A deer crashes through the brush, stumbling from the arrow in its flank and disturbing the peace of the Western Hylian Forest.
Zelda sighs and lowers her bow, stepping out from her hiding spot. "Damn it... Okay."
The deer, being injured, leaves an easy enough trail to follow - blood and trampled plants aren't hard to miss. She can hear its keening cries as she gets closer, and eventually pushes aside a low-hanging branch and catches sight of it. It's collapsed on the ground, weak, and an easy kill, not to mention it would feed her family for weeks.
But... Mist swirls around her feet, and she can hear the giggles of the childlike forest spirits watching her. She's dangerously close to the Lost Woods.
The deer cries out again, and she hesitates, bouncing in place as she tries to decide what to do.
"Damn it," she sighs, slinging her bow on her back and pulling out her dagger instead. "Sorry, mom... If the Skull Kids get me, you can say 'I told you so'."
Taking the last few steps over the border into the Lost Woods makes a shiver run down her spine. The air is unnaturally still and silent, even as the thick fog swirls in the air. No birdsong, no scuffling of little forest creatures going about their business... The weak braying of the deer and musical rattling of the Koroks, hidden just out of sight, are the only sounds.
The deer has obviously been thrashing around, because the grass it lays on is ruffled every which way and streaked with blood, not to mention the shaft of the arrow still in its flank is snapped nearly in two. It doesn't have the energy to struggle anymore, just laying on the ground and letting out sad, low noises.
"It's okay," Zelda murmurs as she kneels next to it and strokes its neck comfortingly, "it'll be over soon, I promise. I'm sorry I put you through this."
She plunges her dagger into its chest and it lets out one last cry before falling limp, leaving her in silence.
Silence, she knows, is bad. It means something has scared off the ever-curious Koroks.
The back of her neck tingles and she snaps her head up, blood running cold at the sight of a Skull Kid watching her from behind a tree.
This is not a situation where panic will help her. She takes a deep breath, swallows her fear, ignores every instinct telling her to turn and run, and smiles.
"Hey there," she says, in the same tone she'd use to talk to a regular child. The Skull Kid startles and flinches, and she raises her hands. "Not gonna hurt you! I promise. The knife is just for hunting."
The Skull Kid still watches her warily, but she no longer feels like she's one wrong move away from getting dragged into the woods.
"Hey, I know something fun," she says as she lowers her hand to the deer's front legs and feels around for the joint connecting the hooves to the legs, starting to cut through the skin and meager meat when she finds it. "Did you know... If you tap... A deer's hooves together... It sounds like you're riding a horse?"
"I think that's pretty cool, don't you? You could pretend to ride a horse around. That sounds fun. You could be a knight!"
And the other one.
She holds the hooves up and demonstrates what she means, then holds them out to the Skull Kid. "You want them?"
"Okay, here you go!" Zelda says, and throws the hooves as hard as she can.
The Skull Kid scrambles after them, and Zelda grabs the deer by the antlers and pulls it as fast as she can in the other direction.
A knock on the door to his chambers pulls Link from sleep, and he frowns at the weight on his chest. Shaking awake the man clinging to him in his sleep, he jerks his head at the door, where someone is knocking again.
"Mm... Come in!" Ghirahim calls out, voice rough from having just woken up. He blinks sleepily, but smiles when Link curls an arm around his waist and pulls him close as he sits up.
The door opens to reveal a maid with a breakfast tray, respectfully averting her eyes from the two men's state of undress. "Will you be wanting tea or coffee, Ser?"
"He'll be fine with water for now," Ghirahim says, stroking his fingers against Link's bare chest, "but... Hmm... I wouldn't mind a pot of tea. I rather enjoyed that blend served after supper last night, with the citrus? Some of that, please."
"Of course, your lordship," the maid says with a bow before leaving the room.
Once she's fully gone, Link smirks at Ghirahim and says mockingly, voice raspy from disuse, "Your lordship."
"They hardly need to know what I'm the lord of," Ghirahim chuckles before vanishing in a burst of white and red diamonds and reappearing fully dressed with his makeup applied by the breakfast tray. He picks up a slice of toast and spreads wildberry jam on it before taking a bite, smearing his lipstick and sighing happily. "You know, it is nice, serving nobility. If I'm not careful, I'll let myself get spoiled."
'Already spoiled', Link signs.
Ghirahim hums out a laugh and sets his toast down, crossing back over to the bed to straddle Link and drape his arms over his shoulders. "And who's fault might that be, master? Who might be responsible for spoiling his dear, faithful servant?"
'Just bring me my food', Link signs with a roll of his eyes, Ghirahim laughing and pressing a quick kiss to his lips before getting up.
"As you say, master," he says, bowing low.
When the maid returns with the tea tray, Ghirahim is curled up next to Link, feeding him chunks of hydromelon off a tiny fork, white lipstick marks peppered across the knight's jaw and at the corners of his mouth.
"You can leave that on the table," Ghirahim says, not even looking away from Link. The maid murmurs an acknowledgement as he presses another kiss to Link's jaw, just by his ear, and the door clicks shut when she leaves.
"Go get your tea," Link whispers. Ghirahim hums and presses one last kiss to the corner of his mouth before vanishing and reappearing again, picking up the silver teapot and pouring himself a cup of dark, fragrant tea.
"How goes your efforts with the prince?" He asks, taking a sip.
Link groans and rubs at his eyes before signing, 'Doesn't trust me no matter what I do'.
Ghirahim frowns. "Forgive my impertinence, master, but should you not perhaps think of changing your strategy? He'll be of age in a year's time, everything hinges on the throne needing a steward-"
"I know," Link snaps, falling into a coughing fit when the harsh words irritate his throat. Ghirahim hurriedly goes to his side and hands him a glass of water, helps him sit up to drink.
"I know you know, master," Ghirahim murmurs. "Still... The court trusts you well enough. I've seen more than a few jealous glances aimed at me when I accompany you. Perhaps the prince's trust... Isn't needed. You could claim stewardship and his highness would either have to accept it, or go against his people. And that would hardly endear himself to them."
Link sighs and leans back against the headboard, letting Ghirahim set the glass of water on the bedside table. 'Perhaps you're right', he signs.
"Of course I'm right," Ghirahim says with a smile. "You know... I'm feeling rather under the weather. I'm afraid I won't be able to attend tonight's celebrations with you."
'A shame', Link signs. 'You'll miss all the excitement'.
Ganondorf takes a deep breath and focuses, calling on the magic flowing through his veins. There's a spark in his palm, that quickly grows into a ball of fire so large and hot he turns his face away to shield it, and he sends it flying with a flick of his wrist.
It careens in a spiraling line through the air, veering wide of the target he'd meant to hit, and collides with the wall a good ten feet to the left and four feet up.
"Head forward and chin up, godling," Karavi says, repositioning his head according to her instructions. "Stop fearing the heat. You cannot hit a target you can't see."
Ganondorf sighs and shakes the tension out of his shoulders, cracking his neck and grimacing. "I can't hit a target I can see, either."
"You aim perfectly well when you train with the Sheikah bitch," Karavi snaps, waving a hand dismissively at the prince's shocked expression. "I'm sure she's said much worse about me. Now. Try again. This time, aim in a way that perhaps you could be able to hit the broad side of a barn."
Ganondorf takes a deep breath and gets back into the casting stance; feet shoulder width apart, shoulders squared, head forward and chin up. He holds an arm in front of him, palm out, and a fire flickers to life in his hand. It grows bigger and hotter, and he grits his teeth as he starts to sweat, refusing to turn his head away this time. The fireball is sent flying with a flick of his fingers, streaking across the room and colliding with a training dummy to set the straw alight.
"Good," Karavi says. "Now do that every time."
"You're not a very kind teacher," Ganondorf huffs, and she laughs.
"Are you bullying my son, Koumakevai?" Nabinai asks as she strides into the training chamber, lifting her skirts to avoid stepping on them or dragging them in the sand.
Karavi bows low in the Gerudo fashion. "I would never disrespect the blessing of Din, your majesty."
"I'm sure you wouldn't," Nabinai says. "I'll be stealing him away anyway, he needs to prepare for tonight."
Karavi bows again and leaves the room, leaving Ganondorf with his mother, who looks at him with her hands on her hips.
"Fire magic again?" She asks, and he nods, pushing back the strands of hair stuck to his face with sweat.
"I should bathe, shouldn't I," he mutters, frowning at the state of himself. Soot covers his fingertips and palms, he's sweating in his training robes, and he starts shivering slightly with the warmth of the fire spell gone and the chill of the room setting in.
"That would probably be best, yes," Nabinai says, smiling. "Unless you'd like to attend your father's name day ball smelling like a sand seal?"
Ganondorf gives an exaggerated hum and pretends to think hard. "That is tempting..."
"Ah! I pray to The Wildfire for a son with wits, and she curses me with one who thinks he's witty!" His mother scoffs playfully, giving him a gentle smack on the shoulder as he laughs. "Go. Your clothes have been set out already."
"Yes, mama," he chuckles. He gives her a parting wave as he leaves the room, heading up to his chambers to bathe and dress.
His mind wanders as he walks, thinking about the evening's upcoming celebrations. Something feels... Uneasy. Like a cup so full of water it curves up over the rim, and one little nudge will send it all spilling over. He's had this feeling for weeks now, getting worse whenever that knight talks to him in a misguided attempt to win him over - he'd swear he was fishing for a betrothal if he wasn't eight years his senior and fucking that lord from another kingdom - but he just doesn't know what it means.
He reaches his chambers and sighs, pushing open the door and heading for the bathing room. Whatever it is, perhaps it won't be too serious. Yes, he's sure it won't be too serious. There's probably just going to be a duel or something, inspired by some imagined slight.
Whatever happens, he thinks as he peels off his sweat-soaked training clothes, it's sure to be resolved quickly.