Per our previous conversation regarding your latest Legend of Zelda (LoZ) Alternate Universe (AU), please find attached the requested document. I trust you will find it to your satisfaction.
“Do not throw a fit.” Her face is still as stone, her voice meant for my ears only. “Do not. Not now.”
“You’re going to have to remind me why I shouldn’t throw a Goddess damned war,” I respond tightly. I hold my face as hard and still as I can, head high, but it’s an effort. Beyond an effort. It is heroic. I am a fucking hero for not jumping off this horse and running right back in there to beat them to death with their own Goddess damned Treaty Between Hyrule and The Gerudo Regarding the Division of Land and Resources in the Spirit Wastes After The Battle of Lanayru. The amount of paper in the document is worth more than a decent merchant could make in a year, it’s plenty thick enough to use as a club. Which is about the only use it’ll ever serve me.
“Because you’re better than they think you are,” she says sternly. “And if you prove them right I will kill you myself.”
“This trip has been a massive waste of time.” I gesture angrily at the palace that dominates the skyline. “She’s not interested in negotiating anything. She’s not interested in hearing any arguments beyond ‘we regret that we did not recognize your Goddess-given right to do whatever you want wherever you want.’” It is a pitch-perfect imitation of the Hylian Queen’s coldly polite delivery of every single thing she said to me, and I am proud of it, despite himself. “What have we gained in coming here?”
“The moral high ground,” she answers resolutely.
“What good is that?” I growl. I am dangerously close to petulance, an unattractive quality in anyone, let alone the Gerudo King, but I am frustrated. I don’t know what I’d been expecting from this trip, but this definitely wasn’t it.
“Moral high ground is to politics what physical high ground is to combat,” she says with a shrug. “Should the tide ever turn in our favour, you will need both.”
“I’m going to need a lot more than high ground,” I say with a heavy sigh, but I let the conversation go. I know she’s right, because she’s always right, and I don’t think I’ve got enough energy to fight this all way through to her inevitably proving me wrong. My pride’s taken enough damage today.
We round the corner into the market place and I let the sudden colour and noise buoy my spirits. My kin are easy to pick out of the crowd – their dark skin, and the bright hair and uniforms set them apart. Most in the crowd look at them with a mixture of fear and suspicion – to be fair to us, they thought we were thieves long before we chose that path for ourselves – but our coin is good and few of the merchants are willing to pass it up for the sake of their petty superstitions or nationalistic pride.
“We should head to the wagons,” she says, throwing a distrustful look at the bustling crowd. “Tensions are still high, and I don’t trust the Hylian guards to respond quickly if there’s trouble.”
A part of me wants to argue with her, but she’s right about this too. Already I’ve attracted stares and unsubtle glances, far too few of them friendly or merely curious. I give her a curt nod and we skirt the crowd instead of joning it. But I am unable to resist giving it a longing glance. It may not be as friendly toward me as the markets back home, but there’s something attractive in the universal language of haggling - the clink of coins, and the noise of goods changing hands. It’s the groaning protests of the gears of civilization moving forward and it kills me to not be at the heart of it.
Our caravan is waiting at the edge of the market, near the cobbled street that will lead us back out the main Castletown gate and on our way home again. A handful of covered wagons, already piled high with goods that are rare out in the desert - some dried fruits and meats, certain textiles, types of alcohol we can’t brew, and some of the latest Hylian fashions - good for disguises in a pinch. At least one of the wagons remains empty, and we’ll cram it and any other space left over full of barrels of water on our way home. The women still in the market must be looking for personal or last-minute items, which means we’re just about ready to leave.
I move around behind one of the centre wagons, seeking to escape the stares and glares of the Hylian citizens. If I can’t go fight with some stubborn old merchant over the price of his sheep wool, I see no need to bear his gaze any longer. I’m hungry, anyway, and if I remember correctly, the third wagon will have the food stores.
I ignore the fresher food near the back of the wagon - save that for later - and climb up in to head for the front where the large chest that normally contains our travel rations is set. I flip the latch and push the lid open, and then pause without releasing it. I blink uncomprehendingly down into the chest.
Curled up on top of what remains of our original rations is a little Hylian boy dressed in clothes that I’m pretty sure I last saw on some of the palace squires. He stares at me with wide, startled blue eyes, and freezes with a chunk of dried meat half in his hand and half in his mouth. His expression, to my ever living surprise, is not one of fear - the standard reaction of most Hylian children when faced with a Gerudo - but one of guilt. His eyes slide to one side and he finishes swallowing his bite. Then he looks back at me again and holds out the rest of the meat. ”Can I have this?” he says.
I stare. ”Yes,” I say. Because what else am I supposed to say?
"Did you want some?" he asks reasonably. As though it wasn’t mine to begin with. "It’s very good."
"If it’s no trouble," I manage, trying to wrap my brain around the sheer surrealness of this entire exchange. The little boy uncurls himself to start digging around looking for a piece like the one hanging from his mouth for me. I take it with solemn gratitude when he offers it, which somehow feels like the appropriate reaction, and he seems satisfied. He lifts himself into a seated position and begins working in earnest at his snack. If he was not dressed so finely, I would assume he was a street urchin just from the way he attacks the food.
"So," I say, taking a bite of my own, "how did, uh…how did you get in here?" I throw a glance around. I can’t see any of the women from here, but I can hear them, and I know there are enough of them around this caravan to have given even a Sheikah trouble getting anywhere without being noticed.
"I climbed up the back of the wagon," he says, pointing helpfully. "Or…did you mean in the box? Because I fell in by accident and the lid closed."
"Hmm, could happen to anyone," I say graciously. "I meant how did you get into the wagon without any of my friends seeing you? The scary ladies outside."
"They’re not scary," he says with a roll of his eyes. "They’re just serious. I didn’t SNEAK in if that’s what you mean." He gives me a dark look, suddenly annoyed that I might somehow have prejudged him. I decide to let it go. Perhaps he just happened to stumble on a gap in their watch and climbed up unnoticed. Not impossible.
"Were you hungry?" I ask. "Is that why you climbed in here?"
He shrugs nonchalantly. ”No,” he says. ”I just wanted to see.”
He gestures, I assume to take in the whole caravan. ”I’ve never seen Gerudo before. Not real ones. I like your horses.”
"I like our horses too," I confide. "Why did you open the box?"
He cocks his head to the side and gives me a quizzical look. ”Because I didn’t know what was in it.”
I raise an eyebrow at him. ”Do you…open every box you don’t know the contents of?”
He shrugs, as though to say, ‘don’t you?’
I lean back and consider him for a moment. ”How old are you?”
"Sixteen." The lie is positively improbable. He can’t be more than twelve. But he does it with such unmitigated gall that I let him have it. I scratch my beard thoughtfully.
"I’m guessing you’re from the palace?"
His chewing slows and he lowers his hand. His eyes are suddenly suspicious, his posture tense. ”No,” he lies again.
"Your clothes look like they came from there." I reach out with a hand to pull at the expensive fabric of his tunic.
A hint of panic works its way into his eyes. ”I stole them,” he says, doing a decent impression of a nonchalant shrug in his perfectly tailored suit. ”From a…from a boy at the palace. They’re his, I just took them.”
"Really?" I say, pretending to be impressed. "And who was this boy you stole them from?"
"He was…he’s…I don’t know. He just, he talks sometimes to the Queen. Tells her what he thinks."
The entertainment value of this whole conversation dries up as thought it never existed.
Nayru, Farore and Din.
The risk that the boy’s mother is going to come ripping in here screaming about filthy Gerudo kidnapping her son was one thing. If this boy is somehow one of Zelda’s personal servants….
"…doesn’t really listen, though, and never lets him go anywhere or SEE anything, and he’s just…he’s very…sad. He’s a sad boy." His expression is frustrated.
"So…you stole his clothes?" I say, barely managing to hold the thread of the conversation in between trying to figure out the best way to deal with this. Do I find a guard and give him back? Do I drop him off outside the wagon and take off? Do I carry him back up to the palace? What do I do with him?
"I…he doesn’t like them anyway," the boy says defensively, apparently realizing his own story is starting to get away from him. "They itch."
"So why did YOU want them?" I ask. I climb to my feet and move to the side of the chest to peer out the front of the wagon, looking for a Hylian guard.
"I’m going to…I’m going to…." He pauses, has to think about it. At last he raises a hand in triumph, eyes bright, and says: "I’m going to give them to the Gerudo King!"
The absurditiy of the statement is enough to pull my head back in and stare at him. ”You’re going to…why?”
He leans back in the chest, content with this decision, and there is something alarmingly determined in the angle of his mouth. ”Because I don’t want to be a Hylian anymore. I want to be a Gerudo.”
He cannot go back to the palace talking like this.
I drop into a crouch to level a serious gaze at him. ”Look, kid,” I say.
"Link," he cuts me off.
"Link," he repeats as though speaking to someone particularly slow. "My name is Link."
"Link, then, I don’t think you understand just how dangerous what you’re proposing is. I—"
"You’re supposed to tell me your name," he interrupts again. Patiently.
I stare at him. ”What?” I manage to repeat.
"I told you my name, now you’re supposed to tell me yours. It’s polite.”
"I…of course," I say helplessly. "Where are my manners. My name is Ganondorf, but you can call me Ganon."
He reaches out and grabs my hand enthusiastically before I can do anything about it. He shakes it vigorously, his little hand lost in my own. ”I am very pleased to meet you Ganon. Do you know where the Gerudo King is?”
I am considering whether or not he might believe that the Gerudo King is back at the palace when he pulls his hand from mine. The light from the day outside the wagon flashes against a small mark on the back of his hand - it could be anything, a birth mark, or a bit of mud. But I’ve snatched his hand back before he can fully retrieve it and lean in closer to look.
Three tiny, golden triangles carefully arranged in an unmistakeable symbol. He gives me an annoyed look, and then protests loudly when I rub roughly at the mark with my other hand to make sure it’s actually what I think it is. He yanks his hand back and clutches it to his chest, giving me a dirty look. ”That was really rude,” he says accusingly.
"That mark," I say. "What is it?"
He looks down at it, then back up at me, confused. ”It’s just a mark,” he says. ”The Queen says the Goddesses put it there. It means I’m chosen or something, I don’t know. She talks about the Goddesses a lot. I don’t really listen.”
"Link," I say very slowly, "why are you here?"
"I want to be a Gerudo," he says, frowning.
"No. I mean, before you decided you wanted to be a Gerudo. Why did you come here?"
He holds my gaze for as long as he can manage, then finally turns away. ”I didn’t want to be at the palace anymore,” he says softly. ”I just wanted to see what it was like outside.”
Something in me softens, despite myself. ”You didn’t fall into this chest, did you?” I ask him gently. ”You were hiding here?”
He nods and something unhappy wriggles in his expression. He rubs the Triforce mark against his thigh unconsciously. ”The guards told me Gerudo kidnap little boys all the time. I thought maybe…I thought maybe I could get kidnapped.”
"Link," I say, giving him a serious look, "the Gerudo don’t kidnap little boys. You know I could get in a lot of trouble if anyone finds you in here, right? If they think I really did kidnap you?"
He gives me a look so desperate it’s breathtaking. ”I’ll be in more trouble if she finds out I left,” he says, curling his fingers around the edge of the chest and leaning forward pleadingly. ”Please! Ganon! I came here because I wanted to be here! I want to go with you! You don’t have to take me to your King, okay? You don’t have to make me Gerudo, but please don’t make me go back!”
The skin on the back of my own hand, where a Triforce mark to match his sits, grows suddenly hot. The little boy gasps in surprise and claps his unmarked hand over his own Triforce.
I raise my hand and stare at it, forgetting, for a moment, how to breathe. I can’t be a coincidence. Him finding his way in here, straight to me. And now this? I know a sign when I see one.
My stomach knots unpleasantly - one part sudden, fierce hope, and two parts dread.
"Get back down into the chest," I tell him, decision made. "Don’t make a noise until I call for you."
"You mean you’ll take me?" he says. "You’ll let me come?!"
"Only if you promise to stay quiet until I call you," I insist.
He nods with his eyes wide and claps both hands over his mouth. I can’t take my eyes from the Triforce mark on the back of his hand. He curls back up on the rations and I move to close the lid back over him. But he straightens suddenly and stops me. ”Can I have some more of these?” he asks.
"Knock yourself out," I tell him, and push the lid down.
Outside I can hear the women doing a roll call, which means we’re a few minutes from leaving. I clamber out of the wagon and into the front seat. I have no idea how I’m going to explain this to the others. They’re going to mutiny. All that work to get us an audience and I do this.
I’m pretty sure kidnapping Queen Zelda’s little golden prophet constitues a violation of the Treaty Between the Gerudo and Blah Blah Blah.
I let my eyes shift up to the Golden Palace, visible even from here, looming over Castletown like an owl in the night.
Well…I DID say I wanted to throw a war….