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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: AN INVITATION

 

 

 

 

 

            Talien looked up into the sky and smiled. The short trip up to Hyrule Castle had gone pretty well so far- it was indeed a good day for a nice ride in the country. Talien reached back and untied his red hair, letting it fall across his shoulders. Despite his age- a full sixty years and counting- barely a single grey strand, if any, mixed with the natural red of his hair. In truth, he looked at least twenty years younger than he should have. It wasn't anything special- it ran in his family. Talien's younger brother defied his age even more than that. And their father was something else entirely.

            Talien shook his head a little, freeing his hair some more. Behind him, the bickering continued.

            "Just stop it, okay?" Rei added for the sixth time. "Please?"

            "Stop what?" Came the light-hearted response. "I'm just singing a little tune to myself."

            The "little tune" in question happened to have the lyrics, "Rei and royalty, sitting in a tree..." as its first verse.

            "Damodred, please," let out a tired, annoyed, and exasperated Rei. "I don't beg you often."

            She raised an eyebrow. "True, true... you never beg me to stop anything when I'm not around."

            "That's not what I meant!"

            Damodred went back to singing. It was amazing how beautiful her voice could sound when used for the express purpose of mocking somebody.

            "Please!"

            "...Sitting in a tree..."

            "Stop!"

            "...-I-S-S-I-N-G!"

            "I mean it!"

            "Then comes marriage..."

            "Damodred!!"

            "...In a baby carriage!"

            At this, Talien slowed his horse for a moment, thinking to himself about how the words of the two mixed together there.

            He shook his head. "Nah," Talien commented. "I don't want to imagine what she was like as a baby."

            "Who?" Rei asked, puzzled. "The queen?"

            Talien simply grinned. "No, Damodred."

            Rei laughed, and Damodred glared at both of them. The glare lasted for quite a while, and it seemed that the air temperature had suddenly risen, and the happy, chirping birds had fallen silent. Talien decided that a quick change of subject was in order.

            "Say, isn't the royal ball coming up?" He asked, semi-rhetorically. "You know, the one every year where the royal family, noble houses, politicians, and honoured guests all gather together and party?"

            "Yeah, what's it to you?" Damodred asked, shrugging.

            "Well," Rei interjected, "We could always knock a family of dukes unconscious, take their clothing, and go to the ball, right?"

            Silence descended for a moment, as Rei put on one of his typical awkward grins.

            "...I was joking."

            Talien blinked a few times, and then put on an obviously faked laugh. Damodred muttered something to her horse in another language, and sped off ahead of them. Rei smiled and sighed contentedly.

            "You're smarter than you look, aren't you?" Talien asked after a minute or two, grinning.

            "Yep!" Rei responded over-enthusiastically. "I wasn't born yesterday, you know! You've gotta wake up pretty early in the morning to pull one over on me!"

            It was at that point that his horse tripped on a small pothole, and Rei fell off.

 

***

 

            As of mid-afternoon, it had become a relatively peaceful day in Hyrule Castle. Since the "Incident" that took place while Miyu was off buying bits of enchanted stone in Kasuto, Galyer the dog had developed an affinity for Queen Zelda. This affection was best demonstrated when he deposited himself by the throne, and silently, in that way that only dogs know, commanded her to pet him behind the ears. The queen of all Hyrule acquiesced within seconds. This made the day more than bearable. In fact, it was now quite pleasant. Having a gigantic wolf-like dog by your side is a guaranteed way to keep visiting politicians and dignitaries on their best behaviour.

            On the other hand, the royal ball was coming up, and the number of prospective suitors decreased with each growl from the quasi-royal canine. This relieved Zelda, but annoyed everybody else. The queen's insistent refusal to court, engage, marry, or even think of producing an heir for the royal family had, by this time, driven the majority of the castle to the point of distraction. More than one had commented that they'd let anybody in, noble-blooded or not, if he'd just somehow figure out a way to rid the queen of her Link fixation. Of course, from Zelda's point of view, there was no reason to rush. She'd marry someone eventually, for whatever reason, but for now she'd match their insistence with stubbornness. The fact was, Zelda loved Link, and Link was gone. In the eyes of most people, she had refused to move on. Her viewpoint was that she was comfortable. However, nobody else seemed to understand this save for Amadeus, her closest advisor, and Miyu, who was his closest advisor.

            Regardless, though, Queen Zelda was enjoying her day. It was peaceful, slow-moving, and the weather was perfectly nice. There was little enough going on that she had begun to consider leaving the throne room for the day and doing something, anything else. It was at this point that one of her aides gave her news of some visitors.

            "Your Highness, there's an extremely motley group of three here, to 'thank' you, or something. Should I send them away?"

            The queen raised an eyebrow. "Did you get their names?" she asked.

            The servant blinked, realizing that, in fact, he had not. "I don't think that I did, My Lady. Do you... do you think that you know them?"

            "Possibly..." Came her response, "But regardless, get their names for me, first."

            The middle-aged man nodded apologetically, bowed, and left the room. He came back in a couple of minutes later.

            "They stated that their names are," He paused for a moment, remembering, "Talien Minosa, Rei Elanis, and... Damodred,  the woman said. She didn't give a last name. Do you want them sent away?"

            Zelda blinked. "No, no..." she answered quickly, "I don't want them sent away- they're friends, bring them in!"

            "Yes, my lady," the confused servant responded with another bow and nod, and went to fetch the three.         

            Meanwhile, outside, the "motley group of three" waited.

            "Talien, could you tell me exactly how you do this?" Rei asked, rather curiously.

            "Do what?" Came the response.

            "We get into places like this so easily," Rei commented, still curious, "Audiences with the queen, nicer seats at restaurants, and I noticed that we got the best of the hot springs."

            Talien simply smirked. "I just do my shopping, that's all."

            "And you and Amadeus know each other?"

            "What makes you say that?" He asked Rei back, feigning ignorance.

            "He means," Damodred interjected from where she leaned against the wall, "Lord De Castillo used the 'F' word- 'friend'- when he spoke to you."

            "Right..." Rei nodded, nudging Talien a bit.

            "We go back a little ways," Talien answered simply. "I've visited the castle before, and my father used to work here somewhere around thirty years or so ago."

            "Amadeus isn't much older than thirty." Rei mused, folding his arms.

            Talien simply raised an eyebrow. "You'd be amazed at how well people remember the nice old men who used to give them candy."

            "Yeah..." Rei's mind began to go off into its own little world, filled with doddering uncle-types from home. Gave kids a lot of candy, they did.

            "I don't remember any." Damodred commented, unfolding her arms and putting her hands in her pockets.

            Talien smirked. "And that," he stated, lifting a finger to emphasize his point, "Explains a lot." Rei laughed a bit at the joke before remembering himself. The glare from Damodred probably helped that a bit, as it was. Her eyes really had this habit of almost seeming red once in a while.

            "Look sharp, folks," Talien stated suddenly, glancing to the side. "That 'Jeeves' guy is back."

            "The queen told me to send you in," the middle-aged servant said, quite plainly, when he arrived within earshot of the three. "Evidently, she considers you to be 'friends.' You can see her immediately. Please come this way." And with that, the man turned and began walking, half-waiting for them to follow.

            "See?" Damodred commented wryly as she began to walk. "The 'f' word. It works miracles."

 

***

 

            "We wish to thank you, Your Highness," Talien quietly said, kneeling before the throne, "For your wonderful hospitality a short while ago, as well as for the wonderful letter that you sent. We are truly grateful for your kindness." He rose for a half-second to add another formal bow, and then knelt again. The queen smiled for a moment.

            "You don't have to kneel like that, Talien," she answered in a very friendly fashion. "The three of you are perfectly welcome here. And thank you for responding to the letter like this!" Her speech dropped down a few more levels of formality, and it became obvious that she meant to be casual. Amadeus, who was standing at the right hand of the throne, gave a small nod.

            The three stood. "Thank you again, your highness." Talien responded, nodding slightly.

            "Today's been slow," Zelda commented, intentionally making the atmosphere even more casual, "I was just thinking of canceling my other appointments of the day. it is a pleasure to see the three of you again. How have you been, Mr. Elanis?"

            And so, surprised at being called "Mr.," much less at being singled out as such, Rei panicked.

            "Me?"

            "Yes... Rei, right?"

            "Me?!" More surprise.

            The queen chuckled a little bit, and nodded again. "I think that's your name..."

            Damodred elbowed Rei, and he regained the ability to speak. "Oh! Fine! Fine, fine, just fine! We're doing fine here, your... miss... High... Lady... Your highness!"

            There was a distinct annoyed sighing sound coming from the short-haired woman standing next to him. She appeared to be contemplating murder. Talien started cracking up, followed by Amadeus, and the queen had to put a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing too loudly. Rei felt embarrassed.

            "It's okay, Rei. I'm not going to eat you." Zelda blinked, realizing how silly she just sounded, and in order to stop himself from laughing at the mental image, Rei hit himself in the stomach.

            All vestiges of seriousness and formality left the room at that point. This was a good thing, because two seconds later something about all of the laughter set Galyer off, and the massive hound promptly decided to pounce on Rei and lick his face mercilessly. There was almost a moment of panic before everyone realized how friendly Galyer is (Although Rei barely had a clue about that fact), and the chaos slowly began to calm down shortly after.

            As the insanity was dying down, and Galyer began to heed his master's calls to "Sit," "Stay," and "Stop licking the poor boy," Amadeus took a second to whisper something in Zelda's ear. She perked up, and blinked at whatever he said, starting to whisper something back. Talien took note of this, and figured out for himself what was being said. He glanced back, and saw Damodred letting Rei dry his face off on her sleeve- her shoulder, to be more specific.

            He glanced back, and the two were still whispering to each other. Zelda was visibly blushing, and looked about to giggle a little at whatever Amadeus had suggested. He was giving her a grin of some sort. The queen turned back to the other three, waiting for the confusion to die down.

            "My Lady, if I may ask what is so amusing," Talien asked innocently, already pretty sure of what she was going to say.

            "The Lord Amadeus just suggested," She blinked a bit while responding, "That I invite the three of you to the Royal Ball, and ask Rei to be my companion for the dance."

            Silence descended utterly on the room. Talien simply grinned like a proud daddy. Strangely, Amadeus mimicked the exact expression. Rei, who was still confused, embarrassed, frazzled, and beslobbered by a dog, blinked once or twice.

            "Me?" Was all that he was able to say after roughly a minute and a half. Damodred had gotten busily to work, glancing  between him and the queen and looking more confused each second, before getting a rather cruel smirk on her face.

            "I believe that's who she meant, Rei," She thought for a moment of adding a 'Dear' to the end of that sentence, but decided against it.

            "Wow..." Rei began to comment, then shook his head, regaining his bearings. For a moment, much of his life flashed through his eyes. "I'm... I'm beyond grateful... You're asking me?"

            Zelda simply nodded, awaiting his response.

            "I... accept?" He blinked, very confusedly. Rei's mind was now occupied with one thing: How not to totally muck this opportunity up. It was only after everyone was dismissed, and the three were being shown their rooms when Rei realized the next problem: He did not know how to dance.

 

***

 

            The first difficulty with not knowing how to dance is finding someone who not only does, but is also willing to teach. And considering that Rei didn't exactly know anybody at the castle, this was indeed a very difficult task.

            "Hey, Talien, do you know how to..." Rei started to ask him.

            "Haven't danced in twenty years," Talien absently commented, busily unpacking Rei's clothing and hanging it up, thinking of which suit to smoothen out for the ball.

            "Damodred, do you..."

            "No, I told you," She replied annoyedly, glancing over Rei and determining how to fix his hair for the ball. "I don't like catfish."

            "What?" Rei blinked, confusedly.

            "It tastes muddy." She commented, giving the back of his hair a short tug. "Nah, we'll leave it this way. It looks better long."

            "That wasn't what I was asking." Rei gave a strange look- although, since she was behind him, he couldn't give her the look, but it was the thought that counted. "I mean, do you..."

            "No, I don't sunbathe."

            "That's not what I was asking!"

            "Then what were you asking?" She peered over at his face, giving him an odd look. "Whether I know how to dance, and if I'm willing to teach you?"

            Rei just groaned.

            "And the answer is yes," She replied to his groan, smirking a bit. "I'll give you a quick lesson just before the ball- you've got a couple of days, so don't worry about it right now."

            "Really?" He blinked, smiling. "You'll teach me? Thanks!"

            "I said, don't worry about it! Now, about your hair..."

 

***