On the day Link finally managed to escape from his duties, summer was everywhere. It was in the strong perfume of garden flowers, in the incessant buzzing of insects, the constant hum of the distant market, the strange dusty, muggy heat that clung to his clothes, and the ever present sweat that beaded on his forehead.
He had found a secluded corner of the Castle gardens to hide in, though. It was a terrace, with garden chairs and benches, under the thick cooling shade of a chestnut tree. It was on one of those benches that he gently placed his stack of books.
Gingerly, with the nervous energy of secrecy, he picked the first book from the top and cracked it open, the leather spine loosened by the heat.
Market Economics, he read, by Elder Archivist Oshus. A study on the forces driving supply and demand.
Glancing around to ensure no one could see him, he delved into the pages, earnest in his determination to decipher their contents. These concepts, the old librarian had assured him, were simple enough for any beginner to understand, if they applied themselves to it. That had been a comfort.
Several hours later, though, he felt no closer to actually grasping the true relationship between unemployment and demand. His scowl had become fixed, his brows furrowed in concentration, as he found himself rereading the same sentence over and over. Still, no matter how often he forced himself to dissect the words, no meaning seemed to erupt, no understanding seemed to spark.
Straightening, he forced himself to take a breath, blinking in the late afternoon sun. There was no need to get upset, he reminded himself. He had read previous works on trade and society concerns from cover to cover and had not struggled. This marriage of the two realms was simply more difficult to understand.
Placing the ribbon marker on his page and shutting the book, he decided to switch topics. Lifting Leadership, Warfare and Tactics, he recovered his previous marker and continued at chapter twelve, which presented a real-life example on managing subordinates. This, Link considered, was a sight easier to handle. He always dealt better with concrete examples, and the techniques suggested by this book had already helped him take on more direct leadership responsibilities, tasks he had until then preferred to leave to Groose.
It was while he was contemplating the virtues of negotiation that an all-too-familiar voice interrupted him.
Shutting his book, he glanced up at Urbosa, who was hefting a large wooden box that clinked with glassware.
"Urbosa," Link greeted, embarrassed. He stacked his book on the pile and repositioned himself to hide them.
She ignored that, moving the crate to her hip. "And I was worried you'd actually left town. Did you know I had to ask your second where you were, and he told me you were not to be disturbed?" She harrumphed. "As though those orders apply to me." Then, her green eyes narrowed and she smiled slowly. "Although, now I see why one might choose to hide."
Link rubbed his nape, which was slick with idle sweat. "Some of these things are useful in my role as captain of the Order―"
She waved his words away, as though they were no more than a hot wind to be fanned off. "Of course, whatever you say. Now, are you coming?"
Link frowned. "Coming? Coming where?"
"To the picnic," Urbosa said, readjusting the weight of the box on her hip. She seemed utterly unperturbed by the heat. Well. Of course she wouldn't be bothered by it. Even in the winter, days in Gerudo Desert had been painfully hot. "What, did you think I have all this wine and ale just for me?"
"Picnic," Link echoed, dumbly. "What picnic?"
Urbosa rolled her eyes, her warm voice betraying just a hint of amusement. "For our little princess."
Link wracked his brain and could not fathom what she was talking about. The princess' birthday was not for another month. And, given the failure that the Spring of Power had been, she had been subdued, quiet and reclusive ever since their return from Akkala. He had dutifully shielded her from the worst of the gossip, had given her a wide berth to choose how she wanted to handle the matter, but in the end, there was a pall over her that only time would heal.
Or so he hoped.
"I don't know if―"
"Oh, no," Urbosa said, raising a finger in amused warning. "I won't hear it. We've all heard the news about Akkala. It's on King Rhoam's face wherever he goes. And she has not had the opportunity to celebrate Din's Day and unwind, so if you tell me there isn't a reason to arrange this, I will call you a liar."
"I mean," Link said, when she finally allowed him to speak, "I don't think three people will be able to get through that crate. I'm not much of a drinker."
Urbosa snorted. "We'll have to see about that. But don't worry, I've made sure Mipha, Revali and Daruk would be here too. They're up in the princess' private quarters, but they should be making their way down to the gardens any minute." She raised a deep red brow. "Perhaps you should stash those books somewhere they won't see."
"I have nothing to hide," Link said, covering the titled book spines with a hand despite himself.
Urbosa made a noncommittal noise. "Right. Well, don't just sit there. Come help me."
He was curious, sure, but first, he had to dispose of the evidence, so he stopped to pass the books off to a passing squire, politely asking him to deliver them to the Order of the Guard's rooms. He then hurried off after Urbosa, who had commandeered a gazebo in the gardens, some ways off from the main roads and courtyards. It was surrounded by a high hedge that would protect them from the worst of onlookers. In the late afternoon, a covered table under the gazebo was piled with glasses and finger foods ― bread rolls, cut meats, vegetables, sweets― enough food for ten people.
"How did I not hear about this?" He inquired, surprised to see how much forethought had gone into the private event.
Urbosa placed her crate of bottles on the corner of the table, shrugging a tanned shoulder. She was utterly unaffected by the ambient muggy heat, dressed in her traditional Gerudo garb. Link found himself wishing there were an equivalent for men. In his Champion's tunic and trousers, he felt uncomfortable.
"I told Revali, who was supposed to tell everyone."
Link rolled his eyes. "Well. That explains it."
Urbosa's eyes crinkled at the corners, though Link couldn't decide if that was from amusement or irritation. "Well, when I saw you were not at your post, I came to find you." She crossed her arms. "So. Leadership, Warfare, and Tactics, huh?"
Link peered up at her, as wide-eyed and innocent as he could. "Well, no one coached me to become a leader. Until last year, I was supposed to be just another soldier."
Urbosa shook her head. "And you didn't think to ask the princess for help? Or me?" She let out a disbelieving sigh. "Even Mipha or Revali might have been useful."
"Oh, yes," Link said. "Revali. The same Revali who tried to exclude me today?"
Urbosa made a noncommittal sound, then turned away, smiling at something over his shoulder. "Oh, good, there's the other crate."
The kitchen boy was clearly struggling with the box of bottles, but he rallied under Urbosa's smile and placed it near the table. Two dozen bottles of wine, Link concluded with mild horror. For six people.
"We can't fight the Calamity if we're dead from liver failure," he told Urbosa with concern.
"Of course not," she said, in a flippant tone that did not reassure him in the least. She tipped the kitchen boy, then sent him on his way.
In the slanting rays of late afternoon, the boy ran past his very own princess with a hasty bow, and Zelda watched him go bemusedly. Link couldn't be blamed for looking at her instead of the boy. In the orange light, she was dressed in a pink dress, one of her lightest, without sleeves, with her hair tied up high and away from her nape. Her cheeks were pink too, no doubt from the heat…
She looked exactly like the reason he'd been studying so hard.
Over her shoulder, Daruk had also turned to look at the kitchen boy go, but Mipha was looking back at Link, and she waved at him gladly. Revali, for his part, seemed somewhat less cheerful.
"Princess," Urbosa said, striding over to her protégée and kissing her forehead. "So glad you could make it. I hope you're hungry."
"I am," Zelda said, softly. She noted Link's presence and shot him a quick smile, then turned back to her Champions. "But you should not have gone to all this trouble."
"Don't be silly," Daruk said, gruffly, rubbing at his nape. "We are your Champions. It is our duty to protect you, especially when the world seems against you."
Zelda's green eyes filled with emotion, her body fighting against a big heave. She lost the battle with herself, and threw herself into her Goron Champion's comforting arms and squeezed. Her slender arms could hardly embrace even a fraction of his massive body. Looking at her Champions in turn, she said, "Thank you."
Once they were past the niceties, they settled around the table, sheltered from view by the remoteness of their location and the hedge, and dug in.
It was not a formal meal, for once ― they shared from the same plates, passed platters around, poured for one another, and did not stand on ceremony. Even Link, who had been unsure of the initiative, felt better to see his princess cheer up, eventually laughing at one of Mipha's understated jokes.
It helped, of course, that every time Zelda looked away, Urbosa would refill her wine glass.
Link did try to glare at the Gerudo Champion, but the warrior would have none of it. Every time Zelda turned back to her glass, she was mystified to see it full.
"What am I drinking?" She eventually asked, as they sat, bellies full, in their garden chairs. The afternoon was turning to sunset, the sky a bright orange hue and the clouds a mix of bright pinks and pale blues. "It feels like static tingling down my throat."
"Voltfruit wine," Urbosa said, pouring herself and Mipha another glass. "Doesn't it feel nice?"
Zelda hummed in agreement, focusing on Revali and Daruk, who were discussing the weather in their respective provinces.
"Does summer get even warmer in Eldin?" Revali asked, his mood much mellowed by alcohol.
"Not really," Daruk said. "I think the volcano keeps things pretty steady."
"This," Urbosa said, stabbing a finger into the tabletop, "is the perfect time of year for sand seal races."
Revali turned a sardonic eye on his Gerudo counterpart. "You mean even more stifling hot than usual?"
"Actually, yes," Urbosa said. "Because summer is sand seal mating season."
Zelda perked up. "I would love to race sand seals!" And Mipha nodded, cradling her wine glass mutely.
Urbosa was evidently delighted by this. She began to describe, in depth, the techniques for handling the sand-swimming creatures, as well as the ways to win the affections of their very own specimen.
"It's all in the feeding," she assured the two girls, who were listening raptly.
"Sealiously?" Link asked.
Urbosa shot him an annoyed look, though Mipha stifled a giggle. "Be careful, swordsman," the Gerudo Champion warned.
"I'm perfectly sealious," Link swore, his wine glass lifting to his lips. "Convinced, you might say, that they are the best."
Before Urbosa could reply, Zelda raised her glass in agreement. "Yes, you've sealed the deal!"
Urbosa groaned, but Revali snickered and even Daruk hid his laughter into his fist, pretending to cough.
"What?" Zelda asked, confused. Mipha patted her shoulder gently.
"Don't you mind them, princess."
"I wanted to ask," Revali spoke up, changing the subject, "Urbosa, you mentioned a card game the other day―"
"Rich Voe, Poor Voe," Daruk filled in. He furrowed one of his thick brows. "Did I say that right?"
"You did," Urbosa said, "but I don't know if you deserve it now." She raised her nose petulantly. "Maybe I'll keep the rules all to myself."
"Oh no," Zelda said, her voice muffled by her wine glass. Her green eyes were wide, and Link couldn't help but chuckle, hiding behind his own glass.
It appeared drinking wine only made Zelda more earnest. He hadn't thought that was possible.
"I know the game," Mipha said. "But in Lanayru we call it Big Fish, Little Fish."
That rang a bell. Link frowned. "Isn't that the game you systematically trounced us at?"
"Of course I didn't," Mipha commented, her expression carefully neutral. "It's a game of luck."
"And strategy," Urbosa said, smiling. Then, having apparently given up on pretending to be irritated, she retrieved a pack of cards from her basket and began to distribute the hands. "Let's begin with a practice round, and the end rankings will decide who begins next."
Rich Voe, Poor Voe was, Link found out, exactly like Big Fish, Little Fish, which was exactly the same as Asshole, a card game played in taverns by drunken squires.
The game was founded on rankings― the first player to get rid of all their cards was named the winner, and assigned a title of the group's choice, such as King, Rich Voe, Big Fish, or some other winner's nomenclature, and titles were assigned in turn, with lessening importance, until there was a final player remaining with a handful of cards. The loser was then titled Poor Voe, Little Fish, or Asshole, depending on who one was playing with.
Wisely, Link did not share this last moniker with those around him, unsure about how well they would welcome the dubious honorific.
On the first round, it was Daruk who ended up as Rich Voe, and Revali as Poor Voe. But each round changed the rankings and by the time the sun had set, they were arguing about the merits of rankings, their cards moving to the table with familiarity as wine continued to flow. Between rounds, Link and Daruk had lit some of the lanterns in the gazebo.
"Well, there's a place for everyone in this world," Daruk said as he played a pair of fours. "And I won't begrudge a game that allows its players a fair chance at a given rank."
If only it were that easy, Link reflected, from his seat as the second lowest rank, next to Zelda, who had squarely lost the last round. She didn't seem to mind, though, her good mood bolstered by a slow but steady flow of wine. She had occasionally turned to Link to ask for his advice on what cards to play, which somewhat defeated the purpose of the game, but he'd done his best to give his most honest counsel. After Zelda had won a couple of rounds with his help, the other Champions had forbidden him from giving any advice at all.
This had not, apparently, kept Zelda from trying to get his help, and she'd begun to resort to silly, obvious tactics meant more to annoy her opponents than to get actual help: she'd stretch and lean into Link to whisper, or she'd get up for a bite and make gestures in secret behind their backs that Link was utterly unable to ignore...
All in all, she was being absolutely―
"... You're seally," Link slurred, when she stage-whispered her next question, perfectly aware that the other Champions would overhear her. She seemed to find more entertainment from this than anything else, and was giggling to herself delightedly. It was heartwarming to watch, and no one was making a genuine effort to stop her.
In fact, Urbosa was outright hiding her laughter behind her own cards.
"Nonsense," Zelda mumbled, straightening. "I am perfectly sealious." She mock-frowned and pouted. "Calamity-sealious."
It was the first time she had ever made any joke about the Calamity. Link glanced around the table: both Daruk and Revali were chuckling, and Urbosa groaned with disgust. Mipha, though, was studying the princess with her usual sad eyes. And Link knew why: the mockery cut to the heart of a problem Zelda had refused to discuss since her return from Akkala.
Her continued powerlessness.
"And with that," Zelda continued, ignoring the reactions she had caused, "I think Link will soon be King. I mean, Rich Voe."
Link glanced down at his hand. She was right. He was going to win the next round, given he was going to lay down a hard-hitting sequence of twos, kings and knights. He looked up at Zelda, who grinned at his elbow, and drunkenly brought his cards closer to his chest.
"You are a cheater," he accused, squinting.
She shrugged, smiling too prettily to make him angry. "And I'll be next," she added, to the others. "Unless any of you can defeat a four-queen hand."
The other Champions let out a symphony of sighs and groans. "Fine," Daruk relented, once both Link and Zelda had revealed their hands. "That makes Link the Rich Voe, Zelda the Chancellor, and now we'll be fighting not to be Poor Voe."
Leaning back in his seat, Link quietly watched the four Champions battle it out. Next to him, Zelda was happily enjoying their jabs and underhanded comments at each other.
Although the sun had set, the sky was still purple, and the heat was going nowhere fast. It was a comfortable evening, with the warm glow of lanterns and the cozy secrecy of their meal. Soon, though, the stars would come out, coldly shining in the still summer night.
With his belly full, his mind merrily drunk, and the beautiful girl next to him placing a wrinkled paper crown on his hair, Link felt, for the first time in a long time, simply content.
Turning to Zelda as her hands let go of the paper confection on his head, he caught her eye.
Something leaped in her throat, and she froze, a warm smile on her lips. He couldn't help but look at that pink mouth... but only for the briefest of moments. Soon, he was forcing himself to focus on her eyes, which shone green and happy in the lantern light.
Would she look like this during a wedding banquet, pink and sweet, at her husband's side and surrounded by friends and merrymaking? Could that husband ever keep himself from kissing her every time he turned to her? Because at that moment it took him every ounce of willpower not to.
He forced himself to look away, to focus on the other Champions, and caught Mipha's look, shooting her a smile he hoped did not betray his thoughts. She returned it, still with that sad undercurrent that was so typical of his Zora friend. He wondered if he oughtn't check in with her, later, make sure she was alright.
"I saw the bard this morning," Revali said, and Link snapped back to reality.
"Really," Zelda said, amused. "Revali. Don't just call him 'the bard'. He has a name."
Revali snorted. "None I'd allow out of my beak." He won third place, allowing himself to relax and focus his full attention on his princess. "Honestly, Princess, why do you give him any attention at all?"
Zelda shrugged a bare shoulder, suddenly embarrassed. "Misko is kind to me." Then, defensively, "Besides, I don't know that many men who are eager to sing me songs. I know he can be silly, but…" She looked to Link for support, but Link did not give it. "I don't know. I suppose it's nice for a girl to feel pretty from time to time."
"From time to time," Link echoed, dumbly. Was she kidding?
"Don't you mind them," Urbosa said, to her princess, scowling at one of Daruk's plays. "They'll never understand."
As Mipha won fourth place, she, too, turned her full attention on the conversation. "It's perfectly natural for anyone to want compliments."
"But… Misko?" Revali asked, incredulous.
Daruk won the last struggle, and Urbosa was officially named the Poor Voe of that round. As she begrudgingly collected the cards, she said, "Do not insult the boy. He is very handsome. That silver hair."
"The lovely music," Mipha added, enjoying the growing frown on Revali's face.
"The arrogant, smarmy smile," the Rito Champion added, embellishing his voice with a fake sigh of longing.
"Misko understands court," Zelda said, smiling shyly. "I can talk to him about lords being terrible, and he'll commiserate with me. I know he's not your sort of person, but he takes care of a side of me that…" She sighed.
"That is elevated and courtly," Mipha finished.
"Yes," Zelda said, avoiding their gazes. "It's not romantic."
"Of course not," Revali said, deadpan, in a tone that betrayed how little he believed that. "Maybe not for you, but if that bard doesn't feel romantic―"
Daruk slammed Revali's back in a hearty pat, and the Rito spluttered in shock. Cheerfully, the Goron Champion said, "Well, fine. We can talk gossip, too."
"I'm sure," Zelda said, stifling a laugh.
"No, really," Urbosa agreed, having shuffled the cards. She was beginning to pass them around again. "We can talk about lords, too. Like Chancellor Cole. Have you heard he hasn't been to prayers in months?"
"I have," Revali said, bored. "Though why anyone should care―"
"The Chancellor should lead by example," Mipha said. "Which he is not."
"I can't blame him, though," Zelda said, collecting her cards carefully. "And anyway, these days, I'm praying more than enough for half the kingdom."
"We swore we would not talk about that tonight," Urbosa said, in an attempt to comfort her princess.
"Well, why not?" Zelda asked, organizing the cards in her hand. "It's all I do. I don't have the same luxury of leading my people around, like you all. All I do is pray."
Next to her, Link finished stacking his cards, and he shot his princess a sympathetic look. She didn't notice, her eyes too focused on her strategizing. That was a blessing, at least. The words were casual. There was no pain for now.
"Has your father at least stopped reprimanding you for doing too little?" Mipha asked, softly.
"Yes," Zelda replied. She traded her weakest card to Daruk, who gave her his strongest, as Link and Urbosa traded their respective two weakest and two strongest cards. Then, sighing, she said, "I don't blame him, you know. It's true my studies were taking up a lot of my time. And every passing week without some form of awakening only makes me feel a greater urgency. Perhaps it was wrong of me to seek that escape."
"You spend all your time in the shrine," Urbosa admonished. "It's already the middle of Din and you haven't even lost your winter blemish. Link, it's you."
Link had been too busy studying his princess to remember it was his opening play. He put down a single ten.
Zelda played a knight, then sat back, pensive. "You know, it's true I miss studying and exploring. But the hardest part is not having an excuse to sit in Robbie's lab, or follow Purah through the gardens looking at insects." She exhaled sadly. "I miss them, and all those researchers."
Link could empathize. He often reflected on the events that had led him here, surrounded by Hyrule's best hopes. Sometimes it seemed overwhelming.
"I miss being a squire," Link said.
Five sets of surprised eyes turned to him.
Blinking, Link put his cards down and said, "I mean, not that I don't appreciate knighthood, or that I don't like your company." He caught the amusement in Zelda's face and felt himself flush. "It's just… I was just another squire, once. I don't know that any of us will ever go back to that."
The Champions and his princess fell quiet, contemplating.
"I suppose not," Mipha gently said. "But there is something to be said of being part of this companionship."
"There is," Link said, warmly.
That, according to Urbosa, merited another round. Before long, all their glasses were topped off, and they were back to good-natured banter, the cards going to the table in quick succession.
The more Link drank, the more the conversation seemed to flow quickly. They talked about the Order of the Guard, exchanged stories about some of the knights and Sheikah shadows. They argued about the merits of exiling Lord Dracozu rather than putting him into the stocks. They tried to decide whether the constellation of the Bow was, in fact, pointing directly to Faron Woods.
They debated about whether lullabies were art, and, by extension, whether everything was art, including food. Link had firmly defended this position, although Revali derided him for it. They reminisced about their childhoods, shared or not ― Zelda's winters in Gerudo, Link's years in Zora's Domain, Revali's visits to the Castle ― teasing out the fuzzy details that their memories could no longer picture clearly. They wondered if their shared memory of a terrible batch of Farore's Day cakes had, in fact, made them all sick, or whether they'd simply eaten too many.
They talked about their parents and lineages, though Link had little to contribute on the matter. They loudly sang some old shanties and ballads, reinventing the lyrics to feature the more annoying courtiers of their acquaintance. They shared stories of holidays, childhood misadventures and short-sighted sorrows.
Night was well and truly settled-in when Revali reminded Link of their unsettled archery score, and Link had agreed to settle the matter once and for all.
Somewhere, the bells rang the eleventh hour, which meant they'd been drinking for at least six of them. Even so, Link was surprised to find himself wobbling as he stood.
Mipha and Zelda were holding on to one another, clearly unsteady on their feet. Link and Revali, for their part, had to rely on one another to keep a steady course towards the barracks. Arm under wing, they argued about their skills, slurring and bleary-eyed, passing those late night guards, knights and squires that were preparing for the rounds and the night watch.
It was no surprise that they attracted attention. It was rare to see all five Champions and the princess in such a state of merriment. Soon, they had an audience of guards who were either on their way out to town, or in for the night. Gathering in the courtyard, more than one tried to dissuade them from manipulating weapons in their state of inebriation, but Revali dismissed them all.
Link knew Revali would beat him at archery. But he didn't care. Somehow, over the course of the evening, Revali had buried the war axe. He was still an arrogant, insufferable prick, but at least the taunts seemed to come from a place of reluctant companionship. Link could work with that.
"Well," he said, in reply to Revali's promise to humiliate him, "at leasht it won't be shelf-inflicted."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Revali mumbled. "You could still piss yourself."
"Har," Link replied, intelligently. He then disengaged from the Rito and turned to their audience. "Will anyone else be competing in thish contesht of shkill?"
No one offered themselves up on the altar of sacrifice, and Link watched as Revali approached Zelda, who was smiling, and bowed low, begging for her favour.
She did not look at Link when she answered Revali: "Of course," she said, with all the happiness of inebriation. "The winner gets… Hm…" She screwed up her face in thought, clearly struggling to imagine a fitting boon.
"A kiss?" Revali said, gently, his voice deeper than usual.
Zelda flushed. She brought a hand up to her mouth and laughed. "Well, if you insist."
Link felt the ground sway under him, and in that moment he hated that he was drunk. Sidling up to him, Urbosa raised a brow, her amusement palpable.
"This must be killing you," she drawled, clearly entertained.
Link watched as Revali bowed even lower in deference, feeling the green devil of jealousy curl into his stomach. And he looked away. "Of course not."
"Don't be upset if he wins," Urbosa suggested. "He loves her very much. He needs this." She took another sip, directly from a wine bottle, this time. "I'm actually surprised you don't tease him relentlessly about it."
Link checked on the tension in his bowstring. "I can't do that," he said, morosely. He couldn't look at Zelda. He definitely couldn't look at Revali, who was prancing proudly, perfectly aware that the actual archery was a mere formality.
"Sands," Urbosa said, under her breath. "So much honour." And she took another swill.
"It's not honour," Link corrected her somberly. "It's sympathy." Then, stepping forward to disengage from the conversation, although he did hear her chuckling warmly, he pulled the string, practicing his movement. It wasn't the same practiced elegance Revali would have. Even when he was drunk, the Rito's talents were legendary.
Still, their audience cheered. Around the courtyard, lanterns had been lit, and if they hadn't woken anyone up, it was just a matter of time.
If the entire castle didn't know about their drunkenness until now, it soon would.
"Ten arrows each?" Revali asked, lightly. The feathery bastard barely seemed bothered.
"Of course," Link replied gamely. "Best three shots. What do you say?"
"Sounds fine to me."
They allowed some of the squires to fetch them some quivers, and Link hopped about from foot to foot to limber up, though it was all pointless. At this stage, his goal was to avoid complete humiliation. Their audience would report back to his fellow knights, possibly even to his Order. He had to give it his best shot.
"Here's a tip," Revali said, leaning in. "Imagine the bull's eye is your favourite Sheikah bard."
That actually helped, Link considered, once his first four arrows were in his target. He'd messed up a little at the beginning, but he was at least all in the red. Revali's marks, of course, were much more clustered together, absolutely stunning, even at a hundred paces. But Link still had a few arrows to go. He might yet catch up.
He wondered what Zelda's kiss would taste like. That was a mistake. His arrow hit the border of the center. That was no good.
"Oh, come on," Revali said. "Are you trying to let me win?"
"Shut up," Link mumbled. "If I'd known, I'd have stayed sober."
That was a pitiful excuse, and they both knew it. Revali was just as smashed as Link was, swaying on his feet and sometimes catching himself with a well-placed bat of a wing, but he was still perfect in his mastery.
And, in fact, the more the arrows flew, the more Link's stomach sank. He managed to keep his aim in the red, though, which would at least safeguard his honour among the guards and the knights, but Revali's aim was far superior, almost unearthly in its accuracy.
As Revali's final arrow landed, a cheer of celebration went around the courtyard, and Link was forced to concede the victory. He shook his Rito counterpart's wingtip, smiling as well as he could, and congratulated him.
"You held up much better than I expected," Revali admitted, under the loud exclamations around them. His eyes held something in them that Link had not seen since their early childhood: respect.
And though he would not get a kiss from Zelda, he supposed that was better than nothing.
"You earned your victory," Link said as kindly as possible, the words sour on his tongue.
"But your reward will have to wait," Mipha said, breaking in to the conversation. Blinking, the two competitors turned, looking over her shoulder.
Nestled against Daruk's side, Zelda was sound asleep. The big Goron seemed both warmly happy to serve as a pillow, and yet strangely unsure of what to do. Next to him, Urbosa had just finished polishing off her third bottle of wine. The Gerudo sure knew how to pack them in. She was the least inebriated of them all, too. Even Mipha looked bleary-eyed and pale.
"Are you alright?" Link asked his Zora friend, reaching out to steady her. Revali, for his part, headed over to check on their princess.
"I'm fine," she said. Her golden eyes went to Link's hand on her arm. "And I can stand, too." Bravely, she showed him, and his hand moved away. She glanced back at the princess, observing, as did Link, the way Revali gently tucked a strand of Zelda's golden hair behind her ear. "We should get her to bed. It might be wise if King Rhoam didn't see her like this."
"Right," Link said, feeling himself sober up somewhat. "The King. I'd almost managed to forget about him."
"He's doing what he thinks is right," Mipha gently reminded him. "Just like everyone else."
Link couldn't dignify that with a reply. As the crowd of watchers dispersed, they rejoined the other Champions. "Would you mind carrying her, Daruk?"
The big Goron was already lifting the princess into his arms. She mumbled something and brought her arms around the Goron's neck, burying her face into his shoulder like a child. Daruk did not miss the resemblance, and his face broke into a big, goofy, watery smile. Urbosa, for her part, motioned for Daruk to follow along.
Together, the quiet procession began to make its way back to the castle, following along darkened corridors and half-lit sconces. Even though his last drink had gone down something like an hour earlier at least, Link still felt quite drunk. He and Revali continued to exchange jabs, with Mipha reminding them to keep quiet every couple of paces.
They went up stairwells until they found their way to the Royal Quarters. There, Urbosa seemed pleased that her protégée was safe, and told them she was going back down to clean up the gazebo. Revali, clearly aware his chance at a kiss had passed, volunteered to help.
So it was that Link opened Zelda's bedroom door, Mipha pulled aside the curtain, and Daruk set the princess down on her bed. Then, both male Champions stepped out, allowing Mipha to help Zelda into her nightdress.
Yawning, Daruk brought a big hand to his mouth and said, "I think that's it for me." He blinked at the long hallway that connected all of the upper crust's rooms, including the tiny room that was Link's bedroom, right next to Zelda's. "I guess I can leave her in your hands?"
Link snorted. "I am in no state. I have one of the Guards covering her door tonight."
"Hm, that's probably for the best," Daruk agreed, blinking tiredly. He put a massive hand on Link's shoulder. "Well. It was a good night, I think. Glad you could make it."
Link smiled. "Likewise, Daruk."
They exchanged weary smiles, then the Goron slowly stumbled his way back down the hallway. Behind Link, Zelda's door opened, and Mipha emerged, looking as tired as Link felt.
"She's sleeping," Mipha said. "Soundly." She managed a smile. "I guess Revali will have to wait for that kiss."
"If she remembers at all," Link said, hoping she wouldn't.
Mipha looked up at him with a sad smile, her scales blood red in the torchlight. "I think she will. She always remembers everything." Her hands grasped his. "I'm sorry."
Looking down at their clasped hands, Link frowned drunkenly. "Am I that transparent?" He asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
Mipha's gaze was a mix of sadness and amusement. "Maybe I've known you long enough."
Looking down at the Zora princess, Link found himself feeling a hint of sorrow, too. "Please don't tell me I'm an idiot. I know it only too well."
She squeezed his hands earnestly, and held on to them for a second more before releasing him. The remaining burst of healing warmth seemed to say she understood.
That didn't make him feel much better though.
Pushing herself up on her toes, Mipha laid a gentle kiss on his cheek. "Good night, Link."
"Good night," Link whispered.
She gathered her Champion's cloth around herself and pulled away, padding down the carpeted hall back to the stairwell and her own quarters. Link watched her go, watched her cross paths with the Sheikah shadow who would be on duty tonight.
He was inordinately relieved to see the silver-haired Sheikah arrive. He was, he knew, mere minutes away from falling asleep on his feet.
"Good evening, sir," his Sheikah shadow greeted. Link returned the salute tiredly.
"Evening," he said, blinking against the inebriation to try to remember the shadow's name. "Anything to report before I pass out, er...?"
"No, sir," the Sheikah said, through the cover on his mouth that was part of their uniform. His red eyes were cheerful, though. "That was quite a commotion you stirred up down there, sir."
Link snorted, feeling the yawn take over his entire face. When he recovered, he dismissed the comment absently with a wave of his hand. "Bad weapons discipline," he reminded him. "Do as I say, not as I do." Then, swinging open his bedroom door, he managed a final politeness: "Good night..." He lifted a finger, trying to remember the shadow's name and failing. Rather than end on that shameful admission, he retreated to his room.
He shut the door behind him, removed his boots, and fell face-forward on the softest pillow, which lay atop the softest bed, and he shut his eyes. Too bad for getting changed. He was too tired for that. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never. This pillow, he knew with absolute certainty, had such magnetic pull… He'd sleep the sleep of the dead tonight. Hm…
The question kept bugging him, though, the frown pulling his brows together in the folds of his pillow case. Really: what was that Sheikah shadow's name again? His muddled thoughts oozed sluggishly through his mind, but he still couldn't weave them together into something coherent. It would bug him until he could remember.
He and Groose had done the scheduling together this week. Who had he assigned tonight? Oman Agana? That man outside wasn't Oman Agana, though. Or… Was that tomorrow? Yesterday?
Skies, this was irritating. What was that Sheikah's name, damn it? He struggled to place the man's eyes. He had always prided himself on learning to recognize them quickly, especially after so much time―
The thought came upon him like an arrow to the gut.
He didn't know the shadow's name. That meant…
He wasn't one of his. He wasn't one of those Sheikah who were part of the Order of the Guard.
And if he wasn't, then―
A sudden burst of strength made him push himself to his feet, stumbling backwards, dizzily, in his room. His vision was blurry, his senses dulled, and yet his heart was pounding harder than ever, the paranoid thought drowning everything else.
Running to his door, he swung it open, and rushed back out into the hallway.