World of Light > Quality Time
So it went, as the minutes dragged into hours. There appeared to be no escape for the exhausted princess; like an animal she was trapped, hunted not for a magnificent pelt but for a small bit of skin on her fourth finger and the power that came with it. With a demure smile she welcomed each of them: many of them old enough to be her father, some of them whose family name was the only thing the poor dear the Gods had given in their favor, bless them. Gazing out from behind the fan of violet silk and red ribbons trimmed with white fur that was a gift from her new sister, she allowed each of them to kiss her hand in turn, offer the usual platitudes, and speak at length about their lands, their families, and their titles. Zelda very quickly came to appreciate the timid ones, who'd clearly been put up to the task by an ambitious parent or surrogate; they were far preferable than the strutting, preening peacocks who wore more rouge than she did, whose gaudy clothes told her far more about them than any words they might have spoken. However, even for a young lady who was raised with outrageous compliments about her beauty and grace almost from birth, it was growing to be more than a little ridiculous. To hear this pack of wolves tell it, there was no more beautiful, poised, magnificent woman in all the world than the Princess Imperial of Hylia. One fellow even managed to insult his mother on the way to groveling at her feet, even as it was obvious he was looking for her replacement.
She had scarcely noticed that with each gentleman caller (even when the term "gentleman" could only be applied in the very loosest sense), she was retreating further and further to the edges of the Grand Hall, until she was standing only slightly in front of the massive draperies. The fanning grew a bit more agitated, the smiles more forced. Zelda could feel herself beginning to resemble a cornered doe. Where in the world were the Sheikah when she needed them?
Fortunately, salvation would soon come in the dashing form of a tall young man in a rich blue mantle that matched his stunning eyes. His long blond hair was tied back with a silk ribbon, and he wore a heavy gold pendant inlaid with the Hylian crest. Deftly, he slipped between Zelda and the pack of wolves, bowing to her as the musicians started up a light, airy melody. "Your Highness, may I have this dance?" he asked with a smile.
"Of course," Zelda said with a smile, using all her imperial discipline not to openly sigh in relief. She nodded politely to the disappointed fellow who was just about to call upon her. "If you'll excuse me, good sirs..."
She allowed her rescuer to take her by the hand and followed him to where the other revelers were dancing, and once out of sight, breathed a deep sigh of relief. "I could kiss you, Aidan."
"You're welcome, Sprout," her brother replied with a broad, dimpled smile. "I saw you looking a bit harried back there."
"It just would not end," Zelda groaned as he twirled her around. "If I had to hear one more boast about a hunt or how many rupees were made after the signing of the Upland Treaty..."
Prince Aidan laughed, and twirled her again. "I know that I'm not nearly as big a catch as you or Raph, but you should do what I do. It's worked well enough."
"I'm a bit slight to join the Lionheart," Zelda snickered.
"They can't get you if you're perpetually on the front, though," Aidan pointed out, with a sly wink. Zelda giggled, and clapped her hands quickly in time, the moves of the age old dance second nature.
"It's so good to see you, though, Aidan. How are things in Faxanadu?"
"Cold," Aidan answered. "And troll-infested. The beer helps, though. Those Dwarves certainly know how to brew the good stuff."
"...so, you dodge marriage by getting drunk with Dwarves and fighting trolls?"
"One could say that."
"...are these trolls terribly large?"
Aidan cackled so hard he nearly stumbled, but recovered quickly enough to dip Zelda slightly at the correct moment. "I think you could take them, Sprout."
"I shall have to re-assess my options, then."
"I don't think Father would approve." Aidan stopped suddenly, as the dance came to an end, and the jovial expression faded from his visage. "Let's get some fresh air, hmm?"
Zelda followed Aidan out of the massive hall, not into the adjacent courtyard, but down a pair of corridors until they were in the eastern wing, out a pair of enormous glass doors into a secluded inner courtyard. It was more of a garden, really, dominated by a large marble faerie statue pouring water into a fountain. Zelda took her shoes off, letting the cool, slightly wet grass slip between her toes. It was a rather pleasant feeling.
"How is Father, anyway?" Aidan asked, his tone solemn. Zelda sighed, and sat on the edge of the fountain, gazing listlessly down at her reflection in the water.
"He grows worse by the day," she replied softly. "We scarce exchange more than a few words...whole days go by when he does not speak. He spends all his waking energy on that shrine. It's the only thing he does speak of, anymore."
"It is as I feared, then. What does Raphael make of it?"
"Truthfully, we don't really speak of it," Zelda admitted. "I think he...well, he would rather not burden me with it, I suspect. And I am too afraid to ask. From everything I have seen, though, Raphael is at his wit's end."
"Oh, Zel," Aidan sighed. He wrapped his arms about her shoulders in a gesture of comfort. "This won't do, not at all."
"I...we know he's not...right. But I'm not sure how much longer the charade can be held. I'm sure Raphael is doing all he can."
"Have we consulted the Triforce?"
"It remains strangely silent on the matter. I believe this is one of those situations that the Goddesses want us to handle on our own."
"I should stay home," Aidan said firmly. "If I'm going to take holy orders, I will have to study here regardless. And here is where I'm needed, clearly."
"Oh, that would be wonderful!" Zelda exclaimed. "We miss you terribly. Raph will be so pleased."
"That remains to be seen," Aidan said a bit darkly, and his tone was puzzling to Zelda. She decided not to make an issue of it, however. "I think we need to have a talk about this. Did you see if he'd retired yet for the night?"
"I don't think he did."
"Good. Are you coming back inside?"
Zelda peeled off a satin glove, and ran her hand through the waters of the fountain. "I think I shall remain here a bit longer. It's so peaceful."
Aidan hugged her, then kissed the top of her head. "Be good, Sprout." He smiled at her, then returned to the interior of the castle, leaving her alone with her thoughts.
Zelda's heart grew a bit lighter at the thought of Aidan's return. Though he was much closer to Raphael's age than her own--he'd just seen his twenty-third winter, only two less than Raphael--she had always been close to him. Zelda loved Raphael dearly, he was warm and affectionate, and always there when she needed him. However, as the eldest child, and thus their Father's heir, Raphael always had a terrible sense of responsibility hovering over him that neither Zelda nor Aidan shared, and sometimes that created a distance between them. That had never been so evident as in the months of his marriage negotiations, when whole weeks would pass without Zelda seeing her brother. Zelda was feeling terribly isolated, though she did not blame anyone for that; her father was clearly not in his right mind anymore, and the burden of dealing with that fell squarely on Raphael's shoulders more than anyone else's. Having Aidan back would mean having a friend to talk to, someone to confide in again who understood.
It would mean not being alone anymore.