World of Light > Of Duty and Empire
Of Duty and Empire
She was not feeling terribly divine, nor imperial at the moment, however. If Princess Zelda never saw another ball, banquet, or feast again in her life, it would be a moment too soon. Her feet ached, pinched into bejeweled shoes which made her totter on tiptoe across the marble-sheathed floor. The castle itself was chilly that night, and she pulled her white cape about her a bit tighter to keep away the cold. Someone was going to have to talk to the imperial chamberlain about the heat stones again.
When she reached her destination, an ornately carved door at the end of the hall, she did not even have to open it; it swung open of its own accord, and beyond the threshold stood a tall, slender woman with dark skin and long, silvery hair. She bowed gracefully and stepped to the side, allowing the princess to pass, then shut the door behind her. Zelda sighed. It was not as though she did not greatly appreciate the Sheikah's presence, just once she wished she would be able to go a moment without the clandestine figures stalking her everywhere she went. Sometimes she just wanted to be alone.
With a nonchalant wave of her gloved hand, the candelabra all about the room lit up, illuminating her private chambers with a soft, golden glow. Zelda unclasped her cloak and hung it on the rack by the door, then carefully removed the shoes that had been tormenting her all night. With a contented smile, she stretched out her toes, finally able to let them breathe again. She started to cross the room, making a beeline for the warm bath that had been drawn in her absence, but a mewling sound at the windowsill caught her attention. She gasped, startled at first, but then her memory was jogged. Removing her gloves, she reached for a small silk bundle she'd concealed on her belt at dinner, and crept toward the window.
A small, scruffy looking gray kitten squeaked at her as she set the bundle down next to it, and untied it to reveal a bounty of roasted chicken scraps.
"There you are," Zelda cooed, giggling to herself as the hungry kitten first sniffed the pile suspiciously, then pounced on it, nibbling the food for all it was worth. She'd found the poor thing shivering in the gardens in the rain a few days prior, and immediately brought it to her apartments. There was no way she could leave it alone and scared; but then, Zelda had always loved animals, from the time she was a child. They'd never demanded anything from her but love, and returned it wholeheartedly with no strings attached.
She smiled brightly as she watched the kitten devour its dinner. It was a blessedly quiet and peaceful moment, and they'd surely been lacking in the last several weeks. Hyrule Castle had been thrown into glorious chaos preparing for the wedding of her eldest brother and heir to the imperial throne, Prince Raphael, and it had grown even worse the previous week, when his bride to be had finally arrived from far off Ticondera. There had been dinner after banquet after reception, and as the sole female member of the Imperial family, it was her duty as Lady of the Castle to receive all the guests. She'd been trained since birth in such things, and by all accounts was quite good at it, but it was so terribly exhausting. Zelda didn't know how her mother did it; she made it all look so effortless, so simple. She found herself missing her terribly again, as she had over and over again. This was the first time she did not have her to lean upon, she did not have her counsel to guide her outside dreams and visitations. It had been five years since her death, and Zelda still did not know what to do, sometimes.
She pet the kitten one last time, rose to her feet and and started for the bath. As she past the mahogany nightstand carved with leaves, however, she glanced down at a small, ornately designed piece of needlepoint that sat upon it in a small round frame. It featured an olive tree surrounded by doves, a symbol of the House Thylaran of Labrina, her mother's family. She'd only finished stitching it the day before, and meant to give it to her father for the shrine. Zelda sighed, and silently chided herself for becoming so forgetful of late. She picked it up and started for her father's chambers, dismissing the silent Sheikah outside her door as they formed up again. "Please," she pleaded wearily, "I am only going to see the Emperor."
Truly walking alone this time, she walked down the hall to the huge double doors at its terminus. Zelda knew he would still be awake. He rarely slept anymore, and the dark circles under his eyes marked his odd hours well. Nothing anyone said to him seemed to help. In the years following her mother's death, he'd grown unbearably distant, almost as if he were drifting off to dwell in his own private world. The loving, affectionate father she'd known had virtually become a stranger, and in many ways, Zelda almost felt as though she'd been orphaned outright on that dreadful day.
She stopped when she reached the sprawling Emperor's chambers, and sure enough, she saw dim light peeking out. Before she entered, however, she paused; there were voices within, and though every bit of her training insisted she turn and walk back to her own rooms, she could not manage to suppress her curiosity. She merely stayed at the door and listened.
"Father," a sultry male voice tinged with irritation started, and Zelda immediately recognized it as Raphael's, "now you are just being obstinate. There is no earthly reason why the entire Ticonderan delegation should receive the blessings rather than merely the House Winterblade."
"It is a gesture of goodwill," her father's broken voice replied, filled with exhaustion. "Nothing more. Or have you forgotten the reason for these nuptials in the first place?"
"It certainly has nothing to do with my wishes," Raphael muttered, with more than a little bitterness in his voice.
"You watch your tongue, boy. I am still Lord of this Castle and I am still your sire."
"Then--" Raphael started, then paused, as if he thought better of it. "I apologize for my impertinence, Father. My only concern is that the Hylian nobility will be antagonized unnecessarily by such an action. They are scandalized enough by this marriage, by what they deem a half-breed pagan from the hinterlands to wed the heir to the throne. Father, you know I will acquiesce to your judgment, and I care not for the murmuring prejudices of the imperial court. I enter this ceremony gladly for the good of the Empire. But I still feel you are making a grave mistake. The Blessings of Thricemeet have never been given to pagans before. The bride's family, that is understandable; it is tradition. But to all the Ticonderans? The court will lose its collective mind, Father."
"Your counsel is duly noted," the Emperor sighed, though Zelda thought it certainly did not sound that way. "Good night, my son."
"...good night, Father."
Zelda froze and immediately scurried off to the side, so as not to give herself away, but it was already too late. "You are no Sheikah, little dove," Raphael taunted her as he emerged from the darkened threshold, and shut the doors behind him. "You really ought to leave that to the professionals." She gave him a sheepish smile, and he laughed, putting an arm about her. "What are you doing up so late? Tomorrow is an important day."
"One could say the same for you," Zelda countered, gently poking him in the side. Raphael shrugged a little, then frowned.
"This is going to be a disaster, I just know it," he sighed. "Father has completely lost the plot. He is so set on cozying up to the Ticonderans that he's forgotten his own people."
"But Raph, the Ticonderans are our people too," Zelda pointed out. "And they've been treated with such indifference for so long." Raphael nodded at her, and then sighed again.
"I know that, and you know that, but all those sycophants and toadies downstairs don't exactly see things the same way--and they're the ones we have to deal with on a daily basis." Raphael rubbed his temples. "If only I could get through to him. If only he weren't so confoundedly...oh, I don't know."
"It will be alright," Zelda tried as best she could to re-assure him. "And, well, tomorrow is your wedding day. You should be excited, not worrying about politics."
Raphael chuckled sardonically, and hugged her tightly. "Zel, tomorrow is about nothing but politics. Our very lives are nothing but politics, from the food we eat to the carpets we walk on. I should not have to tell you that."
Zelda had to admit that he was right, as much as the thought depressed her. It was true. While Raphael was cordial enough the few times she'd seen him with the Princess Liana, it was abundantly clear to Zelda that it was purely a marriage of convenience, for the sake of bringing their peoples closer together. He never spoke of her as anything but "the Princess Liana". He did not ever speak of her as if she were going to be his cherished wife.
And tomorrow, after they'd be sealed in matrimony before the whole of the imperial court, there would be a grand banquet in which her own future would likely be sealed. Zelda was seventeen, had blossomed beautifully into womanhood, and was well aware that after Raphael, she was the most treasured prize in the Imperial Family. Every noble family of any significance, from across the Empire, was likely to be in the Grand Hall, brokering and jockeying as best they could for position. She would not have a say in any of it; that was simply how it was. And because Zelda was a good and obedient daughter of Emperor Harkinian and the Empire herself, she would take up that duty as commanded with a smile in her eyes and heart, as she had taken up every duty laid before her. That was simply what it meant to be the Princess Imperial.
It troubled her though, that the man to make that decision was reeling in his own grief, had turned from her and shut her out to drown in his own unending sorrow over the woman he loved. But perhaps it was better that way--better to marry someone you felt nothing but obligation for, rather than suffer as Father did in the wake of a beloved's loss.
Zelda thought if she kept telling herself that, she would feel better about it. She looked up at her brother, who kissed the top of her head and took his leave of her. Perhaps Raphael was thinking the same things.
Perhaps that was what would get them both through tomorrow.