Chapter 2: Child of Royal Birth
Three Years Ago…
The winds around Arbiter's Grounds whipped fierce enough to flay flesh from bone. The borrowed steed, Gerudo bred with its shaggy fur and long-lashed eyes, was the only horse capable of navigating the Haunted Wasteland. The figure on its back, cloaked in rough material, looked rather less capable. They had no experience in tracking and they struggled to keep a body-sized wrapped bundle on the front of the saddle. If the creatures of the wasteland cared to listen, they would have noticed that the bundle would occasionally whimper.
Inside the bundle of cloth, Daphne, the young regent, sobbed without tears. It had been a day since she had been grabbed from her private bedchambers and her kidnapper obviously deemed water a privilege. "Please," she begged again. "Let me go. My daughters will be worried about me."
The bundle shifted as the rider navigated what must have been a rocky stretch of road. A small hand for the size of the rider steadied the bundle. "You don't want to die here or spill blood," the voice muffled by the cloth of the facemask and bundle said. "I need every drop in your body."
This comment shocked Daphne into silence. Why would she be killed? There was no reason not to ransom her. She was valuable, the queen of all races in the kingdom. "But why?" she asked.
"Because," the rider said, "All things begin with a sacrifice." The rider pulled back the cloth. "Okay, Your Highness," the figure said mockingly. "We're here."
The winds of the first desert whipped so fiercely so that they kicked up sparks. The figure narrowed their eyes. "All things that have a beginning will always have an ending," they said quietly to no one in particular.
But Daphne heard. "You don't have to do this."
"But I do…"
The storm had no beginning and end.
There was no rain save from a slight mist that dried up before it hit the ground, leaving a ragged edge to each cloud.
The young man stood beneath the storm, a sword flickering like a blue flame in his hand, a fairy with lace-like wings at his side. The fairy darted from side to side, a halo of blue light hiding the features of her body and making her look rather like a tennis ball with wings.
The dark man stood at the top of a cliff, a glowing orb in his head, a cruel smile on his face.
She peered through the pelting raining as he looked into the distance.
"The time has come, Princess Zelda," he said.
"No," she murmured quietly as the young man raised his sword, power began to sweep around it, darkening the air. The glowing waves of plasma burned bright red around the shining blade. "It will never come."
"The cycle will be broken," the dark man said, a smirk growing across his face. "You and I know that this has gone on long enough."
"It is never enough," she promised. "You and I know that this battle will go long as the world exists."
"True," the dark man said, "But what happens when it ends?"
"I don't know," Zelda said, "But anything is better than this."
"I thought so…" He turned away. "Well then, enjoy your crumbling world."
Zelda woke up, her sweaty hair plastered to her face. Her heart hammered in her chest so hard that she was surprised it hadn't drilled past her breastbone to pound out helplessly against her skin. Another bad dream. Another warning. She knew without a doubt this meant she had done the right thing.
She fumbled for the light and hooked her fingers around the cheap chain. Then, instantly, the too bright light flooded the room and she regretted it quite a bit. The wallpaper was green and yellow striped, badly peeling too, exposing the plaster and studs below. Paired with the even brighter yellow ceiling and brown carpet, it gave one the feeling of being in a circus tent. How had she gotten herself in such a situation? Was it right? Was she right?
Automatically, she looked at the side table to make sure the items she had secreted away from the castle storeroom were still there. The Book of Mudora, the only guide to the ancient language of Hyrule, lay in its tattered silk binding; its hide pages worn by the touch of many fingers. The real treasure was on top in a plain wooden box. It had surprised Zelda to find such a precious artifact in a forgotten closet. She had figured that something as valuable would be locked in a safe.
She peered out the window. The sun was beginning to peep over the horizon, painting the edge of the sky a slight rose pink with peachy tones. The town still looked the same, cobbled from scrap wood, metal, and boulder like stone. It was still better than the place she had been only three days.
Three days, that seemed like an eternity.
Zelda had tried not to wince when she was referred to as the Grand Duchess of Lake Hylia, a mostly dried up hole filled with dank, stagnant water. Cecelia, as usual preened at the cameras, showing off her status as Princess Royal. She had the looks for it, the swan to Zelda's raven. Her middle oldest sister Anya stayed to the side, eyeing Cecelia's preening with a bit of distaste. "She isn't even named Zelda," she mumbled. "It's not like she's the Princess with fame."
As soon as Zelda could detangle herself from the crowd of Cecelia's onlookers, she joined the one sister she felt she could trust at the place. "This must be why Kara left."
"Actually," Anya said, "I believe it was our mother's death and the fact that Cecelia threw a fit anytime anyone tried to paint mom's portrait."
"Because, she wasn't royalty, but because she was one of the many descendants of the Hero of Winds, she was allowed to become a Princess."
Zelda frowned. She didn't even remember what her mother looked like. Kara and Anya were always there so there seemed to be no need to remember. And Cecelia? The less said about her, the better. Suddenly, her side throbbed as if someone had pinched her.
"Not a word," Cecelia hissed as she slid passed her, brandishing the two fingers she used to pinch her youngest sister, a sweet smile on her face nonetheless.
It was a triangle of shining gold a little bigger than the stretch of her hand, turning in midair. If one looked closer, they would see first lines of blue opal running through it in shining bands. Looking deeper would reveal the tumbling foam topped waves of an endless sea, a wellspring of the Goddess Nayru's wisdom. Zelda approached the object slowly, respectfully. One had to greet the Triforce of Wisdom with dignity and grace. She was a lady after all.
She bowed low. "I come before you as a servant of Nayru."
The Triforce was silent for a long time. Zelda almost feared that perhaps the magic had dried up enough to render the Triforce piece mute. Finally, the piece of wisdom began to speak.
"You are her warrior, never a spirit. Child, we are glad that you can still hear our calls."
Zelda scuffed the floor with one of her court slippers. "It was a little hard," she confessed. "I'm sorry."
"It is us that are at fault. We are weak now, our wellspring run dry. It would take little to dry up."
"But you are the eternal waters!" she cried out in dismay cupping her hands to her mouth.
"That which is eternal can die. The waters dry, the forests crumple, and the flames die. You see this, do you not?"
Visions came before Zelda's mind's eye, flickering memories. The desert. The dry bones of some unfortunate herdbeast in the desert. Waterfalls rendering mountains low over eons… That dream she'd had of a strong young man coughing, sweating, burned down with plague-fever, begging to stay in the infirmary because he didn't want to die in the bed where they'd made love - and of herself, alone, cold, sitting in a dimly-lit room staring at her wrinkled hands, her adult son reading her a tale about the ocean as the rain fell outside the window… events she had not lived in this life, things she was yet too young to live.
… She was there for the ocean in her dreams, the endless ocean, but did not watch it dry. Zelda trusted her dreams. They felt so real that she sensed that they were windows to other lives lived - something that she'd only recently began to awaken to. She hung her head before the Triforce of Wisdom.
"Even Goddesses die?"
"Everything is eventual. Fading is inevitable in this age of doubt. There is hope, my child, for you are not the only one to be reborn."
"So it is true," Zelda stated flatly, knowingly, "I have lived those lives. The dreams are memories resurfacing. The cycle has begun again. And that means…"
"He that sits upon the throne is the true tyrant, reborn through blood. Hold out your hand, child. I will give you the last of my power, as is fitting. To restore the balance, you must find he who is missing."
Zelda held forth her right hand. "You mean the Hero."
"You shall know him by his courage, young one, as always, although in this age, he shall carry much doubt."
"Thank you," Zelda said at last, bowing her head. She felt the Triforce enter her like a cool breeze through her bones. It rested within her and joined to her. She felt as though reunited with an old friend.
Three Years Ago…
Drip, drip, drip…
There was a crack in the endless white ceiling, a red crack that grew and grew.
Drip, drip, drip…
The droplets dripped down from it, spattering upon his spirit. The crack grew wider and the droplets turned into drops. The liquid smelled of rust. It smelled of gold, of State, of power. It did not smell of leaves, or of sweat, or of steel.
Drip, drip, drip…
His lips were still desert-dry, as they always had been. He let the drops fall upon his lips and upon his tongue. He drank them in and felt strength flow through him. Someone had died today. Someone had died today to give him life - like grain that died to feed beasts and the beasts that died to feed the masses. The cycle was coming back around again and Power was calling to him.
More life-giving drops… they tasted so good. The blood of Heroes tasted better, but the blood of royalty had a wonderful sweetness. While a Hero was more filling, royalty was "wetter" somehow, more quenching. He groped blindly toward the crack. He could pry it open and come out on the other side now.
Ganondorf found himself sluggish, propped up upon a throne in a dimly lit room. He blinked, having just come through the light. An iron taste rested on his lips. He was aware that he was clothed in silken robes. He was there, but he struggled to draw in breath. His chest was still, dead.
He heard a voice. He could not tell if it belonged to a male or a female. "Eat," it said, "to restart yours."
A hand from the darkness thrust a silver plate toward him. Upon it, seated in dark blood and glistening, was a heart. Its major arteries and veins had been cut free. It was limp, very dead, but fresh. By its size, its owner had been a human - or a Hylian. Ganondorf willed his right hand to work. He grabbed the organ and began tearing into it with his strong teeth. Even the blood that flowed over his chin and neck imparted him strength.
The chamber he was in was as black as a moonless night. He knew not where, exactly, he was, only that the air smelled of the desert. He was home.
Nabooru was a quiet town and one of the towns furthest from central Hyrule. It lay on the very edge of the empire, close to the dreaded stretch of land called the Endless Desert, which had once been the Calatian Sea. Almost everywhere in Hyrule could be called "endless desert," but the salty, deep, ancient former seabed was particularly dangerous. It was said that there were pools of water to be found in its heart, but they would kill anyone who tried to drink from them.
Zelda was not planning to venture there, but she knew that she had to keep moving. She checked herself out of the dingy hotel she'd been staying in and wandered through the streets hoping to find shops that carried things she needed for her travels. She winced, remembering her stay in Mido when she tried to convince a general store salesman that she was an experienced camper, yet wound up being led around the store like a child with the shopkeeper explaining the use of various items to her. She would have wiped the smug smile off his face if he'd taken the archery equipment off the wall for her - oh, she knew how to use that, though she might have given away her royal grace if she'd given him a demonstration.
She'd moved quickly. In fact, last night was the first good sleep she'd had since she'd left the palace, waking from a bad dream aside. Zelda knew that she had to pace herself - it would do her no good to become completely exhausted. According to a report on the little black and white television with the scratchy signal that had been in her hotel room, she was already missed. Of course, the file photo displayed showed her in formal dress and with long hair. Cecelia made a big show about missing her royal sister and disruption in the court. She emphasized the need for the runaway to be brought back home. If she was caught, however, Zelda knew that her life was forfeit. The sense that her life was in danger was part of what had spurred her to become a fugitive. If she went back to the palace now, she knew that she would have an "accident," or else be found in her quarters, the victim of "suicide" and speeches would be given for the news reporters about her "troubled mind."
And, of course, there was that vivid nightmare she'd had just over a month ago regarding her late mother.
Where she'd go next, she did not know. She thought of Rarau, but did not know if it was remote enough. People would begin to recognize her sooner or later. After all, her face was on the new edition of the two-rupee bill issued a year ago, as rarely used as that denomination was. Perhaps, if she was lucky, she could make it to Old Kakariko. The last she'd heard, her former Impa, Adelaide, was living there. Sometimes, Adelaide's title, "Impa" had been mistaken for her name, particularly by those unfamiliar with the royal protocol and ancient traditions. "Impa" had once been the simple name of an ancient person - now it was a general title that meant a combination of "teacher," "personal bodyguard" and "nanny." Cecelia had up and decided, rather recently and suddenly, that Zelda was too old to have an Impa and dismissed her from the royal service. That was the first sign that something was shady…
Dusk was falling. Zelda still hadn't found everything she felt she needed, but she decided she should get moving. Travel by night was inconspicuous, though, truth be told; she had a bit of fear. Open desert lay in all directions and she knew that most of the wild creatures that lived there were active at night. She knew that she'd frighten most of them away just by being human, but there were aggressive beasts… and poisonous ones. She'd been noticing an increase in dark creatures out in the open country, monsters. It was, no doubt, because their master had been elected to the throne - and, according to Wisdom now, he did not merely carry the ancient name, but was the tyrant true.
Zelda walked down a side street and felt a meaty hand clamp itself over her mouth. "You're coming with us, pretty one," a strong voice said.
She bit down, but it seemed her captor felt no pain. She jutted her elbow out, into his chest, only to have her arm wrenched back behind her so hard she felt like her shoulder was about to come out of its socket. She saw two other men, armed with pistols.
"Let me go!" she demanded.
"Excuuuse me, princess, but we cannot," said one of the men with a chuckle. "Your family's gonna pay us plenty fer ya, and that's just not an opportunity a bunch a' poor guys like us can pass up."
The third man smiled - leered - at her, with teeth stained by spit tobacco. "Comin' with us, pretty girl, whether you like it or not!"
"No! Stop, please! I can't!"
"The bounty on you will make us richer than kings!"
"Hey, boss, maybe we should have a little pleasure first? Pretty little thing!"
Zelda's heart beat faster, fluttering in fear. They knew who she was; they wouldn't - to a royal - would they? The looks of these men told her they would. She fought and jerked but her arms were pinned firm. One of the men punched her in the face.
"Stop yer squirmin!"
Inwardly, Zelda searched, hoping that the Triforce of Wisdom would let her know what to do. As it was, she could not run and she was fit to get shot if got herself free. The sad thing was that she knew Cecelia would pay out the bounty on her dead and just claim she was a traitor for the cameras. Her sensitive ears caught the sound of booted footsteps running into the street. Oh, Goddesses, some poor innocent person was going to get shot!
The young man immediately halted and stood still. He started at her and the men. Zelda felt the grip on her wrists shift. Her captor held one tightly and painfully as he pulled the revolver from his hip and cocked it, pointing it at the stranger.
"What are you doing?" the young man demanded. He did not run. Zelda, frightened and astonished, looked upon him. He was unarmed and had the nose of a gun pointed right for his heart and he just stood right there, his eyes set like steel.
Zelda's captor said something else, but she didn't pay attention to his words. The young man responded angrily. "What cause do the three of you have to be harassing this girl? You're all armed, and she doesn't look like a threat to you. I think you're going to do terrible things to her, and I can't let that happen."
This boy was either very brave or very stupid - and Zelda was awash in gratitude. They did not know each other, yet he cared about her welfare. He spoke like a noble knight, or like someone who wanted to be one. Maybe he was going to get shot to death in a moment, but such courage was a rare thing these days.
A single thought echoed through her mind: "You shall know him by his courage."
Suddenly, Zelda felt a sense of trust and she shouted to the young man: "Don't call the cops! Help me, but don't call the police!"
Everything happened quickly after that. The young man ducked and whirled, catching the three thugs off-guard. He seized Zelda's captor by the wrist, freeing her. Zelda did the only thing she knew she could do - she ran. Instantly, the young stranger was at her side, commanding her to get on his horse. He led her to a beautiful animal, helped her on and yanked the reins free of the hitching post it was tied to. He landed in the saddle like a sack of bricks and kicked the poor beast into a hard run.
Zelda clutched her arms around the young man's middle very tightly and pressed herself into his back. She had experience in horseback riding, but she was not used to moving this swiftly. She jounced in the saddle hard and feared she'd slip off. She only loosened her grip when her savior's grunts indicated that she was cutting off his breath. She noticed his ears beneath the brim of his hat. That was rare… he was a trueblood Hylian, just like her.
They spoke rather breathlessly. Zelda assured the man that, aside from the bruise on her face, she was unharmed. She praised his bravery and noticed that he was shivering, just a little, against her. It wasn't a shiver caused by cold. She sensed that it was born of anger - revulsion at the men who'd held her.
He spoke of his home, a little ranch out in the middle of nowhere. He offered her a place there, for as long as she needed. They exchanged names. It was to Zelda's relief that he didn't immediately know who she was when she gave him her real name. Something in her trusted him enough to share her true name - she figured she would have to reveal it to him eventually, anyway. As it was, the boy thought it was a common name - something that many people named their daughters in the year of her birth.
And his name… was Link.
That wasn't significant alone. Link was an uncommon name for humans and Hylians, but it wasn't unheard of. It was surprisingly common among the Goron tribes. Investigations by historians held that several men by the name of Link - sometimes by given name, sometimes by surname - had been integral in establishing the monarchy of Hyrule. The name was connected to the Hero legends that few people believed were full truth anymore, but not all of the legendary Heroes' names had ever been written down. Some of the translations from the old stories had "Rin" or "Rinku" as a heroic name. There was also the female variant; Linette.
But… Link. Zelda knew that name… she felt she had known it - and this young man - all her life. He had proven that he was courageous. The Triforce of Wisdom had not let her down.
Zelda leaned against his back, exhausted. For the first time in days, she felt safe.
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