“Oh, must you truly wear that thing? In public?”
Link snorted at her chastising. It was obvious that she hated relying on him for cultural knowledge no matter that she didn't hate him anymore- she was trying to assuage her anxiety by micromanaging him. It certainly wasn't going to work, because he wasn't changing.
'It’s tradition,’ he signed, and she sighed. He noted with some amusement that she was sweating like a stuck pig in her traditional Hylian outfit, while he was fit in a fiddle in his far more appropriate Gerudo garb.
“It’s ridiculous,” she muttered under her breath, wiping her forehead on the back of he sleeve again as they hiked toward the city along the path through the windy desert, “A city that doesn't allow men at all? Whoever heard of such a thing?”
'They allowed men a hundred years ago?’ Link asked curiously. Zelda looked momentarily embarrassed, before she cast her gaze askance.
“Well- no, they didn't, but I didn't want to bring you then.”
Link laughed. 'I don't mind. I’m cute.’
“Well of course you look nice, Link, but it's the principal of the thing!” She cried, gesturing to Link’s bare midriff, “You shouldn't have to dress like this to convince them you’re a woman, either!”
Link shook his head, 'It’s like this because it’s hot.’
She wiped her brow of sweat again, pausing, before she finally relented, “Yes, well. I guess that makes sense. Still.”
'I’ll buy you one when we’re inside,’ Link signed.
“You will do no such thing!” Zelda cried, her face heating up more than it already had, “I have no intention of stripping as far as you have, and even if I did, I could certainly pay for it myself. I have to think about how I’m representing Hyrule when I meet Chief Riju. You’ve already met her and saved the world, you could show up wearing a paper bag for underwear and she would have to be impressed.”
Link smiled at her. She had thought he hated her once, which was baffling. He couldn't remember being himself before he died, but he found it difficult to imagine he ever could have hated this bright, anxious, spirited little girl. She always had something to say and she was not afraid to let you know what it was- she was terribly admirable in that, and she was undeterrable once she had set her mind on something.
'Ask her about sand seals,” he signed.
She screwed up her face reading his hands, before she asked him, eyebrows furrowed, “Sand seals?”
“Ask her what?”
'Just ask her,’ he emphasized. She seemed dubious, but nodded anyway.
Zelda puffed out her chest at the guards as they passed through the city’s entrance, her arms crossed behind her back.
“Welcome, Princess. Hello again, Link!” The guard said cheerily as they passed by. Zelda shot him a curious glance.
'It’s a gender neutral name,’ he said, 'Most people don't care anyway. Like I said, it's tradition.’
Zelda seemed to mull this over as they walked until her attentions were pulled away by the bazaar.
“Oh, my…” she said quietly, looking to the side. Link followed the line of her sight to a jewelry display he was quite familiar with. Her eyes glittered with admiration and he found himself grinning as he beckoned her to follow him toward it.
“Oh, no, Link, we don’t have… time, or money, for things like that-” she started, but he trotted right up to the Gerudo woman running the stand anyway with a wave.
Her eyes lit up and a smile spread across her face, “Link! Is that you? It’s been so long! Who's this? A sister?”
Link laughed and shook his head, then turned quickly to Zelda, 'This is I-s-h-a,’ he fingerspelled, 'Please tell her you are the princess and my friend.’
Zelda’s ears swivelled up, embarrassed and flattered, and she stammered as she turned back to the shopkeeper, “Um, hello Isha- is that how you pronounce it? Hard I? Link says that- um, her, I’m her friend, Princess Zelda Bosphoramus Hyrule of the Kingdom of Hyrule.”
Isha whistled, “Ah, yes, I’d heard you would be coming in today! Well, you look lovely, my dear, if a bit warm.”
“Ah- yes, I am… unused to the desert heat,” Zelda said awkwardly. Link turned to Isha and pointed at one of the circlets she had on her table. Isha’s eyes lit up in understanding.
“Ah, I see what you mean. You’ve got a good friend in this one, Princess,” Isha chuckled as Link fished a sack of rupees from his pocket.
“Link, you don’t have to-” Link took the circlet from Isha when she offered it and placed it gently on Zelda’s head.
The words immediately died on her tongue as the heat resistance charm the item held washed over her.
“Oh,” she said, simply.
“Clever little voe,” Isha whispered, and Link snorted, “I hope that improves your visit to our fair city, Princess.”
“Ah, yes-” Zelda stammered, “Thank you! That's much better, yes!”
Link waved at Isha as they stepped away and back onto the path towards the palace. He fell back, letting her take the lead as they ascended the stairs- she was the diplomat, after all, he was just the dude with the sword that kept her from getting stabbed.
It was much less of a palace than Hyrule Castle, much more like a giant, official looking sun room. Zelda held herself with the highest esteem as she stepped inside the threshold of the palace, her chin up and her hands firmly at her sides.
“Chief Riju!” She called, her voice much bigger than her, “I am Princess Zelda Bosphoramus Hyrule of the Kingdom of Hyrule. I am here as an emissary of my people.”
“Welcome, Princess,” said the little Gerudo Chief from her oversized throne in the middle of the room. “It is nice to finally meet you.”
“As it is you, Chief Riju. I assume all has been well since my last letter?” Zelda continued, formally, as she stepped forward to what she clearly deemed was an appropriate distance for discussion.
“You assume correctly, Princess Zelda. All is well in the Gerudo Capital. Have reparations on Hyrule Castle continued as planned?”
Link sort of zoned out at this point, never one for the dull prattle of necessary political dialogue. He followed a hearty lizard with his eyes as it climbed lazily up the side of a pillar to follow the warm path of the sunlight on it's scales.
“Considering the need for flint in Gerudo Village, I would like to propose we do away with the old last tariff your father laid in place,” Riju continued when he turned back in, and realized things were no more interesting.
“I agree,” Zelda nodded, “It is no longer necessary or beneficial to either party. Consider it gone.” Link eyed her curiously, and saw that despite her grand posturing and confident voice, she had her hands clutched it white knuckled fists behind her back.
He stepped forward as inconspicuously as he could and gave her a nudge. She paused in what she was saying to look at him. He nodded toward Riju and she stared at him, uncomprehending.
'Sand seals,’ he signed.
She stared at him for a moment, then shook her head and was about to say something else when Riju spoke up.
“I beg your pardon, Princess Zelda, but you don't happen to understand the gestures he makes, do you? I’m told it's an older form of Hylian Sign, but none of my translators can understand it.”
“Ah- oh, yes,” Zelda stammered, thrown from her rhythm, “Hylian Sign was once part of standard education for Hyrulian Royalty. I believe the dialect has changed in the past century, though, and has become very fractured and regionalized as opposed to the more standardized old form.”
“What did he say?” Riju asked, “Not to be terribly forward, but I consider the Champion a friend and it is a terrific personal disappoint that I cannot communicate effectively with him.”
“Oh, um…” Zelda paused and looked back at Link, who nodded encouragingly, “He told me to ask you about Sand Seals.”
Riju froze like an icicle for a moment before she regained her calm, took a deep breath, chuckled, and stood.
“Hm. An interesting suggestion, Champion. Princess Zelda, the hour grows late. I am certain you must be tired- may I suggest we adjourn for the evening, so that we may show you some Gerudo Hospitality?"
“Yes, I believe that would be amenable,” Zelda said, watching Riju as she strode toward her and beckoned to follow.
“Come, allow me to show you around the palace.”
Zelda followed, looking awkwardly back at Link for guidance, who continued to give her encouraging nods to follow. Riju led them up the stairs…
And when they stepped into her bedroom, and the guard stepped out of sight, she let her shoulders go slack and squealed quietly.
“Sand seals are the best!” She cried, her demeanor changing on a dime, “I have one named Patricia, and I just absolutely love them! They're such wonderful animals!” She cried, clasping her hand together with a metallic clink of her jewelry. Zelda looked startled, and looked back at Link, confused.
'Lighten up,’ Link signed with a laugh, which only seemed to confuse Zelda more.
“Oh, forgive my forwardness, Princess,” Riju continued, “It’s just so nice to have a political peer my own age! I never have before, and Link has told me so much about you, I couldn't wait to meet you!”
“He did?” Zelda asked, her voice quiet, but Link could already see the tension holding her shoulders high releasing her, “Like what?”
“He said you were a scholar, which I think is so wonderful! I love to read, but my real passion is in sand seal racing. Oh, come, you’ve been standing all day, you simply must sit down!” Riju said, plopping onto her bed and burying herself in sand seal plushies.
Zelda hesitated, then crossed the room and joined her, absentmindedly plucking one of the sand seal plushies to hold in her lap.
“Oh, that's Misha,” Riju said, pointing at the stuffed animal Zelda was holding, “My mother gave me her for my birthday one year.”
Zelda smiled, a very genuine smile, as she admires the little plush fondly, “My mother could tell even when I was little how much I loved horses. She gave me a little stuffed horse when I was very little- I slept with it for years, until every seam had been repaired a dozen times, until it lost both it's eyes and it's white fur turned yellow,” she laughed.
“It served it's purpose, then,” Riju said, sitting up, “to be loved and to hold that love in place while you slumber, and return it to you every morning. Misha reminds me my mother loves me every morning though she no longer can. A stuffed animal is a powerful thing, I think.”
“...That’s a beautiful sentiment,” Zelda murmured, petting the plush’s yarn mane.
“Would you like to meet Patricia?” Riju asked with a smile.
Zelda lit up, “I would love to!”
'I’m going to head to the guest house,’ Link signed to Zelda, who relayed his words to Riju, “Have fun!”
Zelda smiled, bright and real for the first time in awhile, “I’ll see you later, Link!”