me that blanket and go,” begged Link. “I do not want you to be punished.”

“Then you should petition the Great Ganondorf to spare me,” teased Marish. “Or don’t you care for my fate as much as you do for hers?”

“I care very much,” said Link with an exasperated sigh. “I will plead for both of you, but you know he will not heed my warnings, so how could you think he would listen to me in this?”

“Can’t you beg just a little harder? For us?” Sidoo pouted.

“Avadha, you underestimate his rage. I know he’s bespelled you in order to get at me, but you must fight it. I don’t want you hurt,” said Link. “Whatever the magic says inside your head now , he will know if you go against his command. He is a tyrant. He will absolutely use this as an excuse to hurt you and pretend it’s justice.”

“Oh you sweet innocent little dumpling,” giggled Marish. Gan did not need Dashil to tell him she pinched Link’s fair cheeks as she said it. “Don’t you understand? The only reason I haven’t milked you yet is because my King forbid it.”

“Um,” said Link.

“Fortunately, his decree does not apply to you,” said Sidoo with a sly tone. “ You aren’t forbidden to touch us , and don’t you think you’ve earned a little reward after three glorious battles?”

“Uhm - that’s not exactly - I wasn’t fighting for a reward,” said Link.

“You know, that lump of steel and magic over there is only to keep you from running away since he left you unchained while you recover. It doesn’t think , and it can’t say anything. If you’re quick I bet you could even steal a quiet little fuck before he returns,” said Marish. “He’ll never even know.”

“Avadha - you mustn’t think this way,” pleaded Link. “I know it’s not your fault but - oh please put your clothes back on.”

Ganondorf nearly choked on his wine as he fought to smother his mirth.

“Oh does it bother you to look at a naked woman, little dumpling?” Sidoo teased.

“Such a promising bother too, isn’t it?” Marish added. “You have no idea how badly I want to pull that little rag off of you and lick the salt from your skin.”

“Oh no,” moaned Link, covering his face with his hands. He would have covered more than that if he’d been able to hear Dashil’s obscene commentary.

“Why do you hide, little dumpling? Why do you turn your back? Don’t you think we’re pretty?” Sidoo teased.

“Oh why was I such a fool? Playing with fire, and you thought you were the only one who would get burned? Stupid ,” Link muttered to himself, hammering his fist against his brow. “You knew what he was from the beginning of everything, and you still deluded yourself.”

Ganondorf paused with his cup halfway to his lips. So the man did want something from him.

Marish chided the man, looping a discarded shawl around him to drag him towards the sleeping platform. “Silly boy - do you really think we’d have to be enchanted to want a turn with you?”

“Do you not see half this camp drooling for the moment he gets bored of keeping you to himself? You’ve quite the figure, for a Hylian,” said Sidoo.

“He’s only keeping me because of his lust for power,” said Link with a sigh. “He’ll kill me without a second thought as soon as he has what he wants.”

“Tsk. You’ve been reading too many novels,” said Marish. “A fine gentleman like you should occupy himself with more - vigorous hobbies.”

Sidoo giggled. “Maybe he does need a tumble to sort out his pretty golden head. Here, if you lay at the edge of the bed like so , and if the shawl is looped thus - see? She can pull you close without ever touching you. Technically.”

Dashil informed him with somewhat dry superfluity that his petitioners were obeying only the letter of his law and flouting its spirit. Again.

“Please, I have no desire to be an instrument of the pain he wishes on you, nor an insult to your honor when his spell wears off,” said Link.

“Tsk,” said Sidoo. “Someone stuff those long ears full of wool for you or did your mother never - unf - teach you to listen?”

“Goddess bright,” mumbled Link as the women pulled him between Marish’s thighs, until she could grind her greedy sex against his heavy linen breechclout.

Ganondorf strode through the belled and beaded curtain without warning, amused to see raw panic on Link’s reddened face. He strained against the improvised bindings, hampered further by the bandages and bruises he’d collected in the fight.

Dashil offered a smug, and somewhat noisy salute, moving from the threshold of his workroom to that of his office.

Marish and Sidoo only batted their painted eyes in mock innocence, greeting him in unison as if they weren’t trying to pleasure themselves with his captive on the sly.

“I see you anticipated me,” rumbled Ganondorf, tipping his glass to Link. “War meetings do tend to drone twice as long as they ought.”

“This isn’t what you think it is,” stammered Link.

“He teased us Sun’s Ray. Honest. Said you granted him a boon for his victory,” lied Marish, rocking her hips just enough to make the poor man draw a swift breath.

“I was trying to - ah - clean him up for you, O my King. But the paint is so sticky , I thought if he would just sweat a little it might loosen,” said Sidoo, gesturing with a fistful of clean rag she doubtless held other plans for.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, loosening the ties of his arming coat. “Carry on then. Pretend I’m not even here.”

“Um,” said Link, his wide blue eyes following Gan’s every  movement around the little room. “But you - are going to watch -?”

“Why not?” said Gan with a shrug.

The women squealed in delight, wriggling their hips against his captive.

Ganondorf climbed into bed and leaned back among his cushions, savoring a fresh cup of sweet majir. A few hours, and with dawn the shadowroads would open easily. He didn’t dare even meditate, lest he fall asleep and throw the whole campaign into ruin. This little diversion on the other hand would serve perfectly, allowing him to rest his body and sip a little more power from their fears and desires. Every mote would count, if he needed to carry almost three full sections to the top of the gauntlet tomorrow evening.

“Let them go,” said Link.

Gan gestured to encompass the entirety of the room, fixing Link with his gaze. “Where do you see chains?”

The man paled, more likely from Marish’s enthusiastic undulations than anything else. Sidoo on the other hand seemed to be completely engrossed in the attempt to unknot the bright belt securing his breechclout without accidentally touching the man’s painted skin direct.

“Did you tell them no?” Gan affected an innocent curiosity, which convinced exactly no one.

“I did not tell them to do this,” said Link.

“That wasn’t what I asked you, little hero,” said Ganondorf, sipping at his majir. “You could make this stop at any time. Declare yourself hopeless and I will save you.”

“I’m not the one in need of saving,” said Link, his blue eyes full of longing.

Ganondorf felt a strange and sudden tightness in his chest. “I should be interested to learn if you say the same after the oldest dance.”

“Are you really so naive that you think a little fuck will turn me aside?” Link dropped his chin, for all the world like a wild beast readying himself to charge.

“Avadha,” drawled Gan. “You have my leave to give our honored guest exactly what he’s asked for.”

Chapter Text

One rider left Karakut manor.

Ganondorf watched the heavy fighter and their odd little mountain pony descend the clean slope. Ten minutes after their passing, the snow still showed only one set of tracks. He opened the shadowroads to follow, and still saw only a single spirit riding toward the gauntlet.

Well. One sentient spirit, and one beast.

So he slipped a mile downslope and summoned the bones of every beast who’d fallen in these mountain forests in the last century to converge on the roads. He found only a handful of meandering poe, more confused than wrathful. Their curiosity was relatively easy to herd toward the lone rider, so he tasked them with causing delays and mischief rather than attempting to persuade them to fight.

Those small victories still weren’t enough to blunt the insult of the storm refusing once again to answer his Will. The wind lifted her pace the smallest possible measure, and the snowfall thickened only enough to catch in his hair and annoy him.

He raced back down the shadowroads, conjuring a hundred little electric constructs behind him. At the top of the gauntlet he stepped through the gray dawn to weave the keystone spell. Striking down any single spark would transfer its energy to the others instead of dissipating back to the ether. Eventually, the hundred would coalesce into one, and empower a mirror construct of the wizzrobe bound to the stone he laid another furlong downslope. The powerful ghost danced over the snow in an ever-expanding spiral, looping back when it encountered the warding energy of the luminous dye on his warriors hidden in the trees.

Satisfied this much of the pattern followed his Will, he ripped through the shadows to Bellosa’s position. A few brief words, and she signalled the remaining two sections to mount up and join their sisters on the gauntlet. The support staff and his Elite would remain with the camp, holding a ward relay against mischance.

Ganondorf dropped into his workroom just as the sun began to kiss the mountains awake. He leaned against the central tent pole, gauging his own strength. He knew the magic would have come easier in full regalia - but he’d wanted to give Leilani as much time as possible to finish the repairs to his oldest armor. She still wouldn’t be able to charge the runes she re-stitched, and in her ignorance she might have spoiled some beyond repair.

Not her fault. If the madman hadn’t shattered his trishul-

All that mattered was forward.

If only he hadn’t thrown all his proper gear into the abyss with Roc Avish and-

All that mattered was forward.

He’d put Nialet in his best and strongest set and the madman had somehow gotten past Nabooru and killed her anyway to get at him-

All that mattered was forward.

Ganondorf wrestled with the desire to vent his fury, bottling the energy in the red jasper of his serpent crown for later. Wild, but potent. Usually the demonstone bestirred itself to demand a share of his rage and whisper of possibilities. He decided it must be sulking about being denied the madman’s artifacts. Another day, perhaps, if he found leisure for it, he could draw out and distill the resonance for more refined Works.

Or… he could offer a sip of that rawness to the spirit in the death mask. But not right now. Now he needed to keep the mountain shrouded in as much shadow as possible. And if the storm wouldn’t answer him? He would make its master bow instead.

Ganondorf snatched up the black silk bundle from beside the shrouded skybolt glass and strode from his workroom. Dashil saluted with a clatter of enchanted plate. Marish seemed to be asleep, curled around his captive. Sidoo had the madman pinned under her again, riding him at a leisurely pace, both of them apparently oblivious to anything else in the room.

“Enough,” barked Gan, signalling Dashil to enforce his command if they made it necessary. “You, off. And you - up. I have a task for you, little hero.”

Sidoo tossed her head, uttering a little wordless noise of complaint. “Just another little moment Sun’s Ray - please? I’ll bring him to you in-”

Now ,” said Gan, gesturing towards the public side of the tent. “Wake your partner and report to your positions at once.

“Oh, but he’s already reported for each of us three times, O My King,” purred Sidoo even as she rolled her hips deeply enough to make Link moan. But she did nudge Marish awake.

“I said out you greedy sluts,” bellowed Gan.

Marish squeaked in sleepy surprise, vainly urging her partner to dismount before his enchanted servant could wind her metal fist in Sidoo’s long hair. Gan watched Dashil separate the lovers with carefully concealed amusement. These petitioners were a right mess, still blowing kisses at him in the middle of their ungentle dismissal.

Link’s belated objections earned him a light thump on the chest from Dashil. He’d have a fresh bruise blooming across that fair skin tomorrow for certain.

“Enough lazing about for today little hero,” said Gan, trying to appraise his condition after the last challenging bout. The task would have been a thousand times easier if the man wasn’t trying to wind himself in the bedsheets. “You will have another opportunity to demonstrate your vigor shortly - but first you will indulge me.”

Link paled.

“Did I say you could hide yourself in my blankets? As if every inch of your skin didn’t already belong to me,” Gan scoffed as he stalked through the partition to his office, silently commanding Dashil to return and drag the man from the sleeping platform as well.

Gan lit the little green lanterns and started the cabinet clock ticking. He arranged the black silk bundle atop a map of central Hyrule in the middle of his desk, and cautiously unwrapped the precious artifacts within. He wasn’t sure which one - if either - empowered the man to seduce the weather, but he would only do so at the pleasure of Ganondorf Dragmire henceforth.

By the time Link hobbled naked into his office, Gan had tea steeping on the sideboard and his twin swords laid out to either side of the painted mask and the bright bluestone flute. He consumed the man with his eyes, stripping him of his cold indifference, his rigid pride, his insufferable evasions, putting him back together inside out. Ganondorf lingered over every cut, every bruise, every pearl and smear of milk and honey and sweat still glistening on his painted skin, forcing the man to notice as well. Gan watched the veins in under his fair skin throb as the man waged a silent battle against the sudden uncomfortable consciousness of his own mortal flesh.

“Perhaps you didn’t have the energy to notice, but your little fuck sang in the dawn,” rumbled Ganondorf, nodding toward the man’s swollen and slightly bruised cock. “Most Hylians barely last an hour, if we’re gentle. I admire your spirit, little hero. Or perhaps - not entirely little?”

Link blushed fearsomely pink, balling his hands into fists at his side and approaching the desk as if he would challenge his captor right there. “Someone has to see to matters you’re too lazy to attend.”

“If that’s how you feel about it, then you’ll make sure to put on a proper show this morning, starting with a black thunderstorm,” said Gan, folding his arms and leaning casually against the side of the desk. “Give me the Barony by the end of the month and I’ll even consider putting you to pasture.”

“I don’t follow,” said Link, frowning in confusion. His blue eyes dropped to the artifacts on the desk before him, the map beneath, and circled back up to seek understanding from his captor.

“You clearly won’t mind your new duties,” said Gan with a wry grin. “You’ll live every Hylian’s wet dream in the desert, stretching out the rest of your days in my service. All the sex you could ever want, and maybe we will have you educated when the women aren’t climbing your charming little staff. Dancing. Embroidery. Painting. Music. I may even choose to double or triple the petitions I accept, with your strong back under my yoke.”

Link stared at him, swallowing hard. “Um.”

“Hn,” said Gan, gesturing to the man’s makeshift, primitive adornments of wire and luminous stone fragments. “Perhaps we will also have you trained in jewel setting one day, if you show good temper in harness. Since you seem to have an interest in the art.”

“That wasn’t why I-” stammered Link.

“Call the storm for me,” interrupted Gan. “I know you can.”

“No,” said Link, widening his stance.

“Rebellion is unwise, little hero. My people know many ways to discipline an ill-mannered stud,” said Gan. He rationed out a few threads of power to summon a fierce-looking steel bit from the red chest in the bedroom, holding it in the light so Link could see.

Not that his expression revealed any understanding of what the device was . Yet.

“It begins with a shorter lead. A smaller paddock. A higher fence,” said Gan, turning the steel in his fingers. “If this is not enough to encourage a stallion he had better obey, we do not waste his blood, nor do we allow him to injure his handlers or our mares in his fits of temper. No, we put him in bridle when we want his service, strung with a bit forged much like this one, designed especially to keep him from closing his teeth on anything.”

Link’s brows rose as comprehension dawned at last.

“A thunderstorm. Heavy, dark, violent - not a blizzard, by preference - but you’re the one who will be needing to fight in it,” said Gan with a shrug, laying the steel bit on the desk.

“No,” said Link.

“The stud who continues to fight his orders finds himself with no play in lead or rein. He walks when we permit him to walk, he eats when we permit him to eat. He mounts the breeding frame when we desire that he pour out his spirit for a ready mare,” said Gan, summoning the enchanted leg irons from the ether. “We also hobble him, so he cannot run.”

“Your threats mean nothing to me,” said Link, raising his intense blue eyes.

“Hn,” said Gan, drawing from the ether a peeled and split birchwood goad fashioned after one of the common tools Hylians used on vicious or lazy horses.

“I surrendered my life to your tyranny, not the whole of Vosterkun. I won’t do it,” snapped Link.

Gan summoned the manacles and a triple length of chain from the ether, looping the slack through an empty iron lantern-ring forged onto a roof pole. “Amusing, that you object to one little tool of control and yet readily submit to another.”

Link casually adjusted the angle of the manacles to relieve the pressure on his wrists. “One miserable life weighs nothing against a hundred million innocents. I am here as ransom for my country. I was bound to guard Hyrule long before I knelt to your violent avarice.”

“Interesting,” Gan conceded. “But ultimately irrelevant. You will call the blackest storm to shroud this mountain, and you will do it before the hour chimes.”

“I will not,” snapped Link.

Gan stood, ratcheting the chain a few hands up and banishing the extra rings. “When we breed an obstinate stallion, we leave him in a wide hobble at the mounting frame. We restrict his sight. We bind his hooves in leather and quilted wool. We secure his lead to the frame, so that when he scents the mare and rears up, he has no choice but to position himself for the convenience of everyone else.”

Link tightened his fists, tucking his slender hips against the edge of the olivewood desk as if modesty could mean anything now.

Gan circled the desk, letting Link sweat under the pressure of his regard. He waited, choosing his moment. He watched the man fight to control his body, waiting for the struggle to blur his awareness of his captor’s position.

Link gasped in surprise at the touch of the goad, instinctively pulling away.

Gan shortened the chain further. “The storm, little hero.”

Why bother? What makes you think I would put any faith in your empty bribes? We both know you’re only going to fabricate another excuse for more tyranny afterwards,” scoffed Link in between strikes, as if roses didn’t bloom under his fair skin, as if Gan couldn’t see how his cock stiffened anew.

“It is no concern of the stud why he is led from his stable,” said Gan, whipping the man’s shapely ass hard enough to make him cringe away. His half-bowed position over the desk presented a convenient opportunity to divide and reposition the chains in rough mimicry of the proverbial stallion. “Did you know that especially headstrong studs are not even allowed to put their own dicks in?”

Link cast him a sidelong glare that revealed far more of the shape of his anticipation than the man likely realized. “I’m not afraid of you.”

Gan traced the goad over his fair skin as he circled around to the man’s other side, looping around the thigh and up under his root. The slender birchwood bowed under the effort of lifting the man’s erection even a few degrees, but the touch was enough to make Link shiver.

“Hn. It is exactly as you fear, little hero,” said Gan, looming over him and dropping his voice to the barest rumble. He drew out the words, trailing the goad over his fair skin to illustrate each suggestion. “We bind a cloth soaked in the mare’s scent over his nose. We drive him onto the breeding frame and tie him there. We grasp his shaft and work him to the proper state if he tries to resist his duty. We guide him into position - and we make absolutely certain he dumps his seed only where we say he should.”

“You shouldn’t - treat people like things,” murmured Link, though his pulse raced and his flesh cried out in yearning for more.

“Everyone knows Gerudo horses are the best in the world,” rumbled Gan into his elegant long ear. He caressed the goad down the man’s throbbing shaft. “Do you crave that life, little hero? Is that why you’ve been pursuing my army? To become a pampered stud for my people? To be fed and fussed over and bred a dozen times a day? To drown your shame, your idiotic pride, your overblown sense of duty in a paradise of milk and honey?”

Link tried to steady his breath, his voice bitter. “What could the demon king know of paradise?”

“I could send you to pasture now and be done with your moods,” said Gan, drawing back.

Link said nothing, only closing his fathomless blue eyes.

“Or,” said Gan, striking his bare ass, laying a new welt crosswise of the others.

Link groaned. “Why? What do you want with it? First you want the storm to stop, now you want it dark as night? Just - pick one , you capricious twit.”

“No civilized man eats the same meal every day,” Gan laughed. “Besides, what purpose is there to life without a little challenge for spice?”

Link rolled his eyes.

“The baron sends his champion to test your strength, little hero. His knights have already seen you defeat a few minor constructs in a bit of snow - more of the same will not impress anyone,” said Gan, toying with the goad. “You wouldn’t want to disappoint our guest before they’ve even had a chance to surrender to me, would you?”

Link frowned, searching his face for an explanation.

Gan tapped the goad against his palm.

“You tried to burn Kharazhin for an insult,” said Link at last. “And now, you will burn all of Vosterkun if I do not slaughter this innocent stranger for your amusement?”

“An insult,” drawled Gan, rigidly neutral. “The storm is centered over the heart of that pathetic village, isn’t it? You called a torrent to douse a kitchen fire and left it there .”

Link’s wide blue eyes filled with horror.

“Do you know how much rain the land can drink before it becomes a mudslide? Because I do,” said Gan lightly, rolling the smooth birchwood in his fingers.

“I had to stop you,” whispered Link. “You - were going to do very bad things that day. I had to.”

“And this is your notion of greater good . You truly are a monster,” drawled Gan with a click of mild disappointment.

“I-” began Link, his eyes filling with tears. He drew a shivering breath, sagging against the draw of the chains and babbling. “Ok. Okay. I will - let me go. I will do it. Let me go. I will fix it. I will - I. Okay. Please. Gan. Don’t do this again.”

Ganondorf raised a brow at his familiarity, but the man had broken too thoroughly to notice. He waited, listening to the orderly march of the clock. He counted down from three hundred.

“Need the ocarina,” rasped Link.

Gan laid the birchwood goad at the edge of the desk, releasing the manacles from the chains and letting the enchanted metal fall however it would. Link drew the bluestone flute from its nest of black silk, fighting to school his breath enough to use it.

Ganondorf stood over him as he played, listening for the pattern in the strange music. Trying to watch his pale fingers and the glowing bluestone only made the sudden cluster headache worse. Something about the sound seemed to repeat, but then he would lose the thread in the blur of rise and fall.

Lightning cracked across the sky so close it shorted out the lamps and plunged them into pitch dark. He couldn’t hear the thunder over the maddening song and the furious rain hammering against his tent. The melody shifted, layering a new complexity into the world. Lightning flickered and tumbled somewhere above them in the formless black.

The rain became sleet, became hail, became a tempest ripping through the tent, through flesh and bone, became a vast and terrible silence. All he could see in the enchanted darkness was the faint glow of the ocarina in Link’s elegant hands.

Link ended the song with a sniffle, laying the ocarina on the desk.

“You remind me of myself somehow,” rumbled Gan, calling a spark into the single oil lantern he kept. The warmth of its soft light suited the moment, gilding the shadows. Link’s pale skin reflected the golden flame as if he’d become one of the ancient, enigmatic kouroi in the forgotten shrines, sculpted to guard the boundaries of light and shadow, life and death, sand and storm. “Except, of course, you are an ignorant fool.”

Link nodded, then shook his head, scrubbing the back of his left hand across his face.

Gan picked up the ocarina with a corner of the black silk, folding both relics safely into the simple warding cloth. His headache persisted, but outside the tent, all was dark, and still, and silent. Even when lightning flickered in the distance. He watched Link from the corner of his eye.

“You may seek release,” rumbled Gan, vanishing the bundle back to his workroom. “If you wish.”

Link snorted. “I don’t need your perverse benevolence.”

“Certainly not - if you want to fight in this condition,” said Gan with a shrug, restoring his swords to their polished sheaths.

Link groaned, sinking to his knees beside the desk and pressing his forehead against the heavy crossbraced legs. “You’d enjoy that.”

“I intend to enjoy your performance either way,” said Gan lightly, weaving the sword ribbons into a tidy swiftknot chain.

Link didn’t bother answering him, folding his hands over his lap, his chiseled strength curled tightly around his inscrutable madness.

Gan cleared away the maps and papers from his desk, latching and sealing every cabinet, chest, and drawer. Better to prepare for needing to move the camp than to lose these little things to careless jostling. He felt Link watching him work, and he caught the barest breath of stray words under the tidy beat of the clock.

Monster. Beast. Demon.

Gan pretended to ignore him, searching through his bookcase with enough unnecessary noise to almost mask the furtive whisper of sliding skin, the odd catch of breath. He knew exactly where the treatise on the architecture and history of Karakut stood, but Link didn’t. He grunted over ‘finding’ it at last, cracking open the study modern casebinding before he even turned. He smothered the threat of laughter in a distracted cough when he caught a hint of hasty movement at the edge of his vision. Gan ignored this also, perching on the edge of the desk to reaquaint himself with the rambling manor.

Link made an admirable attempt to disguise his painfully slow strokes. He likely thought the heavy shadows under the desk would hide his shame. He probably believed his strained, trembling breaths didn’t spice the air with his lust, or reveal his increasingly desperate need.

Gan turned another page, making certain the paper would crackle.

Link held his breath.

Gan allowed a tiny hum of interest, raising a brow at the exacting but spiritless draftsmanship in his hands.

Link held his breath.

Gan turned another page.

Link silenced his gasp for air as much as any exhausted man could be expected to do. His blue eyes sought any evidence of that weakness betraying him, and found none. He pulled savagely at his tender skin, forgetting how much labor he’d asked of it, and how recently. He smothered his moan of pleasure and pain far too late.

“Good boy,” murmured Ganondorf to his book.

Link bit down on a squeak of surprise, stopping his breath and desperately covering his empurpled cock. His body refused his command - or perhaps the restraint itself struck his lust more deeply.

Gan waited, staring sightlessly at some page or other as the man trembled in orgasm.

Link drew a thin breath.

Gan stood, clapping the book shut. He returned it to the shelf, guiding the drop-front back into place and snicking the lock.

Link mumbled something to himself, sagging against the desk.

Gan collected his swords, settling them comfortably in harness.

Link kept his hands tightly folded over his mess, working to steady his breath.

“Don’t drip on my rugs,” said Gan, folding his own hands behind his back so he wouldn’t be tempted to touch that golden hair as he stalked past.

Link turned those fathomless blue eyes up to him, and licked the back of his hand.

Gan paused mid-stride, amused by the man’s profound and paradoxical blush. He bowed a little to ease his back as he looked down at his strange captive.

Link turned his hand over slowly, following a wandering drip of cum with his tongue.

“Hn,” said Gan.

Link held his gaze, licking cum from his dripping hand, curling his surprisingly long tongue between his fingers to catch the creamy rivulets of his own making.

“Hn,” said Gan. “I see you know something of desert ways after all. Tell me, did you find the avadha to your taste also?”

“What do you care? They’re not even people to you,” said Link.

Gan laughed, short and sharp, stalking towards the door. “You’re so fucking Hylian .”

Dashil saluted as he passed.

Leilani met him beside the throne, offering a cup of steaming goldenleaf tea. She didn’t say a word, and her expression remained neutral. Yet he could see clear as crystal she held Opinions about the things she’d overheard in his tent last night. And she kept her dark eyes firmly fixed on some nowhere point just past his ear.

“Your loyalty does you credit avadha,” said Gan, sipping at the exotic brew. “Also your timing. And the tea. But mostly your loyalty.”

“As you say, Sun’s Ray,” she said, preceding him to the armory corner.

“Damned inconvenient,” he muttered, adjusting himself when her back was turned. “You have the extra spaulder ready? And the little gauntlets?”

“As my King commanded,” she said smoothly, gesturing to the tidy pile of gear she’d assembled for Link. “In theory, neither should interfere with his restraints.”

“Good. Make this quick,” he said, gesturing to his own leathers. “After, I want you to fetch the flame rubies. You can’t mistake them - matched set. Trilliant and drop facets woven onto gold and iron forged minish-chain. Maybe don’t bother with the anklets though.”

Leilani frowned, eyes flicking to his topaz pectoral as she helped him into the stiff body piece.

“Not for me,” said Gan, looping his hair up as Leilani cinched the buckles tight. “Him. Maybe don’t bother giving him a shirt either.”

“Of course, Sun’s Ray. I will make sure they-” began Leilani.

“Marish and Sidoo are already on the field,” said Gan, pulling his gloves on as she worked. “My servant will drag his stubborn ass to the edge of the gauntlet when you are done, so you need not worry over that.”

“Your servants can have no worries where the Sun’s Ray guides them,” said Leilani, tugging the thigh guard into place.

Gan snorted, grabbing a vambrace from the table. “Just don’t forget to bring the bundle of tribute weapons when you join me. Your horse should be tethered at the door by the time you’re done.”

She paused, laces coiled in her strong hands. “Not - with the other support-”

“You’ve been promoted,” said Gan with a smirk. “More or less.”

“Oh,” she said, completely nonplussed.

Chapter Text

The storm wall whirled roughly four rods beyond the last tents. Beyond the blur of wind lay only more darkness, made all the darker by flickers of lightning far above. Zharu did not approve of the idea that they should approach it.

Neither did Roc Bellosa, in an unusual display of concern for his welfare. She conceded that the iron fetlock rings did anchor all the other mounts well enough, and the iron anklets did the same for their riders, but she did not trust these capricious mountain storms.

Ganondorf decided not to waste energy correcting her.

Almost half an hour of waiting and walking Zharu and nibbling at a cold and tasteless breakfast finally brought Leilani. She did not carry the bundle of tribute weapons as he asked, but this did not surprise him. She’d sent another of the support unit ahead with them, and Bellosa had already begun laying out crescents of swords and polearms up the center of the gauntlet twenty minutes ago.

No, the surprise was that she brought Link riding pillion behind her.

Ganondorf raised a brow, waiting until she pulled her stolid mare to a halt beside him. “Has some misfortune broken both his legs in the last hour?”

They both favored him with their best withering glare.

Ganondorf laughed.

Link cupped Leilani’s shoulder briefly, and slid off the horse. He sank halfway to his knees in the snow, but this time he wore fine sheepskin boots under his irons to protect his tender skin, courtesy of the Kharazhin tribute, as none of the People could wear them anyway. Gan wondered if that little detail had prompted the delay - wriggling the thick material under the irons surely hadn’t been easy for her. Next time he would stay to oversee that part of the preparations for combat.

Probably. Maybe. As long as he had no pressing matter of business elsewhere. Except perhaps it would be better to give Dashil a key for such situations. That would be more convenient, certainly. Better if he didn’t let the madman think he’d earned too much attention.

“What are you staring at? Give the damn order,” snapped Link, folding his arms over his bare, painted chest. His soft blue salwar ballooned in the sharp winds this close to the storm wall, and the bright, glittery hip-wrap echoed the warm tones of the tooled brass-and-leather spaulders and vambraces. Someone had stained the leather straps and padding a dark green - or maybe it was more salvage from Kharazhin. Frost gathered on his chains already - but the flame rubies at brow and ear put roses in the man’s cheeks.

“Clever, making a belt of the extra pieces,” he said to Leilani.

She bowed with rigid correctness. “Your servants took the liberty of twisting the jewels with silk cordage, in the hope of preventing further damage . O My King.”

Ganondorf laughed, amused to note the particular silk she’d chosen, and the suggestive pattern of her knots. He grinned down at his mad captive, wrists crossed over the high pommel of his war saddle. 

Link glared up at him, fair hair tousled by the wind in spite of the gods’ teeth hair band he still wore. Yet now he saw a brittleness to the ice in those blue eyes that belied the bite of his fatalistic indifference. “Don’t bother pretending to anyone your little gifts bear the slightest relation to benevolence.”

Ganondorf shrugged, nodding to the gauntlet ahead. “Win.”

Link snorted, turning about to assess the field. He drew a deep breath, bent to gather the excess chain strung between his ankles, and charged through the storm.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf.

“Indeed,” snapped Leilani.

Ganondorf laughed, nudging Zharu to follow the madman. She reared and screamed at the very edge, crashing through as if she would trample the wind itself under her feathered hooves. A few yards later she snorted in disdain when the far side of the stormwall proved to be nothing more than a dark and miserable thunderstorm. Leilani followed after a moment wrapped in a blue-and-white mantle, trudging through soggy snow beside her blinded mare, holding her head down and murmuring nonsense in her ear until she settled a good chain beyond the wall. She removed the shawl from the mare’s eyes and pulled herself back into the saddle, ignoring both the fight ahead and her King beside her.

The former seemed rather more remarkable, as Link had not chosen any single blade from the first luminous crescent. Rather, he’d slipped all of them through the makeshift silk harness and two stal had already been smashed. He charged and slashed and whirled with glorious fury, using the momentum of each ‘kill’ to carry him to his next opponent. The dye on his skin and his blades wove elegant patterns in the rain, and the dim glow of his warriors hidden in the trees told him the People cheered for him.

“He is a savage on the field,” drawled Ganondorf, nudging Zharu to resume her stately walk uphill.

“It is no great wonder,” said Leilani with a shrug, falling in a half-length behind him and to his left.

“Hn. Perhaps you are too young to have had much opportunity to see the usual run of Hylian knights,” said Ganondorf.

“Indeed, I have the great misfortune to be merely eighteen,” snapped Leilani. “O my King.”

Ganondorf laughed, watching Link loop a knot of stalblin on themselves and bowl them over with a glaive. So she was older than she looked. So what. “I should be interested to learn why our guest has ceased to be wonderful to you this morning.”

Leilani made a rude noise. “My opinion of him has not changed at all. If he seems to become savage, it can only be in reflection of his master, and therefore entirely unremarkable.”

Ganondorf raised a brow.

“O my King,” she added.

“Do elaborate,” he said, gesturing for the columns to fold inward after they passed.

Leilani glowered at the fight ahead, clearly seeing none of it. Which was a great pity, as Link was currently skewering one stalizal with a broadsword and blocking the flamespear of the other with his own chain coiled over his right arm. A blin sheltering behind a fallen log above him loosed a freezestone arrow at him, which he caught in the chain also.

The next two strikes of the flamespear sparked magnificently, and Link managed - somehow! - to divide the other stalizal from its head meanwhile. He leapt after the chattering skull, cracking the empowering glyph with his red-hot chain. He unthreaded his arm, letting the leg hobble fall, and - impossibly! - flung himself over the jabbing flamespear as a freezestone arrow thocked into the snow where his foot had been moments before. The impact of his weight jerking against the now-frozen chain when it sought to arrest his arc proved to be too much for one of the rings, and it shattered. Fragmented steel and fizzling magic stung the remaining stalizal, hampering its own enchantment. It did not stand long enough to make another attempt at the man.

Gan whistled appreciatively.

Leilani snorted, averting her eyes to the left.

“I await your tale,” he reminded her, his eyes fixed on the efficient destruction of a towering direbear skeleton.

“If you must know, I consider it uncivilized treatment, even if he is a prisoner,” she grumbled.

“Hn. With that being your concern, he cleaned himself up exactly as well as he pleased, and if that degree did not meet your approval you will have to discuss the matter with Link, assuming he survives this challenge. Which he better,” said Ganondorf lightly.

Leilani made a rude noise. “It is well to hear my King say we are become so prosperous we may afford to plow barren fields and scatter seed on stone.”

Ganondorf sat back in the saddle, and Zharu stopped.

Leilani did not.

“What?” Ganondorf asked her back.

Leilani tossed her head in the way that said her eyes rolled as well. She lifted her hands to mime a rude gesture. More than one, actually.

“Oh,” said Gan. He clicked and nudged Zharu to pick up her feet again, until he drew alongside again. “You have a filthy mind, avadha.”

“As you say, O my King,” said Leilani, bowing her head in deference.

Gan made a rude noise of his own. “Also, you’re wrong.”

“As you say, O my King.”

Ganondorf frowned at her. “You begin to try my patience, avadha.”

“I have done nothing but agree with you, O My King. It would be instructive for your servant to know what displeases you so,” she said.

He forgot his retort when a tree exploded. He’d looked away from the field for half a minute, and somehow in that time Link had repeated his fire-and-ice parry trick with a half-dead pine tree between himself and the pair of stalknight opposite him. Only this time he also shattered the forged pin holding his right manacle to his wrist.

Ganondorf clicked to Zharu again, closing their distance from the fight. Magic cost more with every rod between himself and his target. If the man sought to make his escape in this demonstration, he would find himself in a great deal of pain instead.

For the moment, Link seemed focussed on destroying his constructed opponents, but the farther he advanced uphill, the more and stronger magic the constructs would be using. Doing this much with a couple of freezestone and firerock implied a level of skill Gan had not calculated into his design of the gauntlet challenge. In hindsight, preferring his fighter not be completely exhausted by the time he met with the Baron’s champion was not perhaps the strongest tactical decision he ever made.

A flock of opportunistic keese darted through the rain above. A tiny cantrip electrified them, in turn transforming the rain itself into a weapon as they descended towards the combatants. Link then leveraged both against the chattering poe who’d come to tease him. A few slashes, and he charged past their shattered lanterns to fling the last keese corpse at a dancing wizzrobe.

An ice wizzrobe.

Which he hadn’t called.

Ganondorf closed his eyes and borrowed the spiritstones of his warriors to see the upper third of the slope. His electric constructs had in fact coalesced into one, and the wizzrobe he had summoned danced still. The Baron’s champion sat on their stubby little pony about eight rods beyond the highest circuit of the mirror construct, waiting. They held their lance at ready now, and they’d loosened the tie on their vast two-handed blade, content to wait for whatever the gauntlet brought them. Clever, then, to understand he would not have issued such a challenge merely to see his opponent fight ghosts and magical wisps.

His warriors also showed him a fire wizzrobe, dancing between ice and lightning.

Ganondorf ground his teeth, his good mood evaporating in an instant. His warriors may cheer to see the madman whirling his manacle about his head to stun the first wizzrobe, but they could not understand. Why would they? Koume and Kotake had buried at least three kings before he was ever born. Of course they would naturally think themselves justified to help his plans along without bothering to understand what they actually were. Anyways, no mother kneels in respect before her own son. Not that they had ever bowed to anyone but-

Ganondorf slammed another layer of wards around that thought, opening his eyes in time to see another tree explode. And another after that. His warriors’ cheers of victory turned to cries of shock and pain as shrapnel flew through the rain. Lightning stitched the earth to the sky in a blinding flash.

“Enough,” boomed Ganondorf.

Link ignored him, racing across the snow with a scimitar in his right hand and severed chain wrapped around his right arm. His broken manacle whistled through the air above his head. He stunned the fire wizzrobe as he had the ice, transferring the scimitar to his left. He leapt in to slash savagely at his victim thrice, dancing away to torment its counterpart before it could rise or strike back.

The lightning wizzrobe noticed.

Link dashed between the three, using the bolts of the third against both of the others, careless of the damage they were doing to the forest. Ganondorf signaled his warriors to fall back one rod, then another, yet the field kept widening and moving uphill. He could almost make out the silhouette of the Baron’s champion watching the fight from above when the storm itself chose to flash behind them.

Leilani turned wide eyes toward him, and her nervous mount sidled away from Zharu. Not that any horse of his would display such poor manners, but he could forgive lesser creatures doubting that when her eyes reflected the same fury as his own. The demongem stirred, whispering theoretically tempting possibilities from the red shards flickering at the edge of his vision.

The demongem was not generally a brilliant strategist, and this instance proved no exception whatsoever. Why would he slay his best fighter even if his tactics were inconveniently wasteful? Such vices could be harnessed. Trained. Redirected.

Another tree exploded, and the better half of the trunk stunned his wizzrobe.

The demongem laughed from its prison in the ether.

Link finished the ghostly mages and tossed another broken blade away. The warriors fell quiet for a long moment as the madman stood in the soggy snow, panting, his broken chain coiled on the ground beside him. The rain slowed, then stopped altogether, though the trees dripped and the dark sky above still roiled with thunder and lightning. He cast his eyes up the slope, staring down the lone rider.

They lifted their lance in salute.

Ganondorf turned Zharu broadside, raising his fist in answer.

Link cast aside most of his weapons, keeping only a pair of curved short swords and one glaive still crackling with lightning-heavy keese blood. His thin chest heaved. He pivoted, bowing his golden head. Another breath. He bolted up the slope as if he hadn’t just been fighting for the last hour, sprinting directly for the Baron’s champion.

The Baron’s champion waited, unmoved.

Link raised the glaive and leapt into the air with a savage cry - higher than any Hylian should be able to in such conditions - and the People raised their own voices in a grand war cry. Here, their victory. Here, their omen. Here, their vengeance. The madman they’d bought at the price of justice for Eidalu and Oranni and Tareil and all the other lost would strike the stranger down in one, and Vosterkun would belong to the People.

Ganondorf opened the shadowroads not two hands from the champion’s horned helm and dumped Link face first in the snow at Zharu’s feet.

A babble of confusion rippled through his little army.

Ganondorf poured a dram of Power into his voice, lifting Hylian words in the lilting dialect of the Snowpeak region. “The Great Ganondorf, King and Protector of the Gerudo People, known to dogs of Hyrule as the Bandit King, the Demon Prince, the Great Evil salutes the courage of the Champion of Karakut. Will you fight or will you flee the power of Din’s Chosen?”

Link groaned and pushed himself upright in the silence.

The lone rider raised their lance - and thumped it into the snow beside them as they raised their voice in the same mountain dialect. “Neither.”

The People murmured in confusion.

The rider lifted their helm free and dropped it on the butt of their spear. Another moment as the rider fussed one-handed with their gorget or something - the warriors looked to him - even Link looked to him, utterly lost. Whatever education the man had clearly didn’t prepare him for this.

The rider shook their head, freeing long black hair to flag in the wind as they shouted downhill: “The Baroness of Karakut invites the People of the Sands to a feast- !”

Chapter Text

Lightning cracked across the black mid-morning sky and struck a tree near the stranger, setting it on fire even though it must be sodden from days of rain. The mountain pony tossed its head, but otherwise seemed as indifferent to the weather as its rider.

“Leilani avadha Ramal. Your Hylian is good. Go speak with this messenger. Offer them standard terms,” said Ganondorf, grinning at the stranger. “But let it be known I am interested to know more of the Baroness’ little invitation.”

Leilani paled, turning to him stiffly. Her lips moved, but no words came forth.

“You heard your orders,” snapped Roc Bellosa, trotting up on his right. He did not turn towards her, but watched Leilani instead. “To carry the voice of the People at the command of your King is an honor , and you drag your feet?”

“An honor ? I have heard you say many things about messengers, but this is a new one. And how much care did these provincial Hylians have for honor when Eidalu served before me?” Leilani spat.

Roc Bellosa dropped her hand to the hilt of one crescent blade. “Do your duty, wretch. Or are you a traitor as well as a coward?”

Leilani bared her teeth in warning, but urged her mount into a loping climb.

“It is possible for obedience to be too perfect,” said Ganondorf, loud enough for Leilani to overhear. Which incidentally meant some number of the warriors to either side of them would also. “The scout who fears to deliver bad news lies .”

Roc Bellosa bowed in the saddle. “No true warrior would dare lie to the Great Ganondorf.”

Link snorted, and scrubbed the back of his left hand across his face. It only served to smear more blood and grime across his pale skin. He must have taken some minor wounds in the melee. Nothing he summoned should have bled.

“Not openly, no,” he drawled, turning his eyes on her at last. “Choose the four best ten-year to attend me. Send the remainder of the first section back to camp, the second in fifteen minutes, and take the rest at the half hour. Personally. My servant there will relay your next orders from me.”

Bellosa saluted, but her eyes betrayed her opinion of this order as beneath her. “It is an ill wind which leads the Sun’s Ray into the jaws of a Hylian wolf.”

“Hn,” he said, crossing his wrists over the pommel again, amused to notice subtle movements of Link’s long ears to follow the conversation above his head. “All the better to pull his teeth, avadha. When one is strong, one’s enemies will be defeated by the appearance of weakness.”

“With all due respect, O my King, Karakut was never among the objectives for this campaign,” she said. “What use have we for a pile of rocks on a mountain?”

“Plans change,” said Ganondorf. “We have carved victories and fortunes enough from the tail and body of this frigid wasteland, but who holds the head of the serpent makes a weapon of its fangs.”

Bellosa frowned. “We have strength enough and magic enough already to keep Hylian dogs from our borders for decades, my King.”

“Hn. The late, unlamented previous Exalted said that to me once,” drawled Ganondorf. “You were great friends in your youth, yes?”

Roc Bellosa shut her mouth and saluted.

“Your four best ,” he repeated. “See they all have their incendiary shot hidden. I trust the warriors you send me will not also require a remedial lesson in the principles of war.”

“As you command, Sun’s Ray,” she said, kicking her mount into action.

Ganondorf sat back in the saddle and decided to let it go. For now. “I take back what I said before about your abilities as a swordsman.”

Link folded his arms, ears canted subtly askew like an ill-tempered cat. “Sorry to disappoint.”

“Oh, don’t apologize,” said Ganondorf, nodding to Leilani as she glanced downslope at him. “I’ve been looking forward to seeing what you’re truly capable of.”

Link growled. “There is a proverb about wishes, desert king.”

Ganondorf laughed. “Indeed. Unfortunately for you, there has arisen a fresh inconvenience in the matter of your pretty leash.”

Link made a rude noise. “I gave my word. Nothing else is necessary.”

“Nonetheless, I am sure our host will not appreciate a rabid beast loose at her dinner table,” said Ganondorf, closing his eyes a moment to feel the positions of his warriors on the field. Two had separated from the rest to ride towards him, and a tidy line peeled away to lope back towards camp. Behind him, the storm wall remained, and indeed the rain picked up again halfway between. “Stand still.”

Zharu snorted, planting her hooves more firmly. She’d always evidenced a curious sensitivity to magic, but so far only one of her foals seemed to share the trait. He dismissed most of the remaining constructs beyond this little slice of mountain and gathered fragmented magic from the devastation Link had wrought below. This time when he reached toward the storm above, though he could not change its pattern - yet - he was able to draw down a rope of lightning with which to reshape the damaged irons.

Ganondorf opened his eyes, distantly aware the stranger from Karakut was watching him work. He gestured, unlocking the one mostly-undamaged manacle and leg cuffs. He reshaped the enchanted steel as carefully as circumstances allowed, welding the pieces together into one heavy ring, hinged in three places. Link lifted his chin, evidently anticipating his design - barely even flinching while Gan melted the end of the crude collar shut.

Compared to this, rearranging the chains to tether the man to his stirrup took no effort at all.

The fourth warrior fell into position behind him as Leilani pivoted, gesturing urgently to the stranger. They cocked their head in interest - while also clearly shooing her back to his side. Interesting.

“So,” grumbled Link. “You do realize I can’t keep up with that monster you call a horse if you ask her to run.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, nodding to the fourth warrior to join them. “Give me your spirit gems. All of you. Adjust your veils as necessary. Ride loose and sloppy. You are overconfident in your victories. You are complacent. You are young and pretty and foolish. Do I make myself clear?”

A low murmur - a crude joke - a rude reply. A muffled chatter of hidden chainmail, and the nearest warrior moved up to offer him her gem. “Feel naked without it,” she said with a wry grin as she laid the cloudy beryl in his gloved palm.

Gan nodded, rolling the gem over to note the luminescent glyph on the reverse. A farmer, carrying a lance for over ten years? “Maike avadha Davayu. Curious - how long have you served your Roc?”

“Fifteen years, six months, and four days, O my King,” said Maike, lifting her chin with pride and no small measure of old rage. A familiar look, reflected in the eyes of the other three as well.

Ganondorf nodded, rolling his shoulders back. Memory stirred - a late lowland mission during a supposed truce, sixteen years ago come autumn. The People gained a string of excellent horseflesh and badly needed grain at the cost of half the warriors and all of the traders who left to get it. “ That was an ill omened raid.”

Maike snorted, looking down at Link with undisguised hatred for a long moment. The madman seemed confused by her regard, turning to watch her fall back into position. Neither spoke.

Leilani loped up to him as he accepted the last of the warriors’ gems. She glanced at the others and removed her own lapis gem without needing the order. “A word, my King.”

“No snare was ever made which could not be turned against its maker,” said Ganondorf evenly. “Tell me exactly what her champion told you.”

“The Baroness thinks my Hylian is poor, and pretends not to understand why neighbors ever need formalities? Says her husband is not home to answer your invitation, for he attends the Princess’ little peace summits every year. The roads to Hyrule are still closed by snow and ice - and mudslides,” said Leilani, her dark eyes darting toward the madman. Link had the grace to bow his head, his face red with shame. “She extends the hospitality of Karakut manor until he returns. She claims there is a new wing still under construction which we could use as a stable.”

Gan raised a brow, peering closer at the rider above - who saluted with her spear. Perhaps word had not yet reached the Baroness that more than half the income owed to the manor now by rights belonged to him instead.

“She - also used some choice words about the Marquis of Duzhar, and desires to thank you personally for taking care of evicting him. She served the Marquis notice for his arrears months ago, but by the marriage contract all matters of business must be settled with both of them. Apparently. So by law apparently she can’t ride over there to enforce it,” said Leilani, turning in the saddle to glance over her shoulder before leaning in with a conspiratorial tone. “She knows about Kharazhin. Called Ibas a fool, and the feast is offered to the whole army to honor the spirits of our lost.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, tucking the five spirit gems safely into a hidden pocket in his arming coat, just over his heart. He turned Zharu, urging her to walk on. “It seems we have a dinner engagement.”

Leilani grumbled, and the four warriors muttered a few hushed curses. Link snorted, loping along beside him, to Zharu’s wicked amusement. She kept looking back at the strange small human and trying to smack him with her wet tail.

The Baroness laughed as they approached, her sleek features, alert ears, and dark skin the very idea of elegance enfleshed. “It is a pleasure to meet anyone who can so thoroughly annoy the House of Red Lions, but to welcome the infamous Bandit King himself is a delight .”

Ganondorf grinned at her, allowing a slight bow as if to an equal. A very short equal. “A pity I cannot return the sentiment, but rest assured I will shortly discipline my spies at court who neglected to mention your radiance, Lady Karakut.”

She laughed, baring sharp, shining teeth. Her eyes dark eyes sparkled with mischief. “Isadora Vassilya, but my friends call me Izzy. I do hope you are at leisure to extend your visit into true spring so we can strengthen the friendships between our people. If not, perhaps it is possible you may spare a few fierce desert flowers to attend a - ahem - lonely housewife in these tumultuous days?”

“Hn. If you are a housewife , then I am a merchant , Lady Vassilya,” he rumbled with a smirk.

“In that case, you must bring your - ah - wares up to the manor at once, for every colorless month of this damn war has felt like an absolute age ,” she retorted, turning her fat little mountain pony about. “Will fifty bedrooms be sufficient or shall I ask my knights to sleep a little cozy until the weather clears?”

Chapter Text

Karakut manor sprawled across the head of the pass, overlooking a remarkably sheer gorge dividing it from north-central Hyrule. Of course, some previous baron had constructed an impressive cantilever bridge across it. Four ancient black pines connected the two halves, planed and pegged together for stability, secured to each side with tarred cable as thick as his wrist. A few firerock bolts could transform any attack from the east into a tenuous - and likely doomed - siege. The current Baron owed his victory over the former masters of Snowpeak to foreign shadow magic and a few well-placed rangehounds.

And perhaps also to his clever wife.

Isadora seemed more human than darknut, but perhaps she hailed from a different clan than the sharp-featured knights guarding the manor gates. They all wore the same deep claret livery and blue-blacked steel plate, etched with pairs of sacred dragons. Horrendously expensive gear.

The manor itself was a love poem to brutalism.

Ganondorf managed more-or-less polite noises throughout the tour of the grounds, pretending his headache hadn’t returned in force and the rain hadn’t managed to soak through his arming suit. The cavernous new wing of the manor certainly had enough room for all the horses and most of the supply - if only he could be certain of Isadora’s true loyalties, and the obedience of her knights. The two they’d captured in Kharazhin had cooperated easily enough, but what would the rest of them think of a whole Gerudo warparty under their roof?

The advance party was invited to deliver their mounts to the master of horse, but even the sheltered paddock proved a bit small for Zharu. Ganondorf let his warriors carry the conversation while he dismounted and stripped her of tack. She did not like tight places any more than himself, and he suspected the half-timber fence would suffer immensely if anyone tried to get close to her.

Which would almost make her a perfect guard for the madman, if only he didn’t have an uncanny habit of charming every creature he touched.

Ganondorf persuaded Zharu into the paddock, taking the grain and hay from the petrified horsemaster so the poor man wouldn’t get himself kicked through a wall. By the time he was satisfied of Zharu’s accommodations, the others had rotated through taking care of their mounts, and Maike was flirting openly with their hostess.

Which was fine - it saved him the trouble. He wrapped the end of madman’s chain around his fist, ignoring Link’s sneer of disgust. Leilani fell in behind him as the Baroness led the way into her manor, throwing open the vast rock maple doors easily, as if they didn’t weigh over forty stone each. Isadora’s artless manner might have fooled other opponents in the past, but the true challenge to his warriors lay in making her believe her ruse effective.

Gan let his eyes wander over the dark architecture, the explicitly martial tone of the entry corridor and the undisguised murder holes in the ceiling. The thick claret rug sprawling across the central hall and tacked to the broad stairs softened the space about as well as the wheel-lamps above illuminated it. Six narrow corridors branched out from the ground floor and shadows above suggested the pattern might repeat from the overlooking galleries.

The head steward bowed before them, sharp ears slicking back to his narrow head, announcing the upper floor cleared. Yet cleared did not equal ready , and he could hear the distant patter of hurrying feet. Isadora graciously offered them the choice of a further tour or retreating to the guest quarters first.

Gan ignored Leilani’s frown, accepting the tour to give the servants more time to finish their frantic preparations. None of his warriors betrayed any discomfort at traipsing about the cold manor in wet clothes, but in spite of the flame rubies keeping his fair skin warm, Link did. He trailed at the end of his leash with uncharacteristic weariness, tugging at his damp sirwal and mud-stained boots whenever they paused to admire this or that war trophy, another fashionably well-appointed little room, a bland historical tapestry, an indifferent portrait.

At least the layout seems more or less true to the architect’s memoir.

Isadora led them to the third floor, looping around to the south wing last of all, where she graciously offered him the choice of the enfilade suite occupying the whole east wing, or the gallery of smaller loft chambers overlooking the west gallery. Neither connected directly to the private north wing.

Perhaps a soft, pompous Hylian would have been offended by the offer of recently-vacated servants’ quarters, but Ganondorf bowed over Isadora’s hand with genuine appreciation for her perception and hospitality both. Formal enfilade designs had a certain appeal on one’s home ground, and offered good defensive angles if in fact one wanted to remain in said rooms. They certainly reinforced the distinction of rank. But they also could as easily become a trap, a prison, an abattoir.

Line of sight was more open on the gallery, and the ceilings actually rose higher in the western chambers. Though they were drafty by necessity, each little suite had at least one dormer window large enough to serve as a door at need. While it wouldn’t be easy to mount any attack from the western gallery, neither would the Darknut be able to corner them there, even if for some reason he couldn’t open the shadowroads. If it came to that, the horses were replaceable. More or less.

Transporting the madman, however-

Isadora winked at him, fabricated some excuse about needing to go flatter her chef, and left her guests to arrange themselves however they saw fit.

Ganondorf claimed the largest suite, farthest from the stairs, which probably belonged to the housekeeper or the understeward or similar. Somehow, the presence of a giant copper horse trough wedged into the tiled washroom didn’t surprise him. The servants had already filled it, and lowered bowls of firerock shards under the surface to start the makeshift bath to warming.

I should be annoyed that she so easily anticipated my choice. And yet.

Leilani was not so charmed with the accommodations. Gan toyed with the madman’s leash, watching her turn in place, fists on hips, nose wrinkled at the ugly whitewashed furnishings.

“There are no assassins hidden in the cushions, avadha. Unless perhaps you are concerned about a few little webweavers,” he teased.

“I am more concerned with little matchstick legs on these tiny chairs,” she grumbled. “I can’t put any of these cushions on the floor either, because of soft wax on the floorboards and this disgusting winespill of a rug isn’t colorfast. What kind of idiot-

“Clear the front room and I will fetch whatever you need from the tent,” he said, glancing at the rafters above. A bit too high to tether Link’s leash there unless he summoned a lot more chain.

“Better if you clear the bed from this one,” she said, pulling a face at the canvas-curtained monster.

“It’s tall enough to serve,” he said with a shrug.

“And weather your ill temper when your back screams at you tomorrow for sleeping on a sack of feathers? Absolutely not,” she snapped. “Put it in the side room there and he can sleep on it.”

Gan raised a brow, glancing at his captive. The man was almost asleep on his feet, and now that he really looked, in proper light, those weren’t just little cuts. “You’ll need to clean him up first. Poor manners to let him bleed on borrowed sheets.”

Leilani made a rude gesture.

“Hn,” said Gan, crossing the dim little chamber to thrust the coil of bespelled chain into her hands. “I will want my desk in the first room - make sure there is space.”

“It would be helpful for your servant to know which order the Sun’s Ray would prefer obeyed,” said Leilani as he stalked from room to room, assessing the positions of the various tasteless furnishings.

“It’s fine,” murmured Link. “I can help.”

“Indeed, you will be helping her a great deal henceforth. Cooking. Cleaning. Hauling heavy things. Digging holes if she needs them for some incomprehensible reason,” said Gan. Truly the only way to move the canopied bed out of the bedroom without disassembling it first was by magic. “Any menial task you have the skill for and which she lacks the time or interest to see through herself is now yours. Disobey or distract her from her other duties, however, and you will answer to me.”

Leilani growled at his back as he summoned a few strands of magic. She waited until the side room emptied of its too-small desk and heavy bookshelves, then punched her new assistant in the arm.

“Ow,” said Link.

Gan chuckled, winding his magic around the canopy bed and the empty side room.

“Hey, ow ,” yelped Link again. “What’s that for?”

“This is your fault, Hylian. Now, on top of everything else,” she grumbled, pacing in a little circuit, rattling his leash. “Now, I have to watch you like a wayward ilmaha and teach you to be useful? Ugh.”

Gan closed his eyes, vanishing the canopy bed through the ether and bringing it back again in the middle of the side room. Not quite where he meant it to land, but they could slide it against the wall later. Better than it appearing in said wall.

“Ow! Shit - look, I haven’t done anything yet because you haven’t said anything. I don’t have his kind of magic ok? Tell me what you want me to do, I’ll do it. I gave my word,” said Link, exasperation bleeding through his voice. “Just - stop hitting me, maybe? Unless that’s what you want? I guess?”

Ganondorf laughed, pacing out the size of the bedroom to find center. Easier to pull his bed up from the tent the same way. “Just remember if he’s not in fighting condition tomorrow, you’ll be taking his place.”

Leilani growled and punched Link again.

“The fuck? Now what did I do?” Link hissed.

“You didn’t do anything,” she said, tugging on his leash to drag him to the front room. “But I can’t punch him . So. You’ll do.”

Link groaned, following her with uneven steps and muttered curses.

Chapter Text

Ganondorf summoned his bed without incident, and the black silk draperies, and most of the contents of his workroom. The desk gave him some trouble, though his chair and main clothes chest came easily enough. He dismissed the desk as an anomaly, and summoned his bar cabinet.

That one made a bit of a mess.

Most of the contents survived, but the jars of honey and a couple bottles of expensive foreign wine numbered among the casualties. Half the tea box got drenched and would have to be thrown out, unless Leilani found a way to salvage it.

The little flasks of green restorative potion made it whole. He swallowed two, chasing the bitterness with a handful of dried fruit.

Gan emptied his clothes onto the bed, locking his tools in the chest instead.

Then he unlocked the chest, wrapped his tools in the black silk curtains, and locked them up again. Outside, lightning flashed.

“Godsdamnit all. Leilani - bring him in here,” bellowed Gan, unlocking the chest a third time. He thrust the bluestone flute in the man’s hands as soon as he padded in, and gestured to the window.

“You - I can’t read your mind at the best of times. You’re going to have to use words,” said Link softly.

“Are you stupid? The storm,” he growled, realizing belatedly that Leilani wasn’t with him. She’d tucked the steel chain around and through the improvised silk harness to keep it from dragging, and let Link lead himself.

So why did he answer?

Link frowned. “Stronger than this?”

“Of course not,” snapped Gan, stalking through to the middle rooms of his suite. Thank the gods these mountain people believed in making doors a half-rod tall. “What do you think you’re doing, letting him loose like that?”

Leilani gave a cursory bow and returned to getting the kettle arranged in the hearth. “He’s not loose, he’s out of the way. I can’t do my work with one hand on his chain all the time, Sun’s Ray. I made him understand he can’t run away, or else I have to do his job. It’s fine.”

Gan swore, pinching the bridge of his nose. The faint song of Link’s magic floated in from the bedroom, but he couldn’t remember if this was the same tune as before. Or a backwards variation? The harder he tried to listen the more his head hurt.

Someone knocked at the gallery door shortly after the rain stopped. Gan pulled a sheaf of papers from his desk drawer and pretended to be busy, gesturing for Leilani to handle it.

Unfortunately, the visitor was Ashai avadha Saiev, and she carried a heavy purse in both hands. Leilani said something too low to overhear, but Ashai outweighed her by half again, at least. She shoved the younger woman aside, stalking into the room with violent purpose.

Ganondorf set the papers on his desk. Most people hesitated when they received his direct and undivided attention. Plenty of his sisters had yellow-green or amber or yellowish hazel eyes, but he was born with pure roc’s gold. Most people felt uneasy meeting his eye for very long. Those that aren’t stupid or suicidal, anyway.

“O Great Ganondorf, King of the Desert. Flower of Dawn, Thorn of Dusk,” she intoned, taking a knee in respect, as if she hadn’t just abused his servant in full view. He hadn’t noticed the scars on the left side of her face before. “Lord of Thunder, Master of Serpents, Commander of the Sands, Protector of the People, Song of the Ancestors, Crown of the Ages, I bring this tribute to your glory.”

Ganondorf laced his fingers together, leaning back in his chair until it creaked. Damn formalities anyway. “What boon do you seek, avadha?”

Ashai unwound the drawstring, shaking the top of the little pouch open. She leaned forward to place the purse at his feet - silver and purple rupee mostly. “Fifteen minutes alone with the slave.”

“I see,” said Ganondorf, keeping his expression carefully neutral. “And what do you want with him?”

Ashai worked her jaw.

Ganondorf waited.

Ashai removed her bangles, her earrings, her pectoral. Most were varying shades of amethyst, to match her spirit gem in his pocket. She piled all of them on top of the open purse. “I won't kill him. I just need. Fifteen. Minutes.”

“I need him in fighting condition, avadha. Also, it would be an unpardonable rudeness to stain the floors of our host when we haven’t even dined yet,” he drawled, holding her gaze.

“Ten minutes then,” she said, the intensity of her need diminished not at all.

“I am interested to hear how he has offended you,” said Gan, amused to see Leilani at the edge of his vision gesturing urgently for Link to stay put.

“He is Hylian,” sneered Ashai. “And he is young, and pretty, and blonde, and perfect. I need him to be less perfect, O my King.”

Gan tapped his fingers against the smooth olivewood desk in a rolling pattern. What you need is to learn discipline.

Ashai fidgeted in the silence, but didn’t lower her green eyes. “Ten minutes, and also I will fuck you.”

Interesting. “You think you’re so good I’ve been salivating to have you in my bed? Take your trash and go.”

“I make no pretense to beauty,” said Ashai, raising her proud chin. “I’ve spent over fifteen years knowing exactly what I look like to other people. But I am very good friends with Cafei. They told me once you have - refined taste. I assure you I can make it worth your time.”

Oh. Well then. It’s been months since I’ve ridden a good cock. “Show me.”

Ashai glanced at Leilani - but when the latter blushed, the former grabbed herself lewdly and actually leered. Gan grunted, gesturing for Leilani to retreat to one of the other rooms. Somehow it didn’t surprise him that she crossed her arms and glared at him instead. Even as Ashai untied her sirwal and drew her flaccid cock over the soft cotton folds of her undergarment.

A snort from the doorway - Gan turned, amused to see Link standing in mirror of his new overseer’s pose, feet braced wide, bruises ripening on his bare chest.

Gan turned his attention back to Ashai, watching her stroke herself in a slow manner she probably thought would be seductive. “Tempting, but-”

“My share of the war spoils also,” she said quickly.

Gan brushed his thumb across his lip, gazing at her tender bronze flesh. “Unexceptional.”

“At the moment,” said Ashai with a crude leer.

Gan raised a brow. “Does it do tricks?”

Link almost choked suppressing his laughter.

Ashai frowned. “What?”

“Never mind,” said Gan, gesturing dismissal.

“After I’m through with him, you’ll see how many tricks I know,” Ashai hurried to boast.

“That doesn’t mean you’re worth my effort. A war party could net me ten such offerings,” said Gan, beckoning Link forward. “Hylian. Tell me what you think of a Gerudo spear that rises for the thought of having you at her mercy.”

Link blushed all the way to the tips of his ears, stammering in a mash of two languages. “I don’t - I mean, I thought avadha meant women, so - I hadn’t. Thought about it. I guess.”

“Aren’t you precious,” drawled Gan, picking up the sheaf of papers and pretending to be interested in - accounts, apparently. “Insult my people again and you’ll have to drink your food hereafter.”

“That wasn’t what I - I didn’t,” began Link, his embarrassment at war with his anger. “You deliberately twist my words, but since you’re in such a damn fire to know, I’ve seen better. Happy?”

“I’ll show you better you carrion-eating, milk-faced coward,” snapped Ashai, pushing to her feet. She advanced on Link with menacing step, glaring down at the man. “You aren’t fit to lick the King’s spittle from the sand. You’re nothing but a worthless, snivelling weakling, ransomed for no reason whatever-”

“Ashai,” said Gan in a warning tone, drawing a thin tendril of magic into his fist in case she made it necessary that he stand. Because of course the madman hadn’t the sense to back down.

“You think this is anything, you fool? You think I’m hard? Oh, you haven’t even bled yet, you trash. Dare to fight me and I’ll fuck you sideways, you spineless son of a cheesebrained twit. On your knees you grasping worm, and I’ll show you how pathetic you really are,” snarled Ashai, grabbing at the steel chain and yanking hard.

Link stumbled, forced to take a knee.

Enough,” said Ganondorf, snapping a thin cord of lightning across Ashai’s wrist and forcing her to release the chain. He pushed his chair back hard, rising to his full height and flinging the door open with another thread of magic he could probably have done without. But. It made Ashai cringe. “I did not say your petition was accepted.”

Ashai paled, eyes pinning in belated concern. “But my King, I was only-”

“Keep talking and I suspect you’ll regret it. Assuming one of your sisters will bring me such tribute it persuades me to leave you enough mind to be capable of regret,” he rumbled softly.

“I - yes, I serve at your pleasure, O Great Ganondorf,” stammered Ashai, bowing, kneeling, reaching for his boot in submission.

He stepped back, denying her. “You bore me. Take your trash and go.”

Tension filled the room as she covered herself and dumped her rejected tribute in a fold of her mantle, sweeping out without another word.

Leilani moved first, stalking to the door and throwing the iron bolt home with a blasphemous curse.

Ganondorf dropped back into his chair, distantly pleased it didn’t break under his abuse. After a moment, he scooped up the papers from his desk, leafing through them for anything immediately relevant. One page proved to be an inventory of alcohol acquired this campaign, and how much had been used. Last updated shortly after the matter of Dashil’s rebellion.

“Don’t act like you’ve done anyone a favor,” growled Link from his place on the floor. Why hasn’t he gotten up?  “If she’d been hung you would have let her beat me senseless.”

“Hn,” said Gan, slewing his eyes sideways. “Should I call her back-?”

“You are impossible,” growled Link, standing to answer Leilani’s question, whatever that was.

“Hn,” said Gan, neatening the papers and returning them to a drawer. The drawer beneath proved to still hold a few helpful maps of the mountain and the pass. He unfurled them on the desk, slipping a few rings off to weight the corners. No, the best route is still the gauntlet slope.

Gan closed his eyes and reached for Dashil’s spirit, trying to think how to advise her to relay a slight adjustment in his orders. Roc Bellosa was not precisely an imaginative commander - he needed to move enough of the supply tonight to leave the rest of the army maneuverable, without rendering either camp vulnerable. What if Isadora sent rangehounds down the mountain while they dined? How many knights did she have, and how many attended the Baron?

“O my King,” said Leilani.

I’m busy.

“Hey - Sun’s Ray,” she said.

“Nf,” he said with a frown. I’m not hungry and I don’t want tea.

Hey stupid!” Link snapped, flicking water at his face.

Gan scrubbed a hand over his face, glaring at the blurry room. “Hn?”

“I have been attempting to get your attention for the last ten minutes,” said Leilani, the frown and crossed arms he couldn’t see conveyed perfectly by her scathing tone.

“Hn,” he said, propping his elbow on the desk and massaging his aching brow. “Issit important?”

“Yes,” she snapped. “Very. You have a petitioner.”

That hit him like the night wind. “Nnf - what? I thought I told her to-”

“Not Ashai,” said Leilani, turning heel for the interior rooms. “Come on, she’s already waiting, and none too patient. You accepted the tribute, there will be trouble if you drag your feet any more.”

Ganondorf groaned, levering himself out of the chair and trying to claw his braids into order. Which they more or less were already, except for getting rained on, and drying, and getting rained on again. Marginally less annoying than his clammy arming suit.

Ganondorf was beginning to hate rain.

He blinked at the empty bedroom in confusion. Well, empty except for Leilani. I can’t remember her petition. Mother of Sands, tell me she asked for a tattoo, or a gem. A potion, an illusion. A charm or something.

Leilani held her tongue, though her eyes sparked with a hundred thousand things she probably thought about saying.

Ganondorf frowned, feeling around the edges of his memory for any holes. He lowered his voice, closing the distance so Link wouldn’t overhear. Hopefully. “I could whip you for lying to me.”

“I didn’t lie, I embroidered,” she retorted, nodding towards the pile of cushions. A small square of gold silk velvet leaning against the rest stitched with a fresh design in black wool: the single word ‘beloved’.

Gan groaned, turning towards the door. Which was blocked. By Link. Ankles crossed, back straight, leaning his right shoulder against the timber doorframe.

“I will sleep after dinner,” said Gan.

“You will sleep in your dinner if you do not rest now,” snapped Leilani. “You have five loyal warriors and one pissed off Ramal with very sharp scissors between you and literally anyone else, my King. Go. To. Bed.”

“Four,” said Gan.

“Five,” said Link from the doorway.

Gan made a rude noise, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “You are my captive, not a warrior.”

Link raised his narrow, bruised chin, tone deceptively casual, his blue eyes unyielding. “Dismiss my strength at your peril, Desert King.”

Chapter Text

Sweet citron and sharp bergamot enriched the fog of spicewood and clove oil in the washroom as Ganondorf swirled the fat stump of virgin boar bristles over a pristine cake of imported soap. Gifts from the baroness, along with a Goron-forged razor so sharp it could shave a newborn mouse and never draw blood.

A tasteful, perceptive, and expensive gift. Technically all necessities, and none adorned, but still luxurious enough to flatter a guest of high rank. Whatever the distant Baron might think of an alliance, Isadora Vassilya definitely wanted something from him.

She didn’t act like someone desperate to keep wolves from her door, and she’d displayed not the slightest fear of the madman’s attack. Either she had some hidden power which would have thwarted the man’s wild charge anyway, or she came to the gauntlet absolutely confident that Ganondorf would not allow him to complete his strike.

Gan clawed his stiff braids out of the way and tried to drag his attention back to the immediate task. Hanging the mirror directly from the picture rail helped, but the glass really wasn’t smooth enough or clear enough for the poor light in the washroom. The lantern on the low vanity wasn’t bright enough to help from so far away, and he wasn’t in the mood to kneel while he shaved.

If Isadora wanted him dead, she’d have poisoned the razor.

If she wanted his escort dead, she’d have signaled her archers the moment they cleared the manor gates.

If she wanted vengeance, she’d have sent a detachment of rangehounds as soon as the two knights from the village were missed.

If she wanted the madman, she’d have raised the topic on the ride, instead of ignoring him as other people might ignore a hound after the hunt is over.

Ganondorf twisted and bowed before the mirror, scrubbing his fingers over the tricky planes and hollows under the fragrant lather, memorizing the path for the next stroke of the razor. Eidalu had laughed at him once, when he insisted she teach him her mysterious arts. If any ill wind ever prevented her from fulfilling her duties, she’d assured him, a hundred others would be happy to serve in her place.

How many of the hundred survived dividing the army?

All that mattered was forward.

If the Baroness truly wanted to attempt to throw off his encroachment, she would have offered him a proper battle, or accepted the proposed duel. Or both.

If all Isadora wanted was to surrender her holdings with minimal bloodshed, she’d have signaled that already, and saved herself the trouble of playing host to her new masters.

So why is she bothering? Why does she want me in good humor tonight? To what purpose this third path-?

Ganondorf heard the clatter of chain in the bedroom behind him as he completed another stroke. He rinsed the blade, watching the reflections of shadows moving beyond the half-open doors. Leilani must have already finished repairing the red silk kurta. Hopefully she’d gotten the mud off his caftan too.

A hesitant knock interrupted him a third of the way into a long stroke.

“I’m busy,” grumbled Gan to the shadows, grateful he’d had the foresight to wind himself into a fresh silk loincloth and pull the more-or-less clean charcoal labyrinth-weave sirwal on already.

“That’s - why I’m here. To help,” mumbled Link to the floor, his bandaged hand resting on the edge of the door. “She is still sewing, but she needs to rest. It isn’t right to demand the work of three people from her.”

“I don’t recall soliciting your opinion. Leave the clothes on the bed and get out,” said Gan, attempting to meet his eye through the glass.

“Why do you make her life even harder? I know - I can understand why you hate me ,” said Link, staring at the floor. “But what has she ever done to offend you?”

Gan snorted, shaking soap and grime from the blade. He picked up the brush again, gesturing at the madman’s reflection. “You’ve developed a fondness for my subjects a bit late, little hero.”

“Gan - I’m so sorry,” said Link, pressing his fair brow against the heavy door.

Ganondorf paused, letting lather plop back into the bowl.

“Leilani told me. I’m sorry about Eidalu and Tareil and Oranni and the others. I didn’t know. I found you, and I - I was thinking about the village, and that foolish boy and - I was too late to save them. I’m sorry. It’s my error, my tardiness that allowed - I don’t know how to fix it in this time,” stammered Link.

“Hn,” said Gan, resuming his work with one eye on his strange captive. “You may stand ransom for that worthless coward, but the blood he spilled remains on his spirit. Nonetheless. A shortage of servants is an inconvenience you have every capacity to fix .”

Inconvenience ? I will never understand your stubbornness if I live to the end of all things,” scoffed Link, shaking his head bitterly and pulling the door wide enough to slip through.

Link wasn’t wearing the mud-stained blue sirwal anymore, but Hylian-style garments in the claret and buff of Karakut. His black kidskin slippers whispered against the tile, and he - or maybe Leilani - had arranged his chains into a fetching sort of harness across his chest. He carried a heap of black wool over one arm, and a heavy drawstring purse.

“That color doesn’t suit you,” said Gan before he could think better of it.

Link frowned, setting the purse on the low dressing table. “It’s fine. I never care about that sort of thing. It’s warm, it fits close enough, and it was kind of the Baroness to offer it. Here - Leilani sent me in the first place because she couldn’t find the jewel box to put the rubies away.”

“She can’t find it because I haven’t brought it yet, which I see no need to do because everything I want from it is already here, and everything here was precisely where I wanted it,” snapped Gan, plunking the brush back into the bowl. “I don’t care about your idiotic Hylian manners or if you still have all the fashion sense of an incontinent goat. That hideous drunk’s vomit of a grain sack offends me. Take it off .”

“Why do you care if it’s ugly? You aren’t the one wearing it. And in case you failed to notice, Leilani has already put the blue pants in the washing bucket, it is cold in this damn castle, and I do not have anything else to wear,” snapped Link.

Gan snatched the towel from its hook, scrubbing his face clean before the soap could start to dry. “You do not belong to her and you will not wear her colors. You will wear what I say you wear. The flame rubies are sufficient to keep you in health until a new sirwal is cut to your size.”

“Of all the overtures she’s made, you choose a tunic to obsess over? Did I miss a new edict? Ganondorf Dragmire, now King of Clothiers? Get over yourself and listen for a moment,” said Link, holding out his left hand in a gesture of peace that belied his sharp words. “Leilani does not have time to sew anything else. She can barely keep you from shredding one garment before you’re popping seams and buttons on another. Let this go . You pile enough work on her shoulders every day to keep three people busy for a week. You cannot keep holding other people to the standard you set for yourself. When you do not sleep, when you do not eat, when you cannot accept that mortal hands can only manage one thing at a time, neither do your people . And even if you refuse to admit they matter to you, when they fail and you use their inevitable stumbling to excuse tyranny? You make us all stand witness as you seal your own doom.”

Gan worked his jaw, torn between curiosity and anger. “You sing a different tune this evening.”

“I sing the same song as ever, only you have not been listening,” said Link softly, crossing the room. “Let me help. Please.”

Ganondorf pulled away from his hand, mind racing in useless loops. “What are you after, little hero? Why are you here?”

Link raised those blue eyes, mouthing the beginnings of a hundred words he couldn’t voice before he found a handful he could. “The shirt you wanted isn’t finished.”

Gan raised a brow.

“You shouldn’t wear it anyway. You need to be the warlord tonight, not the monarch. She wants you feeling pampered and complacent and at ease,” said Link, unfolding the black wool arming coat. “Let her see her generosity is a convenience you take for granted as your due, nothing more.”

Gan took it from his hands. The heavy fabric actually crunched . The absolute last thing he wanted to do now that he felt halfway clean was put the damn thing back on again. He tossed it on the bench in contempt.“What do you know of politics?”

“Enough to find it disgusting,” said Link with a shrug. “She wants to catch you in a mistake. Like with the rubies. Prisoners don’t wear jewels, servants don’t carry weapons, and guards don’t wear chains. She does not understand my position, what I am or why I am with your army. You can use that to divide her attention. Allow the gifts, but wear the War Crown. Attend the feast in armor, but leave your swords behind. Show her you are indifferent to civilian comforts and committed to a hard campaign, but let me tend your hair for the love of Light. If you won’t take the braids out, at least let me work some oil in. I know it must itch terribly.”

Gan stepped sideways, out of his reach. The man turned in echo of him, gesturing to encourage him closer, still trying to catch at his arm with his bandaged hand. “You forget your place, Hylian.”

“I forget nothing,” said Link softly, his chains clattering as he tried to close the distance and herd him toward a padded vanity bench that would probably crack under his weight. “I can’t bring Eidalu back, but I can do her work - if you would just sit down a moment. Let me help.”

“So that’s why you’ve changed your song, why keep trying to touch me - why you’re suddenly cooperative and fawning,” snarled Gan, circling around him as faint red shards cane to dance at the edge of his vision. “You think I haven’t faced dozens of would-be assassins before you?”

“Gan - calm down. I’m not here to hurt you,” said Link, blue eyes pleading.

Gan made a rude noise, snatching the razor from the shelf. “You think I’d actually let you play valet to me? You think I’ll forget you’re an agent of my enemy? You think I’d let you thread your way under my guard so you can slit my throat at leisure?”

“That’s not - I wouldn’t,” stammered Link. “That would be dishonorable-”

“There is no honor in war,” spat Gan, clenching his fist around cold steel, edging between the door and the madman to keep him from escaping. The demonstone would rouse in truth if the red shards thickened much more. “Win, or die.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” pleaded Link. “Please - calm down. Don’t do this again. I don’t want to hurt you . I swear it on anything you care to name.”

“Are you rock-stupid or do you think I am? You think I don’t know a spy when I see one? You think I can’t guess who sends Sheikah to violate our borders and murder my sisters in the middle of the night trying to get to me? You’re the worst of all of them. You can’t even remember which side you’re supposed to be on,” sneered Gan, looming over his captive.

Link closed his eyes and drew a measured breath, lowering his empty hands. “Of all the mistakes I’ve ever made, I’ve never once thought you were stupid. I gave my word - my life is yours. If it eases your heart to end it, strike and be done. I am not afraid of you, of the Demon King, of Ganondorf Dragmire, of a lonely desert prince with a heavy destiny thrust upon him too young.”

Gan rolled his thumb along the smooth steel handle and up to the flared base of the blade. “How dare you speak of things you know nothing about?”

“Is it nothing to know what you desire most, and why you want it?” Link asked is an undertone, lifting his narrow chin. The bruises from the gauntlet had bloomed spectacularly purple in a single day, and his wealth of cuts and scrapes glistened with healing potion. His pulse ran swift and hard, the veins in his neck visibly throbbing, his fair throat bared and vulnerable above the heavy collar.

“No one touches the King without my leave,” hissed Gan, stepping back, thrusting his Will against his rising fury. How does he know? What is he after? What else does he know? He must be bluffing. He can’t know. It’s impossible. He’s just playing for time. For some reason. Trying to delay me. Hound my steps. Distract. Confuse. Ensnare.

“For whatever it’s worth, I wasn’t ever trying to put hands upon the king ,” said Link, his voice low and raw. “After all - which of you needs the power of a god? Man or King?”

Gan froze. His blood turned to ice and his vision clouded with flame. He poured more magic into the wards around his mind, thinking of nothing, thinking of the tiles, counting the blurry black tiles in the field of flame-kissed white, counting heartbeats, focusing on the itch of soap drying under one ear because of the madman’s interruption, focusing on the chill air of the bedroom crawling over his skin, wishing he’d pulled a singlet from the heap of clothes taking up half the bed.

He forced the sardonic mask back into place. The man knows nothing. Arrogant. Interfering. Mad as a mystic and half as useful. “You’re good in a fight, but you’re no god , little hero.”

Link opened his fathomless blue eyes.

“Why you still standing there? Get out,” snapped Gan, gesturing with the razor in his fist. Excruciating pain lanced from crown to jaw - and this time it stung his very bones, flaring out into his flesh at every joint.

Link exhaled slowly, eyes narrowed. After another moment of silence he bent and picked up the coat again. “Your clothes are not made to put on alone. Continue as you have and you will only destroy more of your wardrobe.”

“Your concern is noted. Go,” said Gan, waiting for his vision to clear before he dared a step.

“If you refuse to be persuaded, then Leilani will stumble under the burdens you lay on her,” said Link with a shake of his fair head. “Also if you pop another seam she’ll make me sleep on the roof.”

“Don’t pretend to be afraid of pain,” drawled Gan, stalking in a wide circle around the intruder in his borrowed washroom. “You were beyond reckless this morning.”

Link shrugged. “That’s different. And stop cutting the laces off things just because you can’t be bothered with knots. Call one of us. Preferably me, as I have more practice being patient than both of you together. You told me to help her, so let me do my damn job.”

“Later,” said Gan, setting the razor on the shelf beneath the mirror.

“If I go back out there before you’re ready to be laced into the rest of it, she’s sworn to beat me bloody. Irrespective of whatever you want me to spar against tomorrow,” said Link, shaking out the jacket and holding it ready.

Gan made a rude noise. “Then I suppose we shall discover how well a Ramal fares against my Elite.”

“As long as I have breath in this body, I am in fighting condition,” said Link flatly.

Gan corrected the angle of razor and bowl. Picked up the discarded towel, folded it. “Was this morning not enough for you, little hero?

“Context,” said Link with a shrug.

“Is that so,” drawled Gan, catching his eye sidelong.

Link shrugged again. “What do you care?”

“I asked you a question,” said Gan, tapping his nails on the shelf.

“I do not want her life any harder than it must be,” said Link with a sigh. “She doesn’t actually enjoy - look, she may serve your whims for now, but she’s no sadist. You’ve just - pushed her beyond reason. She has no other way to process her frustration with your impossible demands, and it is slowly poisoning her heart. You must see this.”

“Hn,” said Gan, raking his eyes over the man and watching how he began to fidget. The man who never flinched from a blade or a blow, who could meet his eye without fear, who could resist every fleshly temptation for some inscrutable sense of honor could not stand still .

Gan plucked the heavy strop from its hook beside the empty wall where the mirror used to hang.

Link paled. “Uh oh.”

“Turn around,” rumbled Gan.

“Gan - what are you-” began Link.

“Who gave you permission to be so familiar?” Gan tilted his head in affected curiosity, forcing his focus to narrow to this moment. The scent of the bath, the soap, the leather, the fear.

“Um,” said Link, gathering the arming coat to his chest unconsciously. “I - what?”

Gan grinned down at him and snapped the strop in his hands. Sharp. Solid. Echoing in the little tiled room. Sharpener of blades. Words. Minds. “Go on. Say it again.”

“I don’t understand why you’re so angry tonight,” said Link, baffled.

“Hn,” said Gan, taking one step toward him. Link didn’t flinch. He didn’t even waver. Why ? “Your command of the desert tongue is impressive, but flawed. The word you’re looking for is amused .”

Now Link retreated one step, stammering. “I - what? I don’t know what you-”

“Say it,” rumbled Gan as he would encourage a shy or wounded petitioner. “Say my name.”

After a moment, his frown of confusion transformed into a blush of shame. “Oh. I forgot. Sorry. I slipped.”

“Hn,” said Gan, snapping the strop and watching how his color deepened. “ Oh indeed.”

“I’m not - I wasn’t raised among - I’m not great with formal-” stammered Link.

“Leave, or say my name, little hero,” cut in Gan, moving in another half-step so his shadow completely engulfed the man. Blurring the stain of the bruises. Hiding most of the cuts. Softening the offense of the ugly claret tunic.

“Uhm,” whispered Link.

“Your choice,” murmured Gan, tracing a little whorl with the pad of his thumb across the heavy leather. Rough. Smooth. Polished. Abraded.

Link swallowed hard. “You will be late for dinner.”

“Say my name,” murmured Gan, searching for the shape of the man’s spirit in those impossible blue eyes.

Link crushed the black arming coat to his chest, dragging it high enough to hide half his face in the rain-stiffened cloth.

Gan raised a brow, waiting as a rockcat waits for a mouse to leave its burrow. He wrapped the strop once around his hand, snapping the heavy leather tight enough his knuckles would complain long before his arm tired.

Link drew a rasping breath, and turned slowly, stiffly, as one dreaming.

Gan waited.

Ganondorf ,” whispered Link.

Gan smiled. “Good boy.”

Chapter Text

The little cabinet clock measured the evening into orderly beats as Leilani fastened the jeweled hair ornament around high knot of Ganondorf’s braids. She threaded the delicate chains of the spiked war crown through it, fixing them in place with delicate topaz combs. She grumbled every time he moved, and he did try to remain still as possible, but it was essential he align the scout’s report with the diagrams in the architect’s memoir.

Despite a couple hours’ rest and the bath, he’d drawn too heavily on his magic - again! - in the last three days to rush this maneuver. His right hand ached after a refreshing hour with the strop, but even the sweet thrum of that raw energy wouldn’t be enough to save his escort if he miscalculated his position on the shadowroads at all.

“Very well - fetch the other three, and tell them to bring their blades and spears in hand rather than wear them,” he said when the scout finished her description of the lesser ballroom on the first floor. Isadora’s household staff had apparently spent the evening arranging it as a dining parlor in the manner of the ancients. Or at least, as the Hylians imagined the ancients dined.

The scout - Spera, apparently - saluted with a bloodthirsty grin. “At once, Sun’s Ray. Maike should be freshened up by now, I’m sure.”

“And I’m sure I don’t care. Go,” said Ganondorf, rolling his eyes and shooing her out. The last thing this campaign needed was for one of his warriors to actually form an attachment to the enemy. Or even for his warriors to think one of their sisters had.

Ganondorf tucked the memoir back into the desk and pushed back his chair so Leilani could arrange the folds of the gods’ teeth shawl and fasten the boiled leather spaulders over it. Link brought her every gem, every tool, every piece of his armor before she needed it, all without a word. Either the man was a terrifyingly quick study or he’d squired for someone with regalia like his own before. He avoided Gan’s eye for the most part, though his fetching blushes receded not at all.

Ganondorf dragged his attention back to the present as Leilani bound off the puttees. She was getting faster with lining up the pattern correctly. He collected the five spirit gems from the desk and stood for her to secure the topaz-studded black poleyns in place. He studied each gem in turn, reinforcing his memory of the glyphs painted on the reverse, and looped the chains through the fingers of his right hand.

Link opened the door for the warriors, bowing to each in turn. A few raised brows, eyeing his ugly Hylian clothing and no doubt entertaining opinions of his new duties. Nonetheless, they obeyed, arranging themselves and their weapons on the sword flower chalked directly onto the rug. He’d ordered Leilani to scribe it, but Link’s fingers betrayed the truth.

Link settled into parade rest on the left rear point, as far from Ashai at the right forward as the modified square formation allowed. Maike stood beside him. Spera and Kotta stood to left point and right flank respectively. The women wore their best uniforms, with their veils wrapped loosely, and kept only their honor knives at the small of their back. Any knight who expected to find them weakened thus would be making their last mistake.

Ganondorf stalked sunwise around them as Leilani looped chain across the door. He’d already sealed the windows - one last ward and his quarters would be as secure a point of retreat as he could make it without drawing on the demonstone.

“Hands to center, avadha. At my word, begin your count,” he said as Leilani took her place at his right hand. “As with this morning, full salute every forty until I say otherwise, no matter what else you may see or hear.”

“As you will it, O my King,” they all said in unison.

Link frowned in confusion.

“As for you, I suggest you hold your breath and don’t try anything clever,” he said with a wry grin, wrapping his left hand in the slack of the man’s chain.

Link frowned harder.

Ganondorf closed his fist around the five spirit gems, taking his place in the center of the formation. “Vo’hei, avadha of the Sands.”

“Vo’hei Great Ganondorf,” cried the warriors, raising hands to heart and brow. “Vo’hei to the glory of the Golden People!”

Ganondorf fused the door chains with the smallest functional cantrip and opened the shadowroads. In the murky darkness of the spirit world, his warriors shrank away to glowing echoes of themselves, floating in midair. Or whatever passed for air in the spirit world - the more-or-less functionally solid ground lay some eight fathoms below at least, and precious few spirit paths had been woven in this desolate country since the construction of Karakut. It would be easier by far to fly down to the marked ledge near the top of the gauntlet, and only a moderately difficult to carry them all directly to his tent halfway down the mountain. But then how would he learn what plots the baroness spun for them all?

His warriors began to dissolve away into balls of colorless witchfire except where the luminous glyphs preserved them. Ganondorf tightened his fist around the pulsing gems in his fist. Six minutes at most to triangulate the position of the converted ballroom from the fragmentary intelligence he’d gleaned.

Link retained a blurry version of his own mortal shape, though softly luminous and mottled green and gold. The man shook his head at the warriors’ shifting spirit-forms, the slack in his enchanted chains plinking and jingling as he folded his arms over his chest.

“Huh,” said Ganondorf, circling around the spirit of his captive. A narrow black fissure of featureless void disrupted his form on the left side from hip to ribcage, but a dozen heartbeats rolled by and his shape remained more or less - if not quite solid , then constant. Even though he’d clearly washed away the luminous glyphs Marish and Sidoo had painted on him for this precise purpose.

Well. This, and for the omen duel.

Link raised a brow, his featureless spirit eyes more pale gold than green.

“You realize you shouldn’t be able to do - ah - that ,” said Ganondorf, gesturing to all of him.

Link said nothing.

Gan pulled the chain taut, expecting it to move the man. The chains which should have been the only thing allowing him to drag Link through the shadowroads without his spirit tethered to a sacred gem. Even if it was like towing a sledge across the sand sea, there shouldn’t be any way for the man to anchor himself upon nothingness.

Yet he did. Somehow. And his only comment on the matter was a silent glare, his eyes flashing briefly white.

“Uh,” said Ganondorf, brilliantly.

Link blew a tight breath through his nose in a place where breath was irrelevant.

Four minutes. “I don’t have time for your stubbornness, little hero.”

Link snorted, shaking his head. “You have absolutely no basis to judge.”

“How long have you been able to follow-”

“Long enough to be familiar with your flair for the dramatic,” said Link. “There’s no actual reason you couldn’t just walk downstairs like a normal person.”

“I - have objectives to secure,” said Gan, swallowing hard. “An army to lead. Contingencies to prepare. A reputation to maintain. Hostiles to subdue. A lone operative can’t understand the delicacies of command-”

“Just say it. You think dinner is a trap and you’re rehearsing the escape route in the hopes of saving their lives,” said Link with a sigh. “Does it really cost you that much to admit you care?”

“Why this obsession with sentiment ? Have you no tactical sense outside the challenge ring? Are you working for them ?”

Link frowned in confusion. “Them who?”

“You claim the Hylian tyrants didn’t send you,” said Gan, winding more of the enchanted chain around his fist to restrict the man as much as possible. Three minutes. “So. Are you. Working. For them .”

“Gan, I cannot read your mind. I don’t know what you mean,” said Link, clearly baffled.

“Idiot Hylian,” grumbled Ganondorf, hauling his focus back to the mission. He’d expected the spirits of the knights and servants to at least flicker here - but he saw nothing. The baroness clearly wore mage shields of some kind, but she couldn’t possibly ward a manor of this size against him . The staff hadn’t felt like illusions, and the larder held far too much food for only Isadora. Constructs didn’t need to eat. “I’ll deal with you later.”

“No one sent me. I am here because of that which you desire most,” said Link, bowing his head.

“Shut up,” said Gan, dragging the man through the murk in between candles and hearths still burning in the mortal world. The knights he’d sent back to their mistress - where were their spirits? For that matter, he’d seen Isadora’s just this morning. And Zharu - why couldn’t he find his own damn horse? He’d been there for her foaling for fuck’s sake.

“I chose this,” muttered Link. Probably to himself. Or maybe his spirit was starting to fray after all.

Ganondorf didn’t bother calling the man out on it. He dragged his captive and his warriors through the shadows, hunting for any flicker of spirit shining through from the other side. In the end, the only things he had to work with were the wards on his rooms, the topaz on Zharu’s tack inside the stables, far too many candles, and a great lump of unfamiliar raw topaz somewhere on the ground floor. The closer he studied it, the more it seemed like a display piece. Maybe a support for one of the statues in the main hall.

Or.

It could be the rock under the half-canid half-snake statue crowning the fountain Spera reported seeing in the ballroom.

One minute.

At the very least, it was certainly inside the manor, and more or less near where he expected the granite floor to be. He waited for his warriors to lower their hands between salutes again, placing each gem in the witchfire palm of its owner as swiftly as possible.

On the count of twenty they raised fists to heart.

Ganondorf spun out threads of power for each of them.

On thirty, they raised fist to brow in salute.

Ganondorf ripped open the shadowroads.

They hit the ground in a coil of smoke and loose magic and a resonant vo’hei with less than half a minute to spare.

Gan crouched in the center of the square, fist pressed tight to the stone floor, forcing the stray energy to ground through him. Link stumbled and panted for breath at his left, vainly attempting to keep himself upright with his leash too short.

From somewhere ahead, applause.

“Enough,” rumbled Ganondorf, unlooping the chain from his fist. He thrust the leash into Leilani’s hands as soon as she’d secured her lapis spirit gem in place. He tried to ignore the fresh throbbing pain behind his eyes as he stood to survey the room - indeed, the larger-than-life beast sculpture behind them coiled around an enormous topaz matrix.

“Excellent little entertainment, Dragmire. Just the thing to wake the appetite,” said Isadora, raising her glass in salute. She did not, however, bother to rise from her couch. “I do hope you’ve all found your appetite at last, else I shall have to soothe even more ruffled feathers in the kitchens anon.”

Ganondorf smiled for her, signaling the warriors to drop formation. “You will forgive our tardiness, as there was a pressing matter of business to attend.”

Link coughed.

Ganondorf ignored him, stalking across the thankfully dim room to bow over her hand after the Hylian fashion. On closer inspection, her overgown was not merely trimmed in black lace, but made entirely of it, layered over plain claret silk. He lowered his voice for her ears alone. “I do hope your staff is prepared to fill that excellent bath more than once.”

Isadora laughed, pressing his hand lightly, her smooth dark claws a mere hint of pressure. “For the Great Ganondorf, I’m sure we can make arrangements. Red wine or white?”

“Both,” he said, moving toward the largest couch - which incidentally stood directly across from her. Rather than a single long table, each of the twelve little padded benches and divans boasted its own small one. Most seemed to be arranged in pairs and quads, and half were already occupied by darknut knights in formal doublets and sashes of rank. By the pastry crumbs and empty glasses, their patience with this dance began to wear thin some time ago. “After all, I would be remiss to overlook any particular delight of Vosterkun by choosing a favorite so soon.”

The baroness grinned, all sharp teeth and bright eyes. “The feast will be brought in shortly. Please, make yourselves comfortable.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, lounging into the corner of his couch. It creaked under him, but held, and it was tolerably comfortable as Hylian furnishings went. The warriors chose places as well.

All of you,” said the Baroness with a winning smile and little flutter of one elegant dark hand as the first platters of roast venison and fresh bread and decadent creamed vegetables began to arrive. “Do not be afraid, these poor little chairs are far stronger than they look. Steel frames, you see. The birchwood is entirely ornamental, I assure you.”

Reluctantly, Leilani eased herself onto an empty bench near Gan. She had apparently decided Link could hold his own leash. Again.

“No thank you,” mumbled Link, settling into parade rest between them.

Isadora tilted her head, sipping at her own wine with an arch look. “Forgive me for any offense, Dragmire, but I do think your little gladiator is far more fetching in breeches. Although I think my maid was a bit too generous with the measure on this first pair.”

“Hn. Although I admit Hylian fashion has some virtues to recommend it, there is absolutely no need to burden your-” he began.

“Pish-tosh,” she cut in. “It is a pleasure to relieve you of the ugly necessity of sacrificing your own ornaments to keep your gladiator in health in this beastly weather. Once he’s tucked into his horse blanket or whatever for the night, send the ensemble downstairs to be adjusted. How much too small was the tunic? Only the arms? Shoulders as well?”

Gan accepted a glass of wine - a complex red to start - and glanced at Link. Who was staring most fixedly at the subtle inlaid geometry of the floor, his pale skin flushed with heat. Leilani had looped the chain over his plain shirt crosswise from shoulder to slender hips in mimicry of the darknut’s silk sashes. The flame rubies dangling from his elegant ears shimmered in the candlelight with every breath.

“Hn. Neither. I do admire the skill and swiftness you cultivate in your servants,” said Ganondorf at last, as the servants heaped venison on a gold-rimmed porcelain plate for him. “However. We do not follow the foolish Hylian custom of cutting a window to appreciate the landscape only to then obscure it with apprentice cloth.”

Isadora toyed with a bit of cheese pastry. “Even a plain snowquill doublet will want some weeks to be made. A fortnight at least. And I doubt we have spare stays anywhere near his - ah - proportions.”

“My people prefer to admire the things they own,” said Ganondorf, appreciating the excellent wine and the embarrassment of his captive hero.

“Challenge accepted,” said Isadora, tipping her glass in salute.

Chapter Text

Morning light softened precisely nothing about Kharakut manor. Ganondorf leaned against the cold granite ledge, letting the fragrant steam coil up from his tea unheeded. Below, another knight yelped in surprise and pain as they too were forced to yield under Link’s furious assault.

Three down, and the man only now began to sweat. Over the last week, the weather improved immensely, and Link seemed to have completely given over his initial reluctance to fight. The manor staff long since cleared all traces of snow and ice from the courtyard below, but the chill blue slate paving the central court remained slick and treacherous by nature.

Not that Link seemed to notice or care. The man possessed an absolutely exquisite talent for violence.

The next two seasoned Darknut to enter the sword flower clearly worked together as a regular matter, each playing off the strengths of the other to keep their opponent dancing. They needed neither word nor overt signal, feinting and changing patterns mid-lunge, trading places in a fluid, vicious attack cycle that no doubt proved the undoing of many opponents before this one.

“At the risk of sounding droll, I must say your shapely little gladiator is once again providing a sparkling entertainment over breakfast,” said Isadora.

She watched the contest from her high-backed bench, enthroned on a pile of tawny wolfos furs. The folding marquetry table at her side fairly groaned under the weight of so many covered dishes of every possible savory food available this early in the season, and the clever footed kettle with its own well-shielded fire beneath. Ganondorf could have accepted the bench she offered him - but he preferred to stand whenever civility afforded the chance.

Partly because her long ears betrayed a certain nervousness when he loomed over her. Partly because the ledge would crowd his view of the fight if he sat.

Link swore when the knights tangled his secondary blade a third time and let them take it from him. Though he gave a competent showing with almost any weapon, he clearly never trained for dexterity on his right side. Half the time when given paired blades - straight or curved - he reversed his grip on the right and braced the flat against his arm as an improvised shield. Accordingly, Gan never allowed him an actual shield and sword in the same fight.

Link dropped his hips and rammed himself against the closer knight, turning the inevitable rebound into a tumble - neatly evading the thrust of the other.

“Where did you say you snared that spicy little morsel?”

“I didn’t,” said Gan with a lopsided grin.

Link grabbed the wrist of the second knight before they could even react to his evasion, pulling them off balance and - somehow! - flipping the startled creature over his back and head-first onto the cold, unyielding ground.

He’s right, she asks too many pointed questions. Why does it unnerve her so that the Hylian wears my collar?  “I thought you were fond of my sisters.”

Link released his victim and regained his feet just in time to stagger under the swift  fists of their unamused partner.

“Oh I am endlessly delighted by your sisters ,” purred Isadora. “But if he would only be persuaded to take a little more care to guard his delicate skin, I daresay he’d be almost pretty. An entirely serviceable second choice, no?”

“Hn,” said Gan, toying with his cup. Whether he agreed or argued, she could use it to press all the harder for a private interlude with his captive. Every day, she needled him with some new question about the man - and the more of her energy she focused on that puzzle, the better. His army needed at least another week before they could push east and be strong enough to take even a small garrison.  

Link wobbled, blood pouring from his nose and split lip. He took a knee. The remaining knight drew back for the finishing blow. Link bowed his head - and tumbled past his opponent. He sliced clean through the buckles of the knight’s cuirass with a single whirling strike as he leapt to his feet again.

Gan set his cold tea on the ledge, signaling his Elite to challenge the mad hero next. They could all use the reminder their enchanted armor did not render them invulnerable. “The question of his handsome face is irrelevant. The sleek coat and sculpted form of a coursing hound carries no significance except as it makes the beast a better help to the hunter.”

Isadora laughed. “Irrelevant, he says, who sacrifices an entire room of his own suite so his slave can sleep indoors.”

Link backed away from the Elite at first, blue eyes darting from one to the next, marking their step, their stance, their subtle indications of rank. Gan almost laughed when he chose Dashil for his first target - again. Which was fair, in a way. She had been a formidable warrior before, but never so heavily armored. And she needed as much practice with the claymore in as many circumstances as possible.

Besides - even a child could see she wore the plainest armor of all, and everyone knew the silent one with only darkness and glowing purple eyes inside her armor was obviously a necromantic construct.

“Hn,” said Gan, mulling over his answer with a corner of his attention as he watched the man try to draw Dashil away from the others.

Of course the baroness placed spies among the servants sent to replenish his firewood and his tub, to carry away trash and whatever laundry Leilani deigned to surrender. The only real question that concerned him is why Isadora focused so much of her energy on the problem of the mad hero.

Gan watched Link dance, seeing him both below and before, with his own eyes and through Dashil. In the challenge ring, his inscrutable spirit blazed - here was a man forged for the arts of war. When paired against the Darknut or constructs or heavily armored Elite his impossible blue eyes held neither fear nor anger - only dispassionate control.

And yet.

Every time Gan sent the lightly armored lancers onto the field, or when Isadora ordered her younger knights to spar against the man, he betrayed enough anxiety to suffer defeat in more than half the bouts. Nevermind that he should be able to trounce the less experienced warriors even more thoroughly.

Even Isadora gasped when the curved tip of Dashil’s heavy blade sliced through Link’s rumpled blue waistcoat, pulling forth an arc of crimson to further stain his current shirt. A pity - the snow-white dobby cloth of this one was infinitely more pleasing than the fussy blue and cream pinstripe he ruined yesterday.

Link frowned, edging closer to Dashil as she followed the weight of her blade. She still struggled to master the windmill motion of turning its force around, though she surely must have learned the same pattern as First Lance. But. She thought of her weapon as a sword , and kept trying to use it as she would an overlarge scimitar. If only she would remember past the first few exchanges that the same patterns for a lance in close fighting would make her new weapon nimble at reach!

Link did not press his advantage. He circled and frowned, kissing the ricasso of the claymore with the foible of his own crescent blade. That kind of nonsense would see his steel snapped against a more experienced fighter, and tempt a novice - or a stal - to respond to the taunt before they were actually stable.

That Dashil did neither seemed to confuse him. As a fighter, aside from her enchanted strength and silence, his youngest Elite was little different from say, a junior darknut knight. Trained and blooded - as a fireflower lancer. As one of his heavily armored Elite though, she was very much still learning her art. Yet Link hesitated to respond to her as a student of war. He watched her, he challenged her, he frequently defeated her - but so far would not reset and repeat the same attack until she countered correctly.

The weaponsmaster of Karakut approached Gan at dinner a few nights ago, offering to teach Link how to better adjust his skill to his opponent. The woman couched the proposal in terms of enhancing his showmanship and therefore offering his master superior entertainment. Gan accepted - but made clear she should also coach Link in how to teach . Defeat was only instructive when one understood their own weakness enough to temper it into strength. The weaponsmaster’s flattery and praise for his tactical clarity when the matter was more of a blindingly obvious necessity annoyed him, but securing the woman’s good opinion meant more influence over the baroness.

“As an arrow shatters which is handled carelessly,” drawled Gan at last, thinking to deflect her prying with a quotation. “The sword rusts which is left bloodied and unsheathed.”

Isadora snickered.

Below, Dashil launched into the same heavy charge that bit deep into Link’s shoulder yesterday. Today, he blocked her from fourth guard, bracing the forte in his off hand at exactly the moment of greatest force so that her blow knocked him back instead, his kidskin slippers sliding across stone. Before she could even process what he’d done, he lunged under her guard and swept the spine of his blade against the back of her knee.

Gan quirked a brow, that Isadora might believe the innuendo intentional and lifted his tea in the hope of covering his chagrin.

Except he’d forgotten the tea was stone cold and immediately spit it out again.

The baroness dissolved into a helpless gigglefit.

“Ugh. Gross. I keep forgetting your country is damnably cold even in the day,” grumbled Gan, dumping the remainder of the cup over the ledge.

Link looked up from his baffled study of Dashil’s struggle to rise again without overbalancing. He tracked the noise to the puddle of cold tea, and up to Gan himself. He tossed his fair hair back and raised his damaged practice blade in a decidedly saucy salute.

Thank the Sands she’s laughing too hard to see that.

Isadora eventually recovered her decorum, soothing her giggles with a fresh cup of strong black tea. Despite her love of frivolous Hylian furniture and fashion, she thankfully did not follow their insipid tastes at the table.

“Whenever this boring war finally allows us to think of art again, you must remember to recommend me to whatever goldsmith you retain,” she said, rising to offer him the plate of tiny cakes.

He pretended to be interested in the selection - none were his favorites, but if Varesh had fallen beside Nialet, he might never taste those delights again. “I must disappoint you in this, Izzy. My jewels were not crafted by a single hand, and of the artisans still living, few are available for - secular work.”

She laughed. “You do delight in mistaking me Dragmire. I should hope I am never so bored as to fancy putting on royal garb outside a masque. I mean to ask after the woman who fashioned these new gilded irons you’ve commissioned for your - ahem - bright little sword. They’re holding up far better than I would have expected given the elegance of their design.”

Which was fair - he’d never expected to use that set outside the bedroom.  Their enchantment was hardly even enough to speak of. But to what purpose keeping Link in the ugly salvage of the warded irons? He'd already proven more than once he could break the damn things if he chose. The golden collar and chains could hardly be any less functional if he decided to challenge his restraints, and at least these didn’t offend the eye.

“Hn. I have it on the best authority he does not and will not be taking commissions,” said Gan casually, selecting two cakes at random and consuming both in one bite. One proved to be some kind of cheese pastry and the other a wildberry trifle. Both sweet. Neither satisfying.

“That is your design? Dragmire you absolute scoundrel,” teased Isadora.

“Save your elegant flattery for a better cause, Izzy. It is merely a serviceable prototype, to be replaced with better after this campaign,” drawled Gan, accepting a savory pastry he barely even tasted. “When there is time for enamelwork and selecting gems for the set. Probably garnet, as he is hard enough on clothing and never mind anything less durable.”

Already the tailor’s latest attempt to flatter their royal guest by dressing his fighter had been reduced halfway to rags. Link expended no effort whatever to avoid minor injuries or insults to his clothing. He truly did not care about his appearance, and remained oblivious to the admiration of half the manor.

“Indeed,” said Isadora archly, pretending to pay attention to Link’s efforts against the Elite below. “You do cultivate a - refined aesthetic. It’s one of many things I absolutely adore about your people, and one of the few virtues capable of elevating the company of a man to a tolerable degree of interest.”

“To what purpose life without an appreciation of the finer details,” returned Gan. He accepted a fresh - hot! - cup of tea as Link stalked around the sword flower, seeking an opening. The veteran Elite offered him none, steadfast and confident in their strength. They had all long since surpassed the need to prowl or posture.

“Indeed,” said Isadora, trailing off as Link shrugged at some private thought and leapt at the central Elite. He almost seemed to fly for a moment, somehow using his parry to launch himself even higher.

The Elite staggered as he latched onto her armor and ripped her helm and veils away. Another slapped his ass hard with the flat of her sword, unseating him. Despite the surprise he turned the fall into a boneless somersault away from his opponents. Except now he’d dropped his blade - and though he retreated around the flower to buy himself time, he kept frowning at the unveiled Elite like the very sight of her bothered him.

“It therefore remains a wonder,” continues Isadora at last. “How can you endure such coarse savagery in your bedslave?”

He’s not my - and he offered his surrender! I’ve never even touched him!

Gan set his tea down. Later. Regain control of the conversation now , figure out how we will correct her disgusting opinions later .

But somehow he misjudged the slope of the ledge enough that the whole damn cup toppled over, spilling its scalding contents everywhere and promptly rolling off to shatter in a spectacular puff on the cold slate below.

This time Link was not the only one to notice. The baroness waved off the concerned looks from her own people, claiming she never liked that tea set anyway. She tried to thank him, in fact, for giving her an excuse to ask her husband to buy her a new one, in a better color.

Gan signaled the match finished, and relayed to Dashil that she and Marish should take the Hylian upstairs at once. She saluted, gathering up the extra chain. Link stood patiently, holding his hands up  while she threaded it through the manacles and locked the lead to his collar. Marish grinned wolfishly when Dashil handed her the rest, distracted enough she forgot to salute until she’d led the man all the way to the servant’s door.

“It must be tiring, imagining everyone is in bed with everyone else,” he said, dropping the drawl in favor of cold precision. Perhaps she would hear his warnings better in the tones of the Hylian court. “My poor sisters must need to get quite creative in keeping your attention.”

“Oh you have no idea,” purred the baroness, nibbling at a ripe wildberry, sharp teeth gleaming. “How long did you say you’d be staying?”

“I didn’t,” returned Gan with a smirk.

Chapter Text

At noon, the east wind picked up her pace, bringing warmth and the subtle perfume of budding life from green Hyrule. According to the baroness, the roads connecting Vosterkun to Hyrule proper should be tolerable by week’s end, and completely stable within the fortnight if the weather continued its return to normal. Surely now he could persuade the windneedles to cooperate. Ganondorf finished out the Eighth Pattern again, dancing from one Elite to the next and back to center, and decided that was enough. He wanted a bath before settling into his workroom for the rest of the afternoon.

A long, quiet bath.

Dashil laughed inside his head when he asked if Marish had gone back to her own quarters yet.

He took a detour past the stables to assure himself of Zharu’s continued health, and fed her a few carrots while he debated going for a ride first. Except - Isadora’s favorite pony wasn’t in her loose box, and the woman had an uncanny habit of crossing his path on these cold mountain trails when he least wanted her company.

Roc Bellosa would be even more of a headache tomorrow if he took personal interest in drills more than once today. He needed her strength for the next push of this campaign - and he suspected she would find a way to report circumstances to the Rova directly if he annoyed her too thoroughly. Better to not, until he could afford to deal with that problem entire.

The manor library proved to be inconveniently - and noisily - occupied. Gan stood outside the doors a moment longer than he probably should have, debating whether to throw the women out and claim its sanctuary for himself. Though - given the annoying enchantment interfering with his ability to discern which bright spirits tangled in passion, and the general poor fortune dogging every step of this campaign…

No, if I find Ashai or any other woman like her behind that door I will certainly lose my temper, and I don’t feel like explaining to Isadora why her house is on fire when she returns from whoever’s lap she’s been wallowing in this afternoon.

Dashil snickered, projecting an explicitly lewd offer. He had to cut her off completely and pause for a moment in the landing, pretending to study an indifferent tapestry. A bevy of servants hurried past him on their own business while he silently cursed the inconvenience of flesh

Better if he’d spirited himself to the damn curtainwall to pace the stones another hour than persist in seeking his own rooms, for the moment he entered his borrowed suite the heavy scent of sex and perfumed oils ensnared his entire conscious mind. He neither saw nor heard anything between the hall door and his bedroom, nor ever possessed any memory of crossing from the one to the other.

Gan stood in the doorway, his nose full of the mingled scents of oils and unguents spilled across the vanity table, reason mired in sinksand as the tableaux sparked lightning under his skin.

Both Marish and Link seemed to have taken leave of their own senses, for neither even noticed him. Marish he could almost excuse, for Link had pushed her off balance and trapped her against the vanity, his elegant hands buried in her unbound hair and his tongue down her throat. His golden collar and manacles gleamed in the lamplight, and their skin glistened with sweat and sex and oil.

My oils.

My perfumes and cosmetics. My best black caftan dripping off her shoulder and naked thigh. My captive wearing bruises from my warriors and welts from my discipline and the nails of my petitioners weaving patterns on his fair back.

Gan swallowed hard, tearing his eyes away to note the shreds of Link’s bloodstained waistcoat littering the floor. Her red sirwal draped over a storage chest. His torn and blooded white dobbycloth shirt caught on the edge of the sleeping platform. Her red veils tangled with the bedsheets.

Gan’s favorite pillow sitting alone and twisted out of shape in the middle of his bed, splotched with damp. Lengths of loose golden chain still fastened to the rings set into the edge of the sleeping platform. Shards of broken glass on the floor beneath the vanity, puddles on and under the padded bench.

I gave her hours alone with the man. And they’re still fucking. I - should be angry. I want a godsdamned bath. I want a chance to rest before I try to follow the spirit-veiling enchantment to its source. Again. But - but how is he still going? Fighting half the day yesterday and all morning and now fucking well into afternoon.

And why has she stolen my caftan?

“Did I tell you that you could fuck him?” Gan asked softly.

They both froze for a moment.

Gan tried not to think about the wet sound of their lips parting, of Link withdrawing, the ragged rasp of their breath.

“Mmnn you said was ok before ,” she slurred, her voice husky with desire.

“Avadha,” rumbled Gan, though his voice conveyed almost none of the warning it should have. He clenched his fists and desperately tried not to think about how badly he needed to adjust himself.

“O my king,” began Marish, twisting just enough to look at him over Link’s less-scarred shoulder. “He - he made me do it - hnn - I swear.”

So much for a bath. “Do you think I’m stupid? That I can’t see your wanton hand on his cock?”

Marish pulled her lower lip between her teeth, and tried to look innocent. Tried and failed. Aside from her eyes dilated with pleasure, there was the small matter of her stroking the man.

Link groaned, his nose buried in her bright hair, his raw voice muffled and his accent unusually thick. “Truth. ‘Strue. I - I needed - I made her do - do things. To me. Is my sin.”

Gan closed his eyes, and wondered vaguely where Leilani had been all day. Busy, I hope. Elsewhere . “The hell it is. But. Since you are healed enough and rested enough to fuck, you are well enough to work. Pull your pants up and get your pale little ass over here to unlace me.”

Silence.

Now ,” said Gan, opening his eyes again. The rosy blush staining the man’s fair skin had deepened, and though his body trembled he held his breath. Marish didn’t seem to be moving much, but though the madman’s tolerance for pain might be legendary, the smallest sip of pleasure broke his will faster than a little rope on a cosseted young stallion.

“Shh Mari,” breathed the man at last. “You - can stop? Ok? Please?”

Gan loosed the clasps of his vambraces, nestling one inside the other and tossing them into one of the too-small whitewashed chairs he’d shoved against the wall. He pulled his gloves off and started on the buckles of gorget and spaulders before Link managed to obey. And - the man had to hold his breeches up with one hand too, since one or both of them had not only torn the laces out but ripped the cloth in their - haste?

No, need is probably closer. Nothing about half a day of fucking could ever be described as swift. Is the wolf gaining strength over the man?

Link knelt at his feet, reaching to unfasten the poleyns first.

“And as for you, wanton thief,” drawled Gan, watching Marish smooth her hair back as she stood. “If anyone outside this room knew you get off on fucking my hostage in my bed wearing my clothes-? Have you ever seen the traitor’s scourge?”

She bowed her head, blushing in shame. “I serve at the pleasure of the Great Ganondorf. I ask only - if in your mercy you judge me a traitor for - doing this , which was never done with any treason in mind? Spell me to silence first so I won’t shame my family. I am not one who loves pain, nor even bears it well.”

“Perhaps you should have thought of that before you decided to get caught playing at usurping your king,” he said mildly, dropping his own gaze to the man frozen at his feet. “Have you forgotten something, little hero?”

Link swallowed hard and shook his head. “Don’t hurt her. My sin. My punishment.”

“You are a pathetic liar,” said Gan, though a part of him began to wonder. “And once again you forget your place. Hostages do not have petition rights nor council privilege. Your lust for pain cannot preserve her from the consequence of her foolish choice.”

Link drew a sharp breath, setting aside the poleyn in his hands. “You are not listening. It wasn’t her choice that offends you.”

“You’ll have to work harder than that to convince me,” said Gan, turning his attention back to Marish. “ You have a grave decision before you, avadha. Treason carries a heavier sentence than all of your thefts together.”

Marish bowed. “Yes, O my King.”

Link’s hands skimmed over leather and cloth, seeking the end of the wrapped - and quite frankly, ragged-looking - puttees. The man didn’t need to cup his hands around Gan’s leg to do it, but maybe his exhaustion began to catch up with him.

“However,” he said, letting the word linger in the silence between them as Link began unwinding the patterned cloth. “You are not mage-gifted, so you may not have realized the black curtains lining this room are not in fact an aesthetic choice. Peel back the rugs, shift aside the tapestries, and you will see this entire chamber is warded against eavesdropping and overlooking. Where the silk is drawn back for the doors, I assure you my magic completes the circuit.”

“A thread means nothing until it is woven,” murmured Link, rolling the narrow cloth into a dense bundle. “If all who are tied into, and all who behold the weaving together unravel it, another pattern may still become.”

How can a Hylian recite our laws? “Just so. Your thread now belongs to me, unless you want the world to know you for a blaspheming slut.”

Marish bowed again, hands folded before her brow. “Yes sir.”

“Hn. Come here,” he said, summoning a white doeskin collar with rose gold and bright hematite studding the soft material in a pattern of interlocking spirals. The heavy half-moon rings on this one didn’t even have steel underneath. “Understand - this can no longer be a matter of petition or trade, service for service. When you wear this, your ass is mine .”

Marish bit her lip and shivered - but not with cold. She pressed her thighs together and clenched her fist over heart, excited by the very idea of his power forcing her loyalty to become absolute. Nevermind the only spells woven into the thing were to adjust the fit and keep his mothers from overlooking its bearer. Her wish to be relieved of the burden of responsibility for her desires - and her faith in his power to do it - could bind her more perfectly than any compulsion howsoever subtly wrought.

As he fastened the collar around her elegant neck, Gan wondered if Link understood that. He submitted to the golden chains as well or better than the enchanted steel - had the spells forged into the latter offended his strange pride? Or was there some other reason he set out to destroy his restraints that day on the gauntlet? Even now, untethered, bound only by the weight of steel and gold, his movement arrested not at all, his trysting interrupted, he knelt without complaint as the lowest of servants.

Gan pushed the caftan off Marish’s other shoulder, raking his eyes over her bare flesh. His own throbbed, suggesting any number of possible amusements. More white doeskin would accent her dark skin beautifully. A pity she truly didn’t enjoy pain - he could easily imagine hematite and pink sapphire and moonstone dangling from rose gold nipple clamps.

Gan beckoned her closer. Her eyes searched his face for some measure of his mood. He allowed her a sardonic grin - and slipped his hand between her damp thighs. She gasped, though he barely even grazed her vulva with his knuckles. He felt his own grime too well to probe her depths, but this much was enough to be certain of her slick heat - and find the telltale stickiness of dripping cum.

Three days running she’s been able to take him inside then. A good sign for her healing. “Hn. Go fill the bath. You may wish to cover yourself more - appropriately - before you haul buckets from the pump.”

“Yes sir,” she breathed, attempting to grind against the back of his hand. “But there’s no need to - haul water anywhere-”

Gan loomed over her, lowering his voice to the barest rumble in the way that always made her eyes flutter. “Are you trying to defy a direct order from your master?”

“No - never sir,” she stammered, desire radiating from every pore as she gestured toward the doors. “It is only - the staff began bringing some up hours ago and the reserve barrel-tank is still full and-”

“A king does not wash in a barrel . Prepare the bath, slut.” Gan clicked his tongue in censure and smacked her ass as she turned to obey.

At his feet, Link sighed. “I can’t get your socks if you don’t cooperate.”

“I said, unlace me, not undress me. Get the damn cinches loose already,” grumbled Gan. His armor seemed to become more uncomfortable with every passing minute.

Link tidied the greaves and boots and bundled cloth aside, waiting until Marish slipped into the bathroom, as if she wouldn’t overhear from the other side of an open door. “Setting a new fashion for bathing in stockings are we?”

Gan grunted, unfastening his belt and coiling it neatly. He had a retort. He was sure of it. Just a moment ago on the tip of his tongue - he could still taste the fleeting sour sharpness of words he completely forgot in the immediacy of Link’s hands sliding up his leg.

Again.

Except there was no need to find the end this time. Nothing hid the gusset laces on the padded trousers, or the several ties securing the leather cuisses once the puttees were unraveled and the splinted greaves unbuckled.

Gan looked down at the man, baffled by Link’s expression of earnest inquiry as he slid his pale hands over dark cloth. As if he couldn’t discern the laces and ties from the rest-? Was his eyesight truly so poor in the muted lamplight? Link worried his lip between his teeth, his blue eyes flicking up to meet his captor’s stare.

“I didn’t say you could touch me,” rumbled Gan. “Get back to work.”

Link bowed his fair head, hands sliding back down to pick at the gusset knots. “Sorry. I was just - trying to find all the little ends.”

“You remain a terrible liar,” said Gan, slightly distracted by the crooked stitches marching up the angry gash spoiling Link’s right shoulder where Dashil caught him in yesterday’s spar. He knew for absolute fact that Leilani poured healing potion into the wound before stitching it up - maybe he’d just torn it open again in his various morning adventures.

Link snorted, raising a brow. His clever hands unraveled knot after knot with far greater skill than his fumbling a moment ago would have otherwise predicted. He was actually faster than Leilani once he set his will upon it - so why was his face rosy with shame?

And why was he wasting time working the spiral lacing open and smoothing out the creased gusset?

“Are those long ears full of sand? Untie me. But don’t touch me,” said Gan.

“You set me an impossible task,” said Link, frowning at the cuisses. “I can’t help you out of all this nonsense without-”

“Get creative,” said Gan lightly. He tried to reach for the rest of the pauldron buckles, but it was no use. Link was right - everything about his damn regalia assumed a valet and squire on hand to get him into and out of it.

Link bit his lip, plucking at the cuisses ties with the barest tips of his fingers. Somehow, he managed, loosening the damn things enough that they began to slide down under their own weight. Gan decided to ignore Link’s knuckles brushing against his leg as he guided them off - focusing his own efforts on maintaining his patience. Had it always taken this long to get out of his gear without magic?

Link decided to stand and loosen the sleeves of his arming coat next - perhaps he couldn’t yet fathom the challenge of the plackart and culet and codpiece. If he would only think about it, and undo the cinch at the back! Gan could wriggle free of the whole arrangement as one after that, but no . Link wanted to pluck at the tight spiral lacing of the sleeves, loosening the quilted wool all the way to his elbow as his ravaged breeches threatened to abandon their post entirely.

Just help me get the damn pauldrons off already. You can reach the back buckles well enough - I know you can. You’ve done it before.

Link’s hands encircled his forearm, sliding back down to the wrist. Frivolous. Purposeless. Warm. Gentle. Yet - firm. Absolutely translating through the heavy woolen barrier.

Gan stared at him.

Link tipped those impossible blue eyes up, pretending innocence. As if he somehow miraculously didn’t possess perfect understanding of why Gan raised a brow in wordless query.

Marish returned - naked but for the collar - as Link worked on the second sleeve. Her eyes drifted to Link’s marked back, to the sagging waist of his breeches, and she licked her lips in approval of the sight before she remembered her errand. She asked for guidance as to which scent he preferred in the water, and whether he wanted her to arrange the tools for unweaving his braids or adding more or different gems.

Gan struggled to form an opinion on any of it. How could he think of scent with his nose full of twenty different ones? How could he decide anything about his hair when his only pressing desires involved either soap or sex?

Marish fidgeted, waiting for his answer, too nervous and distracted to make any suggestion.

“Spicewood and memoryleaf and clove,” murmured Link. “Clean without being astringent. Comforting, but still light.”

“Hn,” said Gan, glancing towards the vanity table to see if any of those bottles had survived the ardor of his mismatched servants. “Bergamot and clove. Fresh braids can wait. And see that whatever remains of the spicewood and sweetbean oil is within reach.”

Marish bowed, and applied her attention to the chaos of the vanity. Link finally turned his to the heavy pauldrons.

Gan didn’t even realize his mind wandered meanwhile until Link’s strong hands slid down either side of his spine. Given the long sweep of his touch, he’d already loosened the laces while Gan was distracted by - wherever it was his thoughts had drifted without him. Possibly Marish, since she was out of sight, humming to herself in in a self-satisfied fashion in the washroom.

“You disobey me with alarming regularity,” said Gan, his tongue dry.

“Oh? I hadn’t noticed,” returned Link with a disingenuous air. Especially given that as he said it, he fit his slender hands under the loosened leather panels and across the small of Gan’s back, fingertips pressing into his sides.

“If I didn’t already know you hoped to distract me from her transgressions, I might begin to suspect you enjoy punishment,” said Gan, forcing his tone to remain light. He glanced toward the borrowed mirror, but couldn’t make out Link’s expression.

“Not my fault you haven’t been listening,” murmured Link, digging at the ties of the arming coat.

Gan snorted, shaking his head. “You’ve become predictable, little hero. You know her disobedience must be corrected, yet still you try to win mercy for her?”

“I’m not the one obsessed with punishment,” said Link.

“He says, laying hands on his king without permission,” drawled Gan.

Link said nothing - but Gan could feel the man wince.

Gan turned, grasping the back of Link’s neck to steer him towards the disorderly vanity. He stooped just enough to meet those impossible blue eyes in the mirror as he murmured into the man’s ear. “Tell me. What do you see when you break the rules, little hero?”

Link’s eyes flared wide and his cheeks flushed deep rose. Heat rose under Gan’s fingertips, and Link’s pulse fairly flew. He did not speak, or even attempt it, but he didn’t avert his eyes either. Light and dark, they filled the mirror in silence.

How can you endure such coarse savagery in your bedslave?

Gan released him, stalking towards the washroom. Marish met him at the door to help him out of his arming coat.

Link remained frozen before his reflection.

“Chain him in the usual position,” said Gan, ignoring her lascivious grin as best as he could. Which wasn’t very well at all. “Clean up your mess, little hero. And as for you? Don’t cum. Your pleasure belongs to me now.”

Chapter Text

Normally, tile possessed an annoying habit of amplifying and embroidering echoes onto sound. The spells Ganondorf layered over his borrowed washroom twisted and muted this noise, transforming the moans and cries from the other room into a charming little song, suggestive without descending to the vulgar.

Not that I’d mind a little vulgarity today. Sidoo has begun to blossom - she might be ready to take me by now - but she isn’t here to ask. And if I summoned her from drills for it she might well undo the better half of my work trying. Sands but I could use use a drink.

He plunged his hands into the bowl of warm water again, scrubbing dirt and grease from under his nails.

After the Work. Get the worst of the grime off. Deal with Marish and send her back to Sidoo. Real actual godsbedamned bath. Unravel the damn enchantment. Then we can have a drink.

“Ah - aaahfuck ! Oh hero - I can’t - too close - hold onnn oh fuck me I’m gonna ,” babbled Marish.

Damn good thing she has no pain tolerance to speak of - should keep her from asking even if he runs out of energy before she’s done. I don’t know that I can hold back if she begs for it right now.

Gan laved more clean water over his face, pushing back against too many visceral memories trying to crowd into his mind all at once. He scrubbed sweat from his skin and tried not to think of Nialet’s hands. He bit his lip when dripping water teased his aching flesh and tried not to think of Varesh laughing when she kissed him. He cupped his hand over his shaft, pressing it tight to his body, and tried not to think of Ardin’s gentle strength. Teaching her new king how to wind his loincloth tightly enough to prevent public difficulties. How to ease the hunger with only a few disciplined strokes. What the deeper, formless, restless feeling of lingering need meant and how to soothe it.

She died almost five years ago. It is foolish to remember her now. We were never friends. I’d forgotten we were even classmates until she mentioned the thing with the pin-pad thorns. Her petition was inconsequential at best. I never needed her - would have found the solutions on my own eventually.

Marish groaned, uttering a string of slurred curses. Under her delirium, Link’s soft voice, too muffled and too heavily accented to make out.

Your savage bedslave -

Gan stopped mid-stroke, confused by the weird chill coiling around the base of his spine. Isadora’s revolting and wildly inaccurate theories about his Hylian captive didn’t matter . Link offered his life and liberty of his own free will. Link chose to act on Gan’s offered indulgence when he lay down with the women. That was the truth. That was all that mattered.

I made her do things to me.

Marish sang out in conflicted pleasure, struggling to obey his order to resist the inevitable result of Link’s tongue. Gan swore softly as his root tightened and ached, remembering the pleasure of such quivering, gushing heat embracing him . A shiver ran over his damp skin as his mind returned to the sight of Link standing over her, claiming her mouth as if he feared she would vanish in the next breath.

Link, chained to the central pole of the feasting tent, blushing and hard, his eyes fluttering when Dashil’s nails grazed his fair skin.

Link, gasping for breath as Marish sucked his cock into readiness again.

Link, shuddering in helpless pleasure as he thrust his narrow hips against Sidoo’s shapely ass for the thousandth time in an evening.

Link, moaning his master’s name into the quilted arming coat with every stinging crack of the strop.

Wait .

Gan turned, listening to Marish’s urgent babble from the bedroom.

It’s not her choice that offends you.

Gan picked up the black caftan, noticing now the splash of mud at the hem. It clearly hadn’t found its way into the wash since he last wore the damn thing a week ago. Usually Leilani was more attentive than that - but the fine cloth bore deep creases. As if it had lain folded under something heavy. Hidden, maybe.

My sin, not hers.

The soft cloth didn’t smell like either of the women. Marish couldn’t have been wearing it long, or often -

Just long enough to get caught? Is this all because of some twisted fetish for noble sacrifice? Is it not about the pain at all but playing shield for another?

Gan knotted a towel around his waist. He wrapped himself in a minor cantrip of silence, plucking the strop from its hook. He slipped back into the bedroom and waited, watching. Link half-knelt, half-crouched at the edge of the sleeping platform, bare ass skyward, fists wrapped around the slack in his chains, arms stretched out towards the corner anchor rings, face buried between Marish’s strong thighs. She clawed at the sheets, bucking and writhing and moaning in an exquisite torment of need and denial.

Gan whipped the stiff leather around, cracking the tip across Link’s pale skin.

Link cried out - somewhat muffled, given his position - but while his voice betrayed a moment of surprise? There was absolutely a slurred yes in the trailing off. The was no possibility that he could have heard or seen Gan approach. He shouldn’t have been able to brace himself to transmute the impact unless…

Has he been expecting my rebuke the whole time I was in the washroom?

Gan dismissed the tiny spell and struck again. Harder.

Link shuddered and cried out in ecstasy.

Huh. Nope, definitely enjoys pain.

He savored the madman’s babbling moan as he let the leather slide over his back - and Marish’s urgent little yelp of panic as Link applied himself even more vigorously. Gan schooled his breath, drawing pleasure from the throbbing under his own skin, from the delicious sound, from every measured heartbeat between the right moments to strike again and pull forth more delirious cries from the pair.

Bedslave -

Gan rolled his shoulders, putting off the next stroke. Watching Link’s skin grow ever more pink. Listening to his enthusiastic feasting.

I made her do things.

“You wanted this, didn’t you? You wanted to get caught indulging your twisted lusts,” mused Gan, not really expecting an answer. “You wanted to be punished. You wanted me to believe you forced yourself on her. Do you think I’m stupid?”

Now Link jerked up with a wordless denial, milk and honey smeared across his narrow chin and smooth cheeks.

Gan clicked his tongue in censure and struck again.

Link howled for him.

“Is our little hero too lazy to finish his task?” Gan rumbled, moving to the edge of the platform, letting the stiff leather drag across the man’s curved back. “Clean up every last drop of that weak Hylian cum. Get that long tongue inside her and suck her dry for me.”

Link moaned something incoherent and bent to obey. Marish sucked wind through her teeth, every muscle straining with tension as she set herself to resist the pleasure. Gan laid the strop across Link’s back with a solid, satisfying thwap . He trembled and moaned into her sodden cunt - she spasmed and flailed upward, reaching for Link.

“Are you enjoying that, my pet? Does his tongue feel good? Do you want more? More what ? Deeper? Harder? Thicker? Is your greedy clit getting jealous?” He gave her just enough room to gasp her confused answers after each question, striking Link when he drew breath for the next. The man rocked his hips in midair, vainly trying to find some way to grind against the bed without having to stop pleasing her to rearrange his limbs.

Mother of Sands, let her flower for me. I need to feel her throbbing, quivering, a desperate mess for me .

Gan stroked his free hand over the damp towel, waist to hip to thigh, spreading wide over the aching swell of his shaft pressing against the doubled cloth. It wasn’t enough to fool his flesh into quiescence. His own breath refused to even out, his pulse hammered under his skin. Little waves of lightning stirred in his bones every time one of them gasped or moaned or twitched.

“Come on little hero, give her a worthy challenge,” urged Gan, clenching his fist around the strop. “Tribute that costs nothing is worth nothing. Make her cum on your pretty face.”

“Ohnonono,” cried Marish, filling her hands with Link’s fair hair as he pulled his tongue up through her folds. “I’m gonna I’m gonna I can’t oh my King please -!”

Gan dropped the strop on the bed, his tongue dry as sand, his throat tight and raw though he’d not raised his voice in days. “Your pleasure belongs to me, pet. Your orgasms belong to me. Your cunt belongs to me. You open your body for me whenever and however I wish it. You touch yourself only by my indulgence. You fuck who I permit you to fuck, when I say you may fuck them. You cum when I command you to cum.”

“Oh please oh I beg you - have mercy O can’t my King I can’t bear it,” cried Marish, her thighs quivering with desperate need as Link faithfully obeyed his orders. “Please let me cum Sun’s Ray - please oh-”

“You may not,” he said, stripping off the towel and climbing onto the bed to fill his hands with her soft flesh.

She looked up at him - and came anyway, bucking and howling and gushing.

I wish I could be inside her right now. Such a wanton slut. Can’t even obey a simple order. I had something interesting planned. If only you’d been good.”

“I tried - O my King - I will do better - will be good - oh please let me kiss it anyway,” Marish whimpered.

“Hn,” said Gan, catching her wrist when she tried to reach for his shaft. “Is she clean now, little hero? Did you swallow every drop?”

Link groaned, rocking himself mostly upright as he nodded assent. Her flood still dripped from his chin and his fathomless blue eyes lacked anything like focus.

He must be exhausted, but his cock hasn’t gotten that particular message. Clearly.

“Move. Both of you. On your knees. And you - on the floor,” said Gan, gesturing. “Keep your thighs apart. No grinding. There’s a good boy.”

Link obeyed in silence, bowing his fair head, naked and helpless in his gilded restraints.

Chapter Text

Marish struggled upright, wobbly and breathless. She might have fallen over without Gan holding her wrist. She kept at her babbling pleas, but Gan wasn’t listening anymore. He was busy waiting for the wave of need to roll past him.

Only there came another behind it.

He needed to relieve the tension.

He needed to carry Marish through to the other side of her fear.

Gan pulled her off balance, flipping and dragging her into position at the edge of the bed. It would be important for the sweet scent of her own cum to fill her senses. It would be important that part of her attention fixate on keeping herself on the bed. It would be important that the bottle of blended soothing oils remain in his line of sight. The magic would be easier that way.

“Your greed is your undoing, my pet. Hands flat, at the edge, where our Hylian can see your face - and get that ass up.” Gan stroked himself once - only once - and eased in behind her. He cupped his hand, drawing his touch down through her folds slowly, summoning a thin trickle of oil into his palm.

“Don’t hurt her,” mumbled Link, his accent so heavy Gan could barely understand him.

“I’ll do whatever I want,” returned Gan, bowing to scoop his other arm under her and haul her halfway into his lap. He massaged more oil into her sodden flesh, drinking in how wonderfully soft and ripe she’d become. “The Sun’s Thorn will ruin you for anything less, my pet. You are mine now. All mine. I’ll plow you so hard your foremothers will moan for me.”

Marish whimpered, her pleading incoherent at best. She cried out when he slipped heart and middle finger inside her - so slick and hot he shivered with her for a moment. So close. Soon, she will be ready. Soon, she will flower for me . She’s so hungry inside. She’ll lose her damn mind when I take her.

“Please,” said Link.

“Foolish little hero,” Gan chided him, pulling back to grasp his shaft again. One stroke. Just one. Through the folds. Silk. Honey. Soon. Maybe even tomorrow. Her gates pulse for me - she wants to open. She wants me inside. He’s not enough for her - just a little snack. She wants me . Sands but she feels good.

“O my King - you tease me so,” she whined.

“Yeah? You want me to tease you some more? Open up my pet,” he rumbled, shifting his hand so he could slip a finger inside while pressing his shaft into her sweet valley.

Gan schooled his breath, kneeling in perfect stillness, closing his eyes to concentrate. He swirled his fingertip around and around in her depths, persuading her tender flesh to bloom still further. He summoned a flawless crystal egg from the red chest, easing it with painful slowness through the ether and directly into the hollow he’d sculpted within her.

When the last smooth curve rolled over his fingertip and dropped its full weight into her, he thrust his hips against hers, hard, making it shift inside.

She cried out.

He thrust again, grinding his shaft through her oiled vulva.

She sang.

Gods how she will scream for me when it’s real. She’s been denied her favorite pleasures so long she doesn’t even know the difference right now - but she will. Soon. This is only a taste. A sip. A little treat before the feast.

“Can’t I can’t,” she cried too soon, and he felt her gates cinch tight around his finger.

“You will obey,” he growled, pulling his hand back so he could summon more oil over his shaft. He slathered it over himself and her, bowing to align himself more perfectly. Cupping his hand under himself even tighter. So every thrust would slide over her nervous gates and up to kiss her swollen clit.

Link whimpered.

Gan glanced up, locking eyes with his mad Hylian captive. Though he’d seen his captor grind towards mutual satisfaction with one or another petitioner before, this time it distressed him. Even as the sight aroused his flesh.

From his position on the floor, he probably can’t see the truth. But - he can hear her. He can see her face. He’s lain with her - surely he knows the sound of pleasure on her tongue?

“And then,” growled Gan, shifting to lay his thumb over the edge of her dark rose. “I will wreck your ass as well. How about that, my pet? You cast your spear at my throne, so I shall fill yours with mine .”

Marish howled as he thrust against her, overwhelmed by the sensation of shifting weight and pressure.

“Is that what you wanted, pet? Or are you still greedy for more? Don’t bother trying to lie,” he warned, though he almost spoiled it with laughing. Lie! When I could see the deepest recesses of her mind if I wanted to. I could make her do anything I wanted. Make her open. Make her river flood over me. Make her mine.

Marish burbled and moaned and begged for her king to fuck her, to not fuck her, to touch her harder and softer, more and less. She couldn’t remember what she was saying - she interrupted herself - she lost her thought every time he moved against her.

What more do you want, hm? Do you need your mouth filled too? Do you need it now? You want the little hero to fuck your mouth? You want to be filled and overflowing and flooding and - oh fffuck ,” groaned Gan, every inch of him thrumming with desire as she fell to pieces in his arms . “You’re going to cum on me aren’t you? Have you learned nothing-? Did I fffucking give you permission yet?”

Marish cried out in denial, begging him to cum, begging for him to fill her deeper before he could drive her mad with want. Begging him to let her feel his heat.

Link actually squeaked. When Gan opened his eyes again, he saw both lust and confusion on the man.

Later. Deal with him later. Sands but to have her river flowing for me-!

Gan grasped his shaft as he pulled back. Marish whined, begging him not to stop. He stroked himself - twice - thrice - pressing his crown against her throbbing gates, bowing over her back so it would be harder to accidentally rock his hips too far.

She begs for me .

Six - nine - and his breath still held - and he came. He held his position as long as possible, fist tight around his pulsing shaft, letting his milk pour into her, letting it drip through her folds. Her gates fluttered under his crown, more open than before.

But not enough.

Gan drew a shuddering breath, opening his eyes to the elegant sweep of her shoulder, and the beautiful chaos of her unbound hair spilling around her.

“Good pet,” he breathed, kissing her shoulder.

Marish shivered.

Gan pressed his brow against her back, just breathing. Just feeling her. Listening to her breath, her pulse, the fluttering confusion of her thoughts. She needs more. “Do you want to fuck her?”

Link meeped in query.

Gan sighed, nuzzling against her sweat-slick skin. Is he stupid or just rock-stubborn?   “Do you. Want. To fuck her. Do you want to feel what it’s like to plunge into a cunt already claimed?”

No answer.

Gan waited, unmoving, letting the tiny aftershocks roll past unheeded, focused on his own breath. Gradually his cock began to soften, and the inviting flutter of her gates in harmony with his own rhythm enticed him to try for just a little more. Slow. Careful. Letting flesh cleave to flesh as it would, adding just that tiny bit of pressure that let him slip half his crown into the vestibule. Just to feel more of her heat. To feel her throbbing for him.

She gasped as his tender - and much reduced - girth nudged her gates apart. The catch in her voice sent a shiver down his spine. He took his hand away to stave off the temptation to go any farther. He wrapped her in his arms and rocked back on his heels, bringing her with him.

Should have set up pillows behind me. This is going to hurt tomorrow. “Open your legs, pet. Show him that greedy, wanton, overflowing cunt.”

Link’s eyes remained riveted on Marish, his face bright with shame and desire. She squealed in shock as Gan vanished the crystal egg back to its proper place. Link strained against his chains, watching Gan’s cock subside further and slip free of her again. Watching the thin rivulets of oil and honey and cum leaking from her throbbing cunt.

“Drop your mask, little hero. You don’t need it here,” rumbled Gan. “Do you want to fuck her?”

He licked his lips, blue eyes fixed on her sex. After a moment, he nodded.

“You remember the rules,” rumbled Gan.

Link nodded more vigorously.

Gan relaxed his grip, letting Marish slide down his lap, and vanished Link’s chains.

The madman drew a deep breath, then crawled up onto the bed, kneeling between her strong thighs.

Gan smoothed her wild hair to one side, brushing stray locks from her brow. She’s so lovely like this. Yes - look at me avadha - I am here with you. You are still mine. He answers to me. He is nothing but an extension of me. Surrender to my will, to my power, and you will be free.

Link caressed her breasts, her sweat-slick sides. He planted one hand on the bed and trailed the other back to center and down, panting as he prepared himself.

“No,” murmured Gan. “Not like that. I want to watch . Lift her up so I can see that creamy cock plunging into her.”

Link shivered, skimming his hand back up her body to rest over her heart a moment. He didn’t speak - he didn’t even try. He knelt in silence to thread his arms under her thighs and pull her into his own lap. He trapped his shaft between them, groaning at the inviting silk of her against his cock.

“Good boy,” said Gan, caressing Marish. She was nervous, as if she hadn’t fucked him a dozen times already, still afraid it might hurt again, that her flesh would tear and bleed. He slid his hand down her chest, her trembling stomach, teasing over her sodden mound to slip his fingers into the apex of her folds. Link’s throbbing cock skimmed against his knuckles as he ground his hips against her. Link whimpered and whined under his breath, as if he hadn't spent all day rutting. Gan summoned more oil into his palm, letting it trickle over her skin and down between them. Not that Link noticed the difference.

“Yeah, like that. Higher. Open her wide - look at her. Do you like that, little hero? Seeing your aching pink cock drenched in milk and honey, wallowing in paradise? You want more don’t you? You want to dive into her oasis, slow as a sinking stone? Do it. Rest your sword at her gates - exactly so - yeah, don’t move your hips. No thrusting, only when I say. Feel her yearning to be filled? Pull her closer - only to the ridge - don’t let it pop. Slow as sunrise little hero - a little more-”

Marish hummed, wallowing in their touch, in the intensity of the slow, smooth pleasure of his obedient captive.

Link dug his fingers into her dark flesh, sweating, trembling, panting with effort.

Is he still surprised to find this more challenging than a vigorous tumble? Do Hylians really have such shallow customs? No knowledge of the arts of pleasure? What a stupid country. “Doesn’t she feel good around you? So hot and welcoming now that I’ve plowed her cunt into proper discipline - a good, loyal pet. That’s right - savor your reward, little hero. Steady - if you cum this time you’ll have to drink the King’s Milk too.”

Link raised his fathomless blue eyes, his smooth cheeks flushed with pleasure and exertion. He held Gan’s eye as he drew his hips back.

Gan raised a brow, wriggling his fingertips a little deeper in her folds, cradling her clit between. He ached again - still! - just a little longer and he’d be able to take care of it. He needed to make sure she came first. That she could climax while being filled again. It was important.

He is a tool. A stone to sharpen my warriors. A blade to cut away sickness and rot, nothing more. It’s not important that he understand - only that he obeys.

Link’s blue eyes flicked down. Looking at his own swollen cock shining and dripping cum and nectar as he pulled back to the rosy corona. He bit his lip and glanced up through the veil of his golden hair, catching Gan savoring the same view.

Gan lifted his chin.

Link plunged smoothly to the hilt, a desperate moan sneaking past his teeth.

Marish sang.

Gan clutched her tighter, bracing against the thrumming roll of lightning in his bones.

Link rocked his hips again, reaching as deep as possible, watching Gan’s expression as a rockcat watches a solitary bird, withdrawing and thrusting according to whatever subtle signs he saw or imagined there.

Not that Gan minded. It was so perfect, Marish falling into ecstasy in his arms, the harmony of their song in his ears. Link’s helpless, resonant ahh-! when he came.

See? He wanted it. She wanted him. He wanted her. Bedslave? Ha! I didn’t make him do anything he didn’t already crave. I just - helped. Guided him a little.

Gan licked his fingers clean and started delving for more before he even realized what he was doing.

Link was whimpering again.

I don’t care. I do what I want. Gods they taste good-

Gan savored the salt-sweet ambrosía on his tongue, vaguely wishing he’d taken the time to shave so he could drink from her direct. Then he could grind against the bed or something, soothe the hunger, bleed off that lingering tension - but he hadn’t, so he couldn’t.

This will work for now. Tomorrow I will have even better-

Link meeped some wordless query as Gan slipped his fingers between the two of them again. Probably just sensitive after too much sex - except when Gan scooped up another dollop of cum and honey, Link meeped again and opened his mouth, unrolling that long pink tongue.

Oh .

Gan held up his hand, mind suddenly blank.

Link rocked forward to lick up a twining rivulet and sucked Gan’s fingers into his delicate mouth.

Oh .

Marish mumbled to herself, oblivious to them, lost in the aftershocks of her own pleasures.

“Is - this what you’ve come for, little hero?” Gan whispered, trying not to think about the bold caress of that tongue. About the secrets lurking behind those impossible eyes. About the fact he’d broken his vow three times in - what? An hour? Two? “Have you come to atone for the sins of Hyrule? To become servant and stud to my people? Is that what you wanted all along? Do you like being my toy? My captive? Do you like the taste of your lowly state?”

Link’s eyes fluttered, and he sucked up every drop Gan offered him as faithfully as he ever kissed his own seed from a petitioner’s cunt.

I have to stop. “Do you like the taste of your king’s milk, little hero?”

Link moaned.

Gan reclaimed his hand, gesturing for the man to pull out, to bow. “Clean up this mess, little hero.”

Link obeyed.

Gan watched.

Chapter Text

Breakfast the next morning began with dessert. Which probably meant Isadora knew by spies or by magic that he’d spent the remainder of yesterday in his workroom, and definitely meant she’d noticed his weakness for sweets. Ganondorf accepted the bubbly fruit wine and the jam tarts anyway, letting the babble of insipid conversation in the courtyard flow around him unheeded. None of it actually mattered, all empty flattery from one side and pointed sarcasm from the other. Isadora kept herself busy for the first hour teasing her current favorites, and Leilani had her hands full keeping Link from trying to tear into his opponents with his teeth every time they disarmed him. Which was often. He carried his left arm bound across his chest today, and being forced to use his right transformed him utterly.

He’s far more dependent on his left side than I thought. Never expected such a glaring weakness in an otherwise glorious warrior.

Isadora refreshed his wine personally. He grunted something that might have passed for thanks, and drained the glass at once.

Another couple hours and it’ll be a full day since he used any actual words.

“Tcha, you have a mighty thirst this morning Dragmire. Long night?”

“Hn. Merely appreciating your excellent cellars,” said Ganondorf, passing back the empty red glass. In truth he hadn’t even tasted the stuff except for its sweetness. But it was always amusing to make a spoiled highborn play servant.

“We did miss you at dinner. I was late to table myself and fretted over it until your lovely herald came downstairs to make your excuses and fetch a tray for you.” Isadora poured him a third glass, shooing her attendants off to fetch the next course. “Are you quite sure I can’t persuade you to release her from duty for one itsy-bitsy afternoon?”

“Quite.”

Isadora sighed theatrically and cast a longing gaze at Leilani. Who was currently shouting at Link and throwing all her weight against his chains as he snapped and snarled at some hapless junior knight.

“Enough,” bellowed Gan, signaling Dashil to assist her. “Lancers into the ring. Third pattern, fifth pattern, then pair off. Anyone who desires to practice more graceful ways of losing to my warriors may challenge singly or in pairs.”

“Vo’hei ghed vo’ Ganondorf,” cried the lancers. “Rajena va Geld’o!”

Isadora shivered and hitched her tawny fur cloak higher. “ Thrilling little custom. Never fails to stir the blood, the way they all worship the very ground you tread.”

Ganondorf snorted. “What are you after, Lady Kharakut?”

“Tcha. Formality at this hour? I don’t believe I have any particular aim at all,” said Isadora, all smooth flattery, gesturing toward the sword flower with a bit of pastry. “Excepting perhaps some little curiosity to see you enter the ring during your visit.”

“Nonsense. I practice every day,” said Ganondorf, exchanging his empty glass for a plate of miniature meat and cheese pies.

“Dancing with your royal guard hardly counts,” said Isadora, licking her fingers. “I mean a real fight. Let us taste the pleasure of admiring a handsome young warlord in his prime.”

Gan grunted in noncommittal answer to her flattery, consuming a couple of tiny pies, heavy with butter. Frivolous little things, these artful tibits which the staff only offered to him, to Isadora, and to her favorites. Everyone else had to manage slabs of roasted and fried stuff with fork and knife in the Hylian fashion.

“Be wary of the wicked wish,“ he said at last, debating the virtues of sending some of his own breakfast to Link, so the poor man would have an easier time. He could barely manage his mug of tea without spilling it. “I have allowed you to put off swearing fealty this long only because I have more pressing business to attend - and because it amuses me to watch you try to squirm your way into keeping your fat little coffers and quaint little army.”

“Oh you can ask me to swear anything you like, whenever you like. I merely assumed you wouldn’t care to waste your time, as nothing I do or don’t say is binding without my darling husband swears the same.” Isadora smiled up at him, bright teeth wicked sharp, amazingly confident for a woman with a foreign army encamped in her house.

“Perhaps you are unaware I am a thief . I give not one chipped rupee for Hylian law,” he rejoined lightly.

Whatever she might have answered was interrupted by Link’s outburst from thirty yards away. He yelled, hurling his eating knife as far as he could throw it, narrowly missing one of the warriors at his table. Gan couldn’t tell what he’d been trying to eat, but it was all over the slate paving now, and a moment later he’d upended the whole damn table atop it in his tantrum. He snarled and howled, wild-eyed, chest heaving. He tore the flame rubíes from his ears, throwing them at his feet as if he would grind them under his heel.

Dashil stopped him with a calculated tap to one bloody ear, dropping him in a graceless heap in the middle of his mess.

The courtyard fell silent.

“You do know the phrase ‘fuck their brains out’ is a poetic idiom,” drawled Isadora in perfect imitation of his affected accent. “Not a literal suggestion?”

Gan shoved his plate into the hands of whoever stood at his left and advanced on Isadora, forcing her to back away. “You continue to hold your pathetic barony by my sufferance - say one more disgusting word about my valet and your descendants for seven generations will regret it.”

Isadora licked her lips nervously, eyes fixed on him, one ear listening for her knights to rush to her defense. Except they didn’t. No one else dared to move. “Not a war captive, not a whetstone.”

The demonstone whispered possibilities. Tempted him with a phantom metallic sourness on his tongue. Sparked red and black at the edges of his vision. “ Did I stutter? He is whatever I wish him to be, and you will keep your foul tongue from any further slander or I will have him rip it from your head.”

Isadora swallowed hard, long ears swiveling, desperate to hear her knights answer his threat, not yet willing to turn her head to see what kept them.

“Go on. Cast a spell now , Izzy. Let’s see you dance,” he purred.

“Um,” she said, backing away. “I can explain-”

Ganondorf smiled, advancing another long step.

“Listen Dragmire, I never cast anything at you. I swear by the gods and and ancestors - we felt foreign magic test the walls. Not you. Something else. Dangerous stuff. Old. Dark. The first night. Before dinner. I assumed Hyrule - thought better to shield us all and sort it out later.”

Gan kept her pinned under his gaze. Damnit.  She’s telling the truth as she understands it. “You may be interested to learn I’ve never needed to touch him. Think about that next time you’re tempted to hide something from me.”



- o - O - o -



Ganondorf laid the marked vellum over the maps again, walking his compass along each possible route. He could shave off three days and bracket the garrison with false targets to draw them from their fortifications if he took the north pass. But all such advantage would turn against him if the mudslides had weakened or destroyed the two bridges in between. He could ill afford to leave Bellosa in charge for more than four days, and it would take him at least that long to scout and return if he didn’t use the demonstone. It seemed far more cooperative after being sealed in voidspace for two weeks - but how long will that last?

A soft chime of golden bells from the inner door tickled his ears as he rolled up the windneedle vellum again. “Enjoy your little nap?”

Link grunted. The merry jingle of bells suggested he scrubbed at his face, but he still didn’t actually speak. Even with half a bottle of red potion in and on him, and half a day laying abed wreathed in summerstones.

Gan let him be - the second best path added enough time to strain their supply. Every ounce in their bags would count. Villages lay much farther apart on the eastern side of the pass, even though Vosterkun had technically become a client state of Hyrule several generations ago.

How much can I carry through the shadowroads with the Elite? How many sheikah warrior-mages do they still field? Even weak ones hidden in with footsoldiers might notice the gate open and close. What if they have festival children in their scout ranks, ignorant of their heritage, untrained, but instinctive?

Pottery clattered near the hearth. Leilani would be annoyed if the man made a mess, but his left hand would remain free again until tonight at least, so he should in theory be able to manage. Anyways she would be busy with the tallies for some hours yet. Dashil walked with her, so no one would dare make trouble for her, but surveying supply always took ten times as long as one wished.

“I did not ask for tea,” said Gan without looking up from his work.

Link set the teacup in the middle of the map anyway. On a saucer, thankfully.

“Your offer is noted. Take it away,” said Gan, reaching for the ink.

Link grasped the saucer and slid the tea across the desk until it bumped against the ledger, sloshing perilously.

Gan tapped the excess from his pen, flicking a brief glance at Link’s scowl. “What do you want?”

Link tapped his pale fingers on the polished olivewood desk.

Gan scrawled another line, picking up the saucer in his off hand and moving the whole thing out of his way.

Link snatched the inkwell away when he reached for it next, plunking a vial of green potion in its place.

“Hn,” said Gan, sitting back in his chair and grabbing the cleaning rag to wipe the nib before the lacquer ink could start to dry. “Mending your ears didn’t need that much magic. Just don’t do it again.”

Link narrowed his eyes and gestured rudely towards the makeshift workroom for some reason - and then to the soft white shirt and new blue sirwal and enameled snake jewels with all their summerstones and bells.

Gan shrugged, amused at his vehemence. “Leilani put them on you. Seems she’s grown fond of your clever hands.”

Link curled his lip in contempt and grabbed the teacup - without the saucer this time - and plunked it in front of Gan.

“You owe me nothing beyond obedience. You are a hostage exchanged for the life of a murderous village nobody. My welfare is no concern of yours,” said Gan softly.

Hate watching,” rasped Link, his accent thick. “Keeper’s health and happiness every concern of kept.”

Gan frowned. “You - do know the difference. Right?”

Link frowned back, but in confusion this time. White suited him somehow, though he was already so pale it seemed strange that it should be so. Perhaps it was merely the potential of it, the clean canvas waiting for adornment.

“Hostage, not my slave.” Gan repeated it in three dialects of Hylian, watching for any sign of understanding.

Link shrugged, gesturing as if to dismiss the entire matter as of no consequence.

“It is important you grasp the distinction,” said Gan, laying his pen aside.

Link frowned again, turning his left hand palm up with a wordless query.

“I am King. I do not have to explain myself to you,” said Gan, pushing back his chair.

Link rolled his eyes and snatched both teacup and potion vial, moving to block Gan’s path. He held up both, tipping his chin. Your choice.

“Hn. Stubborn,” said Gan, but he couldn't quite suppress the smirk tugging at his lips.

Link tossed his fair hair out of his eyes and gestured with cup and vial.

“Why did you seek me out, little hero?” Who sent you? What are those little toys for? Where did you get them?

Link snorted, raising a brow. I told you already.

“Yeah. ‘That which I desire’. I heard the first time,” scoffed Gan, taking the vial of bitter potion. What do you know?

Link waited, offering the cooling tea to chase the potion.

Gan almost laughed when he tasted the heavy dose of King’s Honey sweetening it. He drained it in three pulls and handed back the empty cup. Too charming for your own damn good.

Link smirked, as if he could see Gan’s thoughts on his face. Or maybe he was just pleased with his little victory.

Stop looking at him. Go - do something useful. One doesn’t go about kissing one’s enemies. Or servants.

Gan stalked past him and pulled the hall door open. A ride. That would be the thing. Fresh air. Zharu surely needed the exercise as much as he did.

I’ve never even touched him-!

Much.

Godsdamnit.

Chapter Text

Zharu grumbled about the cold, sulky and obstinate all afternoon. The sunlight and open air was good for her, and the exercise was good for both of them. Ganondorf needed the quiet. The solitude. The space to think of nothing but the trail, the wind, the scent of the early spring afternoon.

“You are either abysmally stupid or astoundingly reckless,” drawled Gan to the approaching rider.

“I’m not as easy to kill as you might imagine,” returned Isadora in accented Gerudo, drawing up her dark pony at the verge of the crude trail. “I didn’t come out here to challenge you-”

“Your command of our tongue is flawed. The word you’re looking for is annoy .”

She laughed - thin, nervous. “That either. You are a busy man Dragmire, and you make it difficult to secure a private audience. Some things can’t be discussed frankly with long ears about.”

Idiot. The open woods are even less secure than your ugly house. “Some things do not need discussed at all.”

“I’m not here to talk about Link,” said Isadora. “Now that you’ve keyed into part of the wards, surely you can feel it - the foreign magic-”

“Whatever intelligence I may or may not gather from your petty little spiritward is no concern of yours.”

“As long as I have breath in my body, my people are every concern of mine. Whatever title may or may not attend that duty,” growled Isadora. “Hyrule grows volatile with the winter summit necessarily extended by these unusually late floods and mudslides and-”

“You mistake me for someone who cares about Hylian sensibilities,” drawled Gan, nudging Zharu into motion again.

“Dragmire - with all due respect, that kind of arrogance will get you killed, along with everyone who ever aided you,” snapped Isadora, kicking her little pony into a trot beside him. “They’ve been looking for a scapegoat since it began, and ancient magic at my gates cannot mean anything good for us.”

“You presume greatly,” said Gan. She weaves hellishly strong wards but she’s not as skilled as she thinks she is if she can’t tell a scrying spell from an attack.

“Do I? Last time I checked you were making ready to invade central Hyrule with less than one division of warriors,” she said with an arch look. “A thief may loot my province to the last chipped rupee but the might and skill of two hundred heavily armed Darknut knights and four hundred rangehounds cannot be stolen .”

“That kind of arrogance is liable to get you killed,” he drawled.

“Don’t push your luck. A single yeti mage whose attention wasn’t even on you kept you guessing for over a week,” said Isadora.

“Hn. It was not a primary objective. Take care that your pathetic little intrigues do not inconvenience me further,” he shrugged.

Isadora laid her ears back in clear annoyance, but she licked her lips and fidgeted in the saddle, increasingly nervous. “The manor and the gentry belong to my darling husband, but the mountains belong to me , brother. You want us to look the other way while you fuck with Hyrule? Keep your hands off my people. You want more than that? You fortify and tell me what you think you can offer Kharakut and the Darknut that Hyrule can’t. You want to dispense with negotiations and attempt to secure your claim on Vosterkun by force? Count how many warriors you want to lose.”

Gan snorted, offering a sardonic grin in spite of the prickly warning of scrying magic sweeping towards them. “You’ve got guts, Izzy. I like that.”

“What I have is a sensibility of my duty and no particular interest in dick measuring contests,” she grumbled.

Gan laughed. “Good. I am reasonably sure you’d lose. Tell me more about this yeti mage you retain.”

“Mmmnnot out here - I smell rain. After dinner, over a glass of wine,” she countered smoothly. No scent of rain lay on the wind at all, but he too felt Kotake’s attention hovering over them. “ Or I can make the introduction and let Sophia entertain you while I let - hmm, I think Farou tonight - soothe my bruised pride with her ample charms. Unless you require her services as well…?”

Gan snorted. “She has brought no petition, so you will have to ask her yourself.”



- o - O - o -



Sophia proved to be an instinctive mage rather than a trained one, but a few hours of the afternoon spent prompting her for information confirmed his suspicions: the ‘dark magic’ Isadora feared was a combination of Sheikah shadow sight from the east and his mothers’ inconvenient curiosity about his activities from the south and west.

A discreet inquiry brought him an adventurous off-duty Darknut a little over an hour before dinner. He invented an excuse to send Leilani away and thinned the wards over Link’s bedroom, casting an illusion to hide the door of his own.

The knight didn’t seem to notice or care what bed he tumbled her in. She seemed to enjoy herself, and she did prove reasonably entertaining, if rather more narrow in hip and shorter in stride than he preferred. Send your watcher minions now if you dare.

He didn’t expect Link to leave his chores to offer wordless but nonetheless explicit assistance entertaining his nonhuman guest. Or for him to accept the condition of his left arm remaining bound, above and beyond the usual rules.

But the ploy did annoy his mothers delightfully.

Accordingly, he went to dinner in a much better mood than he expected to after dealing with their nagging. Isadora noticed, but for once she looked at Link, made up her mind about what she thought she saw - and held her fucking tongue.

Leilani kept his officers drinking - and Link, despite having his left arm still bound, managed his dinner more gracefully than his breakfast.

Not that this was a terribly high bar.

The converted ballroom grew progressively louder, until Isadora stopped trying to make idle conversation over the noise. Gan allowed her to stew in her discomfort for another half hour after that, then refused dessert. That drew her attention immediately - following up with a little innuendo and a casual mention of the knight threw her further off balance.

So he licked his lips and gestured toward the door, suggesting the general merriment of his army and hers offered a convenient time for that private audience .

He almost gave away the ploy with laughing at her startled and anxious mein. He offered her a hand up from her couch to give him more time to smother that amusement. He leaned close to inquire about a truly quiet retreat and remind her about scapegoats, teasing her ear with a calculated rumble.

She stammered in confusion.

He summoned the iron casket containing the demon gem, and guided her towards the door with his other hand at the small of her back. Link abandoned his dinner to follow, tense and pale.

Gan signaled Dashil to escort him back to Leilani’s side. She chose not to be gentle about it, and Gan let her. The man was worming his way far too close to delicate matters already.

Leilani did not approve, but she would obey. And soon, so would Isadora.



- o - O - o -



Most of the manor was quite dark, the windows small and few except on the upper floor. And apparently the tower on the north wing. The late morning light absolutely burned as he descended the stair to make his way back to his own quarters.

Not that I have the energy to open the shadow roads even if circumstances were more favorable. He’d underestimated how much it would drain him to manage the gem and three unfamiliar mages in relay with him. Even with Sophia and her mate holding most of the working shields. Even with Isadora rooting them all. Even with the gem more cooperative than it had been in years as they reached halfway across the world to persuade an acquaintance in Labryna to make noise in Hyrule’s direction.

And Ganondorf needed them to make a lot of noise. He gave them a legion of ghost knights, two of bokoblin, and a vague suggestion the he would consider persuading a tribe of moblin to join them as well. If they delivered on their promise.

He reached next to the seers of several blin tribes in the wild places at the edges of Hyrule, reminding them of their long-standing feuds, promising them food and shinies in soft green Hyrule. The look on Isadora’s face when the minor demons obeyed without question almost makes bringing her into the Work worth it.

The taste of her magic unsettled him, but he couldn’t quite say why. Later . Think about that later. After a fucking nap. It’s enough that she’s cowed and cooperating.

His servants apparently had other ideas, since he heard them yelling from halfway across the main hall. Dashil. The fuck is going on up there.

He’s gone mad, my King. I had to deal with Ashai - she was extremely drunk - and he slipped free somehow meanwhile, not even an hour after you left dinner. We have him now but - he did a great deal of damage. He’s fighting the chains and knocking him out only works for two minutes. I tried three times. I - may damage him permanently if I put him under again.

Gan sighed, borrowing against strength he didn’t have to take the gallery stairs three at a time and let his Elite catch up as they could. Somehow he wasn’t surprised to see Leilani on a couch in the entry room, a field healer fussing over dozens of lacerations and rope burns and small cuts.

Two burly lancers were in the middle room, trying to help Dashil hold Link still long enough to get his bloody hands bandaged. It clearly wasn’t working - failed attempts littered the floor and Link himself howled and gnashed his teeth in spite of the gag, throwing his frantic strength against his captors. He didn’t seem to notice Gan, his pinned eyes focused on the splintered, furrowed, scorched, and bloody door of the sitting room that now served as a shielded workroom.

“Forgive me, my King. I attributed his escape from dinner to Ashai’s drunken transgression,” said Leilani from behind him. “He didn’t fight me at first, when I caught him. I set him back to work on the mending - but I forgot the blue wool in Rana’s room, so I stepped over to get it. Five minutes - no, maybe ten, because when I picked up the basket there was a puddle of ink and - oh forgive me, Sun’s Ray. It was my fault.”

Gan frowned, turning to look down at her. “What has he said?”

“Nothing, Sun’s Ray. I’ve not heard a sensible word from him since I left him with Marish two days ago,” said Leilani, bowing. The healer glared at her back, then boldly met his eye. No doubt whatever she considered some of the wounds more serious than Leilani would admit.  “I heard the noise from the hall - but I didn’t hurry because I thought it was Ashai, and the Iron One would be dealing with her already. Forgive me.”

Did she touch him?

Briefly, Sun’s Ray. I broke her hand. Probably some ribs. I’m not sorry. She’s a jerk and I’ve never liked her.

“Hn,” said Gan, dismissing Leilani and ignoring her grumble as he entered the middle room to loom over his snarling captive. “That’s enough.”

Link didn’t seem to hear him, still struggling and lunging against the grasp of his captors.

Gan wrapped his fist around the lead fastened to the golden collar and jerked it hard to get his attention. That didn’t work either -  he tucked his other hand under the man’s jaw and tipped his head up.

Link fell silent, his blue eyes darting up to Gan’s face, as if searching for something.

“I said, enough . You will stand still while my servants tend this mess.”

Link froze, his mad eyes slowly clearing.

Gan let go of the chain, reaching to untie the hasty gag. Given the blood on the linen, Link - and anyone between him and the workroom - would likely have been in worse condition without it. But now the fight bled away from him, and he stood panting and trembling.

He did not try to speak, but his eyes changed again, tears rising to kohl-stained lashes, the impossible blue somehow even deeper the longer he held Gan’s gaze.

“Release his hand,” said Gan. Dashil not only relaxed her grip but unlocked the chain from the right manacle. Gan took the man’s hand, displeased to see he’d scraped all the flesh from his knuckles and torn his fingernails ragged in clawing at the workroom door. He must have thrown himself against it a thousand times last night, as if the lightning wards meant nothing to him. Why?

He was like a mad dog, Sun’s Ray. He started gnawing on his own flesh if we let him have any slack at all. Like a wolf trying to free itself from a steel trap.

“I forbid you to do this again,” rumbled Gan, releasing his hand.

Link frowned in confusion.

“You are my captive. You belong to me . Your flesh, your pain, your service,” said Gan. “Any claim laid on you for these is a challenge to me, and I will deal with it. Do I make myself clear?”

Link frowned harder, tipping his fair head to one side as if he didn’t catch any sense from the words.

I’m too tired to stand here translating, grasping after whatever weird dialect might be his mother tongue in front of half the army. “He will cooperate now. Dress his wounds and tether him to his bed. My servant will stand watch at his door until I say otherwise.”

Gan waved away their salutes, dismissing the illusion from his bedroom door. He stripped off vambraces and gloves, clawed the putees loose enough to reach the buckles on his boots and wriggle free of them. He couldn’t reach the ties of the chausses or polyns with everything else still fastened, so he fell into bed as he was.

Just before he passed out, he heard Link’s rough voice from the other room, asking simply: “Why?”

One of the lancers made a rude noise. “You don’t know our King very well do you, little hero?”

Link laughed bitterly, and visions of those wild blue eyes followed him into oblivion.

Chapter Text

Ganondorf rose from a blessedly dreamless rest late that afternoon. He reviewed Leilani’s report - and the dreadfully inkstained half-made blue sirwal. No doubt whatever the damage was apurpose, as Rana avadha Saiev was not in the habit of writing anything if she could avoid it, and certainly had no reason to keep indelible lacquer. Without the bottle, he couldn’t be certain of the culprit - but he had a fair idea.

He couldn’t afford to waste a ten-year lancer. He couldn’t afford the effect on morale if he changed her as he had Dashil. Even if Ashai made herself a nuisance the rest of the campaign. As long as she followed the most critical orders, he could still shorten her leash. Keep her too busy to make as much trouble as she might otherwise. And when he held victory? Then he could take care of all of it.

He ordered Dashil to keep Link confined to the rooms, and make sure he saw the food and potion waiting for him beside the hearth but otherwise let him have his leisure for the day. Leilani he ordered to remain with the healer and attempt nothing more strenuous than tea and plain sewing.

She cursed him as soon as he turned his back, of course. She did not agree that the injuries she sustained attempting to deal with his mad captive alone justified such idleness. She should not hold herself to my standard. I am King. She is merely Ramal, and she must rest and eat and restore her strength and sharpness if she is to continue bearing her duties. And I need her skills at my disposal - especially if Link has further fits of madness.

He gathered the rest of his Elite for the usual drills at twilight. He finished the eight primary patterns eight times, danced the full flower for three circuits, and broke his Elite into pairs. A few idle watchers swiftly became a crowd when he summoned a little ball of witchfire and lightning into the ring of standing posts meant for single fighters to practice with quarterstaff and other blunt instruments. He’d seeded each with enchanted steel needleblades beforehand, ensuring the posts would reflect and redirect the magic rather than absorb it.

Gan kept that single knot of magic going for half an hour, until he absolutely ached from dancing, and his arming suit was drenched in sweat. He dismissed the sparring bolt and would have called the practice finished - but he caught sight of Isadora watching from the balcony.

She was certainly tired from a long night of magic - and she had not done any sword drills in at least two days. So he gave the order for his Elite to set the sword flower again and begin the fourth pattern of alternating attack. They conferred among themselves to determine first strike and direction as he sheathed his swords and moved to the center.

This is going to hurt tomorrow.

He summoned a larger measure of the wandering fire to hand, coiling threads of lightning around his fingers. He waited for the first Elite to step forward - and hurled a ball of witchfire and lightning at the Elite two points left of her as he slapped her greatsword aside with his hand.

They made a sincere effort to re-establish the pattern, which no doubt appeared to outsiders as a chaotic melee. He countered every blade, and called a fresh ball of magic every time one of them failed to reflect the lighting towards him in time.

When all of them glowed faintly from witchfire splattered on their armor, he called the practice finished. For now.

The crowd cheered.

Isadora stood on the balcony, silent, her expression utterly opaque.

Ganondorf laughed, dismissing his Elite for the remainder of the evening. Let her stew on that tonight, and he would attend dinner only long enough to sate his hunger. Or maybe he would send someone for a tray. He turned towards his borrowed suite, thinking fondly of a bath.

Too fondly, as it happened, given in his distraction he tripped over a startled warrior on the gallery landing. She stammered apologies, kneeling among the wreckage of whatever it was she’d been carrying.

She looks familiar. “Your loyalty does you credit - but this is unnecessary. Take care going forward, avadha.”

“Vo’hei,” she stammered, bowing deeper. “Ghed vo’Ganondorf - uhm - Great King - Thorn of Dusk, Flower of Dawn - uh, Master of Thunder-”

Ganondorf raised a brow, looking closer at what she’d dropped when she stumbled. Sweets of some kind. Golden pastries. A faceted glass bottle whose jeweled stopper had flown free. Another that appeared to have survived, and a third that cracked across its middle. “Avadha. You need not petition for forgiveness for - this trivial thing. Take away the lesson to be attentive even in the heart of secured ground, and that is enough.”

“Forgive me,” she stammered, abandoning the ritual address she clearly couldn’t remember in any case. “I know the lanterns are not blue - but I - never thought to petition before and I was bringing gifts so I could - maybe find out how to - bring the right tribute.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, vanishing the entire mess to the ether to sort through later. “Walk with me, avadha.”

“Um,” she said, trembling.

“Did I stutter? Rise, and walk with me.”

“Yes, O my King,” she whispered.



- o - O - o -



The warrior paled and begged forgiveness again when she entered his suite and she saw Dashil guarding the inner doors. He did not give her leave to retreat, but gestured to the group of padded benches and steel-undergirded sofas. She begged him to allow her to withdraw instead.

She’s always been shy, but this - I’ve never seen Katta this shattered, observed Dashil.

You were close? “Sit with me, Katta. Tell me why an honored lancer worries about petition rituals and proper tribute.”

Not since we were ilmaha.

Katta stared at the rug. “I - am not strong enough to speak before the Iron One, Sun’s Ray. Forgive me for troubling you.”

Ganondorf raised a brow and chose the largest sofa. It sat too low, and too shallow, but so was every blasted furnishing in the manor except what he brought. Having his desk between them would only increase her anxiety. “I will consider how to answer this little trouble you bring only when I have heard your tale, avadha. You do not speak to my servant . You open your heart to your King.”

Katta mumbled assent - and knelt at his feet, refusing to meet his eye.

“The correct order of my titles at present is thus: Flower of Dawn, Thorn of Dusk, Lord of Thunder, Master of Serpents, Commander of the Sands, Protector of the People, Song of Ancestors, Crown of Ages. In daily matters or times of - urgency, let us say - such formalities are unnecessary.”

She bowed, and if she made any attempt to answer, she spoke too softly for him to hear without magic.

Four blue lanterns. And find somewhere to stand that she can’t see you. “I am not in the general habit of refusing petitions for lapses in petty details. Remember the Eight Virtues, and you will come close enough for most occasions.”

Dashil moved to obey, apparently deciding that ‘somewhere’ meant patrolling the gallery outside his door.

Bored of guarding my captive are you? “Tell me your troubles, Katta.”

How could I be bored watching a pretty Hylian sulk?

“I have nothing else for tribute,” she whispered. “Only give me your blessing and perhaps in the next raid I will glean enough fortune to replace what I wasted.”

Ganondorf allowed a sigh, closing his eyes to concentrate on repairing cracked glass and summoning salvaged oils and sweets from the ether. “Answer my question.”

Katta gasped in surprise when everything appeared on the low table beside her. She stammered and stuttered, and he let her take the time she needed. Mostly to coddle his own nagging headache.

“My spirit eyes are only sharp enough to be of some little use as a scout - and increase the burden of my dreams,” she managed at last. “I am not wealthy, nor can I begin to guess the tribute for this petition. So I - suppose I hoped to petition for this knowledge, Sun’s Ray, in hopes of - being able to fight with purpose again. I mean aside from Your Glory. I mean - not that Your Word and Desire is not already sufficient. I mean - oh I should never have come. Forgive me.”

“If you were ambitious for a higher station you would have done better to petition me long ago,” he mused, draping his arms over the back of the sofa and trying to relax as much as his armor allowed. “Why do you want me to hinder your sight?”

“Forgive my weakness, Sun’s Ray. I have seen many raids, lost many sisters, but this season the burden has become too heavy,” she confessed.

None of the others from Kharazhin were partnered, and I specifically commanded the Rocs to select no one with close kin for the north team. “Your beloved served in another division?”

She bowed her head in shame. “No, Sun’s Ray. I never-”

Link interrupted her confession by stumbling through the inner door with a wordless, worried meep of inquiry and a bright shimmer of golden bells. He’d stripped off the white kurta, standing there barefoot, in nothing but half-laced, bloodstained breeches. Gan smelled a hint of spicewood resin and dragon’s blood. Link had also applied fresh kohl - badly - and vainly attempted to straighten - or remove? - the overlarge snake jewels.

“My servants do not presently require your assistance,” Gan drawled, sweeping his critical gaze over the man.

Link frowned in confusion, glancing between him and Katta. “Petition?”

What? “Very well. You may prepare tea.”

Link tipped his fair head to one side, frowning harder at them for half a minute, as if his thoughts refused to assemble in functional order.

Dashil snickered, made an obscene joke, and got herself locked in silence for the rest of the night. As if anything will ever school that tongue of hers - but I can’t very well start laughing in the middle of a petition like this.

Link bowed, and turned to obey at last.

“Continue. My captive is of no consequence whatever. Consider him as an article of furniture.”

Katta fidgeted with the folds of her sirwal, keeping her eyes lowered. “I was only saying I was never so fortunate to call her beloved. I am only a scout, better with horses and hunting than people and-”

“A decade of loyal service in my army is not only anything. Tell me about her.”

“It is forbidden,” she whispered.

“You are aware I could compel you to speak,” he said softly.

Katta nodded, clearly miserable. “Forgive me, O my King. I have tried to obey the law but - I mourn the Nameless.”

Oh . No wonder Dashil’s new form unsettles her. “It is good that you came to me directly. I am the law.”

Katta tangled her fingers together, first one way, then the other.

Link brought a footed tray over with steaming kettle and bottles of King’s Honey, and true honey, and two bright cups. He knelt to serve - and looked absolutely baffled when Gan dismissed him. He froze in the middle of lifting the kettle to pour, and would not obey until Gan took the damn thing away and ordered him to scrub the washroom and prepare the bath after.

Not that it needed cleaning again, as far as he knew, but it should keep the madman occupied for at least an hour.

Katta made a face when he poured her a cup of tea that was nearly a quarter honey - but she accepted it - and the vial of purplish sedative he emptied into it without voicing any actual comment.

“Whatever assignment Bellosa had you on, you will not serve night watch hereafter. You will report to me when released from your duties every evening until I say otherwise. Now. Begin at the beginning.”



- o - O - o -



Two hours later, Ganondorf detailed one of his other Elite to carry Katta to her rooms. The sleeping draught hit her harder than it should have, but he hadn’t factored in a troubled appetite when he measured the dose. Or else he’d summoned more than he meant to.

He spared a few minutes to prepare two more diluted vials in prosaic fashion and secure them in his desk. Just in case.

Link waited for him in the bedroom, kneeling beside the sleeping platform. He still looked confused, but he answered the order to help with Gan’s armor swiftly enough. This time, the man made quick work of all the ties and laces and buckles, laying everything aside in an orderly fashion for cleaning.

Maybe he addled something, throwing himself at the door last night. Why the workroom though? Did he think to seize a weapon? The flute?

Gan fumbled the tiny horn buttons on his trousers, and decided he would shave later. After dinner. Link offered to help - wordless again, but the intent of his gesture conveyed clearly enough. Gan refused him. Obviously. And shut the washroom door behind him.

He discovered to his annoyance that the warm, fragrant water lulled him into a doze only when Link pulled the door open to bring him more tea. Dawnflower and brambleberry leaf and goldentree bark and bogberries and souring-root. The precise blend he’d claimed to have brought from the great forest in Hyrule.

He wasn’t surprised when Link tried to hand him a tiny vial of green potion as well. Or when he held up a bone comb and gestured to Gan’s braids. Some part of which had unfortunately dipped into the water while he drowsed, tripling in weight.

“Why do you avoid speech suddenly? You are unusually fluent in the desert tongue for a Hylian,” said Gan, without really meaning to.

Link hitched a shoulder and looked away, roses blooming over his fair skin.

“Before you refuse me a third time, you should know I can pull the answer from your mind if I wish,” said Gan. He sipped the priceless tea, amused that once again, Link prepared it heavily sweetened.

Link met his gaze sidelong - and sank to one knee beside the copper bath. He gestured, holding his pale hands so close to Gan’s hand that his skin prickled.

But he didn’t touch.

He held Gan’s eye and didn’t touch him .

Gan raised a brow at this pointed act, curious what the man meant. He lifted his teacup in salute, in the same fashion he knew Link had watched him give Dashil tacit permission.

Link grasped his hand gently and brought Gan’s fingers to his brow, maintaining eye contact. Take it then. I know how your magic works.

“Hn,” said Gan, tempted to do the very thing. “I’m sure your masters would delight to see me lay my neck into whatever trap they’ve forged inside that golden head of yours.”

Link frowned, moving Gan’s hand to his slender throat. My life is yours. If it eases your heart to end it, strike and be done.

“I don’t want to kill you,” rumbled Gan softly. “I merely need what you have.”

Link closed his impossible blue eyes, cheeks flushed and hot as Link moved Gan’s hand to cradle his face.

What-?

Link offered no further clarification, but knelt in silence, gently holding his captor’s hand against cheek and brow and ear.

“Tell me about the little toys you brought into my camp.”

Link sighed, cracking his eyes open.

Gan raised a brow. Answer the question.

“Tea,” whispered Link.

“Hn,” said Gan, barely managing to rein in a laugh. “I rather think I hold the higher ground, little hero.”

Link smirked, his eyes bright. Gan didn’t need any magic to hear the thought behind that defiant look: drink your damn tea.

Chapter Text

Morning came far too early for preference. Isadora held her tongue beyond necessary civilities over breakfast, pretending to be enthralled by the spar below.

Link returned to the ring, to the chagrin of several knights and warriors who would rather he not. Especially since he was starting to adapt to the enforced reliance on his distaff hand. Possibly because his reward for partial cooperation last night was - in part - clarifying the martial advantage of this strict training method.

I should have pushed for more. I already knew the mask had to serve some kind of funerary function and is soul-bound to him for now. I already suspected the blue stone flute held some religious purpose beyond its ability to command storms.

Below, Link danced between his opponents, relying on footwork and speed to compensate for the clumsiness of his right hand.  

But he doesn’t know what I know. The important thing is he learn the advantage of cooperating. There is still time. Nine months-

Gan slammed wards around that thought and focused his attention on his tasteless breakfast. He needed to make up for sketchy dinners and too much magic on too little sleep, and too many weeks away from land and spirits blood-bound to answer him, crossing broken terrain in weather that muffled half his magic.

Sands only know when and where we’ll next encamp at length. The border garrison is too small, and lacks key resources. If it didn’t lay directly below the pass, I wouldn’t bother.

The crowd cheered. Gan didn’t look to see why. He poured himself more of the strong tea, willing it to clear away the fog in his brain. He hated the way restorative potions muddled him for hours afterward.

He also hated that his silk kurta didn’t keep the damp chill at bay half as much as he’d hoped. “For your excellent hospitality and cooperation, I am prepared to offer Kharakut a reasonable measure of autonomy. Keep your customs as you like, call yourself whatever you wish, order your estate and tenants as you please.”

Isadora turned, startled, speechless.

Gan drained his tea, licking his lips of honey and spice. “You have until solstice to deliver tax and tribute to my proxy at the western border shrine until I’ve chosen the new governor. Summer solstice.”

“Your pardon, but I have not - Vosterkun has not surrendered ,” said Isadora.

Ganondorf laid his napkin aside with a wide grin. “I own far more than half of your pathetic province, I control the wards around your seat of power, your cleverly disguised focus-stone is now keyed to me , and my army has controlled Kharakut estate for over a week uncontested. You are no longer in a position to raise arms against me Izzy .”

Isadora opened and closed her mouth, but no words issued forth. It was a minor marvel that she did not drop her tea.

“Now that the unpleasant business is settled, we may go back to being friends. Do have more of this pink cake your cook invented. It is after all a sin to waste.”

“How much?” Isadora set down her cup, her voice barely above a whisper.

“Thirty percent of your gross revenues.”

“That’s preposterous! I could never convert so much into rupee in so short a time even if we had a royal treasury within striking distance,” cried Isadora.

Gan made a rude noise, and ate one of the pink cakes. They probably had wildberries in them, somewhere. Or at least someone thought very hard about wildberries in the room they were baked in. “What use have we for rupee? Our mines run deeper than anywhere else in the world. No, you will send us wool, and meat, and milk, and grain. And you will send me warriors and horses. With all of their gear. And one full resupply of all consumables. Thirty percent heavy cavalry, ten percent engineers, the rest light cavalry - rangehounds by preference.”

“I can’t possibly - thirty percent of our income and how many warriors atop that? That’s impossible,” she stammered.

Gan grinned, pushed back his bench, and loomed over her. “Ten now, and ten at solstice. You may of course substitute warriors for whatever provisions you cannot find the wherewithal to deliver in good condition. I am not a tyrant .”

Isadora shut her mouth with a snap, the whites of her eyes and the severe sweep of her ears fairly screaming her distress.

“Hn,” said Gan, turning heel and stalking back into the manor.


- o - O - o -


Marish answered his summons promptly, and obeyed with charming enthusiasm. Gan lingered over another glass of spiced black tea, drawing pleasure from the cheerful fire in the hearth and the gentle, seductive cast of its light over her oiled skin. He sat back into the sofa and watched her writhe and tremble on the floor for him, gagged and tethered, open and vulnerable.

And almost ready. If she can hilt that imaginatively flared phallus in this session, then she will flower for me in the next. Or - perhaps in this one-?

The gallery door opened. Given that Dashil hadn’t tried to signal him at all, she was in humor to court a lesson of her own.

“Enjoy your workout, little hero?”

Link froze mid-stride.

Gan laughed, and sipped his tea, and returned his attention to Marish. Watching the twisted, brightly-colored glass shaft slip inside her stirred a deep sort of ache in his core and teased his staff into a throbbing distraction. He siphoned off what power he could, but the greater part of her untapped magic would become available only when she opened in spirit as well. In most cases, non-mages required a fair to middling orgasm, a lifetime of religious training, or a great deal of physical pain in the correct context for their nature in order to manage.

Both of which lay within his power to hurry along by magic, but that would defeat the point. Anyways, watching her pleasure herself would be amusing even if it hadn’t any other virtue.

Link padded closer, soft, incoherent stammering dripping from his tongue. As if he now tried to speak, and couldn’t. Nothing at all ailed his mechanisms of speech, and yet since his last tryst with Marish three days ago he’d uttered less than ten words.

Gan raised a brow at him.

“Shouldn’t treat people like things,” whispered Link at last.

No - not after the tumble. During. He objected to her collar and then -? He may have spoken while I washed, but then again it might not have been actual words. Unless the vague assent when I struck him counts. “I do what I want. Are you volunteering to take her place?”

Link’s face flushed bright red. He averted his eyes - and started unwinding his belt.

Gan laughed, sparing a thread of power to summon a second glass tool from the red chest, this one elegantly curved swirls of black and purple and shimmering gold. “In every respect?”

Link froze, swallowing hard.

Gan held up the glass sculpture, turning it to catch the light.

Link gestured rudely.

Gan vanished the chain binding his left arm to his chest.

Link gestured again, bonking his middle fingers together with a disingenuous expression of innocence and an open-handed shrug.

Gan laughed .

Link blushed harder, pretending to patently fabricated confusion.

“You must not want to save her that badly,” chuckled Gan, setting aside his tea.

Marish whimpered, clenching her teeth tighter around the padded leather gag.

Link glanced between her and the sculpture, a telltale bulge disturbing the elegance of his tailored buckskin breeches. He fidgeted in distress and indecision.

Gan summoned a golden double-looped cockring from the red chest, toying with it and watching how Link’s attention flitted between the three most obvious choices. “Perhaps your limited Hylian imagination requires a little - guidance. Adorn your - ah, little virtues with this, to keep you warm while you decide the manner of your sacrifice to me.”

Link frowned, huffing in annoyance at the failure of his ploy. He crossed the room to snatch the ring away, eyes bright with defiance. He tugged his laces only loose enough to shove the cloth out of his way and draw himself into the open, holding Gan’s eye the whole time.

“Kneel,” suggested Gan, toying with the glass sculpture.

Link grumbled, but sank to the rug beside Marish, tugging his breeches low enough to reach his root.

She whimpered, trembling and panting, drawing closer to a little crest of pleasure. Not that the first wave would be enough - for either of them.

Gan propped his other arm over the back of the sofa, leaning his chin on his fist.

Link rolled his blue eyes and licked the inside of the golden rings as he stroked himself with his left hand in an unusually savory pattern, light and slow.

Marish trembled and gasped, tumbling through a tiny little prelude, no doubt helped along by Link’s soft noises.

He must be starting to absorb his lessons.

His eyes fluttered when he actually started slipping the device over his shaft, toying with himself in a delightfully sensitive fashion. He cupped and twisted his palm over his crown, rolling his wrist to descend the shaft again, nudging the forged gold rings fractionally lower.

Gan cleared his throat and promised himself to readjust his own aching cock in a moment. When the man was distracted.

Link drew a sharp breath, grasping himself in a tight fist. His eyes fluttered, and he laid his right hand flat against his taut abs.

Gan noticed an ache in his hand, and forced himself to relax his grip on the glass sculpture.

Link sighed and licked his lips, relaxing his own fist.

Wait .

Link slid his right hand down to caress his tender, blushing sack.

Gan twisted his hand around the sculpture experimentally.

Link mirrored him precisely, pulling his lip under his teeth, blue eyes dilating in pleasure. Beside him, Marish moaned, still edging herself closer to a second wave.

“Thread the second ring, little hero. Don’t bother pretending you don’t know how to lock it in place,” rumbled Gan.

Link struggled to obey while still mirroring Gan’s no-longer-idle fidgets with the glass sculpture.

Oh fuck .

Gan licked his lips and transferred his attention to Marish. Or tried to. With the two of them both remaining in his field of vision, and the increasingly uncomfortable state of his own flesh no matter where he focused, he felt the strain on his discipline far too keenly.

Just one stroke wouldn’t hurt, surely?

Marish moaned, rocking the thickest swell of the twisted glass shaft against her slick, taut gates.

But one isn’t enough.

Link threaded his sack through the larger golden ring, breath hissing through his sharp teeth.

I could make them both follow me. Immersed in the scent and sound of the other, within inches of what they want, denied the privilege of fucking, forced to use these toys, forced to imagine me -

Link yelped and moaned as Gan rationed out a thread of magic to cinch the golden rings tight.

I could make them watch me take my pleasure while they beg for release-

Marish howled through the gag, bucking her hips against her hands, against the cold glass inside her.

I could make him watch me fuck her when she flowers-

Link moaned, rolling his shoulders as he stroked his darkening shaft in exactly the wrong rhythm.

Or the right one - he’s not the innocent he wants me to think he is.

“You may not rise from this spot,” rumbled Gan.

I could make him watch me this time. Lust to be in my place. Lust hopelessly to bury his need in her oasis as I fill her.

“You may not cum,” rumbled Gan.

They both whined.

“You may not stop,” rumbled Gan.

If I start - can I stop?

“You may not fuck him. You may not fuck her,” rumbled Gan. “You may touch only the toy I give you, and your own pathetic flesh. Do I make myself clear?”

They both nodded, whimpering in delicious desperation.

Gan laid the black-purple-gold sculpture on the sofa beside him. Resisted the urge to soothe his ache. Stood. Resisted the temptation to stroke his palm over his clothing. Strode from the room. Resisted the opportunity to press his hands against his throbbing need.

Dashil saluted.

Gan signaled her to guard his two helpless pets, and braced his hands on the gallery rail, staring sightlessly at the hall below. He borrowed Dashil’s eyes, letting the seductive shiver of lightning coil around his spine as he watched them writhe and moan and obediently fuck themselves. Link bowed and reached - and teased his elegant fingers over his dark rose as he stroked himself with uncharacteristically subtle skill.

“Merciful Mother of Sands - this was a terrible idea,” he whispered to the empty gallery, attempting to force his cock to subside by sheer force of Will.

It didn’t work.


- o - O - o -


At twilight, Ganondorf danced the sword flower alone. His Elite drilled in triads about the court, a comfortable rhythm of clash and cry under Bellosa’s strict direction.

He wrapped himself in a sphere of silence, fixing needleblades at the points of the eight sacred directions, and the eight profane ones. He adjusted the drape of his freshly laundered roc’s wing caftan, his crisp white sash, and knelt in square, counting down from three hundred.

He rose in a smooth twist of light and shadow, sword ribbons trailing as he leapt. Each needleblade flared with golden lightning when he struck it, until sixteen shimmering twists danced with him. A single Word of power set them whirling, and each bright tink bloomed richly amber.

Blood crimson. Heat-lightning violet. Noon blue. Ethereal green. Moonlight. Shadow.

Ganondorf stood at the center of a sphere of colors, swords held loose at his sides, barely even winded. He hadn’t been able to afford the leisure to dance in nothing but silks in months . He almost didn’t want to stop.

He vanished the spell of silence, a little surprised at the quiet courtyard, given the size of the crowd. Even the Elite had left their drills to watch their King.

Ganondorf rationed out a pinch of power to amplify his voice and cried: “Vo’hei-!”

The voices of his warriors rose as one in the ritual call-and-answer. On the last phrase, someone had the wit to drum the First Hymn. He laughed, leaving the colorful sphere behind as he sheathed his swords and swept back into the manor on a rising wave of song.

Katta came to him as promised, and he sat with her in the middle of the tidy sleeping platform to drink tea with her. When the sleeping draught began to spin yawns into her story, he kissed her brow and dismissed her to her rest.

Link scowled fearsomely at him from his place by the hearth in the first room until Leilani slapped his hand and scolded him. She apparently had decided they would make a second arming suit, and gave Link the tedious work of stitching and stuffing channels in the black wool panels that would eventually become sleeves.

Ganondorf wound the cabinet clock and settled at his desk to review the supply reports.

Leilani scolded Link again for distraction.

Gan borrowed her spirit gem for a moment - a murky view, but enough to make out Link’s furious expression. Is he still wearing the ring?

Dashil snickered.

Gan closed the connection again, flicking his fingers through the air to make sure the he’d loosened the golden adornment enough after the earlier entertainments.

A hesitant knock disturbed the orderly quietude. Gan did not allow it to interrupt his writing until he caught Sidoo’s voice. She sounds worried. And I smell spicebark and roasted apples.

Sidoo bowed her head in embarrassment when she caught him studying her.

Gan beckoned her closer, leaning back in his chair to clean his pen.

Sidoo gave the covered dish of apples to Leilani and took a knee some three paces from the desk, mumbling her way into the beginning of a formal petition.

“Enough,” he said, gesturing dismissively. “Your petition was accepted weeks ago, your tribute settled. You need not bring more than that.”

“Forgive me Sun’s Ray, but this is - for myself alone. A secret that cannot wait for the usual time,” she confessed.

“It is customary that such petitions come to me under the green lanterns,” he said with a frown, studying the shape of her spirit. He didn’t see the seed of a young spirit nestled with hers, but with more mature avadha the seedlings often took longer to set strong roots.

Sidoo shook her head. “Please, O My King. I beg you to accept this tribute, and in your mercy, give me a single dram of lust powder.”

“You are aware of the law in this matter,” he rumbled, pushing back his chair.

She nodded. “I will pay the price - after my purpose is achieved, else she will guess my intention.”

“Indeed, that is generally the mechanism by which such coercion operates. Who is it you beg my leave to assault?”

“My beloved Marish,” she whispered.

Ganondorf raised a brow. “That’s not how this works.”

“Forgive me - I know it cannot be the usual way, but I need it. She is obsessing, she falls into heavy silences, she grows angry , Sun’s Ray. With lust powder to slay her fear, she will flower, and the sickness will be cured.”

“Again. That’s not how this works,” he rumbled, folding his arms over his chest.

“I don’t know what else to do - she will not believe that I believe her about the pleasures of being filled so if she cannot bear to open wider than me.” Sidoo gestured helplessly.

“Yes, avadha. This manner of work takes time. Better if you had come to me before. Say, two years ago.”

“No - impossible. It was terrible - the nightmares, the pain, the scars. She couldn’t even bear to look at her favorite toys or bathe where anyone else could see her. She met Caifei purifying in the oasis just last fall by accident, and she-”

“Every word on your tongue is exactly why you should have come to me as soon as the healers cleared you to return home.”

“But-”

“All of that could have been different for both of you had you come to me. Now? It is woven,” he said with a shrug. “Nothing matters but forward.”

“Surely just a little lust powder will-”

“Set your healing back by a year or more? Potentially block her from ever being able to enjoy being filled in any way ever again? Is that what you want?”

Sidoo wept.

“Come. Give me your hand,” he commanded, distantly amused that Leilani bent over her stitching with angry focus, while Link didn’t even pretend to be working anymore.

Sidoo sniffled, and dragged her feet, but she obeyed. He folded her hand inside both of his, pressing his Will against hers, making her lock eyes with him. When he held her complete and undivided attention, he cupped his palms, and summoned a bone needle to prick at her fingers.

“Ow,” she said automatically.

“You feel a small pain. It is a needle. You feel it again?” Ganondorf watched her spirit for the telltale flare where that kind of pain lived inside her.

“Yes, Sun’s Ray, I was only startled before. It is nothing,” she mumbled, embarrassed.

Ganondorf vanished the needle and pressed his Will against the seat of pain. “I have pricked you again. It is the same?”

She nodded.

He opened his hands to show her the absence of any needle, still pressing against her spirit.

She frowned in confusion.

He lifted the pressure away, allowing the minor pain to vanish.

“But this is different,” she whispered.

“It is exactly the same,” he said, folding his hands over hers again. He drew a deep breath, and unraveled a few threads, distancing the root of pain from her spirit - and summoned a long, slender shard of perfect tri-facet obsidian. “Do you think I did not see from the first why you really came to me?”

“I didn’t know,” whispered Sidoo, staring in wonder as he opened his hands and let her see the shining black shard thrust through her hand between heart and middle finger, neatly and painlessly threaded between bones and tendons.

“Hn,” said Gan, plucking the shard free and wiping away the tiny drops of blood it left behind. He wove the roots back into order, cutting out a few rotten ones touched by the memory of that raid. “How would you know all the powers of your King?”

Sidoo sank to her knees, begging forgiveness.

Gan caressed her bright, beautiful hair, and guided her to pillow her head on his knee as he took up his work again.

Chapter Text

Isadora did not bother to make an appearance at dinner. At breakfast the next morning, her servants offered him a competent approximation of a desert feast. At first he thought Isadora continued to isolate herself, but as he watched morning drills he realized the number of knights was off. And that this morning, each chose to withdraw from challenging Link after only one bout.

Ganondorf descended from the terrace for a better view, approaching the sword flower as yet another heavy Darknut entered it. Link did not fare so well against this one - and this one did not withdraw, but exchanged weapons and challenged him again.

And again.

Intrigued, Ganondorf vanished the chain binding Link’s left arm. He transferred his blade to his stronger hand without missing a beat of his attack pattern.

The knight countered smoothly, but gave ground nonetheless. Ganondorf watched his captive chase the knight around the flower, amused by the remarkably even match. Until this morning, no Darknut had been able to hold out quite so long in single combat when the man had use of his left hand.

“Enough,” said Ganondorf, folding his arms over his chest, sparing a moment of regret that his armor was still being cleaned. Not that he couldn’t use magical wards instead, but that would get expensive. “Short swords and spears are not primary weapons for either of you.”

The knight saluted without comment.

Link rolled his shoulders, tipping his fair head in mild curiosity.

“Broadsword and shield,” said Ganondorf.

The knight nodded, striding out of the ring to exchange their weapons again.

Link frowned, waiting for the warriors to bring him a little round shield and double-edged Hylian blade.

The courtyard fell silent when they faced each other again. And yet - as Link waited at the center of the flower for the knight to attack, Ganondorf could feel the war drums under his skin.

No one cheered. No one even spoke. The fighters did not waste breath on taunts. They danced in rising tempo, neither striking or blocking a moment before it became necessary. Neither wasted a single movement. Neither seemed to tire.

I’m not as easy to kill as you might imagine.

Ganondorf lofted a ball of lightning into the ring as they clashed once more.

Link broke his attack to strike the lightning back towards him.

The knight lunged for their opponent.

Ganondorf batted the lightning back into the ring.

The knight realized too late, stunned for a moment when it struck them.

Ganondorf applauded, amused that both had used the distraction to ‘kill’ the other.

Isadora saluted her opponent, and pulled her helm off, panting for breath.

Link bowed in return, clearly baffled.

“I am pleased to learn the Baron’s best fighter is his charming wife,” said Gan with a wide grin.

“So was he,” she returned in good humor. “I am fond of him, brash idiot though he can be at times. He is everything a chief among his people should be, except that we have not been blessed with children.”

“Hn. A circumstance more difficult to remedy when you are a month’s hard travel apart,” he said, gesturing to invite her to join him at the breakfast table.

She laughed, kissing her gloved hand to Link as she left the ring. “We spent many years trying, singly and together. Neither of us is capable. It is what it is.”

Ganondorf grunted assent, pouring fresh tea for himself. Trials aside - would the People have accepted my claim so readily if I had not seeded children early?

Isadora tugged off gauntlets and gloves, draining a cup of unsweetened tea in one pull and pouring a second. “Vosterkun does not surrender.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, leaning his hip against the balcony.

“Keep the lands you’ve won if you like, and much joy may you have managing it all. Nearly two-thirds of the population is Hylian, and mountain folk never think much of administrators anyway,” she said, sinking onto her fur-draped settle with a groan of relief.

“Such people need a strong hand guiding them,” said Gan with a shrug. “Hyrule is weak and divided, wasteful and directionless, led in circles by a short-headed bigot and his pet priests.”

“Rebellion is expensive,” said Isadora.

“You have the money for it,” returned Gan with a smirk. “Or you did .”

She sighed. “I cannot leave these mountains even to annoy the House of Red Lions. Nor have we the surplus you imagine - the revenues owed to Karakut feed us and our less fortunate clients.”

“And two hundred heavily armed knights, and four hundred rangehounds,” recited Ganondorf with a smile. “Feed fewer mouths at home.”

Isadora tipped her cup to acknowledge the point. “Nonetheless, war is expensive. We have our own quarrels with Hylian law and piety - but would Hylians accept a nonhuman overlord? Given the history of this one oft-contested province, I think not. So instead we play politics.”

“Hn,” said Gan, toying with his empty cup. “And to what end do you play now?”

“The northwestern foothills, ten thousand hectares of arable land, and the left flank of your army,” said Isadora, unblinking.

Gan laughed. “You know better than to think I would allow the hammer of Karakut to undermine my fortifications.”

“Naturally,” she countered. “The Darknut will nonetheless hold the most prominent position in your little alliance, or twenty fighters is all you’ll get, if I have to strip every granary to the last kernel to do it.”

Gan smiled. “But of course. Knights and rangehounds belong beside true warriors. The lesser demonkin shock troops are not concerned for precedence.”

Isadora cocked her head. “Because of course you’ve allied with tribes of greater demonkin already. Notoriously difficult to control on the field.”

“Hn. For some,” conceded Gan, returning his cup to the table and plucking a few slices of sugared voltfruit from the tiered centerpiece.

“You have my attention, Dragmire.”

Gan smiled, savoring a piece of fruit before bothering to answer. “I happen to have some experience in the matter.”



- o - O - o -



Noon brought a steady little rainstorm, heavy enough to annoy the watch and the warriors slated for afternoon drills and drum a fetching song on the slate roof. Ganondorf ordered a single blue lantern set out, and met Leilani in the south tower to assess the condition of the manor’s stillroom. Better than he expected, if annoyingly small.

He followed her next to the tailor’s solar to select cloth from their stores for a new kurta, and dyed silk for the warding patterns on his new arming suit. He didn’t look forward to the tedium of setting the glyphs, but Leilani could at least manage the borders in his stead. He lost another hour selecting tanned hides and trying to make the baffled armorers understand the necessarily severe design. They kept asking about a variation of Bellosa’s armor or a more generously proportioned version of knightly plate. At least they understood splint and scale reinforcements - and promised him concept drafts by morning.

Ganondorf climbed to his suite, wondering if he could spare half an hour to rest before setting out the second lantern after the hour of madness passed. Everyone was busy - his mothers would surely be asleep - final disposition of supply had to wait another day in any case.

Link yelped when he opened the bedroom door, tucking his hands behind his back and retreating a hasty step.

Gan raised a brow, hesitating on the threshold.

Link blushed deeply, bowing and retreating another step, stumbling on a little hump in the rugs. He’d cleaned up from morning drills, dressed simply in the little white kurta and a clean pair of dove-gray breeches. Someone had either given him a lesson in or helped him with applying kohl and smoke mica, but he wore no jewels aside from the golden restraints.

He must be freezing. “What are you trying to steal, little hero?”

Link shook his head in denial.

“Hn. Show me your hands then,” said Gan, letting the door swing wide.

Link blushed all the way to the tips of his elegant ears, roses blooming under the crisp placket of his kurta. “Looking. Not stealing.”

Gan waited.

Link sucked his lip between his teeth, averting his eyes as he brought his hands forward. In one, he held a scrap of ribbon, and the other, the severe steel bit Gan had shown him the morning of the gauntlet demonstration.

“That design requires four tethers to set the angle properly. Also, it’s too large for a Hylian mouth without I adjust it,” rumbled Gan, amused. “Happily, I currently am at leisure to show you. If you like.”

Link frowned in confusion. “ Like ?”

“You snatched it from my desk to look at and play with in secret. You are curious. It is not a sin to wonder,” Gan said softly. “Do you want to know how it feels on your tongue?”

Link stammered, speechless, and lunged forward to shove bit and ribbon onto the vanity.

“Hn. That is not where it belongs,” he chided, leaning against the doorframe. He slung a tether of magic across the room to pull the red chest forward, bumping it against the sleeping platform.

Link sighed, clawing his silky hair out of his eyes. He didn’t look at all surprised. He merely gathered his courage, retrieved the bit, and moved to open the red chest.

Gan watched inscrutable emotions flicker over his pale face as he gazed down at its contents. Or the ones on the surface anyway. Many boxes and trays and bundles nestled inside, and there was no possibility Link could find the right case for the bit without looking at all of it.

“A torture chest,” whispered Link.

Gan winced, wondering if he began to prefer the man mute. “When it needs to be.”

Link plucked a coiled bullwhip from the trove, frowning and shaking his head as he twisted his hands around the smooth woven leather. “There is no other purpose of such a thing.”

Gan raised a brow. “Context.”

Link turned his head so slowly he might as well have been trapped in syrup. He raised his blue eyes to meet Gan’s guarded study, squeaked, and shoved the whip back in the chest.

“Surrendering so easily, little hero? Go on. You wanted to look at my things, didn’t you? You stole summerstones from my treasury. You stole my caftan from the laundry and hid it under your mattress. You played with my cosmetics and oils. You eavesdrop on my petitioners.”

Link bowed his head. “Sorry.”

“Is it easier if I order you to look? Or if I order you not to?”

Link shot him a murderous glare.

Gan chuckled.

Link set his stubborn jaw and started unpacking the chest in earnest. Piles of inlaid boxes of needles of varying types, bundles of canes and reeds and coiled whips and many-strand scourges. Spring clamps and ring clamps in silver and gold and steel. Brass weights nestled in velvet-lined cases. Leather straps and spools of chain. Silk blindfolds. Felt blinders. Plugs and phalloi and beads in steel and glass and oiled wood.

“Why? Do you - really love pain so much?” His lilting accent blurred the words more when he whispered.

Gan tucked his chin and let his eyes slide away to nothing in particular. “Do you love murder?”

“I am a warrior ,” said Link, his voice raw, his accent even heavier.

“These are merely tools,” said Gan evenly. “No different from a blade but in shape.”

“Oh,” said Link, his voice cracked and rough with some heavy sentiment. “Just another way for you to seize power.”

Gan snorted, shaking his head, shrugging off the man’s continued insults. “Your lack of imagination is so fucking Hylian.”

“I don’t need imagination to know what this is for,” growled Link, snatching the steel traitor’s scourge from the chest.

Gan flicked his eyes to the bundle of steel rods, the red tassels dancing below the man’s fist, those furious blue eyes. “You have experience?”

He blinked, and his eyes changed. No longer angry, but sad. He lowered the scourge, cradling it in both hands.

“I asked you a question.”

“Yes,” whispered Link, swallowing hard and dropping his eyes to the floor.

How? Gan watched him in silence, how he stroked his thumb idly over the rods, how his fist relaxed, how he caressed the intense instrument in his lap as if it brought him an entirely different kind of pain than it was designed for. “Pick one.”

Link’s head snapped up. What?

“Pick one,” repeated Gan. “Or I pick for you.”

Chapter Text

The click of the cabinet clock improved the hissing patter of rain as the afternoon ripened. Ganondorf threaded the enchanted steel chain through a ring newly-set in the stone wall of the front room across from his desk, and up to the similarly fresh anchor. Link knelt on the bare wood floor, thighs well apart, hands bound to the opposite arm behind his back. The stark contrast of dark leather and gleaming steel suited his naked flesh in a curious fashion - but then there was very little he did not manage to look striking in.

Small wonder he never cares about style, since he could roll in a mud puddle and still be handsome. Gan pulled the chains taut, making sure nothing would pinch or shear when - if? - he started to fight his restraints.

Link sighed through the bit, squaring his shoulders as much as his position allowed.

Gan stepped into the hall to make sure the lancers serving as his heralds for the rest of the evening understood their instructions: in addition to the usual forms, any petitioner who acknowledged Link in any way would be refused and disciplined. He called a spark into the second blue lantern. He collected a shallow steel bowl from the sideboard, bowing to place it between and forward of Link’s knees.

He ignored the muffled rrr?

In fact, he’d not bothered to speak to or acknowledge his captive in twenty minutes. After all, one doesn’t explain oneself to a table or a sword.

Gan sat as his desk in the measured quiet, looking only at his work. He allocated two pages worth of provisions before the door opened.

The first petitioner wanted potions - stealth, appropriate to a scout - and brought him a whole basket of fresh nightshade as tribute. The second wanted him to repair her bow. It wasn’t broken after all - the crack in the laminated horn proved to be cosmetic only, but far better to be certain of it.

Link moaned after the third left with her salve, drool running down his chin and dripping into the steel bowl. Gan did not look at him, but borrowed Dashil’s eyes to see how his captive fared. She stood at the inner door of his suite, hands crossed over the pommel of her greatsword, indifferent and immovable. She was coming to truly enjoy her role as the Iron One.

The fourth and fifth came to him together, each wanting him to settle a dispute in her favor. Neither particularly enjoyed his judgment, but he was amused later to hear that they did in fact report to their respective captains for nine lashes as ordered.

The sixth asked for far-seeing of her beloveds at home, and pretended not to cry when he refused her. She was support staff - she couldn’t begin to understand the tactical risk of that magic. So he pretended not to notice her tears, and sent her away to write letters instead.

Gan wound the clock again after the sixteenth petition.

Link began to tremble and cry in confusion when Gan sat back down to work on the supply orders.

Eight more petitions, much the same as the first. Baskets of mushrooms and herbs and bottles of dead insects and dried seeds piled higher against the shelves to his right. The contents of his bar cabinet and his medicine chest slowly dwindled.

Link began to howl and rage, lunging against his restraints.

Four more petitioners, all struggling to ignore the mad Hylian as instructed. When they each left, Link growled and snarled as fiercely as the steel bit allowed.

Gan returned to his work, vaguely curious if the next petitioner stood in the gallery, listening, deciding if she really actually wanted whatever it was.

Eventually one did, anyway - and now Gan struggled to disguise his mirth. She wanted - of all things - a new leather lasso to replace the one she’d snapped in a tryst the night previous, and a taste of his tongue, if she could get it. She winked and flirted, completely ignoring - or excited by? - their noisy audience. She wasn’t terribly blessed in proportion, but her playful manner amused him.

He cleared his papers off the desk and invited her to sit. He toyed with her a bit, finding her pleasant enough, but uninspiring. She seemed happy even so, encouraging and appreciating his work without pressing nor pouting for more.

Link’s fury gave way to necessarily incoherent begging.

Eight more petitions, one of them for a renewed charge on an enchanted pleasurestone. It unfortunately proved to be cracked beyond easy repair, so he exchanged it for the closest version from his own supply. She stumbled over her own tongue in wonder when she tipped the polished topaz from its quilted silk pouch, claiming she could never afford such luxury even if she took a hundred prizes on this campaign.

She squeaked and looked absolutely mortified when he suggested that it would help her meditate upon the benevolence of her King of a leisurely morning. However she also tucked the stone back into its pouch and held it to her chest as she fled the room.

Gan smirked to himself, flipping through papers to find his place again.

Four more petitions, each falling after a longer stretch of quiet than the last, all for letters home.

His last visitor was, of course, Katta.

She could not ignore either Link or Dashil, but by that point it was of no consequence. She didn’t move, and couldn’t make herself heard. He sobbed helplessly in his little corner, his pretty face ruined with drool and tears and snot he couldn’t wipe away, oblivious to anything that passed in the last half hour.

Katta perched on the bench in front of Gan’s desk, and spoke of Kharazhin. Of her own hopeless position as a competent, but unremarkable scout. Doomed to a subordinate rank, and a mere sufficiency to live on. Barely enough saved to marry if she settled with a respected Davayu or Ramal, definitely not enough to support a Hylian lover, had she wanted one.

Gan briefly considered seeking Dashil’s opinion of the woman, but in the end it wasn’t a question of what the Nameless had ever felt about her. This was about Katta , and her struggle to accept that the First Lance she once admired was gone forever, consumed by her beloved King.



- o - O - o -



The door latched behind Dashil with a solid snap that would never hold against her if she needed to be on the other side of it. Nonetheless, the lanterns were doused, and Leilani would spend one more night under the healer’s observation - in no small part to ensure she slept at all. Left to her own devices, she would work until dawn.

Which, to be fair, is not actually so far off.

Gan gathered a soft cloth from the sideboard, dipping half of it in a waiting bowl of warm water. He let his boots measure a resonant beat across the floor. Link didn’t react. He hung against his restraints, conscious but unmoving, blue eyes glassy and fixed somewhere in the middle distance.

Gan clicked and murmured to him as he would to a sleepy horse, taking a knee beside his captive to stroke the cloth gently down the man’s flushed cheek. Link shivered, but otherwise remained as he was. Drool dripped from his chin, splashing on the edge of the steel bowl which both held and sat in a puddle of the same. He didn’t even close his eyes as Gan wiped a clean corner of the cloth under those dramatic lashes. He uttered no noise whatever, his breath bubbling a little but nothing else.

Gan washed his face and unfastened the bridle and blinders, guiding the man to drop his chin with a gentle thumb, untangling the steel from his tongue. The man let his mouth hang open even so, but that was not so unusual. The jaw tended to ache after a few hours immobile.

Gan washed his face again, from brow to neck, methodical and quiet, drying his tender skin after. He moved the bowl away and laid the cloth over the puddle. He unfastened the clips tethering Link to his own harness one by one, and unlocked the lead chain from the golden collar.

Link didn’t move except as Gan moved him.

Gan unfastened all of the restraints, arranging them in a neat line where Link could see them, if he but looked. Some part of him no doubt registered it, even if he didn’t now. Gan ran his hands over stripes of reddened skin, guided Link to flex and curl his fingers, making absolutely certain nothing had pinched that shouldn’t have.

Link whimpered at last when Gan touched his face with his bare hand, making him nod and turn his head to loosen stiff muscles.

I shouldn’t be letting him get this close. “You need to stand now. Hold my arm.”

Link bowed his head and wept instead, rocking in place, a strangled breathy whistle the only sound he could manage.

Goddamnit. Gan ran one hand over his golden head, down his slender neck, his bowed shoulders, settled onto the ledge of muscle under his far arm. “On three.”

Link didn’t react.

Gan counted slowly, and rocked up to one knee, hauling the man to his feet, bracing him and letting him take his own weight as he felt able. Which apparently meant not at all.

So Gan shifted his hold to lift the madman into his arms, and carried him deeper into the suite, opening the doors ahead of him with the smallest thread of magic that could do the job.

This is the most dangerous warrior mage in the world after myself. His entire purpose begins and ends with making himself an obstacle in my path. He carries ancient and powerful relics the likes of which exceed almost everything the Rova ever taught me. This is a distraction - a calculated ploy to turn my attention from Hyrule and their secrets.

Link sat slumped on the bathing bench in the copper trough exactly as Gan placed him, shaking and weeping as Gan poured warm water over his fair skin by the pitcherful to draw his spirit back into his body. He let Gan rinse his hair and comb it back with his fingers. He let himself be lifted to his feet, clutching the rolled edge of the trough, wavering as Gan poured water down his back, over his hips and thighs. He let the water touch him, making no attempt to guard against or guide it in any way.

When he was drenched from crown to toe, Gan grabbed one of the white bath sheets, draping it between his hands to rub the man down like he was a sweaty horse. He found himself muttering little nothings to the man quite as if he was chiding Asifad for fidgets, without realizing he was doing it until it would have been strange to stop.

“There. You are clean again,” he said at last, tossing the damp cloth aside and grabbing a fresh one from the shelf. “Will you soak further, or will you lay down?”

Link didn’t react.

Gan clicked his tongue, and tucked his draped hand under the man’s chin, making him raise his blue eyes. I can’t make him focus though. “Your choice. Bath? Bed?”

Link made a tiny squeaking sound, and shook his head by such a small degree that Gan felt certain he wouldn’t have registered it as such if he’d even one more layer of cloth guarding his hand.

Gan shook his head. How can this lost creature be a guardian of anything and never mind Hyrule? “Choose, or I will choose for you. You don’t have to speak yet - just nod. Bath? Bed?”

Link shook his head no to both.

Gan sighed, tempted to reach into his mind after all. But that may be exactly what they want. Sending me an idiot knight with a king’s ransom at his disposal and an overdeveloped sense of honor, wagering on my temper leading me to set my teeth on their hook.

Link raised his hands, trembling, reaching for his captor. He pulled back hardly a thumb-length from Gan’s chest, jerking back as if burned, cowering and averting his eyes.

“Dry then,” rumbled Gan, draping the bath sheet over his fair shoulders and using the thick cloth as a shield so he could pick him up again, standing him on a padded bench to towel him off more effectively. “You are so damn small. I could dress you twice over and make cushions besides with the cloth it takes to drape me.”

Link whimpered.

“Alright, maybe not quite twice, but ten rupee says a single one of my shawls could serve as a cape for you,” teased Gan, scrubbing the soft white cloth over his fair skin to chase down every drop.

Link moaned in distress.

Gan stopped, searching the man’s face for some idea of what troubled him. “You cower like you expect me to hit you.”

Link winced, his eyes sliding away towards the strop hanging on the wall.

“Not tonight,” said Gan with a shake of his head. “A warrior’s body is one pillar of their strength. Load too much on it, set it on shifting ground, crack it and ask it to bear weight before it is repaired, and the whole temple will crumble.”

Link whined again, tiny and soft, like a kitten too weak to find its way back to its nest. His eyes flicked from Gan to the strop and back again.

“No,” said Gan.

Link bowed his head and sniffled.

Gan fidgeted with the towel in his hands, baffled. “Why do you want me to beat you? Why, when I most need to know your thoughts, do you stop speaking ?”

Link gestured, first a complicated shrug, then touching his left hand to his brow. He stood like that a moment, then rolled his wrist in a come on sort of way, touching his brow again.

“You are a terrible spy - but you may actually be the best assassin I’ve faced yet. I admit of temptation, but I’m not stupid enough to yield to it,” said Gan, folding the towel.

Link whimpered and shook his head in denial, holding out his cupped hands, his blue eyes wide and innocent - and hurt.

“You are a prisoner of war ,” said Gan, striving to harden himself against the silent, naked madman before him. “You are a hostage for the good behavior of an insignificant village attached to the estate of a conquered highborn vassal. You are useful to my servants, you fulfill some minor duties of a valet simply because you are here and your hands work - but you are not actually a servant. You are neither my petitioner nor my subject. Our laws do not apply to you. I am your law . You can end your suffering at any time by telling me what I need to know. Until then? You are a stone to sharpen my warriors on.”

Link nodded, and hopped down from the bench. He stumbled, but refused to accept Gan’s arm for support, leaning instead on the copper trough, on the bench, on the door as he dragged himself from the washroom.

Gan followed, baffled.

The man fell to his knees at the foot of the sleeping platform, stretching his hands to either side in what had come to be the usual position when he was assisting with an intimate petition.

Gan crouched beside him, murmuring almost in the man’s ear. “Where do you see chains?”

Link raised his fair head, frowning in confusion. His hand flew to his neck, groping for a collar that wasn’t there.

He needs to be held. He needs to be kissed and wrapped in my arms and blankets to come back into his skin. But - he is my enemy. He needs something I can not afford to let him take - but what if he shatters? How much will he destroy?

Link turned, meeting Gan’s eye, trembling in - not terror. Confusion maybe. Cold, perhaps. Though it seems warm to me, I am still dressed, and he is decidedly not.

“I am King. I do what I want. I do not have to explain myself to anyone,” murmured Gan, brushing back a stubborn lock of damp golden hair. “I am King. It is a small facet of my power to explain my people to themselves. You want me to beat you so you don’t have to think about any of the other things you’ve felt tonight.”

Link worried his lip between his teeth, his blue eyes deep as forever. He gestured, holding his hands cupped between them.

“You - shouldn’t look at me like that,” murmured Gan, belatedly aware of a tightness in his chest. “What I want is - my business alone.”

Chapter Text

An hour before dawn, Karakut manor slept.

Sortof.

Ganondorf stalked the halls and stairs, wrapped in black silks and his roc’s wing kaftan. He carried his twin swords, of course, though a mage rarely if ever went unarmed.

He wanted an excuse to fuck or fuck something up, but the manor slept, and nothing offered.

Two hours reading in bed with Link curled against his thigh, crying and inconsolable because his captor wouldn’t beat him.

The fuck have I become? How did he sap my walls so completely? I should never have touched him in even the smallest way - whatever curse they drenched him in has lured me into becoming dangerously soft already. How much worse if I’d taken the bait? I came so close. Too close.

Ganondorf turned at the end of the hall, climbing up the narrow stair to the central walk. The brisk air should have soothed his temper. Or at least his lust.

It didn’t work.

He paced, and wrestled with his thoughts, and paced more. He returned inside to hunt riddles across the ugly claret carpets.

Why is he following me? Who sent him? What does he know and what is a wild bluff? What are the relics for?

“Can I be of service m’lord?”

Ganondorf snarled at the woman with the lantern. “Go back to your bed.”

She offered a saucy grin instead. “Rather go to yours. M’lord.”

“A King does not fuck peasants,” he snapped, shooing her away.

“I never met a King before,” she purred, dark eyes drawing him closer against his better judgment. “But sure as I live I crossed paths with a man on my way to morning chores.”

“Mere men do not dispense glittering presents in the manner of Kings and lords,” he rumbled.

She clicked her tongue in censure. “Jewelry gets in the way of work. If half the rumors in the kitchens about desert people are half as true, the man I see looks to have with him all the present I need and then some.”

Ganondorf raised a brow. “There are always rumors to snare the foolish and overly ambitious. You cannot imagine the danger you court, woman.”

“Oh you have no idea,” she purred, fluttering her free hand over her generous cleavage. “It gets cold in the mountains - you’re liable to take a chill walking about at night all on your lonesome. Come - I will get you an extra blanket-? Maybe a little drop of honeywine to warm you?”

Ganondorf stepped into the circle of amber lantern light and loomed over her. “The man you cross this morning is not little in any regard, nor like to be satisfied by a little of anything.”

She didn’t flinch. She licked her lips and raked her eyes over his body. “Good. I don’t like little things either. Or easy things. Or fancy things.”

Ganondorf curled a finger under her soft chin, tipping her face to study her in the light. “And does this foolish woman daydream of what it would be like to be dragged into the shadows and fucked senseless by a savage twice her size?”

She shivered - and pointed to a plain door. “Linen closet.”

Ganondorf raised a brow.

“Has a lock,” she said.

“I do so enjoy clever women,” purred Ganondorf.



- o - O - o -



Morning rose clear and mild, bringing a pleasant wind from the south. Good weather for working. Ganondorf summoned a few lancers to carry the less volatile supplies to the stillroom, and arrange the workspace at Leilani’s direction. The rest he packed in a warded chest in the workroom relay, and sat to review his notes.

The tailors and armorsmiths came just before breakfast with a heavy parcel and folios of sketches. Half the designs were, predictably, useless. The thing that stoked his temper in earnest though was the parcel - yet another expensive gift to adorn his captive.

He’d known about the tooled leather boots, and privately considered those an excellent idea. The gold-plated steel segmented cuirass and sculpted shoulder guards though - those made him want to bite something. He held his tongue as long as possible. Their work looked to be excellent quality, and the artisans clearly believed Isadora’s gift would please him.

He dismissed them with some nonsense about time and solitude to review their other proposals, and poured himself a stiff drink. The damn thing was worth over ten thousand rupee even without the enchantment she - or another of her pet mages - laid on the thing.

Which the artisans clearly couldn’t see. The cabochon gems and the ‘ornamental’ scrollwork laid a powerful and expensive trap, rendering the bearer functionally immortal - for as long as they could continue sacrificing magic and money and gems to the spirit housed in the leaf-crowned helm.

Rebellion is expensive, is it? I won’t forget the thorns you sow in my path, Izzy.

“Early for that,” murmured Link from the inner door, gesturing to the open bottle on the desk.

Ganondorf grunted, tipping back his glass. It burned his throat, but he wanted it to burn. He wanted to indulge the rage, the red shards dancing, the prickly promise of satisfaction if he raised his hand to destroy a thing he hated.

Link frowned at him, scrubbing a hand over his face. A tangle of pink lines rioted over his pale cheek and down his right side where he’d lain too long on rumpled sheets. He’d pulled on the faded blue sirwal, but nothing else.

Gan gestured to the armor laid out on the sofa by the hearth. “Lady Isadora Vassilya sends you a present.”

Link groaned, rolling his eyes. “Stubborn.”

At least he’s speaking. “You have no basis to judge, little hero.”

Link made a rude noise, padding across the room to inspect the gift. “Shiny.”

“Hn. Among other things,” said Gan. He poured himself another glass, debating how to most efficiently manage the necessary confrontation over breakfast.

“So it’s ugly,” said Link with a shrug, turning the helm in his hands. “Still useful if it fits.”

Gan snorted in disdain.

“Armor’s expensive,” countered Link, inspecting the cuirass.

“You are my hostage. My gladiator. My ch- my captive. The expense of feeding and clothing and arming you as I see fit is no concern of yours,” growled Gan, lifting his glass. Champion? What’s wrong with you? Too close.

Link yelped, dropping the cuirass and a bundle of cloth, stumbling away.

Gan set his glass on the desk with a frown. “What now?”

Link squeaked and panted in raw panic, backing away from the sofa, rubbing his palms frantically against his thighs.

Speak damn you,” thundered Gan, stalking across the room. “Something you saw? Heard?”

Link shook his head in denial, stumbling over the edge of the rug and fetching up against a side table, eyes pinned, sweat beading at his temple, his throat, still rubbing his palms on his thighs. “Nononono.”

“Stop it. Give me your hand - now , Link. Stand still.” Gan caught his wrist, forcing him to show his palm - reddened from friction, but no thorns, no telltale divots.

Link shook his head vehemently and tried to sidle away towards the inner door, still mumbling incoherent denials.

“Fuck - something more subtle,” snarled Gan, dropping his hand and crossing to the discarded armor. He summoned a twist of power, touching the coil against the helm, the cuirass - nothing he hadn’t already found. He wound the magic around the wadded green cloth, pulling it taut, turning it inside out as he probed it for curses, for poison. Nothing. No hidden thorns.

A crash and series of thumps behind him told him Link fled deeper into the suite.

Gan touched the tunic directly. Good, heavy fulled cloth of combed wool. A little sharp-smelling from the alchemical dyes, and plain weave where a herringbone twill might wear better, but nonetheless well made. The padded hem would likely fall midway down Link’s thigh, and clever laced panels would draw in the middle - and shoulders-! - to adjust the fit throughout the life of the garment.

None of it poisoned.

Gan found Link cowering on the far side of the sleeping platform, clutching a pillow to his chest, stinking of fear. “Explain.”

Link shook his head, his voice raw, his accent thick. “Burn it.”

Gan frowned. “Why?”

Link shook his head no.

“Words. Now.”

“Gan - please. Burn it ,” begged Link, his eyes dry but reflecting stark terror nonetheless.

Finally, progress. A useful point of leverage. Gan stepped closer, lowering his voice to a soft rumble, trying to draw the man out. “Why?”

“Prophecy,” whispered Link, meeting his eye.

Careful - press too hard and he might lock up again. “Which part, Link? The armor? The spirit helm? Use your words - which part do you want me to burn?”

“Green,” whispered Link.

Gan cocked his head, edging closer, grasping the edge of the pillow. Keeping his expression rigidly neutral. Keeping his voice soft. “You are afraid to wear the colors of Farore. But you wear my green summerstones.”

“Different. Good thing, bad thing. Heal, destroy,” he said, struggling with every word. He surrendered the pillow though, when Gan took a knee in front of him. Seeming somehow calmer when trapped between the walls and the bed and his captor.

“You said you were bound to Hyrule - by priests of Farore?”

Link held his hands open between them, shaking his head yes and no. “Please - burn it. Sword will call me - oh please don’t do this to us again. No green.

Us? “You belong to me. You will wear only what I say you wear.”

Link wailed in grief, curling in on himself, trembling like a newborn foal.

“Hn. You don’t listen for shit .” Gan vanished the tunic - and the armor, for good measure - to his workroom for later study. He pulled the man into his arms, careful to keep wool and silk between him and the madman’s skin. “The ugly tunic is gone.”

Link sobbed, winding his hand in the soft wool kaftan.

That’s right little hero. Trust me. Surrender to me. “They can’t hurt you anymore. You belong to me .”

Link burrowed his face against the black silk of Gan’s kurta and sobbed.

“Hyrule will pay for its sins soon enough, but that is my business, not yours. The only thing you ever have to worry about again is obeying me ,” rumbled Gan.

Chapter Text

Ganondorf offered no explanation whatever for his late arrival at breakfast, or the pointed absence of his captive. He ordered Bellosa to coordinate circuit drills with the Darknut, and inspected the horses personally. All in remarkably good condition, given the circumstances, though the manor would run out of fodder in another week or two.

He approved the design for a closely-fit swallowtail brigandine and a splinted girdle with a bossed warskirt that he could wear with other pieces or alone. Wild deviations from traditional regalia, but they promised appropriate tooling and embroidery - and the willingness to conscript half the manor staff to meet his deadline.

Gan ordered one green lantern set out and spent the rest of the day working in the stillroom, alone.

Isadora watched twilight drills from the edge of the challenge ring. She renewed her request to see him in an open spar, though predictably declined to face him personally.

Leilani promised to have the new arming coat done in three days. The trousers she had cut already, but quilting and finishing those could wait, and help keep Link occupied on the trail.

At dinner, he announced the allied advance would move east on Lightsday. Isadora growled at his back, but didn’t dare argue when her own knights cheered the order. After all, they too had reasons to visit their lowland neighbors.

Wine and spirits flowed freely from the Karakut cellars. Link kept his captor’s glass full, an irreproachable, impassive collared servant in white and blue once more. He refused anything but tea for himself. Leilani retired to her work, and Katta approached him for her sleeping draught so she too could rest.

Gan lingered among the warriors, drinking in their ecstatic, violent mirth. Someone brought out drums, and the komuz player helped the festival spirit along. He almost hoped for a brawl to start, something passionate and vigorous and bloody to bring all that untapped magic to the surface - or give him an excuse to join them. Or both.

He didn’t see Marish or Sidoo in the crowd. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen them at all in - two days? Three?

An argument broke out between a couple knights and a lancer. Ashai joined the shouting, and threw the first punch.

That’s better. Dashil - break that up. But not too quickly.

Mere constructs do have trouble navigating complex terrain , she returned.

Gan snorted, handing his glass to Link. “This vintage is boring. Bring us that antique eastern brandy. You may find it interesting, Izzy.”

He bowed, but did not have an opportunity to obey. A knot of revelers stumbled into him, knocking the glass from his hands to shatter on the granite floor. They actually apologized, helping the man to his feet and making sure he wasn’t hurt.

Violating my orders in full view. But they’re drunk - and their intent clearly isn’t sexual at all. They keep the most obvious spirit of the law. They’ve just forgotten why he’s here.

“I will miss the vibrant company,” confessed Isadora, watching the warriors fuss over the man. “I’ll give you ten more rangehounds if you leave a few flowers to brighten this dreary spring.”

“After our victory, a few lancers may well petition to rest in civilized conditions,” said Gan, leaning back into his sofa. “Until then I’m sure I cannot spare any. Give me twenty, and I will return ten to you as escorts for your companions.”

Isadora didn’t bother to disguise her groan of annoyance. “Have I a bandit king at my table or a fucking merchant ? I lose patience with-”

“Oh Great Ganondorf, Flower of Sun, Commander of Sand Serpents, Thorn of Stars - settle a bet for us my King,” cried a tipsy lancer from somewhere to his right.

Ganondorf raised a brow, seeking the unfamiliar voice in the crowd.

Isadora grumbled at the interruption, but held her tongue when she saw three of her own people arm-in-arm with his lancers. They tumbled their drunken way between monarch and vassal, explaining their argument in rambling fashion.

In short: who fucks better, longer.

Ganondorf bit his tongue to keep from laughing, but the look on Isadora’s face was priceless.

A little prompting drew the inebriated petitioners into frankly hilarious exposition, which soon captured the attention of the whole room. Not to be outdone, the Darknut constantly interrupted to boast their own prowess on the field and in bed.

Isadora glared at him, assigning him all blame for the farce - and attempted to regain control of the conversation by goading him to answer her knights’ challenge personally.

Gan smiled at her, and signaled Link to return to his side. Giggles and speculative murmurs rippled through the room, snaring the attention of anyone who somehow wasn’t already watching the spectacle. He wove a tiny thread of power into his voice, ensuring every corner of the room would hear. “Light three green lanterns, little hero, and a fourth at the top of the hour.”

The room exploded with whooping victory cries, and someone drummed the pattern of the First Hymn.

Isadora frowned in confusion.

Gan summoned a tiny vial of lust powder, dropping it onto the little plate of cakes at her side. The smallest seeking cantrip would confirm what it was he offered. No one else need ever know if she found she required assistance to defend the questionably virtuous prowess of her people - but she would, and he would. Which in the end was the only thing that mattered.

She excused herself, pretending necessity.

Ganondorf laughed, and stood to claim a fresh glass of wine from a random reveler. He summoned a harmless vial of sugar, bespelled to look like the real thing. He left it with the cakes, emptying the contents of the first into his own cup. Lust powder wasn’t something one left sitting out for just anyone to find.

He threw the glass in the fire when he finished it, to the detriment of dozens of other glasses soon after and the great amusement of everyone watching.

Except for Link, a single point of furious stillness amid frantic revelry.

“Sa’ikhusa but you are a moody bitch,” he scoffed, stalking across the room to join the dancers.


- o - O - o -


Evening gave way to true night gave way to dawn, and the wager remained unsettled. Certainly warriors and knights bowed out of festivities by ones and twos, and most of the revelers moved from the cold converted ballroom to sprawl throughout the west gallery and halls and suites.

Ganondorf made himself the axis of all of it, wrapping himself in the power, the passion of the People until his skin hummed with potential. He poured off the magic into dozens of topaz and jasper foci, emptying himself to feast again.

And again.

And again.

He drank and fucked and danced and fucked and sang and fucked and tumbled into bed in the middle of a tangle of skin and spirit. He siphoned excess magic from every blossoming climax around him, weaving it into tidy coils around his bones until he could move it all into his armor, his blades, his jewels, his crowns.

The world moved around him, through him, on him. Milk and honey and wine and sweat drenched his skin. He commanded the winds of pleasure, he wove spiritfire to his design, he plowed the sweet earth into vibrant life.

Ganondorf poured himself into another oasis, and remained the lightning rod in the storm, the mountain in the black wind.

It was not for Kings to be rain.

To be the sublime, harmonious moon.

To be the sweet water.

To be the soft and steadfast stars.

Kings are forged to be only kings. Kings are everything and kings do not wish for anything. Kings do not have flaws and weaknesses and needs and dreams.

Kings do not get bored in the middle of cumming inside an ecstatic woman.

Ganondorf withdrew, picking his way around sweaty limbs and wayward tails, forgotten cups and ruined veils. Several someones were still fucking in the featherbed in his servant’s room, and cum stains now numbered among the many insults to his workroom door.

Ganondorf pulled a bottle of Tears from his bar cabinet, splashing it over crushed ice and fresh mint. He opened the bottle of King’s Honey automatically - and stopped. The rich syrupy scent of fertile earth and summer rains should have pleased him.

Everything about a festival night should have pleased him.

Ganondorf hurled his glass at the wall.

It shattered.

He watched spirits drip down the stone and damp herbs flutter to the waxed wooden floor to adorn shards of ice and glass.

He failed to care.

Ganondorf stalked across the room in silence, dropping into his chair and letting thornwood and oxhide bear his weight instead of him. It squeaked and complained under his damp skin. He rolled his knuckles over his brow, pressing his thumb against the ever-present ache to the outside of his right eye.

Someone came, singing out their victory.

A shimmer of bells drew his attention towards the door. Link stood beside it in parade rest, hands folded behind his back, staring sightlessly into the middle distance. He was wearing the snake jewels. All of them.

Ganondorf wound the loose power around his fingers and threaded it into his skin with all the rest. Faint red shards skulked through the shadows in the corners of the room, drawing towards the ruined glass.

“Clean up this mess,” growled Ganondorf, gesturing to encompass the glass, the room, the strangers in his bed. He slouched deeper into his chair and propped his chin on his thumb.

Link glared at him, letting the command hang in the air and grow taut. At last, he huffed, stalking to the sideboard to collect a folded cloth.

Ganondorf watched.

Link crossed the room, his extravagant new boots thumping across the rugs, belatedly raising the question of why they were heeled at all. Isadora had no reason to believe Link a horseman.

Ganondorf held the madman’s furious gaze as he stopped in front of his captor. In arm’s reach, did he care to exert himself. Which he didn’t. He merely watched Link unfold and refold the cloth in his hands, and bristle with potential rebellion.

Link hurled the cloth to the floor. It struck with a heavy, wet smack, though Gan had not seen him fetch water.

Gan waited to see how the madman would attack.

Link dropped to his knees, still holding eye contact. Still silent.

Gan waited.

Link leaned forward, and licked a rivulet of sweat from Gan’s knee.

What?

Link held his eye, leaning closer, trailing his burning tongue around the inside of his knee, up the inside of his thigh.

What?

Link kissed the edge of an ancient scar that arched down from mid-thigh. Long ago, an unstable path, a pointed lesson in the delights of shale slopes.

Gan blinked, deliberate and slow, but the man was still there. Still licking sweat and silk and seed from his thighs. Still challenging him with his impossible blue eyes.

What is this madness?

Link edged closer, following the slick and sticky smears and drips ever higher. He leaned closer, his golden hair tickling Gan’s thigh as he brushed his silky lips over a ridge of tendon and muscle. He bowed his head, and kissed the curve of Gan’s heavy, dripping, half-softened cock.

Oh?

Link unfurled his tongue, caressing sodden flesh, methodically consuming every drop of milk and honey still clinging to his mostly-quiescent shaft.

Oh-

Link bowed, blinking his blue eyes slow as a contented storehouse cat. He tucked his tongue under the heavy weight of his half-veiled crown. He lifted it to his perfect, delicate lips.

Oh!

Gan clenched his jaw, suddenly and intensely completely aware of lightning coiling against the base of his spine.

I didn’t tell him to do this-

Link sucked even more of him into his burning mouth.

I consider it uncivilized treatment, even if he is a prisoner.

Link’s beautiful eyes slid half-shut as he descended past the middle.

You’re wrong - I’ve never even touched him.

Gan wrapped his hands around the arms of his chair.

Petition?

Link teased that incredible tongue along the underside of his shaft - and consumed still more, coaxing him deeper.

How can you endure such coarse savagery in your bedslave?

Gan fought to school his breath.  To deny the redoubled throbbing at his root. To smother the brewing storm in his core.

My hostage, not my slave. It is important you grasp the distinction.

Link sighed one long breath, and conquered the last thumblength, nestling his stubborn nose into sodden curls.

You shouldn’t treat people like things.

Gan braced his ankle against the leg of the chair. Groped after fragmented reason. Watched his captive slide back only to conquer him again.

I made her do things to me. It wasn’t her choice that offends you.

Gan held his breath as his rebellious cock stiffened in answer to the passionate service of the Hylian kneeling at his feet.

You stole my clothes for her - so you could - pretend you lay with me?

Link pulled back only long enough to breathe, to kiss, to twist his clever tongue around his prize.

“Haaa,” breathed Gan. Hey - wait. I can’t think when you-

Link hummed a self-satisfied retort, suckling his crown. Repeatedly.

“Nnngh,” mumbled Gan, struggling to reassert control over his aching, stinging flesh. Not what I meant by obedience-!

Link slurped him deep into his mouth again, until all he could feel was heat, was pressure, was torment.

“Shhhh,” hissed Gan through clenched teeth. I shouldn’t be letting you do this-

Link moved his maddening tongue in some inexplicable fashion - somehow dropped his jaw further - enveloped -

Oh no-

Gan clutched the arms of his chair until his bones screamed in pain. He forced himself to look, to see what he’d become. To burn into his mind the image of Link choking on his traitorous cock because he couldn’t be bothered to be specific .

Link pulled back, humming again. Those blue eyes fluttered open - flicked up to catch him looking. His rose-kissed cheeks drew taut. His swift breath tickled.

“Haaaah.” How do you keep getting under my guard? You’re small and fragile and - blessed sands you’re too good at that-

Link nuzzled between his thighs, scrambling his thoughts with every breath. Every flick and undulation of his tongue. Every pulse of his throat.

Link didn’t try to touch him in any other way. He kept those elegant hands planted on his own thighs, relying entirely on that provocative mouth.

Who did you think you needed to save from me this time? I wasn’t working with anyone else.

Ganondorf forced himself to breathe, slow and silent as he could manage. Which wasn’t very. He tensed every muscle, vainly bracing himself against the electric pleasure building at his root, against the seductive heat wrapped around his throbbing cock.

It didn’t work.

Stray threads of lightning tangled inside his fingers, flickered through his skin. Ganondorf clenched his teeth so hard trying to wrestle the magic down that his jaw radiated agony.

Do you like being my toy? My captive? Do you like the taste of your lowly state?

Link somehow managed to consume all of him again. Even at full arousal. Tickling his nose into sodden curls again.

The most pathetic sounds snuck from his own throat. He started to think about casting a sphere of silence around himself, but the madman kept shattering his focus before he could spin it into being.

But that’s not what I meant - his orders are to stitch and clean and fight and tell me what he knows - obedience is rewarded with permission to seek pleasures - I would never demand a thrall pleasure me !

Ganondorf let the magic sizzle through his hands into the oiled wood of his chair, distantly hoping the painful sparks would bring him clarity.

It didn’t work.

Ganondorf gasped for breath, staring at the shadowed ceiling. Link kept inventing inexplicably intense little variations in his work, acting for all the world like he actually - enjoyed his service.

Uhoh-

Gan forced the bubbling, boiling magic away , behind him, under him, unable to focus long enough to give it a single point. He opened his eyes, and discovered he’d tucked his chin to his chest and Link was sliding back to suckle his crown again and his blue eyes were dilated in pleasure and his pale skin was flushed with desire and exertion and-

“Uhhhnn,” he moaned, pressing his ass harder into his chair to quell the urge to arc forward, his thighs aching and trembling as his root tightened and throbbed and-

Oh no - oh gods - too close - oh Link - I can’t stop -

The world blurred. His ears roared. Sparks rippled up his spine and out through his limbs, pricking his skin. His throat ached, he choked on a desperate, reflexive cry of release.

Ganondorf struggled to remember how to breathe. An age later, his vision cleared again, showing him Link still kneeling, still licking sweat and sex from his thighs. Link caught him looking, stroking his long pink tongue up a ridge of taut muscle.

“All clean,” he said, licking his lips, his voice grown husky.

Oh.

Ganondorf stared at the man, working his jaw, his stupid tongue.

So you do - think I was ordering you pleasure me. You were just - obedient. To what you thought I demanded.

Link stared back, blue eyes bright with challenge. He licked his saucy little lips with a deliberately wet smack.

How could I be so stupid? You didn’t want me at all. You’re just - very - very good.

“Good boy,” whispered Gan.

Link hummed in an infuriatingly self-satisfied fashion, clearly feeling triumphant to have turned the accidental torment back on his captor. The green garnet summerstones studding the stolen snake jewels glowed brighter than Gan could remember ever seeing them before.

“Go,” whispered Gan.

Link snorted in disdain and pushed to his feet. His sirwal seemed to drape strangely, but then he had been kneeling for what - half an hour? At least? He left the discarded cleaning rag behind, and strolled into the middle room, out of sight.

Ganondorf peeled an aching hand away from the scorched arm of his chair, unsurprised to find his skin blistered too.

Goddamnit Link.

Chapter Text

Noon ushered out the last satisfied guest, and Dashil managed to convey his orders to Link and Leilani without him needing to leave his workroom. Link seemed baffled by her gestures at first, and kept glancing over his shoulder to frown at her even as he set himself to work cleaning up the inevitable mess that attended any festival revelry. He started with sweeping up the shattered glass.

Leilani dealt with the linens, but thankfully overlooked his mantle draped over his desk chair. Probably because nobody had really wanted to try their luck on the damn sofas, so the front room largely escaped damage.

Gan set the freshly wound cabinet clock in motion with a thread of magic - he had more than enough to start moving supply for the forward units now - ordered Dashil to alert him when it stopped, and settled into full lotus on his favorite black silk floor cushion to meditate on the network of spirit roads to the east.

He fell asleep.

Dashil woke him sometime in late afternoon, pretending unsuccessfully to be confused by his annoyance and pointing out the dragging beat of the clock. Which definitely shouldn’t have still been going. Unless someone wound it. He probed through Dashil’s mind, but it wasn’t her, and she hadn’t seen the others do it.

Gan decided to let it go, mostly because at that moment Leilani brought in a tray of roasted lamb and fresh bread and early spring peas and bright carrots glazed with butter and honey.



- o - O - o -



Ganondorf returned the last of the gold and ruby beads to their proper place, and decided he could unravel the rest of the braids while he soaked away the strain of his Work and soothed the tenderness of freshly mended flesh.

He propped his little mirror on a spindly table beside the copper trough and knelt in the fragrant bath to shave. Not the easiest position he ever invented for the task, but warm, and more-or-less functional.

Gan scrubbed his face clean again and settled back in the water to rest. Just for a moment.

He drifted off.

He roused when Leilani came to ask if she should summon Marish and Sidoo to tend his hair. He considered the idea, and conceded it wasn’t a bad one, but - he rather felt like being lazy. Dealing with two hungry, headstrong petitioners crowded in the washroom with him sounded suspiciously like work.

According to Leilani, they skipped dinner the night prior for the most excellent of reasons, and despite their private indulgences had been among the handful of warriors who actually managed to attend morning drills. He laughed at the gossip, and accepted her offer of a glass of brandy while he listened to the rest of her reports.

She didn’t seem to regard him any differently than if he lounged at his desk. Her indifference struck him as oddly refreshing - and surprising, as the first time he’d conscripted her help with his armor she’d been so distracted by his body she could barely manage the buckles and never mind the ties.

She refreshed his glass a second time, and left him to himself for another little while.

Link came to collect the mirror and shaving bowl, replacing them with a tray of oils and picks and combs. He said nothing, but every time he caught Gan’s eye on him, he worried his lip and looked away again. He laid out fresh clothing on the padded bench, and hung the miraculously clean kaftan on the valet stand he’d set atop the solid bathing bench to keep it from dragging on the tile.

The cautious way he moved, the awkward drape of his sirwal seemed to suggest he attempted to hide some personal difficulty.

“Hylian. Stop fussing with that nonsense. Stand where I can see you,” rumbled Gan.

Link blushed to the tips of his elegant ears, but he folded his elegant white hands meekly in front of him and obeyed with a mumble that might have been assent.

“Has one of my people laid hands on you while I was occupied?”

Link shook his head no.

“Have any of the Darknut or the manor staff given you trouble? Attempted to?”

Link fidgeted and murmured a no.

Gan sipped his brandy and studied the man, probing the very edges of his spirit for telltale flares of fresh injuries. He found nothing. “Have you perhaps... stolen something from the red chest?”

“Haven’t,” murmured Link, shaking his fair head.

“Hn. Fetch me ice water and - oh, bloodlimes or similar,” rumbled Gan, shooing the man back to his work. The only fresh citrus remaining in supply was locked in his workroom or locked up with officers’ rations, so the task should have kept Link occupied for some time.

He returned in minutes with a silver pitcher of icewater and a heaping bowl of sliced bloodlime dusted with sugar. Somehow. And with both of his hands occupied, the telltale swell of his sirwal became distressingly obvious.

Or his troubles have increased. “Do you want permission to do something about that?”

Link froze, brows raised in silent query.

Gan cast a pointed glance below his waist.

Link sucked a sharp breath - and nodded.

“So do it,” rumbled Gan, licking juice and sugar from a slice of bloodlime.

Link watched him, eyes wide. “Now?”

“Hn,” said Gan, laying the delightfully sour fruit on his tongue. “Have you been suffering these troubles long?”

“Um,” said Link, covering himself with one hand.

“Perhaps you have not understood - in the circumstance that I forbid you to please yourself, the order stands only until I rescind it again,” said Gan, finishing his brandy and pouring himself cold water. “When you have no other immediate duty, you are free to tend your body in all necessary respects. The collar you wear - it is a functional necessity at times, and a symbol to others of your status. It is not the same as the one I placed on Marish.”

“I know,” said Link, blushing harder.

Gan raised a brow. “Do you? Then why are you still standing here?”

“Because you - haven’t made me leave yet,” stammered Link.

“Are your ears full of sand? I said you have permission,” murmured Gan.

“Do you want me to leave?” Link worried at his lip.

Gan studied him, curious why the man grew nervous now . “What do you want, little hero?”

“I meant to - try to help with your hair,” murmured Link.

“A Hylian, focus on his work in that condition? Either go - or strip,” said Gan with a smirk.

Link shivered - and pulled the drawstring of his sirwal slowly, letting the cord catch and pop through the heart of the knot.

Bold . “You can’t resist a challenge can you, little hero?”

Link snorted in amusement, letting the blue wool sag loose around his narrow hips as he lifted his white kurta. He moved with unusual deliberation, as if he was needing to think about everything before he did it.

Gan ate another slice of bloodlime, drawing it out so slowly he licked the last drops from his fingers only when Link finally stood naked but for the snake gems and his collar. His blushing cock looked painfully swollen, the branching vein adorning the elegant curve shiny and throbbing.

And yet he just stood there beside the copper trough, breathing hard, flexing his hands in mid-air.

“Hn,” said Gan, propping his arm on the side of the tub and resting his chin on his fist. “Stroke yourself for me.”

Link slid his left hand down his shaft, sucking his lip between his teeth. He wrapped his fist around himself, tugging fiercely, out of rhythm.

You know better than that. “Slow, little hero. Gentle. Breathe through the pattern. Savor it like sweet wine.”

Link drew a hissing breath, twisting his wrist and obediently drawing out the next stroke.

Gan watched him, amused by his struggle to pretend he didn’t know how to satisfy himself any better than that. “Craving more? You’ll have to ask for it.”

Link whined under his breath, his blue eyes pleading.

“Hn. With words.”

He shook his head no.

Gan shook his head, rolling frigid water over his tongue. “Why won’t you ask for what you want?”

“Shouldn’t,” murmured Link.  

“What you shouldn’t do is defy me. I asked what you want. Your duty is to answer.”

Link moaned, eyes fluttering - and for a few breaths his hand moved in a seductive, rolling sort of twist that shortly brought a jewel-bright droplet to his swollen tip.

Gan reached to collect the drop on his finger before Link renewed his pretense of clumsiness and wasted it.

“Aaaah,” breathed Link, watching him carry the prize to his lips.

Like apple wine cooked down to syrup. Does the man live on nothing but fruit? “Words, little hero.”

Link stammered, his voice barely above a whisper, his eyes riveted on Gan’s lips. “More…?”

“More what ?”

Link whimpered as he stroked himself, and a shiver rolled over his skin. “Touch…?”

“Then touch yourself for me. Show me how your skin aches,” rumbled Gan.

Link obediently slid his right palm down the center of his chest, over sculpted abs and chiseled hips to cradle his endarkened sack. “Not mine .”

“Hn,” said Gan, amused by his hesitant confession. “Missing my pets and petitioners are you?”

Link closed his eyes, and whispered: “No.”

Gan frowned. “Leilani avadha Ramal is barely old enough to be on this campaign. You will not trifle with her.”

Link snorted in disdain, relaxing his grip on himself and opening his eyes again. “Don’t be stupid.”

Gan raised a brow, his tongue grown suddenly dry, heavy, graceless. He sipped at his water, but it didn’t help. “Do go on then. What do you want little hero?”

“Braids,” said Link, nodding towards the combs and hair oil.

What? “I asked you a question.”

“I answered. You let them touch you,” said Link, voice roughened, palm smooth over his taut, curving shaft.

Gan raised a brow, raking his eyes over his delicate rose-kissed skin, his whipcord strength, his explicit arousal over - playing bodyservant? No - he’s just trying to get under my guard again. Distract me with sex so he can strike. “Do you - want me to touch you like that, little hero?”

Link drew a sharp breath, nodding sharply.

“Words,” murmured Gan. He didn’t seize the opportunity last night - but there wasn’t a blade nearby then. He was trying to lure me in, trick me into trusting him.

Please - want touch ,” whispered Link.

“A start,” conceded Gan, setting his cup beside the razor. Making sure the wicked blade remained in open sight on the little table at his side. “Bring that blushing cock over here.”

Link shivered and moaned in a delightfully helpless manner, edging closer to the copper trough, placing himself well within Gan’s reach.

Almost convincing. But just how good is your performance when you’re the one being tormented? Gan brushed Link’s hands out of his way, trailing fingertips over that fair skin, soft as a lover’s whisper beneath the fragrant canopy of a blooming moon’s trumpet.

Link trembled, worrying his lip between his teeth.

“Is that what you wanted, little hero? Is this what you imagine when you look at me?”

Link moaned, grasping the edge of the trough as if he feared to lose his balance. His pulse throbbed under tender skin, his graceful cock stirred under the tease.

Placing himself in better position to steal the razor. “What do you want little hero?”

“Let me touch you,” whispered Link, his charming blushes deepening.

Gain trailed his fingers underneath his curving shaft, skimming over his tense thighs, teasing the delicate flesh of his root. “Touch me how ?”

“Please,” Link whimpered, biting his lip savagely, his grip on the edge of the trough so fierce his knuckles shone.

“Please what ? Confess your hungers to me, to the last detail,” rumbled Gan, taunting his rose, his root, his shaft, drawing ever more heat to the surface. Confess your secrets - all of them - loosen that cursed Hylian tongue and give me what I need-!

“Don’t stop,” Link moaned, trembling under his hand.

“Come closer,” murmured Gan, slipping his hand under the man’s tender sack to encourage him.

Link squeaked in confusion and torment.

“I said come here ,” rumbled Gan, holding the man’s eye as he pulled his hand back and gestured to the water. “Stand before me and say that again, if you dare.”

Link whined something incoherent, breath catching. But. He braced himself against the tease, against the sturdy copper wall, lifted and swung himself over the edge to stand in the water astride of Gan’s knees. He repeated his plea in a persuasively desperate tone.

Gan cupped warm, fragrant bath water in his hands, tipping it against the man’s thighs, amused by his shivering, trembling reaction to something so simple, so mundane as a little water running over his skin. He stroked both hands down, noting the quivering tension in every muscle, and tested him again. And again. Drenching him by the handful all the way up to that slender neck.

Link trembled, and begged. Touch. Don’t stop. Anything. Please.

“Anything-?” Gan prompted him at last, noticing another pure droplet clinging to the man’s throbbing crown.

“Oh Gan - anything you want of me - just don’t stop ,” moaned Link, wide blue eyes fluttery and unfocused, his breath swift.

“Frustrated, little hero? Need something more? You’ll have to ask for it,” rumbled Gan, letting his fingers brush the side of the man’s bobbing shaft again.

Link moaned, clenching his fists around the edge of the copper trough. “Let me touch you - oh Gan - please say I can touch you. Even a little. I know you don’t like to be touched - but - just let me help with your hair - I will try to - be good, after. Please .”

Why are you obsessed with my hair-? Is it exotic to you, a man with hair even longer than your women wear it? Gan cupped his hand under the man’s shaft, lifting him up so his breath would tickle over his swollen crown when he spoke. “Do you want to put your hands in my hair now -?”

“Oh Gan - y- OH!

Gan hummed in amusement as he stretched out his tongue to collect the welling nectar at his tip and suck his silken crown between his lips. Link cried out in wordless, tremulous surprise as Gan turned the man’s tricks back on him with interest.

Uncivilized treatment indeed - as if his barbarism doesn’t justify any and every consequence I can invent for him. This is nothing - and why should I let a perfectly charming cock go to waste anyway?

Link reached one hesitant hand towards his hair, jerking back at the last moment.

Gan snatched his wrist, guiding him to thread his elegant fingers between the braids, amused by his sly little sigh of pleasure as he did it. And that he’d used the hand farther from the razor.

You think you’ve distracted me that easily? I’ll show you distraction. Gan pulled back to taunt him again, brushing his lips along his throbbing shaft as he spoke. “Is that what you wanted, little hero? Are you enjoying that? Does it excite you to sheathe your sword in your enemy?”

Link’s eyes flared wide in panic - caught - cornered - helpless - he loosed a strangled cry that rose to resonant anguish when Gan descended on him again. His hand clenched in Gan’s braids, panting and squeaking incoherent nonsense as Gan slipped toward his base. His curve turned the wrong way for this angle with him so hard, but his length promised absolute perfection. Enough to fill and present a satisfying degree of challenge, but not so much as to prevent him from, say, stretching his tongue to tease his balls.

Which made Link yelp.

Gan chuckled, further amused that it made the man clutch at him all the harder. That he wrapped both hands in his braids. That he abandoned the opportunity to complete his mission. That he begged for mercy.

“Please - oh Gan, not like this,” he cried.

Gan let his heat slide off his tongue, only to lick his way up the top curve of his shaft to set his teeth on the tender flesh at the join of his thigh.

“Oh please - you have no idea,” cried Link, his hands growing frantic. “Why do you have to - oh why can you never believe? Please - I can’t bear it.”

“Can’t bear what ? Do you grow desperate to cum little hero?” Gan murmured, and suckled at the salty, silken softness around his base.

Link moaned in agony, caressing his hair, surprisingly deft despite the complexity of his braids. “What do you think ? Oh please - will you hear me if I hail you the way they do? Oh Great Ganondorf, have mercy-?”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, brushing his lips up his burning shaft as he taunted the man. “Say it then. Say you want to cum for me.”

Link moaned in frustrated desire, his roughened voice rising in distress as Gan sucked him into his mouth and wrapped his hands around narrow hips and shapely ass. “Oh - oh no - I can’t - I shouldn’t - it’s all wrong - oh Gan please - I’m on the edge.”

Close enough. Surrender to me, you stubborn bastard-

Link cried his name over and over, raw and yearning and desperate as the first day he bowed to invite the kiss of the strop. Gan pushed him mercilessly towards that edge he so feared. He wound his hands in Gan’s braids, still conscious enough not to pull even as he shuddered and begged.

Come for me-

Link’s song faltered - he clenched his ass - his root tightened anyway.

Oh you won’t escape me that easily-

Link came, spilling rich heat on his tongue.

I win.

Gan kneaded his ass, milking every last drop, amused by Link’s stuttering - and rather hopelessly belated - objections. He released the man with a contented rumble, licking his lips. “Good boy.”

Link squeaked and whimpered, slowly uncurling his hands.

Gan smacked his ass. “Back to work, little hero.”

Link stammered incoherently.

“These braids won’t unravel themselves,” said Gan with a smirk, grabbing a slice of bloodlime and holding it up in front of Link’s rosy lips as he vanished the razor to its case on the vanity, safely under lock and key again.

“But-”

“Go on - have a little treat to steady those clever hands of yours for the combs,” purred Gan, deeply amused by his embarrassment. “Isn’t this what you wanted?”

Link whimpered - and obediently nibbled at the oozing sweet-sour fruit, his hands smoothing back the braids he’d disheveled.

Simple matter of applying the right leverage.

Chapter Text

After breakfast, Leilani brought him the half-finished arming coat, working with Isadora’s tailor to perfect the fit and mark the final placement of the lacings.

At noon, he placed luminous seals on every non-essential provision chest, and over the afternoon renewed the enchantments on the arms and armor of each of his Elite in turn.

An hour before sunset, he surrendered his silks for washing, and tried to be patient with Leilani helping him into his regalia alone. Bellosa had sent word asking he send Link to her as a challenge for evening drills, and it was as good a test of his efforts to seal off the curse on the golden armor as any.

Of course he had to overdye the claret tunic black to give the man enough padding to wear it. The green remained sealed with his tools.

Leilani ignored him when he declined his cloak, grumbling her way to the front room to retrieve it while he perfected the sweep of his kohl. Some nonsense about rain clouds on the horizon.

He secured the chains of the scarab crown in his simple, tidy ladder braids, and anchored a sun-in-glory comb at the base of his high horsetail.

She shrieked and swore a blasphemous oath - storming back in with demands for an account of himself.

Ganondorf laughed, threading the fourth topaz-and-gold earloop. “You question your King with alarming frequency.”

“I never question the brilliance of the Sun’s Ray. I question the fucking chair ,” she snapped. “What in the nine frigid hells did you do ?”

Ganondorf pretended to be preoccupied with readjusting the many-stranded topaz pectoral. “There was a - misunderstanding.”

Leilani planted her fists in her hips. “With the chair.”

“The chair was present at the time,” he conceded.

“As you say, O my King. Now un-misunderstand it back into repair because we don’t have a carpenter anymore.”

“Borrow one from the Baroness.”

“Fucking hell I will,” she snarled. “They’ll glue splinters together and tack brocade on top. Fuck. If Hyrule’s as stupid as Vosterkun it’s amazing they don’t all drown looking at the rain.”

Gan raised a brow, watching her massage her temple. “You don’t a have a high opinion of our allies.”

She snorted in disdain. “Should I? Karakut is an ugly pile of rocks full of decadent parasites and complacent warriors. These people, these nobles waste food and steel and wood and cloth like its nothing, while their people scrape out a living for both of them with a few goats and pumpkins and a barley field.”

Ganondorf studied her, pleased that she didn’t tremble under his gaze anymore. “It is the pattern of things that the strong have more than the weak. Warriors eat the best food and carry our best weapons, Rova have first claim on ancient relics and live in the largest rooms, Kings-”

“Belong to the People. What do these nobles do for their people?”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, opening his jewel case to retrieve a lapis-studded hair comb that he never wore anyway. She tensed when he loomed over her to adorn the simple upswept horsetail she wore. “Theoretically, establish and maintain laws, and guard them from thieves and foreigners like us.”

She made a rude noise, shaking out the folds of his cloak. “My point exactly.”


- o - O - o -


Ganondorf warmed his limbs moving through the four patterns of the greater winds, and danced the full flower with his Elite only once before moving to the ring of posts to work with a sparring bolt. This evening, the courtyard was packed with fighters and watchers already fascinated by the double flower still whirling at the center of the slate courtyard.

He didn’t need to look to know Link fought at the center of it.

“You do realize you’re both using the same rhythm,” called Isadora from the stairs behind the post ring.

Ganondorf caught and held the bolt. “And? All competent bladework is music in motion.”

“No, I mean the exact same rhythm,” she said, gliding down the stairs already dressed in her evening finery - today, black lace over cerise silk, both shot with thread-of-silver. “When you change patterns, so does he. And you move in harmony - a hell of a thing to watch from above. Neither of you can see the other. He is neither a construct nor does he bear a control-tether on his mind. And yet.”

Ganondorf snorted, lofting the bolt at the posts again, increasing his tempo by a third. He struck it down from fourth guard. From first. Six, two, five.

Isadora laughed, draping herself against the railing on the third step. “Took him a minute, but he’s in step with you again, driving your lancers off-step of the drum. He’s going to make a lot of work for your healers if they don’t adjust soon.”

Ganondorf dismissed the bolt before he could fumble it in his distraction. “You are trying to goad me into a challenge match.”

Isadora smiled. “Is it working? Complacency is death, Dragmire. Do you dance or do you fight ? When is the last time either of you faced a real challenge?”

Ganondorf made a rude noise and left the ring of posts to carve a path through the crowd. You think managing a draw against him makes you the equal of me? That the strategic value of six hundred reinforcements puts you in any position to make veiled threats against your King?

He signaled the drummer to roll and shift to first sun pattern. He stepped into the flower with his swords still sheathed, countering the wrapped crescent blades of the warriors he danced past with his armored gloves alone.

Link stumbled and took a heavy strike from a veiled Saiev to his right shoulder when the flower circuit carried Gan past him the first time.

He managed to block both of them on the second petal, at the expense of his right blade. He’d countered so badly he snapped the steel at the tang.

On the third he yelled savagely, accepting a kidney strike from Gan to meet the spear of the opposite lancer.

Stop ,” he cried on the fourth, absorbing both strikes and falling with a bloody nose.

Five opened a gash over his eye and knocked the helm free.

He screamed obscenities in two languages through the entirety of six, and managed to land a stinging, theoretically disabling rebuke on Gan’s right wrist.

But unlike you I have no weaker side.

Gan danced through seven with his right hand at the small of his back, amused by the bloom of curses that followed him as his warriors noticed. Link lost his remaining crescent blade trying to repeat the same trick.

Eight was interrupted by a rushing inferno that scattered his warriors and silenced the drum, raising screams of terror from much of the audience.

Ganondorf laughed.

Enough ,” growled Link, crouching at the center of the scorched flower, left fist planted against the slate.

Gan scoffed, stalking sunwise around him. “Do you look upon the glory of your King and find your position hopeless ?”

“Never,” growled Link, rising to first guard. “Dismiss my strength at your peril Desert King.”

Ganondorf laughed, spinning a ball of lightning and witchfire into his palm.

Link bared his teeth in challenge, dropping his center.

Ganondorf lofted the little coil at him, expecting him to scramble out of its path.

He absorbed the strike instead with a grunt of pain as the shock spread over the golden armor. Nor did he make any effort to avoid or counter the second and third.

“Come now, little hero. Anyone can take a beating. Dance for me,” purred Ganondorf, winding a larger coil of lightning and dispensing with the witchfire. He was already stained with its glow from neck to knee in any case.

At the last moment he struck the ground with his fist, calling a spinning blue wardcrystal to absorb the lightning in his stead. He crouched at the center of it, holding against seven more bolts of increasing strength.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, folding his hands behind his back and coming to rest opposite the man. No other fight had provoked his magic to the surface like this, no matter how many blows he weathered.

“Let that be enough stupidity for one day,” said Link, rising to his full height - which honestly wasn’t much - and letting his wardcrystal dissipate.

“Indeed. Broadsword or claymore? Your choice,” said Gan with a smile.

“Don’t do this,” said Link.

“Choose or I choose for you.”

“If it pleases you to kill me, do it. Let them see you slaughter in cold blood or drag me into the shadows and reserve the spectacle for yourself alone. I care not which,” said Link, eyes bright with fury under his mask of blood. “But do not test me in this.”

“You belong to me, little hero, and I say you fight.” Gan snapped his fingers with a theatrical spark, summoning a gilded longsword and trillium shield from the Karakut treasury.

A murmur of speculation rippled through the crowd.

Link seized both and hurled them to the stones at his feet. “Don’t be stupid.”

Ganondorf laughed, vanishing sword and shield through the ether with a negligent wave.

Link sighed in relief at first, scrubbing his hand over his face. It mostly just smeared blood around.

He cried out in alarm, stumbling back as the shield reappeared strapped to his right arm. He tried to tug it off, stuttering horrified curses when he felt the locking crystal settle into place.

Ganondorf waited, watching him struggle, weighing the stunned silence. When it seemed the man’s knees were about to buckle from sheer panic, he gathered a fresh handful of lightning.

Link dropped his center instinctively and grounded the bolt through his shield, saving himself some pain but wasting the energy he could have harnessed had he accepted the blade.

“Fight,” demanded Gan.

Link yelled in rage.

Gan cast another bolt.

Link grounded it and charged, bracing his shield for a ramming blow.

Gan stepped neatly out of his path, summoning the golden sword to hover at the center of the flower.

Around the petals they went, until Gan could maneuver the man to the other side of the sword from him. He lifted himself into the air on a single Word, and gathered enough lightning to overload the shield.

Link tried to dodge, and moved too late. The crowd held their breath as the bolt flung him to the edge of the flower and cracked the slates under him. He groaned, rolling to his feet far quicker than Gan expected, a murderous gleam in his fierce blue eyes.

Gan readied another, gratified to see the man move towards the center of the flower. He wove a little drag with this one, giving him time to accept the blade and still harness the bolt.

Which he did, striking it cleanly from third guard with a charming little shout.

Gan returned it, peeling off some of the drag. And again. And again.

Link danced around the flower, and Gan danced above it, whirling faster and faster. No one should have been able to counter a bolt at true skyfire speed - and yet, he did.

Gan lost the thread of his levitation spell when a frayed edge of the bolt caught him awkwardly. He hit the stones hard, just barely raising a crystalline ward in time to guard himself from a second inferno.

Link charged through the fire to hammer his shield vainly against the ward. He howled in a towering bloodrage, striking sparks on the magic with blade and shield, his blue eyes pinned, his golden hair wild.

Gan knocked him back with a wall of charged air, and called a slender groundstrike as he unfolded the ward.

Link managed to catch the lightning on his blade, redirecting it. He did not meet it so gracefully the second time.

Gan waited at the heart of the flower for him to recover, amused to see rupee changing hands in the crowd. Link eventually pulled himself into second guard, shouting a wordless challenge. Half a minute rolled by, and he refused to advance.

Gan called a bolt a handbreadth from his shield. Link whirled left, faster than he could even track, slashing the bolt across the flower, catching him in the middle of summoning another, knocking his feet out from under him.

Link charged across the flower.

Gan swatted him aside with a drawing sweep of one blade.

Link groaned in pain, sprawled face-first on the paving. He did not drop his sword. He did not call his blue ward or his inferno to counter the follow-up attack.

No - he tumbled clear at the last possible second and brought his shield down hard on the side of Gan’s knee. A potentially devastating attack - no doubt it crippled hundreds of lesser opponents.

It did hurt spectacularly. Had he not woven reactive stabilizing glyphs into his polyns years ago, it might even have worked.

They danced across the flower, trading places, each trying to draw the other out. Pattern after pattern, every successful hit balanced by another favoring the opposition. Link only seemed to know two spells, and no variations on either. Whatever he’d done in Kharazhin to destroy the trishul must have been a power of one of the relics - or despite the battle rage he still possessed a fearsome will to limit himself.

Which was fine. His mastery of the sword was magic enough. No mortal man should have been able to move like that.

And yet - he did.

If attacks and counters and patterns and styles were jewels, ranked from common agate to sublime beryls to mystic bluestone, Ganondorf poured his entire treasury out on the cracked and charred paving of the courtyard of Karakut, and could not hold advantage over him for more than a minute or two.

He is magnificent.

Ganondorf rolled onto his back, struggling to catch his wind. He sprawled on the slate paving, one hand pressed against his side, weaving a hasty net to stabilize yet another cracked rib. He stared up at the emerging stars, trying to decide if he wanted to look at the thrumming pain in his hip and find out if his leg was still attached. He’d dropped at least one of his swords when Link caught his arm and launched himself up to hammer the pommel of his own against the back of his neck.

An impossible feat with their height difference and Gan’s enchanted black steel gorget. And yet - he did it. Just like it was impossible he should soar through the twilight now, holding his golden sword in a reversed double grip.

When did his eyes turn white?

Ganondorf slipped the hidden stiletto from the point of his leather cuirass, calling the shadows into himself.

He is going to kill me.

Thunderclap darkness swallowed them both.

Chapter Text

Time flowed strangely on the spirit roads. An instant could stretch into minutes, hours fold into moments. Spirits overlaid physical forms, weaker ones diminishing to barely more than witchfire. Guardians and beasts and wayward souls who lost themselves between the worlds of the living and the dead drifted or hunted according to their natures.

He saw Link descending on him, a shard of green wandering fire fallen from the heavens. He saw the jaws of a vast golden wolf open in the light. He saw himself draw the stiletto - though in his body he’d never taken his eyes from the other man.

He saw Link’s scream of rage as a wash of green-gold. He saw himself thrust his fist up under the man’s sword in reverse grip, the enchanted blade a shard of red-amber. He saw the shimmering forms of the People forming a circle around them.

He felt the sword punch through his chest.

He felt Link land on his stomach.

He felt Dashil’s horror in that moment as a resonant echo in his bones.

He felt his magic waver, and for an endless moment he wondered if he’d opened the shadows too late.

He felt the jaws of the wolf close around his neck.

“Well played, little hero.” Gan whispered to the snarling spirits pinning him. You should have seen him, Nabs.

Link growled.

Gan felt his magic snap taut again. Saw the smudge of shadow he’d become under Link’s blade in the physical world through Dashil’s eyes. He snapped his wrist, twisting the stiletto. “But this isn’t quite over.”

Blood and spirit misted and oozed as the wolf vanished with a yelp. Link’s eyes shifted from searing white to shining gold, to featureless oasis blue. “Oh.”

“The moment I let go, this blade will drop back into the mortal world,” murmured Gan, hoping the rising fog would be enough to shield them from scrying for just a few more minutes. “So I suggest you talk fast.”

“Oh no,” said Link, dropping his sword in both worlds. His shining green spirit reached to cradle Gan’s face in his hands. “I - I forgot. I didn’t mean to. Are you - ok? Did you embrace the shadows in time? Please say yes - oh Goddess Bright please say you were faster than me this time. I couldn’t help it. I told you this was a bad idea. I’m sorry-”

“Don’t care,” snapped Gan, jerking the blade toward the void rift inside his spirit. In the spirit world, the stiletto moved through the inert golden segmented steel as if it wasn’t even there. His opponent’s flesh and spirit hindered him far more. “What are you after? Who are you working for? What do you know about the triforce ?”

Link stroked his right thumb across Gan’s cheek, and drifted his left back to wrap around Gan’s right. “I love you.”

“What,” said Gan.

Link offered a lopsided grin, pushing slow and steady against his hand. “Do you believe in reincarnation, king of the spirit guardians?”

Gan snorted, too baffled to fight him effectively. “You want me to believe you’ve done all this for some romantic Hylian superstition?”

“Belief is irrelevant. We were enemies once. Long ago. I have stopped you too late in a hundred thousand lives before this,” said Link, shaking his head sadly as the stiletto slipped free of spirit and flesh. In the mortal world, Dashil watched him grasp at empty air, blood dripping from his silent mouth. “I’m so sorry, beloved.”

Gan frowned. “For what?”

“You missed,” said Link with a sardonic twist of his lips, torquing his wrist and jerking hard.

This time the angle wasn’t a gut strike. It slipped between his ribs with a familiar and eerily physical thup . Link kept twisting, forcing Gan’s hand open.

Gan fought him too late.

Link’s spirit flickered and stretched between the physical and spirit realms, so thin he could no longer feel or be felt. Dashil saw the stiletto appear.

So did everyone else.

Link fell over.

The screaming started.

Gan pulled himself to his feet, dashing through the press of spirits rushing into the challenge ring. Dashil’s eyes showed him blood spreading across charred slate, showed him healers of three different peoples shoving everyone else out of their way, showed him three discarded swords, showed him shock and panic and horror.

Gan dropped into his body in a puddle of velvet darkness behind the crowd, leaning against a pillar with affected nonchalance, struggling to breathe. Definitely cracked more ribs.

Isadora saluted him from the stairs, a glass of black wine in her elegant hand.

“Don’t pull the blade,” he said, weaving a pinch of magic into his words so everyone inside four rods of him would hear his command.

Shrieks of terror and surprise magnified the chaos as half the crowd turned to see him standing two rods from the near edge of the ring.

Gan made a rude noise, vaguely amused that hundreds of people had to hear it. “What? Do you really think he could defeat me ? The Great Ganondorf?”

Isadora raised her voice just enough to be heard, strolling towards him. “You would destroy your favorite champion and servant just like that?”

Gan shrugged. “He surrendered to me. Every breath he’s drawn has been by my mercy. So long as he remains useful and amusing, he is worth feeding.”

“Was his performance so good you fear to allow him another?” Isadora let that one carry too.

Fuck you. “I fear nothing. It is important he learn a lesson from this.”

Isadora overplayed her confusion, gesturing broadly “And what is this wondrous lesson dead men learn?”

Silence rippled out from the sword flower, and Dashil saw the field healer rock back on her heels, shaking her head.

“Hn,” said Gan, pushing away from the pillar. He stalked through the crowd, shoving anyone who wouldn’t move. “He’s not dead.”

“But my King,” said the nearest healer, rising to her feet. “He isn’t breathing.”

“Good,” said Gan. “That will keep most of the blood out of his lungs.”

The healers stared at him, and the silence deepened with the night as he stood over his bloody enemy. He swept his torn cloak back and took a knee, laying his left hand on Link’s still chest. He trapped the slender blade between heartfinger and middle, pleased to note the perfect outward curl of the gilded lorica. A feat only possible with a blade that enters the material world from inside its wearer.

Gan let his spirit sink down into Link’s body just enough to feel his heartbeat slowing. He grasped the hilt in his right hand, grounding himself. Vanishing the armor. The tunic. The shirt.

One last beat.

Gan exhaled a single pure note, pulling the stiletto as slow as a seedling curls up toward the sun. He spun power and spirit into a dense cluster to fill the cavity left behind the retreating blade.

Gan breathed. He hummed a simple spell of mending under his breath - simple designs often proved surprisingly effective. His whole body resonated with song as he started weaving Link back together from the inside out. A strange tightness pressed on him - but it was probably the fight catching up to him.

No one said anything. No one even moved.

Gan felt his magic pouring into the Work, felt the emptiness seeping in. This - might not work.

Gan kept his voice soft, straining to finish full phrases before his body forced him to draw another painful breath. Two verses, and he only had half the lung repaired. He couldn’t let the heart remain still much longer and salvage anything but a puppet. Somehow the tissue shredded under the stiletto - not at all the tidy puncture it should have been.

Time’s up.

Gan jerked the stiletto out, casting it away, and called a needle-fine groundstrike between his fingers.

Link’s body arced violently skyward. An erratic flutter stirred under Gan’s hand. He wrapped his right hand in a golden lacework of magic and thrust a finger into the wound to weave faster .

Third verse - the lungs were almost sealed. There would be damage inside, but he could remove the fluid later. Viscera could wait - the webwork would maintain constant pressure to minimize blood loss.

Gan found a gash on the heart wall. Every failing beat tore the muscle a little further. He fought to knit it back together as the forced compressions failed.

Gan abandoned the mending spellsong, hurrying his way through a recklessly abridged verse of Summoning. He closed his eyes and launched himself through the shadows, through the spirit roads, into the wild and chaotic formlessness bordering the veil of death.

“Link.”

At first, nothing.

Then.

A glimmer of green amid the nothing.

“Go back to your crown, your conquest. Feast and grow fat, Demon King. This thread is finished,” said Link, his voice hard but distant.

“The hell it is,” said Gan, twisting a cord of Will and Power and Spirit between his hands.

“You cannot follow me,” said the greenish man-shaped blur that was Link.

“I’m not,” said Gan, hurling the spell-cord lasso swift as a viper and hauling it taut. “I didn’t say you could leave.”

Link’s spirit cried out in denial, but Gan was already back in his body, calling a second strike as he set the final stitch.

Link’s chest heaved as his body convulsed.

Gan hauled savagely on the spell-cord.

Link drew a rattling, damp breath.

Gan rolled the man onto his side, thumping his back hard enough to force him to cough up the blood pooled in his airway.

“Blessed Three preserve us all,” gasped one of the Karakut healers.

The other healers rushed forward to take over, and Gan let them. It was enough for him that he was able to rise with grace.

When he’s cleared to move, take care of it. Put him in my bed where the wards are strong and get the blue potion from my workroom.

Dashil saluted.

Gan turned, sweeping his eyes over the crowd of warriors and knights and servants, noting the awestruck expressions, the bows of submission. You belong to me .

Isadora stood exactly as he’d left her, the black wine untouched.

Gan stalked towards her, ripping the shredded remains of his cloak from his shoulders. He hurled the bloody goldwork and crimson rags at her feet. “I expect a replacement by Lightsday.”

Isadora tipped her glass in salute, speechless.

Chapter Text

The trouble with strength is the performance of it can never be permitted to falter. Accordingly, Ganondorf walked across the courtyard and climbed the stairs in the hall, forcing his stride to remain balanced and regular, even though he had to wrap a modified levitation spell around his right leg to do it.

He could have ripped through the shadow roads to his workroom - but such a hasty retreat would leave room for people to speculate about the wounds he must have suffered in the bout. Ultimately a more expensive choice, undermining his victory before he could even use it.

Thankfully Leilani was not in the suite - so once the doors closed behind him, he could open the locked panel of his bar cabinet and retrieve a vial of concentrated healing potion. He leaned against his desk, realigning cracked and splintered bones, stabilizing everything with a hundred little crystalline webworks. Only when he felt reasonably sure he’d addressed all the structural damage did he dare swallow the vile concoction.

Beastly annoying to break and re-set anything that heals crooked.

Bellosa tried to talk to him at dinner. In fact, everyone did. No one wanted to be The One Who Failed To Congratulate The King. Isadora flattered him with unusually concise gratitude for allowing her to host the spectacle, and kept herself busy the rest of the night fawning on her favorites.

Leilani abandoned her needlework immediately upon his return. “Link is asleep, O my King. Finally. The smallest light or noise disturbs his rest, when his dreams do not.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, joining her by the hearth. The damn converted ballroom had been unpleasantly cold all evening. “I’ve no intention of kicking the man out of bed yet, avadha.”

Or joining him,” she said with a pointed glare, folding her arms.

Ganondorf snorted in amusement. “That either. How is he otherwise?”

She sighed, relaxing her stance. “Not good. The Iron One watches over him, with water and half a bottle of red potion in easy reach. The healers think with the blue in him, and red jelly on him, we shouldn’t need to wake him to make him eat. I have cold heartradish soup sitting on freezestone anyway.”

“That’s his circumstance, not his condition,” said Gan gently, turning to warm his other side.

She had the grace to look chagrined, ducking her head and drawing a deep breath before she dared answer. “He says you killed him.”

“Hn,” said Gan. “Only a little.”

She shook her head, dark eyes full of worry. “What happened out there today?”

Gan shrugged. “He shouldn’t have challenged me.”

She frowned in confusion. “Sun’s Ray - they told me you challenged him . That he refused the match.”

“He challenged me the day he hurled the first insult before the gates of Avosgart,” said Gan, hardening himself against her compassion for the foolish Hylian. “He surrendered the freedom to refuse when he knelt in Kharazhin.”

“As you say, O my King.”

Gan raised a brow, amused. “You do not agree, avadha?”

Leilani worked her jaw, staring at the fire as if she would find courage in the dancing flames. “Surrendering one’s life to save another is - different from surrendering one’s living body absolutely and forever.”

“Hn. You are too sharp to ever make a good servant,” said Gan with a lopsided grin. “Ramal are soft and gentle and unassuming.”

“If I am cutting,” she retorted, meeting his eye boldly, “it is because my King desires it is so.”

Gan laughed. “Hn. Unlace me.”

She huffed in annoyance - but she obeyed. Starting with his gauntlets. That he usually managed himself. She’d clearly heard more gossip than she admitted.

“Tell me - are you as sharp with your assistant?”

She shook her head, tugging his gloves off with a mou of disgust at the crunch of dried blood in the cloth. “He has neither need nor desire for that.”

“Do you still beat the boy?” Gan rumbled soft for her, watching her muscles tense, watching her hesitate on the buckles of his pauldrons.

“Not the way you mean,” she confessed at last, resuming her work.

“Do elaborate,” he said, after a suitable stretch of silence.

She winced, helping him out of the gorget as well before she assembled her answer. “He asks me to. Sometimes. Begs, bringing me things to hit him with. When you are angry with him. Or when you leave after attending - certain petitions. Sometimes after you’ve used him for - things. Especially after the fit of madness.”

“Hn,” said Gan, and let her focus on her work. Should I have let him die after all? The relics might take years to untangle without him, rendering them useless to this campaign. But can I afford any further casualties from his hand? My plans were laid without their advantage - but neither did I anticipate an opponent of his caliber. The sages should have all been mystics. Seers perhaps, but not substantially mage-gifted. Not since their last internecine war.

Leilani made a strangled cry when she peeled back the front panel of his damaged arming coat to help him shrug out of it. She dropped the cloth as if it burned her, shrinking away from him.

Gan frowned at her, thoughts scrambled. “Hn? If your work disturbs you-”

“Sa’ikhusa - what in the name of the Mother Herself,” she stammered, pointing a trembling finger at his chest.

Gan frowned harder, glancing down to see what she meant. His shirt was torn of course, and translucent with sweat where it wasn’t bloody. His skin was one massive bruise - and a wide patch of violet stasis webbing glowed at the center where it had split open under the golden sword.

Leilani continued stuttering, fear pouring over her skin and spirit.

“It is merely sealing magic. It won’t hurt you,” he rumbled gently.

“But - the Iron One is - marked with the same. This is unholy magic.”

Gan snorted. “Holiness is in the eye of the beholder, avadha.”

“My eyes behold your shattered bones, Sun’s Ray. There can be nothing holy about this. About any of this.”

“Less shattered than they were an hour ago. Nothing critical,” he said with an ironic grin. He tugged the loose panels of his arming coat to cover it, surrendering the idea of stripping to the skin for a bath before retreating to his workroom to sleep. “The Work merely needs a few more hours to complete the pattern. All is well.”

She shook her head vehemently. “Literally nothing about this is well. What did he do to you, my King?”

Gan sighed, unwinding his sodden neckcloth. “He obeyed my command, and danced with exquisite madness. His mastery of the blade in single combat is the stuff legends are made of.”

She worried her lip, and decided to help him out of the coat anyway. She kept her eyes averted from his chest - but that only meant she found other bruises to mutter and sigh over.

“The Hylian trusts you. Has he said anything to you about - other lives?”

“Hold still so I can get the cuff buttons - I’m not mending your shirt with it still on your back,” she chided.

“You’re avoiding my question,” he rumbled, amused that in spite of her fear and horror, she remained loyal and efficient. And prickly.

“Not lives but times,” she said, once she loosed the last tiny bone button. “He has - some kind of strange magic that makes time like sand. I don’t know. He gets very strange when he talks about it.”

“Strange how .”

She frowned in thought, pausing in the middle of folding the damp, stained linen. “His words tangle. A mash of languages and tenses. Sometimes he cries. And talks about - threads, and dancing.”


- o - O - o -


The trouble with sleep is that it gets harder to acquire the more one needs it. Potions could help - for a price Ganondorf could not afford to pay. Snatching hours by ones and twos would have to be enough.

Every time he surfaced, he forced himself to eat a handful of dried fruit and smoked meat, and tap into the manor’s wards for twenty minutes. Just to be sure they hadn’t seen. Wouldn’t see. That Isadora wasn’t doing something stupid. That Bellosa was obeying his orders.

Somewhere after noon, he went to the effort of pulling on the black silk kurta he’d carried in with him and sent Leilani to fetch a tray of something, anything more appetizing than basic rations. He washed his face and stood in his bedroom for half an hour to study his unconscious captive.

Gan siphoned fluid from his lungs, and a pool of blood from around his heart, transporting it to empty bottles waiting in his workroom for later study. He layered yet more protective wards on the room, until he heard Leilani return.

He forced himself to eat whatever it was she brought.

As soon as he sealed the workroom door behind him again, he stretched out among black silk cushions and embraced the darkness once more.


- o - O - o -


By the time twilight gave way to true night, Leilani had his arming suit more or less repaired. She argued for the kaftan instead of the rest of his armor, no doubt to save herself the trouble of getting him out of it again after dinner.

Link remained unconscious.

Gan slouched beside the sleeping platform in his questionably sound chair, boots propped on the bed itself, watching Link sleep curled around one of his pillows. He sent Dashil from the room and sealed the door. He turned the puzzle over and over in his mind, examining and discarding shard after shard, seeking a pattern in the man’s madness.

What if he was telling the truth?

Gan lit a plain oil lamp with a negligent spark and settled deeper into his chair, resting his chin on his thumb.

What if he wasn’t?

Gan waited.

That which I desire most.

Link stirred, whimpering in his sleep.

“Tell me what I need to know and your suffering will be over,” rumbled Ganondorf.

Link’s eyes snapped open and he jerked against the bed reflexively, trying to rise before he was even conscious. He gasped in pain, and a tremor rolled through his pale flesh.

Gan waited.

Link pulled himself high enough on the bed he could collapse against the pile of cushions heaped by the wall. He panted for breath, and a fresh bloom of blood stained the snowy gauze binding his chest.

Gan waited, rolling his thumb across his lip, letting the damage to own flesh remind him how dangerous this pale, skinny, wounded Hylian actually was.

“You’ve said that before,” murmured Link, his voice raspy and his accent thick.

Gan raised a brow. “In other times?”

Link nodded.

“Have you tried actually telling me?”

Link bowed his head in shame.

“For fuck’s sake, Link.”

“Sorry,” he whispered.

“I don’t want sorry ,” said Gan, pulling his feet off the bed. “I want results . If you knew even half as much as you claim to -gods - you know, you’re insufferable.”

Link shook his head. “Gan, you don’t understand - I can’t. Not yet.”

“Why? What wicked oath did you swear?”

“There is - a prophecy,” he mumbled.

“Spare me that pathetic excuse,” snapped Gan. “What is the mask for?”

Link said nothing, winding his fist in the blankets.

“What does the flute do?”

“You’ve seen it,” said Link, hitching one scarred shoulder.

“Part of,” countered Gan. “I know there’s more to it than rain.”

“It can - move certain things. Heal, to a point. Activate truthstones.”

“And?”

“And,” sighed Link, scrubbing a hand over his face. “There are songs that allow me to - alter time around me. A little . In certain conditions. For me alone.”

“So,” said Gan, watching the man closely. “It’s not a prophecy at all. You’ve seen the future.”

Link shook his head. “ Possible futures. Every choice you make alters what may become. The prophecy is - still very much a problem.”

Do not speak to me of prophecies ,” thundered Gan, sitting forward in his chair. “In nine months a blood moon will rise over the spirit gate at midnight on the longest night of the year. Do you understand what that means?”

Link sniffled and nodded, sneaking a furtive glance through the veil of his golden hair. He was crying.

“The mask.”

“No,” said Link, cold and hard in spite of everything.

“Yes,” said Gan.

Link shook his head. “Your greed will be your undoing.”

Gan waited. The red shards did not dance. But he could feel the pressure against his wards. They could feel his rage - or the absence of it in the world. They were coming for him. They would descend on him the moment his wards failed. They would whisper possibilities . They would promise. They would push.

“The triforce.”

No ,” said Link, steel sharp.

“Fuck you,” said Gan, pushing to his feet. Smothering his fury under cold logic. Tactical necessity. Leverage.

“Gan, wait. Please . You don’t understand - I can’t,” begged Link, scrambling gracelessly out of bed.

Gan folded the seals back and pulled the doors wide open, bellowing for his last two loyal servants.

Link fell when he hit the hidden lightning wards still stretching across the threshold.

Dashil saluted. Leilani bowed.

“Chain him,” said Gan.

“But - my King,” stammered Leilani.

“I said chain him . To the bed. Close the door behind you. Whip him bloody,” said Gan. Strict, objective, ignoring the desolate howls behind him. “Do I make myself clear?”

Dashil saluted. He neither felt nor heard any other reaction to his order.

Leilani paled. “My King-”

“Ten strokes for every drop of Geld’o blood on his hands,” said Gan, summoning the traitor’s scourge to lay in her hands. “If he passes out, revive him, pour potion down his throat and keep going .”

“I don’t understand,” she stammered, dark eyes flicking towards the bedroom, where Link was still begging him to stop.

“Read him the list of names,” suggested Gan. “In the middle drawer of my desk you will find a record of every warrior and servant assigned to every division under the Rocs of the East and West and the Exalted Sun of the Sands. Do not summon me until and unless he declares himself hopeless and prepared to cooperate.”

Leilani dropped the flail.

Dashil saluted. As a former First Lance she had a superior education in the management of armies, and had likely suspected the true situation weeks ago.

Leilani he could forgive for being slower to understand - she possessed neither the experience nor the temperament to have imagined such sins yet.

Forgiveness for Link had never been in question at all - only the manner and timing of his punishment.

Chapter Text

Isadora stood at the bottom of the stairs, a servant at her side bearing a tray with two glasses of bubbly golden wine.

Ganondorf made certain his expression remained neutral. Vaguely amused at best, no more than mildly inconvenienced at worst. He bowed over her hand in the manner of the Hylians.

She bowed in the same way the People honored him.

Good. She learns . “You remain an enchantment of Night Herself.”

“And you a radiant scoundrel,” she returned with a sharp smile. “If you wish to dine in public as usual, you are of course welcome. But I have prepared a - more intimate feast in the library which may be of some interest to you.”

“Hn. Of course you have,” said Gan, choosing a glass from the tray.

Isadora laughed. “I mean food , Dragmire. There’s not enough lamb and truffles for everyone, and I thought perhaps you might eventually grow bored of the same six compliments on your dancing yesterday.”

“Hn,” said Gan, sipping the wine. Dry, but sweet. Crisp in a way, reminding him of apples without tasting at all like one. He gestured toward the library.

Isadora smiled, taking the other glass from the tray and dismissing her servant. She fell in beside him, the goldwork-bordered train of her claret velvet gown whispering across the thick carpets and shining granite floors. “I hope you will believe me when I tell you I am happy to have made your acquaintance at last. My father is a forgetful correspondent, but nonetheless over the last twenty years I have heard a great deal about you.”

Gan raised a brow, allowing a noncommittal grunt.

“You might guess it is a - hobby of mine, following the careers of bold generals and dashing warlords,” she said with a smile, cradling her wine in both hands. Her silk gloves were dyed the same tawny gold as her silk undergown.

But I have only worn the War Crown for five. So why were you interested before that? “Hn. You did mention something about not leaving the mountains.”

Isadora smirked, gesturing to open the library doors with a crackle of magic. He could feel her wards on the room peel back - but more than that, the rich scent of roasted lamb dressed in harissa hit him square in the gut. “I hope you don’t mind that I borrowed the charming talents of Farou avadha Kharish for - rather more than an afternoon, as it turns out.”

“Not at all,” he rumbled, sipping his wine and pouring his entire focus into seeking cantrips to check for traps, for poison, for suppression seals, for other spirits - living or not - hiding within.

There were none. The wards on the room were designed for silence in three worlds, and a minor static barrier to close it off from intrusion. A private audience in every sense - what are you after, Izzy?

The feast was extravagant - not as sublime as Varesh would have made for him, but what could be? It was still good to enjoy a meal with actually decent flavor before launching the advance. Isadora had even arranged a proper - if ugly - chair for him, wide and strong and fitted with the correct sort of cushions.

She lounged on a rolled-arm chaise as usual, though she’d set it on some sort of platform beside the table so they could both serve themselves at leisure.

The conversation meandered through historical battles and the probable vices of long-dead commanders - nothing particularly relevant to this campaign, all of it so familiar and easy he barely had to think at all. Thankfully he was between bites when she raised a comparison between the Akkalan Silver War and a rumor of a similarly embarrassing defeat for himself.

“Wherever the bold move, there will always be rumors,” he said smoothly, cleaning his hands of savory grease and invigorating spices. His mind raced through every disappointment of every campaign in the last eleven years, trying to imagine what she meant. He’d deliberately kept mountain raids to modest border scuffles until now - concentrated his efforts on easy terrain. Richly provisioned estates, rather than fortified settlements. Remote villages and farms, caravans and paywagons instead of garrisons and cities.

“And yet rumors never cease to be entertaining,” she said, pouring more wine. “Despite - or perhaps because of? - their questionable accuracy. I admit I was a little surprised by your targets this season, at first.”

“Hn,” said Gan, favoring her with a wry grin. “The greatest advantage of establishing a fixed pattern is no one expects it to change.”

“Oh, anyone with the strategic sensibilities of a moderately intelligent sheepdog knows raiding the lowlands is child’s play. Profitable, to be sure, and you’ve made quite a game of teasing the garrisons. But you can’t march across the provinces to invade Hyrule and hope for lasting success without fielding an army five times the size of theirs,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

“They like to think that,” said Gan.

“I trust you will accept my compliments that they continue to believe that even now. I was on the point of sending a brigade to meet you when Yarat and then Haltava burned, but by the grace of the gods a detachment of Hylian royal guard on training circuit in Nostek heard the same news and saved me the trouble.”

Burned? As General Bolerov burned her way through Akkala, unifying the enemy against her atrocities? “I do not in general burn things that are still useful to me, unless of course they become more useful by so doing.”

“For which reason alone I hesitated,” she said with a smile, toying with her glass. “I said to myself, no, he would never spend the effort on all these clever negotiations and waste it all starting a hundred blood feuds. But then you followed the east trade road and did it again - and again! I thought perhaps you had gone mad. It is a thing that happens, on occasion, in our bloodlines. Even so, I raised a glass in your name when I heard your rampage met a sudden and definitive stop.”

Damn you Avish. Those were not your orders. And you knew I wouldn’t have the leisure to scry your activities for at least a month. “ You mean you wished me good riddance and congratulated yourself on avoiding any actual work.”

She laughed. “Oh no, I genuinely mourned the loss of your potential brilliance in the world. No one could be more pleased than myself that you evaded the foolish Hylian king after all. I am quite pleased to have made your acquaintance after I had given it up as impossible.”

“Likewise it is my pleasure to personally reassure you any rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated,” he said with a grin, snatching up a handful of stewed cherries.

Isadora laughed again, sipping her wine with a sly look. “Oh no, even in Hyrule you aren’t quite dead yet. Though of course there are daily objections to this fact, both at court and in the streets.”

“You have my attention,” he said casually, savoring the cherries one at a time. Alive?

“Thanks to the efforts of my dear husband, Hyrule continues to believe the greatest threat to their ambitions in centuries should continue rotting away in the royal dungeons, as of course death makes martyrs of bandits and rebels - but capture! Tcha, what sort of thief can’t pick the lock of his own cage hm?”

Avish is alive. In Hylian custody. “One wonders how fresh your news, given the mysteriously impassable state of the roads this spring.”

Isadora toyed with her glass, watching him as a cat watches a songbird. “My darling husband and I share a most intimate connection, despite our differences of blood and birth and - let us call it taste .”

“Congratulations are in order I’m sure,” he returned smoothly. Alive .

“Thank you. When I was younger, I thought I might enjoy life at court, and regretted my circumstances. Now I think I rather love them - all the gossip and fashion I could ever want, at remarkably little inconvenience to myself.”

“Hn,” he said, savoring another cherry. Avish is alive. “We will miss your enchanting presence at our court, of course, but I confess I am still diverted by these wild rumors. To invite comparisons to the Silver War it must be quite the tale.”

Isadora laughed. “But won’t you confess just a little interest in the secret of our happy marriage? As a young mage with as much potential as you have, the details of a Great Work from the designer of it-”

“Are thankfully irrelevant. My people have neither use nor interest in your marriage customs,” he said with a smile. Alive . “Should circumstances change, I will be certain to pay you a visit.”

Isadora snorted. “It must be exhausting, imagining what everyone does in bed together Dragmire. I mean to say we enjoy a connection that collapses vast distances and crosses even the most powerful seals - in the mortal plane and in others - without raising the attention that active magic might. My news from Hyrule is never more than a few minutes old when my husband is visiting her.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf. Avish is alive . “Anything that was ever made can be broken - or exploited. Weaving your spirit with another for sentiment or even the promise of tactical advantage creates a glaring point of vulnerability for one’s enemies.”

“We don't recite proverbs about sticks and bundles for nothing,” said Isadora with a smile. “Nor is it quite accurate to say this is a magic of spirit in the sense you mean it, brother. Although it is possible for persons with specific and rigorous training to detect the presence of a bond, it is impossible for anyone to say to who or what or eavesdrop on our connection.”

“Brother? You had perhaps better consider that your last glass of wine for a bit,” he teased. Alive . “Meanwhile I find I must attend the inevitable result of mine. Don’t let this interrupt your pleasure in the feast. I will return presently.”

Isadora chuckled, saluting him with her glass, and folded back the wards on the library to let him leave it more easily.

Ganondorf stalked down the carpeted hall, one eye on his destination and the other focused through Dashil. Who was sweeping up shattered glass while Leilani righted what was left of the furniture. They’d chained Link as ordered, but not apparently before he destroyed half the room in another fit of madness. He was, predictably, weeping. Great heaving sobs, pleading for death, crying for the innocent dead, denying their blood, crying that his beloved would never trust him now.

Dashil. How many strokes.

We were - about to start. There was some trouble when Leilani explained what the list meant. We have him under control now, though. I can make her understand to leave the mess for later-

You are almost as bad at lying as she is. He won’t feel the scourge in this state.

He will if I use it.

Wait an hour for him to calm down. No - make that two hours.

As you command it, Sun’s Ray .



- o - O - o -



The shadows were always tricky to navigate when mildly drunk. It had been necessary, to throw Isadora off the scent. Eating. Drinking. Inane chatter. More drinking. He hated every excruciating minute wasted on maintaining the mask of the hedonist.

He dropped into his workroom feeling like he’d just run full circuit on the eastern fortress at midday. Dashil. Report.

He weeps and babbles.

Hold another hour then.

A full minute slid past before she acknowledged his command in any way. He borrowed her eyes for only a moment, assuring himself that she gave him truth. Link remained unmarked beyond the harvest of their duel.

Gan severed the connection and sealed his workroom. At this hour there was no possibility he could use the skybolt glass without his mothers noticing. But I can’t wait until morning.

He meditated on the disobedience of Roc Avish. On the sheer level of waste she’d indulged in Yarat and after. On her failure to evade the idiot Hylians. On the shattering of his diversion. On his anger.

When not one shred of any other thought buzzed in his head, he unveiled the skybolt glass and cast his spirit through it. He leapt from spark to reflection to spark again, racing across mountain and hill and field towards the Hylian capital.

Descending through the dungeons required more delicate work, settling and seeking before leaping forward again. Better to take three times as long than find himself somewhere he couldn’t move through.

He found Cafei first. Alive, and awake in the middle of the night to sharpen tools made from cucco bones. They’d likely snap trying to pick the heavy iron locks of her cell. Across from her, Paka. Across from her, someone with her rough blanket pulled over her head, weeping.

Sharing a corridor, but none sharing a cell. All of them stripped to breastband and trousers, their spirit gems missing. None had more than one blanket. Several were already coughing.

Alive - but for how long in these conditions? And where is Avish?

He searched every inch of the dungeons, and finally, a fresh guard unit came to relieve the present shift. Gan watched, using the reflections on so many Hylian breastplates to construct a more comprehensive picture of the place. Then a wall opened, and the remaining six guards switched places with the six from the other side.

Ganondorf followed.

Somehow he expected something small and dark and slimy. And to be fair, much of the winding passage was all of those things. At the end of it though, the passage opened up into a vast cavern, the living rock carved with an incredible network of bright glyphs. He couldn’t ride the reflections through the edge of the sealing glyph, but he saw enough of the figure chained in the ring of soaring stone pillars at the center even so.

Ganondorf dismissed the spell and veiled the glass at once. He could feel the red shards pressing against his wards. They knew he was angry. They would know from his mothers where he’d gone looking. Might know some of what he saw under Hyrule Castle.

He smothered all of it under annoyance, under the tedious minutiae that deviated from his orders, under cold intellectual interest in the glyphs he’d seen.

That will have to be enough. Ganondorf stalked from his workroom and threw open the bedroom doors. “Change of plans.”

Leilani yelped in surprise and scrambled to her feet.

Dashil saluted.

Link continued to blubber incoherently.

“Get him out of my sight,” growled Gan.

Leilani scrubbed her eyes and stammered a baffled assent.

Dashil did not move.

“Are all your ears full of sand and your bones made of jelly? I said release him and drag his ass out . Both of you. Take him and leave. Now ,” thundered Gan.

“Yes Sun’s Ray, but - where should we secure him for-” began Leilani, picking up the flail from the bed.

“I said go ,” roared Gan, snatching the flail from her and pointing to the door with it. “Get him out of my sight and rouse Roc Bellosa. Send her to me - and occupy yourselves somewhere not here. Return before I summon you and you will taste the scourge yourself.”

Leilani bowed. “Yes, O my King.”

But his crimes Sun’s Ray-

Do not speak to me of crimes. I am the law. Release him and see that no one lays a hand on him without my order. Defy me in this and you will lose the ability to defy me again.

She saluted.



- o - O - o -



All that remained of Yarat and Haltava was charred timbers and desolate foundations. The walls had crumbled to a ring of rubble and scavengers - animal and otherwise - had long since come to feast on the waste of life.

Half of Nostek looked about the same, though here the living had the decency to bury their dead and the wisdom to leave offerings for the restless spirits.

Ganondorf checked the last settlement from the list Bellosa suggested. Fully three quarters of the villages had been reduced to ash and charred posts and scattered hearth stones.

Damn you Avish. I should have stripped you of rank and assigned you to hauling horseshit months ago.

West was not even a tenth so bad. Reiva and Roc Korosh apparently liked to burn the town gates, the mayor’s house, and whatever shrine or temple they found. Life in the settlements they conquered seemed to be going on in the usual patterns, more or less, as long as they didn’t need horses or oats for it.

The entirety of the old Termina trade route is gossiping about Ganondorf the Horse Thief. Fabulous.

He found the division encamped near the Ikana border, sprawling through a remarkably suitable little box canyon, with fresh water and even a little grazing. It wouldn’t support herds that large for long, but if they sent targeted raids into Termina proper, they had enough remounts to strike and return before the scattered cities and armed estates could muster a response.

Alive .

Ganondorf left his workroom only because he hadn’t thought to drag any restorative potions in with him. He stood at the window in his bedroom, watching the reflection of the sunrise on the snow-capped peaks. Lurid pink and searing orange and eerie violet, interrupted by jutting granite ledges and scattered black pines stubborn enough to challenge the laws of nature himself.

So why did he come to Kharazhin bloody? He didn’t go east or west at all - and had we ridden to Yarat as planned, the extra division of soldiers there would surely have forced an actual melee. Link could never persuade so many to surrender to or buy off a raid with tribute rather than attempt to defend against it. And I am not stupid enough to launch fireflower over the walls at the fourth hour of midnight and think negotiations would be possible afterwards.

Ganondorf toyed with his glass of ice and Tears muddled with angelica and basil and the ironically named sweet bay. Such minor charms as this bitter draught of kitchen witchery were nothing to Koume and Kotake. And yet even onionskins could serve as a shield if you collected enough of them in one place.

Unless she never even tried to negotiate their surrender. Given her behavior towards the insignificant villages - is that how they all think of me? A reckless, vengeful beast of fire and blood?

The morning offered no answer.

You’ve had a long night of scrying, my mothers. Your power wanes as the nights grow shorter. You surely strained yourselves watching the duel, and you’re pushing the limits of what you can do with your shards of demonstone. Drain yourselves much further and it will take advantage of your weakness. Are you Rova, or will you become puppets?

The pale blue sky and golden peaks gave him no answer.

Ganondorf finished his drink, and considered the questionable virtues of another. His head buzzed with the vibrant fuzziness of the green potion and the slow spreading numbness of the Tears.

The red shards remained distant and weak, dancing at the edges of his wards, his mind. They waited for an opening, but they always waited. It was what they did. He couldn’t remember a time when they had not come to relish in his temper and whisper of possibilities , of power.

Ganondorf returned to his workroom, to the veiled skybolt glass, and demanded a vision of his sister. The glass shimmered and warped and glittered with the light of a hundred thousand stars adorning the veil of night.

No - be specific you fool. Show me the Exalted Sun Nabooru avadha Saiev.

For a long moment, nothing changed.

The veil of death looks like that.

Ganondorf remained, watching the indifferent stars, trying not to think anything at all.

Kings do not grieve.

He’d never been good at not thinking.

Ganondorf prepared to sever the spell. The glass cleared, showing him a cavern formed all of jagged thunderstone. Quiescent, but here and there the sharp facets reflected the pinprick light of a hundred tiny oil lamps set in a circle around the open space at the heart of the cavern. Where a woman of the people wearing the sacred pattern of the god’s teeth sat in full lotus, her eyes as bright as her spirit gem.

Nabs-!

The spiritlight cleared from her golden eyes - but not in answer to his cry. She ground her palms against her brow and cursed the gods, the spirits, the winds, the sands. She railed at the Mother of Sands for not giving her even a drop of magic.

You have other gifts, dear sister. Don’t measure yourself by my standard. That’s one battle you will always lose.

Ganondorf followed her out of the shrine-like cavern in the strange dark mountain, into the harsh morning wind. He told himself he was evaluating the strength and obedience of his Exalted. He told himself he was surveying the Sands for interlopers, for encroaching beasts.

He stayed with her through the gates of the fortress, up through the central tower. He saw himself - Nialet! - standing beside a cloaked figure, staring out at the shifting dunes of the sand sea, brooding. Nabooru saluted. His mirror image turned - she’s not even wounded - and held out a hand to his Exalted. Nabooru accepted, offering her other to the cloaked one - Varesh! - and the three women stood in somber silence, all blind to the spirit of their King standing with them.

Chapter Text

Shattering glass never sounds like one expects it to. There’s a certain pop, and a sharpness at the edges of the noise, but somehow it’s never as shrill and tinkly in the actual moment of destruction as it is in memory and imagination.

Not that it mattered.

Nothing mattered, really.

A tempest could take the whole manor around him, but Ganondorf and his wards would remain. More glass broke, and several suggestive thumps rattled the floor even into his workroom.

Strange magic flared, bright and smelling strongly of apples and - dog?

Ganondorf roused enough to check for damage to his wards. He found none. He detached himself from the relay and returned to the delicate work of not thinking .

Hammering at the workroom door startled him out of his rhythm, hauling him painfully back to his body, to the now.

Link’s voice, calling his name. Link’s fists, beating the innocent door for standing between them.

Gan scrubbed a hand over his face. How did he get in here?

Link’s voice shaping a name he hadn’t answered to in eleven years.

Gan pushed to his feet, wrestling with his fractured discipline. If he can defeat the outer wards, others can too. I must weave another seal.

“Locking yourself in the darkness won’t bring them back,” shouted Link. “I know you can hear me. Hate me if you must, but don’t do this to them .”

“Get out,” roared Gan, folding back the ward to pull the door open.

Link didn’t move. “You need to eat.”

Gan snarled and roared at him, weaving a crystalline shield of air and wandering fire to push the man back.

Link dug his heeled boots against the wood floor and pushed back. He didn’t weigh enough to hold ground, but he made Gan pay dearly for every inch. “I brought you cookies, you stubborn bastard.”

“I don’t fucking care,” roared Gan, stepping sideways and ramming the shield against him.

“Who are you trying to convince? We both know the truth - you cared about every last one of them. Caring what happens to people isn’t the weakness you think it is,” growled Link.

“What do you know about anything, Hylian? Get out and stay out,” snarled Gan, pushing the smaller man off balance when his boots caught on the rugs in the first room.

“I know it’s been two days. I know tomorrow is - oof - Lightsday. I know something happened at dinner that changed your - dammit - mind about having me beaten to death. I know you don’t eat when you’re upset,” countered Link, struggling against the shield and still losing ground. “Let me help - don’t let the darkness win this time -

Another rod’s worth and I can kick his ass out the door. “I don’t want help from an interfering Hylian and I don’t care what bloody day it is. I am King . What I do or do not do is none of your concern.”

Link roared in fury, stumbling back. He tried to lunge to the side, swearing when he hit another facet of the shield. He retreated one step and - punched the floor. Green fire blazed up from his fist - and he vanished.

Gan dismissed the shield, leaning against the doors with a sigh of - not relief, but something vaguely like it. Just for a moment - just need to catch my breath. Then I’ll weave another seal. Maybe get a charged focus to-

“Don’t do this to yourself, Gan. Don’t lock yourself up alone in the dark. That’s how the Destroyer wins. I didn’t come here to hurt you,” said Link from behind him.

Gan turned, and the world wobbled when he saw the clinging scraps of green fire rolling off the man as he strode from the inner rooms. Because of course he knows more than two spells. How could I be so stupid?

Link stopped in the middle of the room, and pulled out a waxed-cloth packet from an inner pocket of his quilted dove-gray doublet. A striking design, with a tooled leather waist cinch to match his boots, and a billowing high-collared white shirt underneath, cut to sit smoothly under and accent the beauty of the golden collar. Isadora’s tailor deserved every possible honor of their trade. “If you won’t tell me what’s wrong, at least eat something before you get sick. Please, Gan. These are your favorite.”

Gan forced himself to meet those intense blue eyes. “How do you know?”

Link tilted his head, his voice softening. “Does it matter? Can’t it be enough that I wanted to know it, so I could bring you even a small happiness in a dark hour?”

The tightness in his chest only increased the longer he looked at this mad Hylian hero. This man who endured punishment after punishment for crimes he didn’t commit. That hadn’t even happened. “You need to leave.”

“Not until you eat,” said Link, holding out the packet. “Will you let me make you tea? Draw you a bath?”

How could anyone look at him and think he would slaughter thousands to maybe carve out an opportunity to assassinate one man? “You lack a certain appreciation for danger, little hero. Leave the sugary nonsense if you must, but get out .”

“I have every possible appreciation for dangerous circumstances, Gan. But I am not afraid of you,” said Link softly, moving to lay the packet on the nearest stupid little table.

Me. I could think it. Because I can imagine doing it. Because even as a child I understood it would be necessary to kill - not once, but many times - to attain my purpose. “You should be.”

Link shook his head.

You didn’t even know about Eidalu and Tareil and Orani and you thought I meant to burn the villagers that day. Gan closed the distance between them, so close he could almost taste the herbs in his soap. He smelled like Nialet’s spice garden in summer. “Tremble for me, little hero.”

“Make me,” Link returned with a thin, lopsided grin.

You didn’t imagine the monstrous truth that I penned them to make them watch their houses and their belongings and that murderous little shitstain burn, you imagined I intended a massacre. Gan stalked around him, as a rockcat with an injured beetle in its shadow. “You dare defy the man who would use the loss of three pathetic lives as an excuse to burn a whole province?”

“Always.” Link raised his sharp, stubborn chin. “But it wasn’t just three lives. I would unravel whatever happened to the lost divisions and bring them all back to you in an instant if I could. Let me help you bear the grief. I am not afraid of you, of the Demon King, of a lonely desert prince-”

“Prove it,” said Gan, bowing over his shoulder to growl it into his elegant long ear. “Strip. Now.”

Link did not tremble. He raised his left hand to unfasten the first polished bone button of his crisp white collar.

Gan loomed over his shoulder, watching, waiting for him to feel the weight of his regard. For him to react to Gan’s breath stirring his hair. For him to hesitate.

Link did not tremble. He pushed each button through with deliberate, slow movements. Letting it pop through the loop of satin cord. Taking the time to push first one side and then the other further open. Trailing his fingers over the cloth to the next.

Gan watched. Why isn’t he afraid?

Link unfastened the last button in the deep placket and skimmed his elegant hands up his chest again. He traced the edge of the golden collar and caught the snowy linen under his thumbs, pulling the shirt ever slowly out from under it. And incidentally broadening the plunging V of bared flesh.

“You should tremble at the thought of standing naked before the man who killed you,” rumbled Ganondorf, licking his lips as his eyes slid down that V without asking him first. The stiletto wound had already become a small triangular scar spoiling his fair skin.

Link snorted, sliding his hands over shirt and doublet to the first fastened button of the latter. These, of course, were smooth silver domes, easy to button, fussy to unbutton. Link made the most of that, stretching his hands against the soft cloth after each one, all the way to the hard edge of the tooled leather cinch.

“I am going to do bad things to you,” murmured Gan, riveted to the sight of the smooth spiral lacing cord being pulled through each bound eyelet one at a time.

“Not afraid of you,” murmured Link, unwinding the cinch and letting it swing from his fair hand a moment before dropping to the floor. Like he was taunting a beast to leave its lair.

Why aren’t you afraid of me? You know better than anyone the fiend I am. Gan stalked a circuit around him as he unfastened the last handful of buttons on the doublet. Link watched him move, his cheeks pink but otherwise cavalier about his circumstances. He even met his captor’s eye as he drew the doublet open. As he pushed one side off his shoulder to catch on the corded muscles of one arm, and then the other.

“You should leave while it still amuses me to allow it,” rumbled Gan, unsettled by the way he was sliding his hands over his fine clothing. Slow. But not even slightly hesitant. Seductive. But not lewd. Like he knows exactly what he’s doing. Like he’s challenging me to - to what? To rescind my order? Does he think to punish me for the terrible things I’ve done to him by obeying yet another monstrous command?

Link quirked his delicate lips, tugging the hem of his white linen shirt above the taut waistband of his trousers on one side, the doublet still caught at his elbows. “Stop trying to scare me away. You and I both know it’s a waste of breath every time you try to threaten me.”

“Foolish little hero,” murmured Gan, licking his lips as the doublet hit the floor. “Leave before I take what is mine.”

Link did not leave.

Link did not tremble or avert his eyes.

Link blushed a little deeper, and popped the buttons on his shirt cuff. “Foolish, maybe. But I’m not going anywhere.”

Gan leaned in as the snowy white shirt puddled on the floor, expecting - hoping? - the man would give ground with his captor’s nose mere inches from his own. “Do I look like I’m joking?”

Now the infuriatingly stubborn madman drew a tight breath. Now he would begin to fear. Surely. Now he would tremble. Now he would see the true peril of approaching a monster.

Why is he still unlacing his breeches? His tight, buttery, gray buckskin breeches. Pulling the end of the satin cord all the way through the eyelet. Tugging the panels open after every one. Letting his hands brush against the curve of flesh that possesses even less capacity for self preservation than he does.

“You’re breathing hard,” murmured Link with a sly lilt in his words. “Maybe you should sit down.”

“I do what I want,” said Gan, hating that he was right.

“Hn. You do like people to think that,” he returned, pulling the cord free to dangle it between them, draped perilously over a fingertip. The pendulous swing of the long end pulled it further off balance with every arc, until the whole thing succumbed, and fell. “Drop your mask, desert king. You don’t need it with me.”

Gan pivoted, stalking around behind him again. Where he could watch the waistband of the breeches sag ever lower, where he could watch Link bow to unfasten the - silver? Did they make him two pair? Is the light in here going strange? - buckles of his tooled riding boots. Where he could scrub a hand over his face without being seen to do it. Where he could wrestle with his rotten, barbaric desires alone.

Except he wasn’t alone.

He was locked in his rooms with a foolish and increasingly naked unarmed Hylian.

Gan watched socks follow boots, and breeches follow socks, soft gray buckskin sliding over the curve of muscled buttocks. “Why aren’t you afraid?”

“Does it matter?” Link murmured over his shoulder as he let the buckskin fall from his fingers to puddle at his feet. “You reject all sentiment yourself, so how could you ever understand mine?”

Gan snorted, grasping desperately after his crumbling discipline. I’ve seen him naked a hundred times. This is nothing. Less than nothing. It’s just skin. No part of this is novel or shocking or -

Link dropped the soft linen breechclout atop the chaos of clothing around him, naked but for earrings and the golden collar. Which for some mysterious reason unlocked itself and fell away with a heavy thwump and a slender twist of his own lightning.

Uh oh. What’s wrong with you? What are you doing?

Link unthreaded his heavy silver earrings. He skimmed his hands over his bare skin, taunting, tempting, daring him to imagine his own hands there , and there , and there .

Gan swallowed hard, and words rolled from his tongue before he could stop them. “You aren’t done. Undress me.”

Now the intoxicating, courageous madman trembled. Now , when it was almost too late, he would begin to fear. Now he would hesitate. Now he would understand the danger he was in.

But he was reaching for Gan’s hand before he even finished turning. He slipped his fingers under the cuff of the kaftan to loosen the spiral lacing of his arming coat, his clever, warm hands moving with skill and grace and entirely too much contact to ignore. At all. Ever.

What have I done? He is defenseless in every way - if I can’t stop, he won’t be able to stop me like this.

Gan watched him unthread cord after cord, watched his pale hands slide over and under good black wool to loosen every single surface fastening without removing anything. Only then did Link crouch to help him out of boots and stockings. He slid those impossible hands up calf and knee and thigh and hip and waist and chest as he stood. He stretched to reach under the shoulders of the kaftan, pushing that one layer out, and down, guiding its fall.

Gan drew a shaky breath, flexing and clenching his hands at his sides. Why are you not afraid? Can you not see how close I draw to doing things that can’t be undone? Can you not hear the snap and cry of the terrible acts I would visit on your fragile body? Can you not feel how my hunger rises to have helpless prey under my claws?

Link didn’t answer. He didn’t stop peeling his captor out of his clothing, his jewels. Piece by excruciating piece, his hands teasing every moment with the illusion, the masterful performance of desire.

But what if he’s telling the truth?

Link’s hands hesitated at last when Gan’s shirt drifted to the floor. When the only thing remaining between them was the thin fall-front trousers he wore under his arming suit and the not-tight-enough silk loincloth beneath that. His fingertips hovered over bare skin. Not touching. Stroking the air so close Gan could feel lightning ripple in his wake anyway.

“Do you tremble to imagine how I will beat you if you touch me, little hero?” Gan asked, his own voice rough and jagged in his ears.

Link paused, his not-touching resting at Gan’s waist. “You don’t have to repeat tired threats with me. I know you don’t like being touched.”

“You know nothing.” Gan locked his hands around the smaller man’s arms, forcing his hands further away. Willing him to obey. “ You should go.

Link raised his wide blue eyes, searching his face. “Talk to me Gan. What happened at dinner? Why are you pushing me away this time?”

Gan shook his head, struggling to assemble words in any kind of order.

“Ok,” said Link softly, stroking the air from chest to hip. Not touching. As easily as if Gan wore some invisible skin-tight garment as thick as his thumb, instead of perfectly following every curve and ledge and hollow and never ever slipping. “You can tell me later. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Link,” breathed Gan. “I - need to seal the door. The way I seal the workroom. You won’t be able to leave. Even by magic. ”

“Ok,” said Link. Calm, gentle. “I want to be here with you, for whatever you need.”

Gan bowed, teasing his nose through that silken hair, down that pale brow and blushing cheek, almost - but not quite! - fitting curve and ledge and hollow together - almost claiming those tender lips. “Do you love pain so much-?”

“If that’s what you need,” said Link, a charming, intoxicating flutter in his voice.

Gan cut off any further words he might have readied, covering those delicate lips with his own blasphemous mouth.

He felt like rain.

Sweet, salt, savory, soft, submissive.

Link moaned in pleasure - parted his lips to offer his tongue, to accept, to welcome, to kiss him back with intoxicating passion. As if he really, truly, actually wanted this. To have wicked hands sliding down his back to cup his shapely ass. To be lifted in the arms of a tyrant. To be made to hook his knees on the ledge of his captor’s hips.

Gan broke the kiss, panting, nuzzling against his soft face. “Touch me you coward.”

Link answered with a wordless humming moan - and grasping, sliding, needy hands on his chest, his shoulders, his back. He rocked upward to claim a kiss of his own. He flexed his strong thighs, pulling himself as close as possible.

Gan sipped of delirious risk, kissing this madman, this enemy, this fearless warrior. He carried Link to the desk before he could do anything even more stupid. Like tumble him onto one of the damn sofas. Or a bench. Or the floor.

Link mumbled something incoherent against his lips when Gan propped his ass on the polished olivewood desk. He tried to scoot himself to the very edge, as if he didn’t understand the peril of it. As if he didn’t realize what could happen if he exposed his most tender parts so completely, if the angles aligned.

Which they would. In the struggle to re-set the man safely back from the edge of the desk, Gan felt his own arousal too keenly. Link ground against him with a profound lack of innocence. As if he’d unleashed some primal hunger to be fucked raw. As if he didn’t quite grasp how easily his fragile flesh would break under the lust of a monster.

“Foolish little hero,” murmured Gan between kisses. “There is no one here to save you from my greed if you keep taunting me like this.”

“Not the one in need of saving,” breathed Link, caressing his chest and stretching up to claim another kiss.

Gan shivered, dropping his hips to grind against the edge of the desk in the vain hope of easing the pressure. “Don’t you know what I am? There is no stopping me once I’ve begun devouring-”

Link cut him off with a moan, rocking forward enough to trap his throbbing shaft between them. To draw his attention to the most obvious - and least trustworthy - evidence of desire. “So don’t stop.”

Gan shook his head, caressing his back, drawing one hand up his fragile neck, threading his fingers up into that silky golden hair. “You are a hostage - you belong to me - your foolish invitations are as meaningless as a refusal.”

“Stop threatening and start doing ,” growled Link, twisting to trail kisses down from his lips to his throat - and then! - to capture vulnerable flesh in his teeth.

Gan drew a shuddering breath in spite of himself. No one bit the King . No one dared. No one growled like a rutting wolf and dug their nails into his back and ground their sex against his without his command, or at least his permission.

“You abject fool,” he rumbled, clutching the man closer, letting himself savor the wildness. Just for a moment. Just for the novel rarity of the spice.

“Hn,” said Link, and dragged his clever tongue up Gan’s neck, seeking after his ear. “Don’t care.”

“You should,” rumbled Gan, dragging his hands over every inch of that pale flesh, claiming it, memorizing it. “There are - many reasons I - forbid touch.”

Link snorted in disdain, slipping a hand down to caress his aching cock through the thin fabrics. “Too late.”

Gan bit back a moan - his warm hand felt delicious - he was already arcing against the touch without meaning to. He wanted more - he wanted Link to unfasten the last few buttons, unlace the last panels. He wanted even one more layer of cloth banished so he could have more .

“Tell me what you want,” murmured Link. “I am yours - all you have to do is say it.”

“I want ,” he began, trailing off as his trousers slipped down his thighs as much as the desk and the entanglement allowed.

Link tugged on his loincloth, seeking the hidden fastening of the belt.

“What I want ,” said Gan, bowing to seize a forceful kiss.

Link moaned in apparent pleasure, trembling in his hands, arcing his hips to grind another desperate and entirely insufficient stroke.

“For weeks I’ve wanted to fuck you until you scream for me,” rumbled Gan onto those delicate, bruised lips.

Link hummed, a lilt of amusement in his voice. “Prove it.”

Gan groaned, thrusting against him, reveling in the contrast of the thin wool bunched around his thighs and the damp silk and the tantalizing heat and pressure on the other side. But I can’t, I can’t.

Link threaded one hand behind his neck, winding his fingers in his hair. With the other - he gave up on the loincloth to stroke his palm down the side of his aching shaft. Both of their shafts. Grinding and stroking, provoking himself and his captor in the same movement, dancing ever closer to doom.

Gan cupped his hand around that shapely ass, pulling him closer, closer, grinding back, craving more. Craving the impossible. Delirious with the pleasure of his name moaned in passion.

No one said his name like that, paring it down to one intimate sound. No one dared. No one kissed sweat from the hollow of his throat and reshaped the mark of his destiny, his rank, his difference into something tender and personal and vulnerable and cherished.

Gan couldn’t stop touching him. He couldn’t master his breath. He couldn’t hold his tongue or keep himself from thrusting his hips against that dangerous sip of forbidden pleasures. Even when the silk slipped aside - did I claw it away in this fit of madness or did he? Even when Link cradled their cocks together in his exquisite hands. Even when the lightning coiled around his spine and threatened to drive him past the bounds of reason.

Even when it wasn’t threatening anymore.

Gan tucked Link under his chin, shuddering from the unexpected orgasm, praising his goodness even as the madman set his teeth on his chest again. Murmuring little nonsense encouragements, still caught in the heady aftershocks. Link moaned, and moaned his name, and thrust against him, sliding his slender, curving, cum-slick shaft alongside his own up through the circle of his hands.

“Good boy,” murmured Gan, a distant part of his mind wondering when the throbbing would subside.

Link panted and moaned and bit and thrust. Desperate, wild. When he came, hot and lavish, he sang.

Gan held him as the wild strength left him, winding the trembling man against his chest as he too grappled with the aftermath of crossing another boundary into ever more perilous ground.

“Oh Gan ,” he sighed, embracing him in return, lacing his fingers together at the small of his back. “You stubborn bastard.”

“Hn,” said Gan, kissing the top of that golden head. “You don’t know the half of it, my little hero.”

“Hn,” echoed Link, kissing his chest. “So tell me.”

Gan drew a deep breath, checking his wards. Checking the seal. Just to be sure. Just in case. He didn’t know what hour it might be anymore. They might be awake. They might be looking, and the demonstone never slept. But it wasn’t here. It was safely locked in the void again. And the red shards hadn’t noticed his discipline falter yet.

Link sighed. “Doesn’t have to be now. I’m here. Ok?"

Gan nodded. His throat tried to close around the words. The confession emerged as a harsh whisper. “Not dead.”

Gan could feel Link’s frown of confusion. “Who-?”

Gan shook his head, struggling to let it past his teeth. “ Not lost. Not dead.”

Link nuzzled his face against his chest, puzzling over it a moment. “The divisions? Your generals?”

As if that’s all they were. But Gan nodded. Not that Link could see it. “Alive.”

“Oh Gan - is that - what happened the other night? You found them?”

“Not dead,” said Gan, a hundred thousand times more raw than he wanted to be.

Link wrapped his arms and legs tighter, rocking in place on the edge of the desk. “That’s a good thing. So good. Your people are alive. Let yourself be happy. It’s ok. You’re ok. I’m here.”

Alive ,” echoed Gan, holding onto his small, baffling, courageous Hylian as his vision blurred and tears threatened to shame him.

Chapter Text

Hunger is the closest kin and greatest enemy of sleep. Ganondorf woke to the delightful and profound impression that his stomach had decided to eat his spine. He swore, and gathered himself to rise - but his arm was trapped under - Link.

“Sa’ikhusa,” he groaned to the ceiling.

Link mrrff’d in his sleep and locked his thighs tighter around Gan’s.

His bare thighs.

Gan raised his head from the pillows, dismayed to find they were both completely and utterly naked. And his cock was helpfully bobbing about in idle readiness as cocks were often wont to do.

What have I done? Gan leaned away, trying vainly to pull his arm out from under the other man.

Link grumbled, digging his hand into Gan’s waist, hitching himself closer and tucking his fair face against a ledge of Gan’s chest.

“Stubborn Hylian - stop, ok? I - I need to find my - let go . You’re naked ,” grumped Gan, attempting to move his hand and instead ending up with Link grinding his own half-erect cock against his hip.

“Yeah,” sighed Link, kissing his chest.

“Ah - this is actually a problem,” said Gan, locking his hand around Link’s wrist to arrest any further attempts to grope him.

“Noisnot,” mumbled Link.

“Yes, it is. Because I am also, for some mysterious reason, also naked.”

“Yeahhh,” said Link, grinning sleepily and nipping at his chest.

Gan swore. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about why I am no longer wearing the pants I explicitly recall putting on before letting you persuade me to lay down, would you?”

Link chuckled, flexing his thighs painfully tight and sneaking that clever tongue along his skin. “Nnnope.”

“Liar,” grumped Gan.

Link snuggled close with a contented sigh. Between one breath and the next, he drifted to sleep again, his body limp and heavy. Or - most of it.

The spirits do not give you peace, but nightmares - except when you lay down with one, apparently?

Link slept on, his breath even and his pulse slower every moment. As if he truly found some manner of safety and serenity in the arms of his enemy.

An enemy who danced perilously close to wrecking his ass by accident in a completely literal sense.

None of which addressed the rather painful reason Gan woke up in the first place. Cookies do not a meal make. I suppose I should be grateful to feel hungry at all. Bloody inconvenient. He started untangling himself again, grumbling about necessity. Link roused enough to whine, but at length Gan persuaded him to accept his pillow as a substitute.

He washed his face and relieved another little pressure before making any serious attempt to locate his errant trousers. Which turned out to be stuffed under a different pillow, sweat-soaked and even more cum stained than his earlier lapse of discipline should have gotten them. A total loss until they could be washed.

Gan frowned at the sleeping Hylian curled in fetal position around his pillow. Something is deeply broken inside of you, little hero. By my hand or another? Should I - read your dreams? Can I do anything about them if I do? Can I afford the risk of a trap? Can I afford them seeing you so close to me?

Link nuzzled his face deeper into the pillow and slept on.

You could still be an tool of my enemies - this dangerous lust of yours could be part of their design. A sleeper agent. Or a distraction to weaken my resolve.

Gan left him to dream or not as fortune allowed, ate a handful of rations, and sat beside the cold hearth to think. No one in command of their rational mind would lust for someone who tormented them for nothing. No one sane should feel safer under my thumb.

And yet. He kept returning to the fresh and visceral memory of his earlier weakness. To the strange turn of events when he declared festival. To the baffling behavior of his captive during the last couple of sessions with Marish.  

Footsteps on carpet behind him woke Gan from a moment’s drowse. He scrubbed a hand over his face, wondering if it was still afternoon. “Don’t shuffle your feet.”

Link paused. His next step didn’t scuff along the rug, and he made an effort to lighten his tread.

“Even lighter than that,” said Gan softly. “Like a wolf stalking prey.”

Link padded closer, softer.

“You move like a soldier stripped of his weapons. Nervous, stiff, regular. But,” said Gan with a disdainful click of his tongue. “You are never without weapons. Everything is a weapon. You are a born killer. You are a weapon.”

Link crossed the last few paces between them, moving almost like he would in the challenge ring. It wasn’t particularly fair to push him when he’d just woken up, but one never knew when death might come calling. He stood behind Gan’s right shoulder, his breaths quick and shallow.

Gan pressed his ass deeper into the sofa, though his arms were starting to ache from his foolish decision to drape them across the back. “Hesitation alerts your target, gives them time to notice you, to find an opening to evade or attack. For you there can be only action, and stillness. There is nothing in between. Act or do not act, but do not waste time attempting to threaten your mark. Their fear is irrelevant.”

Gan felt the weight of his regard, even without calling any magic. He couldn’t guess what Link might be thinking, but he could feel his tension, his coiled potential. He wondered if the man had found the razor, or a stray shard of broken glass Leilani might have overlooked.

Whatever he could have reasonably expected, when Link struck, he cried out in shock. He burned with shame half a breath later, but it was hard to remember why he should hold his tongue with Link’s burning mouth and sharp teeth fastened on his neck.

This shouldn’t - I shouldn’t be letting him do this. Even Varesh isn’t this bold. Blessed Sands he feels incredible.

Link’s hands slipped down his bare chest, caressing and grasping and teasing at the shamefully ticklish stretch down his sides. He bit and nipped at his neck and shoulder. And then he started growling.

“Sa’ikhusa - what’s gotten into you-? Barbarian,” gasped Gan, even as heat rose through his flesh and lightning stirred in his bones. This shouldn’t feel so good. He is - still my enemy. Not the way I thought but - gods, I should make him stop. I can’t let him see me so weak.

Link hung over his shoulder to nibble along his collarbone, to bite his chest, to latch onto his nipple and - do something with that damn tongue that made him moan in spite of himself.

What if I don’t stop him? What if I - let him use that incredible mouth however the spirit moves him? What will he do? What use would he make of such power?

Link wriggled over the back of the couch, draped down his chest as he worked his way farther down. As he untied the black sirwal and groped at Gan’s revived arousal. As he licked and bit his way toward his apparent goal.

Gan laid a hand on the back of Link’s neck, struggling to shape sensible words.

Link shivered in - excitement? Pleasure? Anticipation? - and stretched his tongue out to tease his half-veiled crown.

“Mmmnnno you - ah - have to stop,” said Gan, grasping his neck and trying to pull him back.

Link snuck his hand under the waistband of the sirwal and dragged his nails down his thigh. Only when he fit his fingers into the ledges above Gan’s knee did he pull his tongue back to lick his lips. “Why?”

Gan sighed, but didn’t relax his grip. “I have duties to attend. And tomorrow is apparently Lightsday.”

Link huffed in annoyance and bit at his abdomen. He licked and nibbled as if it helped his strange mind function. He huffed again and with one more lingering lick across his skin he laid his cheek against him, skewing his blue eyes up at his prey. “You sure? What did the Baroness serve? Maybe you are ill.”

Gan snorted in amusement, stroking his hand down Link’s neck and shoulder and strong back. Describing the meal made his stomach growl ferociously, but halfway through the list, Link yelped and scrambled off of him. He flailed and tumbled to the floor, snarling. As soon as he righted himself, he bolted for the door.

Gan lunged after him, awkward with the sirwal slipping, and only managed to catch him because he tripped over the chaos of discarded clothing. “The hell?”

“Lemme go - that bitch ! Rip her fucking ears off,” snarled Link, fighting his grasp.

“You are somewhat naked,” said Gan.

“Don’t care - I’ll rip her guts out barehanded if I have to,” snapped Link, flailing wildly.

“Why are you - dammit, just tell me what’s wrong,” growled Gan. “Or at least put pants on?”

Link growled.

“Pants. Collar. Then you can - go with my servant,” said Gan. Maybe I will learn the source of at least one madness watching through Dashil.

Link growled.

Or I can knock you down and sit on you until you tell me what this is about,” said Gan, yanking him close enough to get an arm around his neck.

Fine ,” growled Link at last.

 
 

 

- o - O - o -

 

 

As it happened, the catalyst seemed to be the inclusion of bacon and lard and ham and boar in the feast, and his wild threats were perfectly serious. He surprised Isadora in the middle of a meeting with her head steward and Dashil had to pull him off of her before he could strangle her to death.

He screamed obscenities, and though she held his wrists fast against further violence, Dashil let him abuse the woman as a traitor and would-be regicide, to the shock of everyone present.

Word spread fast. Gan watched his warriors converge on the little office, weapons drawn. No Darknut attempted to stop them once the charge was spoken.

Isadora protested that lard was the only reasonable substitute for palm oil in Vosterkun, that bacon was absolutely necessary to make the goat meat palatable, that boar was a delicacy, that ham improved the flavor of early vegetables.

Every word provoked Link’s fury further, to the confusion of literally everyone else.

It’s just meat and fat - who cares? The flavor was a bit strong, sure, but it wasn’t rotten.

“You foul, backstabbing fiend! Playing at sycophant and you try to poison my master in secret? Hell is too good for what you've done,” snarled Link.

Isadora clutched at the table, her delicate black claws gouging the fine marquetry. “I haven't done anything! Why would I? Hyrule grows more imperial every year, and the laws lean heavier against nonhumans every time the council meets. I want this alliance. I worried something was wrong when he didn’t come to breakfast - but he drank even more than I did - and with the advance I thought - he is busy, and-”

“Lies-! Your fucking politics may convince soft administrators and courtiers but I know you wanted to weaken him. I know your true face. You knew what abomination you were putting on the fucking table,” snarled Link.

“I didn’t, I swear it by the Three,” cried Isadora, searching their audience for any sign of support.

“You will empty your stillroom to the last bluebeetle elixir, and you will turn the keys of every pantry over to Farou at once or the might of the golden people will fall on your head,” snarled Link. “Pray that this is enough to restore my beloved master or you will not like what I do .”

 

 

- o - O - o -

 

 

Gan dismissed the vision and left his workroom more confused than he entered it. He sat at his desk, mulling over the growing list of strange things Link did - and very much looking forward to the sautéed truffles and seared beef Link demanded Leilani and Farou arrange.

Bellosa put Isadora under heavy guard, and the Darknut grew nervous around their new allies.

Through Dashil, he watched Leilani and Marish and Sidoo and Katta helping Link assemble baskets of healing potions and restorative foods and soothing balms. All of them looked alternately nervous, furious, or nauseous.

Except for Link, who absolutely looked ready to kill the next person to cross him.

This started as a ploy to get into my pants, but something else is at work now. I feel like I’ve seen that look before - but this isn’t wild or despairing like the other fits. It’s focused as a temple beamos.

Like he was in Kharazhin.

But why?

Chapter Text

The savory, mouthwatering fragrance of roasted and stewed and glazed foodstuffs entered the room before he’d even folded back the wards to allow his servants to enter. Link forbid Leilani and Katta to follow him without a blindfold, and he grumbled suspiciously at Dashil until she set down her basket to make an obscene gesture.

He returned the sentiment.

Ganondorf smothered his laughter at the absurdity of it all, leaning back in his theoretically repaired chair to watch the four of them carry in a bounty of potions and provisions. Link gestured rather unnecessarily for silence, directing the three women to drop their burdens near the hearth and leave.

Dashil refused, which made the other two hesitate.

Link tried to push her.

Ganondorf bit his fist in a vain effort to stop his helpless laughter.

You look fine to me , grumbled Dashil, folding her arms over her iron-clad chest and pointedly ignoring Link’s vehement and impotent efforts to make her leave.

Aside from a little headache, I am - but it may be useful for Isadora to remain doubtful of that.

Roc Bellosa may … challenge her orders, without your hand guiding her, Sun’s Ray.

See that she doesn’t.



- o - O - o -



An hour passed in comfortable quietude. Gan ate, and Link struggled to lay a steady fire in the hearth. The room was only mildly cool, even stripped to sirwal and singlet. Yet Link would not hear of leaving it cold, and even pressed him to wrap himself in his kaftan again.

Does he begin to believe some part of his own ruse? Or is this another excuse to wind himself around my feet? To divert me from my course?

Link brought him yet another pot of tea, and would have retreated to - whatever his next fabricated duty might be.

You don’t know how to sit still, do you? “Come here.”

Link cocked his head in curiosity, but obeyed, resting a hand on the smooth olivewood desk.

“You wager heavily on my benevolence, little hero. Did you think I would not know what you did when I allowed you to leave this room?”

Link mrr’d in confusion, but obediently edged closer as Gan pushed his chair back and beckoned him to stand at his knee, well within reach.

How did I not notice before that this puts his eyes almost level with mine? “You made me look weak before the Baroness today. You gave her a weapon to use against me.”

Link frowned in confusion. “But I - was stretching the truth. It’s still an abomination and she absolutely knew it, but it probably won’t actually make you sick. I can sweeten an elixir for you if you’re feeling-”

“Hn. Hands behind your back,” said Gan, tucking a finger under his collar to pull him closer. “And why do you imagine she knows that porcine meat could be - offensive? What purpose do you see in it? And how could you think that your public tantrum today in any way averts the harm you think she intended?”

Link blushed to the tips of his elegant ears, stammering his answer as Gan pulled him closer still. “Because she is - part demonblood. She knows things. It really truly is disgusting that she snuck these things into your food. But this gives you an excuse to use a taster.”

“A what?” Gan raised a brow. And what is it you know?

Link cocked his head the other way, twining his hands together behind his back, clearly both anxious and baffled. “This is - common in Hyrule. And other places. Nobles keep a servant whose only duty is to check everything for poison. Like a guard, but in the kitchen I guess? They train to distinguish the taste, and sometimes enchantment. After a while they’re resistant because they - eat little bits of poisons all the ti-”

“Are you volunteering, my little hero?” Gan leaned in, dropping his voice to a low rumble. He held the man’s gaze as he put steady pressure on that golden collar, bringing his fair, blushing face within an inch of his own.

Link swallowed hard, licking his lips. “Y-yes.”

“You dare to taste of every single thing that touches my lips,” Gan murmured, nuzzling his cheek, drawing his elegant ear close enough his lips brushed the tender lobe as he spoke.

Link shivered, humming a little sound that could be distress or assent, or maybe a little of both.

Gan teased his nose along the tender sweep of his ear, amused that Link’s breath ran swift and short already. “You do realize there are hundreds of thousands of people in this world who want to kill me?”

Link began to stammer some answer, but it turned into an incoherent babble when Gan nipped at his ear.

“Hn,” said Gan, licking his salty neck meditatively. “You did give a charming performance as the loyal slave defending his master. But we know the truth, don’t we little hero?”

Link whined, fidgeting from head to toe as Gan nipped at his slender neck and kissed his ear.

“Stars but it’s delicious when you tremble for me,” murmured Gan, releasing the collar to tease a fingertip down to the hollow of his throat.

“Oh Gan - that part wasn’t an act,” breathed Link, obediently turning his head to follow the gentle pressure of Gan’s thumb on his sharp jaw.

“And yet,” rumbled Gan, nuzzling his other ear. “You exposed this weakness to the world.”

“But it isn’t really -” he began, trailing off into a helpless moan when Gan bit his neck and grasped his trim waist at the same time.

Gan feasted on his salty skin and his delirious cries, pleased to discover such a convenient way to bridge the difference in their height. He seemed so small and fragile, though rationally he knew the man’s sculpted flesh most assuredly went beyond mere aesthetics. Link’s trembling arousal and charming blushes provoked his own desire with distressing effectiveness. Against his better judgment he entertained a host of fantasies of laying him out on the desk, of ripping his admittedly skimpy clothing off of him, of pulling him into his lap, of forcing him to his knees and claiming his burning mouth.

Rather than ease the pressure or remind him the danger Link represented, each image increased his hunger further.

Fair skin so easily shows the marks of pleasure - I should be satisfied to see these little blossoms, but each one makes me want more. He is like drinking salted sweet wine - why can’t I stop? Even if he is a puppet of another, even if this apparent lust was planted by some enemy - I can’t stop wanting more of him.

Gan clutched him fiercely, kissing the first empurpled mark he’d left on Link’s neck earlier. “I - have to punish you.”

Link meeped in startled concern.

Gan flexed his hands and dragged his nails down from the man’s waist, over the soft woolen sirwal, down hip and thigh and back again, rumbling the words against his fair skin. “How shall I punish you?”

“I don’t - why are you angry this time?” Link stammered, his pulse swift.

“Hn,” said Gan, nuzzling into his neck and punctuating every word with a decidedly ungentle kiss. “ What will ever balance the wickedness of your insubordinate -”

Link moaned in mingled pleasure and torment. “Oh don’t - I wasn’t trying to hurt you - I just - can’t stand the thought of what she did. Gan please don’t listen to the shadows.”

Gan allowed a tiny chuckle, nuzzling his cheek and slipping his hands down to cup his shapely ass. “Shall I listen to an arrogant runt, hm?”

“Oh Gan ,” breathed Link, confused and anxious despite his undeniable arousal.

Oh fuck it. I am King. I do what I want. Gan hauled Link into his lap, briefly concerned by the sharp, creaking complaint of the chair as he settled Link astride. “You belong to me .”

Link stammered assent, forgetting his order to keep his hands behind his back.

Gan captured his wrists again, pinning them at the small of his back with his off hand and pulling his hips forward with the other. “You are mine .”

Link moaned assent, rocking forward to trap their stiff cocks between them.

Gan decided to wrap a stabilizing net around the worrisomely noisy chair, and guided his little thrusts. “ My little hero.”

Link gasped and trembled, his cock hot and throbbing strongly enough to make itself felt through two layers of cloth.

Gan pulled him back enough to adjust his own angle to slide under the man, toying briefly with the temptation to banish clothes entirely. Especially when Link tipped his head back, babbling nonsense and whining in desire at the taunt of Gan’s heat under his ass. “ My champion. Mine .”

Link wriggled his hips, evidently seeking an increase of that pressure. “Yes, oh yes Gan - please don’t stop.”

Gan licked his lips and forced the man to halt his delicious grinding. “But.”

Link moaned objection, rolling his shoulders forward and straining his neck to try and reach Gan’s lips.

Gan almost obliged, teasing him with the barest grazing caress, pulling back the moment Link tried to reach his clever tongue out.

“You betrayed me,” purred Gan.

“I didn’t ,” whined Link.

Gan brushed his lips over the smooth arc of his cheek, sliding his right hand up from his hip, over his chest, caressing his slender neck in a deliberately ambiguous fashion. “You told an enemy a weakness they may exploit.”

“But - an abomination isn’t-” began Link, his tone growing desperate.

Gan stopped him with his fingertips on those delicate lips.

Link meeped in confusion.

“You. Betrayed. A weakness,” purred Gan. He watched wide blue eyes dart over his face, waited for his strange mind to work through the riddle. Waited for his mrrr of inquiry to fade. Replaced his fingers with his lips, now gentle and slow. Closed his own eyes as he whispered onto those lips: “Traitors get punished .”

“Oh,” breathed Link.

“Yes,” whispered Gan.

Link licked his lips, his tongue grazing Gan only briefly. “I - did a bad thing…?”

You ,” rumbled Gan, releasing his wrists to grasp his ass. “You were a bad boy.”

“Mmmm bad?” Link’s hesitant murmur somehow increased the temptation to bend him over the desk.

“Bad boys get punished ,” purred Gan, and teased Link’s lips with his tongue. Then again, fucking his beautiful mouth - but then I can’t enjoy his howling.

“Mnnnyes I was so bad,” murmured Link, leaning down to demand a profoundly experienced kiss.

Which Gan returned with interest. Several times. Until he felt the chair crack under them in spite of the temporary stabilizing net and the heavy lacquer hiding the lightning damage.

“Go to the bedroom,” rumbled Gan, vaguely disappointed by the raw catch in his voice as he said it. But then Link shivered, and he forgot why it mattered. “Kneel on the bed and bare that disobedient Hylian ass for me.”

Chapter Text

Three hundred beats rarely seemed so long as when he waited for a petitioner to work herself into a froth of anticipation or deepen her meditations. In this matter of the Hylian though - he is not ready. Stop thinking about it. Their priests have rules against - this sort of thing.

Ganondorf found his hand drifting back to his aching cock anyway.

Maybe I should - deal with this first. Distractions are counterproductive to any and all forms of training. And if he is in fact discovering a new hunger to open for another, he is Hylian and I am - this.

Ganondorf sighed at his rebellious cock, contemplating the problem of their profound differences. His entire life, he’d been taller and heavier and stronger than other Geld’o. The first time he faced a Hylian in person, he’d laughed at how tiny and frail they were. It seemed absurd to him that a country populated by tiny, cowardly, moon-skinned people should have the largest share of everything good.  

At the time, he was still a prince and not yet confirmed by the council as Commander of Sands, but already almost as tall as Nabooru. He’d outstripped her years ago, and there was not one of the living People taller than his shoulder.

Link might stand even with his shoulder if he strapped boxes to his feet.

If I ever meet the gods, I would very much like to know why exactly they designed Kings to excessive dimensions. The height is nice enough, and strength is always useful but - the heaviest thorn in the Sands is rarely a blessing to anyone. How many petitions for a seedling have needed hours of work to dispel irrational fears of pain? Worries about blasphemy if the plowing is more poetic than literal? And after all that, still needing yet more time to prepare an avadha to receive her desire? When this campaign is over, I swear by the stars, I will change the law about discussing that particular mystery.

Ganondorf watched steam coil lazily from the untouched pot of tea, stroking himself no more than twice per beat. Which was beastly hard. But he was running out of time to finish even if he raced like an apprentice fresh from the Trials. A new petitioner left to await pleasures or punishments for more than three hundred beats tended to drop into a difficult state of mind, prey to irrational fears and foolish rumors and painful memories. Unless their petition specifically sought a confrontation with their weakness, three hundred beats of solitude was about the longest he could make them wait.

He wrapped his mouth around all of me though. Rare as silver, someone who can do that with me so easily. And the way he kisses tonight - he knows more of pleasure than he admits.

Ganondorf shivered, wrapping his fist about his base, savoring the visceral memories.

Stop thinking about it you fool. Whether he’s telling the truth or a tool of the enemy, we cannot slip. Whichever it is, I need him to trust me, rely on me, tell me everything he knows. Tearing his ass open because I let my flesh overrule my reason for two damn seconds - or because he’s dumb enough to think he wants it - will serve the opposite of all of that.

Ganondorf sighed, and tried to settle the tension with a ponderously slow and decreasing pressure.

But what if he has lain with men before? He did say he’d seen better thorns than Ashai -  not that this is an ambitious measure. But he might have meant it poetically. Or lied.

Ganondorf grunted, dismissing the thought as he tucked himself away again and tied a fresh knot in the drawstring of his black labyrinth-weave sirwal. He stood, and stretched, and wound the cabinet clock.

Time’s up.

He paused on the threshold of the bedroom to let a ripple of lightning course through his bones. Link knelt upon the foot of the sleeping platform in perfect obedience to an order that once again proved not to be specific enough for his strange mind. A bottle of fragrant oils blended specifically for sensual indulgence waited on the edge of the wooden ledge of the platform next to a tin of palm oil salve - and the strop. Link had of course taken his order literally, keeping the sirwal technically on , but letting it puddle about his knees.

He also - bowed. Hands and elbows flat on the bed, wrists crossed.

And his cock was rock-hard.

And dripping.

He is just - mirroring things he’s seen. Familiarity with my size in one context wouldn’t prepare him for another. The only meaning here is that he considers the possibility, and hasn’t the experience to know better.

“Bold is the fool who would dare speak for his master,” rumbled Gan, closing the door and sealing the ward behind him.

Link flexed his shapely thighs, and clutched at the blankets, but said nothing.

“A modest strip of leather is a fitting correction for a lapse in manners, for a sloppy appearance, for spilling tea,” said Gan. He crossed the room to collect the strop, snapping it in his hands.

Link turned his head just enough to cast a sultry gaze over his bowed shoulder.

Gan slid the strop through his hands, debating whether to warm his flesh a little. It would bloom beautifully pink. And that clear mark of his sensitivity might help him remember his own discipline. “Is your disobedience of this nature? Are your cosmetics smeared? Did your tongue mangle my titles? Did you perhaps - make a mess?”

“This and more,” purred Link.

“Hn,” said Gan, tossing the strop back on the bed. No, seeing more roses on his skin will only make it harder to stop.

Link mrrr’d a tentative inquiry.

Gan summoned the traitor’s scourge to hand, and swished it through the air to make it hum. “You betrayed me. Perhaps it is time you taste the wine I served the last miserable traitor.”

Link shivered, and his blush returned. “I can endure anything you choose, master .”

Oh damn that sounds - too good in his charming accent. Gan stroked the curve of his bare ass with the cold steel. “You may think so.”

Gan struck once.

Link cried out, reflexive and unguarded.

Oh fuck. “You are wrong.”

Link gathered more of the blanket in his fists, and already his pale skin bloomed with a subtle stripe of impact.

Gan struck again, marking the other side.

Link howled again.

Fuck - that’s delicious. “Do you begin to see the folly of your pride? Focus your attention on the pain of two modest little kisses.”

Link hummed under his breath.

Gan waited through the cycle of one breath, and struck a third time.

Link howled yet again.

He’s not pretending either. He’s not numb to it - the impact absolutely hurts - and he’s not ashamed to admit it. But he’s determined to absorb it anyway and - oh fuck he’s throbbing. “Imagine how it will feel on the eighth stroke.”

Link moaned, nuzzling his cheek against the blanket.

Gan propped a knee on the edge of the platform, reaching over him to place the scourge perpendicular to him, just beyond his hands. The enticing heat of his skin suggested a hundred delirious pleasures all at once, but Gan invested the time and attention to align the tassels with the steel. Precise. Perfect.

Link mrrr’d in confusion.

“Look at it. Think about what it feels like,” purred Gan, and licked his ear. “Disobey again and eight will seem modest.”

Link whimpered, shivering under him.

“Don’t move,” murmured Gan, nipping his ear. “We will finish this presently - but I have - other matters to attend.”

Link whined softly.

Gan pulled away, skimming his hand up the sloping curve of Link’s back. He collected the bottle of oil, warming it between his hands with a tiny murmur of power. He is small. He will absolutely need to begin modestly. Very modestly.

Link burbled and hummed when the first thin trickle dripped onto his ass.

Gan smoothed a little over his rosy blushes, teasing more along the highest valley, smoothing it into his tender skin, coaxing it down ever further.

Link moaned.

Blessed sands I’ve barely even done anything. “Are you afraid I’m going to fuck you?”

Link whimpered.

Gan rolled his fingers over over his throbbing rose, savoring the way Link’s fervent response stirred a thrum of lightning at the base of his spine. “I’m not going to fuck you.”

Link whimpered and bit the blankets.

“Hn,” said Gan, massaging more oil into his ass, over the taut and sensitive curves of the orchid root, and down his shaft for good measure. “Are you thinking about the scourge?”

Link’s muffled curse only increased the charm of his saucy thrust of his hips.

Gan clicked his tongue in censure, circling his stiff cock with his oiled hand. So expressive already - fuck, how he will sing for me. “Look only at the scourge. Meditate on the dire consequences of betraying your master.”

Link whimpered and swore, trembling and throbbing in his hands.

Gan released his cock to caress his root and slather yet more oil in the valley of his ass, grasping and kneading and sliding as the man panted and whimpered and moaned for him. “Hn. Are you distracted by the fear that I will fuck you?”

Link whined.

“I can’t hear you,” purred Gan, taunting his throbbing rose, amused by his inviting softness.

“Nnnot afraid - of you or anything,” gasped Link, though the profound tension in his body told a different tale.

“Forgetting your manners already?” Gan grasped his heart-shaped ass, guiding him to lower his hips, to neaten his angle. Aligning his tenderness as if he might follow through on the tease.

Which, given the way his breath hissed through clenched teeth, and the way his muscles clenched all at once, Link knew or at least imagined he knew what that meant. “Nnot afraid - master?”

“Hn,” said Gan, kneading his taut ass and considering the possibility of nestling his girth into the valley. Of entertaining himself with a milder warmth and the oil and teasing his trembling Hylian all at once. “Look at the scourge. Don’t move.”

“Yes master,” whimpered Link, though he flinched when Gan pulled back to strip off his singlet and toss it onto the bed. Link did not turn his head to look at it, but the way his shoulders tensed hinted at how much effort it cost him.

“I’m not going to fuck you,” rumbled Gan, rubbing some of the extra oil into his hands as noisily as possible.

Link whimpered.

Gan untied his sirwal, ensuring the cord made an audible pop . “Do you think I’m going to fuck you?”

“No, master,” Link panted.

Gan bit his tongue to keep from laughing, balling up the sirwal and lofting it over the man’s back to land in a heap just on the other side of the scourge. “Tell me the truth. Are you afraid I’m going to fuck you?”

“No, master.”

Gan struck his ass, open handed, hard enough to make his pale skin glow. Link gasped and moaned at the sharp sting, subsiding into a mumbling sort of hum when Gan caressed that sweet warmth. “You dare lie to me?”

Link moaned a wordless denial, rubbing his face against the blankets.

“Look at the scourge,” Gan reminded him, teasing his thumb down the oil-slick valley of his ass. He stroked the underside of his own shaft at the same time, savoring the ripples of lightning that radiated from the root of his spine when he caressed the throbbing, inviting softness of Link’s ass. “I’m - not going to fuck you.”

Link whined.

Gan slid his fingers along taut perineum, exploring the broad ridge of his deepest root. He teased the top arc of his own shaft, toying with the idea of grinding against him in the same fashion he often used with overly ambitious petitioners like Marish. Except his rose is soft. So soft. Too easy to slip.

Link cried out in delicious passion as Gan’s thumb slipped inside him.

Blessed sands his heat-! Too easy to slip. It would be - bad to slip. I can’t slip. “Nnnot fucking you.”

Link whimpered - and cried out something resembling a yes when Gan’s thumb sank deeper, past the knuckle, all the way to the meat of his palm.

“Oh,” said Gan, wrapping his other fist tight around his crown. Definitely too easy. The way he throbs so tight - it wouldn’t take much to be too much.

Link tilted his hips with a blurry yes master tumbling from his lips.

Gan closed his eyes, concentrating on the heat and pressure as he pulled back, summoning a generous dollop of salve under his thumb.

Link burbled and moaned, relaxing his ass and thighs, kneading at the blankets beneath him.

“Not fffucking you,” breathed Gan, trading thumb for finger, stroking himself with the same slow, tight press. This won’t be so easy. Depth is different - and the constant pressure and friction through the gates-

Link cried out a long, rising note as he delved deeper.

“Is the disobedient slave hungry?” Oh fuck - he’s opening all the way down. But these little waves - tight, so tight when a shiver takes him. Whatever he claims, he must be afraid. He must be.

Yesss - oh yes master, punish more ,” moaned Link.

“Yeah? Well I’m - I’m not going to fffuck you,” panted Gan, thrusting and twisting his finger as he stroked himself in sync.

Link moaned, rocking his hips into the little thrusts, his dark rose blossoming around the sensation.

More-? He only thinks he wants more because he’s aching to fuck, to bury his cock in some paradise. I must teach him the - impossibility. Then I can stop thinking about it.

Except he opened under the press of two fingers also, singing out his need.

“I’m not gonna fuck you,” rumbled Gan, stroking and watching and vibrating with the rolling thunder of temptation right there. “Not gonna - not fffucking - not gonna fuck you.”

Link sang for him, quivering and desperate. Especially when he found and caressed the tender, throbbing seat of his deepest hunger.

I could - I could make him mine. If he can take a third - even halfway. If - if I can bear to stand still with his consuming heat sliding onto me. I could fuck him. Just a little. Just enough-

Link panted and cried out for him in a broken mash of languages as he pulled back. With a convulsive arc that carried him forward, off his hand, Link came, spilling his seed on the blankets, his gaping rose throbbing, hungry.

I could just-

Link moaned his name, rocking back into position as his twitching cock emptied the last drops of cream.

I could-

Gan stroked back, clenching his fist around his base as Link pressed his beautiful ass against his crown.

I-

Gan came.

Oh ,” panted Link, as cum poured over his fair ass and into his gaping rose.

“Oh,” agreed Gan, breathless and shuddering.

“Warm,” breathed Link, wriggling his oil-and-cum-soaked ass like a cat about to pounce.

Gan took a half-step back, staring at the work of his wicked hands. Blessed sands I still want to fuck him.

Link hummed in pleasure, stretching his back. “Mmm - good master?”

Gan swallowed hard, retreating another step, his cock still throbbing.

Link hummed and wriggled again. Cum oozed over his fair skin. Creamy cum and oil dripped lazily from his ass and cock.

“Put your pants back on,” breathed Gan. The words came out thin and uneven.

“Hn,” said Link. He stretched like a contented storehouse cat, pulling the sirwal carefully up and over the cum adorning his ass. So it wouldn’t smear. He stood with far more grace than he had any right to.

Gan watched him turn with another lazy stretch, the soft amber light from the oil lamps gilding the thin sheen of sweat draping his torso. His traitorous cock stirred in his hand as he drank in the unexpected beauty of this sculpted Hylian warrior in his service.

What have I done?

Gan dropped onto the vanity bench under the weight of his smouldering blue gaze, hands resting idle on his thighs.

Link cocked his head in mild curiosity, but said nothing.

Gan couldn’t find anything to say.

Link padded close and sank to his knees at Gan’s feet. After another long moment of silence and stillness, he threaded his arms around Gan’s right leg and pillowed his fair head against his knee.

Gan stroked his hair, a distant corner of his mind amused that the man positioned himself at his right hand without even pretending to hesitate or seek permission. The same way he makes tea. Like it’s somehow excluded from the rules.

Link sighed in apparent contentment.

“Playing with fire doesn’t begin to approach it,” rumbled Gan softly.

“I know,” said Link, kissing his knee.

“Link,” said Gan, struggling to keep his magic under tight rein. It would be so easy to just - reach into his mind like this. Seize the truths he tries to hide. But he is not of the People - he wouldn’t understand. And he - still might be a trap. “How did you know to come to Kharazhin?”

Link shrugged, caressing his leg. “It was the most dangerous.”

Chapter Text

Twilight brought a cold wind with it. Wards might keep intruders and magic out, but the wind challenged any and all shields raised against it. Link had shattered the window too effectively to mend it, and the shutters proved to be imperfectly fitted when pressed to keep the weather out.

Link grumbled about being tasked to find some better way to seal the damn thing. He didn’t understand - couldn’t understand - why Ganondorf refused to let him serve as valet. He fussed about snarls in Gan’s hair from wearing an unplaited horsetail too many days without tending. He fussed about inevitable popped seams, and he argued that he could arrange the topaz jewels faster.

Ganondorf threatened to cast a silence bubble on him if he didn’t hold his tongue. He obeyed - but found a hundred ways to make his disapproval clear even so.

Ganondorf took down the horsetail and smoothed a little oil over his snarled hair, sectioning off a few locks from either side of the frayed ladder braids. He twisted all three together on left and right, drawing everything into a more-or-less presentable low queue, securing it with a dozen forked topaz hair pins.

Smoothing the tight red kurta into place alone was more difficult, but he needed distance from Link’s hands. A lot of distance.

Ganondorf arranged the six-gem crest and radial skybolt flourish of the thunder crown in perfect symmetry before settling in to apply fresh kohl and subtly gilded lip paint and a touch of gold dust. He threaded simple hoops and topaz drops and the triangular topaz dangle earrings into place, and layered his three favorite topaz pectorals over the red silk kurta.

Pinning the pectoral chains to the delicate shoulder-loops without knocking the bright gems askew took several tries, but that was fine. The Great Rova would still be beginning their day. A few extra minutes to achieve perfection before his mothers was always worth the effort.

He anointed brow and throat and wrist with a blend of spicewood and lavender and pepperflower and myrrh. Not that the magic would convey scent unless he deliberately wove it into the pattern. The Rova didn’t particularly care about mundane details, and he doubted they would notice the lingering perfume of sex and striving in his suite even if he did spend the power to include all physical senses in the Work.

The pattern simply wasn’t complete without it.

He didn’t need boots to travel two and half rods to his workroom either, but a King does not speak with his advisors barefoot .


- o - O - o -


Ganondorf cleared the center of his workroom, locking and and sealing every chest exactly the same, whether it held tools or weapons or provisions or potions. From such a distance they would be far slower to work their way through the layered wards to poke through his things, and the odds did not favor them finding his treasures on the first try.

He stood in meditation until he’d swept his mind clean of every unnecessary, inefficient thought. Only then did he pull the veil from the skybolt glass and-

“Oh ho ho! Look at this stranger who comes calling for us Kotake.”

“Indeed, what a bold creature he is, to put on a seeming such as that, where anyone might think he was the Great Ganondorf.”

“Oh but it can’t be him at all, he’s far too busy playing war with his new hounds to speak with his own mothers.”

“Indeed Koume, it is surely some interloper trying to steal sacrifices away from our Dark Lord. We will teach him to sorrow for his folly!”

“You’ve made your point,” snapped Ganondorf, glaring at the twin witches hovering over their own skybolt glass. “A month of silence was necessary to slip through Vasilya’s guard. And a touchy campaign was exactly what the Golden Legion needed to strengthen our warriors. It is delicate work, and has flushed the scorpions into the open to be crushed. I do not have time to waste listening to every nagging detail of-”

“Yes yes, Vosterkun will make a good sacrifice to our Dark Lord. He will be pleased to watch them suffer,” said Kotake, wreathing the skybolt glass in frigid, ethereal blue.

“The Great Ganondorf triumphs over all - now he should return with that pathetic beast over his saddle so she will learn the true meaning of sorrow,” said Koume, filling the glass with blood-red flame.

“I have barely even begun,” said Ganondorf, grinning broadly. “Already Hyrule dances to my song, and soon they will all kneel.”

“You strain your power needlessly Oh Great Ganondorf. The master will take Hyrule at his leisure,” scolded Kotake.

“The light priests have been watching for his return. They will strike - and under the Sheikah’s tutelage the Maiden grows strong in her magic. We need to weaken the Light,” said Ganondorf, staring them down, Willing them to listen, to follow him . “She is blood-bound to the land already - we need to take the very earth from under her feet before she can disrupt our plans. Shatter their foundation and seize their weapons for our own purpose.”

“Yes, the little fucktoy you captured will amuse him,” leered Koume. “A virgin Hylian ass to ravage is a fitting tribute to the return of His Glorious Darkness.”

“He’s far more than that,” said Ganondorf with a wicked grin. “He is a weapon of unparalleled strength. I will turn their own sword against them.”

“Pfah, a poetic attack, but ultimately pointless,” sneered Kotake. “Far better to make them truly suffer, to make them watch their hopes crushed and cast aside so easily. Their greatest champion, savaged by corruption Himself until all that remains is Sorrow!”

“Better still to make them cower before their savior,” said Ganondorf smoothly. “His mind was damaged by the clumsy Light priests. Reshaping him into a blade of darkness is delicate work, and a pleasure to forge.”

“Yes, we’ve seen how you pleasure yourself with His rightful property,” sneered Koume.

Ganondorf laughed. “So I enjoy my work. So what. My training makes him supple and nuanced - I unlock his true potential as a weapon in our hands to cut Hyrule into pieces, I refine his body to prepare him for the Rites, I teach his lust to long for defeat. Without my work he would shatter on the dark altar before his body could be of any use whatever.”

“Yes,” cried Kotake. “Let us shatter him! Smash all the heroes, smoosh the knights!”

“Bring him to us,” cried Koume. “Return, and let us hail the master with his blood. Enough of waiting - pour these pathetic sacrifices into His Darkness and begin the Dark Rites!”

“The stroke drawn too soon is defeated before it leaves the sheath,” growled Ganondorf. “Hyrule will be mine . The uppity sacred maiden has her due coming. Let her watch her petty gods forsake her. We will feast on her misery.”

Kotake cackled, and made a rude noise, wagging her bony finger at him. “ Really? Is your new toy so weak you’ve lost interest in him already? Do you need another tongue pet?”

“One can never have too many,” said Ganondorf with an equally lascivious leer. “And how delicious , to reduce the champions of light to panting bedslaves, willing sacrifices to their most hated enemy. Beautifully poetic.”

“Pffah! Mortal beauty is a waste of time,” sneered Koume.

“On the contrary, my Mothers. Beauty is the very thing that lures the enemy into our trap. How much worse for them will be the shadows of their doom, after they have tasted the sublime? The deepest of all sorrows is not the absence of hope, but to grasp at it and see it shatter .”


- o - O - o -


The steel hinges of the workroom door squealed in misery. A grating annoyance, but ultimately irrelevant. He would leave this dross behind him soon enough. Let Isadora deal with the decay of her luxurious den.

Link waited for him in the small connecting room, standing in parade rest beside the hexagonal table at the center of the overwrought claret-and-buff rug. On the bleached birchwood table waited a tray of cakes and green restorative potion, and an iron teapot perched atop a footed bowl of steaming firerock shards.

Ganondorf stalked past him to the bedroom and washroom beyond, annoyed by the gritty dust and clinging ash and sticky oils on his hands from the Work. He shouldn’t have even bothered with formalities, since Koume and Kotake were waiting for him anyway.

The luxurious fragrant soap wasn’t strong enough, and he had to empty and refill the basin three times and soil two pristine towels before his hands felt tolerably clean. He slipped his rings off to chase down every breath of damp, and washed the gold and topaz baubles too.

He stood alone in the silence, weighing the hundred million tedious things needing done. The demonstone had even less interest in minutiae than himself, but it wasn’t pushing for action yet. It rarely even tried for some hours after dealing with the Rova.

Isadora needed to stew in her anxiety at least another day. And even if he wanted to spend the effort casting illusions to cover his actions, it was entirely the wrong hour to assemble the Elite for moving supply through the shadows.

Maps. He could go over the maps again. Check the numbers one more time - be certain his timing accounted for the slope of the mountains, the treacherous mudslides, the hazardous watercourses, the probability of downed trees.

Link waited with his damn tray at the foot of the bed.

Ganondorf stalked directly to his desk in the forward room without a word. He should have shoved the man out before beginning the Work, but he wanted the broken window covered and hadn’t felt like bothering with it himself.

Unfortunately, his broken desk chair was not so easily dealt with. Heavy black lacquer and fresh oxhide simply couldn’t make up for the weakness of scorched and cracked wood.

So he stood, hunched over the maps and lists, remeasuring and running the numbers without looking at his earlier drafts.

Link tried to bring the tray to him there.

Ganondorf cast a thin crystalline ward around himself and the desk without looking up from his work.

Link retreated, setting the tray near the cheerful hearth and busying himself with cleaning up the disorder from his earlier lapses in discipline.

Ganondorf noted two alternate routes in the event the Hirane bridge had fallen. Of course he could build a temporary one, but that would eat a day by mundane methods and the stored energy of at least two foci by magic - and risk being noticed by priests or sensitives among the enemy.

Link brought him a silver cup of water, waiting patiently at his side until he lowered the ward. He waited while Ganondorf drained it, and took the empty cup away again, all without disturbing the silence. Certainly his footsteps were heavier than they ought to be, and he made a little more noise tending the fire and his usual chores than strictly necessary, but he was Hylian . He wasn’t raised from birth with the necessity of learning to move unseen, unheard.

Ganondorf checked his new numbers against the first and second drafts. All within a thirty six hour window. A strain on supply in the worst case, but within manageable tolerance. His back and shoulders ached from the inconvenient position - he would have to use the demonstone to fetch another chair from home, or else seize the ugly thing Isadora’s carpenters made the other day as a temporary replacement.

He retreated to the bedroom, pleased to find it restored to order - even to clean, tidy sheets and neatly arranged pillows. Which he promptly threw into disorder flinging himself upon them.

Link brought the damn tray.

Ganondorf tried to ignore him, rolling over to turn his back to the man.

Link brushed his fingertips over the curve of his aching shoulder.

Ganondorf rumbled a low warning. “Did I say you could touch me?”

“Your hair is tangled,” said Link, his voice soft. “Shall I get the combs?”

It is an absolute mess and I don’t want to even bother right now. Servants exist to serve. To make easy and pleasant the lives of their masters. “Fine.”

Link brought a second tray of combs and oils and a felt-lined dish for the hair ornaments. He knelt on the sleeping platform beside him, patiently working his way up through every snarl. He untied the hair ribbons and plucked free every comb and unraveled the frayed twists without once snagging anything.

Ganondorf let his mind drift into a comfortable sort of emptiness as Link smoothed away the wreckage of the last week with his clever hands.

When Gan surfaced to consciousness again he wasn’t surprised to find he’d rolled onto his stomach. His best pillow halfway under his chest. His hair stretched out loose to one side. A distressingly vulnerable position, but one he’d never been able to train himself out of.

No, the surprise was the comfortable weight and warmth straddling his waist, pressing gently but firmly against his tailbone. The surprise was in the firm, rolling pressure kneading the tension from his upper back, smoothing out the knotted  muscles of his shoulders, coaxing his spine into proper order again. The surprise was in surfacing slowly to the realization that Link must have finished combing out his hair and climbed onto his back quite some time ago and he didn’t wake up .

“Did I say you could touch me-?” Gan murmured, too exhausted to bother with anything louder.

“Mmnot touching you. Brushing out your robe,” said Link, a mischievous lilt sweetening his voice. He pretended to smooth the wool with a few brisk strokes. He also flexed his shapely thighs, stirring a fresh bloom of heat at Gan’s core and a sudden but distressingly visceral lust. “You just - forgot to take it off. Not my fault you’re lazy.”

“Hn,” said Gan, trying and failing to care enough to move, to shrug the man off, to detach himself from this foolish and perilous entanglement.

Link swept his strong, clever hands over the soft wool caftan, grasping and pressing and tempting the flesh beneath him. He said nothing, but the mischief in his touch spoke for him.

“Hn,” said Gan again, trying to resist the lure. “Sassy boys get disciplined.”

Link set his hands around the winged mass of his lats and leaned down so close his breath tickled Gan’s neck. “Promise?”

Gan snorted, amused in spite of himself.

Link teased his lips up the arc of rigid tendon to brush his tender earlobe, heat blossoming under his root, translating through wool and silk with distressing efficiency. “If bite your ear, will you give me all eight this time?”

“Hn. And you ask if I love pain,” rumbled Gan.

Link slipped his clever tongue out to caress the sweep of his ear with profoundly suggestive skill. “If I ask you again, will you fuck my mouth while I’m bound this time?”

“Pfft. I would break you,” scoffed Gan.

“Prove it,” whispered Link.

Chapter Text

The paradox of pleasure is that the more one has of it, the more one wants of it. In theory, the limitations of flesh and the necessity of rest assert themselves - but this only hinders the logistics of acquiring still more pleasures. To the frustration of everyone who has ever experienced such mingled delight and torture, this has little to no effect whatever upon desire.

Accordingly, even after pouring himself onto Link’s tongue - not once, but twice - Ganondorf still ached with a deeply physical need when he settled into the steaming, fragrant bath. Lightning still coiled around his root, his spine, gathering itself in the cradle of his hips.

He still wanted to fuck the man.

An utter impossibility. No matter how hardened he was to other kinds of pain. No matter how great Link’s thirst for the sensation and lingering marks of intense impact. No matter how delightful his anguished cries.

Ganondorf leaned against the smooth copper wall of the converted trough, folding his arms on the thick towel padding the rolled edge, letting his mad Hylian wash his hair for him, and wrestled with the desire to hear him scream for other reasons entirely.

Ganondorf wanted to wrap himself in and around the tender strength of his intoxicating captive.

Ganondorf wanted to hear Link sing and moan in ecstasy that he and he alone called into him.

And the worst and most terrible part of it - Ganondorf wanted most of all to dissolve the shields between them as their bodies merged, feel the waves of pleasure tumble through both of them, feel the rest of the world fall away, feel the tension build inside him with every stroke.

Impossible.

Perilous.

Foolish.

Ganondorf wanted it anyway.

Link hummed to himself as he worked the spiced hairwash from tip to root, his clever fingers combing gently through the locks and massaging his scalp.

Few petitioners ever tempted him this way. When he was young, and yearmates first began to seek him out, sex was easy and uncomplicated. Just one more physical art to master, as pleasurable as a good spar, as a feast, as the triumph of bending magic to his Will, to his design, to his purpose.

Link is still Hylian. Not even a fraction as ruthless as I expected, but still my enemy. I shouldn’t let him see me like this.

The first time one of his intimate petitioners stirred the first seeds of that kind of vain, one-sided yearning, she saw the signs well before he did. She was a little older, experienced in the ways of the world. She encouraged and played upon the desire he did not yet understand - and once it was certain a seedling rooted in her womb, she left for her family lands while he was busy in his workroom and never sought his attention again.

She at least had the courtesy to leave a note. A warning that a hundred, a thousand other women would do exactly as she had.

He was grateful for her lesson.

Eventually.

And yet here he was, years later, lazing about behind the heaviest wards he’d ever woven on campaign for little reason except that the intrigues afforded an opportunity to savor Link’s touch. His masterful and increasingly intimate attentions turned Gan’s bones to wet clay. He tried to resist the lure of it, but somehow Link knew exactly how to deal with his mass of hair, how to get the oils deep, how to twist a finished lock loosely over his shoulder while he worked with the next, how to keep it from drying out while he worked, how to keep it from tangling or pulling.

Maybe even better than Eidalu.

Or did it only seem so because he moved so fluidly from hair to skin? Because he teased about the difficulty of reaching across his back? Because he boldly climbed into the water to kneel behind him to wash his master ‘more efficiently’? Because he didn’t just soothe away the tension under his skin with silky, fragrant lather but pressed himself against Gan’s back to reach around and massage his chest?

Ganondorf couldn’t even manage to care that his cock was hard again or that Link’s shaft was throbbing against his ass because it was such a rare treat for his bones to be slowly turning to jelly. He could count on one hand the petitioners still living who had ever, even for one cycle, wanted to weave themselves that close to him without mountainous greed or some political motive behind her actions.

Nialet and Varesh - I know their loyalties, their true spirits. Their status as bearing mothers protects them, the illusion I’ve placed over their hearts of shallow infatuation and lust for rough treatment is enough to deflect even the most suspicious spirit eyes. Link I do not know at all.

Gan scrubbed a hand over his face and tried to persuade himself to send the man away. But Link threaded his arms up and around to catch the ridge of muscle just below his clavicle, drawing himself tight to Gan’s back, warm and wet and satisfyingly strong. Gan waited for him to embroider upon that, to grind to grope or - something. Anything that would tell him what the man was after.

He didn’t. He just - held, and breathed, slow and deliberate, like he had to think about it to manage.

He can’t be one of the Rova’s puppets. Probably. They wouldn’t have the nuance to think of this . And they’d have gloated more over the success of their tool, wouldn’t push back on using his fighting strength. Probably. Maybe. That’s what they usually-

Link kissed his back, tender and reverent.

Gan’s mind pulled up short, thoughts tumbling into a useless heap.

Link pressed his forehead against Gan’s back, his delicate, pouting lips still brushing against his skin.

“Hn,” rumbled Gan, soft and low. “Distracted, little hero?”

Link drew a sharp breath, mumbling an apology and starting to pull back.

“I don’t mind ,” murmured Gan.

“Oh,” breathed Link, freezing.

“Hn,” said Gan, amused by his panic, striving for proper indifference.

Link kissed his back again.

Gan snorted in amusement, curious in spite of himself what the man would do if he didn’t stop him.

The answer shortly proved to be more, and more intimate caresses. Delicate and hesitant, yet undeniably sensual. Link teased every tender place like he would make a map of his reactions. As if he truly enjoyed giving pleasure, as if he wanted nothing more than to master the art. His arousal increased still more when he stroked Gan’s cock and caressed his thigh, his root. As if he yearned to worship his master’s body.

It’s a good thing for him I’m feeling too lazy to drag him to bed.

Link drew a sharp breath and ghosted his hands to Gan’s hips when he raised up on his knees to allow Link’s explorations to expand, if he wished it. “Are - you done with your bath?”

“Am I?” Gan murmured, casting a cautious glance over his shoulder.

Link bit his tender lips, the roses staining his pale cheeks and scarred chest blooming wider, deepening in color. He reached for the forgotten soap, turning it over in his elegant hands. “Maybe I - missed a spot-?”

“Hn,” said Gan, amused by his apparent innocence. “You wouldn’t want to - neglect something and bear the punishment, would you?”

Link blushed even harder. He licked his bright lips, saying nothing. His hands spoke for him soon enough, sliding through the water and up over his skin and back, working his meandering way towards the one place he had yet to explore.

“Hn,” said Gan, resting his chin on his folded arms and widening his stance as Link traced a tightening whorl around his dark rose, mirroring precisely the pattern with which Gan taunted him . It had been months since he’d lain with anyone brave enough to touch him that way.

“Soft,” whispered Link, heavy with desire and lilting as if in wonder, testing a slick finger against the first gate.

“Hn. The Desert Thorn, soft . Is that all the charming little treason you can manage? You’re barely even trying ,” teased Gan, tilting his hips to coax him further in.

Link obliged, delving just past the second gate, nudging him open with a tight little spiral gesture that sent a shiver of lightning up his spine and directly into his left ear. “Issat the spot-? Mmmgetchu all clean now?”

“Hn. A start,” conceded Gan, biting his tongue when Link caressed his root and withdrew his hand to stir up more lather above the waterline.

Link slid his hand down the valley to his rose again, twining middle and heart finger together and slipping into the vestibule again, pulsing his fingertips gently against the walls. “Mmnnwarm.”

One doesn’t fuck one’s valet. But if the valet is doing the fucking, that’s different. You can stop sometime next year. “Heat does improve the - cleansing properties of - many things.”

“Unf,” breathed Link, withdrawing again to caress more lather over his skin, sliding his lands over hip and thigh and ass and back. His accent thickened and he stumbled over the words. “Should I - fetch oil?”

“Mmm I’ll conjure it when and where I want it,” rumbled Gan, though he secretly summoned a small tin of salve into his fist. To be ready. To make it easier. Just in case Link was, in fact, brave enough to taste of madness.

“Should be resting ,” chided Link, grasping at his waist. His pale hands barely even spanned the ridge of his obliques but somehow his firm grip still felt delightful. “ Restoring magic.”

Gan shrugged, halfway grinning to himself as he pondered the  enigma of his mad, beautiful Hylian. “Moving’s inconvenient. Water’s warm. Sin to waste.”

Link uttered a wordless sound halfway to a whimper, pulling his hips back in the water and bowing to press his forehead to Gan’s back.

Gan waited, savoring the tease of Link’s swift breath on his wet skin. Surely even a virgin must be aware of the logistical possibility, at least in theory?  “What do you want, little hero?”

“Shouldn’t,” murmured Link.

Gan made a rude noise and grumbled back, annoyed by such a ridiculous impediment. “Hylian morality is stupid.”

“Has nothing to do with Hyrule, oh my heart,” said Link, raw and wretched.

Again the invisible chains cinched tight around his chest, and his pulse stumbled for no reason whatever. His cock swelled to a painful degree, and his deepest roots ached for something, anything to relieve the pressure. Dangerous fantasies of stripping away the wards and masks and silences slithered around the edges of his mind. Maybe a little fuck will settle it. It’s just been too long. That’s all this is. Untended lust and a ready cock in reach. It doesn’t mean anything - just the weakness of flesh looking for leverage against discipline to get the treat it craves. “Fortunately your desires are irrelevant. You belong to me, remember.”

Link sucked wind through his teeth, his hands tightening. “Oh?”

“Hn,” said Gan, lips twisting in wry amusement the man couldn’t see. He is surely inexperienced - and even if he rejects their religion, he carries the weight of their moralism even so -  this must be what he means with his ridiculous idea of obligation to resist. He is discovering a lust he doesn’t fully understand how to act on, and is ashamed of his inexperience. “Charm aside, you ain’t done.”

Link pulled back. “Oh.”

But he must imagine possibilities. He knows the necessity of lubrication. He’s not completely ignorant. Gan shifted his knees wider and rocked up enough to raise his ass above the water. “ Oh indeed.”

“I - I should get the um - the,” stammered Link, standing in the water with a suddenness that seeded waves.

Gan held up the tin of palm oil salve in his fingers.

“Oh,” breathed Link, his words heavy with arousal. “You want me to - uhm .”

“You missed a spot,” rumbled Gan, turning the tin in his fingers.

Link teased a fingertip down his spine and into the highest valley of his ass. “Need clean oil - here?”

“A beginning,” conceded Gan, amused that he found it necessary to define this order so tightly before accepting.

Link followed the valley down slowly, almost to his rose. “Mmm here?”

“Among other places,” rumbled Gan, curious what he meant with these disingenuous questions after having delved inside with such sensitivity.

His hand slid past and over the rose, feather-light between Gan’s thighs and under, teasing his root and heavy shaft. “Here?”

“Mmmnot quite, but that is delicious.”

“Hrrnn,” groaned Link, drawing his hand back to tease his ass.

Maybe he is afraid of overstepping himself. Hylians do seem to think power flows from the possession and use of a spear, as if that has anything to do with anything. “Mmnnyes but more.”

Link pressed his fingers against the rose in a manner he probably meant as taunt and rebuke. But Gan had already started summoning the salve into himself. “Mmm he- sa’ikhusa!

Gan laughed, doubly amused that he had the inflection perfect.

Link withdrew his fingers before he even cleared the second gate, bracing his other hand on Gan’s ass, switching to Hylian - which he so rarely spoke, even under duress. “Goddess bright how am I supposed to think straight with you pulling those tricks?”

Gan drawled in the same language. “Do you want to?”

“Want to what ?” Link panted his question, fidgeting in the water behind him.

Gan resisted the temptation to look back at him. “Think straight.”

“I have to,” stammered Link, his fingers digging into Gan’s hip.

“That’s not what I asked,” said Gan, every nerve on edge for his answer.

“No-?”

“What's stopping you then? What are you afraid of? You were almost there,” rumbled Gan.

Link uttered a charming mrr? of inquiry.

“The spot. That you missed.”

“Oh Gan ,” he breathed, bowing to kiss his back.

Gan locked his joints and bit his tongue to stop the shiver that tiny, inconsequential touch stirred up. And the one after that when Link caressed him so perfectly, slipping two elegant fingers inside and pressing against the underside of his root with a third.

“Is that it?” Link murmured against his skin, coaxing another jolt of lightning through his bones. Rocking his hand gently deeper, tipping his angle subtly one way or another, intimate, sensitive, intoxicating. Anything but innocent.

“Mnnff. Closer,” said Gan, forcing his breath to remain even.

Link hummed and mumbled to himself, pulsing a little faster, a tiny bit deeper, angling further forward.

Gan told himself he was just - rewarding Link’s courage with a little bit of a moan.

He was lying.

Link mumbled something incoherent and pulled back, changing his angle. The intensity of his deep touch increased, pressing down and forward as if he knew what it would do to him to massage the core of his root. Unfortunately - at this angle, neither could he reach it with so little nor did the logistics allow for broader entanglement. Link did reach down through the water with his off hand to tease his shaft - but it wasn’t enough.

Not that it wasn’t pleasant. But Gan confessed his hunger for more before he could stop his traitorous tongue from saying it.

“I can’t reach any deeper,” stammered Link, switching back to the desert tongue.

“Oh can’t you?” Gan purred at him, licking his lips as he seized control of the tryst. The conversation. The whole mad debauch.

Hah ,” breathed Link, wriggling his clever hands. “Not with my fingers.”

“Then don’t use your fingers,” rumbled Gan, staring fixedly at the tiled wall, resisting the temptation to look back at him. The last thing I could ever want to remember from this foolish indulgence is a glare of disgust from him.

“Oh,” whispered Link.

“Hn,” said Gan, noncommittal. Patient. Disciplined. Indifferent.

“Oh Gan you stubborn bastard,” whispered Link in Hylian, drawing back so slowly the sensation was absolute torment. “The world won’t end just because you say it with your damn words for once.”

Gan snorted in derision and bit his arm to muffle his pathetic noise. He couldn’t do anything about the throbbing though. You’ve no room to talk, hero.

Link snatched the tin of salve and slathered it over his rose with a suspiciously pointed flourish. He hummed under his breath as he reclaimed his other hand, and then he was edging closer and teasing his warm tip through the slickness and bracing a hand on the small of his back and lifting himself into position and-

“Unnfyeah,” said Gan as Link’s burning crown filled the first gate.

“Oh fuck yes,” gasped Link as the throbbing pulled him down through the second gate.

“Mmmngood boy,” said Gan, while words were still possible.

“Good, so good,” moaned Link, his thighs quivering in helpless delight as he slid deeper, easy and smooth and slow. “Oh my heart - you feel so good .”

Gan allowed a contented sigh when Link settled into the depths to throb in his turn with another delirious moan. His elegant cock proved filling and hot, his hilt tapered in precisely the right place, to exactly the right degree for a moment of comfortable resting fullness before the distractingly perfect swell of his curving shaft pulled back against the gates again.

Link rocked his hips and braced both hands across the small of his back, filling him with surprisingly masterful shallow, slow, rolling thrusts. Yet he panted and moaned even harder, babbling praise for his goodness - as if Gan was doing anything at all beyond clinging desperately to the shreds of his discipline.

Every damn time a moan escaped him, Link asked him if he wanted more. While pulling back farther, swifter. Giving him more before he had to say it, until the perfect, elegant, dramatic ridge of his corona pulled through the second gate, threatening to slip free in the next breath.

But Link didn’t let it. He plunged back inside with another resonant oh fuck yes and a babbling, breathless is that the spot? as his crown caressed the boiling madness inside him.

“Sa’ikhusa yes ,” growled Gan at last, bracing himself against the copper trough to rock back against the man’s slender hips and keep him from pulling back again. “I swear if you stop-

Oh but I’m gonna cum again,” moaned Link, kneading his fingers into his back. “Need to - getchu clean-”

Fuck it clean then, you impossible tease,” countered Gan, though the last half came out less a growl than a groan.

Link whimpered as he pulled back - and cried out as he gave him more. And more. Deeper. Harder. Swifter. Thrusting into his core, grinding his crown and ridge and shaft into the madness boiling inside him, smooth and full and hot and silken and singing as he came.

Or rather, as he came again , but hard enough and thick enough this time Gan could feel the heat pour into him.

Oh a mess. I get the spot?” Link panted, trembling. He tried to thrust again, twitching and throbbing and breathless.

“Shhhsok,” breathed Gan, unclenching his fist from the edge of the copper trough, reaching under the water to grasp himself. Won’t need much - almost there as it is.

Link whimpered, collapsing onto his back, hot and sweaty and overflowing with sloppy, delirious kisses.

Gan savored the shuddering delight of his trembling embrace, the pleasure of Link’s twitching cock still buried inside him as he stroked himself.

“Hey,” Link whined, reaching down to slap ineffectively at his arm. “Issmy job.”

“Hn,” said Gan, twisting his hand up around his own aching crown to let him grope after his shaft. He also flexed his ass to rebuke the man. And because the intensity felt glorious. And maybe a little because it made Link whimper. Ok, maybe a lot.

“Getchu all clean,” slurred Link, wrapping his elegant hand around the base, pulling one finger tight, then another, and another. He managed to reach around his waist to lock his other hand above the first, creating an undulating wave up his shaft.

Oh ,” sighed Gan. Blessed sands that’s quite a trick for a virgin.

Link hummed in approval, reversing the wave, up and down, engulfing him in heat and pressure and the illusion of thrusting without the bother of moving.

“Oh you dev- ” he began, but Link thrust his hips tight against his ass and made the world blur for a moment. You devious bastard - you know exactly what you’re doing, don’t you?

“Good?” Link kissed his back.

“Hnnn,” moaned Gan. How are you hard again ? Already? Still? Whatever?

“Almost clean?” Link thrust again, in sync with the undulation of his hands.

Gan slid his hand down to wrap around Link’s, telling himself he meant to untangle him. Telling himself he wanted to finish alone. Telling himself he needed a different stroke than the man offered.

He lied.

“Oh,” he gasped, as Link made himself kick inside. He clutched at his hand, his wrist, his arm - the only parts of the man he could reach.

“Oh?” Link murmured in return, punctuating his disingenuous question with another thrust and fierce tightness in his hands.

Gan bit his lip, nodding, trying to choke down a whimper. Kings don’t fall apart over a servant’s cock, no matter how perfect. Kings don’t beg anyone for anything. Kings don’t melt in the arms of their enemy.

“Let go, beloved. Let yourself feel good. It’s ok,” murmured Link, nuzzling against his back.

I can’t-

“I’ve got you. I’m here,” he said, gentling his hands on the shaft.

But-

“Let me please you. Let me feel you cum. Even if you can’t let yourself sing, let go just a little. Let me take care of you,” he said, grasping him firmly again, using what little softness remained to his sheath to give him a few short, rolling strokes.

Hahhh -” panted Gan, shuddering and taut and perilously close. How do you keep doing that?

“Oh my heart - yes . That. Just like that. Let me love you,” sighed Link, winding his whole body around him.

I’m imagining these things-

Link rocked against him, inside him, stroking him so tenderly.

I’m dreaming-

Link kissed his back again.

Oh ,” cried Gan, curling forward as his root clenched hard and lightning poured up through his bones. The world blurred, and his ears rang. Nothing existed now but wildness and thunder and heat.

Nothing mattered but riding that feeling.

Nothing remained but this one single ray of light.

Nothing could find him if he didn’t exist.

He came back to himself curled halfway on his side in the water, Link draped over him and at least half asleep.

Oh Link - what are you doing to me?

Chapter Text

Time passed. They dragged themselves out of the warm water to eat and sit by the fire in rare, quiet idleness. Link insisted on taking care of the light meal and the tea. He kept his collar, and his nakedness. But he returned to his habit of saying as little as possible, and once again claimed a place on the floor at Gan’s right hand.

Gan considered winding the cabinet clock. Considered reaching to Dashil to measure the time he’d lost. Ultimately it didn’t matter. A King was never late. Time moved to his drum, the dancers followed him, the world ordered itself as he saw fit.

“You do realize I’m not going to be turned from my objective by - any of this,” Gan said at last, staring at the pulsing coals in the hearth. “The moon rises, indifferent to the lives of men. One of your ancient poets wrote that.”

Link nodded.

“One more day,” said Gan, watching the man for any flicker of reaction. “Tomorrow, we march into Hyrule.”

Link tightened his jaw. Nothing else.

“You will wear the golden armor and black livery - but not the helm. I want every village we pass to see who fights under my banner,” said Gan.

“Yes master,” whispered Link.

Gan smoothed his hand over Link’s fair hair. We’re back to that, are we? Master and slave? Or did it ever stop? “I need you at my side for this, Link.”

“Yes master,” whispered Link.

Gan vanished the collar back to the red chest where it belonged, breath tight. “You do not listen.”

Link said nothing. Did nothing. Might as well have been a temple statue.

“I want to know what you would say if I released you from your wicked vow.”

Link sighed, leaning against his knee.

Gan waited.

“There must be another way,” murmured Link. “Every time you go to war, I lose you both to the darkness.”

Both? Gan combed his fingers through the man’s silky hair, listening to the hiss and whisper of the lowering coals. “We have been at war with Hyrule for over four hundred years. I’m not starting a war, Link. I’m ending it.”

“A lot of people are going to die,” said Link, resting a hand on Gan’s ankle.

“Have died, and must die,” said Gan, withdrawing his own hand. “Death is an inescapable consequence of war.”

Link turned, looking up at him with opaque expression. “By what right do you decide who dies?”

Gan studied him in the quiet, wondering what sort of education left him needing to ask that question. “I am King.”

Link winced and broke eye contact, but said nothing.

“Few mortals wish to wield the shuttle and the blade - fewer still are capable. But unlike yours, our laws do not allow for accidents of birth. Until the sands have scoured away distraction and illusion from our truest self, we are all ilmaha, unknowable potentiality. I? Am King,” said Gan with a vague shrug.

“Just because you wanted it more than everyone else. Your ambition and lust for power is always your undoing. In every time. Nothing is ever enough,” said Link, a roughness under his words.

Gan winced, grateful the man was too wrapped up in his own head to notice it. “The Trials run far deeper than you think. I knew the day I walked into the Sands to seize my Name that for as long as I lived, the entire fortunes of the People and the responsibility for every golden thread spun or cut during my reign would belong to me. As is correct. I do not see any use pretending my actions are dictated by gods no one has ever seen and cannot hold to account.”

“Mmno, the gods are very real,” said Link, shaking his head. “Be careful, desert king, for they are active in this world.”

“Hn,” said Gan. “I’m counting on it.”



- o - O - o -


Dreamless sleep for more than a few hours at a stretch was a rare pleasure, even in the best conditions. Campaign life rarely allowed more than four or five rest hours at all, and if two of those meant sleep even half the time, Ganondorf considered it a victory. To be at leisure to linger in the bath, to eat simply and in more or less solitary quiet, to stretch out for a nap afterwards was all infinitely more precious than any bauble ever could be.

Strangely, the Hylian sought permission to crawl into bed with him again. Ganondorf grumped at him, calling him out on his indefatigable lust. Link made a rude noise, petted his hair, and promptly burrowed under his arm to curl around his side. Naked, but more-or-less chaste. Except for when Gan teased him about it, and he decided to retaliate by suckling at his nipple while exploiting the stupidly ticklish stretch down his side.

Somehow, his weight and warmth felt comfortable. Natural. As if the gods sculpted Link’s pale flesh from the first to fit against his own. It didn’t make any sense - he’d enjoyed the same easy entanglement with Nialet and Varesh and a very few others before them, but they were all Geldo, and half again the man’s size.

Gan fell asleep still puzzling over it.

He woke some hours later curled halfway onto his stomach, trapping the poor man under his bulk. Ganondorf fought down sudden panic, forcing his mind to focus on the beat of Link’s swift pulse under his hands. Not yet entirely crushed - only approaching it, his heartbeat too swift and his breath too shallow - but he had only to untangle himself and it would be fine.

Nialet or Varesh would have moved with him, tucking their hips against his and shoring him up to rest on his side - but the Hylian apparently wasn’t large enough or heavy enough for that. Far too dangerous to allow him to sleep in the same bed ever again. Especially since somehow in his sleep he’d treated his innocent captive like one of the damn cushions.

Or - not entirely innocent. When Gan tried to get an arm untangled enough to push himself upright - struggling all the harder because Link had a vice grip on his wrist - his arm brushed against Link’s throbbing cock, provoking a strangled moan. Which proved to be strained because of his other hand around Link’s throat.

“Fucking hell,” mumbled Gan, trying to jerk his hand away. He failed - because Link had his other hand locked around Gan’s wrist as well.

Link whimpered, arcing his hips up, dragging his attention to the fact that he too suffered the indignity of a painfully irreverent cock.

“Dammit, let go . Link - wake up,” growled Ganondorf, struggling to get his legs untangled so he could brace his knees under him.

Link whimpered and writhed and ground his ass up against Gan’s shaft, clutching at his hands all the harder.

“Crazy Hylian,” growled Gan, calling the smallest threads of lightning into his fingers, hoping to sting and startle the man awake. It didn’t work. “The hell you think you’re doing?”

“Nnnff. Not ‘fraida you. Take you down any day,” slurred Link, thinned and roughened by Gan’s hand being crushed against his windpipe.

Gan called a stronger bolt into his hands, swearing, levering up awkwardly on knees and elbow. “Link. Wake the fuck up. You’re dreaming.”

Link cried out in pain - and didn’t fucking stop. He raised his narrow hips as Gan moved, clearly trying to keep their bodies pressed together.

“That’s enough ,” growled Gan, summoning a handful of freezestone shards into his palm. The cold shot through his bones as he pressed the enchanted stones against Link’s throat, stopping his breath and pulse for a few precious seconds, locking him in a skin of brittle ice. Gan broke free of the stunned man’s grip, rising up on his knees and buffering the freezestone in his hand with a temporary crystalline ward.

Link shivered inside the ice. Two, three seconds before the thin enchantment would shatter.

“What the fuck is this about? Wherever you think you are, whoever you think you’re with, whatever is happening inside your head, we are not doing this,” Ganondorf growled, willing his flesh into obedience, braced to use the freezestone again if Link’s madness persisted.

Link shivered again, crown to toe, shattering the thin ice and drawing a ragged breath. He groaned, moving against the bed. Bruises from the scourge anointed his fair, heart-shaped ass, and the momentary cold revived the redness of the welts woven across his back. He scrubbed a hand over his face and drew a knee up, heedless of his exposure.

Gan watched him, waiting for him to settle into the waking world.

Link groaned again - and wriggled his other knee up, rocking into a presentation pose that would have been amusing in better circumstances. His tender rose throbbed and twitched in flirtatious softness, and his blushing cock hung heavy between his muscular thighs to rest against the rumpled sheets.

“I didn’t wake you up to fuck you,” growled Gan.

“Mrrfng. Not ‘fraida you or anythin.”

“Don’t care,” snapped Gan. “Explain yourself. Now .”

“Mrrr? Whasswrong?” Link cast a coy glance over his bowed shoulder. His tousled golden hair and his entire lewd pose begged for sex, but his blue eyes remained pinned and unfocused.

“Do you have any idea what almost happened?”

He blinked slowly, and flexed his gorgeous ass. “Whass this almost ? Whatchu waiting on demon king?”

“Get out,” growled Gan, vanishing the freezestone back to its place. “Put some goddamn clothes on and get out .”

That got his attention. Link scrambled upright, confusion replacing his groggy lust. “Why push away? What happen?”

“You dare ask why ? The hell you think you were doing?” snapped Gan, flinging the nearest cushion at him. It caught him in the face and he yelped, losing his balance. Clearly still not awake.

Link stared up at him, blue eyes wide and lost. “Warm? Close?”

“Don’t play innocent with me . That was a hell of a lot more than warm ,” growled Gan. “Whatever the Hylian priests taught you, well, you better fucking forget it. Don’t ever do that to me again. Go make yourself useful somewhere else.”

Link bowed in full submission with a pathetic whimper. “I sorry - don’t understand. No more snuggle?”

Gan groaned, rocking back on his heels and scrubbing a hand over his face. “Go - find cake or something. We will discuss these tiresome fits of madness later .”

Chapter Text

Ganondorf pulled the razor through the final stroke and struck the lather from the blade. He washed his face and smoothed a light memoryleaf and citron oil into his skin, wringing a thin satisfaction from the perfection of his work. He hung the brush to dry and locked the clean razor away, debating whether to wriggle into a fresh kurta or one of the thin mistlinen shirts made to fit under his arming suit.

But if I’m going to do that, I might as well get all of the underlayers on, and stop lazing about in nothing but sirwal.

Ganondorf slumped on the vanity bench, resting his head in his hands a moment. No longer. Just a few breaths, then he would finish tending his clothes. His hair. His cosmetics. Maybe his headache.

Goddamnit Link. I need what you know, and I need to know how you know it. Every time I think I’ve drawn close to plucking a sharp-edged secret from your tongue, I find another broken place. I cannot afford the time to fix you yet, and I cannot afford the damage when you shatter. I cannot afford any possibility of the Rova capturing you, and I cannot afford to let Hyrule reclaim you.

Gan pinned his kaftan loosely and started to pull a wide comb through a handful of hair. He let his eyes rest on the tidy tray of cosmetics, avoiding his reflection.

Without my cooperation you will never achieve your greatest desire.

The gallery door opened.

Oh my heart - I’m here. I’ve got you. Let me love you.

The door closed.

What are you waiting for, Demon King? I can take you down any day.

Gan looked up as Link crossed the threshold of the bedroom, empty-handed, wearing more of Isadora’s gifts - a ridiculously thin and fluffy pink shirt and tight, dark gray breeches. His right eye looked puffy and swollen. Blood still stained his broken nose and split lip. He held his left hand awkwardly at his side, as if nursing a sprain.

“There wasn’t a feast today, only yesterday’s leftovers, so there wasn’t any cake. It’ll be a couple hours, because it's apparently midnight and the ovens were cold,” said Link with a shrug.

Gan set down the comb with a click. “Who touched you?”

“No one,” said Link, cold.

“Do you expect me to believe the best assassin Hyrule could send against me fell down the stairs?”

“It matters not one rupee what you believe,” snapped Link.

“By your own word and will, I own you . An insult to my property is an insult to me . A slave does not have the luxury to choose which commands they will obey. You either submit to my will entirely, or you rebel entirely. There is no third choice,” said Gan, even and smooth and rational.

“I’m not afraid of you,” said Link, raising his sharp chin.

Gan stood, holding tight rein on his temper. “So you’ve said. Which traitor do you think you can protect from me this time? Bellosa? Ashai? A servant? A scout? One of Isadora’s knights?”

“As if you even cared,” sneered Link. “You’ll hurt whoever you please, whenever you please, no matter what I say. Why waste the wind on asking?”

Gan closed the distance in two long strides, grasping the man’s taut shoulders, intending to shake sense into him. But - Link’s breath caught, and his eyes fluttered at the rough touch.

What? “Do not presume to speak for me.”

“Yeah? Or else what ? I can take anything you dare to give,” Link growled, baring his teeth and shoving at Gan’s chest.

What? “Answer the fucking question. Tell me who hurt you. Now .”

Link shoved him again and - somehow! - ducked out of his grasp. “Why should I let you hurt anyone else?”

“The hell is wrong with you? You did not bear these marks twenty minutes ago,” thundered Gan, lunging for him and - catching him easily. Even though not two breaths before he wriggled himself free. And as soon as Gan closed his fist around the man’s muscular arm, a blush stained Link’s cheeks and - again! - his eyes fluttered as if a wave of arousal passed through his flesh.

“You’re only jealous because the mark of any other tyrant-”

“I’m not jealous , I’m furious that someone dared to hurt you and you stand here defending them,” cut in Gan, brushing back Link’s fine golden hair, dismayed to find a pair of lacerations and a distinct swelling lurking under that silky fringe. “Leaving aside their disobedience, I need to know why you think this behavior is in any way acceptable. I will do whatever is necessary to maintain discipline in my army and achieve my objective, irrespective of sentiment. Do I make myself clear?

“So do it,” said Link, looking up through the veil of his kohl-stained lashes. He bristled with rebellion - and at the same time, heat suffused his fair skin and his breath ran swift. Any other words on those delicate lips, in that sultry tone, from that maddening tongue would’ve magnified his allure. “Take what you want, Demon King. Feast on your harvest of misery if you dare. I’m not afraid of you.”

What do you think I want? Gan bowed over him, searching those impossible blue eyes for - understanding? Truth? Reason? “Why do you call me that tonight?”

Link made a rude noise. “Am I wrong?”

Oh Link. You are impossible is what . Gan dragged him close, pressing a tender kiss upon his lips, willing him to set aside this senseless aggression.

Link shivered in his arms and braced his hands on Gan’s chest - not to shove this time, but to wind his fists in the soft woolen kaftan as he kissed back . Hungry and passionate, but with a gentle ardor completely at odds with his provoking words.

You see? This is what you’ve made me want from you. Your secrets, your relics - and you . More of that intoxicating fantasy of devotion and loyalty from one with the courage and strength to match me. Gan shaped every silent secret word into his kisses, savoring the metallic sweetness of blood on his tongue. Again and again he pressed his lips upon his mad Hylian, until his back screamed at him for the abuse.

But Link was trembling and moaning and kissing him back.

How can I stop now , when his every breath says he wants this as much as I do?

Tongues and lips met and parted, and Link’s hands grasped at his chest, pulled the golden fibula pins free, slipped his burning hands under wool and linen to caress his bare flesh.

“You’re too damn small,” panted Gan at last, pressing another kiss upon the man’s pale brow.

“Wasn’t too small for you last night,” rejoined Link with a saucy lilt.

Shameless libertine . Gan growled a wordless warning and rebuke.

Link growled back, sinking his nails into Gan’s sides. “Do your worst. I’m not afraid of you.”

What? Worst? Did the last five minutes mean nothing to you?

Link used his hesitation to shove him away and slip from his grasp, snarling and circling like a bristling wolfos. Still flushed with desire and visibly aroused.

“Do you think this is some kind of game ?” Gan hated the roughness in his throat as he spoke, hoping the rumbling tone covered his confusion and hurt.

Link laughed, short and sharp. “I will win any contest you set for me.”

What the hell is going on? Gan lunged for him - again catching him easily. Too easily. In complete contradiction to his boastful words.

Link said nothing, growling and panting and wriggling in his grasp. Pretending to struggle - but utterly failing to break free. Even though he’d already proven he could do exactly that whenever he pleased.

As he did with the chains.

Gan picked him up over his shoulder like a sack of grain and carried him across the room, up onto the sleeping platform, and flung him down among the cushions.

Link sprawled under him as if stunned, but his eyes remained bright and alert. Yet he made no move to escape as Gan knelt over him in a mock half-pin.

“Is this what you need, little hero? To be reminded of your place?” Gan searched his face for some sign - any sign - that the man understood .

“Pfft. As if you even could,” spat Link, lunging upward.

Gan grasped the half-laced placket of Link’s shirt in his fist with a growl of frustration, shoving him back down. “Don’t push me.”

He licked his lips. “Or else what ? Stop trying to threaten me and just do it. You can’t scare me.”

“Do what ?” Gan pressed his other fist into the bed above the man’s shoulder, leaning over him, close enough to feel Link’s breath on his cheek. “What do you think I’ll do to an unarmed fool in the middle of the night behind heavy wards and closed doors? Where no one will ever hear you scream for me? Where no one can hear you beg for mercy? Where your masks and weapons are useless?”

Link pulled his lip under his teeth with a delightfully needful moan, arcing his narrow hips in a seductive pulsing roll. He wound his hands in the blankets, his dilated blue eyes fluttering.

What the hell? One minute you’re challenging me to a fight, and the next you’re flirting. Are you really that crazy or are you bespelled? “Afraid to confess your treason before your King?”

“Not ‘fraida you or anything,” purred Link, meeting his eye with a sultry look. He licked his bright lips and pressed his shoulders deeper into the bed.

“You should be,” rumbled Gan in return, ripping the laces from his shirt, tearing the placket. Insipid beetroot pink didn’t suit him anyway. “I can pull the truth from your mind, and I can make it hurt.”

Link bit his lip again and moaned .

“Your body betrays your tiresome rebellions for the lies they are,” purred Gan, ripping the ugly shirt deeper. Is this what you’re after? The trappings of peril and pain to absolve you of responsibility for your desires?

“I’ll never submit to a wicked king,” growled Link, releasing the blankets to tug the torn cloth back over his pale, marked chest. A ridiculous, ineffectual gesture. Especially since with him holding the cloth too, Gan could rip it all the way to the hem one-handed.

Which he did.

“Bold words for a fool who will be howling for mercy before the hour turns,” purred Gan, licking sweat from his cheek. Hopefully less. Our final hours of privacy before the advance, and you want to waste them on playing defiant captive and rapacious tyrant? Again?

Link whimpered.

“Already your will to fight is weakened by your lust to be taken,” said Gan, sliding his hand over Link’s bared chest, resisting the temptation to press his Will upon the man and make him play a different role. A softer, and yet far more dangerous one, if only he knew it.

Link’s eyes fluttered and his pulse raced. Yet his panting words stung. Role or not. “Take whatever depraved pleasure you can imagine - I will still win.”

Is that what this is to you? A disgusting depravity? Gan blinked at him, struggling to haul his thoughts into order. Stop that you fool. He’s not the first petitioner to need the pretense of a forceful seduction to overcome shame or trauma or fear. Nor will he be the last.

“Do it,” hissed Link.

But that’s not what I want. Not tonight. Not from you. For once, just give me the truth. Show me your real face. Gan brushed his lips across Link’s stubborn brow. The corners of his half-veiled eyes. Kissed the pouting curve of his swollen, split lips.

Link drew a shuddering breath and teased his tongue between them.

Gan kissed him again. And again. And again , his head spinning as if he’d tumbled from the fortress tower. Every word, every breath struck all meaning from the one before. Link moaned and wriggled and sighed in pleasure as Gan knelt to consume him. And yet, and yet. His words snapped and snarled and tore him to shreds even as he tore the hateful Hylian clothing from his priceless captive.

“Tell me,” murmured Gan against that fair skin, punctuating his demands with his tongue sweeping over tender flesh. “Confess how you ache to be remade in my hands.”

“Never,” gasped Link, though his hands tangled in Gan’s hair as he said it.

“I’m going to do bad things to you,” rumbled Ganondorf, wrapping his hands around Link’s shapely thighs and nibbling at his slender waist. “You may as well surrender now - or by the time I finish you will be incapable of anything but begging me for more.”

“Hnnnever,” groaned Link, vainly trying to grind his naked cock up against something, anything, even his captor.

What if he is bespelled? What if his mind and body are at war because of a clumsy compulsion woven by his true masters? “Your foolish rebellion will only sweeten my victory. Can you not hear the song in your own flesh obeying my command?”

“Nnnf. Wicked skin,” groaned Link, his beautiful blue eyes rolling back as he writhed in apparent pleasure.

“Listen to the truth in your deliciously wicked skin. Obedience is pleasure. Rebellion is pain. Submit to my will and power,” said Gan, drawing back to look down at his madman. What if all the confessions I thought I heard before were fabrications? Illusions? Side effects of some twisted curse meant to disarm me? “Confess, that you may atone. Tell me who touched you.”

“No,” whispered Link with a shiver.

“Refuse me again and I will take the truth from your spirit, willing or not,” said Gan, sliding a hand up his skin to rest lightly against his vulnerable throat. Holding his magic under fierce control.

“Fffucking do it then,” said Link, closing his eyes tight. His pulse absolutely flew. “Take it, take your plunder Demon King. What’r you waiting for?”

Gan winced, shifting his hands to flip the man onto his stomach where he wouldn’t have to watch that sweet face spewing hate. “You call me that - but do you realize how very wicked I am?”

“Not afraid of you,” murmured Link again, raising his vulnerable ass exactly as he’d done half-asleep just an hour or two before. “You think I can’t take it? I win, you hear?”

Like he’s taunting a beast to attack. But why? I have to know, but can I risk weaving that connection?

Can I afford not to?

Gan crouched lower, pressing his chest to Link’s back, locking his other arm under the man’s slender waist so he wouldn’t be able to escape without breaking the trance. “Do you want me to read your thoughts, little hero?”

“What do you even care-? Your only love is power and seizing more of it. Take what you want and I still win ,” growled Link - all while wriggling his heart-shaped ass into a more convenient position to be fucked in, should Gan decide to vanish his own clothing to do it.

Why can’t you hear the truth? I need to know what is twisting your spirit in knots - and if you’ve gotten your hands on lust powder somehow. Gan swept his thoughts to the edge of his awareness and began to open his wards to reach-

painblooddeath feardoomblood tearing stabbing rending impaling fear redblackgold stonefirethunder pain pain pain fear ripping thrusting howling stinging crushing dark fear

Gan jerked his hand away from Link’s tender throat, too stunned by the flood of chaos to even cry out. Definitely not under the sway of lust powder.

Beast. Monster.

Link didn’t seem to notice any difference.

Tyrant. Wicked.

Gan tried to reach a single thread of spirit towards him, and got another facefull of shards for his efforts. He tilted and dropped his weight onto the bed beside his tortured captive, struggling to breathe through the pain. He’s terrified of me - and he thinks - he thinks I would - that I’m going to - blessed sands, he actually thinks I would enjoy forcing myself on him and fucking him to death.

Link whined, rubbing his face against the blankets and flexing his thighs.

He wasn’t ever abusing himself to get off, he was naming me . He’s - aroused only by the thought of peril. He came to me because I am a monster. The only one who has ever sighed my name in their sleep and he - wants me to murder him and enjoy it?

Link whined again, rolling on his side to push his back to Gan’s chest.

No - it is only fear. Fear isn’t rational. He doesn’t know - or has forgotten - how to distinguish fear from fantasy. Maybe he’s a virgin to this. Maybe something I did triggered the madness again. Maybe it's a memory of being hurt by others - Hylian priests? Maybe he doesn’t realize it can be any different-?

Link caught his arm, dragging Gan’s hand to his throat with a soft moan.

But he fucked me before. Shouldn’t he know it can be pleasurable? No - of course not, that was me . I am strong. And I am so much larger. Maybe he doesn’t realize how easily he opened for my fingers? Maybe he has made love with men but never with one of the People? Or maybe he was hurt or raped by men before - maybe Farore’s devotees? Hence his fear of green and his lust for pain when he’s aroused? A twisted way of reconciling his desires with shame and trauma and stupid Hylian rules?

“Whatchu waiting for? Take your due,” slurred Link.

“Hn,” said Gan, winding his arms around his baffling madman, striving to keep his tone even and light. “Too lazy or too scared to confess what you really want?”

Link groaned, pressing his ass into the curve of Gan’s hips and thighs. “You’d like that too much.”

Of course I want to hear you say you want to lay with me - who wouldn’t? - but only if it’s true. Gan kissed the top of his fair head, his chest tight and his tongue too heavy to shape words. He gathered his strength and shifted the wards again, vainly trying to brace himself against the impact of the chaotic darkness in Link’s mind. I’m falling for you, and all you want from me is pain. Star and Sand, let me find some spell in him to unravel, some wound needing reknit. I can do that . I’ve done it before. Show me the source of your madness, Link. Lead me to the place where these terrible thoughts ensnared your radiant spirit.

Gan bit his tongue in a futile effort to smother the pathetic whimpers of pain and grief rising in his throat. Link absolutely wanted to be fucked, and as rough as possible. The very idea of being torn open from the inside, of Gan’s teeth drawing blood, of being smothered in the middle of climax by a beast of a man fueled his every fantasy. Every thread he followed led to the same place: a vision of himself on Zharu’s back, riding through flame and darkness. There was no spell. No curse. No memory of rape or even of battle older than that image.

That isn’t me - that’s not what I want. That’s never what I’ve wanted. The man you think I am wouldn’t even be here, but with my mothers throwing sacrifices into the Spirit Gate. Why can’t you see that? Yes, I am ruthless when I must be. I am a War King and I must hold victory in my hand when the blood moon rises. You know this - I can see that destiny reflected in your spirit. Why can’t you understand the difference?

Link ground against him, oblivious.

Why can’t you feel my touch as it actually is? Why is your mind twisting soft into sharp? Why does your lust rise when you think about your deepest fears? Where does any of this connect with what you said in the spirit realm? Where is that thought? Where is the tenderness and devotion you offered me in the bath last night? Maybe - have I overlooked the keystone? Maybe I - can still reshape this? If I can find that shard?

“Your body surrenders so beautifully,” murmured Gan, ashamed of the roughness seeping into his voice. “I already know your deepest and most wicked desires. Will you listen to me now, hero?”

Link whimpered, drawing the edge of Gan’s caftan over his nakedness, burrowing deeper into his captor’s embrace. “I will win. I always win.”

“If you cannot recognize your danger it is already too late for you,” purred Gan as best he could, stroking a hand down the man’s side. “Drop your mask. You don’t need it anymore. Not with me. I already know you long to be defeated.”

“Nnnnrffgh. Never listen to your lies,” groaned Link.

“Let go of your pride, hero. Confess. No one can hear you beg me to hurt you, to ruin you, to make you mine,” said Gan, caressing his trembling hostage. He teased feather-light down his center, looping over the curve of his shaft, trailing down his thigh. He pulled Link’s knee up, curving his hand around the soft inside of his thigh on the stroke back up. No one will ever hear how much you’ve come to mean to me. Not even you.

Link sucked a hissing breath through his teeth, bracing himself to hold the open, vulnerable position Gan asked of him.

“Say it,” whispered Gan, cradling his throbbing sex, trying to be what Link needed. “Say it all . Let go of your past. Be only here. Only now. Only mine.”

Link moaned and writhed in his arms, the very picture of helpless desire. He slurred another taunt as he groped at Gan’s thigh. “Setting a new fashion for fucking in pants? Afraid you’ll like it when I win?”

I have to do this. I have to find a way to quiet the roiling horrors inside that golden head. He needs the pain. He needs the pleasure. He needs me to be the tyrant right now, more than ever. The why doesn’t matter. I can study his mind again later, when he is quiet. Maybe the root of his fear is just hidden under all this noise.

Gan counted three slow breaths, quieting his own mind as much as possible. Stuffing his misgivings into a little box in his mind and sealing it away. He could pour himself a drink after. Compress the wards he’d woven into the suite to layer tighter walls around his mind. And tomorrow they would march, and there wouldn’t be time to think about it again until it ceased to matter.

Let him live with his shame, a far greater punishment.

Gan bit his tongue until he tasted blood, and snuffed the oil lamps by magic. He vanished his clothing - and Link’s golden collar - through the shadows. He tried to persuade himself to hear only Link’s gasp and sigh of pleasure as their skin met.

Is that what you meant? You would rather die the worst death you can imagine than continue to live with the shame of wanting to lay with me? Well - then you’re right. I am far too cruel and selfish to give you what you want.

Gan closed his eyes and tried to focus on his task. Willed his flesh to obey. Carved his awareness down to pure physical sensation as he set a soft rhythm of rolling pressure, nothing more. He lashed his breath to a rigid measure, he summoned a set of steel rings to bind his root and shaft to catch every stray pulse and force his cock to stiffen.

Link shivered and trembled in his embrace, moaning under his breath every time he thrust his slowly increasing girth against his taut perineum, his tender sack, his burning, throbbing shaft beyond that.

“Nervous?” Gan murmured into his silky hair, halfway wishing Link would hear the cracks in his voice as he dutifully thrust himself between the man’s muscular thighs again.

Link only whimpered and clutched tighter at his winding arms. Not quite striving to pull away, but not embracing him either.

Gan touched his mind again. His chest ached and his stomach churned to feel the persistent, explicit intensity of Link’s fear and anticipation of destruction. His eyes burned with shameful tears. He tried to be grateful no one could see his weakness before that warped reflection. He tried to be nothing but the monster Link needed him to be.

“Jus’ do it. Whatchu waitin for. I win,” panted Link as Gan slid his crown along the surface of his throbbing rose.

Gan swallowed hard, adjusting his angle to rest his crown against his fragile, tender warmth. He braced himself for what must follow, rooted and immovable, dredging up his best approximation of a seductive murmur. “Afraid I will break you, little hero?”

Link snorted and slurred a flippant retort. “You’d like that wouldn’t you? But who fears the impossible? You only wish you could defeat me.”

Oh Link, can’t you feel the truth? Please - I beg you - no one can hear us. Take the mask off - take it off - don’t be the hero - be here with me - not the king - not the monster. Me. Gan summoned oils through the ether to pour over his bound cock, unable to care if it ruined the blankets. He tried to be grateful he didn’t need to thrust. He tried to wring pleasure from the taut, throbbing heat engulfing his crown. He tried to think of nothing but Link’s impassioned cries as he slid himself onto Gan’s waiting cock.

Oh it’s so much . I can’t, I can’t do it,” panted Link, though he rolled his hips in wanton lust and his rose blossomed.

You’re so wrapped in your own head you think I’m the one moving - you don’t even know I had to use the most severe bindings to get hard for you. You don’t feel my caress - you’re too busy imagining a blow. Even now. Even as I watch pleasure bubble through your skin, you’re thinking about me hurting you.

“Oh gods - hot - oh no, oh Gan, oh careful , you’re so big ,” begged Link.

Gan turned his face against the blankets to hide his pathetic sniffling for the second time in less than a hand of days. He hadn’t wept in years . Not when Nialet miscarried. Not when he found Zurya’s corpse in the refuse pit under the temple. Not when Ardin died on a Sheikah assassin’s blade.

The deepest of all sorrows is not the absence of hope, but to grasp at it and see it shatter.

Merciful goddess,” moaned Link, wriggling ever deeper onto his cock. “So big, so big. So good, too much, oh Gan don’t stop, don’t stop.”

Gan held himself steady so the madman in his arms could take what he needed, and tried to stop thinking.

It didn’t work.

Oh don’t you realize what will happen if they ever find out I care about you? Don’t you realize how much magic it takes to hide us from them for one hour ? But that’s not what you want, is it? That’s not what you ever wanted.

“Oh more , there’s more, oh I forgot ,” babbled Link. “I can’t do it, been too long , oh Gan , I can’t , too much .”

“Declare yourself - hopeless and I - I will save you,” rasped Gan, uncertain whether he wanted the man to say it or not.

“Never, never. I win, I always win,” babbled Link, thrusting down against him with anguished cries.

Gan decided he wished Link had chosen the opposite path. Oh Link - will you ever understand what you’ve done? How could I ever tell you now? Burden you with a love that’s hateful to you?

“Oh no , so tight, sssso hot, oh it’s so much . Oh cum, I need it, I need you to,” cried Link. “Do it, I can’t hold anymore, just fffucking do it already!”

I can’t. Gan shifted his hold on the man so he could stroke him. Even and slow and smooth, a technical exercise in mechanics, nothing more.

Link shuddered and trembled and throbbed around him. “Oh Gan, oh beloved, oh it’s good, you're so good.”

Beloved ,” he sneered, laughing, short and sharp and bitter, his chest tight. He didn’t stop stroking. “Is that what you think I am? That I could ever be?”

“Yes! Oh yes oh Gan please,” babbled Link, arcing against him, thrusting harder.

Gan snorted, stroking him deeper, holding his hips rigid against the man’s wild demands. The steel rings hurt, and he would likely carry bruises in the morning, but he didn’t dare loosen them until Link finished with him. “ Love . Meaningless Hylian sentiment.”

“Noissnot-! Beloved , beloved - oh fuck yes - oh Gan my heart - cum for me - cum - cum inside - do it - take me - I need to feel you cum,” begged Link.

Gan shivered through his core, yearning for a world in which it could be true, in which he dared believe it. But you don’t want me to love you. Even now, you’d rather I destroy you in the act than live with the shame of being with me.

Link thrust and cried and babbled in desperate lust.

Gan bit his tongue, and let Link ride his bound cock, and stroked the madman’s burning shaft until he boiled over.

Link sobbed when he came.

Gan gentled his touch and started to pull away, mind strangely emptied and numb.

Link stopped him with a whining, desperate no . He clawed at Gan’s hands and arms and thigh, winding himself deeper into his embrace, pressing his ass tighter against Gan’s hips though his rose throbbed and clenched painfully tight around his aching shaft.

Gan said nothing. He lay heavily upon the ruined bed and let the man burrow against his body.

“Oh Gan my love, you feel so good ,” sighed Link at last, nuzzling his arm and wriggling his narrow hips like a rockcat with a locust in her paws. “And you’re still so wonderfully hard.”

That would be the steel, jackass. Gan snorted, answering in Hylian with a bitter drawl. “A proper King is always ready to rise for the occasion.”

Link laughed, light and easy and oblivious.

Gan winced, scrubbing his face against the sodden blankets to banish all traces of his weakness. It is only because the news of Avish startled me. It is only because the vision of Reiva and Nialet and Varesh and Nabooru was so unexpected. It is only because they are alive when I thought he’d killed them to find me. It is only because I saw the spirits of my sister and my lovers and my seedlings all strong and healthy.

Link yawned and mumbled contented nonsense, petting his arm.

It is only because I was fool enough to think for a few brief hours that happiness would be possible.

Gan stared at the formless darkness, and tried to stop thinking .

Link reached up to brush the side of his neck, to trace the line of his jaw and cheek. “Hn. Sweaty.”

Gan snorted, and said nothing. That’s not sweat. But believe whatever you want. I don’t care.

“Mmmake you sweatier,” murmured Link, teasing his fingers over his lower lip.

Gan said nothing.

Link hooked his hand behind Gan’s neck and rolled his hips in a tight circle.

Gan growled.

Link laughed, stroking his arm with his other hand.

Gan reached into the man’s spirit.

goodsoftbright warmclosesoft love need hope comfort lust rainthunderwind gentle good generous redblackgold beloved cherished handsome filling strong warm hope need

Gan severed the connection and stung himself with a thread of lightning to be sure he was awake.

Link mumbled a soft inquiry, moving against him in slow, subtle, savory pulses.

What the hell is going on? Gan lay unmoving, letting the man use his body again, touching the strange new bright chaos in his mind. He traced the threads back through a thousand memories of gentle seductions and silent longing. He saw himself bent over maps of Hyrule, dark circles under his eyes. He saw himself raising a glass of wine in the middle of a blurry, glittering feast. He saw himself dancing the sword flower in a place he’d never been. He felt a wave of visceral pleasure in memories of Link’s hands in his hair. He felt a strangely pleasant tightness in quiet memories of his heartbeat under Link’s ear. He felt an electric thrill course through his bones in the memory of Link perching precariously on the edge of his desk for a hungry kiss.

“Link,” whispered Gan, lost.

“I’m here, beloved,” murmured Link, pressing his sweaty back tight to Gan’s chest. “I’ve got you. I’m here. It’s ok.”

“How is it possible-?” The words fell from his tongue before he could stop them. He followed the whirling bright softness of a hundred thousand images tumbling through Link’s spirit, some known, some strange, some blurry and dreamlike.

“Don’t worry about that part. Be here with me. Let me please you. Let go of your stubborn pride and let yourself feel how much I want you,” said Link.

He tried to trace the chaotic brightness back to its source, tried to find the shadows he’d seen before. The only glimmers that even resembled the shards were so different he couldn’t say they were a fair reflection at all. He saw himself on Zharu’s back, laughing, his hair and cloak flagged in the wind. He saw himself raise his fist as lightning cracked across a gray sky, tumbling rain down from the heavens. He felt his teeth sink into tender flesh, leaving beautiful tiny bruises behind, but drawing no blood this time. His nose filled with the clean scent of spicewood and bergamot and safflina in the image of himself covering the smaller man with his naked body, his long hair unbound.

Fear. It was only fear.

Intense, horrible, wild fear . Terrors woven over too many long weeks in my chains, suffering torments I devised to punish crimes he didn’t commit. Fears born of ignorance and inexperience and Hylian morality. Fears seeded by the vast differences dividing us, by the nightmares that trouble his sleep, fears I’ve done nothing to ease and everything to feed.

Just another fit of madness - and every second of his pain and terror and fear was my doing , because I couldn’t be bothered to reassure a goddamn virgin.

Monster indeed.

Chapter Text

In the gray light of false dawn, everything seems strange and distant. Ganondorf leaned against the iron lightning rod on the highest tower of Karakut, feeling the cool bite of the east wind needling through his arming suit. He didn’t need magic to know it would rain before noon - but this would be a light drizzle at best. Just enough to remind the legion to harden themselves against the challenges of the trail.

Ganondorf wove the last few crossings of the simple three-strand plait as the red sun kissed the eastern peaks below. He bound the tail with a scrap of soft black leather, not because he needed it, but for the form of the thing. For the completeness of the pattern. Maybe for the irony.

He descended through the shadows, and returned to his borrowed suite for the last time. He plucked a fine bone comb from the vanity drawer and opened the razor box. He sharpened the blade, and sat before the mirror. He pulled the steel up under the heavy plait, slow and careful, coiling the rope of it around his fist, letting the weight of his hair guide the cut.

When it was done, he combed a light oil through his wild short locks, and trimmed everything more even. He worked a bit of wax in, establishing a new order that at least kept the fringe off his brow and curls off his ears. He chose the serpent crown, simple gold earloops, and his favorite topaz pectoral from his jewel boxes, locking everything else away. Maybe forever.

Ganondorf gathered the coil of severed braid, and stalked to his temporary workroom for one last spell before striking it. The Rova would still be awake to spy on his Work, but that wouldn’t matter. He’d known the morning of the gauntlet demonstration that they’d figured out his scattered illusions - and now he knew they’d left his Work alone.

Their reasons didn’t matter. The result was enough. For now.

He cleared the floor and opened a fresh vial of gold-flecked ink, weaving the glyph circle with efficient strokes. He pricked his thumb and knelt to trace the seeking rune in blood. He would still unveil the skybolt glass to be certain of his success, but every thread made the pattern stronger. Time and effort spent now would save time and magic later.

Ganondorf set the coiled braid atop the seeking rune, and summoned one of his largest charged focus stones to hand. He poured Power into the pattern, until every line glowed with violet lightning and crackled with golden potential.

He drew the veil from the skybolt glass. “Show me the Exalted Sun Nabooru avadha Saiev, commander of the golden legions of the south.”

The glass shimmered and rippled, casting off the reflection of his workroom to show him darkness and stars. Ganondorf waited, tracking one shadow among many, watching it divide itself from the night to scale the eastern watchtower. The archer there saluted and withdrew, surrendering her post without question.

Ganondorf pushed his Will through the pattern, weaving here to there in a glorious flare of gold and violet lightning and the sweet aroma of charred wood.

Nabooru drew her crescent blades, dropping into third guard as his magic crackled and burnt along the solid planks of the watchtower floor.

Ganondorf laughed, weaving the final seal to fold the magic into itself. What use do you think your steel would ever be against enchantment, sister? You rely too much on your strength and speed to face whatever the spell summons, when you should be addressing the Work or its source.

Through the skybolt glass he watched her edge around the charged circle, swearing. He considered adding skyfire-woven words to the spell, but dismissed the thought at once. Anything she didn’t understand from this Work wouldn’t be worth the expense and risk of another mage overlooking his message. He snapped the pattern taut, plunging his workroom into darkness as the last sparks moved through the world, carrying the severed braid with them.

Far away to the south, Nabooru cringed when her half of the circle flared white-gold, shifting to violet, burning the pattern of his magic into the tower floor. As the lightning subsided, she crept forward, peering at the shadowed lump at the center. She prodded it with the tip of her sword, frowning. She swore. She sheathed her blades and glared at the distant gilded ridges of the northern highlands, as if she knew he could see her fury.

Ganondorf laughed, watching her swear at the dawn, waiting for her to collect the severed braid so he could obscure the scorched pattern with a final command. Unfortunately, she stood over the central seeking glyph to wind the plait around her fist, still cursing him, and the wind, and the gods, and anything else she could think of. That she still hated his plans, there could be no doubt.

But he allowed himself a moment of satisfaction that despite her tirade, she had spared the breath to thank the distant gods that he was also, in fact, still alive.

 

- o - O - o -

 

Ganondorf scrawled the final inventory corrections for his bar cabinet and medicine chests, locking and sealing both, marking them with the royal crest in lumin-flecked sealing wax, ready to be taken down to the courtyard when his servants returned.

The wardlocks on the gallery door clicked and opened as he bowed over the desk to tidy his folios and ledgers into their proper places, binding the spell-scribed copies for Leilani with a sturdy brocade ribbon.

Thump- crash .

Ganondorf glanced toward the door, noting the explosion of porcelain shards, the fallen tray, the shattered teapot and ruined breakfast at Link’s feet. The man himself wore the fitted gray doeskin breeches again, and the dove-gray shirt under the black tunic. He stood with his empty hands before him, all color bled from his face. His lips moved, but no words took shape.

“Hn. Forgot about gravity for a moment did you? Don’t bother cleaning that. Just go fetch another,” said Ganondorf, returning to his work.

“Oh no,” whispered Link at last, stepping forward, crushing shards under his heeled boots. “What have you done?”

Ganondorf raised a brow. “There is no active magic in this room save for the locks. You dropped that on your own.”

Link crossed the room, his gait unsteady, his hands held before him. “ Why?

Gan looked down at him as he tied the last knot, frowning. “Why what ?”

Link gestured helplessly, his blue eyes wide and sorrowful.

“Words, little hero.”

Link gestured again, reaching upwards - but not touching. Not yet. “ Hair .”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, moving the pile of ledgers aside and reaching for the man in turn. Link let himself be lifted onto the desk, let Gan guide his trembling hands. “Shorter than yours now, isn’t it?”

Link whimpered, petting his hair and raking his elegant fingers anxiously through the wild, fluffy locks.

“Don’t pout so,” said Gan, tucking a finger under his sharp chin. “You inspired a new strategy with your tantrum over Isadora’s abominable menu, little hero. Hyrule believes the gods favor them in all things, that they are right because they are strong, that they are strong because they are right. Anything that varies from their insipid customs is seen as a challenge to their divine favor, is it not?”

Link winced, but nodded, still caressing his short hair. His elegant hands felt wonderful, and his nails grazing his scalp called tiny, thrilling lightnings to dance under his skin.

“Hylian men do not wear long hair. So. Let them enjoy the flattery of a barbarian King speaking their graceless language and eating their bland food and adopting their tedious fashions,” said Gan. Conveniently, this also eliminates your favorite excuse to touch me. “It is critical they continue to believe their gods support them. After all, when one is strong, one’s enemies may be defeated by the appearance of weakness.”

Link sighed mightily, and threaded his hands behind Gan’s neck. “Please don’t. No good ever came from intrigues.”

“Hn. Then you clearly haven’t been paying attention,” rumbled Gan, bowing to claim a kiss from those tender, foolish lips. I am King. I do whatever and whomever the fuck I want.

Link melted into his embrace with a wistful sigh.

“Besides,” purred Gan, nibbling at his elegant neck. “What are you but a deadly intrigue , selling your pretty ass to a wicked king for the life of a murderous peasant?”

Link moaned in pleasurable distress. “Oh beloved, I didn’t come here to hurt you.”

“Hn. As if you could,” taunted Gan, wrapping his hands around Link’s trim waist. Beloved. A word no one ever uses for me except to lie. It sounds so strange. “Say it again.”

Link shivered, answering with a wordless mrr? of confusion.

“Hn. Don’t play coy. You know what I want to hear. You know so many things,” purred Gan, guiding him to lean back, to expose his tender throat to bites and kisses, to arch his back against the smooth olivewood desk when Gan caressed his sides. “You were such a good boy, bringing me this elegant solution to the tedious problem of Hyrule. I am feeling generous today. You should be happy, my little hero. You will have a reward for your loyal services.”

Link whimpered, petting Gan’s short hair. “But I - I don’t have any magic to know what you want.”

“Don’t you?” Gan taunted, rolling his thumb in tight whorls around the man’s nipples, firm enough to translate through two layers of cloth. “What do I want you to say now ?”

Link swore, his pulse quickening.

“Hn. There, was that so hard?”

Link groaned and stuck out his long pink tongue by way of answer.

“Say it again,” rumbled Gan, slipping one hand under the man’s neck, and the other down his chest.

Link whined, worrying at his lip as Gan deepened the intimacy of his caress. “I don’t - please Gan, tell me what you mean. What happened? What changed?”

“Hn,” said Gan, stroking the soft swell of Link’s stirring cock through his fine gray breeches. Nothing and everything .

Link swore and writhed and begged him to speak. Begged him to explain. Begged him to believe him. Begged him to forget the politics and the campaign and everything, for even one more day of peace. Begged him to consider abandoning it all until the year turned. Begged him to let Hyrule gnaw on itself and send traders west to Termina instead. Begged him to stay like this.

Whatever this meant.

Gan drank in his trembling, beautiful pleas, and refused to loosen even one thread of his personal wards to clarify his desires by magic. One night of folly is enough and more.

Fortunately, Link tended to babble when aroused. If half his words were nonsense, still the intelligible phrases outnumbered his average store of conversation by an order of magnitude.

Also his cum laid sweet and fruity on the tongue. Not precisely breakfast , but a charming appetizer, at least.

As long as one can manage to forget the excruciating shards hiding under that tender beauty.

Beloved.

As if anyone would ever be so stupid.

Chapter Text

Every warrior in the legion had ten years or more in service, and they all staggered and stammered and stared when Ganondorf threw open the doors of his suite and strode down the gallery. Some of them even remembered to salute before he stalked past them.

Marish actually fainted when she saw him, which made him want to laugh. The disbelief and distraction of his warriors was inconvenient, but too diverting to bother being angry about.

His Elite snapped to full attention when Ganondorf reached the landing above the ground floor. He did not wait for them to recite whatever reports they thought he needed, but swept past them and down the hall towards the library. He threw the heavy doors open with a little thread of lightning before the Elite could scramble to open them.

“Oh thank the golden goddesses and all the thousand spirits,” cried Isadora, jumping up from the avalanche of papers and books strewn over her desk. “Dragmire, you must believe I had no idea-”

“I must nothing,” rumbled Ganondorf with a smirk. “I delay my entire campaign, however, to personally thank you for your hospitality, dearest Izzy.”

“Please Dragmire, I had no intention whatever that you come to harm,” she insisted, raking her black claws through her tangled hair as she moved toward him, eyes wide and red with exhaustion. Stains and snags spoiled her once fine silk dress, and her ebony fur had already lost its healthy gloss.

“Indeed I congratulate you on your keen perception and devoted service,” said Ganondorf with a little snort of amusement as she fetched up against the stinging rebuke of his personal wards. He folded his hands behind his back. “As you see - the Hylian epithets contain a seed of truth. Dark sorcerer. Demon thief . And as I do grow stronger with every attempt to kill me, howsoever much cowards might desire the king of demons slain, it is unfathomably dumb to try.”

“Please understand Dragmire - it isn’t at all what your pet gladiator says - father let slip years ago the soul-form he saw when you quickened. I needed absolute certainty you were you - I didn’t realize it would make you ill ,” begged Isadora. “Ishet’s blessing or not, I am nearly half mortal. You are still young - you don’t realize the politics - the risk for the rest of us when the winds of prophecy-”

“I am your King in every possible respect and you will serve me as I command it,” growled Ganondorf, summoning the demonstone into his fist. He twisted a cord of enchantment into his words, ensnaring her voice, her spirit, coiling a shining violet collar about her throat, binding heavy spellchains around her wrists.

Isadora whimpered and squeaked in panic.

“Better,” rumbled Ganondorf with a broad grin. He loomed over her, watching her squirm and struggle against the speak-not tether, layering shields and misdirection wards and spell-thorn traps around her, one after another after another until even he could barely perceive her spirit. “Come now, your darling husband will worry if he feels you fretting yourself to pieces over a little chat with your guest. Or can’t your precious soul-bond reach through the fires of true demon magic?”

Isadora whimpered, bowing her elegant ebony head, ears slicked flat.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, gesturing towards the door, weaving his Will into the pattern of the world to drag Isadora down the hall, towards the courtyard terrace.

A harsh shout from the gallery stairs pulled his attention for only a moment - Link raced towards them, flushed and feverish, his blue eyes wild. He clutched a stolen spear in his left fist, but he hadn’t spared time or thought to his dishabille.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, offering Isadora a sardonic grin. “You see Izzy, how my loyal hound holds no pleasure higher than defending his master. He offers an example you may find advantageous to meditate on.”

Link shouted again, incoherent but more or less along the lines of stop .

Don’t be stupid. Ganondorf resumed his course, dragging Isadora towards the terrace. He let Isadora squeal and thrash in panic, let her believe he would allow Link to destroy her, and at the last possible moment while his wild charge was still ambiguous of target, he snared the madman in a net of lightning.

Link screamed in fury and pain, his blue eyes flashing briefly white.

Ganondorf seized the haft of the spear, ripping it from his hands. He tapped the butt of it on the granite floor, summoning raw iron through the ether. He wove it into the illusion he spun around the spear, until even his mothers might mistake it for his shattered trishul. Isadora whined in necessarily wordless despair - she clearly knew the nature of the original, and had been emboldened by the report of its destruction.

Link snarled like a mad dog, fighting against the magic.

Ganondorf clicked his tongue in censure, running his free hand through Link’s fine golden hair, trailing his fingers under the man’s long, delicate ear.

Link half moaned, half growled, blue eyes fixed on his.

“Come now little hero,”  purred Ganondorf, tracing the pulsing vein down the side of his slender white neck. “What have I told you about impaling our allies?”

Link frowned, still growling softly. His furious eyes fairly shouted his thoughts: I wasn’t talking to her . But-! He stopped fighting the spell chains.

By such crumbs one measures progress with this madman. Ganondorf caressed his elegant neck. “Mmyes, calm yourself. There’s a good pet. Just because she tried to stir rebellion against me and made multiple attempts on my life is no excuse to be rude .”

 


- o - O - o -

 

Ganondorf stood at the terrace railing, hands folded behind his back, watching his armies assemble in the courtyard below. Not that most of them realized their circumstance yet - but they would learn.

And from the way they look at the foolish Lady Karakut beside me, at least half of them begin to suspect. Ganondorf waited, amused that the servants and artisans of the manor organized themselves at the edges of the courtyard without the need for the order.

Unlike Roc Bellosa, who had to see him with her own eyes to believe his order. She went pale as a Hylian when he leashed her tongue in rebuke.

When the only spirits remaining inside the manor were the sleeping yeti and a handful of under-servants, he pulled a little magic onto his tongue and bellowed. “Vo’hei avadha ikhusa. Qista va savai L’voesh?”

His warriors thumped their spears on the cold slate paving. “ Vo’hei Ghed vo’ Ganondorf, chalut vo ikhusa -!

Ganondorf grinned down at them as silence rushed in to fill the wake of their cry. “People of Karakut! How do you greet your King?”

Silence. Absolute stillness from his warriors. Then, a few scattered darknut voices rose on the brisk morning wind. “Hail to the Great Ganondorf.”

Ganondorf laughed, gesturing broadly as he released the spell from Bellosa’s sharp tongue. “Vo’hei Roc i Rahalin va Geld’o kesh.”

Every officer in the legion - and Roc Bellosa as well - filled her lungs and shouted in swift answer. “ Vo’hei rajena Geld’o, savai Ghed Ganondorf, chalut vo ikhusa!

“Karakut,” bellowed Ganondorf, savoring the echo as six hundred veteran knights and rangehounds fidgeted like nervous children. “Hail the new generals of the Hammer of Vosterkun.”

The crowd mumbled. Looked around. About a third of them finally caught the scent of change on the wind, though their voices rose with hesitant lilt and question. “Hail, oh Great Ganondorf. Glory to your armies.”

“Vo’hei avadha,” bellowed Ganondorf, raising his fist.

His warriors drummed their spears on the stone as one, sang out their salute as one, until all of Karakut vibrated with their passion. “ Vo’hei rajena Geld’o! Vo’hei L’voesh oct aitha, Ghed Ganondorf Dragmire, chalut vo ikhusa!

Ganondorf laughed, leaping up onto the terrace railing, pacing along the icy stone. “Glory strengthens the loyal warriors of my legions, their cups overflowing with sweet water, their houses overflowing with wealth, the garden of their spirits thriving under the blessings of the Sun’s Ray.”

Vo’hei ,” cried his legion.

Ganondorf pivoted, returned to center, raised his fist again. “Karakut-! How do you greet your King?

Hundreds of voices this time. “Hail Ganondorf the Great!”

Ganondorf smirked. “Vo’hei avadha!”

“Vo’hei Ghed vo’ Ganondorf, L’voesh rajena chalut-!”

Ganondorf let the noise settle, sweeping his gaze slowly over the assembled crowd, letting each and every spirit feel the weight of his regard. He did not raise his voice above a conversational rumble. “Hail to the Hammer of Vosterkun.”

“Hail Ganondorf,” cried most of the darknut, snapping to attention. The rest could be schooled later, on the march. “Long live King Ganondorf, may the golden ones deliver victory to his armies!”

Ganondorf nodded. “Much better.”

His warriors thumped their spears in salute, and silence filled the courtyard again.

He gestured vaguely towards his little division of warriors and the officers among them. “I expect discipline from my armies, and unwavering spirits in my officers.”

No one made a sound.

Ganondorf smirked, gazing directly at the clusters of artisans and staff. He tipped a finger toward Link, who stood obedient and silent at the right side of the terrace. “And absolute devotion from my servants.”

Silence. He could feel the anxious focus of the crowd as they all fought the temptation to look at the madman directly.

Ganondorf lifted Isadora into the air at his left hand, weaving a new lattice of pure magic, encasing her in a crystalline ward right there on the terrace railing, where she would have an excellent view while he stole her entire house to strengthen his army. He ignored Link’s growling obscenities. “Treason will not be tolerated.”

“Hail King Ganondorf,” cried the nervous knights and rangehounds.

Ganondorf gestured for silence. “Fortify your spirits, oh my loyal subjects. There has been a change of plans.”

Chapter Text

The clean perfume of early wildflowers sweetened the gentle east wind as it teased and danced along the skirts of Mount Drena. Ganondorf nudged Zharu along a narrow sandstone ridge, watching the beautiful black-and-gold ribbon of his little army wind its way between rain-softened boulders and scrubby trees below. Of course, anxious little silver splotches of their Hylian ‘escorts’ wriggled and dashed about to either side, but they didn’t matter. They surely wondered why the main substance of their pathetic mirror signals never seemed to reach the next garrison, the next outpost, the next village ahead of them, but not one of the foolish little men carried the shimmer of magic in their spirits that might allow them to understand or do anything about it.

You wove your crusade with exceptional thoroughness, Williric Daltus. I could almost thank you.

Fortune favored them since the march resumed. Only one bridge in the mountains behind them had given out in the madman’s spell-fueled storms, and the isolated garrison they’d taken the day  before reaching it kept massive seasoned timbers in their stables for exactly that purpose. With every artisan of Karakut working beside his warriors, they’d repaired the damn thing with hardly more than an hour lost.

The knights and rangehounds chosen to play captive for this stretch of the advance seemed to giving their ‘guards’ a convincing amount of trouble today. The Hylian captains would surely be persuaded of the necessity of speed if they staged a little insurrection tonight. After all, no one wanted hundreds of armed mountain rebels loose in this gentle countryside.

And if we can push across Aldor Valley tomorrow night-!

“You’re doing the thing again, O my King,” said Leilani from behind him.

“I am most certainly not,” said Ganondorf crisply - but her sharp words called attention to the telltale ache in his jaw.

Leilani made a rude noise, encouraging her rangy horse to pick her way a little closer along the weathered slope. “The Sun’s Ray might consider coming down the hill sometime this morning. Link is threatening to bite the next Hylian soldier who tries to talk to him.”

Ganondorf snorted. “They deserve it. Anyways it may be useful to have him muzzled tomorrow.”

Leilani groaned. “If you mean you’re going to weave more purple demon spells, your servants might recommend more than that for him.”

“Hn. Your concern is noted, but it’s not so much for curbing his opinions as it is for managing the perception of these softlanders,” said Ganondorf, stretching his spirit down through the foothills for any sign of Hylian patrols. A couple hamlets and larger farms lay scattered about the Aldor barony, but the manor itself - and its defenders - lay on the other side of the Elba garrison crowning the knolls on the southeast side of the broad valley. “Furthermore, most of what people call demons are merely a class of spirit, or empowered creatures, as a horse may be considered a class of grazer, or a beast of burden, a tool, or a weapon.”

“As you say, O my King.” She did not look at him, but kept her attention on her horse and the path.

“Do not waste your energy worrying about blasphemy, avadha. Those magics that are considered unholy for mortals to handle gain that distinction mostly because very few are able to control them effectively. The Mother of Sands is generally more concerned with one’s results, and has very little opinion on the methods by which a Work is engaged.”

“That may be the most pious thing I’ve ever heard you say,” she replied, casting him a sidelong glance.

“Hn. Don’t expect me to make a habit of it,” said Ganondorf, winding up his magic again, satisfied that they would be able to reach the next camp without further disruption. It was so incredibly tedious every time they encountered another patrol to subvert, another petty commander to persuade.

“Even so,” she said at length. “I confess I’m more concerned about the consequence of him falling into another fit so soon after the last.”

Ganondorf raised a brow.

“There are rumors,” she said, unusually hesitant. “And the effects seem to linger more with each one. The Iron One will only knock him out long enough for chains, and the sleep herbs I tried last time only made it worse.”

“Anyone else might be persuaded you’ve grown fond of your lovely assistant,” teased Ganondorf, nudging Zharu to find a path down from the ridge.

Leilani rolled her eyes. “I don’t hate him, he’s just annoying me, Sun’s Ray. He’s moody and stubborn and if you won’t give him a dozen stripes next time you drag him into the woods for a fuck? Blessed Sands please have the Iron One do it.”

Ganondorf clicked his tongue in censure, smothering a laugh. “Such language. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“Three hours of sleep in as many nights,” snapped Leilani. “It was curious and pitiable when I had stone walls and heavy doors between my rest and your madman, but I have neither taste nor patience for managing his addiction to pain.”

And you don’t know the half of it. “Shall we consider this a petition?”

Leilani made a rude noise. “Steal us a proper kitchen and I’ll see about frying up some halevi or something if that’s going to be the price of quiet.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, rolling the problem around in his mind. “So. What I’m hearing is he’s spent a month throwing fits every time I use more than a pinch of magic and now you tell me. Now that we’re four days from the border of central Hyrule-”

“No, what I’m saying is the entire support train knows when you leave camp at night because he wakes us up with his nightmares. You do magic all the time and he’s more or less fine, but if you need to weave something purple or red or black? We’d consider it a blessing if the Sun’s Ray would fuck him senseless and chain him to a tree or something first.”

Gan nearly choked. “That’s - quite the shift in your philosophy - and in less than two moons. I am impressed with your - ah - flexibility of opinion.”

“As my King desires it,” she returned with clipped precision.

“I admit I’ve wondered how a Ramal of good breeding came to be more fastidious than a Hylian about physical matters,” said Gan, hoping she didn’t notice the mirth thinning his voice. It was simply too much, such lewd words falling from her tongue.

To his surprise, Leilani sighed heavily. “Unlike some people, I don’t care what he’s got in his pants. What troubles me is - look, I’m only a common Ramal-”

“Only nothing . Take pride in your work, and understand that you are a most uncommon sort of servant,” rumbled Gan as they crossed into the shadow of the misdirection veils shielding his army from magical overlooking - or overlistening.

“Even so, I worry for the future when the Sun’s Ray postpones hearing petitions to abuse an enemy knight-mage instead.”

“War doesn’t care about traditions or seasons, and it is a luxury when campaign allows any such observance at all. This advance must move quickly. Any warrior who gives you trouble about the lanterns remaining red will taste the scourge anon,” said Ganondorf, encouraging Zharu to pick up her pace a little as he turned her towards a commotion disrupting the tidy columns a few chains ahead.

“As you say, O my King.” Leilani kept pace with him, pretending to be interested in the lush hills around them.

“Nor is it terribly politic to observe certain… mysteries…  in an open cold camp with Hylian guests looking on. They are ignorant of our traditions, and anything that defies their stupid customs right now would compromise the message we have spent the last month crafting,” said Gan. “Also I’ve barely even looked at him in over a week.”

Leilani snorted in derision. “ We know , Oh my King.”

“Sa’ikhusa but you don’t approve of anything ,” murmured Gan, frowning at the sight of the riderless black horse rearing and plunging in the middle of the disintegrating column ahead.

“I serve at the command of the Sun’s Ray. Does he need his servants to study the art of flattery?”

“No,” admitted Gan. That’s the highbred mare I gave Link after Hirane garrison. Because of course it is.

“Do you want me to?”

Ganondorf shrugged, sitting forward in the saddle as Zharu moved into a fast trot. She had always been perceptive and loyal, but it amused him that even tired as she must be as they entered the third month of campaign she picked up on his attention to the disturbance and arrowed toward the commotion without needing the command first. No avadha, empty praise has never been to my taste - and the only thing that actually matters now is victory.



- o - O - o -


The shouting and swearing rose to feverish pitch as Zharu pushed through the chaos of anxious mountain ponies and their distracted riders. Even veteran warriors struggled to keep their horses on tight rein as they milled about the dusty conflict in the middle of it all.

Link’s golden lorica glittered in the afternoon sunlight. His black livery refused it. Spatters of blood anointed his fair face, and any creature with a healthy sense of self-preservation would have hesitated before his feral snarl as he beat the everloving fuck out of the soldier he’d pinned to the dirt.

Ganondorf whistled, shrill and short, pulling Zharu up broadside of the fight.

Link paused, his bloody fist raised.

A hush rippled through the crowd. The luckless Hylian soldier under the madman moaned in agony. An officer of some kind with white plumes on his helmet shouted obscenities and tried to force his nervous horse through the onlookers.

Link followed through on the punch.

The buzz of speculation resumed at once. The Hylian officer kicked his mount into a screaming frog-hop through the press.

Ganondorf whistled again, winding the reins in his off hand.

Link pushed to his feet. The man snarled at his potentially unconscious victim, spat blood, and stepped over his body to answer his master’s summons. He moved as a hungry highlands wolfos approaches a wounded interloping juvenile, blue eyes bright and cold.

“Hey! Come back here you treasonous bastard,” bellowed the Hylian officer.

Link ignored him as he ignored the blood on his face and dripping from his steel-splinted gloves. For all he grinned as he took his place at Gan’s right stirrup, his eyes reflected nothing of mirth.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, sitting back in the saddle. Not that it brought any actual comfort to relax his seat - his bones had fused into one vast ache weeks ago. Four days to the chance of a real godsdamned bath - and how long to a decent bed?

“The fuck ? Your ears full of wax? I was talking to to you! How dare you attack one of my men you mewling treasonous coward,” shouted the officer with the plumed helmet. He danced his mount around the prone soldier, demanding his subordinates attend the man.

Link remained in parade rest at his master’s side. He watched the officer with a disinterested sidelong gaze, but said nothing.

“Lord Dragmire sir, that filthy deserting thug attacked my men on Hylian soil without provocation. You must not shelter him from the consequence of his savagery any longer - he must answer to the law. He belongs in chains my lord,” shouted the foolish officer, riding as close as his far more rational horse would allow. She rightly saw Link as a dangerous predator, and held a healthy respect for Zharu’s majesty - and temper.

“Must? Are you Hylians in the habit of issuing demands to your King? What strange customs you people keep,” drawled Ganondorf.

The officer ground his jaw, his hands and seat continuing the argument with his horse about how close she should stand. The horse continued to win even though the harsh steel bit cut her mouth, obliging the man to continue to shout. “I beg your pardon my lord, but our laws are absolute. Only in respect of your lordship have we not made him answer for his desertion yet, but this is too much! He is a threat to society and must be contained.”

“What is this word you call me? Lord? This is higher than a king among your people? Such curiosities in your language,” drawled Ganondorf. He pretended not to hear the people around them struggling with a sudden cough.

The officer swore, muttering something about rabid and lunatic and probably a cannibal .

The fool isn’t far from the mark - and the blood in his teeth just underscores it. Ganondorf snorted in amusement and looked down at Link, switching to his own tongue. “Are you hungry little hero?”

Link cocked his head in apparent curiosity, ears alert.

Don’t overplay it, hero. No one believes your idiot routine. Gan snapped his fingers, summoning a fat bloodlime from his personal cache.

Link licked his lips and grinned up at him.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, rolling the fruit in his palm. “You want this? Yeah?”

Link reached and hopped in place, ‘trying’ to snatch it away.

As if we haven’t all seen you leap like a goddamn hare when you want to. “Mmmnot yet, little hero. Did you bite that soldier?”

Link bit his lip, shaking his head no. But the bloodthirsty look in his eye said yes.

Ganondorf pretended to inspect the bloodlime for blemishes. “Are you lying?”

A few of his warriors snickered.

Link groaned and stomped his foot like a stubborn child.

Ganondorf held the fruit up on the tips of his fingers, turning it in the sunlight. He ignored the Hylian officer’s stumbling attempts to resume his complaints. “You know what happens to boys who lie. Did you. Bite. That man?”

Link snorted like a stubborn horse and looked away, scuffing his boots in the dirt.

Someone in the crowd shouted: he did, I saw him!

Someone else cried: tried to rip his throat out!

He’s a mad dog! A murdering traitor! A cannibal! A savage! Deranged! Sick! The Hylians raised their fists in the air, demanding justice, demanding punishment.

Ganondorf waited, amused that his silence hushed the foolish officer more than did a disingenuous reprimand for his disrespect.

After a long moment, as the crowd began to falter, catching onto the tension at last, Link wobbled a bloody hand in the air, shrugging. Maybe a little.

Ganondorf clicked his tongue in censure, closing his hand around the fruit. “Remember, if you are a good boy, you will have treats. Day after tomorrow we will pass Elba garrison. I understand Sir Garett of Ordon is stationed there. Country-bred, favors the labrys and round shield, weighs twenty eight stone stripped to the skin. A worthy opponent for you. If you are a good boy.”

Link grinned, wide and fierce and bloody, snicking a little throwing dagger from the sheaths ornamenting his baldric.

Ganondorf laughed. “That’s better.”

Link twirled the blade in his elegant fingers.

Ganondorf hurled the fruit over the crowd.

Link whirled. Steel flashed. Hylians shrieked and warriors cursed. A wet puff of juice splattered everyone within two rods of the impact when the dagger hit and bore the innocent bloodlime to the dirt.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, toying with the reins. Zharu pawed at the dirt, eyeing the grinning madman beside her.

The crowd pulled away from him, from the skewered fruit, all of them nervous. Even his warriors, though they at least pretended to be moving themselves and their mounts for their own reasons.

Link snickered at their audience and trotted over to collect his latest victim. He scooped it up, squeezing the rind a bit as he pulled the dagger out so the juice would squirt one of the Hylian knights too busy gawking at him to get out of range. He licked the blade clean, eyeing his audience.

If they but engaged their reason for two minutes they would see his perverted delight in their fear and disgust. They would see how he toys with their strings, how he invites them to attack and give him an excuse to fight.

Link grinned, tucking the more-or-less clean dagger into its sheath. He bit into the dusty, oozing fruit, eating it rind and all, letting the juice run down his bloody chin as he stalked back to his master’s side.

The Hylians fell silent. Even the foolish officer with the white plumed helmet stared at the madman in dumbfounded horror.

“A good coursing hound needs to be worked," drawled Ganondorf in Hylian, pinning the officer under his gaze. “Challenged, to keep him in condition. His vigor harnessed and put to purpose, disciplined and trained. An idle hound craves correction, and will invent any number of little vices to occupy his stagnant energy if he does not get it. A beast designed for hunting grows quickly bored with the kind of easy journey you or I might enjoy.”

“You can’t treat a man like that. Criminal or not. This is a civilized country. You can’t just keep him in conditions fit for dogs," stammered the officer.

“Oh?” Ganondorf crossed his wrists over the high pommel of his war saddle, casually menacing the man as Zharu followed the lightest touch of his knee. She enjoyed looming over these idiot Hylians almost as much as he did.

“My lord I - look, he may be a traitor to the crown, he maybe even broke some kind of law in your country,” stammered the officer, looking back and forth between them. “But he is still a man, not an animal.”

Ganondorf raised a brow. “Are you sure?”

Link snorted, munching noisily on his dirty bloodlime.

The officer swallowed hard, color draining from his face.

“Have you chanced to look at him recently? And I do mean look, little softland soldier. Look at this wild golden creature and tell me he belongs to a world of walled cities and gentle arts. Poetry and law and dancing and manners."

“It’s barbaric,” said the officer, his voice strained, his horse sidling and on the edge of panic.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, sitting upright though his spine screamed in protest.

He wanted a bath. He wanted oiled hands untangling the knots in his flesh. He wanted to sleep for a week in shadow and silence. He wanted to eat tender meat that wasn’t half burned, fresh wintermelon, and crisp spiceherb salad. He wanted to stand above the vast glass eye at the top of the Dragon Stairs with honeyglass dissolving on his tongue and weave the wandering fire into patterns of his own design for no other purpose than to do it.

Ganondorf gestured toward the unhappy black mare.

Link bowed, wedged the rest of the bloodlime in his teeth, and reclaimed his mount. Once under his hand, she obeyed, though anyone could see what she wanted was to bolt.

“Such a curious word. Barbaric. Yet how else is a civilized man to encompass that which is strange and wild and ferocious? It is a fair name for him,” drawled Ganondorf. “Yet you also use this word for my benevolence in bringing a barbarian such as him into my house, feeding and sheltering him, healing his wounds and giving him work suited to his temper. Perhaps I have not applied sufficient care to my study of your tongue. I should rather have assigned this word to the custom of putting swords in the hands of children and teaching them to slay their yearmates for the sake of what name should be assigned to a rock and who should graze their sheep beside it. What word is most fitting for that, Captain Frederick Johannes of Hyrule? What do you tell the spirit of your son on his name-day?”

The man opened his mouth and closed it again without any words coming out.

Link brought his horse alongside his master’s, eating the last bits of bloodlime and licking the juice from his bloody fingers.

Captain Frederick Johannes saluted.

Ganondorf dismissed him with a negligent wave of his hand.

Another thread in the rope with which I will tame this green country. Blessed Sands these people are disgusting.

Chapter Text

Ethereal flecks of violently turquoise lemures floated through the early morning fog. Dew gathered on crabapple blossoms, and rabbits cowered in their burrows as a thousand warriors and two hundred servants and twenty five hundred horses dragged themselves up from the desolate murk of Aldor valley.

Ganondorf walked Zharu along the lee of the vast granite-studded hill dividing Aldor from Elba - and for the next forty eight hours screening his army from the sight of the provincial garrison and any mage-gifted watchers in Hyrule Castle some forty five leagues south by southeast.

Had any of the northwest garrisons hosted royal knights, trained and equipped to detect active magic and neutralize spies and insurgents, the advance could never have moved so swiftly or with so little bloodshed. So far, fortune favored him - but maintaining the semblance of a diplomatic mission while crossing the Irch Plains carried an altogether different class of risk.

Pity I’m too exhausted to enjoy it properly. Ganondorf trailed a thread of magic through the nascent camp below, measuring the mood of the army, the condition of the trap spells on the tribute arms, the health of the ‘captive rebels’.

All is well. What a word for it. Ganondorf snorted at the irony, reminding Zharu to pick up her feathered feet a little more crisply. It was important anyone observing believe that even a month and more out of Karakut he still rode easily and at leisure. That he led his horse to a little stand of gnarled and forgotten cherry trees solely to spoil her.

Of course, the lemures will know differently, and Leilani might guess. But neither of them stands to gain anything in the telling. The fog offered enough of a veil that he could use a pinch of magic to render the dismount far less painful than last time. Zharu snorted and shook her head at him, amused at her master’s expense. He cursed her softly and rubbed her velvet nose as he dug through his pocket for a barleycake.

She repaid his generosity by trying to knock him off his feet to get the treat faster. He laid out a ration of oats, laughing to himself as he stripped her tack and rubbed her down. His current servants - and petitioners - would have fussed and fretted to see the Great Ganondorf tending menial chores, but Zharu had ever been impatient with strangers. Anyways, he liked the work.

He lingered in the grove long after he finished, listening to Zharu eat and grumble about the shocking lack of clover in her breakfast. He leaned against a tree to watch the tiny green and blue bottle-lamps spark to life in the foggy camp below. He would give the Hylians another hour to fall asleep. Then he would cast an encouraging little dream spell. Then he would descend among his warriors and tend another dozen chores.

If I could at least bathe first - but I can’t. And they’ve all got the experience to know that when they pestered Leilani for an appointment, so they clearly prefer a coarse fuck on the eve of battle. It is what it is, and that’s the end of it.

Ganondorf dug a flask of apple moonshine from a pocket of his no-longer-quite-so-new swallowtail brigandine. He hadn’t asked for any pockets, and Isadora’s artisans hasn’t mentioned them when they proposed the design, but it was a clever little luxury even if the better half of the garment did egregiously violate tradition.

Mother of Sands, let even one of them offer me a deep oasis. And let one prove both thorn-bearing and easy tempered. I will gladly bear a little discomfort now to find some discreet and pleasurable company for the weeks ahead.

Ganondorf blunted the sharp edges of his annoyance on stolen moonshine. “It is well you do not need to hunt for your breakfast, as you’ve no doubt flushed every rabbit for two leagues.”

Link snorted in derision, but lightened his step. Some.

“You can move with better grace than that ,” grumbled Ganondorf, lifting the flask again. He did not turn to watch the man approach.

Link paused.

Ganondorf heard the whisper of steel on oiled sheepskin. He did not turn.

Thup thup thup. Three daggers pierced the dirt at his feet. It was strange - the man avoided speech more often than not, but after two months in close company Ganondorf knew exactly what that meant. There is a proverb about wishes.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, licking moonshine sting from his lips. I’m well aware what you’re capable of when you want to be.

Link huffed in irritation, and his golden armor chimed as he folded his arms. Well, get on with it.

Ganondorf watched the shadows of the army below. “There is a petition.”

Link offered no particular reaction, remaining in parade rest behind him and to his left. Ganondorf knew better than to expect looking at the man would give him any better idea of his opinion. When Link wanted to be opaque, nothing short of intimate spiritwork would draw him out.

And I’m not fool enough to do that again if I can avoid it. Ganondorf held out the flask.

Link sighed, and moved close enough to reach for it.

Ganondorf pulled it back as soon as the man entered his line of sight. “It’s an offer, not a command.”

Link rolled his eyes and reached for the flask.

“The distinction is important,” said Gan, pulling it away again and casting him a sidelong glance.

Link merely squared his shoulders and stared up at him, his beautiful blue eyes cold and remote.

“Sa’ikhusa,” muttered Ganondorf, lifting the flask for another sip. The moonshine laid hot and sweet and sharp on the tongue, straightforward and strong. Strange that his mad champion, who was himself best defined as a chaotic cipher, should prefer a poison with so little nuance. “Her name is Padda. She’s varan , in mourning. She’s an archer of the Davayu clan.”

Link tipped his chin, ears canted askew in sardonic query.

“You’ve met her?”

Link shook his head.

“Ah,” said Gan, looking at the flask in his hands. He couldn’t say he liked the taste of the stuff, but it always seemed to smooth out after the first bite. “She offers you the opportunity to change that.”

Link glanced toward the camp below, frowning ever so subtly. “She want the man or the wolf?”

“You’d have to ask her,” said Gan, a little surprised by his swift assessment.

Link flicked his gaze to the flask, then his master’s face, eyes narrowed. “Is that a command?”

Gan raised a brow.  “Do you want it to be?”

Link studied him in silence for a long moment, his expression fixed in the dispassionate mask he wore most often. “She ask before or after the lime?”

“After,” said Gan, watching for even a flicker of emotion in those impossible eyes.

Link nodded, curt and cold. “Wolf then. When?”

Gan curled his lip in distaste, pouring another measure of apple-flavored poison onto his tongue to chase the bitterness away.

Link tipped his head the other way, watching. “Do you want me to taste her for you?”

Gan shrugged. “She is a veteran archer with twelve years of loyal service. I am not concerned about these idiot Hylians gaining any particular influence on her.”

Link shook his head, moving a half step closer, eyes fixed on his. “Do you want me to taste her for you?”

“What do you want from me little hero? The petition was brought, accept it or don’t.”

“Are - are you jealous -?”

Gan made a rude noise, and lifted the flask again. “Don’t be stupid. I am King .”

Link advanced another half step. “A king who needs half a bottle of applejack to speak to a slave?”

“Don’t flatter yourself little hero. Make your choice and get back to work,” growled Ganondorf.

The madman licked his delicate lips, speaking low and light. “And what work does this king wish of me?”

“I didn’t have D- my servant fetch you so I could fuck you. Answer the damn question. You want her or not?”

“Do you want me to?”

Gan pushed away from the tree, looming over the madman.

Link held his ground.

Gan bowed over him to growl mere inches from his elegant pale ear. “I. Don’t. Care .”

Link uttered not the smallest sound as Gan shoved the half empty flask into his hands. Said nothing as Gan stalked past him. Did not follow as Gan descended through the haunted fog.



- o - O - o -


Cries of alarm and the blatting sour discord of Hylian horns interrupted him mid-stride during the third petition. He thrust the woman away, drawing his twin swords as he loosed a crude seeking spell. She did not waste time with fuss or questions, but scrambled for her own weapon and fell in beside him at once.

The perimeter wards remained unbroken. The watch patrol moved exactly where they should. No fresh miasma of bitter death poisoned the fog. The lemures danced on, neither more nor less interested in thwarting his wards to make mischief for the iron-bearing army in their midst than they were an hour ago.

Report-! Ganondorf wrapped himself and his petitioner-turned-guard in shadows, pivoting towards the disturbance at the south end of camp

A moment Sun’s Ray-

Ganondorf swore, and stole Dashil’s eyes long enough to confirm she was in fact near the heart of the melee, desperately trying to fend off four Hylian soldiers and divide Ashai from whoever she had pinned under her without accidentally killing anyone.

Is that Maike beside her?

Yes my King - forgive me - these Hylians won’t get out of the damn way-

Ganondorf climbed into the air to hasten his path, pulling his spirit back from his servant and sparing a moment to tug his brigandine more or less back into order. A few of the Hylians below him screamed and swore when he passed them. Few had seen him cast any obvious magic, and he’d planned to keep it that way. At least until they encountered a garrison command that couldn’t be persuaded by smooth words and chained rebels and a flag of truce.

The melee was spreading like wildfire, warriors and soldiers, lancers and archers, servants and squires all trading blows and obscenities over whatever insult began the thing.

“Enough-!” Ganondorf bellowed, dropping heavily into the first clear ground that offered near the fray.

Most of his warriors broke off their violence at that, though no few of them kept hold on their opponents. The Hylian knights ignored him entirely - the red shards whirled and whispered, as if he wasn’t already tempted to lay his Will over their chaos.

“I said enough. Are you spoiled children or are you blooded warriors? The law is not yours to weave and neither is judgement under it,” he thundered, rigidly holding his magic down to nothing. None of the darknut are involved. Or even watching. Ashai and Maike’s victim must not be-

Not the word I’d use for him, snapped Dashil.

Goddamnit . “Move or be moved, softlanders. Have you no discipline in Hyrule? Will you violate the sacred laws of parley and bear the deaths of hundreds of thousands of your countrymen on your soul over a cup of wine and an ill word?”

That stilled the crowd as if they had each and every one of them been struck by freezestone. Ganondorf summoned a shield of air and lacework lightning to shove petrified Hylians and shamefaced warriors out of his way. Only after they moved did they notice his naked blades, as if the brawl had overshadowed their eyes and wits together. A rush of noise rippled out from the path he carved, and some Hylian in the crowd blatted out a summoning pattern on his brass horn. Wherever the wayward, ignorant Hylian captains had been, they would surely make a nuisance of themselves now.

Ganondorf forced himself to relax his grip on his swords. Forced himself to measure his stride deliberate and slow. Swept his gaze over the crowd as he moved, using no more than a tiny crumb of seeking magic to feel for the resonance of any other interfering mage.

He found feverish heat where there should be none.

He found frost on steel.

You will not tamper with my design! I am your King! You will obey me in this and you will confine yourselves to your proper place. Ganondorf forced his mind to needle-fine focus, siphoning power from his seething rage, from the dancing red shards, winding it all into the gleaming jasper stones of his serpent crown until it burned. “Unhand my servant. Now .”

The Hylian soldiers restraining Dashil met his eye, trembling in abject terror. She pulled free of them at last, leaving behind her heavy black sword. In two strides she had Ashai in one fist and Maike in the other. She leveraged every ounce of her enchanted strength to toss them at his feet, bloodied and wild-eyed.

Ganondorf tucked bright steel under each stubborn chin, wrestling with the temptation to eliminate the problem now and to hell with Hylian opinions. The demonstone whispered a thousand possibilities and punishments, few of them in any way subtle.

“Don’t,” rasped Link.

Because of course he was at the middle of it all.

Ganondorf held the silence, held his warriors at his mercy, held the attention of a hundred anxious spirits and a thousand increasingly hostile lemures. Report. Now.

Dashil bowed again, winding her fist in Link’s black wool tunic and gold-washed chainmaile gorget. She scruffed him like an unruly storehouse kitten, revealing the woman trapped beneath him.

Padda.

Dashil hoisted Link into the air at arm’s length, his dusty boots dangling well off the ground. He coughed, and struggled to catch her wrist to give himself some point of leverage, and he laughed like a mad thing.

He asked me to point her out. Forgive me, Sun’s Ray, I thought it was on your orders. We were acquainted, before. I remembered she once had a taste for that kind of - ah - wrestling - so I let him move ahead alone once he had her scent.

Ganondorf absorbed the flicker of memory in her spirit - how Link had prowled through camp like a highland wolfos, how he’d circled his prey without a word, how he’d held her eye as he unsheathed his golden sword and thrust it into the rocky slope at the edge of the firelight.

The sword was nowhere in sight. The embers of the tiny camp fire lay scattered in the dirt amid shards of broken pottery and the ragged shreds of sprigged purple veils. Padda herself remained prone in the dirt, half naked. She groaned and clawed back her disheveled hair with bloody hands. A swift glance showed her spirit whole and unspotted by any serious injury, though she bore a shivering tarnished webwork of doubt and confusion and conflicted desire.

There is a proverb about wishes. Ganondorf pulled his blades back.

“Stop,” rasped Link - not in the language of the desert or that of green Hyrule, but in the fell immortal tongue of demonkin.

Ganondorf set aside the distraction, gesturing for the women to bow in the bloody dirt in full obeisance. To his surprise, Ashai obeyed faster than Maike.

Link growled something that might have been a curse, choking and coughing with tunic and gorget pressing against his tender white throat. He struggled to free himself from Dashil in vain - in this form she would not tire of his weight for some hours yet.

“By the law of the Sands you have brought dishonor to the Name you bear. You have disobeyed a direct order from your King and commander and interfered with my servants and misled these men to violate the commands of their superiors and attempted to incite rebellion among my loyal warriors. By the laws of the People I should strike your heads from your miserable necks and return your Name to the Sands,” said Ganondorf, wrapping his tongue in electric sorcery to denounce them in two languages at once, pitched low to carry through the heavy fog he’d woven to veil their crossing of Aldor Valley in the middle of a moonless night.

Two of the Hylian officers arrived, still settling belts and tabards into order. The soldier holding Dashil’s sword abruptly decided he did not want to hold it any longer. The other four saluted their groggy commanders and all began babbling at once.

“Enough,” bellowed Captain Frederick Johannes over the noise, skidding and sprinting down the rocky slope. Still in full uniform. Carrying a small brass horn of some kind. And a mirrored buckler. “Have none of you ears? I gave orders that no one is to enter the thieves’ ranks in camp for any reason. Can a man not take a piss without you dogs trying to ogle some foreign tits? Get back to your units!”

Some of the Hylians broke away with shamefaced looks and muttered yessirs . The four who were trying to explain themselves to their immediate commanders merely talked louder and faster, as if pouring out their excuses before the ranking idiot arrived would somehow help them.

Ganondorf tried to wring some thin amusement from the lack of discipline among the enemy. He tried to draw satisfaction from Ashai’s groveling. He tried to ignore the nagging pushing nibbling red shards.

One of the lesser officers swore, interrupting the babble of excuses. “The hell you think you were doing touching a phantom knight?”

“Do you want to be witched?” added the other.

“You have no ground to stand on, either of you,” shouted Captain Frederick Johannes as he finally made his way to the conflict. “You were entrusted to lead these men. Every trespass of theirs is yours. All seven of you, on your knees before I strip you all of your blues and let the thieves take you.”

Ganondorf met the man’s eye as he stomped into the middle of everything, noting his reddened face - probably from hurrying - and his puffy eyes - definitely not from answering the alarm - and the hint of rotgut fumes rolling off his skin.

“No offense to your lordship,” he added quickly.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, rolling his wrists and settling the wedged tip of each sword directly on wayward brown flesh.

He tried to persuade himself that Maike’s unexpected defiance and Ashai’s explosive violence were anomalies. That the Rovas’ meddling wisp minions seized on and fueled their private resentments beyond mortal limits. That one bloody morning did not an omen make.

Captain Frederick Johannes swore, and paced, and offered his hand to Padda as if she couldn’t rise under her own power. He averted his eyes from her bare skin as if it brought him shame to see her. He unclasped his heavy blue cavalry cloak to drape awkwardly around Padda’s bare shoulders, and resumed blistering his men with curses.

Ganondorf watched, and waited, and measured the mood of the army around them. Most did not seem to know how the fight began, but found themselves drawn to it only when the foolish Hylian soldiers decided they should keep Dashil from arresting the violence of Maike and Ashai. There could be no doubt whatever that the common fighters saw Link as an outcast and criminal.

It’s not just for his savagery, Sun’s Ray. They hate him because they think he’s some kind of highborn, maybe even a royal bastard, but mostly because he kneels to you.

Ganondorf flicked a glance toward Link, noticing the golden wolf-form now shimmering in and out of focus as he continued his fruitless struggle against his impassive handler.

But also for bowing under you.

Enough.

Dashil snickered.

“Save your wind for cooling your tea, Captain. You insult me with your foolish demands,” growled Ganondorf. His throat burned with magic, but it was important that every spirit on this hill hear him in their mother’s tongue. “You burden my army with this escort of undisciplined curs as if my warriors were so weak they could not defend themselves, as if I had not just saved your country from the treasonous plots of the demonblooded Baroness Karakut and her Darknut minions. And by the same measure you would whip your men for failing to curb their men, you dishonor your gods with this cowardly violation of the sacred flag of truce.”

Captain Johannes Frederick turned a fascinating shade of red-violet. “Your Highness. With all due respect, I know my countrymen and you do not. No soldier nor knight of Hyrule would look on a legion of bandits and stay their hand because you claim to bring tribute to our king without the surety of a Hylian escort, howsoever honorable your intent. If it is an insult that I wish to preserve your warriors from Hylian arrows and prevent the war from blazing afresh, then I will insult you every step of the way to Hyrule Castle.”

Ganondorf smirked. Oh you poor foolish man. I am already your king in every way that matters.

He wove a single Word on his tongue, and let it roll into the world as two pieces, one for each miserable wretch at his feet. The coils of magic twisted down the bright steel blades to flower painfully upon their skin, burning the mark of exile on the back of their necks. He whisked their jewels and armor and honor knives away into the ether, leaving them with only their spirit gems and their clothing.

“Chain these criminals with the other traitors,” he bellowed, returning his swords to their sheaths. “Everyone else will return to their post. Else I will take your idleness to mean you are ready to march on.”

Steel chimed and clattered as the crowd moved to obey.

Ganondorf watched his warriors drag Ashai and Maike away to be chained beside the Darknut, and he watched the Hylian idiots reprimand their underlings and drive them back to their little camps. Padda kept the borrowed cloak, but she hunted down and brought Link’s golden sword to him without needing the order. She avoided his gaze, bowing with proper humility, and would have retreated - but his petitioner-turned-guard stopped her.

No doubt his warriors all had opinions about what they thought they’d seen happen. Not that another’s petition was any of their concern, nor had they rights to question the orders he did or did not choose to give his servants.

Link finally gave up on trying to free himself from Dashil’s grasp, settling for a tenuous hold on his own gorget to buy himself a little more wind.

“Who dangles meat before a wolfos must be prepared to feed him,” said Ganondorf, frowning over nicks spoiling the edge of the golden blade.

“I did not see Ashai near my tent, Sun’s Ray, and certainly did not expect Maike to forget that too many trainers will only confuse the beast,” said Padda, shaking her head.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf. “ Beasts are not tamed with soft smiles and gentle hands and sweet words.”

Padda sighed, clutching the borrowed cloak tighter. “The wolfos that is driven from his pack hungers for more than his hunting provides, and rewards generosity with loyal service.”

Ganondorf raised a brow, turning his eye to Link. “Nonetheless, to handle a feral predator in rut calls for proper tools.”

Dashil snickered, and made an obscene joke in full knowledge that he would bind her in silence for it.

Padda bowed again. “As you say, O my King.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, pulling steel and gold through the ether to fashion a new muzzle for the man, modeled after the pierced leather restraints Hylians often used with hunting dogs who savaged the prey they were supposed to retrieve.

Link made no attempt to speak, his blue eyes cold and unreadable as Ganondorf revoked his freedom to use his tongue in any respect. He chained the man’s hands through a ring forged near the waist of his golden cuirass - no doubt intended for securing cloak or sash - and ordered Dashil to release him.

Predictably, she obeyed by simply opening her hand and letting the earth pull him to the dust. He sprawled between Padda and his master, bloody and coughing, but not in the least way cowed.

“We ride southeast at twilight,” rumbled Ganondorf, tugging his brigantine straight and attempting unsuccessfully to dredge up any measurable degree of interest in returning to his own duties. It was possible Elba garrison would challenge them tomorrow. It was possible the North Castletown garrison would see them in the afternoon and send a division to stop the advance. It was possible they would face Royal Knights tomorrow. It was possible the entire diplomatic mask would be ripped away and they would need to fall back to Drena.

By the law, his warriors had every right to petition him for blessings, that their spiritroads be bright and strong if the gods willed that they cross the veil tomorrow. He despised their fear of defeat, but he could not fault their practical assessment of the field. They were all ten-year veterans. They understood the consequence of three thousand heavy horse and four thousand infantry, no matter how bright each individual golden thread in his army.

But victory was always the greatest censure - and he would win. At any cost.

Ganondorf signaled his petitioner to return to her tent ahead of him, growling a final warning over his shoulder. “I expect you both to report to your place in the column ready to fight before the sun touches the western cliffs. What you choose to do with the hours between is of no significance to me so long as the discipline of this camp is not disturbed a second time. Test me at your peril.”

Chapter Text

Sunset painted the fog behind them in rose-gold glory. Green-gold twilight bloomed around them as the long ribbon of the army snaked across the northern ridges of Elba, folding into a tight wedge wherever the slope gentled. With every chain of land behind them, Ganondorf unraveled another thread of mist. The soft winds of a moonless blue-purple night did the rest.

He gave the order for silence, and for every warrior to dismount after they crossed the lazy snowmelt stream dividing Elba and lower Aldor from the open fields of Irch. As much as he craved a decisive victory before summer solstice, a little sacrifice of speed now, while they still held uncontested ground, would ensure his warriors could respond with supple, swift grace if in fact the garrison commander was fool enough to attack.

Bellosa did not argue, for once.

Ganondorf spent half the power of a minor malachite reservoir to restore Zharu’s vigor, dividing the rest between Link and his horse, and Leilani and hers. Every rod closer to the enemy was a rod further from a defensible position. Every league forward was that many more horses they would lose if the garrison managed to push them back.

The night unfurled without event or contest, or even much noise in the ranks. Possibly they were too tired to complain. Possibly they were focused on the challenge of a starlit march. Possibly some number of them were properly ashamed of getting caught brawling over whether or not the traitors should be allowed to beat his champion for lewd advances on Padda.

Not that it mattered.

They obeyed, and the Hylians kept their tongues in their heads, and that was enough for one night.

Except dawn rose brighter than it ought.

At first he thought the river might have flooded the southern part of Irch. Ganondorf nudged Zharu into an easy lope to get a better line of sight without magic. Link vaulted into the saddle to follow, ignoring the order to hold his position on the left flank.

Ganondorf swore when he saw the distant blue banners rising above the glittering expanse that absolutely was not the river. He pulled Zharu into a tight double-loop circuit ahead of the legions, spinning and discarding a hundred possible strategies. None were enough for twenty thousand heavy infantry and gods only knew how many light horse.

Link pulled alongside of one loop and stopped, sitting back in the saddle and stretching. Like this was a leisurely outing instead of a tactical disaster. His cold blue eyes surveyed the field. He tipped his head and shrugged, tucking his thumbs in his swordbelt with a grunt of clear annoyance. For as much as he hungered for pain and punishment, he made his displeasure clear every time Ganondorf restricted his reach outside of bedgames.

“Three divisions. They’ve known for weeks ,” growled Ganondorf.

Link made a somewhat muffled but nonetheless rude noise.

Ganondorf glanced back at his legions - if he hesitated much longer their certainty would begin to erode. He turned toward the enemy, asking Zharu to indulge him in a little piaffe. “All that matters is forward.”

Link’s mare surged ahead of them without a hand on the rein, dancing broadside in their path. The man himself raised a gloved hand. Zharu, four-footed traitor that she was, planted her feathered hooves and tucked her velvety nose into his palm.

Ganondorf growled in warning.

Link held his eye with about as much fear as usual. Which is to say, none.

“I will not be turned aside by you or anyone,” snarled Ganondorf. “I am your King. Stand aside.”

Link rolled his eyes. Don’t be stupid. He made a small, incomprehensible gesture with his more-or-less free hand, jerked his thumb in the direction of the enemy, then mimed pleasuring himself.

Ganondorf frowned. He could not afford the expense of taking the muzzle away when every crumb of magic might make a difference in how the next hour played out. Nor could he afford to entrust his tiny army to Link’s analysis. The center must advance within fifty yards for scatter bait to work. I can mire the pursuit with something inexpensive… “You are a magnificent warrior in single combat, but you are not a tactician. Return to your position and await my signal to break to the northeast. You will ride directly for Elba garrison. Pull ahead of the flanking wedge and put your entire twisted spirit into persuading the gatesmen you are trying to help the royalist Darknut escape. My officers will know their part.”

Link groaned, releasing Zharu and gesturing rudely. His mare danced forward, tucking her head and apparently resisting the turn. Link never encountered the slightest difficulty with horses. He picked up the reins, making a great show of how faithfully he was trying to persuade the mare to follow orders - all while pulling a good thirty yards forward.

Ganondorf swore when at the apex of the absurdly wide turn she reared and bolted directly south. In perfect racing form. Zharu would never be able to catch her without an absurd expense of power. “You deceitful little shit . I should have made you keep Isadora’s stubby little pony. See if I ever give you presents again, you brat. Aieko Roc i va’kesh Rahalin i va’chalut Ramal - han!



- o - O - o -


Captain Frederick Johannes argued that two of his subordinates should join the negotiating party. Roc Bellosa sneered about the probability that without officers to curb them, his common soldiers would lose whatever little wits they owned when the opposing army happily made pincushions of all of them. Leilani took the opportunity to quote Bellosa herself with respect to cowardice.

Ganondorf graciously amended his orders and sent Bellosa back to the legions to manage the probable retreat - where, in fact, he’d wanted her all along. He resolved privately to find another lapis ornament for Leilani if she survived this, and considered preserving her spirit in his service for a time if she didn’t.

Captain Frederick Johannes paled, and surrendered to Ganondorf’s design.

He chose two fireflower section leaders and two additional Elite besides Dashil, assigning one of each to guard the Hylian and the other to Leilani, rounding out the party of eight to at least nod in the general direction of a sufficiently royal escort. His own little army mounted up and arranged themselves in an inverse wedge uphill as Ganondorf turned Zharu to follow his mad champion across the distressingly open, gentle slope of Irch Plain.

Link pulled up a spear’s throw from the enemy, fist raised. Ripples moved through the shining host ahead. He gestured urgently, dancing his mount in tight double loops. Horns blatted.

At least they haven’t skewered him yet. Ganondorf gathered a thread of power, waiting for the right moment to signal the legions to break.

Banners jostled and the sun on thousands of steel helms mocked him - but an open column opened among the enemy below.

Ganondorf and his seven companions loped ever closer to the probable range of their archers.

Horns again. The front lines opened, and nine riders trotted through in a column two abreast, with the odd one in the middle.

Link nudged his mount into a wide turn, cutting in behind the advance party as the ranks closed again. The nine rearranged themselves into a little wedge of five ahead of the More Important Asshole, the remaining four trailing behind the wedge to either flank, one on each side fitting their lances into the stirrup boot so the blue and gold banners tied below the deadly point would trail in the wind. The two knights ahead of them rode with their bows in hand and reins looped on the saddlehorns, trusting their mounts far more than Hylians usually would.

A drum command among the enemy: ready archers.

Ganondorf signaled Bellosa to hold position at alert. The glorious, fierce cry of his army chanting the ritual salute followed them into the killing field.

To his amusement, Link continued his looping arcs behind the advance party, for all the world like he was herding the nine heavily armored knights forward.

Ganondorf raised his fist to halt his own escort a third of the way under the deadly arc, taking point himself in rebuke of the cowardice of Enemy Asshole. Dashil dismounted at his right hand, resting the curved end of her massive black blade in the dirt. Leilani sat easily and without needing the order for it opposite a gap at his left, sending a clear message to all about where Link belonged.

Ganondorf leaned upon his crossed wrists over the high curved pommel of his saddle, reins loose in his left hand. Zharu snorted and bent her head to graze.

The other horses were too nervous to follow the lead mare in this, but that didn’t matter. His contempt for the might of Hyrule was clear enough already.

The enemy mounts were, amusingly, even more nervous. Then again, Link kept his fine black mare cantering back and forth behind them, and with every loop they fought their riders more, sidling towards center as if they began to regard Link as the herding dog he mimicked.

Ganondorf waited.

The nine Hylians stopped thirty yards away.

Ganondorf waited.

The knight at point bellowed. “You trespass upon sacred Hyrule. Surrender your arms and turn back, and we will let you keep your lives.”

Ganondorf snorted, raising his voice to carry in perfect, crisp Hylian. “Foolish man. We bring not contest but tribute for the King of Hyrule.”

The lead knight glanced back at the Ranking Asshole, who gestured vaguely and may have spoken. The knight nudged his horse forward. “Accepted. Unload it and leave it with your weapons when you withdraw. You may keep bows and short knives for hunting. In the future leave it with a border guard.”

Ganondorf made a rude noise and cast a glance at Captain Frederick Johannes. “Your countrymen are quite stupid.”

“Our soldiers follow orders, not politics. Pray to your gods they have a diplomat with them, my lord.” He spoke evenly and did not turn his eyes from the opposing army for a moment.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, revising his estimation of the man’s tactical intelligence. He turned back to the enemy. “And allow petty footpads to steal my gifts? No, your soft green country is far too unstable to allow it.”

“Hyrule’s affairs are her own,” snapped the knight, without reference to the Superior Asshole.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf with a wide grin. They dance directly into my trap! “Go speak with these shining fools, Captain Frederick Johannes, and tell them of the Kharakut rebellion. Ask if any treaty came of this winter’s summit, and if the Rito or forest people bothered to even attend. Ask how many died in blood feud last year alone, and ask if Labrynna or Holodrum dare entrust their merchants to your roads this spring. Tell them what you have seen of the strength and discipline of my golden sisters, and their obedience in the face of repeated provocation and attempted assault from your men.”

Captain Frederick Johannes swore a blistering oath, and went.

Ganondorf waited.

It was not actually in any way comfortable to slouch forward in the saddle. Much less to do so while Zharu was busy decimating every bit of new spring grass she could reach. Nonetheless, it was important the Hylians see how very little effect their hostility and numbers had upon him.

His casual attitude also incidentally strengthened the confidence of his own people, encouraging them to continue to trust that he , not the Hylians, controlled the entire encounter.

The Hylians talked. A lot. They also seemed to argue. Captain Johannes Frederick did not return.

But.

The Asshole at the center of the wedge nudged his horse forward, waving his men aside over their obvious objections.

Ganondorf whistled, short and sharp and shrill, calling Link to heel.

The madman pulled his mare up short, demanding she pivot uphill. She reared, fighting his demand. Link won. They charged right up through the center of the Hylian wedge, chasing the leader and throwing the little party into disarray as all the other horses tried to scatter.

To every watching eye like a faithful dog cuts a beast from the herd for his master. Ganondorf wanted to laugh to see how his champion embellished on his orders. They could all be dead in two minutes, and still the man held to his chosen role as the favorite - if somewhat headstrong - working hound.

The Important Hylian Asshole ignored Link’s pursuit. His horse fought his orders to trot uphill, unnerved by Link’s weaving back and forth behind him. The man stopped ten feet away. His horse made very clear he would rather run away from Link and his spirited mare.

Ganondorf decided he was disinclined to shout anymore. He beckoned the man closer, amused that the nervous escort immediately tried to dissuade their commander.

The Asshole walked his horse closer.

Zharu lifted her great head, staring down the stranger.

The horse tried again to rear and bolt, walleyed and foaming at being trapped between hound and master.

“Enough bullshit,” snapped the man, his voice hard. He pushed up his tooled visor, scrubbing sweat from his stubble. His sharp green eyes held no fear as he studied his opponent, and his armor had enough dents and gouges to proclaim him a battlefield officer rather than a theoretical one. “You proved you’ve balls, now what are you really after?”

“We were en route to visit a dear friend at Elba Garrison. Sir Garrett of Ordon is still among the living I hope? I have so looked forward to presenting him with a fresh challenger,” drawled Ganondorf.

“Garrison’s that way,” said the man, jerking his chin to the northeast.

“Indeed. But marching uphill is so tedious. We rather thought to go around,” said Ganondorf lightly, drawing a little whorl with one finger as Zharu lost interest in bullying the man’s poor horse and returned to her breakfast. “And of course any moderately difficult terrain is another opportunity the rebels will use to attempt escape. Again. It is dreadfully tiresome.”

“Your clever story may have fooled a hundred idiot provincial captains, but if you hold your tribeswomen’s lives at any value, you would be wiser not to piss me off young man.”

Ganondorf raised a brow, making an open gesture with his fingers. “You have caught me out, little softlander. I do want something in exchange for this mountain rebellion I so graciously cleaned up for you. Your king has something of mine. Several little somethings, in fact.”

“You do look impressively healthy for a man I saw in prison two days ago,” said the Important Hylian Asshole.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, sitting upright again. He let his eyes wander over the field while his spine rearranged itself in proper order. “About that.”

The Hylian snorted, waiting, signaling his men to hold.

Ganondorf whistled to Link again, waiting for him to pull out of another turn and take his place at his master’s left hand. When he and his sweaty mare were still at last, he continued in his best courtly Hylian. “You will of course accept my apologies for any inconvenience the recent little - unpleasantness - in my country may have caused you. If your king is not interested in the expense of imprisoning and interrogating these Darknut rebels, I will happily execute them in his name, but you will release the traitors to my hand and law before Lightsday next.”

“Hyrule is not interested in the succession of savage chieftains,” said the man, holding up his hand to forestall objection as if he spoke to a commoner and not a king. “You will advance no further. You will give these alleged conspirators into the hands of my men. You will surrender your armaments. You will write or dictate as necessary a letter of formal petition for client status for your tribe. You will await word from Castle and Crown. Peacefully. Without stealing so much as a cucco feather. Do I make myself clear?”

Ganondorf studied him in the quiet morning light, impressed that he did not flinch away.

“You will also tell me why that man barks, ” said the Hylian, jabbing a finger in Link’s direction.

Ganondorf smiled. Gotcha. “What man?”

The Hylian frowned.

Ganondorf waited another three beats for him to glance at Link, then followed his gaze. He pretended surprise, laughing at the absurdity. “ Oh , you mean my wolf . Oh dear, you let your eyes fool you again.”

“Don’t push your luck, stranger. Answer the question or release him from your barbaric witchery,” snapped the Hylian.

Ganondorf smiled down at him. “What is your name, little softlander? I generally prefer to hold theological conversations until after breakfast, but you amuse me enough I will allow it.”

The man squinted at him like he expected his opponent would grow horns or turn blue if he just looked hard enough. “Lord Marshal Demetrius Adotyr of Salari.”

“What fascinating names you have in your country,” said Ganondorf with a smile. He ignored Link’s snort of sarcasm. “Although it is always a delicate matter to speak for the gods, dear Marshal, my studies suggest we mortals may do best to assign matters of the soul to sublime Nayru, essential natures to sweet Farore, and perfection of form to glorious Din. Unfortunately I haven’t yet been at leisure to divine which aspect determines the natural voice of a creature. In his case I am inclined to believe Farore’s hand touched him in some fashion, but who is to say? The patterns of the Golden Three are wonderfully mysterious.”

The Hylian scowled. “ Lord Marshal.”

“Tsk. One doesn’t stand on formality and insist on titles among one’s friends. I am sure you did not mean any slight by omitting mine, but intend me to understand you are as interested in peace and prosperity as I. Please, you must feel free to address me simply as Ganondorf, and I shall be well pleased.”

“Marshal is not a name , it is a title ,” growled the man.

Ganondorf laid his hand over his heart and bowed in the saddle. “ Two titles! Astounding. You will forgive me, Demetrius. It is my first opportunity to make an extended journey into your charming country and converse at length with a man of sense and breeding, so you will understand there must be some nuances of your culture I have yet to enjoy.”

The Lord Marshal grunted something that was neither assent nor outright refusal.

Ganondorf nudged Zharu to walk forward and turn two little steps. He leaned in with a confidential tone. “I’m sure you’ve had occasion to hear men are something of a - hm - novelty in my country.”

“I do not care if you’re a lonely orphan, a bloody invert, a degenerate, or a goddamn blue cucco ,” snapped the Lord Marshal, gesturing at Link again. “Release that boy from bondage and any witchery you’ve laid on him, and get on with surrendering your ugly ass, thief .”

Ganondorf held his eye, maintaining a lopsided grin and the low rumbling tone. “You don’t want me to do that, Demetrius.”

“Do not presume anything of me, you baseborn bandit. I don’t know what kind of pathetic conquest you thought you could steal, but you and your women are alive right now by my sufferance and you will bow to Hyrule, willing or not, whole or in pieces. Choose, or I choose for you . I promise you will not like my choice.”

Ganondorf glanced over his shoulder at his wild golden champion. He clicked his tongue and sighed with a calculated degree of regret. “It is a sad truth, but I cannot deny it - man does have the right to choose the manner of his death. I so looked forward to an enduring friendship, and reminiscing on this day with fondness! My wolf does not much like Hylians.”

“He is Hylian you savage idiot,” snarled the Lord Marshal.

Was , perhaps. How is it the song goes?” Ganondorf considered and discarded the idea of singing it for him. Art was not a manly virtue in fair, green Hyrule. “Ah, I believe it was:

Swift as thunderbolts, the wolf came at him,
encouraged, bewitched, hungry.
The Chosen fell back;
the night-goer howled.
He suffered, wrapped in swirling death between them —
a hero, before, the hope of Light, beloved of the goddesses three, now— a defeated ruin. None came to him, helped him — no brave and noble children of Light revived him; they ran for their lives, fled
deep into the wild, pursued by the ravening night-goer— for chaos follows upon the heels of Fear, as Hatred follows Greed. Only one remained, stood miserable, remembering, as a good man must, what virtue should mean.

A beautifully melancholy piece, though it scans better in the original Old Hylian.”

The man snorted in contempt. There could be no doubt a man of high status was familiar with chaos era epic poetry, even if he hadn’t the refinement to appreciate it properly.

Ganondorf snapped his fingers for the form of the thing, adding a pinch more glow to the violet witchfire eyes inside her shadowed helm. Dashil - drag the idiot from his horse. And I mean Link, not the commander.

Pity , she rejoined, exchanging perfect stillness for ponderous motion. She returned her heavy blade to the carrying hooks and clasps forged into her cuirass as she moved to obey. I’d like to see him so arrogant with his guts tumbling all over the bloody field.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf. He wound a tiny thread of power around his fingers just in case he needed to throw a shield over one or both.

Link growled at Dashil, low and guttural and to no effect whatever. She yanked him out of the saddle by the simple expedient of wrapping one fist around his ankle and the other in his chain.

Ganondorf watched the Lord Marshal. He did not need to look to know Link made a show of fighting his handler. That he would try to draw his sword before Dashil even had his manacles unlocked. That in vainly trying to break her grip on his collar he would only delay her releasing him.

Ganondorf’s escort didn’t bother pretending surprise or even interest.

The Lord Marshal maintained an impassive mask of vague annoyance far longer than Ganondorf expected, but even he could not disguise his horror when Link nearly choked himself straining against Dashil’s hold on his collar. The man rested his hand on his sword. “Where did you abduct him from that we may send word to his family?”

“Oh, he came to me, dear Demetrius. Some poor fools sent him to assassinate me,” drawled Ganondorf. “Perhaps it would have become necessary in time to give him a more final mercy, but I confess I was so moved by his poor condition - starved and beaten into obedience, half-dead of exposure and almost rabid - that I felt compelled to take him into my care and make a little trial of taming him.”

Now the Lord Marshal fidgeted under his looming regard. “If it is true he attacked first, you would be within rights to execute him. But civilized people do not chain men like dogs .”

“Indeed, far more refined to put sword and pike in the hands of children and point them towards a war. Your customs weave an elegant example as always,” said Ganondorf with indulgent civility.

“Shut up and unravel the puppet strings you’ve set in him,” snapped the Lord Marshal, scowling down at Link and allowing his horse to sidle. A little. As they turned, Ganondorf saw blood on the man’s spurs. “Whatever barbaric customs you people keep in your miserable desert, you will never bewitch a Hylian mind again, do you understand?”

Ganondorf raised a brow. “The unfortunate madness you see flaring in him is not my doing. He was broken when they sent him at me. Did not Captain Frederick Johannes tell you the sad consequences his men suffered when in ignorance they interfered with his training? He does get overexcited so easily when he scents prey or sights a Hylian man of certain - physique or manner. I assume his fits indicate some resemblance to the men who abused him.”

Link tore free of Dashil’s grip the moment his left hand was free. He drew his bright sword and charged at the Lord Marshal with a beastly snarl. His timing was perfect, his aspect truly feral.

The Lord Marshal’s horse decided he’d had quite enough and reared up, screaming and lashing at the human-shaped wolf with his wicked ironshod hooves.

Link somehow darted under him to slice through breastband and cinch. No amount of cursing or experience will stop the pull of the earth when support is withdrawn, and he circled his prey, working his blade in tight whorls to limber his wrist and shoulder.

The Lord Marshal had the wit to kick free of the stirrups but the high saddlehorn and quilted barding tangled on him. He clung desperately to the reins - his horse tipped his head back in a vain effort to escape the pain. He overbalanced. Man and mount crashed to the dirt.

Ganondorf watched, shaking his head in vague regret, but made no move whatever to curb his mad champion.

The moment the Hylian’s panicked horse rolled off his unlucky rider, he stumbled upright with shrill complaints and bolted back to the safety of his herd.

The Lord Marshal swore and cursed and clawed his way free - only to see Link charging at him again. He tumbled away and staggered to his feet, drawing his own blade too late to counter a low backhand sweep that knocked him to his knees. The eight knights belatedly spurred their mounts forward in their commander’s defense - but curiously, the archers loosed only warning bolts.

Link ignored them all, intent on his prey.

Ganondorf watched. Interfering too soon would undermine all his work. He held fiercely to the fraying reins of his discipline, trying not to think about the consequence of moving too late .

“Call off your hound,” bellowed the lead knight, signaling his men to form an arc around the fight.

“Alas, by the will of Lord Marshal Demetrius Adotyr of Salari, I cannot, for he is no longer mine,” said Ganondorf with a tiny shake of his head. “It is by his desire my servant freed him from my care, though for myself I think it is far too early in the rehabilitation of this golden wolf to reasonably expect him to handle the presence of this many strange Hylian men equitably on his own.”

Link paused when he spoke, retreating a step and circling in third guard. He almost let his opponent hit him, parrying at the last moment as if distracted.

“Stand down you idiot ,” bellowed the Lord Marshal, wasting energy on gesturing with his blade. “ We are on the same goddamned side.”

Link growled and charged at him again, hammering mercilessly at his right shoulder. He made no attempt to challenge the knights surrounding him - but it should have begun to register with them that he was not taking any blows.

The Lord Marshal seemed tolerably competent at defensive bladework, for a highborn. He caught more than half the blows aimed at him, and dodged or deflected half of the rest, but he did not seem aware that Link was toying with him. Tiring him out. Flattering him into complacency. Deliberately hammering at peripheral targets over and over to seed deep injuries even through good steel plate and quilted ring-sewn arming suit.

Fool’s out to get himself killed , said Dashil, standing like an inactive construct, still holding the manacle key.

Indeed. Perhaps I will help him, returned Ganondorf, clearing his throat. “If you have a blessed shielding stone about you, now may be a good time to use it.”

Link pretended to be confused by his voice this time, and let his opponent land a hit to his right shoulder, and a second to his side as he bowed in apparent pain. He made his form sloppy and frantic, glancing back at Ganondorf after every other exchange.

The Lord Marshal weathered another dozen solid hits before he took the bait. He staggered under a particularly wicked kidney strike that turned a long dent into a fissure, and retreated to fumble with the buckles of his gorget. He grasped at his throat, and a tight blue-and-gold wardcrystal sprang into place around him just barely in time to stop Link’s ostensibly wild two-handed leaping thrust.

He would shit himself if the savage attacked for real, sneered Dashil.

Ganondorf clicked his tongue in censure, shaking his head as Link hacked at the ward - he counted three strikes, six, and pulled more power into his fist.

Nine.

Link followed the momentum around, and with a guttural bark he punched the dirt with his off hand.

The blue ward vanished - Ganondorf snapped a golden lattice shield around the Lord Marshal as it failed.

Heat exploded outward.

Link howled in necessarily muffled rage as the inferno rose around him. He slashed at the ward, throwing sparks.

The knights’ horses screamed and reared and plunged and tried to bolt. The knights cursed and shouted - two fell. Ganondorf snapped shields around them also - saving at least one from being trampled by his own beast.

Ganondorf counted nearly two minutes before the flame spell flickered out.

The Lord Marshal stood panting and red-faced, his green eyes pinned in fear as Link continued hammering at the ward with incredible violence.

“Fascinating. He’s only shown his magegift once before,” rumbled Ganondorf, weaving his voice into the pattern of the lattice, so the Lord Marshal would be certain to hear.

The man dared a glance at him.

“Ah - no. I tell a lie,” said Ganondorf, rubbing his chin. He couldn’t help a mou of disgust at the rough and unpleasant texture, and could only hope the man would read it as contemplation. “Twice before. This makes a third. He must really dislike you, Demetrius.”

He pointed a shaking hand at him in desperate judgment. “You’re behind this. You’re pulling his strings. You’ve bewitched him. You must be forcing him.”

“Tsk. I certainly have not . My servants are obedient and efficient and passionless ,” he countered, gesturing at the excellent example of Dashil, who found wicked pleasure in the Hylians’ superstitious aversion to ‘phantom knights’. “Do let me know when you’ve caught your wind again, and I will drop the shield for you.”

The man stared.

The six knights who’d managed to keep their seat finally brought their mounts under control. More or less. Ten yards further from the madman than before.

“You will forgive my intervention, but I felt the shift in the elements and I do so hate watching friends burn alive,” said Ganondorf with a humble little bow.

“Call your damn hound off,” rasped the Lord Marshal.

Ganondorf pretended confusion, and had to silence Dashil because he nearly spoiled it with laughing. “But he isn’t mine anymore. You asked me to free him, so I have.”

Link paused his attack, his brow furrowed, his chest heaving as he struggled to draw enough wind through the muzzle.

“For fuck’s sake just call him off already,” roared the man. “I know you’re behind this somehow you hawk-nosed weasel.”

Ganondorf clicked his tongue in censure and sat back in the saddle. “Shall I take that to mean you do not approve of my shield? Very well, I will drop-”

No ,” cried the Lord Marshal, backing away from Link and raising his sword to fourth guard. “Call him off call him off! I know you can!”

Ganondorf allowed him six more beats of terror, then whistled. Short and sharp and ear-splittingly shrill.

Link froze, then tucked his chin like a hound caught stealing from the hearth, cold blue eyes slewing towards his master.

“Enough,” bellowed Ganondorf. He whistled a lilting phrase: look at me .

Link lowered his blade slowly, eyes flicking between master and prey. Must I?

“I said, enough . He is a friend,” said Ganondorf, dismissing the ward, amused by the Hylian’s yelp of panic.

Link growled.

“Bad boy. Down ,” said Ganondorf sternly.

Link’s brows rose, and he trembled, turning wide blue eyes upon his master. He took a knee. Dropped his sword to the dust like he’d forgotten how to use his fingers. Knelt in square. Bowed his head, glancing furtively through the veiling fringe of his golden hair.

“All the way,” said Ganondorf quietly, amused that this simple display had all the Hylians speechless. “I am disappointed in you. You know better.”

Link whined, glancing at his erstwhile prey. High and nasal and tormented.

“I know, he reminds you of bad things. But this is a different man. A friend. We do not eat friends,” he said gently, gesturing at the ground. “Now. Down .”

Link whined again - but after four long beats of apparent debate, obeyed. He planted his palms flat to the earth and bowed as deeply as his golden segmented cuirass would allow.

“Good boy,” said Ganondorf, nudging Zharu to walk forward and stand over the madman. One feathered hoof in the wrong place would destroy him, but he didn’t move or utter another sound. “You may put your swords away now, gentlemen.”

“You will explain yourself. Later. This afternoon. Return to this place afoot, an hour after zenith. Without that creature. You may bring two escorts,” rasped the Lord Marshal, clearly exhausted. “ Living , sentient escorts. Not that phantom knight.”

“I think you mean sapient ,” said Ganondorf, toying with the rein. “Shall I direct my servants to raise a pavilion here? A simple canopy perhaps? Arrange a little firerock stove for tea?”

“I do not care ,” said the Lord Marshal, returning his battered sword to its sheath and wiping at his split lip. “Just get that mad thing in order and we will discuss the terms of your surrender.”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf with a grin. “The People surrender nothing . I come to your little green country to claim what is mine. That I bring your King tribute arms and rare spices and gems and prisoners of war is a courtesy , Lord Marshal Demetrius Adotyr of Salari. A polite little host-gift, a generous offer of exchange, and a little taste of the power I and my legions have to offer Hyrule, should she be wise enough to embrace it.”

The Lord Marshal swore a blasphemous oath, ripping his helm and arming cap off to claw his fingers through his unruly, sweat-soaked white hair. He looked older than Ganondorf first thought. His ability to defend himself in any kind of spar with Link now seemed substantially more impressive.

Not that Ganondorf would let him see that. He gestured toward the lead knight, noting now the expensive crimson accents on his blue tabard and sash. “I suggest you dispatch your own best hound to the Castle to convey my respects. I am sure your King will be interested to hear of the strength and prowess of this little pet wolf my warriors caught for me. Perhaps he would be interested to send a few of his champions to duel my wolf and entertain us all with some little exhibitions.”

The Lord Marshal swore, and spat, and turned heel to demand one of the knights dismount and surrender the beast to him.

The lead knight walked his horse closer as the rest formed square around their commander. “You said eat .”

Ganondorf raised a brow, pretending innocence. “Why else do you suppose I would have him wear a muzzle for traveling among strangers?”

The man’s lips twisted in disgust. “I will send to the Temple for assistance. See that he is chained safely in a private tent when they arrive tomorrow. You may leave four guards of your own, and I will dispatch four of mine also. Once this is done, you will not go within fifty yards of him until I say otherwise.”

Ganondorf offered him a sardonic grin. “And Captain Frederick Johannes.”

“What?”

“Send Captain Frederick Johannes with your charming little guards,” said Ganondorf. “Of all the gracious escorts your provincial garrisons provided to me, he is most familiar with my wolf - and conveniently, seems to be of no interest to the beast in - ah - that way. It will be better for your priests if one of your countrymen is present to be a voice of reason should they be tempted to do something foolish.”

The knight grunted. “I will consider it. Make camp or not as it suits you and advance no further.”

Ganondorf nodded, saying nothing.

The knight turned his mount and led the other eight back to the safety of their lines. The enemy drums rumbled a short command: stand down. The very air creaked as thousands of bowstrings relaxed.

Ganondorf waited until the last of the enemy advance party vanished among their host. Only then did he signal permission for his own warriors to withdraw. Leilani and Dashil remained, the former glowering at him, holding the reins of the two riderless mares. No doubt her opinion of the negotiation bordered on blasphemous.

“I should beat you for your foolhardy disobedience,” drawled Ganondorf without bothering to look down at his mad golden hero as he picked up the reins.

Link said nothing.

Leilani said nothing.

Dashil may have said something, but since he hadn’t dissolved the silence ward between them, that didn’t matter.

Zharu stepped primly over Link, lifting her feathered hooves high as she turned about and gathered herself in anticipation of an order to gallop back to the legions.

“But,” said Ganondorf, looking down at the man’s bowed back and contemplating just how badly he wanted to slap him. “As you would take pleasure in it, I will not .”

Chapter Text

It is a curiosity of nature that after weeks on end of sitting in a saddle it is somehow still a relief to sit in a chair.

Granted, Leilani had done an excellent job of arranging for deep cushions, and even found some little box to drape and cushion as a footrest. It was not as refreshing as an opportunity to lay down would have been, but at least he was more comfortable than eleven of the twelve Hylians in the pavilion, and that counted for something.

Ganondorf accepted another cup of brambleflower and goldenleaf tea from Leilani, suggesting she offer a cup to the scribe as well. The poor frazzled youth tried to decline, stammering in harshly accented and strangely backwards Geld’o. But at least he tried, which was more than anyone could say of his commanders.

“Enough,” said Ganondorf over the babble of Hylian demands, slouching a little lower in the chair to prop his chin on his fist. “You have impressed me only with the elegance of how you waste wind and ink. I do not see what use another treaty when all the warriors in Hyrule cannot ensure the obedience of her subjects to the terms of any of its predecessors.”

“Sir, the process of civilized law may be slow, but I assure you raiding in violation of terms is a serious offense and the guilty are called to account,” said a knight with one stripe on his tabard.

Ganondorf made a rude noise, gesturing with his steaming teacup. “Let your scribe rest, and we will speak of raids and tariffs and prisons and trespass and desecrations .”

“Let’s not ,” said the Lord Marshal. Like the other officers, he attended the meeting bare-headed, carrying his helm. Their manner made clear they thought this some great courtesy and gesture of peace. They had taken offense to the presence of his veiled Elite posted at every corner of the open-sided pavilion, directly challenging their demand he have only two attendants at all. They even went so far as to complain openly that Marish and Sidoo stood at either side of his chair with spears in hand and swords on their hips.

Ganondorf raised a brow as the older man waved his subordinates aside to approach him closer.

“You claim to be interested in peace. Dragging all that out now will serve the opposite end,” said the Lord Marshal.

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, turning his attention back to the scribe. “Go on. Set your pen down, kid. There will be no more terms suggested until you’ve cared for that ache in your hand.”

The scribe blushed fiercely. “I am seventeen . Sir.”

Ganondorf raised a brow. “And already you have this injury?”

The scribe accepted the tea from Leilani this time, wrapping his pale hands around the bright pottery. “It is common, sir, among those who write all day. It is nothing. But the tea is good, thank you.”

Idiots can’t carve a proper pen and must not even build decent writing desks. Such a stupid country. Ganondorf watched the heat soothe the boy’s hands and spirit alike, subtly unraveling a few tangles of pain as he pretended to return his attention to the Hylian commander. “This very difficulty in conversation only serves to divide our people further, Demetrius. Words have little value without you have the strength to give them meaning. You cannot even keep your roads safe for your own people, and you wonder why no foreign merchant will entrust their lives and prosperity to the vagaries of your laws without good steel in hand to enforce the universal law of it was mine first.

“A bandit who burned twenty villages in Vosterkun - a loyal Hylian barony! - has no place speaking of righteousness,” snapped the Lord Marshal.

“On paper,” said Ganondorf, sipping his tea. Sweetened with King’s Honey and tasting of summer rain and clean earth and bright new seedlings. One of many sublime gifts from his mad little hero, who would spend yet another day in chains, isolated from the world under heavy guard, drinking his meals through a golden straw. At least Captain Frederick Johannes had managed to persuade the other Hylians to allow Leilani to feed the man - according to the report of his Elite, with impressively violent argument.

“Fuck your on paper, ” said the second-in-command. He too had refused the generous floor cushions, standing in every meeting. “I saw what little you left in Haltava, sir .”

“Hn,” said Ganondorf, smothering his annoyance under flawless civility. “Indeed you have my gratitude for arresting the imposter. I sorrow that the little disturbance in my country had the misfortune to have spilled onto the edge of yours - but as it happened, my own pursuit of the traitor led me to discover Karakut’s perfidy for you , so in the end it is a fair enough trade, as such things go.”

“The matter of the alleged conspiracy will be decided by our arbiters, not the words of a lawless bandit,” said another officer.

Ganondorf clicked his tongue in censure. “I believe we are all well aware of your opinion , but I am quite sure you are not King Johannes Nohanson Hyrule in disguise, and therefore you do not matter, little softland soldier.”

The Lord Marshal folded his arms with a clank of hastily repaired steel plate. The Hylians had not come to Irch with any expectation of staying long or really even absorbing a real contest, and marched double-time from the Castle and neighboring garrisons without much in the way of resupply. “About that. You’ve shown yourself for a demon-witch and given us no surety whatever that you are not the imposter.”

Ganondorf breathed through a slow count of eight, still smiling, pushing with all his Will against the whispering red shards. He would not lose his temper. Not now. “If we were not such good friends already I should take offense at your little jokes, dear Demetrius. You are a man of the world, possessed of sense and education - yet you somehow manage to know nothing of my people if you cannot immediately see that I am King.”

“What I see is a silver-tongued bandit witch invading my country with a bewitched Hylian swordsman, a host of necromantic constructs, six hundred Darknut rangehounds of questionable alliance, and a thousand favorite concubines armed to the teeth,” said the Lord Marshal.

Ganondorf smiled, and indulged himself in