Disclaimer: I do not own The Legend of Zelda or any of its characters. If I did, Sheik would be his own person rather than Zelda in disguise, he'd be in more of the games, and the Sheikah would be more prominent characters. The only things I own are the characters Astar, Inianna and Io, and certain, made-up words of the Sheikah language.

Warnings: For this chapter, there is implied, non-graphical rape. For the story overall, Sheik is a male and separate from Zelda, there are spoilers for the manga and game, and I played around with the Sheikah culture and Sheik's appearance.

A/N: Since I, in my anal habits when it comes to writing, cannot half-ass anything, there are multiple phrases and words in this chapter that are written in the Sheikah language I created. Nothing crucial to the plot has been written in my made-up language, but for those of you who wish to know what the characters are saying, I have provided a translation for all the italicized Sheikah words at the bottom of the chapter.


Chapter 2: Double Agent

The gore crows were screaming their hoarse cries as they circled overhead, their black bodies hardly visible against the dark clouds perpetually cloaking the Castle Town ruins. Their shrill calls almost drowned out the ReDeads' moans. Almost.

Exiting the Temple of Time, I picked my way through the crumbling houses, the shattered cobblestone walkway and the groaning, rotting corpse zombies. As I ventured deeper into the town, an unwelcome, but familiar prickling chill crawled over the nape of my neck and down my spine. Being a Sheikah, one of the Shadow Folk, spirits and the undead never perturbed me. After all, we were kinsmen of sorts. Unlike Hylians, I was comfortable in the House of the Dead and the Shadow Temple, if my time spent there with Link was to be judged. But even then, my ease most likely originated from my natural talent to see through the Temple's illusions, whereas Link had to rely on the Lens of Truth. Shadows frightened and unsettled people merely because they were mysterious, deceiving and misunderstood. But they were natural. Shadow is an element, a part of nature and given time, one could overcome his fear of the dark.

However, the aura over Castle Town and Hyrule Castle was not natural. Shadows were not what shrouded the ruined town, but evil; an evil so potent it stretched my nerves to breaking point each and every time I stepped foot into the demolished city.

Abomination, I hissed in revulsion, eying the ReDeads with distaste as I passed them. Ganondorf and his power is an abomination; an unnatural blight on Hyrule.

The ReDeads watched me with their hollow, pit-less eyes, but did not utter their paralyzing shriek. After all, they believed me a friend and so passively allowed me to cross through the destroyed marketplace to the craggy, black path leading to Ganondorf's castle. All too soon, the dark palace loomed before me, a perversion of its former beauty and grandeur. Its glassy, obsidian turrets and towers winked in the sinister, smudgy glow of the roiling lava pit below, and its thousands of windows stared at me like the empty eyes of the ReDeads. Seeing it filled me with cold dread, and my fight or flight instincts flared. I halted at the edge of the gurgling, spitting pit, gazing evenly at the floating structure. I knew what awaited me inside: blood, pain and humiliation. All I could hope was Ganondorf wasn't feeling particularly sadistic this night.

As if answering my thoughts, the retractable metal drawbridge clanked, slowly stretching itself out from the castle, across the lava pit to crash to the ashy rock by my feet. The castle's yawning black entrance seemed to taunt me, as if daring me to enter the mouth of the beast and penetrate its belly. Squaring my shoulders and clenching my jaw, I preceded as always – offering a prayer to the Goddesses to lend me their strength and fixing the image of Link and Zelda in my mind's eye, my two wards.

Going against every instinct and internal urge of my body and mind, I stepped onto the drawbridge and strolled as impassively as I could into Ganon's Castle. When I crossed the threshold of the palace, I heard the grate of metal as the drawbridge retracted and the portcullis slid shut. I was locked in. Gritting my teeth together, what little hope I had of leaving without incident vanished.

Ganondorf planned on keeping me for some time.

Mustering my reserves of strength and courage, I reminded myself of all Link and Zelda had done for Hyrule, for me. My sacrifices were what kept them free, and their freedom was crucial to the survival of this country and its people. I of all people knew how difficult it was to act when another was holding the leash.

The Beamos did not stir as I passed their pedestals, like the ReDeads, believing Ganondorf's words insisting I was an ally and was not to be harmed. I proceeded into the main room where the great tower spiraled upward through the ceiling and up into the sky. Crossing the bridge, I stroked one finger over the slick, opaque barrier surrounding the tower and stepped through the small, human-sized gap that appeared. As I began the long, winding journey to the top of the tower, I did not need to look back to know the barrier had sealed itself behind me.

Keese flapped overhead as I walked. The Dinofos, Stalfos and Iron Knuckles jeered and snarled at me as I passed. Catcalls and flirtatious gestures were thrown at me from the resident Gerudo. I ignored them all, continuing to the height of the tower where that wretched organ's ominous melody blared in my sensitive ears. Raising my fist, I rapped shortly on the towering, double doors. How the King of Evil heard me over his atrocious organ I shall never know. Yet, somehow, he did, and beckoned in his deep, rumbling voice, "Come in, pet."

Opening the door a crack, I slid inside and before I took more than a step into his chambers, I snuck promptly to my knee, bowing my head. "I have news, my lord Ganondorf," I greeted lowly, eyes to the floor, more out of an aversion of looking into his face than a sign of respect.

I heard the heavy clunk of his boots long before they entered my field of vision. Passively, I waited, anticipating his next move, and predictably, the King of Evil did not disappoint. Darkly tanned, thick fingers curled around the edge of my cowl, yanking it down.

"How many times must I tell you not to wear that horrid mask in my presence?" Ganondorf demanded brusquely, jerking my chin upward. Unable to avoid it now, I reluctantly met his eyes. Like mine, they were red. Unlike mine, his were the color of dried blood: dull and lifeless. I longed to tear my gaze from his warped face.

"My apologies, sire," I recited dutifully, though I felt no remorse. I despised revealing myself to Ganondorf, and it was only through a loophole that I was able to fool his blood bond and defy his direct orders to bare my face. He always commanded me to remove my mask. But I did not wear a mask. I wore a cowl. "I am still unaccustomed to exposing my face to those who are not of the Sheikah Tribe."

"Yes, yes, I have heard," the Gerudo king snapped impatiently. "But I have told you time and time again not to conceal your face, Sheik. I will not have you hide yourself from me." His thick lips curled into a sneer as he stared at me, a familiar expression of lust creeping into his dark face. Stroking his thumb across one of the silver-white, triangular rhyfel'aira stripes marking my cheeks, he purred, "Such a handsome boy…" His grin stretched into a lecherous sneer as he caressed my lips with the pad of his thumb, "Such a pretty, talented mouth…"

What little color I had drained from my face, my back stiffening. However, I would not break contact with his eyes, no matter how much I longed to. I refused to show weakness or fear.

For once, luck was on my side. Ganondorf released me, striding away with his hands clasped behind his back, leaving me free to bow my head and stare at the floor. I wanted nothing more than to yank my cowl back up above my nose, to hide myself behind its protection. Without it, I felt naked. I was comfortable baring my face only to Zelda and Impa.

"So, my pet, tell me of these tidings you bring," the usurper king commanded, seating himself loftily on his throne and motioning me forward with the crook of a wide finger.

At his command, the blood bond surged up inside me, pressing against my vocal chords. Standing stiffly, I halted a few feet from him, arms crossed over my chest as I reported, "I regret to inform you, sire, but the Hero of Time has once against thwarted you. He has defeated Bongo Bongo and awakened the Sage of Shadow, thereby cleansing the Temple and increasing his strength."

Since removing my cowl, a sneer had twisted his face. Now, that sneer abruptly warped into a scowl. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling in relish.

"Yes… Unfortunately, I am aware of this nuisance," Ganondorf grunted, irritation coloring his tone, his bushy, orange-red eyebrows drawing together. "Early this morning, I received a messenger hawk from Aveil posted at the Fortress. She wrote to inform me of her success in capturing the Hero of Time, who she believed to be journeying to the Spirit Temple to awaken the final Sage." Here, the Gerudo's eyes narrowed dangerously, and a sickening sense of foreboding swept over me. "However, her triumph was short-lived. A short while ago, she sent me another hawk informing the boy had managed to worm his way out of his cell, but not, it seems, without help. She reported to me that several of her patrolling guards had been knocked unconscious, yet none saw the attacker. Also, Aveil claims that moments before she and the others descended into the boy's cell, she heard music; a melody played on an instrument sounding curiously like a lyre."

Fear sunk its claws into the pit of my stomach, yet, in spite of my anxiety, I carefully composed my expression so none of my internal emotions revealed themselves. Without moving my lips, I uttered a silent spell and felt the pressure of my lyre against my back slacken. Arching an eyebrow in an expression of mild, bored curiosity, I inquired calmly, "What is it you are suggesting, sire?"

"It is not I who is suggesting something, but Aveil," he countered coolly, rust-colored eyes scrutinizing me. "She seems to believe the lyre she heard belonged to you and that you were the one who freed the kid."

Heart hammering in my chest, I sighing with feigned weariness and responded mildly, but truthfully, "Aveil and I have never seen eye-to-eye. We butt heads more than allies should. But you grew up with her, sire, so surely you are aware of her spiteful nature. Perhaps she hastily jumped to her conclusion, hoping it was I who freed the Hero so I would be disposed of. I know not. However, it is not Aveil's suspicions which concern me, but yours. Do you believe I broke the Hero of Time out of his cell, sire?"

"I most certainly hope you are not responsible for this… misfortune, Sheik," Ganondorf hedged vaguely, threateningly, but not directly responding with a yay or nay. "You are my most trusted spy and I do not take kindly to traitors. I would hate to have to break that pretty neck of yours."

Silently, I sent a prayer of thanks up to the Goddesses that Ganondorf trusted me enough not to issue a command. Had he directly asked me if I freed Link, my blood bond with him would have forced me to tell the truth. So long as no questions requiring honest answers were asked, I was free to lie.

"I can assure you, sire, I was not involved with the Hero of Time's escape," I lied serenely, "for I was following a lead on Princess Zelda's whereabouts these past several moons. If I may, sire, the lyre is a common musical instrument of the Sheikah. True, few of my tribe remains after the Great Betrayal, but during the time I served under the Royal Family, there were other Sheikah living in the castle other than the princess's caretaker, Impa, and myself. It is not so absurd to presume they are still loyal to her, the last living member of the Royal Family. It is quite possible one of the Sheikah freed the Hero of Time at the behest of Princess Zelda."

"Hmm…" Ganondorf hummed speculatively, stroking his pointed orange beard. "Sheik, do you believe Zelda is utilizing the Sheikah's prowess to aid the boy?"

"I do," I confirmed, carefully censoring myself as I continued so as not to reveal too much of the truth, "Not only that, but hiding the princess. It would explain how she has managed to elude you for these past seven years. Had she been in the company of Hylians or some other race, I would have found her the day I joined your service. However, as I have been unsuccessful thus far, I can only assume the Sheikah are aiding her. I am only one Sheikah and there is strength in numbers. It would be a simple matter for the Shadow Tribe to combine their strength and overwhelm my own power, thereby successfully eluding me."

For a moment, I watched my hated master ponder my statement before interjecting, "However, I am branching off topic. To return to the issue at hand, I can easily quell Aveil's suspicions about me." Fluidly, I withdrew my lyre from its wrappings and displayed the broken halves to the Gerudo king. "As you can see, sire, my lyre has been split in two." I plucked an unbroken string and it emitted a flat note. "Not very pretty and impossible to play."

The suspicion lifted from Ganondorf's face and he smiled crookedly. "Ahh, Sheik," he purred as I returned the broken lyre its place. "Forgive me for doubting you. But in times of war, one can never be too cautious."

"Of course, sire," I responded dutifully. "I bring other news as well, news that shall be of more use to you than my late tidings of the Hero's actions."

"Go on," the king urged with a flick of his dark fingers.

"Despite my suspicions of the Sheikah aiding Princess Zelda and their continued success to evade me, I believe I am finally on their trail." From behind my shabby tabard, adorned with the Sheikah emblem, I procured my false evidence: one of Zelda's worn, silk gloves. Showing him the crest of the Royal Family sewn onto the hand in gold thread, I narrated truthfully, "I found this glove atop Death Mountain. Signs of an encampment where also present, not three days old. I am sure the princess and her Guardians were there, and are venturing deeper into the mountain range beyond. A little more time, and I am convinced the princess will be in my grasp."

It was an age old game of cat and mouse I played, albeit with an imaginary mouse. To bypass the dangers of my blood bond with Ganondorf, Zelda never revealed to me where she was hiding, where she planned to be, so if he ever directly asked me where she was, I could honestly confess my ignorance. It was a dangerous game, yes, and in the early years, it almost ended on several occasions with Ganondorf as the victor due to intercepted letters. After those close calls, Zelda set scheduled times of when we would meet again and a few hours before the appointed time, I would track down a nearby Gossip Stone, through which she, Impa or Inianna would disclose their location to me. However, every now and then, when Ganondorf's troops drew too close to her hiding place, I would plant a false trail and lead them away on a wild goose chase, such as I was doing now. It was true Zelda and the Sheikah had been camping up in Death Mountain three days ago, but since I knew not where she was now, I was free to report my assumptions regarding her next destination. For all I knew, she was venturing deeper into the mountain range.

Ganondorf smiled his approval and stood, approaching me. "Ahh, Sheik… you are an excellent tracker. I have faith that you will not fail me. Soon, I will have both the Triforce of Wisdom and Courage in my hands, and it will all be thanks to you," he praised, tucking his fingers under my chin and lifting my head. This time, I kept my eyes trained to the floor. But the Gerudo king seemed not to mind, occupying himself with caressing my cheeks, jaw and hair. I fought the urge to slap his hands away. Sauntering behind me, his broad, calloused fingers trailed over loose hair at the nape of my neck. In a voice like poisoned honey, he cooed, "You are such a good little shadow. So much more reliable and useful than that worthless Dark Link."

His hand was on my chin, yanking my head backwards so he could meet my eyes. He grinned, then released me. Closing my eyes, I averted my head in repulsion from his moist, cloying breath on my neck. Ganondorf's fingers were sliding over my shoulders and chest now, tracing the lines of the sinewy, but defined muscles beneath my battlesuit and dragon-scale armor. Desperate to keep myself in control, to not fight back and remain relaxed and submissive, I imagined it was Link touching me, not Ganondorf. I pictured his hands caressing my face and chest, his breath on my neck and his body behind mine.

The illusion I built in my mind worked – I felt myself loosen as the tension left my body – but it worked a little too well, and rather than saving myself, I condemned myself.

"There's a good pet," Ganondorf purred, shattering my fantasy. With a sinking horror in my heart, I realized he was unwrapping my bindings. "You deserve a reward for all your hard work."

No… I whispered to myself, squeezing my eyes shut. Goddesses, noNot again….

But by then, I realized my mistake and knew it was too late. By allowing myself to relax, Ganondorf had misinterpreted the change in my body language as a sign of submissiveness… of willingness….

No….

I did not cry. I did not scream. I did not beg. I had learned the first time such actions only worsened it, only stoked the sadistic flames of my tormenter's nature. All I could do was obey his lusty commands and lay quietly while he had his way with me. I kept my eyes closed the entire time, ignoring the searing pain and remembering I was doing this to protect Zelda and Link. For them, I would allow Ganondorf to rape me a thousand times over. For them, I would sacrifice anything: my honor, my blood, my life. Better to let him violate me than Link or Zelda merely because I rebelled against his torture and allowed them to fall into his hands.

They were valuable, irreplaceable, the hope and future of all Hyrule.

I was an expendable shadow.


After Ganondorf left – presumably to find a Gerudo woman to bed so as not to inadvertently kill his Sheikah spy with his insatiable lust – although I was covered in sweat, blood and semen, I did not bother cleaning myself up. Gingerly, I picked myself off the floor. Every inch of my body screamed in protest whenever I moved. My skintight battlesuit chaffed against open wounds and pressed painfully tight to newly acquired bruises as I rewrapped my bindings and drew my cowl over my face.

The trip out of the castle was lengthier than my walk in. Pain lanced through me with each step, so intense I longed for nothing more than to lay down and never move again. But I forced myself to continue onward, reminding myself of the harsher punishments I had endured. The agony was always more intense when Ganondorf was displeased with me. By comparison, my current pain was no more than a bee sting. Then again, I had never been required to meet with Zelda directly after one of Ganondorf's… sessions, when the farthest I had to walk was to my chambers where I could recover. Today, I was deprived of such a luxury. And while it was impossible to gauge the time with the black storm clouds darkening the sky day and night, my gut told me I was late for Zelda's meeting.

The castle seemed empty as I hobbled my way down the tower, the only movement being the moths fluttering around the lit torches and the rustle of the Keese hanging upside-down from the rafters. Mercifully, I was able to exit the palace without enduring the jibs and comments about being Ganondorf's favorite plaything from the resident Gerudo and monsters. Had any remark struck a nerve, I was unsure if I would have been able to maintain a level head and restrain a dagger to the throat.

As the metal drawbridge retracted behind me with rhythmic clanking, I allowed my composure to slip and sagged weakly against a jagged rock, breathing heavily from exhaustion and pain. Knocking my head none-too-gently against the stone, I tilted my eyes toward the swirling black-brown clouds overhead. I did not know how much longer I could withstand Ganondorf's abuses before he completely broke me. I had lasted five years thus far, but even I had a threshold. All I could hope for was the strength I needed to stay intact long enough for Link and Zelda to destroy him. For them, I had to hold myself together, even if they never knew what I sacrificed for them. Shoving away from the rock, I allowed myself to abandon my rigid, upright posture and adopt a hunched, limping stride. It was easier than pretending all was well.

Outside Castle Town's gates, the sky was nearly as dark as the clouds blanketing the demolished town, informing me just how late I was. Io lifted her head from a bloody rabbit carcass, forked tongue slipping out to flick over the fangs curving down from her muzzle as she turned one pupil-less, yellow eye toward me. Abandoning her meal, she trotted over to me on silent hooves, and I greeted my ny'tiall horse with a weary pat on her slick, black cheek. Careful of her thorn-vine mane and the short, but sharp spines protruding from her shoulders, I stroked her long neck, eyeing the saddle mounted on her back. The thought of sitting in the hard saddle and tolerating the jostling movements of Io's canter had me cringing with the anticipation of added pain. However, ny'tiall were known for their speed – one reason among the many why the Sheikah often chose the frightening, demonic equines as their steeds over normal horses – and Io could easily cut the two-hour journey to my next destination in half.

So, with a grunt of pain, I swung myself up into Io's saddle, wrapping my hands around the two long spikes jutting out from her withers. Bridles could not be used with ny'tiall: the spines on their faces destroyed the leather straps and no bit could withstand their sharp my tongue, I directed Io alongside the western wall of Castle Town, standing up slightly in the stirrups as she charged into a full gallop. The surrounding trees and stone walls dissolved into a featureless dark blur as we sped by. Epona would have killed herself trying to keep up with Io.

The pain was excruciating. While standing in the stirrups reduced lessened the severity of my pain, nonetheless, I felt the bone-rattling shocks reverberating through my bruised limbs with every hard clop of Io's soundless hooves; felt the burn and tremors in my weary leg muscles from holding myself aloft; felt the bloody tear of my flesh as wounds widened from hunching over my ny'tiall's thorny neck. At the end of our hour long gallop, the Zora River snaking away from distant western wall of Castle Town, the anguish stabbing at my body had increased tenfold since leaving Ganondorf's chambers.

Slowing her gallop to a gentle trot, Io splashed through the cool, shallow waters of the river, climbing up the other side of the muddy banks before pulling herself to a complete halt. Stiffly, I dropped to the ground, pain lancing up through my legs and back. My knees would have buckled under me had I not thrown an arm over Io's neck to steady myself. However, in exchange, my right hand was shredded to scarlet ribbons for grabbing onto her thorn mane. Steadying myself, I limped into a copse of tightly clustered trees, Io following behind me, drawn by the smell of fresh blood. The trees all but swallowed us in murky darkness, blotting out the stars and moon with their leaves and branches. Under me, I felt the ground slope downwards and a moment later, my eyes cut through the gloom, picking out the small, overgrown cavern directly before us. Brushing aside the verdant moss and vines hanging over the gaping black entrance, I ventured into the cool, damp grotto, and while I could not hear her, I knew Io was following behind me. Not only did my ny'tiall easily fit inside the low-ceilinged tunnel, standing at only fourteen hands, but she lacked unease many horses had of dark, cramped, enclosed places.

One hand braced against the wet, slimy tunnel wall, I worked my way down, down, down into the grotto depths, fighting not to surrender to the pain. At last, the tunnel opened up to a small cavern, lit with the mysterious silver glow of a thousand firefly-like insects. Slick moss carpeted fallen stones and scraggly grass grew in clumps around tiny, underground pools. I bypassed all of these and knelt before a gray, rough hewn stone, brushing aside the vegetation concealing the Sheikah emblem carved into its face.

Under normal circumstances, I would have used the Gossip Stones outside the Temple of Time to communicate with Zelda, rather than traveling an hour to this little secret grotto just beyond the castle walls. However, considering the nature of our conversations, carrying on as such directly under Ganondorf's eye was moronic. Here, I was outside his domain and was provided with privacy and protection.

Laying a hand on the Gossip Stone, directly over the eye, fingers splayed, I closed my eyes and chanted softly, calling upon my shadow magic:

"I am the child of blood and night,

Destined to serve the light.

Shadows, illusions, and lies,

Play no tricks on mine eyes.

By the shadows that bind me,

I call upon this Stone.

Carry my voice

Wherever it may roam.

By the blood in my veins,

And the words I impart,

Find the one who holds me

With a spell on my heart."

As I recited the final stanza, with the hand I had cut on Io's mane, I smeared my blood over the teardrop carved below the eye. My blood shone dark and glassy. A moment later, it soaked into the stone and vanished, like a horse draining a watering trough. Incantation complete, I removed my hand from the Gossip Stone and sat back on my heels, patiently waiting. Before me, the Gossip Stone trembled, the engraved mouth underneath the Sheikah emblem falling open to pit-less maw. Through the now gaping mouth, a musical, feminine voice asked, "Sheik? Sheik, is that you?"

"Yes, it is I," I responded formally, frowning slightly. I could not identify the speaker. She sounded like a child. "Forgive me for the delay. I know I am late. I was kept at the castle longer than I anticipated. Tell me, where am I to meet Princess Zelda?"

"At the Forest Temple," the girl responded, and suddenly, I knew who she was: Saria, the Sage of Forest. "Shall I inform Princess Zelda of your arrival?"

"Thank you, but that will not be necessary," I declined politely, silently thanking Zelda for choosing a location I could warp to. "I will be there before you even reach her chambers."

"Then I shall wait for you by the Temple entrance and guide you to her," Saria said with finality, the message ending as the Gossip Stone shook once more, its stone mouth sliding back into place.

Groaning, I heaved myself to my knees and turned to face Io, holding out my injured hand so she could lick off the blood staining my palm and stroking her glossy neck with the other. "Ih'loid," I murmured softly, staring into one yellow eye. "Goht ef giyrf."

With a gentle snort, Io turned around and trotted mutely away, her onyx body vanishing into darkness of the tunnel. None knew where the ny'tiall went when we had no need of them, nor from where they hailed, only that they would bear no rider but the Sheikah and had been our chosen steeds since the dawn of time. However, I strongly believed Io spent her spare time at Lon Lon Ranch. Despite her alarming appearance, the farm girl Malon seemed quite taken with her and had no scruples in spoiling her rotten.

Removing the broken lyre from my wrappings, I uttered the counter-spell to undo my earlier charm, and the golden body snapped back together, whole once again. Briefly, I tested the strings to assure they were in tune, then proceeded to strum the sweet, gentle melody of the Minuet of Forest. The song's sparkling, acid green mist swirled around me, disintegrating my body into nothingness and carrying me out of the grotto, up into the night sky. Soaring overhead, I watched as the flat landscape of Hyrule Field transformed into a rolling emerald sea of trees. The lush foliage of the Kokiri Forest and the Lost Woods seemed to stretch endlessly for miles, broken only by Deku Tree's monstrous black trunk and boughs. However, the withered trunk of the Deku Tree was soon obscured by a multitude of interlocking branches and leaves as the song's magic descended into the trees surrounding the Sacred Forest Meadow. As the verdant mist gradually waned, my body reformed... and with it, the agony.

The first thing I noticed – beside my renewed pain – was the cheery, upbeat tune echoing throughout the meadow, a tune played on an ocarina. For a split second, I wondered if Link was somehow here as well. But then the song ceased and a young girl's voice called out, "Sheik! Over here!"

Turning my gaze to the elevated entrance of the Forest Temple, I saw Saria waving at me, an ocarina in her hand. As I walked toward her, I saw her bend down and a moment later, a rope ladder unraveled at my feet, leading up to the temple. Normally, it would have been a simple task for me to reach the temple's entrance with a well-placed jump. As it was, my body cringed at the very thought, so I accepted the assistance handed to me and climbed the ladder.

"You made it," Saria said cheerfully when I reached the top, smiling beatifically up at me, cornflower blue eyes glittering. Now I understood why Link always seemed so joyful, no matter what the situation. The Kokiri were a happy race. "Come now. We mustn't keep Princess Zelda waiting. I shall take you to her."

Wrapping a small, child-like hand around three of my fingers, the green-haired Kokiri girl pulled me into the Forest Temple, like a toddler leading her parent. Upon our entrance, platinum blond, silver- and white-haired heads lifted, a myriad of scarlet eyes watching from behind long bangs, cowls, veils and high, stiff collars. Sheikah were scattered all throughout the Forest Temple's entry way, sharpening their daggers on whet stones, strumming their lyres, or conversing with each other. Practically all activity ceased as Saria led me past them. Even with the tiny Sage of Forest holding onto my hand, I walked by as upright and naturally as my pained body would allow, chin held high. While I did not acknowledge a single crimson gaze of my tribe, I could feel their eyes on me, their suspicion as heavy as the Lost Wood's humid jungle air.

My fellow Sheikah did not trust me. They thought my role as a double agent was more risk than it was worth. Not because they feared a fatal mistake on my part that would compromise Zelda's whereabouts, but because they feared I would intentionally betray them to Ganondorf. They were not convinced I was truly on their side. The Sheikah disapproved of my reporting Link's progress and location to Ganondorf, though Zelda had conceded it was a necessary evil. They were convinced the power the Gerudo king had permitted me to hold over the past five years would corrupt me, turn my loyalties over to him. But they were blind and naïve. Never would I betray Zelda. I owed her my life three times over. I owed Ganondorf nothing but retribution for raping Hyrule, raping its people and raping me.

I suffered through the distrusting stares with dignity and grace, ignoring the whispers and glares as Saria towed me to the Forest Temple's Grand Hall. Halting before the elevator situated in the center of the room, Saria turned to face me, saying, "Princess Zelda is in the basement's gallery room, where you and Link fought Phantom Ganon. The guards already know to let you pass."

"Thank you, Saria, Sage of Forest," I said gratefully, fisting my hand over my heart and bowing at the waist, only to stiffen as white-hot pain shot through me. Bowing had not been a wise idea. It stretched me the wrong way.

Oblivious to the pain I felt, the Kokiri girl giggled, covering her mouth with one hand. Bluebell eyes sparkling with mirth, she said, "Link was right. You are far too formal." Then with a parting wave, Saria half-ran, half-skipped through one of the temple doors. Frowning slightly to myself at her comment, the elevator clicked as my weight settled on it and with a high-pitched hum, carried me down through the cracked marble floor. The containing darkness melted away as the elevator opened up to the basement floor, lit by softly glowing torches. The guards standing watch by the great, blue steeled door barring entrance to the gallery did not question my advance and allowed me to pass with grudging reluctance. Hurrying inside, I quickly climbed the spiral steps to the raised, circular floor situated in the center of the gallery.

A heavy, round wooden table had been set up on the chipped floor, overflowing with scrolls of parchment, maps and a number of assorted odds and ends. Three people were seated around the table. One was Princess Zelda, a shining beacon of gold in the dark, dank room. She had her back to me and was pouring over a lengthy scroll, completely unaware of my silent arrival. The remaining two were Sheikah, the siblings Inianna and Astar.

As he was seated directly across from me, it was Astar's eyes who found me first. Behind my cowl, my lips pressed into a line as thin as a knife's blade. Immediately, his expression hardened, his severe scowl and knitted brows warping the two lightning bolt rhyfel'aira jutting upward from his jaw and the third slashed across his forehead. With a flick of his shoulder-length hair – which, despite his obvious youth, was white, lacking even the faintest hint of blond my own possessed – he leaned back in his seat, folding his bare, muscled arms over the glinting metal of his chest plate. His garnet eyes, a shade darker than my own, narrowed in intense loathing.

The feeling was mutual for both parties. Astar and I were childhood rivalries, a conflict which escalated all the more when I became a double agent, fueled by both his jealousy and the distrust he shared with the other Sheikah. Furthermore, my – shall we say – lack of interest in the female sex generated much of his hostility, just as his arrogant, power-hungry and merciless nature infuriated me. To top it all off, he was Impa's son… and my foster brother.

"Well, well, well... Look who finally decided to grace us with his presence," Astar sneered condescendingly, his lips curling to reveal his filed teeth.

Zelda and Inianna glanced immediately in my direction. As her eyes were more accustomed to the gloom, Inianna spotted me first. Like a rose unfurling its velvety petals and baring them to the sun, joy bloomed in her scarlet irises as a smile spread across her face. The silvery, starburst rhyfel'aira under her eyes seemed to shimmer, radiating the pure delight my presence brought the contrary to her elder brother, Inianna adored me, making her – and Impa – the only Sheikah who honestly trusted me. Had she not been in Zelda's presence, which required her to be on her best behavior, the girl would have flung herself into my arms. As it was, I was thankful she was chained to her seat. I had not healed enough for her exuberance. Instead, she winked at me and fiddled excitedly with the long, silver braid snaking out from under her dark blue hood.

Finally, after blinking several times, Zelda's sapphire blue eyes focused on my face and she gasped, "Sheik?"

Tugging down my cowl, I offered her a wane, contrite smile and apologized, "I am sorry I am so late, my lady."

"Oh, thank Nayru!" Standing so fast she nearly knocked over her chair, Zelda hiked up the skirts of her lavender dress and ran to me, her long golden hair flying and heels clacking on the marble floor. Completely unprepared for her, I staggered backwards with a grunt of surprise and pain as she launched herself at me, hugging me tightly around the middle. So much for propriety.

Despite the pain Zelda's arms caused by pressing on my bruised back, my shocked expression immediately softened as I stared down at the top of her blond head. Smiling faintly, I lightly wrapped my arms around the princess's delicate body and returned her hug. Often times, I forgot that although Zelda was the rightful ruler of Hyrule and with Impa's aid, had commanded a Sheikah army for the past seven years, she was still very much a child in many aspects. The princess had not been forced to grow up as quickly as I had under Ganondorf's service and not nearly as fast as Link, thrust from childhood directly into adulthood.

"Oh, Sheik, I was so worried," Zelda sobbed, withdrawing her head from my chest. Unshed tears swam in the depths of her ocean blue eyes. "When you failed to arrive on time, I feared something dreadful happened to you. You are never late, so the more the hours dragged on, the more I grew to fear your absence."

"I did not mean to worry you, my lady," I assured her, running my thumbs under her eyes to catch her tears. "Something did happen, but it was nothing I could not or have not handled before."

Though my tone remained ever respectful, there was a warning undercurrent, begging her not to delve further into my vagueness. Only the slightest hint of a frown touched the princess's beautiful face, but nevertheless, she sensed my unwillingness to speak further on the matter and granted my unspoken request. It was one of the many things I loved about Zelda. She understood the burden I carried, being bound to both her and Ganondorf. Therefore, she avoided issuing me direct commands as much as possible, allowing me both the freedom of choice and the privacy of my own thoughts and secrets. Lacing her fingers with mine, she led me to the table with a smile. "In any case, I am relieved you are here and unharmed."

"Yes. Thrilled…." Astar sneered sarcastically, folding his hands behind his head and glaring at me with unrestrained hate. Inianna threw an elbow into her brother's side, earning a thoroughly gratifying grunt from him. While I fought not to smile, I did plant a soft kiss on the top of her head as I passed.

Goddesses, watch over this girl. She has a good head on her shoulders….

Fluffing her skirts as she settled herself delicately onto her chair, the Hylian princess motioned to the empty seat on her right with a gloved hand, and offered, "Would you like to sit?"

The thought of sitting in my current state was almost as appealing as the notion of an all-day trip on horseback. "Thank you, my lady, but if you have no objections, I would prefer to stand," I declined politely, but moved to stand by her side. She flashed me a satisfied smile – clearly pleased with my compromise – and conceded, "Of course." Across the table, Astar's scowl deepened, no doubt wishing he was the one with the honor of standing at Zelda's right.

Folding her hands daintily in her lap, sitting in a straight, regal pose, Zelda turned to me and commanded formally, all business now, "So, Sheik, please, tell me what you have to report."

The "please" softened the strength of her command, my jaw and tongue aching only a little as the blood bond injected an insistent, but gentle compulsion to relay my news to the princess. Both the ache and urge vanished the instant I began to speak. "Ganondorf has swallowed the bait, wholeheartedly believing you are retreating farther into the mountains. He has no clue you are in fact infiltrating deeper into Hyrule and are recruiting the Gorons and Zora into your army. Personally, I believe it was your glove that so readily convinced him. If I may say so, milady, planting the 'evidence' was a brilliant idea on your part."

Zelda grinned, her blue eyes twinkling like the sun's reflection off Lake Hylian at high noon. "And what of Link?"

"Battling the trials of the Spirit Temple as we speak," I reported slowly, feeling my own hesitation. However, the blood bond would not allow me to gloss over my thoughtless blunders, and with a bitter taste in my throat, I added, "I must confess, Princess, I was not cautious enough. Foolish as it was, I assumed Link would be safe once he had crossed the collapsed bridge at Gerudo Valley. What I did not count on was that Mutoh's fool carpenters, who were trying to repair the bridge, were captured by the Gerudo and Link, in his rash heroics, ignored my parting warnings about the thieves and set off to free the poor bastards rather than stealing away to the Haunted Wasteland as I instructed. Naturally, after he freed the prisoners, their absence alerted the Gerudo and he was captured by Aveil, the captain guard and third-in-command. I regret to inform you of this, but before could I arrived to fetch him, the Gerudo… did torture him."

Zelda gasped sharply, her gloved hands flying to her mouth and her sapphire eyes widening. My jaw tightened and again, I berated myself for allowing such pain to befall Link. I had vowed to protect him and I failed….

Astar uttered a dirty curse in the Shadow Tongue, an oath directed at me. I glared at him, but held my tongue. Had Zelda spoken our language and understood what my step-brother said, then I would have spoken up. Still, Hylian or not, it was disrespectful to speak such foul words in Zelda's presence.

"Fear not, my lady. I found and freed Link before any further harm could befall him," I continued blandly, reverting my eyes back to the princess. "From there, I warped us to the Desert Colossus and brought him to the Great Fairy who dwells there. She healed his wounds and he is well of mind and body now thanks to her magic."

"Had you not left him in the first place, then the Hero of Time would not have been injured to the point of requiring a Great Fairy to save him!" Astar snapped furiously, his filed teeth glinting in the dim light.

"Astar..." Inianna warned in a low voice, shooting him an annoyed look.

Returning his red glare, I retorted coolly, "Link was hurt, yes, but not grievously so. He would have healed easily within the span of a few days without the fairy's aid. He is the holder of the Triforce of Courage, not some young maid from Castle Town. He is stronger than you seem to credit him for."

"Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is you left him behind and that cannot be forgiven," he pressed, leering at me savagely. "You are still at fault for allowing this misfortune to befall the Hero of Time."

"If you recall, my original duty to Link's was merely to drop him hints about the Sages, teach him the Temples' songs, and guide him with a gentle, invisible hand," I reminded him icily. "It is only because I have developed a friendship with him that I have recently come to aiding him directly, which, as you well know, is fraught with dangers in itself. Should one of Ganondorf's other spies see me helping the Hero of Time, all we have worked for would be for naught. Surely, I could not ride side-by-side with Link into the heart of the Gerudo Fortress – they are all acquainted with me – nor could I follow from a distance for fear of being spotted by one of the guards. Not even a simple concealment spell would allow me to safely watch him from above. The desert sun burns away all spells crafted by shadow magic, especially magic weak as mine."

At this, Astar grinned condescendingly, his sharpened teeth flashing in the torchlight. "Ahh, so Mother's protégé admits he is not as mighty as he wishes us all to believe. Not that I ever fell for your flawless, loyal Shadow Warrior act."

Glaring at my step-brother, I said darkly, "Despite what you may assume, brother, I have never thought myself infallible. Perfection does not exist, and even if it did, it certainly would not live within me. I have made more than my fair share of mistakes."

Before Astar could come back with a barb, Zelda cut in sharply, fixing both of us with a firm, warning stare, "Boys, that is enough. We have not gathered here to listen to your petty arguments. We have far more pressing matters at hand than this tiring rivalry of yours." Staring at me, the depths of her oceanic eyes radiated her disapproval and seemed to say, Do not add to this. You know better.

"My apologies, Princess," I murmured, bowing respectfully to her and backed down in spite of my longing to acquaint my dagger with the side of Astar's throat.

Astar, however, did not surrender quite so placidly. Ignoring Zelda's command to sit back down, he stalked up to me until we were practically nose-to-nose, his shoulder-length white hair brushing against my face. Furiously, he snarled, "Mistakes, you say? Oh, I am familiar with mistakes, for the greatest mistake to ever befall my family was when my mother insisted on taking in a worthless, parentless, street urchin like you!"

"Enough!"

Inianna wedged herself between us, shoving us apart as Zelda's command rang throughout the room like crackling lightning. Staring down at my step-sister's hooded head, I was intensely grateful for her interference. As my hands were balled into fists at my sides, the distance between Astar and I reduced the urge to break his nose.

"Astar, sit down," the princess ordered sharply, pointing to his seat. "Now, or I swear on Nayru, I will strip you of your title. Is this how a general acts?"

Not even a firebrand like Astar would dare disobey a direct command from his mistress, least of all when his position of power was threatened. With a severe lack of grace, he threw himself down onto his chair and refused to look at me, sulking like a child rather than the twenty year old man he was.

Staring between us, brows furrowed and rose eyes troubled, Inianna pleaded desperately, "Would you two please stop fighting? This cannot go on. Like it or not, you two are family, so start acting like it!"

Astar bristled. "That dafiddma is not my fam-!"

"Yes he is!" Inianna interjected sharply, glaring at her brother. "Family is not limited to shared blood. We are part of the same race, the same tribe, the same culture. We are all family one way or another, and Sheik is no different. He is a Sheikah. He is family. Quit acting like a child."

"Thank you, Inianna, that will do," Zelda sighed wearily, massaging her temples as the silver-haired girl returned to her seat. With a motion of her hand, she glanced at me and asked, "Do you have anything else to report, Sheik?"

"Unfortunately, yes," I confessed heavily, cursing the blood bond for forcing me to unearth my second mistake and present it to the princess. "When I reported to Ganondorf before returning here, he informed me of a message Aveil had sent him, in which she detailed Link's escape from the fortress. According to the letter, just before they entered the cell to find he had vanished, she heard music played on a lyre. Knowing I possess a lyre, Aveil suggested I was the one who freed him." Zelda sucked in a surprised breath, and I hurriedly explained, "Have no fear, my lady. It took some quick thinking on my part, but I managed to convince Ganondorf I was not responsible for Link's escape, namely by using a spell to break my lyre in half, rendering it unplayable."

A relieved breath escaped the Hylian's lips, but before she could open her mouth to speak, Astar's sneering voice cut in, "Incredible. Two near-fatal blunders in one day. Getting sloppy, are we not, Sheik?"

With an exasperated groan, Inianna let her skull thunk against the table and Zelda shook her head wearily, eyes sliding closed. Before either woman could interrupt, I inquired stiffly, "Astar, is it possible for you and I to tolerate each other's presence long enough to avoid exchanging barbs or blows? Inianna is right: we are brothers. Besides, this hostility is not only grating on Inianna and Her Highness's nerves, but mine as well."

Chuckling derisively, Astar's blood-red eyes glittered maliciously as he hissed in a patronizing voice, "Aww, what ails you, Sheiky? You are always stoic, yet you seem more uptight today than usual. Did Ganondorf shove his sword hilt up your ass during your visit?"

There was nothing I could do to prevent it. The comment hit home and before I could compose my expression into a mask of indifference, I flinched violently. Right then and there, I knew it was over. My secret was out. Without my cowl covering my face, I had nothing to hide behind, nothing to cover the pain and humiliation in my eyes or the set of my mouth; nothing to stop Zelda from reading my expression, her reprimand at Astar dying on her lips; nothing to prevent the horror dawning over the princess's beautiful face or terrified widening of Inianna's eyes.

"Sheik?" Zelda inquired hesitantly, her voice wavering. I couldn't do it. I couldn't meet Zelda's eyes, could not stand to see the pity and horror in those ocean pools. Instead, I allowed my lids to drift closed slowly and concentrated on breathing deeply.

Rough, bandaged fingers slid over my cheeks and even without opening my eyes, I knew they belonged to Inianna. "Sheik?" her voice whispered, strained and cracking. "Foh'dwar, look at me. Tell me why you reacted so strongly to Astar's vile comment..."

Mutely, I turned my head away from her gentle touch, squeezing my eyes closed all the tighter, my eyebrows drawn into a tense V. No matter how hard I concentrated, all my excuses and lies slipped through my grasping fingers like water. This time, there was no talking my way out.

"Sheik… you're trembling…" my sister whispered, tears and terror warping her voice. Immediately, I clenched every muscle in my body in attempt to still the involuntary tremors passing through me, but doing so only intensified my pain and shivering.

"It cannot be..." Zelda's voice whispered shakily, disbelievingly, but I could tell she saw the horrible truth in my expression. "Sheik… Answer me honestly. Does Ganondorf... violate you?"

A direct command. Completely unavoidable. Already, the blood bond was wrapping itself around my jaw and vocal cords. One way or another, it would have me confess, either by my own willing surrender to its unyielding coercion or by taking control of my body and forcing the words out. I chose to exercise what little control I had over my own body. Breathing deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth, my eyes slit open just enough to see spiderweb-like fissures splitting the marble. Hands balling into white-knuckled fists, fighting both the tremors rattling me and the blood bond's pull, I answered heavily, "Yes… He does…."

The relief obedience brought as the bond's influence lifted was replaced with the heavier, crushing weight the sound of Zelda's breath catching in her throat, weighing on my heart like an Goron sitting on my chest. Wiry arms clamped around my waist as Inianna buried her face in my chest with a strangled sob. Her grip tightened, and without my consent, a pained hiss escaped my clenched teeth. Realizing suddenly I was one massive bruise, Inianna released me and backed away, tears glistening over her starburst rhyfel'aira.

Expression hardening, I turned to Astar, pausing a moment to savor the shock widening his garnet eyes. "For the record, Astar, I wish Ganondorf would use his sword hilt more often when he rapes me," I hissed maliciously, bitterly, unable to stop myself. "It hurts less than his dick."

Inianna's hands flew to her mouth, only barely muffling her short, startled cry. Zelda slumped listlessly against the back of her chair, face ashen. I did not mean to speak so bluntly, so crudely, but frustration, pain, humiliation and anger overrode my self-control. Five years of hiding my dirty secret – blown in a single moment all because my loudmouth step-brother had to throw insults at me. Not even I had the patience to calmly deal with such a devastating personal catastrophe.

Wiping the startled expression from his face, Astar's leer was back as he cooed, "Well, well. Your wish has come true, little bam'dirac. You're being bedded by a man. Tell me, does he just screw you or does he let you fuck him, too?"

I recoiled as if he had physically struck me. Before I could react or even feel any emotion short of numb shock, Inianna crossed the floor in two strides and slapped Astar smartly across the face. Almost the same moment my sister's hand made contact with his cheek, Zelda stood up so fast her chair fell over with a clatter, slamming her palms down onto the round table. Energy crackled around her like lightning, lifting her golden hair so it floated around her as if she were underwater. The Triforce mark on her hand – usually hidden by her silk gloves – shone so brightly not even her glove could conceal it.

"Astar, be silent!" Zelda yelled, and the Triforce's magic flared around her, so powerful even I felt it pressing against me like a magnetic force. My eyes widened in shock at the sight. In the years I had known Zelda, from childhood through adolescence to adulthood, I have never once heard her raise her voice or lose her temper before now. "Your disrespect has gone too far to both Sheik and I! You have proven to me you are not worthy of this position of power and honor! Until you learn respect, I am demoting you to captain!"

"You cannot be serious!" Astar spat indignantly, his face an amusing combination of utter disbelief, bemusement and ire, one hand covering his abused cheek. "You are demoting me because I insulted a traitor? How can you possibly still trust him? He just admitted to being Ganondorf's lover!"

"Rape does not constitute romantic intimacy, but hate," the princess rebuked hotly, glaring at him. "Sheik has committed no wrong. You, however, need a lesson in respect, therefore my punishment stands. Later, you will apologize to Sheik and it will be heartfelt, but until then, I forbid you to speak of this to anyone! You are hereby dismissed."

Gaping with mute rage, he sputtered, "But-!"

"Dismissed!" Zelda shouted furiously, pointing to the exit. Like a scolded puppy, Astar slunk from the gallery, an obvious handprint marring his fair cheek. At the sound of the metal door clanking shut, Inianna took a hesitant step towards me, but stopped when Zelda held up a hand. In a quiet, tired voice, she said, "I apologize, Inianna, but I would like a word alone with Sheik."

"Of course, Your Highness," she murmured softly, bowing respectfully to her before turning her heartbroken expression onto me. Gingerly hooking an arm around my neck, Inianna raised herself up on her tiptoes and kissed me affectionately on the side of the mouth. Rose-red eyes brimming with tears, she whispered, "I am so sorry, Sheik. Had I known..." she trailed off, shaking her hooded head and staring earnestly up at me. "You know I love you, foh'dwar, right?"

Nodding, I wiped the tears staining her cheeks, and murmured, "Fy'cherchi dyf, lywnnola."

Stifling a sob with her hand, Inianna hurried toward the exit, but when she was halfway down the stairs, Zelda called out, "Oh, and Inianna?" My step-sister paused and twisted around. "Try to knock some sense into your brother."

A fierce expression momentarily concealed her distress, five throwing needles suddenly clenched between her slender fingers. "Oh, I plan on it."

The metallic click of the door signaled Inianna's departure, but before I could return my gaze to Zelda, I felt her soft body against me, hugging me gently as if she expected me to break at any moment. This time, I did not return the embrace, keeping my hands at my sides. When she finally withdrew, I saw disappointment and hurt in her eyes. "Why did you not tell me, Sheik?"

"What good would it have done, Princess?" I demanded coolly, gently but firmly pushing her away from me. "You cannot stop it anymore than I, not without compromising all we have worked for these past seven years. I did not tell you because I had no desire to worry you more than you already do, nor did I want your pity."

The princess clutched her hands to her breast and averted her head to the side, crystalline tears sliding out from under closed lids. "Sheik, you are not only my servant, but you are my dearest friend," she whispered brokenly. "To learn of your atrocious suffering... it stabs at my heart..."

Lowering my head, I said quietly, "Do not grieve for me, my lady. I am doing this for you and Link."

Slender eyebrows crinkled in the center, Zelda asked inquisitively, warily, "What do you mean?"

Meeting the turbulent ocean waters that were her eyes, I explained patiently, "Not only did I vow to protect you, but I also owe you my life. You saved me from death three separate times, Zelda, and I have yet to repay my debt to you. This is my payment. As I always tell myself after… after each time, better that I endure the torment than you or Link. By acting as a double agent and allowing Ganondorf to use me as he wants, I am protecting you and Link from sharing my fate, keeping his eyes on me and away from you two. Until the day Link smites him on his holy sword, I will continue shield the two of you in this way, no matter what. Even if, Goddesses forbid, there were ever time where Ganondorf threatened you or Link with this kind of violation, I would gladly take the punishment in your stead."

For a long while, Zelda was silent, staring at me with her brimming sapphire eyes, her grief as palpable as the magnificent power she'd exuded not long ago. Finally, she asked in a whisper, "How long has this been going on?"

"Since the first day I joined his service," I responded grimly.

The Hylian started. "Since you were fourteen?" she demanded, aghast.

"Yes."

The sadness in Zelda's eyes was almost unbearable. Shaking her head slowly, she cupped my cheek, stroking my face affectionately. "My dear, Sheik," she breathed, silent tears spilling from her eyes. "If only the other Sheikah knew how much you sacrificed for me and Hyrule..."

"I do not want them to know," I responded firmly, gently removing Zelda's hand from my face, only to weave my bandaged fingers with her gloved ones. "Not now. Not ever."

"I understand," she murmured consolingly, "But, please. I feel responsible for your torment. Had I not sent you as a spy-"

"Had you not sent me and sent another instead, we might not be where we are today: hidden from Ganondorf's eyes and amassing an army while Link successfully awakens the Sages," I argued. "Any man or woman weaker than I would have caved and all would be lost. These past years have hardened me, strengthened me, rather than breaking me. Be thankful, my lady."

"Still, I wish to ease your pain," she insisted fervently, taking my hand and leading me to the lower level of the gallery where she had set up her sleeping chambers, hidden in a tent of cloth. "It would be wrong of me not to utilize my healing powers to help a friend when he is wounded."

Shrugging, I grunted, "Really, it is nothing I cannot tolerate, but if it will ease your mind..."

"It will," Zelda assured confidently, and motioned to the straw mattress on the floor. "Now please, I would like you to undress and lay down."

Eyebrows arching faintly in surprise, my lips pursed into a thin line and I crossed my arms defiantly. "You're joking."

"I am not," Zelda refute matter-of-factly. "Besides, I have seen you naked before."

Throwing my hands up into the air, exasperated, I protested, "When I was eight, yes! Eleven years have passed since then, and both my body and I have drastically changed!"

"I am aware of this, Sheik, but you are not the first naked man I will have seen. I have tended to a number of injured warriors and knights, and like you, it was impossible to heal their wounds with their clothes and armor on," the blonde princess retorted, balancing her hands on her hips. "Now, if you would, please strip. Do not force me to command you."

Sighing heavily, I muttered under my breath, "Is it not enough to be naked before only one master? Now I have to bare myself to both?" as I removed my throwing needles, chain whip and dagger. Zelda appeared not to have heard me. Quickly, with expert ease, I unwound my many bindings and tabard, and unlaced the front of my battlesuit, carefully peeling the tight fabric and in-sewn armor from my bruised, cut skin. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Zelda's cheeks flush briefly with color before it promptly drained away the moment her eyes registered the extensive damage Ganondorf had done to me. As I settled myself down onto the mattress, laying on my stomach, I wondered what I looked like to her. I never thought much of my appearance, mostly because of the trouble it had caused me with Ganondorf. Still, part of me wanted to know if others perceived me as attractive, if only to know whether or not Link shared their opinions.

"That beast," Zelda hissed, draping a sheet over my lower body, her voice a wavering mix of sorrow, horror and fury as she inspected my body.

"They are not as bad as they appear," I insisted with only half-hearted conviction, my eyes sliding closed as a wave of exhaustion hit me. Only now that I was lying down after moving and acting for so long did I realize how tired I really was.

Somewhere beside me, the princess uttered a disbelieving grunt. Stripping her gloves from her arms, Zelda laid her silken hands gently and a soft, golden glow encircled them. Warmth spread out over my shoulders, the pain of the vicious bite marks eased away as the wounds were sealed. Encased in a haze of fatigue and soothing heat, I soon found myself struggling to keep my heavy eyelids open, to keep my consciousness rooted in the present.

But when Zelda's voice, distant and sweet, began to hum the lullaby Impa used to play for her, I knew what she was telling me. Wordlessly, so the blood bond wouldn't activate, she was encouraging me to fall asleep, to recover, and to retreat into the safe haven of my dreams. With her lullaby filling my ears and the warmth of her healing magic surrounding me, I surrendered myself to sleep's embrace; an embrace that manifested itself in the form of Link arms.


Glossary/Translations: (in the order they appear)

Rhyfel'aira = literally means Warrior's Silver. (An explaination to these markings and why some Sheikah have them and others don't will be provided in the story. You just have to keep reading to find out =P)

Ny'tiall = literally means Death-Thorn. A swift, black horse-like creature of unknown origin, though theorized to be demonic. The preferred steed of the Sheikah.

Ih'loid = Thank you

Goht ef giyrf = a phrase meaning "burdened and freed." Used as a dismissal for ny'tiall when they are not needed and are free to go wherever they wish.

Dafiddma = orphan

Foh'dwar = an affectionate term for an elder brother.

Bam'dirac = an derogatory name for homosexuals, like the modern day words "queer" and "fag."

Fy'cherchi dyf, lywnnola = "I love you, too, dear-heart." Fy'cherchi is not used for romantic love, but is reserved for family and close friends. Lywnnola is a term of endearment that literally means "dear-heart," close to our "sweetheart."


A/N: Alright, more tidbits on my version of the Ocarina of Time world. Firstly, since I forgot to mention it in the previous chapter, Sheik's dragon-scale armor. I always thought he had to have some kind of protection under that skintight suit of his, but could never figure out what. Metal wouldn't work because it wouldn't allow flexibility and leather, while pliable, doesn't seem strong enough. It was only while I was watching Lord of the Rings at the scene where Biblo gives Frodo his mithral shirt, quoting "it's as light as a feather and hard as a dragon scale," did I come up with the idea of dragon-scale armor. Dragon scales have long been reputed for strength and magical power, and since they overlap, allow flexibility for the dragon. And thus, Sheik's dragon-scale armor was sewn into his battlesuit.
Rhyfel'aira marks = Inspired by the silvery marks under Impa's eyes. Since they were never explained, I decided to give them meaning. However, why some Sheikah have them and some don't, well, I won't explain. You'll have to read further into the story to find out.
Io/ny'tiall = I thought Sheik needed a steed, but I couldn't see him riding a normal horse... or any Sheikah riding a normal horse for that matter. They're too mysterious for that, and so, they need a steed as equally misunderstood and shadowy as the Sheikah.
Gossip Stone = Clearly a Sheikah artifact, but with no apparent use in the Ocarina of Time game. So, I drew on the Wind Waker version. If the Pirate's Charm is an enchanted, portable version of the Gossip Stones, then the Gossip Stones in Ocarina must have been used by the Sheikah to communicate with each other and the royal family... in my interpretation at least.
Secret grotto = Not much to say here. Just made it more realistic than dropping into a hole in the ground.
Third-in-command Gerudo = Yes, I know she has no name, but come on, she looks exactly like Aveil from Majora's Mask, just like the Cuckoo lady is identical to Anju. So I used her MM name.
Age differences = Just a quick refrense so people don't get confused later on. In this story, Sheik and Link are nineteen, and Zelda is eighteen, therefore, Link and Sheik were twelve and Zelda was eleven when my Ocarina world officially began seven years earlier.

Alright, two down, three to go. As always, if there are mistakes let me know. Also, if you enjoyed the chapter, I'd love to hear it. Reviews always warm my heart. Until next update! ~ Des

EDIT: I've uploaded a drawing of Sheik onto my deviantart account, complete with the rhyfel'aira marks on his cheeks. Check my profile for the link.