“We’ll be having a guest for dinner.”
Ganon’s voice startles Zelda from her book. She looks up at him, but he doesn’t seem to be paying her any mind. “Another? I’m growing weary of it.” The last several weeks had been guest after guest, diplomat after ambassador, and Zelda was tired of the charade of a happy marriage.
Ganon turns to her now, gold eyes burning a hole in her. “Quiet. This is not a formal guest, but I expect you to be on your best behavior. After all…” Ganon looks back to his papers. “I wouldn’t want to have to add on to your punishment for last night.”
Zelda’s face heats and she buries her face back in her book. She recalls the previous evening, when she had forced dinner to an end early, citing (false) illness as the cause of her ‘clumsiness’ and inability to stay on her feet around the nobleman who had dined with them. She had figured if she were to remain in this forced union, she may as well do her best to give Ganon hell, but she hadn’t expected him to truly punish her.
It’s only a few minutes more before Ganon stands from his desk. “Come,” he orders, and Zelda sets her book aside, following with a roll of her eyes. His hand grips tight on her shoulder, as always, as he escorts her to her bedroom. “I will collect you in ten minutes. Be ready.” And with that, he locks the door, leaving her alone.
Zelda tries the door, as she does each time he locks it, with the hope it will open. When it doesn’t budge, she sighs and turns to go farther into her room. The candles are lit, illuminating the space with a gentle glow. A simple dress is laid across her bed: mostly white with blue stripes along the hem and the sleeves, as well as an attached pink smock. She unlaces and steps out of her dress and pulls the new one on. It fits comfortably, neither too loose nor too tight. A belt is on the bed underneath where the dress had been, so she clips it on over the seam that attaches the smock.
She’s adjusting her circlet and checking her hair when Ganon’s knock sounds on her door before it opens. Zelda sets her brush down and takes the arm offered to her. Ganon’s muscles are firm and his arm steady, but merely touching him makes Zelda want to retch. Even so, she follows with grace.
Entering the dining room, Zelda can already tell something is off. The table is set for three, glasses of Gerudo whiskey and Hylian wine next to each plate, but their guest is not yet there. Zelda allows Ganon to lead her to her seat and waits as he takes his, but she feels deeply unsettled. She’s about to ask about their guest when Ganon speaks.
“You’ll be receiving your punishment tonight. Hopefully this will teach you not to act so foolishly in the company of my associates.” He calls over to the guard by the door. “Bring in our guest.”
Zelda has to stop herself from crying out when the guard opens the door. Just beyond it are two more guards, each holding up one side of a man. More specifically, each is holding up one side of Link. He’s dirty, his once-blue tunic faded and covered with grime, torn and frayed at the edges. It seems to almost hang off of him, exposing one shoulder. His blue eyes are sunken a little, dark bruises beneath them, and his blond locks are tangled around the cord tying them up. He looks like he hasn’t eaten or slept in weeks.
Link is less walking than he’s being dragged, and the grips on his arms look tight enough to bruise. The guards drop him unceremoniously in the third seat at the table before returning to their post. Link sags for a moment before he manages to sit up, tired yet determined.
Zelda is worried. She had known Ganon was holding Link, known that Ganon had taken Link originally to keep Zelda in line, but she had at least thought Ganon would care for him the way he cared for Zelda. Her concern is only amplified as the first course - a light veggie cream soup - is served. Link finishes his faster than Zelda has seen anyone eat. As he waits for the other two, she can hear his stomach rumbling, begging for more. Zelda does her best to finish quickly for Link’s sake, but Ganon seems to take his sweet time, dragging on for the sake of torture.
Their second course of fried egg and rice goes much the same, only this time Ganon takes longer, forcing Link’s unsatisfied stomach to go longer without food it’s only had a small taste of. Zelda wants to beg Ganon to hurry, to allow Link to eat all he can desire, and it is then she realizes why this is her punishment. Link will be permitted to indulge before going right back to starving at Ganon’s hand, a taste of freedom leading back to disappointment, all because Zelda couldn’t behave.
Finally, Ganon finishes, and the main course is brought out. A gourmet meat and seafood fry, perfectly cooked buck paired with a seared hearty bass atop a bed of fresh mushrooms and fried herbs, it’s one of Hyrule’s most luxurious dishes. Link wastes no time digging in, fork bringing mouthful after mouthful past his cracked lips. Zelda forces herself to tear her eyes away, to focus on her own meal lest she too lose her privilege.
The hall is quiet save for the sound of silverware, but the silence broken by a fork clattering to the floor. Zelda’s eyes shoot over to Link. He looks panicked, eyes wide and mouth open, but true to form, he doesn’t say a word. Zelda shakes it off, taking another bite of her bass when a chair scrapes across the floor. Link is standing now, hand clutching at his throat, fear in his eyes. He pounds on his chest once, twice, tears forming in his eyes. The pieces click together one by one.
“Oh my- Link!” Zelda cries. She moves to push her chair back and stand, but Ganon’s crushing grip on her wrist stops her. She whirls on him in a panic. “Ganon, please. He’s choking, he can’t breathe! Please let me help him.”
Ganon considers for a moment, too long of a moment, then answers. “No.”
Her attention is brought back to Link when he tries to stumble toward Zelda. His weak body sways, and he only takes a few steps before he falls to his knees. His lips are turning a faint blue, and Zelda fears for her closest friend’s life. This is her punishment. This is her fault. Link’s death will be on her hands.
Link collapses with a dull thud, and only then does Ganon release Zelda. She flies out of her seat, dropping to her knees at his side as she checks for a heartbeat. When she feels it, she crawls around behind him, heaving him up so she can wrap her arms around his (way too thin) torso. She forms a fist beneath his chest, wrapping her other hand around it, and pushes up as hard as she possibly can. When nothing happens, she tries again, a third, fourth, fifth time. After the sixth, she feels a crack beneath her hand, but she continues a seventh, eighth-
The ninth push finally does something. Link coughs, and Zelda quickly leans him forward so gravity may help. Whatever was lodged in his throat slides out with a wet ‘pop’, falling to the floor in front of him, and Link goes limp in Zelda’s arms. She cradles his head in her lap, his eyes opening weakly as she strokes his hair gently. It’s only when tears land on his cheek that she realizes she’s crying. She’d almost lost her best friend.
She looks up at Ganon, still seated at the table. Sometime during her panic, he had been served dessert, a bountiful fruit pie coupled with a rich egg pudding. Ganon is simply eating, watching, and Zelda is absolutely furious. How dare he act like he hadn’t nearly let someone die, how he hadn’t nearly let the only person Zelda has left die.
“Let me care for him.” It’s a demand, not a question, fire in her voice. “Let me care for him in my room.”
Ganon waves his hand dismissively, and the guards who had brought Link in make their way toward the Hylians. Zelda holds Link tighter, determined not to let the guards separate them. She lets out an indignant squeak when one lifts her up, the other picking up Link. She fights half-heartedly as they’re carried to her bedroom, dumped on her bed with the door locked behind them.
Zelda gently helps Link out of his ruined clothing, half-carrying him to her tub. She takes care to wash off every bit of dirt from his skin and hair, gently running her brush through the knots. When he’s clean, she lets him soak in the warm water for a few minutes as she puts a kettle over her fire. She prepares a soothing tea, one that should ease the pain in his throat, and helps him out of the bath.
She doesn’t have any proper clothing for him, so she finds the simplest of her nightgowns and pulls it over his head. Zelda helps him up into bed, propping him against the headboard so she can assist him with the tea. He accepts it with trembling hands, drinking it all with one of her hands on his. Zelda sets the empty cup aside, to be collected in the middle of the night as things tend to be, and crawls into bed beside him.
As the two drift off to sleep, Zelda feels Link cuddle up to her, holding onto her as though she’s the only thing in the world that matters. Zelda holds him in return, petting his hair. She presses her lips to his forehead before whispering a promise.
“I’m so sorry, Link. I will never let anyone hurt you ever again.”