When Zelda deemed herself presentable, freshly cleaned and dressed in her Hylian travel clothes, she steeled herself and found Link in the central plaza. He was busy making use of the communal cooking pots, busying himself with preparing hydromelons and voltfruits and hearty durians. White stew-like liquid simmered in the pot.
He wore wide-hipped Gerudo pants and nothing else. That’s probably a good move, considering what he had before is likely ruined now. His hair kept getting in his face as he worked, and he continually brushed it out of his eyes.
“Good morning,” she says just to announce her presence, even though there’s no such thing and morning here. Link tensed, not having noticed her approach, then offered her a professional nod. A piece of his hair got in his eye and he swiped it away.
“You probably want this.” Zelda pulled the hairtie she wasn’t using off of her wrist and extended it to him. The knight stared at it, then her, a confused look on his face. “I found it in—Uh, you left this behind.”
Link tamped down on a memory that clearly wanted to overtake him, and gratefully accepted. So that’s where it went. He made quick work of tying his sandy hair out of his way and continued preparing their meal in silence. She watched as he took the pot off of the fire to cool, and slowly added pieces of hydomelon to the concoction. To her fascination, the milky substance thickened as the melon quickly chilled it. Having a cooled yogurt to work with, Link added the rest of the ingredients to complete the parfait. He handed her a soup ladle and a bowl.
“Thanks…” she says, serving herself. He hasn’t said a single word to her yet and honestly, she doesn’t blame him. What is there to say?
Sorry I asked you to do something you weren’t comfortable with?
Sorry I ate you out, I promise it was just for the trial?
Sorry I ruined the only shirt that fit you?
They ate in dreaded, heavy silence.
She supposed that they ought to at least celebrate in their completion of the trial. That feline should be showing up any time now to whisk them away to the Spring of Unity, and she can let him forget it ever happened.
As if on cue, the blue glow of the Kittee appeared around a corner as it stepped into the plaza. Curious eyes watched them, tail twitching low behind it. Saucer-shaped ears swiveled this way and that and eventually focused straight ahead on them.
Link followed Zelda’s tense gaze.
His stomach dropped so hard he nearly lost breakfast.
Had it even grown?! Zelda’s mouth hung open in disbelief. Maybe a little since it jumped on the bed, but it was hard to tell. She was expecting it to be the size of a horse after the stunt they pulled the night before.
Zelda exchanged a glance with Link. It seems he was thinking the same thing.
The Kittee had no idea what to make of this strange energy coming from them.
Link leaned his face into his palm, and Zelda rolled her head back with a groan. What is it going to take to pass this cursed trial?!
Zelda scooped some of the sweet yogurt onto her finger and offered it to the Kittee, who happily trotted over and licked it clean. “As far as I can tell, it grew but… definitely not in proportion to the effort we put in.”
Link nodded, his perfect mask of neutrality cracking. She couldn’t have said that any more tactfully, and yet memories still assaulted him.
The Kittee expressed its thanks by marking her hand with its chin. Zelda nearly forgot all her problems when it flopped on its side, continuing to rub and nuzzle the side of her leg. “This creature is the vehicle that got us here when it grew to a size capable of jumping from platform to platform,” Zelda thought aloud. Her finger toyed with the soft toes of the Kittee’s paw, drawing and retracting its claws happily. “That means that because it is still growing, it is a part of the trial.”
She heard Link swallow.
“In order for the Kittee to become a functional vehicle for us to get to Vah Naboris, it would have to be…”
Link eyed the creature, as if he could will it to the size they need. “A lot bigger.”
What is it going to take to get it there? Had they not done enough? Judging by the hangdog expression on Link’s face, they’d already done too much as it is.
Zelda massaged her temple with one hand while the other let Kittee lick it to its heart’s content. Even in her frustration, she found it impossible to be angry at the sweet creature. She patted her crossed leg, motioning for it to come nearer. The Kittee snapped to its belly, eyed the proffered spot, then got up and examined for a way to make itself fit.
“I… genuinely thought we’d surpassed the requirements of the trial.” She hated how embarrassment burned in her ears when she was trying to think scientifically about this. However, it’s very hard to be clinical and scholarly when by all appearances, they’d just been given the feedback that it hadn’t been hardly enough.
Neither expressed their ideas of what exactly would comprise “enough” for this trial.
If only the elephant in the room could jump high enough to take them to Vah Naboris.
Kittee curled up in the space between Zelda’s legs, but was too heavy. She adjusted, which Kittee took deep offense to, until it realized she was just better accommodating it. It seems like years ago since it was small enough to curl up on one of her legs. Settled, it purred happily into the warmth of her thigh.
“I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter,” Zelda said suddenly, making Link’s spine stiffen. What? She smiled as she threaded her fingers through the soft blue fur of the creature. “I don’t ever want to leave here anyway. Kittee is my friend now and I love them.”
Link’s bristling hackles went down. Oh.
Bad time for a joke.
Zelda could sense his anxiety and opened her mouth to ask him something. Link passed her a stare that said, don’t.
Oh, okay. Apparently, the answer is no, we aren’t going to talk about it.
Even without saying anything, they seemed to have drawn the same conclusions. Zelda sighed heavily and gave him a soft olive-branch of an expression. Can we please work together on this?
She was right and he knew it. Link pinched the bridge of his nose to relieve some pressure. He had too many thoughts swimming around in his head, mainly about honor and duty and Hero and last night and some nebulous worry that went with all of it.
There’s no way for him to pass the trials and remain the stoic knight he’s regressed back into.
Zelda threw him a lifeline. “I like your pants?” she tries, giving him a lopsided grin. It at least got him to look at her with a flat expression.
“That makes one of us,” he deadpanned. However, that ghost of a smile on one side of his mouth told her that he’s not completely gone.
“I knew there was something missing from Gerudo Town,” Zelda says, tinkering with the machine in front of her. It was a large contraption stationed near the stairs outside the Noble Canteen. She’d opened the access panel, assessing something in the intricate wiring. Kittee was interested in a particular gear, and Zelda gently brushed its paw away.
“What is it?” Link said behind her. He’d tried having some time alone to sort himself out but found that not watching over her produced more anxiety than it fixed. Now, he watched her fiddle with some unseen flaw in the machine.
Zelda didn’t answer. She worked a tool she procured from her room into a bolt. When she deemed it satisfactory, she pulled back some and pressed the topaz stone into its slot. Electricity coursed through the machine, and it played the tune of the Gerudo theme. Wind instruments made the high notes and steady drumbeats provided the rhythm. Link instantly recognized the song.
“You… made this?”
Zelda looked delighted. She wiped the sweat from her brow and grinned widely at her success. “Yes, I did,” she brimmed with pride. “I figured out how to make a simple tune first, then adjusted it to the timing I wanted. Adding other instruments was easy from there. Topaz is able to harness electricity, and when you run it through metal it can perform a variety of tasks.”
Link purposefully didn’t think about topaz or its many uses.
“Just for fun?”
“Yes and no,” Zelda flicked her hair, “It was fun, but the owner of the Noble Canteen said that the bar’s location was just out of sight that many tourists miss it. So, I built her a music box to help attract business for her.”
Zelda’s smile was infectious. She genuinely had a blast making this device. It sang sweetly to them, an ode to the Gerudo culture. No wonder this is her Zelda Island. “Free of charge? That’s nice of you.”
Her eyes cut a mischievous little smile at him. “Well… not completely. I didn’t charge any rupees, if that’s what you mean.”
Link furrowed his brows at her, curious. “In return, she taught me how to make a Noble Pursuit.”
She seemed happy with this trade. “What is… Isn’t that just a drink at the bar?”
Zelda stared at him wryly. “Link, I am a noblewoman born into the royal family. I’m not allowed anything outside my daily prayers. Do you think I’ve ever been granted free access to ‘just’ a drink?”
Link couldn’t help but laugh at that. Hey, he’s not the only one suppressed under the weight of his title, after all. “Fair enough.”
She’d broken though his professional barrier to the nugget of friendship they’d built together. That was good enough for her. Zelda worried her lip as she thought of something to say to him, and he did his best to stay neutral. Her first instinct was to discuss the trials, to pick and pull it apart with logic and reason. Analyze why their success was so minimal.
But honestly? Zelda just wanted a break.
So, she allowed an exuberant smile at him and persuaded, “I know you’re always looking for new recipes.”
How could he say no to that? He made a little gesture of after you and followed her up the stairs. Zelda didn’t hide her delight as she bounded up. The last time she’d given herself a break from her responsibilities was when she was last in Gerudo Town with a sky above her. She slid behind the bar, enjoying the feeling like she was intruding as she pilfered through the items stocked in it.
“Wait, how did you already know what a Noble Pursuit is? I wouldn’t have ever expected you of all people to come to Gerudo Town to relax. Or anywhere for that matter.”
Link gave her a look that indicated he didn’t like that comment but answered her question anyway. “I was tailing you. It’s not suspicious to sit in a bar and people-watch.” Link shrugged noncommittally at the look she gave him. He had already apologized. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter. The owner looked at me and thought I was underage. I couldn’t exactly prove her otherwise.”
Zelda seemed to think that was strange. “Wait, cover your face from the nose down and look up at me.” Confused, Link slowly did as he was told, eyes panned up at Zelda. She appraised him, then shrugged, “Yeah, I wouldn’t have served you either.”
She laughed to herself at his affronted stare while she busied herself collecting ingredients. “Sorry, but a cute Hylian girl with giant doe eyes comes in here—voice probably high and soft because that’s the best you can do—” Link chewed his cheek in a pout, and Zelda giggled. Got him. “I’d kick her out, too.”
Link’s offense wore off quickly at the good-natured ribbing. He watched her, curious as to what she was doing. “Okay, I think I remember. It’s two parts voltfruit juice (so four, for two servings) … wait, no, rim the glasses with courser bee honey first.” She mumbled to herself as she tried to recall all the steps. Hyrdomelon soda, three parts, so six. Ice, annnndddd…”
She looked around for something, then found it hidden under the bar.
“Fermented and distilled hearty durian.” The smell coming from the bottle was acetic, which was better than the natural stench of the sweet fruit. She added the concoction to a metal mixing cup, swished it, then poured out two for each of them.
She got the measurements wrong and a little too much poured over the lip of the glass. “Oops. Sorry, Link.” She gently nudged the overflowed glass Link’s way, making a mess on the countertop. It was a pink-green color. She looked so proud of her creation that Link couldn’t help but be amused at her mirth.
He leaned forward to get some off the top, but Zelda stopped him. “Wait!” she found a little bottle of flowers, then placed a stem in his glass. “Garnish with cool safflina. There! A Noble Pursuit.”
Link looked back up at her, eyebrow cocked. “I got about half of that.”
“You pronounced ‘thank you,’ wrong,” she corrected royally.
He snorted back at her, then took a sip. Sweet from the honey, then sour-strong from the voltfruit and durian, and then sweet again. He coughed and the knight’s face twisted into a very unintimidating expression. “Wow… that’s…”
“Strong?” she grinned, relishing in his misery.
He nodded, trying to adjust to the overwhelming taste. Things that have intoxicating effects were never something he partook in or had any interest in, really. Link is just indulging Zelda, and it was working. She laughed lightly and teased, “I would have thought you of all people would be able to handle a strong taste.”
Link’s entire face went radish-red at her comment. “Zelda!” he gaped.
Zelda blinked at him, confused. When she realized what he must have assumed, she suppressed a laugh and corrected, “…Because you enjoy spicy food, Link.”
Having assumed wrong only embarrassed him further.
Zelda suppressed the urge to tease him some more over it, but mercifully left it alone. She sipped her own drink and watched the Kittee lounge on the couches to her right. It looked so happy to stretch out across the whole couch, claws opening the fabric to reveal stuffing without meaning to.
The music box clanged, and the Gerudo theme started over again.
“I can’t help feeling a little attached to it,” Zelda says with a soft smile, “It seems cruel for the trials to get me attached to something only to take it away when I’ve succeeded. Is it silly if I’m not in a rush to leave because I enjoy its company?”
Link shook his head. He understands the sentiment.
“The closer we get to reaching the shrines, the more dangerous it becomes,” he reminds her levelly. “It may not be our friend anymore by that time.”
Zelda clearly didn’t like that but made no move to correct him. “It is strange that any sort of enmity would be fostered in the Trials of Unity. I think I will hold out hope that Kittee will continue to be kindhearted.” She eyed the band of skin where the gauzes had once been. The cuts had scabbed over just fine.
Link seemed to disagree. That’s not exactly how animals operate. There is no morality to them. He wasn’t one to be a buzzkill, so he remained quiet. Not that she would have been listening anyway. Zelda carried her creation over to the lounge area, sitting near Kittee’s head. The creature flopped back down, face on her lap as she petted it. It no longer seemed able to make that soft purring sound, instead a raspy happy-growl took its place.
Zelda seemed contented, if just for the moment, and Link would happily take that.
They listened to the music box clang again and start over. “Mmm. I’m gonna have to fix that,” she mumbled to herself. Even while calm, her mind continued to pulse in activity. Link saw her try and shut them down, push them away, and live in the moment. “Wait. No, I won’t. This is a memory. Wouldn’t I have to fix it in the real Gerudo Town?”
She’s so transparent.
Link nursed another swallow from his glass. He knew what was coming, so he braced himself.
“Link, I… I don’t know how to express this without coming across as, um, crass.” He tamed his face into neutrality. “I… want to express gratitude.” She didn’t meet his eye as she specifically chose her words. “You did something… kind, for me, that you didn’t have to do.” Her cheek clenched, embarrassed. “At least, we think you didn’t have to do. I’m honestly not sure anymore. I—”
It’s a rare thing to see the eloquent Princess Zelda flounder.
Kindly, Link stepped in. “You’re welcome.”
Zelda’s miffed expression indicated that was not a sufficient answer. That’s it? It was your idea to go down on me, but all you’re gonna say is ‘You’re welcome’?
Link had to try and search for a question to answer. She was asking him why he'd done it. Why he went above and beyond the trail. That’s a fair question, when he’d pointedly avoided her to the best of his abilities up until that point. Link sighed. He felt that knot coming back into his shoulder.
“I wanted to help.” He grimaced at the simplicity. Link took another sip as if he was trying to cover the memory of a different taste. “You’re… very persuasive.”
That’s fair, Zelda thought. “I take pride in that, thank you.” He snorted back at her but didn’t answer. It seemed like Zelda was chewing on a thought or had a point to bringing this up. He wisely waited her out. “Even… in that situation. You were—” She searched for words, struggling to find them. “It would have been perfectly acceptable for you to… It seems cruel that you didn’t—"
“I… think I get what you’re trying to ask me,” Link says, holding up a hand. Zelda sighed in relief. She suddenly seemed very preoccupied with petting Kittee in her lap. He tried to think of a succinct answer to that question. Why did he refuse himself and indulge her? “There’s… a lot of answers to that.”
Zelda’s eyes panned up to him, watching him patiently.
“It’s…” he cleared his throat, tried again, “I’m the Hero of Hyrule and your knight. I have two tasks: defeat Ganon, protect you. That’s it. To… do anything outside of what is strictly required of me is just opportunistic. It’s taking advantage of the situation. I refuse to use you like that.”
Zelda was immediately reminded of his anecdote at the Kakariko Inn. Ashamed I was tempted at all to use someone.
She tried to process that. The way he didn’t look at her indicated he is just as ashamed in this moment as he was at the Inn. He was genuinely tempted.
Sounds like he was more tempted to use you.
“Link… I think you misunderstood. I, uh, meant by yourself."
Zelda blinked at him in confusion. She didn’t follow his logic. “What?” How is relieving tension in a horribly uncomfortable state, by oneself, using someone else? “By your logic, I used you. Is that really what you think?”
He shook his head. “No, no… It’s just. The trial. It was my call to stay and help.” He felt like he wasn’t making sense. “I figured it was fine as long as we completed the trial and I didn’t step out of my bounds. If I didn’t, you know, think of myself.”
Zelda’s head hurt and she massaged her temple. “Wait. So, just so I understand, you think that if you don’t hate every moment of an encounter, you’re just using a person? Yet I’m allowed to indulge to my heart’s content?” Her drink spilled a little at the wide gesture she made. “Link, that’s absurd. You hear how absurd that is, right?”
If Link had Kittee’s ears, they’d be flat against his skull.
“This whole situation is absurd.”
Zelda squinted hard at him, disliking that he pulled a logical fallacy into her intelligent discourse. “That may be true, Link, but that doesn’t mean we have to be.”
Link was tensed, as if she’d berated him. Something was under his skin, and Zelda wanted to know what. “Zelda, I’m not going to take advantage of this situation. That’s not even a knight thing, that’s just being a good person.”
“I enjoyed myself. Does that make me not a good person?”
“No! It’s not like that.”
Zelda knew a double standard when she saw one. Her hostile tone softened, and she sighed. “Link, remember how I told you that you’re kind to everyone except yourself?” He stared openly at her. “This is a prime example.”
Link was quiet, having been disarmed by her soft tone.
Silence settled between them, pregnant and static. Even Kittee was silent, watching the verbal sparring with second-hand discomfort.
Zelda's shrewd stare tore him down to all the little bits and pieces that comprised of Link. She was considering something. Really, really considering something.
Why are you looking at me like that?
He seems to have this pervasive idea that he's not allowed to enjoy anything if it's part of the trials. As if being in a situation like this makes consent a non-starter. That divine intervention completely negates the point of free will, something Zelda's not sold on.
But it's more than that. He thinks he's not allowed to enjoy anything, trials or no. That his identity begins and ends with Hero. Every second not spent being the Hero is just time spent shirking responsibility. Link the person is denied everything that doesn't fit with Link the Hero's very, very narrow utility. He doesn't think he's worthy.
It's why he refused the man in Kakariko and why he bit his fist in her room.
It wouldn't stand to reason that she would be the have, and he would be the have-not. These are the Unity Trials, after all.
Zelda may have just realized the source of the problem: She has to break him of the aversion to self-interest.
“Link, I think I may have figured out what we’re supposed to do.”