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Hyrule Garrison, much like Kolomo Garrison, was centrally located, sitting in the heartland of Hyrule near the Great Exchange, halfway between the seat of power that was Hyrule Castle and the seat of faith that was the Great Plateau. It had flourished from a bare military encampment to one of the most prosperous towns in the land. The small keep that had once been its only building was now surrounded on all sides by stone houses and cottages, and the bright market colours testified to the amount of money that flowed in from all corners of Hyrule.

As the knights approached the town, Commander Eagus announced they would take a break for lunch, and continue on in an hour. Those who wished to do so were welcome to seek food and ale in town, but they had to report back in time.

Link had wheedled his own food from the castle kitchens that morning, so he settled with the rest of the company outside the town limits, tying his horse to a fencepost and pulling out his modest meal. A nearby brazier kept him comfortably warm, and Master Kohga even deserted him to seek out a meal of his own, which suited Link well enough.

"Is that Cook's own bread?" Sir Linebeck asked, sidling up next to him.

"From the kitchens," Link nodded.

Sir Linebeck produced a large salami from within his own saddlebag and unwrapped it. "I'll trade you a big slice if you give me a piece."

It was an easy trade to make. The bread hadn't cost Link nearly as much as the sausage had to have cost. They had just finished their exchange when Lady Ashei joined them, offering them each a handful of wildberries and an apple if they were willing to part with more of their fare. Then Sir Osfala offered to share his cheese, which completed the meal.

As they sat in the dying grass, eating in relative silence, Link felt a strange sort of contentment. This, he thought, as the wind continued to pull at their clothes and the ground felt hard under their arses, was his true calling. He'd always preferred to be outdoors, even as a child. Even in the winter. He was a good hunter and a great climber, and these expeditions were exactly what he was made for.

But instead, he'd pulled the Master Sword, and been assigned to the princess. That was a grim thought.

"So, the Sheikah Master," Lady Ashei said, pulling him out of his thoughts. "Does he always treat you so familiarly?"

Link blinked, and noticed both Sir Linebeck and Sir Osfala had turned to listen, chewing all the while. "Er. Well, yes. He's friendlier than most Sheikah."

Was that too much? It was generally a bad idea to defend the Sheikah. Link had always preferred not to speak of them at all.

"I don't like him," Lady Ashei said, bluntly. "I can't explain it." She shook her head.

"That's the Sheikah for you," Sir Linebeck said around a big bite of cheese. "You never hear those bastards coming."

Link smiled, recalling the princess and her anger at his stealth practice. She often became so absorbed in her studies and work that she didn't hear him coming, even when he wasn't trying to hide himself.

"I hear Kohga has a son now," Sir Osfala said. "Though I don't know why anyone would send their child away to a place as remote as Kakariko for an entire winter."

Sir Linebeck shrugged, then said, mournfully, "My father used to send me away. Couldn't stand the whining."

"How self aware of you," Sir Osfala said, narrowing his eyes.

"What do the Sheikah say about this Yiga business?" Lady Ashei asked, ignoring her companions. She was always blunt, but Link found he kind of appreciated it, especially after Master Kohga.

"They don't really talk about it," Link said. "At least, not to me."

Lady Ashei nodded, but her curiosity hadn't been satisfied. "Well, they have the whole Castle on edge, especially after what happened to the treasury."

"Treasury?" Link echoed, confused.

"You haven't heard?" Sir Linebeck asked, chewing on bread. "It's all the guards could talk about."

Lady Ashei flicked Sir Linebeck's ear, and he yelped, then covered his hurt ear with a hand and a pitiful whine. "I'm telling the story," she said, firmly.

"Yes, ma'am."

"What happened in the treasury?" Link asked.

Lady Ashei stretched out her legs against the grass. "I was on guard duty last week, yeah? I have rounds I usually do, only that night I was running a little late. I guess he thought I had already passed by."

"He?" Link prompted.

Lady Ashei nodded. "Yeah. Sheikah boy in full traditional attire. Covered face. I saw him walk past me in the hallway, away from the treasury. I asked him what he was doing up there, away from the Sanctuary, and so late, but he told me to mind my own business, and walked off." She chewed. "Brat."

"Did you recognize him?"

Lady Ashei shrugged. "Don't know his name. He was young, maybe your age, yeah? Silver hair, red eyes, the usual. Had a noble Sheikah accent, though. Pretentious. Had covered fingers, like he'd plucked at a string instrument for too long."

Sir Osfala snorted. "Of course he did. Those Sheikah and their kotos and harps and lutes― Such pride in their arts." He rolled his eyes, which said enough of what he thought of them.

Many of the castellan Sheikah had noble accents and knew how to play instruments, Link reflected. That wasn't much of a hint. And it was no surprise this one had been arrogant towards a Hylian. The Sheikah were respected for their ability to gain knowledge and use it, not for their manners.

It did bother Link, though, to hear the Sheikah being so openly disparaged. Sure, the Sheikah weren't always pleasant, but they had generously begun training him, and sometimes even Master Impa could be funny. Purah and Robbie were friendly enough, and Master Kohga was in a class of friendliness all of his own.

He kept this thought to himself.

"Anyway," Lady Ashei said, "next morning I hear that sapphires were taken from the treasury." She shook her head. "I know it wasn't coincidence that Sheikah boy was there that night. I don't have proof, but I feel it in my gut."

"So he would have acted alone?" Link asked. He didn't know why, but he hoped that was the case. He hoped most of the Sheikah truly were as honourable as they said they were.

Lady Ashei eyed him with some disdain. "Yeah. Could have." She glanced at the Sheikah group. They stood apart from the rest of the company, and they seemed uncomfortable with the glares they received from the knights. "But that just goes to show you can't trust them."

"Thus it is," Sir Linebeck said, raising his waterskin in a toast, the religious mantra coming out with a decidedly unreligious burp.

Link felt uneasy. "I'll stretch my legs, I think," he said, pushing himself to his feet. "Before we get back in the saddle."

The knights nodded without interest, and Link wandered off into a nearby field, his thoughts a jumble. Neither Master Impa or Master Kohga, or even Purah, had deemed it important to tell him that one of their own had stolen from the treasury. Did they know? Wasn't it their purpose to know? And if they knew and hadn't told him, could he trust any Sheikah at all?

He took a deep breath and focused on his mindfulness. It was no use trying to puzzle anything out just yet. He lacked too many pieces.

Idly, he watched the landscape, the rolling hills, the fading green, the heavy sky, the way the grasses bent in the wind in long waves. For a moment, he remembered Daruk, and how much he loved his rocky land, and how fiercely he had vowed to protect it. This was Link's land, a place of wide open fields and skies, the place he called home.

It was impressive how simply the awareness came upon him, how easily he accepted that he was ready to die to protect these hills, those trees, the very dirt under his feet. If the Calamity did come, and everyone seemed convinced it would, this was what he would defend. This land, its people, its creatures.

Idly, he bent and plucked some sprigs of safflina from the ground. Cool safflina. It was a plant of winter, the sort to pierce the snow and make flowers in the direst of tundras. Usually it blossomed much later. This safflina heralded winter, and as Link looked up at the pregnant sky, he knew nature was ever reliable.

Zelda would know why that was.

The thought came into his mind unbidden, and he tried to bury down the heat that always seemed to rise in his blood when she entered his thoughts. Enough. How far did he have to go to get a break?

A single horn call pulled him back to reality. Time to go. He hurried back to his horse, untying it from the fence where it had patiently waited, and shoved the safflina into his saddlebag. Just in case, he told himself. Just in case she wants it.

Knight Commander Eagus rounded the company up, and onward they continued, through Hyrule Garrison and down the road, southward in the direction of the Grand Exchange. This time, Master Kohga left Link to his own devices, which suited him. Sir Osfala even started up a conversation on the quality of steel in Royal Guard swords, complaining that, though they did cut a great deal better, they seemed to break far too easily.

Before they reached the Exchange, they veered off the road towards Mount Daphnes, a high hill that separated them from the Regencia River. It was here, apparently, that Yiga activity had been reported most recently. The Knight Commander urged them all to be cautious as they began the ascent of the rocky slopes.

Link was still absorbed in thought. Stealing a few gems from the treasury― was that truly worthy of any real attention? He wondered if Master Impa hadn't mentioned it precisely for that reason. Maybe it was irrelevant.

Now Master Kohga, on the other hand, that was definitely relevant. If he had heard or seen Link carrying the princess back to her rooms, then... But Link hadn't seen anyone that night. The halls had been truly deserted, as far as he had been able to tell.

Then again, he hadn't paid much attention once Zelda had been in his arms. Focus had been fleeting at best. That was a mistake he could not afford to make again, pretty girl or not. If the Yiga truly meant to harm her, he had to stay focused. He had to keep practicing his stealth, and he had to be ready to fight at any given moment.

Mount Daphnes' summit was dug out by narrow trails, where only one rider could pass at a time. The Knight Commander advised them to watch their mount's step, periodically commanding men to halt and keep watch in position. Several others were dispatched to circle the hill and look for signs of enemy activity. The rest of them, Link's patrol included, continued through the narrow passage.

As they advanced, Link began to feel a rising sense of unease. He couldn't decide why that was. The birds were quieter, the wind softer. Even the rustling of the leaves felt ominous. Why? What had changed?

He wasn't alone in his discomfort. Ahead of him, Sir Osfala had turned in his saddle to look back at Lady Ashei, his frown like a question, and she had merely responded by bringing her hand to the pommel of the short sword at her waist. The entire column of knights had fallen quiet, speaking softly and only if they had to.

There was a smell in the air that Link couldn't place. He turned his head, trying to locate its origin, trying to tell it apart from the smell of men and horses, of wood and earth.

"It's death," Sir Linebeck murmured, from behind him.

Link turned to look at him, curiously. Sir Linebeck's horse looked nervous, but the knight himself merely looked grave.

"The smell you're looking for," Sir Linebeck explained, hunched and quiet. "It's death."

Link looked back at Lady Ashei and Sir Osfala, who had glanced back, and Lady Ashei nodded in confirmation. They would know. They were blooded knights, tested on the battlefield. Dread settled in Link's gut.

"Keep your weapons close," Sir Linebeck said, simply.

But none of them saw any sign of the enemy. They reached the village less than an hour later, and Link knew they had arrived because the smell, by then, had become overwhelming. The horses were now skittish, stubborn, reluctant. Most of the knights and Sheikah had covered their faces by then, and Chancellor Cole looked positively ill. Even Knight Commander Eagus seemed uneasy, though he had the decorum of not covering up his nose.

As Link's horse emerged from the narrow rocky passage to join the rest of the company, he suddenly was hit by the actual stench of death. It was almost enough to make him sick.

"Here," Lady Ashei said, handing him a small phial. "Rosewater." She motioned for him to rub some under his nose, and Link skeptically obliged. Now everything smelled like death and rosewater.

"Dismount," Commander Eagus ordered, and they all did as told. "Be on your guard."

The village was deserted, Link thought. Deserted and dilapidated. Signs of fighting were obvious, and several houses had clearly burned down. There were flies everywhere, but no corpses they could see.

"Looters, maybe?" Sir Osfala speculated, softly, but Lady Ashei shook her head.

They found the source of the smell in the center of the village, when one of the Sheikah called out for Master Kohga to come see.

The loud buzzing of flies alerted Link to the horror he was about to see, but he knew it would be a show of cowardice to shy away. One by one, the knights approached and peered into the well, stepping away with curses and watery eyes, their hands on their mouths. Link, too, approached and looked in.

A man gazed up at him, unseeing, his eyes pecked out by crows, the buzzing of flies covering his skin, inside his gaping mouth. Under him, many other bloated bodies seemed to go down into the dark, stacked on top of one another, filling the deep well with rotting.

Now they knew where the villagers had gone. Link moved away, dizzy, and joined Sir Linebeck against a rock, where he focused on breathing in and out as regularly as he could.

"It's not easy," Sir Linebeck said.

"I'll get used to it one day," Link said, by way of apology for his obvious nausea.

Sir Linebeck shook his head, the dark circles under his eyes suddenly less a sign of drunkenness than a sign of weariness. "No," he said. "Never aim for that." He pulled a flask from his belt and unstoppered it, taking a quick, bracing swill. Then, he handed it to Link.

"I shouldn't drink," Link said.

Sir Linebeck shrugged. "Suit yourself. Drink is my cure. Some," he said, nodding towards Sir Osfala, who was in conversation with Ashei, "use women. Others spend themselves fighting. Whatever makes you feel alive." He stood, looking older than he really was. "We'll have to bury those people. Help me find a shovel."

"What about the Yiga?" Link asked, pushing away from the rock to follow him, as other knights conferred about the right course of action.

Sir Linebeck shook his head. "Ain't nothing left for them to destroy here. They'll be long gone."

With that grim truth hanging over their heads, the knights began the tedious task of pulling the villagers out of the well, one by one, digging graves, and speaking some of the necessary prayers.

It was late afternoon by the time Link looked up from the pit he was digging to take one of the bodies and bring it down into its resting place. A man, killed by a single firm cut to the throat. The death count included eight men, five women, and six children, all seemingly killed in the same ruthless way. In that moment, Link regretted not having taken a long hard swill of Sir Linebeck's drink.

The body shifted as Link placed it, and a sliver of metal slipped out from the man's collar. A shard of a blade.

Link bent to retrieve it. The metal was broken, but otherwise still sharp, the blood on it dried and flaking. Link moved it up to look at it against what light did filter through the heavy clouds.

He knew this metal, he thought. He'd spent part of the ride arguing its merits and demerits with Sir Osfala. This was a fragment of a Royal Guard's weapon, or at least a shard of the same sharp yet breakable metal forged by the Castle's smithies. It was curved, as Sheikah weapons tended to be, but there was no denying its origin.

"Oi," Sir Linebeck said, bending over the side of the grave to look down at Link, "not about to be sick, are you?"

Startled, Link shoved the piece of blade into his pocket, nicking his palm in the process. He winced, but managed to shake his head. "No, I just…" He sighed. "I just never had to put a man in a grave before."

Sir Linebeck nodded. "Well, at least you're not doing it alone. Give me your hand, I'll pull you out."

Link scrambled out of the pit. Around him, some of the men were now shoveling dirt back into the graves. The weight of Link's discovery seemed to burn a hole in his pocket, but he was numb now. The smell around them would fade, and soon this village would be a ruin, abandoned to the elements. It ached. He had trained his whole life to save people just like this, and now he stood helpless above their graves, his mind a flurry of questions.

"Go rest a moment," Sir Osfala said, snapping Link back to reality. The shovel looked out of place in his nobleman's hands. "We'll finish up with this one."

Lady Ashei, too, was peering at him with mild concern, if that was at all possible. In that moment, Link understood why knights were organized into patrols, and he felt that one day, Sir Osfala would make a brilliant commander. He nodded gratefully, suddenly feeling the weariness in his limbs, and the grimness of his thoughts.

He found a secluded place behind a house, leaned against the wooden wall, and exhaled, trembling. The rosewater had long since stopped working, and now he was almost getting used to the pall over the village.

Mindlessly, he brought the shard of metal out of his pocket, and examined it closely, rubbing the blood away as well as he could.

There was no doubt about it. The ripples in the metal were dark, lending it a charcoal tint from a distance, an effect Link had only ever seen in very specific weapons forged in Hyrule Castle. The Royal Guard used them, especially for ceremonies. Link's own father had even carried a massive broadsword made with this very alloy.

But there were very few other groups who could use this alloy for their own weapons. In fact, the Sheikah were the only ones Link knew of.

Had the Sheikah executed these people? If so, then all of Hyrule Castle was under threat. If not, and if this truly was the work of the Yiga, then how had they obtained castle-forged weaponry? Had they infiltrated the castle? Were they being aided by the Sheikah? Were the Sheikah and the Yiga one and the same? Link strained his memory, trying to remember something, anything, that might support the theory, but he was without luck. Even a theft from the treasury hadn't prompted any openness from Master Impa. No, she was hiding all she knew, as much as she could. This did not bode well for anyone.

The feeling of dread Link had been fighting off since they'd arrived was now overwhelming. He tried to breathe, but it didn't help calm his nerves.

No matter which way he looked at it, there was only one conclusion he could draw with certainty. He was a knight, and he had a sworn duty to the princess, and if he was right, then she was in very real danger.

"Oh, there you are," Lady Ashei said, and Link closed his fingers around the shard of metal. "We were wondering if you'd gone off to be sick."

Link certainly felt ill, but it was with a rising sense of panic and not from disgust. "No," he croaked. "But thank you for worrying about me."

Lady Ashei looked embarrassed, her usually pale cheeks turning ever so slightly pink, and in that moment she looked more like a woman than a knight. "Well, don't get used to it, rookie," she said, as gruffly as she could.

"Lady Ashei," Link said, urgently, "What happens when our oaths conflict?"

She blinked, her gaze becoming hard. Testily, she said, "Which oaths?"

"Protect the innocent," Link said, motioning vaguely to the dilapidated houses, "or protect the incarnation of the Goddess?"

Lady Ashei frowned. In response to her unspoken question, Link opened his palm so she could see the fragment of the blade in his hand. The flicker of recognition in her eyes was immediate, but to her credit she did not exclaim.

"You found this on one of the bodies," she guessed, her tone now very grave.

Link blinked, surprised. "Yes. How did you―"

Lady Ashei rifled through one of her own pouches, and pulled out a similar shard, extending it towards Link. The same alloy, the same curved bladeline. "I found this," she whispered, "inside a little girl's throat."

Link's mouth went dry, and Lady Ashei continued, her voice barely a murmur.

"This is Sheikah weaponry, only look," she turned the shard over, and Link saw the Sheikah Eye, its tear rising up instead of down. Sheikah weapons did usually have this mark near the hilt, but this engraving was upside down, the tear moving away from the blade instead of towards it. A Yiga mark.

Link looked up, his gaze meeting Lady Ashei's hard stare.

"The Yiga have infiltrated the Sheikah," Link said, his voice so low it was almost inaudible, as though being overheard would precipitate their discovery. The truth was like a slap to the face, a realization so horrifying that it was difficult to process. Even Lady Ashei looked paler than usual.

"Go," she said, placing her own shard into his hand and squeezing it with the strength of desperation until Link could feel his skin being cut. "Warn them."

"But what about―"

"Rest easy," Lady Ashei said, firmly. "Your oaths are not in conflict." She smiled, though the expression did not reach her dark eyes. "I will explain everything to Sir Osfala and Commander Eagus." And no one else, she seemed to say. "They will understand." She shoved him. "Now ride before the storm breaks."

He didn't bother to tell anyone he was leaving. He trusted Lady Ashei would.

Climbing into the saddle, he made sure all his saddlebags were firmly closed, and then he rode. Hard.

The roads seemed to fly below him, the fields a blur at his sides. The wind was strong now, and by the time Link left Hyrule Garrison, the skies opened, and snow began to collect in the ditches and on the grass, sticking to his clothes.

When Link made it back to Hyrule Castle's courtyard, the sun had long set and the bells struck the twenty-second hour. He dismounted, leaving his exhausted horse to one of the stable hands, and he dashed up the steps to the main building, taking his saddle bags with him. He was ragged and sore, but something primal had been howling within him, and he wasn't going to drop off his saddle bags until he could be sure…

It was difficult to focus when every fiber of his being was cursing him. He was the princess' Champion. He shouldn't have left. If something had happened in his absence― the idea was unthinkable.

Overhead, the skies were now unleashing an actual snow squall, the wind pulling at his clothes, the snow stinging his face. He ran past the warm braziers, ignored the smells wafting from the kitchens, running up the road that circled the hill upon which and into which Hyrule Castle was built. The gates were open, the walls dark against the deep grey skies, and though torches burned warmly, he felt no urge to seek shelter.

He ran past the gatehouses and into the gardens, where the ground was quickly covering with a smattering of snow, the earth hard from the cold.

The library, he thought, desperately. Please be in the library.

As he entered the castle, he slipped on the flagstones, catching himself at the last minute. He only barely registered the sudden warmth, racing up the carpeted staircases and down the empty hallways. No stealth now, no time.

He was so intent on racing into the library that he was actually surprised when he literally ran into Groose.

"Whoa there," the red giant said, seizing his arm and stopping him mid-step. "Not so fast, I need to search you― Link!" Groose broke into a smile that made him look instantly less boorish. "I thought you'd be back tomorrow at the earliest. Did you think I'd be that terrible at this job?"

"Is she in there?" Link asked, breathless, nodding to the library doors.

Groose nodded. "Oh, yeah. I've been frisking every single library visitor. Not a single weapon goes in without my say-so."

"What about the door at the other end?" Link asked, bent over to catch his breath.

Groose's expression filled Link with a leaded feeling. "Oh."

Eyes wide, Link shoved past the squire, stumbling into the vast library with neither elegance or poise. He pushed towards the balcony, looking down.

Zelda. And she was with a Sheikah!

This was already and usually something Link didn't particularly appreciate, but the broken shards in his pocket seemed heavier than ever, the knowledge he'd collected today filling him with anger against the shadow folk.

He raced down the stairs two steps at a time, Groose on his heels.

The princess was sitting at her usual desk, bowed over a leather-bound book, curled up in a thickly woven blanket to protect her from the cold, and her hair shone like gold in the candlelight. Next to her, Misko the Sheikah bard was playing the harp.

A bard, Link thought. Well of course. The Sheikah's bandaged fingers plucked at the strings, playing a tune Link had heard before, though he couldn't be sure where or when. It was a soft sort of lullaby, one that suited the princess perfectly.

Together, they were a picture of romantic perfection, worthy of a painting ― the golden princess and the silver bard. It made Link's heart clench as he strode forward. But he ignored it.

They both looked up at Link's arrival, the music coming to a halt as Misko stopped plucking at his harp.

Unharmed, Link determined. The princess was unharmed and oblivious to the terror that had seized him. Actually, Link was worried by how often he found himself assessing her well-being. There was doing his job, and then there was mild obsession.

Stifling the relief that flooded him, he dropped his saddlebags and bowed hastily.

One of her brows went up. "Oh. You're back." She didn't sound particularly disappointed, but she didn't sound enthused either. "Just as I was getting used to your replacement." She smiled warmly at Groose, who flushed to his ears, dopey as a page before his first lady.

"Did you run all the way here?" Misko the bard asked as Link got back to his feet. He had an amused smile on his arrogant handsome face. Link glared at him, still catching his breath, and trying to calm the rapid beating of his heart.

"So it seems," Princess Zelda said. She eyed Link with an unreadable expression. "Well, what was so urgent that you had to interrupt Misko's music?"

First name basis. Link ignored how his blood boiled at her familiarity with the Sheikah lad. In fact, she was entirely too comfortable with the Sheikah people, as a whole, for her own safety. And, judging by the haughty look the silver-haired bastard shot Link, the Sheikah bard knew it. It made him want to sink his fist into Misko's smug mouth.

In that exact moment, Link wanted to lock the princess up in a tower and deadbolt the door, because otherwise all those Sheikah might as well just… Just...

Groose, to his credit, leaned into his ear and said, "I searched him, by the way. No weapon. Just the harp."

Just harp her to death.

Link forced himself to take a deep breath. No. He wasn't thinking straight. In all likelihood, most of the Sheikah, despite their shady behaviours and uncanny skill at finding the chink in one's armour, were loyal to the crown.

But if some of them were false, or if they had turned to the Yiga, then Link's concern was justified.

Of course, if the Sheikah or Yiga in the castle had meant to kill Zelda, they would have seized the opportunity of his absence to do it, and they likely would have succeeded. So Groose had been a good deterrent, or, more than likely, Master Impa had done her part accordingly. That didn't release her of her responsibility to be upfront with Link, but at least he wouldn't have to fight her.

This Misko, for his part, was just an arrogant bastard who could play the harp and charm ladies and look good with his silver hair and his courtly step. And Zelda liked him that way. Of course she did. What red-blooded woman wouldn't love a handsome bard who could sing her beauty with skill? Why would she even care about a tactless, bumbling knight whose only qualification was that he had pulled the Blade of Evil's Bane by accident?

Not that Link cared.

"We're waiting," Bard Misko said, evidently entertained by Link's choked silence.

Only now, as Link stood before them, assured of her safety and certain that he had a more important place to be, he struggled to focus. The ride, Master Kohga, the cold, the village, the smell, the flies, the graves, the stern talking-to he was going to give Impa― All those things seemed distant when the princess looked at him so expectantly.

Alive. Unharmed.

Innocent.

"Nothing," he croaked. "It was nothing."

Her pink lips parted, eyebrows rising somewhat, and Link would have been content to observe her surprise with satisfaction had Misko the bard not begun to chuckle at the same moment, the rich tones of his laugh far more elegant than Link's own, damn him.

It struck Link that he had essentially run into the library, breathless and grimy from the road, for 'nothing'.

Feeling the heat of embarrassment and anger rise to his cheeks then all the way to the tips of his ears, Link hastened to retrieve his saddle bags. He was going to retreat. Regroup. Recover.

The bard was still chuckling, each sound attacking Link's fractured pride like a relentless battering ram, and Squire Groose followed him, blinking at him in confusion.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to Link, and he paused. He hesitated, which made the bard stop laughing to observe him with curiosity, clearly in expectation of something even better to mock. The princess had already gone back to her reading. Link knew it was stupid, but he still reached into his saddle bag, retrieving the cool safflina. It was a little crumpled from the ride, but still seemed fresh and fragrant.

Anyway, what else was he going to do with it?

So, swallowing his pride, he stomped back over to the princess' desk, dropping the flowers unceremoniously onto her open book. She was startled, her green eyes jumping up to look at him, her little smile melting away to leave her looking soft, confused, painfully beautiful.

For Misko the bard, though, this was the final straw. "Oh, he brought you flowers!" He burst into actual laughter. No doubt he had concluded that this was Link's hamfisted attempt at courtship.

But it wasn't. That would be stupid. Link, feeling the embarrassment in every single one of his arteries, resisted the urge to strangle the Sheikah until the bard sang in terror. Instead, he turned back to the princess, who wasn't laughing. Somehow, that made Link feel just a smidge better.

"Cool safflina," he said, hoarsely. "Supposed to have refreshing properties when you brew it into tea. To study it," he clarified. Then, he shifted his weight, avoiding the bemused expression on the princess' face, and swallowed. "Good night."

Then, he hurried out of the library, chased by Misko's laughter and the princess' silence.