A Ruby Surrounded By Sapphires
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There is a stirring in Hyrule. Old fears are back and new ones forming. Zelda has seen the black clouds and has summoned Link once more...but also another. Sheik comes to her aid. Sheik POV, Slash, First in the Ruby Arc
Chapter 2, Pride of the Royal
It was late afternoon. I was helping to build a new shed for one of the families. The sun was high and hot, and my clothing stuck to my sweaty skin. I had my somewhat long hair tied back but errant strands stubbornly clung to my forehead. We started work early that morning and were nearly finished.
I paused and turned, dropping my arm down from where it had been preparing to drive a nail into wood. A woman in a hooded cloak was standing a few feet away and I recognized the blue eyes staring out at me. Muttering an excuse to the others, I stepped away from the work and dropped my hammer down onto the ground.
"Follow," I murmured to her, making my way back to the stair. If she wanted to talk to me, we would do that away from anyone else and at a place she could leave without much trouble. She put down her hood, letting her long, cornstalk hair fall behind. It was pulled back into a tail, a few strands out to frame her lovely face. I folded my arms and waited for her to gain her courage. After all, the last time we had spoken, it had been when we knew exactly what was going through each other’s minds.
"I just came to see how you were," Zelda blurted finally, refusing to look away from me. I knew my own gaze was impassive, but I hadn’t relearned all my facial expressions yet. There was little I could do in that area. When I didn’t answer her, she started to fidget. Her eyes were almost begging for something, anything from me... And then she jerked her head downward and cried out, "Sheik, I’m sorry!"
I didn’t move, nor did I speak. I knew she had more to say. I knew Zelda better than most anyone and was smart enough to realize that she would never use her powers just to find out what I was thinking. I would have to tell her.
"I didn’t mean for it to go so far," she said and her voice shook as if she were trying very hard not to burst into tears. "I didn’t mean for it to hurt you. It...it was the only thing we could think of, Sheik, the last resort. I never wanted it to happen."
"But it did." My voice surprised me with its lack of bitterness. Instead, it held a strange softness. "Quiet yourself, Zelda."
She looked up at me, eyes shining and filled with hope as she searched my face. I had called her by her name. She knew now that I would not place fault with her. I uncrossed my arms and opened them, letting her come close and place her own around me as I did the same. She relaxed in my embrace and I in hers. I could never really be angry with her for those seven years. I couldn’t.
"I told him that I was you in disguise," she said suddenly. I felt myself go still. We both understood who he was. Zelda pulled her head away and stared up into my face. "He wanted me to play the songs for him today, but..."
I was quiet, but she expected me to be. I was becoming more and more like the man she had portrayed me as: aloof, quiet, and introvert. My lyre had been returned to me and I found my ability to play it had not left me as my speech had. It was the one thing I coveted and I played it often when I had nothing else to do. I now understood that she had given me that skill and no longer held it. Zelda could not play the lyre for him.
"I wonder if I should tell him who you are," she murmured softly, settling her head at the crook of my neck once more. I had no words for her. "He will never love me, I know this...but do you want me to tell him of you?"
I didn’t know what to say. Half of me wanted to cry out ‘YES! TELL HIM! Let him come to me, befriend me, the only one I saw but you!’ for this part reveled in the dreams I had and begged me to go find him. The other half was afraid and protective, knowing I would only get hurt if I were to reveal myself and refusing to let me. Both were equally strong and I closed my eyes as the battled. Zelda did not move away from me, nor did she speak again, letting me think it through. I didn’t know when I would have her answer.
"Not yet," I finally told her. She nodded just enough for me to feel it.
It felt insanely good to hold her again. It made me think of her dreamscape on nights when we talked until we no longer had words left. I had missed Zelda, missed her terribly. For a long time, she had been my only companion. I didn’t care anymore for the bad times and tightened my hold on her as my head dropped to her shoulder, simply basking in the knowledge that she was there once more. I loved her as only someone that had been so very close to her could. I knew her so completely, in and out, that I could not help but love her. And it was the same with her, I knew. She loved me just as well. But neither of us could ever be in love with one another. We knew each other far too well.
Zelda left me before dark to return back to the castle. She came back once a week after that to visit. I never asked how she snuck out. Aridine simply adored her. Zelda didn’t reveal herself and I didn’t feel it was my place, letting her relax under the guise of a normal teenage girl named Thea. Thea was not a princess. She did not have to worry constantly about manners or how every action she made affected people. Thea was her own person who lived for herself. Thea was Zelda, but she was also everything Zelda could never be. It was a therapy for my princess, one I was not about to take from her.
During once visit, she and Kiris disappeared for a while to go to the market while Aridine and I stayed to finish the house chores. I was drying dishes while Aridine washed them, as there weren’t enough clean ones for dinner.
"She’s a lovely girl, Thea," she said in a nonchalant voice.
"She is," I answered, know exactly where it was going.
"Right age too, isn’t she?"
I didn’t answer her as I set a dish down and got another. Aridine went on as if it had been rhetorical.
"Isn’t it about time for you..."
"No," I interrupted firmly. We had gone over this many times since the eve of my eighteenth birthday, only two months ago. Aridine only let out a little sigh.
"Sheik, you know you’re my boy," she said and I internally winced as I heard her gearing up for the motherly guilt speech, "-so if you had children then I’d be a grandmother and I want grand-babies! I’m not going to live forever!"
"Kiris is healthy," I reminded her.
"Kiris is also afraid of men," Aridine countered. And it really was true. I was the only man Kiris wasn’t skittish around. A sigh escaped my lips and I finally said the words I should have said earlier.
"Aridine...my lady mother... please don’t ask this of me...I have no interest in family."
She looked at me, her hands pausing in the washing. I could see from the corner of my vision that her expression was unreadable for a moment before it saddened and turned back to the dishes. Thea and Kiris returned soon after and broke the awkward silence between us. Aridine never asked me about marriage or hassled me about children again.
And so, my life fell into pattern as it continually did. I would adapt to anything. Thea kept her visits when she could make it; I did whatever odd jobs there were about the village. It was a quiet life for me, but I was already looking for the event that would disrupt it all. After all, something always happened.
This event took the form of a little girl named Star. Her mother sent her over to be watched for the afternoon while she went to the market in Castle Town. Star was a child of five with stormy eyes and a fair face framed in black curls. She was a delicate girl and nearly soundless, having little faith in other people. So, it was strange that Star spent that afternoon following me around, though it was Kiris that was suppose to care for her. I didn’t mind, however, and was happy to let the girl be. After that day, Star became a regular fixture near me. She followed me as I did my rounds, helped me with less intricate jobs, and sometimes stayed for dinner. Aridine called her my little ‘chick’.
"Morning Sheik," said Star as she found me, her voice almost too quiet for me to hear. I finished shouldering the load of lumber I was taking over to the windmill (the thing had broken again the day before) and glanced down at her. The little girl kept her hands clasped behind her, bright eyes fixed on my face. I nodded to her and we went off.
Since repairing the windmill was something she could help little with, Star stayed down out of the way and merely watched. It took all of that morning and part way into the afternoon before one of the others told me to leave it and go home. Apparently I worked too hard. Star was there waiting for me when I dropped down the ladder. She reached up, taking my hand, and then led me outside.
"Mama says come to dinner," Star said. I nodded and let her lead me. Star’s mother, Yue, was a plump woman who seemed too old to have a child so young. Still, they were happy and the house simply felt it. As soon as we arrived, Yue shuffled me back to the water trough and told me to wash up before she would let me inside. After all, she didn’t want some sweaty young thing stinking up her newly cleaned home! I did as I was told, quickly. Yue had the table set well when I got back inside and Star dragged me to sit to her right, Yue to her left. Yue’s husband was gone on a long trip, his spice trade calling him away often. There were few merchants who did well in Hyrule and he was one of them. It left Yue with the care of their daughter and home and Star with the need of someone other than her mother for company. I suppose I felt a little honored.
The meal was a quiet affair and once it was over, I bid them goodbye and went back home. It was a few days before I noticed Star did not come back to me after that. I had gown accustomed to her presence and her absence left me wary. Still, I convinced myself that she had found another playmate, maybe her own age. It did not help to ease me.
I did not see Star during the day, nor did I catch sight of her later on. It was bothering me terribly that her familiar curls were absent. I had grown reliant on her. One evening I finally broke and set off to her home. As soon as I stood outside the door, I knew something was terribly wrong. The shutters were closed. Yue never closed the shutters. The cuccos were outside. It was too dark for them to be. And where was the quiet flute music Yue played? I rapped gently on the door, my worry engulfing me. It was even worse when Yue finally opened the door. Her gentle face was dulled and sorrowful, her usually pump cheeks starting to go gaunt and covered in tear trails. Her eyes were wet and puffy, violet outlining them. At the sight of me she let out a soft cry and threw herself against me. I quickly led her back inside, arms gentle but firm around her.
There I caught a glimpse of Star through the half-closed doorway. Her black curls were plastered to her forehead, her skin sickly pale though her cheeks burned brightly. I could see her short breaths in the air.
"My baby’s gonna die," Yue sobbed to my chest before I got her to sit down at the kitchen table. I knelt before her and took her hands in mine. Yue only cried harder. "I th-thought it was only a c-cold, but then she w-won’t wake up a-and I don’t have the m-m-money for m-medicine!"
I thought for a moment before rising and bringing the older woman close, embracing her as tightly as I could.
"What is it you need?"
I was suited and ready to leave within that hour. The trip to Castle Town would take me a day both ways if I was on foot, but I had no other choice. I bid Aridine and Kiris goodbye and took all the money I had gained. There wasn’t much, but I had little to spend it on in the first place. Aridine got most of what I earned and used it as she wished, though she never asked me for it.
I ran as long as I could stand it, resting only a few minutes at a time. Star’s fevered face flashed before my eyes and urged me faster. By morning, I made it to the gates and waited for them to fall. That didn’t happen until I was sure I was wearing a trench with my pacing. As soon as it was low enough, I jumped onto the still lowering path and ran down past the guards who shouted after me. The money sack at my hip sang as I ran through the streets, looking for the best Apothecary I knew of. The stores were just now getting open and Castle Town was looking more and more like the busy place it always was. I finally sighted the shop and ran in.
"Sir!" I cried, dropping the money pouch onto his counter. He gave me a startled look and cocked his head in question. "I need a certain potion..."
It took half an hour before he found what I needed in his stock. It was a two-part potion, one I would need to give Star as soon as I mixed it. I paid the man handsomely and left, making my way through the crowded area. The Market was always crowded, even at this time of morning. Shoved about, I was bombarded on all sides from people who weren’t paying attention and others who tried to pit-pocket me. Though, I had nothing on me now and the potion ingredients were held at my chest. I was nearly home free when another passer-by knocked into me, this time throwing off my balance. I threw out one hand, barely keeping myself from kissing the ground and smashing the two precious containers.
"I’m so sorry! Are you okay?!" A hand fell into my vision. I pushed myself back on my knees and looked up. Pale brown pants, a too long, ratty green shirt with a long sleeved, tight white one underneath...and finally, crystal clear, bright blue eyes framed in blond locks. His face had matured since I saw him. He had lost the last pieces of childhood.
I shook myself mentally and took his hand, allowing him to help me up.
"I wasn’t paying attention," he babbled. "I’m sorry!"
"It’s all right," I said, amazed at my calm and cool voice. He nodded, and then blinked, looking closer at my face. I realized what he was doing after only a moment and quickly stepped around him, intending to go.
"Wait!" he called. I paused in my steps, but didn’t turn around. "Have we met before?"
Caught between two impulses, I didn’t answer him nor did I move away. I wanted so badly to turn around and tell him "My name is Sheik and we have met many times," but I knew it would only complicate his life and mine. He had no need to know of my existence. Not yet. I was merely lucky that I had let my hair grow out so much that I wasn’t recognized, and that Zelda had never shown him my face.
"No," I finally said. "Never before."
And then I left him, feeling his eyes on my back.
My trip back took somewhat longer than before, as I couldn’t run all out with the delicate jars. Still, it was only just after nightfall when I arrived. Immediately, I went to Yue’s house and knocked at the door while I tried to catch my breath, having sprinted up the stairs and to the door. Yue opened it with a teary face that slowly rose to look at my eyes, her own brightening.
"Sheik, did you-?!"
"I have it," I told her and she let me in. On the kitchen table, she set a bowl down for me to mix the potion. I was careful, remembering what the Apothecary had told me about preparing it. I added in the right amount of water to complete it and rushed into Star’s room. The little girl was worse than before, having to fight for every breath. Her face was tensed in the middle of a nightmare, soft murmuring escaping her cracked lips. I sat down by her side and reached out, gently shaking her shoulder.
"Star!" I called urgently, though in the soft tone I used only with her. Slowly, her stormy eyes opened and turned towards me, hazy and hardly seeing. It scared me, how lifeless they seemed.
"Sheik?" she whispered. I nodded and gently slid my hand under her back, lifting her as I put another pillow behind her.
"You must drink," I told her, lifting the bowl to her lips. For a moment, the liquid only brushed against her mouth before she opened it and slowly drank. I stopped her after a little while, letting her rest before starting again. He had told me to make sure she left none of it. This medicine was strong, too strong for a child to take a full dose, but if not given enough, it would do nothing.
It took a long while for her to get all of it down, but she did so without complaint. After that, I settled her down for sleep again, noting sadly that she was gone into dreams before her head settled back onto the pillow. The sheets were lifted to her chin and tucked about her. I stood and had a word with Yue before returning to her bedside where I stayed all night.
My dreams that night were foggy and disconnected. Vague shapes assaulted my subconscious, though nothing I would remember in the morn. They were haunted by specters I saw unclear, by voices that were garbled. It was a welcomed release when I awoke.
The first thing I was aware of was the sound of a cucco outside. Then there was the scent of fresh air. I slowly opened my eyes and lifted my head from where it had been laying on my folded arms. I had slept bent over the bed, seated in a wooden chair. My muscles were sore from the position and I stretched them as I glanced out the window. It was a clear morning and Yue had opened it to freshen the house. When I looked back at the bed, I found two clear, gray eyes staring back at me.
"Good morning," said Star, her lips twitching into a little smile. Her voice sounded rough, but still as pleasant as ever it had been. I nodded to her and reached over to feel her forehead. It was no longer burning and I was grateful for it.
"How do you feel?" I asked.
"Tired," she confessed, closing her eyes for a moment before reopening them. "But I’m better."
"I’m glad," I told her, and she smiled again. Then I kissed her forehead and went to see her mother. Yue was already preparing breakfast when I found her and told her the news. She broke into tears of joy, hugging my tightly before going to see Star. I took over the meal and soon had it finished. Not wanting to move the little girl, I took the food into her room and we ate it there. Star didn’t eat much and what she did eat was slowly consumed with caution, but I was glad that she was getting down anything.
I spent most of the afternoon there before returning to my home. Aridine welcomed me as if nothing had happened, though I could see her eyes were brighter when she saw me. Kiris had been reading at the table, but jumped up when I came in and rushed into my arms, telling me aloud just how much she had missed me in the two days I had been gone. It made me happy to think the two thought so much of me.
It was a while before Star was back up to her normal standards. Yue wouldn’t let the girl out of bed for a week, and then only around the house for a few hours. I visited her each day, bringing her flowers that she would weave into crowns to wear that day. She was delighted when I agreed to wear one each day and I didn’t take it from my head until I went down to sleep. It didn’t last forever, fortunately, and Star was back into her old routine, following me though my days work and helping when she could. I was very careful with her for a while, as I knew that her heart and body could not take what it had before just yet, but she never noticed and was happy all the same.
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