Taming the Tiger Chapter 3
I do not own the Legend of Zelda
For three days, he kept to himself and waited for her patiently. He ate, slept, and thought on his last meeting with her. He had not expected her to open up to him as she had. This was a side he had never seen nor ever thought she was capable of showing. She had seemed so cold and impervious to him. She had been a proverbial iceberg of self control and restraint. Now it seemed that the summer of war had thawed the icy queen of Hyrule. She was melting beneath the weight of the consequences. Layers of her were sluicing away, and he was beginning to make out the silhouette of the woman she might have been had the crown never come to her. He could feel his own cycles and seasons turning within his heart, fresh, tender shoots of new emotion creeping like rambling vines over his heart. When had he become so soft?
She entered without permission as always and carried a hard, black case pressed against her chest. Her hair was free adornments save a slender circlet that encircled her brow. She wore a simple violet dress made out of linen with seed pearls sewn into the hems at the sleeves and neckline. It made her look like some virginal maiden taken from a fairy tale. He was oddly moved by the sight of it and his breath hitched in his throat. It was strange that the queen would be at her most beautiful to him without all of her royal trappings. He thought it might have been the young shepherd that still lurked somewhere within him who had spied on young Hylian girls from across the ravine of the Zora River when he had taken the goats and sheep to feed on the spring grasses left behind by the rains.
Rather than sitting across from him as she had every time before, Zelda seated herself beside him. She laid the case on the table and flipped open the latches that kept it shut. A lap harp lay against the blue satin lining and shone darkly. It was carved from cherry wood and gilded with gold. The pegs were made of polished brass. He could see the wear of time on it where hands and fingers had left their indelible marks.
"It was my mother's," she said softly as she lifted it from the case, settling it against one knee and shoulder. "It's all I really have left of her."
He made a noise of acknowledgement but said nothing else as he watched her carefully tune the treasured instrument. She plucked the strings experimentally several times before seeming to find the range that she desired. She coaxed a few hesitant notes out before stopping and staring at him in what he thought might be embarrassment.
"I'm sorry. I'm just not used to playing in front of people." She shook her head, golden hair shielding her face from his eyes.
"If it makes you feel any better," he offered, "I used to play the pipes, and I was terrible at it."
She smiled wickedly, the one that he was now beginning to recognize. "Yes, I do admit that your failure does bring me some small joy and confidence."
"It is good to see that some things never change," he responded.
She laughed genuinely, the tone free and unfettered. Then with a look of desperate concentration etched onto her features her fingers found their proper places, and she began to play.
The notes came slowly and sweetly in the beginning like the first few drops of rain. Then the beat sped up and her fingers plucked the strings with an assurance born of long practice. The music swooped and fell beneath her careful hands like a bird in flight. He listened to the melody unfurl itself and wrap around his ears and worm its way into his heart.
Her hair swung in front of her face as she leaned forward into the music. Her eyes never left the strings, and he was certain she was as unaware of him as if he had never been there. The music carried on for a few indeterminable moments that passed like seconds to him. He drew closer to her until his knee touched hers. When he inadvertently bumped her knee with his, she stopped playing and looked up at him with shock in her eyes as if she had truly forgotten he was there.
"Please continue," he coaxed gently, throwing the timbre of voice low and calm as he would with a skittish horse.
"Oh, of course," she breathed in surprise and then resumed her playing, never breaking the contact between them. Soon that first song ended and another started without a pause or break. The tone of this one was slower and deeper, and it seemed to mimic the pattern of a long and winding river as it coursed its way through a rolling countryside. He closed his eyes momentarily, able to picture it perfectly in his mind. Over time, the melody grew more and more distant as the river traveled from pastoral hills into distant mountain peaks towards a sun that never set and an evening that never ended. It was not until the very end that the Dark Lord realized that the queen was playing a lullaby.
His mouth opened in surprise as the last soft notes rang in the close and heated air of his chambers. When had it become so hot? His fingers reached up and loosened the collar of his shirt. Zelda seemed oblivious to the sudden rise in temperature as she sat waiting expectantly for his reaction.
"Well?" she inquired, an eyebrow cocked and arched in anticipation.
He thought on it for a moment, aware of how delicate a moment this was. Too much praise and he would seem insincere. Too little and he might seem apathetic and she might shut herself off from him forever, but for the life of him he could not say why the thought troubled him as much as it did. "You play with surprising skill," he settled on at last.
Her expression eased into one of resignation. He could see her rolling his words over in her sharp mind, looking for any hints of a lie hidden beneath them. Her violet eyes roved over his face in analysis. "Thank you," she said quietly, laying the harp to the side for the moment. Her hands curled into nervous fists in her lap, but she still did not move from his side as he would have expected her to. "Do you play anything besides the pipes?"
"The organ mostly," he replied offhandedly, ignoring her knowing smirk.
"Why am I not surprised?"
"And what is that supposed to mean?" he said, his voice assuming its customary tone of mock offense.
"It means you would pick the loudest and most ostentatious instrument you could think of, wouldn't you?" She rested her chin on a fist and leaned forward into his face, her lips skinning back from her teeth in a predatory smile.
"At least, I picked something that suits me. I never would have dreamed of you playing something as ladylike and dainty as a lap harp," he shot back.
"Are you saying I am not feminine or delicate? I'll have you know that I am the most graceful lady in all the realm. What would you have expected me to play?" Her eyes sparked to life as she dared him to answer her question, all of her embarrassment and shyness gone in a wash of her familiar confidence. She was in her element of confrontation again and clearly reveling in it.
"Honestly, nothing. I expected your ear for music to be as awkward and as ungainly as your feet are for dancing."
She gave out a grunt of surprise and frustration, her hand lashing out to strike him on the shoulder. Quick as a serpent, he caught her wrist between his fingers and held it. Time seemed to freeze around them. He could feel her pulse thumping against his palm and became aware of the breath passing between her lips. She stared at him in astonishment before clearing her throat and casting her eyes to the floor. With only a little reluctance, he loosened his hold on her and let the appendage slip between his fingers.
Her hand fell uselessly into her lap accompanied by a strained smile. "It seems once again you were wrong about me. I am not especially talented at it, but I am not without skill."
"No, you are not," he whispered, lapsing into an overly formal tone.
"Do you think I should play for him?" she suggested hesitantly.
No, he wanted to respond too quickly. Tension coiled in his belly like a living beast at the thought of her presenting this same vulnerability to the faceless man who constantly occupied both their thoughts. It was odd to think that he was plotting against a man who he had never seen and whose name he did not even know. It was quite possible that Zelda was exaggerating the King's flaws in order to get Ganondorf's sympathy and manipulate him, but that didn't sit right within the context of their predicament. Her fear of the anonymous monarch seemed genuine, and he could tell she was not the kind to easily let her emotions color her perception of a situation.
"Come now," she prodded, "give me your opinion. You've never held out on me before. Why start now? Keaton got your tongue?"
He grunted in acknowledgement and leaned back against the sofa, throwing his arms out on either side and crossing one leg over the other. He glanced over at her once and saw that her typical mask was again in place. For a moment, he wondered what it was made out of clay or steel. He wondered how easily it would crack under heat or pressure and if he had the tools to achieve it. Then he separated himself from the messy thoughts and thought on her idea. He didn't like it that much he knew, but he was there to give her sound advice not how he actually felt about things. "I think it is a clever idea. After all, the royalty are taught to expect certain things out of women. It could not hurt. It would show that you are talented and cultured." He struggled to keep the words even as he spoke, feeling that uncomfortable squirming in his belly again.
She nodded in agreement, smiling in satisfaction that he approved of her idea. That was certainly a new development. "Yes, I hope it will have that effect. Besides, it will give him something to be occupied with besides trying to get his hand up my skirts." Her mouth twisted into a bitter smile like cooling iron hardening before his eyes.
"I'm sure it will. Music has a way of calming people."
"Yes, I've heard it said that music can soothe the savage beast though I am beginning to doubt that saying thanks to you," she quipped.
He raised an eyebrow at her and tapped his fingers against the back of the couch. "So your music was an attempt to subdue me then?"
"Oh no, there is no longer a need to subdue. You are caged, my dear beast," she gestured to the thick, stone walls surrounding them. He became all too aware of their smothering presence. His skin almost itched with the need to escape like he might claw at the walls until his finger nails broke off and bled. He could feel the friendly air that had blanketed them swiftly evaporating as they fell into their familiar routine of rivalry.
"I see. I suppose I should be honored to be considered as part of your menagerie. Tell me, Zelda, what kind of animal do you believe resides in this cage?"
Her smile turned from bitter to sickeningly amused as she stood. She reached out a fine-boned hand and grabbed his jaw, twisting his head from side to side like a slave in the market square. He clenched his teeth in indignity. He thought of how he'd held her wrist in his fingers earlier and how fragile and hollow the bones had felt like a bird's. He could so easily grind them into nothing more than shards and splinters so that she would never be able to do that to anyone again. Then she stopped her silent inspection and let her burning eyes find his. His furious thoughts subsided, snuffed out like a brush fire in the rainy season. The embers of them were still burning and simmering, but it all seemed so inconsequential in the brazen glow of her stare.
"I thought at first a boar do to your greed and stubbornness, but I do not think that is fitting," she said in a thoughtful voice that seemed to fill up the room. "No, I think a tiger is a better match for you my Lord Gerudo."
A twinge of surprise flared inside of him as he recalled his old nickname among the women of his tribe. It shocked him how much that one small memory still hurt. He could almost hear the ghosts of his sisters laughing. "If a tiger I am, milady, then perhaps you should be more aware of where you place your hands for I have heard they have fearsome claws and terrible teeth." He grinned wide to be bear his sharp canines.
"Hmm," she sighed as her grin softened into a knowing confidence. Her thumb ran along the line of his jaw as if she were petting a cat, and he fought not to close his eyes at the contact of her naked fingertips. She withdrew her touch and started walking to the door. "Do not worry. I already wear this one's pelt."
He ate and slept and rarely thought like the caged animal he knew he was gradually becoming. Her words and actions from their previous encounter awakened a dreadful realization in him. He was becoming tame. He was becoming domesticated, docile. He was slowly transforming into the one thing all the Gerudo feared. His lust for the open dunes of his homeland gnawed at him. When was the last time he had felt the wind on his cheeks, sand beneath his feet? He couldn't even remember anymore. All that the soles of his boots had felt for months was the hard stone of the castle floor. He didn't pace as much anymore because he hated the clicking sound that constantly accompanied him when he did. He was so used to moving in utter silence through the hot days and cold nights of the Gerudo Desert. How could these Hylians stand that incessant noise of living indoors? Everything echoed and reverberated like a tomb. Not even the sounds within the Spirit Temple were amplified this much. Even there there was a hush of silence and dignity that he had never found in Hyrule. Why was it that he had wanted this land so badly? It was nothing but softness. Then he stared at the platter on the table in front of him and remembered the all too real hunger he'd felt in his belly as a child. There had been numerous times in his life where he had gone days without food. He had never tasted real red wine until he was twelve, and he'd stolen it from a caravan. His mouth thinned into a grimace at the irony of his situation. Now he would trade all of the silk and fine food in the world for the abrasive wind and burning sun of his homeland. He would give up everything to hear his sisters singing in their high and keening voices like wandering spirits.
Still, there was the matter of Zelda to contend with. He had grown up among women his entire life, and he had never encountered any like her. His people had their emotions and thoughts tattooed onto their faces and hearts. There was no deception or treachery among them. There could be none if they were to survive in the harsh conditions of Din's Cradle. The Queen of Hyrule was in many ways the exact opposite of the kind of woman he had grown to respect and love as a boy. She was cold and reserved, cunning and manipulative to a fault, but he see could a fire and strength in her that mirrored that of his own people. He could see within her soul a streak of iron as wide and as deep as the Zora River. If only he could more properly tap it and see what the results might be.
He shook his head and ground his teeth. Useless thoughts were cluttering his head. He could see no outlet. His wits had failed to find a solution to his imprisonment. He had no power to draw on and no political connections to twist to his own uses. All of the potential plans he'd drawn up died before they ever drew breath. He only knew one thing for certain and that was that he had to get out of there. He had to see the sky again and hear laughter even if it was that of his enemies. There had to be some way out that didn't involve his death. If only he could see it.
She returned sooner than he expected. Her abrupt entrance startled him out of a midday nap. He shook his head in anger. He was getting bored and lazy like a pampered house cat. He was forgetting that he was in dangerous territory. He could not afford to be caught off guard even by her.
"Was my little kitten asleep?" she asked, though the words seemed oddly half-hearted and hollow.
He stretched his arms over his head and his legs out in front of him before getting to his feet. The action seemed to amuse her a little. He walked forward, shoulders straightened and head cocked to the side. "Even tigers and thieves must sleep," he replied, "and I have always been a creature of nocturnal habits."
"Oh yes, I recall that quite clearly from your numerous night raids on my supply trains. How could I forget? Half of my soldiers swore you were a demon made flesh."
"Perhaps they were not wrong."
She smiled up at him, not impressed by his looming height or wide shoulders. "If you were then you wouldn't be here, now would you? After all, aren't demons supposed to be able to evaporate in a puff of smoke and sparks? You spew much smoke and sparks, but I have yet to see you conjure a flame."
"And I have yet to see you sufficiently put out any fires." He watched her face to see what he might glean from her expression, but it remained frustratingly placid.
"Maybe," she stood on tiptoe so that he could hear her murmured words better, "I am too fond of the warmth to put them out."
He locked eyes with her and did not let his gaze waver, seeing the challenge in hers. He could feel that inexplicable allure of her again, drawing him against his own judgment and will. Like calling to like his mother might have cackled. "So did you play for the King?" he asked as much out of curiosity as to keep his mouth occupied.
Her serene façade cracked just a bit, a slight down-turning of the lips and a twitch of her forehead.
"Not well?" he ventured.
She dropped her eyes to the floor. "Am I that easy to read now?"
"Only to me," he replied and was shocked to realize that it was true. No one else would have been able to detect the subtle change in her, but he had. He could read her like a map. He had slowly become accustomed to her nuances and habits.
"No, it seems he had no appreciation for the art of music or at least my playing." She rubbed the back of her neck in embarrassment. "I believe the words he used were 'how very quaint'." Her mouth twisted into a sneer as she recounted the event to him. There was not much to tell. She had invited the King of Holodrum to her solar, and after talking and eating, she had offered to play for him. He had not been enthused to start with and seemed bored throughout her entire performance.
"Then he is the true boar between the two of us," Ganondorf offered, finding the comforting tone in his voice uncomfortable for both of them.
"Thank you," she said awkwardly, slipping around him to the sanctuary of the divan.
He stood in confusion for a moment as he tried to process what had just happened. It all felt so unreal and yet natural at the same time. He had given her comfort, and she had accepted. Shouldn't she be rebuffing any kind words he had with icy tartness? When had the world turned upside down? The moment you entered Hyrule Castle in chains, you idiot, his mind chided. He turned to look at her on the couch with her eyes still averted.
"So what shall you do now?"
"I am not sure," she quietly answered. "I was so certain that it might make him more enamored with me though what good that does in the long run I'm not sure. I'm just really postponing the inevitable." She sighed and hung her head in her hands in a rare gesture of defeat.
He shrugged at the honesty of her words. "It is true. You have no intention of marrying him, and your rejection could very well lead to war. However, it is buying you time and that is one thing you need more of."
She nodded heavily in agreement and leaned back against the couch in weariness. "Yes, time, time, and more time. The problem is I don't know how much I need and how much I can get. He is growing bored with just my company. Apparently, I am not half so charming as I thought I was." She smiled at her own lame attempt at self deprecation.
"Then you must find a way to entertain him. Take him hunting."
"And have him become infuriated when one of my knights outdoes him?"
Ganondorf grunted. "That is a bit of a problem. He is volatile; at least, from what you've told me. I've never met the man so I can't be sure." Then an idea came to him. He could see his path to temporary freedom open up before him as if Din herself had sung the idea into his ear. "I need to meet him."
The queen's expression quickly turned to one of shock. "What? You can't be serious? Why in the Goddesses' names would you want to do that? What could you hope to accomplish?"
"You should know that you cannot properly judge an enemy without thorough research. The only information I have on him is what you have given me," he elucidated.
"And that is all you need."
"I am not doubting your skills of observation or wisdom or intuition or whatever it is that you choose to call it, but the simple truth is I am a man and he is a man."
She narrowed her eyes skeptically. "I am not certain of either one of yours' masculinity. Is there a point to this?"
He bit back a retort to the obvious insult. "I am simply saying that because of that fact there maybe things I can understand and see in him that you cannot. Besides, you have to admit that it would keep him entertained. He must have heard how you defeated the savage King of Thieves. He must know that you keep him locked in your tower like a play thing. If that would not pique his interest I don't know what would."
Her eyes became violet slits in her face as she thought over his proposal. "I'll give you this Gerudo for all your bravado, you can make a damn convincing argument."
He smiled fiercely in triumph. "Might I suggest that we meet outside of my rooms?"
Her face grew stormy. "What difference does that make?"
He spread his hands wide before him. "What thrill is there in seeing a tiger in its cage?"