The fire crackled behind the Princess of Hyrule. Flour caked her hands and dusted up to her elbows as she fingered pastry dough into shape. Standing next to her with an air of uncertainty was the plump woman of a cook, who chopped various vegetables for dinner while watching her. A lone scullery maid scrubbed pots in the corner, working to keep her face adverted from meeting the eyes of the princess accidentally.
“Princess, does your husband know of this, uh, hobby of yours?” the cook asked, not the first time.
“Oh, relax, Hope. He was born on a farm. If anything he’ll be disappointed if I don’t know how to cook.” Flicking flour off her fingers she reached for the little bowl of melted butter. Hope frowned and handed it to her.
“It still makes me a bit apprehensive, sweet. We staff were told to avoid contact with you two as much as possible. You should be getting to know one another.”
“Well, then, think of this as a way to reassure it.” said Zelda as she brushed butter inside a bowl of dough.
“Got in a fight with him now, did you?”
The Princess hesitated. She wasn’t worried about confiding in Hope. The woman had kept her company ever since she was a child as a hybrid of a teacher and friend. She knew whatever she told her would be kept secret. The scullery maid, on the other hand, she didn’t know. Hope read her expression and smiled warmly to her, handing the bowl of mashed blackberries and strawberries to her.
“Don’t worry about Dianne over there. She’s a shy little creature and not one for gossip.”
On hearing her name, the maid Dianne scrubbed harder, as though fearing a scolding for not cleaning fast enough. Zelda couldn’t make out much of her, other than she was incredibly slight of frame and had a few strings of curly orange hair sticking from her bonnet.
Turning back to the mass of dough and flour she sighed, spooning up a glob of berries.
“Yeah, I guess you could say so.”
After that morning she hadn’t seen Link at all. She had spent the majority of the day floating about the manor like a ghost, wondering just how severe the damage was that she had inflicted. Peasant born or not, he was her husband now, no matter how much the thought made her shudder and cry. If only Impa was here, she had thought gloomily. The woman would have delivered to Zelda a guilt trip to make even a serial killer cry in just a few well chosen words, but she would have also given her a solution on getting rid of that guilt in the process. How could she make up to Link for her cruel remarks? Was not he in the same dreadful boat of marriage as she? And yet she had probably made him regret ever laying eyes on her let alone marrying her.
While daydreaming of gliding into Jeremy’s barracks like an invisible angel—to see him without consequences and be able to kiss his sweet face—the only idea she could think of came to her. So here she was now, carefully making baked tarts. She would approach him with these and hopefully he would take the apology she attached with it. She had learned to cook from all the hours spent with Hope growing up. Having no mother from a very young age, Hope had served as a woman figure to the young princess where her father and even the gruff, intimidating Impa had failed. It was Hope she turned to when her body began to change with puberty, and Hope she turned to with her confusing questions about boys. Even more, it was Hope and only Hope she had turned to when she was faced with Jeremy.
Zelda wondered what the middle-aged woman thought of her now, knowing of her love for another other than her husband. As she folded tarts around their berry filling, she prayed Hope would not mention it. She didn’t know if she could keep herself together if Jeremy and her feelings for him were to be brought up.
“That Hero of yours, Princess,” she said as Zelda loaded tarts onto the paddle for cooking, “he’s an honest one. You can tell in the way he always meets your eyes when you’re talking to him. I would consider yourself blessed.”
She couldn’t help it, but snorted, earning a hard look from Hope.
“Excuse me, but I don’t see how I could ever be considered blessed with the stupidity and cowardice I have.”
“You are not—”
“If I had convinced father otherwise, if I had just run away, or if I just never laid eyes on that damn Jeremy I wouldn’t be in the hell I am in now.” She slapped the last tart on the paddle with vigor, suddenly angry with herself. The large woman seethed behind her.
“You are a lady, Princess. Don’t degrade yourself with such profanity! How many times do I have to tell you? If I hear another curse from your lips again, I don’t care if you’re a princess and I’m a cook, I’m scrubbing that mouth with soap!”
Zelda waved her hands behind her in annoyance. “Okay! Okay! I’m sorry! I was just trying to express how I feel.”
“You can express how you feel just fine without sounding like an uneducated ruffian.”
“Yes, Hope.” She sighed before lifting up the paddle and sliding it into the oven with its load of tarts. She watched them carefully as the flames made the crystals of sugar sprinkles sparkle. Sweat trickled down the back of her neck from the heat and she wiped it absentmindly as she listened to the familiar sound of Hope’s chopping against the cutting board.
“Besides, Princess, you are not cowardly or stupid. You were wise to trust your father, who loves you best.”
“I don’t feel wise.” grumbled Zelda. I feel like an ass, she almost said, but thought otherwise.
“But you were. I understand your disappointment concerning Jeremy, my sweet, and you probably wish you had the same freedom as the common kitchen wench in matters of marriage, but with power comes precautions and dangers—”
“I know, I know.” said Zelda. She already knew all this. Just because she understood the logic behind her royally arrange marriage didn’t mean she was happy about it. “Can we not talk about this? Please?”
“Yes, my sweet. If that is what you wish. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“You’ve done enough with helping me with these. Hopefully Mr. Hero will like them.”
She could hear a smile on the cook’s voice as she said, “I think he will. You’re wise in this matter as well.”
“More like not trying to make my life any worse than it is.”
“Which is wise.”
“No its not.”
“If you say so.”
Once the tarts were finished and the flour was cleaned off her arms she set off with them through the castle, asking whatever servant she could catch before they fled if they had seen Link. After losing her breath down hallways and stairways, she eventually found herself outside in the deepening sunset. Her breath caught slightly as she took in the wide expanse of green, grassy grounds. Large, beautiful trees spread their branches here and there, but other than that it was wide and open. A small group of horses galloped in the distance, their whinnies reaching to her on the porch. Momentarily numbed from her constant heartache by the peacefulness of her surroundings, she stepped down off the porch, tarts clutched to her chest in a kerchief. How come she had never been to this place? It was owned by her family, was it not?
She spotted him in the branches of a great oak tree, looking out across the sunset to the galloping horses. She approached the foot of the tree carefully.
“Hero?” she called up, wondering just how much he hated her.
His answer, however, was devoid of any unkindness.
This was it. “I—um…I have something for you. I made them. I…” she looked down and traced the toe of her slippers in the grass, as she found herself doing whenever she was nervous or unsure of herself. “I wanted to say sorry for how I treated you this morning. It was wrong—cruel of me to do so, after you got breakfast and everything.”
Link landed in front of her with a loud thump, making her jump in surprise. He still wore that ugly green cap, but beneath it he held a tentative smile that sent a strange jerk in her stomach. Had she forgotten those soft smiles in such a short time away from him? His face was so different from Jeremy’s, who would’ve never been able to recreate those smiles. His had been for dashing smirks and mischievous grins. Tenderd vulnerability was simply unbecoming of him.
She never realized how much she liked it, though, this softness. It increased her desire to see Jeremy smile at her like that. But like what? And when would she ever see something like that again? She was married now…
“I take it this is a peace offering then?” he said, pointing to the small bundle against her chest. Zelda jerked herself out of her thoughts and into motion, holding it out to him.
“You could say so.” She said as he opened up the crumbling tarts.
“You made these?”
She couldn’t help scowling. “That is what I said.”
“The royal Princess cooks? Huh. This is a pleasant surprise.”
“I’m glad.” She said flatly, knowing it may be best not to mention she could be as good as any peasant wife. She prickled when Link sniffed the tart before taking a bite. His smile widened.
“No need to sound so surprised.”
He chuckled. “Apology accepted, Princess.”
She raised a hand. “Call me Zelda. You should get use to being equal with me, I think. You are a Prince now after all.”
This made him positively beam.
“In that case, Zelda,” he pointed to his previous perch, “like to climb trees?”
“What? Who do you take me for?”
“Well, I thought if you could do such an unseemly princess thing as cooking you could climb trees. Besides, the view from up there is spectacular!”
“Unseemly-?” she huffed. “You’ve got some nerve, Hero.”
He munched on a tart, looking at her sideways as he turned to watch a trio of horses trotting by to reach others grazing a ways away. “How about horseback riding then? That’s princessy.”
But that was it. She wouldn’t take him anymore. She had been taken off guard with how easily he forgave her after not talking to her for a whole day, though she was in part relieved. On the other hand she felt partially played with all the anxiety she had wasted on him. Now, after making her feel like crap for her own prejudice against him, he had the nerve to be snarky with his own stereotypical comments about her birth and position? The hypocrisy was amazing. So, with her fists clenched, she jutted her chin in the air and moved to walk away.
Link, with a tart sticking out of his mouth, rushed to stop her. His hand grabbed for her arm. She swiveled around, an insult on her tongue as he rushed to unclog his mouth, coughing as he swallowed down the wrong tube. She tried to push off his arm, but he refused to release his grip.
“No! Wait.” he chocked out.
“Why? So you can continue to insult me?”
“Insult you? Zelda, I was joking. You aren’t seriously offended by the stuff I said, are you?”
“It’s more than just the stuff you said, it’s your whole act!”
He made a face at her, part confusion and part disbelief. “What?”
At his expression it dawned on her that she was about to ruin what she had just spent several hours trying to fix. She inwardly groaned, feeling worn out.
“Just…just forget it.” She said, putting a hand to her forehead. She didn’t want to be here anymore. She just wanted to curl up in a ball back in her bedroom to cry. What was wrong with her? Now that she looked back she realized her offense really was unreasonable. He had just been playful, like he had been back in the carriage, with no intention to be rude. She could see now he probably meant it as an ice breaker after their long day apart.
Beginning to feel embarrassed, she pulled her arm from Link’s grip and looked away. She shouldn’t be around people when she felt this way: about Jeremy, about life…why did it still bother her even when she wasn’t thinking about it?
“Just forget it. I’m sorry. Please, I hope you like the tarts.”
But he walked in front of her, blocking her path, his eyebrows knitted in concern.
“I’m sorry. Prince—Zelda, you have a lot on your mind. I shouldn’t have joked like that. I’m still learning. Forgive me?”
She made a noise of exasperation, still trying to keep her face, along with her embarrassment, hidden from him. “It’s not you, it’s me. Please don’t worry yourself into a wart about it.”
Like before he bowed his head down to try and meet her eyes. She nearly glared but stalled at the kindness in his gaze. That softness…had Jeremy ever looked at her with such softness?
“Want to talk about it?”
She shrugged. “What’s to talk about? You already know it all, unfortunately.” She sighed again, covering her face in her hands. “I really hate how stupid I am.”
He grimaced wryly before straightening and laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. He then walked back to the tree to gaze out onto the pasture and finish his tarts. Folding his arms, he looked back at her with his eyes glinting in the setting sunlight.
“Ever ridden bareback, Zelda?”
Fifteen minutes later underneath a scarlet sky she found herself in the humiliating position of having the naked back of a horse between her legs and rubbing in awful places. She could no longer recall how Link had convinced her to straddle this creature. All she knew was that he somehow had. And she couldn’t even ride side-saddle to preserve her dignity and her tender parts without falling off. Link happily trotted ahead of her. She clutched the brown mare’s mane tightly as she followed.
“This is insane.” she said.
“How?” he asked.
“Who would ever do this? It has to be the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever done. Why did I agree to do this?”
“Aw, you get use to it. It’s not all too bad. I had to ride my horse bareback for the longest time until I could save up to get my own saddle.” He slowed down to ride beside her. Zelda was at a loss of how he controlled the horse to do that. It was all she could do just to stay on the horse, forget about fine point steering. “Besides, where’s your sense of adventure?”
“I’m a princess.” she said bluntly, “I have no sense of adventure.”
He blinked. “Well, forget being a princess. Does Zelda have a sense of adventure?”
At his question, memories and feelings ran across her mind: galloping across the castle grounds as fast as she could, hoping that the wind would catch her away; climbing the tallest tree in the gardens as a child; trying to get lost in the forest so some magic would find her; and Jeremy—falling in love with him, being with him, and his whispers of taking her away where the wind hadn’t before. Zelda frowned at Link.
He met her eye for a few seconds longer before smiling as though he knew better. This annoyed her and she gritted her teeth. She stopped, however, as the steps of the horse tended to vibrate through her whole skull when she did that. They rode in silence for a bit, the manor far behind them. A few other horses galloped in from the field to walk besides them, sniffing curiously at Link and Zelda for snacks. When they found none they ran ahead, whinnying and throwing their long noses into the air.
“They really are beautiful creatures.” said Zelda, more to herself than to Link.
“I have a story about a horse.” he said.
“If it’s a love story, I’m not in the mood.”
“Actually, it’s not a love story at all. It’s about a man-eating, mind-controlling demon of a horse who takes over this guy’s life and forces him to do all sorts of horrible stuff, like kill his eleven brothers, feed it their flesh, and kill all the other colts on their farm. I think it also bashes in the head of a few people with its hooves and feasts on their blood and bones. Devilish thing.”
She stared at him, partially alarmed. “What in the world gives you the idea that I would want to hear a story like that?”
He chuckled and shrugged. “Everyone has a morbid side, even the best of us.”
“What kind of story would you like then?”
She considered this. All that day she had been thinking about the prejudice that Link had accused her of. The guilt had bred a strange curiosity in her about the subjects of her prejudice, and she thought of it now. She had also been dwelling on the unforgettable dream of the dancing desert maiden of the night before.
“The Gerudo,” she said finally, “I’ve been wanting to hear more stories about the Gerudo. True ones. Or, at least, stories from the Gerudo themselves.”
He didn’t ask where her interest had come from, and wisely so as Zelda half wished she had not said anything at all about wanting to learn more about the desert women. Her pride would not have allowed her to admit that his comment on prejudice had made her doubt herself. Instead, he said, “I have a few of those. Do you care which?”
“Even one’s about love?”
This surprised her. “The Gerudo have love stories? How can they? They’re all women!”
“Granted most of them aren’t very happy because they include men, but yeah, they have love stories. Stories build the basis of a people, so it only makes sense that men rarely give women happiness in the Gerudo’s tales.”
But, for once, this didn’t faze Zelda, as her curiosity was getting the better of her. She pressed him for any story as twilight grew nearer and the crickets began to sing.
“Well, let’s see…there’s one story about a man who fell in love with a beautiful girl with wings of freedom. From what I gathered they were actual wings that she used to escape the wiles of society and earth to be her true self. Unfortunately, these same wings stopped her from being with this man because, unlike her, he was confined to earth and its many wiles. This made him think to himself that if he but bound those beautiful wings of hers they could be together forever. So, one day he lured her down from her sky to be in his arms. Once she was there and happy, he took out a tough shawl and tied down her wings about her. Then, without warning, she died.”
“She died?” Zelda exclaimed. “Just like that?”
“Good gracious, why?”
“Think about it, Zelda. What do the Gerudo prize most?”
She only had to think about this for a moment. “Their independence from men.”
“In turn, their freedom from society, for, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but our society is mainly run with men at the head. Kings, patriarchs, heads of households—all men have their place, and all women have their place. I mean, you yourself keep mentioning how you’re a princess and thusly are expected to follow rules concerning how you can or cannot act. You must be ‘proper’. Now think of their society away from men, run all by women. Don’t you think that would make their perception of propriety different from ours?”
This was something Zelda had never thought of. The Gerudo had always been known to dress like whores and act like beastly women; in a word, she had always believed with the majority of her country that the Gerudo women were barbaric, lusty creatures. But who decided what was modest and what wasn’t? If there were no men around to be aroused or bothered by too much skin, how would women dress? And if there were no men around, what would Zelda herself be doing? Climbing trees, riding with the wind, and Jeremy…she would be with Jeremy. For it was because of the fraction of untrustworthy men and their lust for power that she was forced into this arranged marriage with Link at all.
The same overwhelming feeling of powerlessness like unto what she had felt on the day she learned she would be married overcame her. The image of the dancing Gerudo from her dream, for that’s only what she could be, came to her mind. She had danced with such fervor and lack of care for watching eyes, every move glorying in the shape and curves that made her a woman. And it had been so beautiful. It would’ve never been allowed here in Hyrule. It would’ve been said to be improper, and therefore that amazing beauty would’ve never been seen. That dance could only be one thing: freedom.
Are you really content to sink so low?
“So, in that case, the man from that story kind of represents the men of our society, which would take away her freedom from being what she is use to. Therefore, the woman who grew and flourished in that freedom of the Gerudo would’ve died, and a new person would’ve taken her place. She may have not physically died, but her character would’ve been smothered.” Her true beauty would’ve been smothered, she added.
“In theory, yes. And yet some still fall in love.”
Zelda shifted uncomfortably on her horse, looking up at the darkening sky. A few stars were poking through and the memory of light blue sky sunk away in the west. Beneath her the mare nickered. There was an ache in her chest she could not name. Why had these thoughts never occurred to her about the Gerudo? She was better than they were, more civilized. Why did she suddenly feel as though she were the one missing out on life?
“We better head back,” she said, though she was hardly aware of the words coming out of her mouth.
“We don’t have to,” he said, “we could stay out here and look at the stars. I have some stories about them too.”
“But it’s dangerous at night. And, well, I am the princess.” She sighed despite herself.
In the dim light of newly born night, she could make out one last smirk from Link atop his dapple gray stallion.
“You’re with me, Princess. I don’t mean to brag, but I could take on every guard back there all at once. If you want to look at stars in the dead of night or run barefoot through the grass at three in the morning, you can with me. And you can be whatever you want to be, princess or not. I won’t care.”
A quiet, childish elation that had been long smothered rose up in her and her aching quailed slightly. She had lied to him earlier about having no sense of adventure. She had even bluffed about climbing trees, for she had loved to when she was younger. Though, why should she be so caught off guard by the fact that she actually believed that with him she could do those things and more? She had been married to an adventurer, and a strong one at that. He had defeated Ganondorf, the Gerudo king and sorcerer allegedly single handed. He was peasant born, so didn’t care for her act as a princess or royal propriety. As she thought on this, she wondered if her father had taken all this into account on purpose when he chose Link as her future husband. But could her blundering and easily excited father manage that much foresight?
“Maybe some other night,” she said, finding that though Link’s words helped the hurt in her heart, they didn’t make it go away entirely and still just wanted to curl up somewhere warm to think. “I don’t really feel up to it tonight. Besides, supper is waiting for us.”
Link seemed disappointed, but didn’t argue as he led their horses back to the glowing windows of the manor in the distance.
“Would you like a bedtime story later to help you feel better?”
“Yes…yes I would. Thank you, Link.”