CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: DANCE LESSONS
For generations, Hyrule's Royal Ball was one of the upper society's major events. Even through times of war, chaos, plague, famine, and death, the ball has still been held, and with it connections have been made, deals have been set, relationships have started, and a bunch of rich folks have, in general, had a good time. For seven years, when Ganon had his reign of terror in Hyrule, the Ball was actually held in the Southern Kingdom, despite the strained relationships with that land since their civil war seventeen years ago. Needless to say, immediately after Ganon fell the Hylians snatched their Royal Ball back where it belonged. The first one held back in Hyrule was a nervous occasion, and somewhat scattered, but now, in the fifth Royal Ball since the fall of Ganon, things had long since gotten back into full swing. The event was always reported far and wide over Hyrule, and anyone who was anyone would be there. If the reigning head of state was single, he or she always had an escort for it, whether a close personal friend or a volunteer, often times the reigning King or Queen, or Prince or Princess would find their match at the ball- Zelda's parents, for example, met each other at one of the Royal Balls.
This should sufficiently explain why Rei was a complete basket case for three days.
A complete, total, and utter basket case.
Rei's contact with the queen during this time was minimal, seeing as how she worked very hard as the head of state, and he was a nervous basket case, anyway. When not with Talien and Damodred, Rei was generally hanging around either Amadeus or Miyu, both of whom attempted to get him acclimated to the Ball and to basic etiquette. To try to calm himself down a bit, Rei would often take walks around the castle- and, more often than not, get lost. It was on one of these jaunts around the place that Rei ran into another acquaintance of his. A short, overweight, balding, mustachioed man from Lon Lon Ranch.
"Rei, My boy!" Talon bellowed, somehow recognizing him.
"...Talon?" Rei asked, blinking. "You remembered me?"
"Of course!" Talon shouted, giving Rei a hearty slap on the back. "How could I forget? You're the only guy who ever tamed Stupid!"
Rei nodded, a bit. Evidently, Stupid the Horse obeyed him, and only him. It wasn't exactly the best distinction in the world.
"So, what's this I hear about you and the queen?" Talon asked, again rather loudly. Rei tried to shush him.
"Shh! It's not like that!" He motioned for the older man to lower his volume level. "The queen always needs a date, or something, and I guess I was handy. Please, not so loud!"
"Aw, you're just being HUMBLE, that's all!" Talon again bellowed. Evidently, the man was incapable of whispering. "A pity that you didn't marry my daughter, but I guess a queen's a queen, and that's a good second, eh?" He winked and elbowed Rei in the ribs.
"I'm not marrying anyone!" Rei protested.
"Oh, really?" Another wink, and another elbow. "So you're just 'Special Friends,' eh? That's royalty for ya!"
Rei blinked, and shook his head vigorously. "No, no, no! Not that! I'm just going to dance with her maybe once the whole time, okay? It's nothing like that!"
"Oh, come on!" Talon laughed again, and gave Rei his second slap on the back in one conversation. Rei almost felt a bruise growing there.
"Oh, come on, Dad, don't give him such a hard time! Let the boy rest for a bit," Came a pleasant female voice from behind the two. Rei turned around, smiling.
"Malon, how've you been?"
"The same as ever," She responded, giving him a smile. "How's Stupid?"
"I think he's doing well..." Rei thought for a moment. "He acts like an idiot, and only listens to me... but that's the same as always, right?"
She giggled. "Yep! I knew you could take care of 'im!"
Rei smiled and nodded politely. "Thanks. I really like him."
"Yay! I'm so happy!" She actually clapped for a moment. "I knew the second I saw you riding him that you two'd do well together! Just like you and Her Highness, right?"
Rei paused for a moment, and realized something. "Malon..."
"How do you two know that I'm dancing with the queen at the Ball?"
"Oh, everybody knows!" Malon responded cheerfully, clasping her hands together. "It's the talk of the town! You know, the Queen and a common, yet dashingly handsome and kind-hearted boy! It's just like one of those storybooks, and I bet everyone'll be watching you two!"
Rei swallowed, and blushed. Things suddenly felt even more complicated.
"And I'm so glad that the castle put in an order for Lon Lon milk, too, so we can be here to see you after it's all over!"
Talien had to ask that.
"He's probably in his room," Damodred commented, carrying a small, unmarked package, "Quivering and stressing his life away. Try not to make any loud noises- the shock might be too much for him."
Talien chuckled a bit at her comment, then shook his head. "Don't, you'll make it worse..." He raised an eyebrow. "What's that you're carrying?"
"Something that I should never, ever need again." She turned, beginning to walk away. "I'll be back in a few minutes. Prep the boy."
He laughed again. "Go get changed, it's almost time." Talien commented, turning and walking into Rei's room.
Because of his sudden new "Position," Rei had been given luxurious, spacious quarters, certainly much more than anything his two friends had. Regardless of this, Rei took up as little space as he could, choosing instead to huddle in the corner and worry. Nervousness can do that to a person. However, the difference this time was that Rei was shivering in his corner while being dressed up.
"Okay, Rei, you can quit the 'small dog' act," Talien stated, rolling his eyes as he sat down by Rei. "The world's not going to end yet."
Talien raised an eyebrow. "Who knows?"
"Everyone." Came the response.
"Everyone knows what?"
A look of true terror covered Rei's face. "...Everything..."
Talien blinked for a moment, then held back the laughter. "Rei, it's okay. This is nothing to be nervous about- if you keep getting yourself so worked up about this, you'll make yourself screw something up."
Rei simply looked at him for a moment, then put his head in his hands. "You just don't get it, do you? You're not the one who's been forced into a date with the queen in front of the entire world- friends, enemies, politicians, paparazzi, everything. And has my opinion been asked about this even once? No. In fact, I wonder how much of a say Zelda had in this, too..." He trailed off, sighing.
Talien closed his eyes for a moment, echoing Rei's sigh. "I know that you're probably not particularly attracted to each other, but that's not really the point of this. Nobody really expects you two to run off and get married, or at least they shouldn't. For you, this is the chance of a lifetime- how many young men can really say that they've danced with royalty? And for her, this is a chance to loosen up and enjoy life with a friend- and from what I can tell, you're that, at least. Okay?"
Rei made a muffled noise that can only be described as a "Mrf."
Talien rolled his eyes. "Well, you mentioned having a say in this... If you back out, I'm sure that it won't be that big a deal. Do you want out of this? I'll go contact Amadeus immediately if that's the case.
Rei looked up at him. "Heck, no! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!"
"That's my boy," Talien smirked, getting up and looking to the doorway. "Now, get yourself together. The ball's in a few hours, and Damodred's going to be here in a few minutes for that dance lesson- and believe it or not, she's going to wear a dress."
Rei's eyes went as wide as saucers. "A dress? Her?"
"Yes," Talien nodded. "Her."
"I... I can't believe this!" Rei exclaimed, standing up. "Our Damodred? The girl with the knives? She's wearing... a dress?"
"I saw her carrying it back to the room with my own eyes." Talien gave Rei a grin as he walked over to the door. "To quote, 'Something that I should never, ever need again."
Rei laughed at that. "Never?"
"I don't even want to think about what she's getting married in..."
"She's getting married?" Now Rei looked beyond surprised. Incredulous, in fact.
Talien shook his head. "Not for a long, long time. We'll handle her after we take care of you, eh? Or is that already done?"
Rei simply sat back down.
"See you at the ball- and if you find a nice, middle-aged lady without a partner, send her my way, eh?" And with that, Talien Minosa left Rei's Room.
A few minutes later, there was a knock at Rei's door.
"Come in," Rei said, standing to open the door.
It took Rei a second to recognize who was there. On any normal day, Damodred appeared to be anything but feminine. She looked like what she was- a warrior, someone with a strong personality, and somewhat of a jerk. Her clothing usually reflected this fact, and although it was never exactly masculine- Rei wouldn't dream of wearing anything of hers- her appearance didn't exactly project the image of a "Lady." Right now, however, things were different.
Her dress was simple, sleeveless, lacking any ornamentation, but that was more than enough. It was close-fitting, apparently made of silk, extending down to her knees. It was coloured a dark purple, and the neckline barely reached below her collarbone- an effort, apparently, to hide the scar there. It almost succeeded, but any higher wouldn't have looked right. Her hair was styled, simply smoothed down and back, but again she seemed... elegant, for once. If Rei hadn't already known her, he would have thought her to be a member of high society.
"Well?" She gave him an irritated, impatient look. "Don't just stand there, I'm teaching you to dance!"
"Oh!" Rei blinked for a moment, stepping to the side and allowing her in.
"...Idiot..." Damodred muttered, not exactly quietly.
Evidently, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make her drink.
"Thanks," Rei responded sarcastically, shutting the door. "Been having a bad day?"
"What do you think? I'm forced to wear this!" She semi-snapped, moving to the center of the room.
"Well..." Rei commented, "I think you look nice."
"Save it for the queen." She folded her arms, glancing around the room for a moment. "Anyway... you needed to learn how to dance?"
"C'mere." She motioned for him to walk over to where she stood at the center of the room. Rei nodded again and complied.
"Okay," Damodred started, "I don't quite know what they're going to do at the ball, so we'll just go over the basics, okay? Now, grasp my right hand with yours."
"Right hand?" Rei asked.
"Right..." he said, reaching out and taking her hand.
"Now, put your left hand on my back."
This patch of conversation confused Rei, so he simply rested his left hand on her shoulder- better to be safe than sorry.
"That's not my back," She stated, a little annoyed. "That's my shoulder. Go lower." Rei moved his hand down by about an inch or two.
"You're barely touching my back," she rolled her eyes, now more than a little annoyed. "Lower, Rei. You're looking for my lower back, near my waist."
Rei blinked, and mentally braced himself for some sort of violent retribution from Damodred as he moved his hand under her arm, just above her waist.
"...That right?" he asked rather timidly.
"Good." She gave a short nod.
"Now, Rei," After a moment, Damodred continued. "Since you're new at this, most of what you'll be doing is following your partner, okay? I'll lead right now, but since that'll be your job at the ball I'll let you try it in a moment. Are you getting all of this?"
Rei nodded. "Where did you learn how to dance, anyway?"
"I've been around." She answered, beginning to take a step. "We don't have the benefit of music... just try to follow me, okay?" She began to dance, taking him along with her. Rei attempted to follow, tripping once or twice at first before beginning to get the hang of it.
"This isn't too bad..." He commented after a little while, when he stopped tripping over himself.
"It isn't, really." Damodred stopped moving suddenly. "Now, you lead. Take the first two steps, and I'll follow."
Rei nodded, and began his part of the same dance, holding his breath for a moment until he realized that he had gotten it right, and Damodred was following along beautifully.
"Hey," Rei smiled, "I'm actually getting the hang of this!"
Damodred smirked. "Let go of my waist for a second."
"Just try it."
Rei complied, and Damodred stepped away from him in a half-spin, still holding onto his hand. He blinked, expressing a bit of surprise and trying not to trip and fall down as Damodred turned, spun back, and leaned against him.
She turned her head and gave one simple comment. "Zelda's bound to do that at least once."
"What do I do?" He asked."
"Simply," Damodred turned back again, facing her original position and nudging Rei's hand back on her lower back, "Go along with it, and you'll be fine. Now, dip me."
"Lean forward, as if you're bending down, but not so crooked," she instructed him, and after a moment's thought, Rei tried that, and didn't totally screw it up. Damodred moved a bit to straighten him, then smirked again.
"If this were one of those romantic stories, this would be where you'd kiss the girl. However, if you try it you'll be dancing with the queen in a body cast."
Rei straightened up again, giving her an odd look. "Why do you always do that?"
"Make comments like that," He said, leading again as the two continued to practice. "When I rode behind you on a horse, it was, 'hold onto my waist, and if your hands move at all I'll skin you.' If I'm giving you a boost over a wall, it's 'Watch where you shove, or you die.' If you're teaching me how to throw someone, it's 'normally you'd grab someone here, but if you do, I'll dismember you,' and now it's 'try to kiss me and I'll put you in a body cast."
"And?" She asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I'm asking you why you keep saying things like that. I'm not a threat, Damodred."
"I never said you were."
"Look," he sighed, a bit exasperated. "I don't even flirt... much. Haven't you noticed that? And even if I did, you'd be one of the last people I'd dream of flirting with."
She chuckled a bit at that. "Good to know that you've got your priorities straight. Now, try to move in a straight line more- you're doing a good job, but with dance steps like that the two of you'll be crashing into every other partygoer in the room."
He straightened his pace, shaking his head a bit. "...Thanks."
They continued on for a little while, gliding across the floor of the small room as Rei began to get the hang of dancing a little bit more. As they went on, he began to feel more comfortable with the idea of the Royal Ball, and of the queen... at least she wouldn't threaten him in mid-dance.
"Rei." Damodred suddenly said after a few minutes of silence.
"What?" he responded."
"You're not a screwup."
"You're not an idiot."
"What are you talking about?" He gave her a confused look.
"Just shut up and listen, moron," she gave him an exasperated look. "Trust me on this. If you were a failure, I'd have given up on you a long time ago- and as it currently stands, I haven't. You only fail when you work yourself up to it."
"What do you mean?" He asked, trying to piece together how she could call him a moron directly after saying that he's not an idiot.
"I mean, you should stop giving yourself too little credit. Relax a little. When you go dancing with the queen this evening, I want to see a confident Rei, not the shivering little coward who's been hiding in this room. You hear me?"
"...Too little credit?"
She gave a quick nod. "When you stop thinking about how often you screwup, you never miss with the hookshot, you're capable with a sword, and you fought off both the King and Tyrant of the Wind without any help. Now, you're just going to go dancing with a pretty girl for a bit. I want you to remember that, and give it your best shot."
Rei blinked, thinking for a moment. "...Thanks," he said.
Damodred stopped dancing. "Lesson's over. We've got an hour till the dance."
She let go of him, heading to the door.
"See you there, eh?"
Rei nodded. "...Yeah. See you there."