Princess Alter Ego Visions Sitely Main

Grace DoubleNegative

Men Belong in the Warehouse

It was ironic, really. For years he'd perfected the art of evading Hyrule's guards--tracing their steps, following their movements, analyzing their routines. It was, from his experience, a matter of patterns, and with enough practice, spotting potential breaks in those patterns to make the most of an otherwise "impossible" situation. Nothing was out of reach for the watchful eye, not even the fabled--and beautiful--Princess Zelda herself.

Now he was free to roam the palace, unrestricted and without fear, his only concern the daunting task before him. He would not be chased, pursued, or hunted, but left to meander the halls of Hyrule's "impenetrable" castle, his true intentions unbeknownst to all, save Zelda and himself.

"The soldiers train until dusk," she informed. "But the soldiers are slack in these peaceful days, so you're bound to find groups scattered along the barracks, gossiping amongst themselves, behaving as fools."

Link eyed the shadows as he rounded a corner, mindful of the hall's emptiness. Sneaking inside was simple enough, but acting the part was something else entirely. He needed both knowledge of the castle's interior, and knowledge of a servant boy's skills and duties. Zelda had given him basic instructions to navigate the castle, using side passages to avoid traffic. With any luck, he'd avoid confrontation, and arrive, unnoticed, at the soldier's barracks.

He was of no consequence and could not be recognized, but the anxiety Link felt at exposing himself, especially to Hyrule soldiers, was made more and more apparent with the quickening pace of his pulse. Zelda had told him to "act the part,"" ruffling his hair and reminding him that servants work with speed and diligence, and without question or hesitation. Her words lingered at the back of his mind, as he recited--to himself, of course--her instructions as he neared the dormitories.

"The guards will think you a servant boy collecting linens and sheets for the weekly cleaning. Use this opportunity to eavesdrop--they're liable to let something slip about their last investigation."

A pair of servant girls--possibly Zelda's handmaidens--flittered past, gossiping and chittering and bouncing about. They were Zelda's age, relatively so, young and fair and properly poised. But they were careless in their mannerisms, a careless known only to those free of the pressures of ruling a kingdom.

They smiled as he passed, winking and giggling with feminine wile, their eyes bright with womanly knowledge that men detected, but did not understand. Link recognized it from stories in the tavern--men complaining of their wives complaining of their habits of complaining of their wives. Women knew things they would not say or could not tell, and men perplexed by the mysteries of their female counterparts, and the inevitable conflicts between inexperienced couples with preconceived notions--usually false or misconstrued--of their significant other.

He'd grown tired of their fussing and nagging over their wives' fussing and nagging, and left the stories to run their course, choosing instead to wash glasses, sweep floors, and clean countertops. Link had devised, through what little he knew of marriage and relationships, that most people were nuts, and would jump to ridiculous conclusions over the most insignificant of things--typically a quirk or habit unnoticed by one, and agonized by the other. People behaved as their nature decreed, as Link had learned through his many observations, nor did husbands and wives "plot" or "scheme" the downfall of their spouse through nonexistent attempts to rattle their sanity.

Link continued on, grateful the girls had been too preoccupied with their intrigues to pay him mind. Part of him marveled at the simplicity of traipsing the palace halls, convinced that, with the hustle and bustle of their daily activities, no one in the castle paid any real attention to anyone else. Considering Link''s "disguise" was simply his regular clothing and a ruffled mane only emphasized the fact.

He took a right, fiddling with the chain around his neck, and the key attached at its end.

"Take this. It's the key to the Central Tower." She paused, leveling his gaze with a triumphant smirk. "…I stole it from the custodian's purse."

The Central Tower--not to be confused with the Keep--was beyond the barracks. Thieves, rebels, and other filth of society were at ground level, in the Bastille, while provisions, battlements, and most importantly, records were stored at the tower's canopy. Amongst the records were documented papers pertaining to unsettled land disputes, property claims, death writs, and marriage licenses. Evidence was stored here as well, which would, after careful examination, be presented before the King.

This was, if possible, Link's second objective--to steal inside the upper chambers and report his findings to Princess Zelda. She'd admitted to "lacking tact" in her dealings with the King, her assertive attitude in stark contrast to his stubborn resolve of twenty years. Her forthright criticism was "disrespectful"--emphasized so by her father's Counsel--and no one, least of all his own daughter, would uproot his authority.

It was this very obstinance that prevented her from partaking in matters of the state, unless otherwise supervised by King Harkinian. And it was this very obstinance that prevented her from visiting the Central Tower, and examining the evidence for herself.

But it was, in the end, of little consequence.

Link was, whether by nature or by circumstance, more suited to the task of "espionage," being unknown and easily overlooked. Above all, he was petite and athletic, giving him an edge over the constricts of her ornate palace garb.

And to be honest, there was little anonymity as a princess, an anonymity she envied Link for, who came and went as he pleased--no hassle, no fuss.

Her father had ways of controlling her curiosity, and she had ways of breaking them.

"Observe, but do not touch. The guards will know if you've tampered with evidence." She tucked the chain beneath his shirt. "If you're caught, tell them I've sent you to fetch legal documents on my behalf." She paused. "I am, after all, forbidden to enter the Tower…"

Link ducked behind another corner, intimidated by the enormity of the castle, and the hardness of its size and structure. The forest was flowing and smooth, where the palace was harsh and unforgiving. Bathed in its cruelty, Link covered his heart, worried his soul might somehow be infected by the emptiness that saturated its walls.

As he focused his thoughts, Link stood before a long, decorative corridor--the same corridor from Zelda's description. The doors were adorned with golden shields, each bearing the mark of the elusive Triforce, and the mythical Phoenix as its vermilion centerpiece. A mauve carpet lined the floors, bearing homage to Hyrule's "elite" defenders, and their "sacrifices" to ensure the kingdom's safety and prosperity.

One such soldier passed, flabby-armed and thin-chested, the floor creaking under the weight of his armor. In his hands were sword and bow; at his back, a quiver of arrows. He was obviously marching--or attempting so--to the training field. Link stifled a laugh, bemused by the soldier's crude stride and clumsy countenance, thankful for Hyrule's reign of peace, and the blessings of Nayru, Din, and his patron, Farore.

At that moment, a woman emerged, basket in hand--for collecting linens--and cleaning rags--for casual dusting. With a servant's skill, she closed the door with one hand, and balanced her basket with the other. The soldier, on the other hand, paid no attention to the approaching woman, and collided headfirst into her sheets, sending them both tumbling to the floor.

Link rushed forward pushing laundry aside, lifting the basket from the soldier's head, and helping them each--the woman worker first, of course--upright. The woman was dazed, but unharmed, her supplies having taken the blunt of the force. The soldier sputtered--partly out of shock, partly out of embarrassment--but retained no injuries the best Link could tell.

Link helped the woman stand, steadying her frame as she stood, still somewhat shaken by their startling encounter. The soldier lifted himself, stammering his apologies as he gathered his equipment from the floor. The woman nodded, letting him go about his business with a smile. All was well. No harm done.

"Thank you for your help." She turned to Link and smiled, her voice laced with motherly care.

He smiled in return, warmed by the tenderness in her face. An aura of calm surrounded her, and himself in turn, as if she embodied the very essence of motherhood. As a Kokiri, Link had been ignorant to the concept of "mothers," though in his adolescent years, he longed for a sense of completion, a sense of peace at the sound of reassuring words, and the touch of a gentle embrace.

He'd been sick, countless nights, for his efforts, straining to remember his mother's image--the scent of her hair, the hue of her eyes, the feel of her skin. He felt so trapped, so unfulfilled at the mysteries of his mother--her thoughts, dreams, stories--tormented by her death. How he loathed his innocence, his naïveté, his negligence…

How had he been so selfish?

The woman laughed, interrupting Link's thoughts.

"You must be Milady's new servant."

Link blanched, wondering how it was the woman could know, having learned himself only minutes before.

.....But then, the Princess was a mastermind at managing time.

"Milady said you'd be stopping by. I understand this is your first day. In that case, we'll start with the linens--they're easiest." She laughed, quietly. "So, tell me…" She leaned forward, smoothing his hair. "What's your name?""

And so they began--right to left, enter and exit, swish and flick. As the woman worked, Link mimicked her movements, finding hands-on manipulation far simpler than a verbal listing of instructions. It was not a difficult task, but his inexperience tripled in light of her humble proficiency, strengthened more so by her absent-minded hum, and the whimsical sway of her wrists.

His determination swelled, the perfectionist in his fingers breaking through, all thoughts focused on straightening his creases, centering his folds, and condensing his layers. He noted the symmetrical perfection of her stack, her delicate hands twisting and tugging and contorting shapes, an unfathomable complexity for something as undeniably simple as bundling laundry.

The Princess would laugh at his romanticization of house-keeping.

The woman paused, several times, to coo and pamper his efforts. Other boys might have found the woman's nurturing tiresome and trite, but Link absorbed her praises gratefully, unaccustomed to such effortless acceptance. He carried the heavier load, all the while memorizing her hum to use later as a song for his ocarina. Zelda would certainly appreciate the tune, having lost her own mother long ago.

He listened as she spoke of festivities in the castle, and the upcoming banquets for visiting dignitaries. The whole of the palace's effort was put into balls and parties, and as such, the workload per servant doubled to compensate for shortages of time, and conservation of resources. She admitted to recognizing only a small proportion of the castle's staff, though she herself had been a servant for nearly ten years.

On the other hand, she asked very simple questions, most relating to his appetite, or whether or not he enjoyed the atmosphere of the palace. They were so simple, in fact, Link wondered if the woman weren't informed of his plans, and her presence merely a façade to fool soldiers, and help Link familiarize himself with the castle.

They continued on, room to room, stopping only to deposit sheets and empty baskets. By their third trip, Link had bundled nearly four baskets of laundry, and had become all but infatuated with the woman servant's company. He had not, however, forgotten his mission, and as he neared the final room, Link strained his ears, hoping to make sense of the muffled voices coming from behind the door.

They entered, as would any diligent worker, with their eyes low and their bodies straight, the soldiers on the opposite end twittering about as though shielded from the judgment of the world. The woman took the far end, near the door, pushing Link closer to the guards and their low-keyed conversation. She worked slowly--much slower than usual--seemingly preoccupied with something other than her subservient duties.

Somehow, Link found it hard to believe her actions a coincidence.

He matched her pace, inching himself as close as possible to the soldiers, trying his best to look unconcerned and unsuspicious.

They spoke of trivial things--attractive maids, unattractive maids, annoying roommates, their mutual dislike for the captain--none of which held any interest for Link or his cause.

"Suitors are visiting the palace next week."

At this, Link's ears twitched.

"So soon? The Princess is very young."

"It's nothing final. Bothersome formalities--or so I've been told."

"Ha! They'll never marry HER off! She'll rule the country alone, if need be. Or take a consort. Whichever comes first."

The soldier furrowed his brow. "I'd give my life for Princess Zelda.""

"As would I. But a contract of marriage would only be of benefit to the opposing country. What does any kingdom have that Hyrule cannot acquire itself?"

The soldier snorted. "An 'opposing' country. You speak as though the earth itself were at odds…"

"And why not?" he interrupted. "Pleasantries are a luxury for the weak. The last thing Hyrule needs is dead weight, especially with unexplainable fires breaking loose. We've our own problems to contend with, let alone those of an entire nation too penniless to support themselves."

"My, my. Aren't we the politician?"

"I'm only saying what everyone's thinking. These fires are dangerous, and we've neither lead nor light to guide us."

"What of the evidence from the last fire?"

"Of Nayru's beauty…"

"I found it rather strange." It was his turn to interrupt. ""What would a toy bell, a child's plaything, be doing near The Bombchu Shop? A nigh ten feet away, without a hair of soot or grime!"

A third soldier chimed in. "We visited neighboring houses, hoping someone would recognize the item--but alas, none came to claim it."

"Can you blame them?"

"Well, it's an odd find, nonetheless."

"Oh, bloody hell--it's just a toy. I think the lot of you are reading far too much into this."

The soldiers continued their bickering, unaware of Link or the woman servant's presence. And though his hands continued to work, Link's mind was elsewhere. Link had brainstormed one or two scenarios in his head, none of which included the use of a child. He'd suspected arson, a belligerent foreigner, even rebellious common folk from Kakariko Village, soured by one of the King's recent political conquests. But a "toy bell?"

Link didn't have time to ponder the thought, as the woman servant appeared, abruptly, tugging at his sleeve and motioning towards the door. Link followed, obediently, out the room, and into the hallways just outside the barracks.

The woman said nothing, gathering her things and preparing for yet another trip to the Washhouse. He followed suit, watching her closely as she organized her basket accordingly. Link was tempted to speak, and caught her eyes to do so, but the woman walked forward and kissed his cheek before a word was spoken.

"The Princess tells me you like milk." She smiled that infectious smile. "Let's drop off these linens and head to the kitchen. You must be thirsty."

Link simply smiled in return.