Chapter 1: Over Before it Began
-Hyrule: Chateau Hylia, The Royal Retreat and current headquarters of Hyrule.
-Six months since Ganondorf's defeat.
The Queen of Hyrule put her head in her hands, sighing as she turned her eyes away from the windows. Outside, the sun was setting, turning the sky a fiery orange; the color reminded her of Midna, as did the twilight that inched over the land. It had been half a year since that horrible parting, since that most glorious of battles and bittersweet of endings... half a year of pain and healing, growth, reconstruction. Most of Hyrule had, at last, been rebuilt, with the efforts of all the people- only Hyrule Castle remained to be seen to, though Castle Town was once again a buzzing hive of commerce and contentment. Hyrule's wounds had not yet fully mended, and still the people were pulling together and the unity between the many different species warmed Zelda's heart, which had so long been blanketed by sadness- sadness at the loss of her father and twin brother. Sadness at taking up the crown. Sadness at watching the land fall under he r rule.
At the forefront of the reconstruction had been Link, always working longer and harder than those around him, serving as an example and a leader. He was the Hero, and her people knew it- that it was Link who had saved them, and it was Link who was at the forefront of the rebuilding efforts. The people respected Link, and they respected Zelda, too- they had forgiven her her follies, and they had seen the strong friendship between the Queen and her Hero, not to mention the Hero's devotion to the Queen (for several hours every day, he trained her in the arts of warfare.) Romantics sighed whenever the two of them were together, and though Zelda would never have admitted it to anyone, she wished the romantics were right, that she and Link were in love and would wed, and the great Hero would be the Consort King of Hyrule. Zelda yearned for it, even, for she truly loved Link with all her heart, but she could not wed him; not now, not in the middle of all this mess. Her high council had come down on her hard for her "follies," and true that Zelda had been responsible, in part, for Hyrule's grim trials, she'd made every effort to save her people while her damned chancellors bantered and argued. By the time she'd swayed them to action it was too late, and yet, somehow, the whole catastrophe was still "her fault."
There had been a swift reversion to the old laws, the old ways, the old style of governing (though the council, unfortunately, remained), and though Zelda was in part largely in favor of such a reversion (it would allow her to have tighter, more secure reign, and through this perhaps she could avert any other disasters headed Hyrule's way) it also prevented the Queen from marrying any man not born into the uppermost crust of the Gentry. Link was an orphan, a goat herder from the small province of Ordon- wish though she might that she could marry him, she couldn't, and most likely never would be able to. True, she fully intended to put through a proposal to ratify certain more outdated decrees, however, it would be a long, long while before she could modify the traditions of royal marriage. And, she reminded herself, she didn't even know how Link felt for her, a source of endless frustration. She was fairly certain his heart was lost to her forever, encased within the Twilight Realm, with Midna; yearning for a union with him or even feelings of love was a worthless pastime and she had more important things to concentrate on, like the budget on the table before her, for one.
A soft rap at the door roused her from her thoughts, and she realized she was sitting in darkness- the sun had long since set, and Twilight departed. With a wave of her hand, the wall sconces all lit, filling the room with an orange light. "Enter," she called, watching.
"Majesty, the Hero Link is here to see you," said a servant with a respectful bow. Zelda sighed inwardly- was she to be tormented by him all night?
"See him in," she replied simply, and watched as he entered a moment later. As she stood to greet him, the servant left, shutting the door deferentially behind him. "Greetings, Hero," she said to Link, smiling softly as he looked at her- did he seem a little restless, or was it just her imagination? A little unhappily, she realized she'd gone and done it again; switched on the demure queen with no passions and no emotions, who viewed her favored Hero with warmth and gratitude, but not the love that truly raged, caged within her bosom.
"Highness," responded Link, kneeling respectfully before her, ducking his head. "I hope you are well?"
"Quite well," Zelda said, motioning for him to rise. "Please, Link. You know you need not bow to me. It is I who am indebted to you."
"Don't," Link said suddenly, causing Zelda to blink at him in surprise. "I did what I did because I had little choice. No debt is owed."
What was wrong with him this night? Zelda exhaled. "You saved my kingdom. I will feel gratitude towards you, regardless."
"I don't want your gratitude, Zelda," Link said, voice strained. He began to pace in anxiety, then, back and forth across the small study. Zelda watched him for a few moments, and then, tentatively, heart thudding, she moved forwards, took a step towards him.
"Would you care to have a seat?" Zelda offered, gesturing to an empty chair even as she moved away and sat behind her desk. Link glanced at the proffered chair once, shook his head, and continued with his pacing. She grasped for something else to say. "Thank you for taking it upon yourself to train me in the art of fighting. Your lessons are proving very beneficial, though I hope they will never be needed."
"My pleasure," blurted Link quickly, though his agitation seemed only to increase. Zelda cast her mind about again. With a smile, she thought of the word she'd received recently about the Zoras.
"Prince Ralis has stepped into his position of leadership admirably, from what I hear," she told Link warmly. "I am told that he strives to follow the example of courage you showed him."
No reply, only more pacing. With a sigh, Zelda dropped pretense and stood from her chair, moving to stand before Link. He halted as he neared her and turned towards her desk, eyes anywhere but her face. "Why have you come here this evening, Link? What is wrong?" She raised her hand, reaching out to him, and he ceased his pacing, gripping onto Zelda's desk as though it were the last thing holding his feet to the ground.
"I am leaving Hyrule," he told her through gritted teeth. "Tonight." Zelda flinched as though she'd been slapped, and waited for him to continue. When he did not, she dared to ask.
For a long moment, he was silent. At last, he looked to her, and she could see in those blue eyes pain of the deepest sort, the very kind that tormented her each day. He grieved with all his soul, she saw; for what and whom, she could well guess.
"I have loved, highness," he told her, "and loved profoundly, for naught. My closest friend was torn from me. The war changed me beyond recognition- so, too, is my family lost. The reconstruction is nearly through- you need me no longer, and your kingdom is secure. I need a sword in my hands, earth under my feet, the sun on my back and a shield on my arm. I simply cannot stay." He forced the last words out as though they tried to claw back down his throat as he spoke. Zelda's own throat was tight, her eyes moist.
"And... I can not persuade you to remain at my side? You are not alone in this kingdom, Link. You and I share similar, singular burdens. I do not believe I could make do without you, or your lessons for me."
"Your lessons... you've progressed far better than I thought you would, Highness. There is little left I can teach you. You are a prodigy of weapons. Have no fear," he added with a smile.
"But... I wish you would stay," Zelda said with a sigh, trying to open her heart. "I quite enjoy your company."
"Your company plagues my soul with wants," Link murmured, nearly inaudibly. Zelda took a stumbling step backward, and then, ever so slowly, moved forward, hardly daring to believe her ears.
"I mean you no harm, Hero... I hold you in the highest esteem."
"Esteem, esteem," Link laughed bitterly, turning his face to the ceiling. Pain was scrawled across his features, agony of the soul. "It is not your esteem I want, Zelda. It is your love- it is for you that my heart yearns."
Joy and sorrow exploded simultaneously within Zelda's chest, and in a moment she understood Link's need to leave, and agreed with it. She turned away, afraid to show him her face and the many emotions upon it. Carefully, she chose her words. "As much as I wish I could bestow such a thing upon you, it would be our curse. The... the traditions regarding monarchial marriage are unfortunate... and I'm not in a position with my council such that..."
Goddesses damn it, she was crying, and she knew he could tell. He was behind her- she could practically touch him, so close was he; she could feel his warmth along her back.
"Zelda..." Link said quietly, putting his hands on her shoulders and turning her to face him as the tears began to roll freely down her cheeks.
"Please, Link," she murmured, closing her eyes and trying to pull herself back together. "We cannot be together, nor can we love each other, not in circumstances such as these. If... if truly you intend to leave, return to me. Please. Promise me that someday you will return to Hyrule."
"I will come back," he promised fervently, blue eyes alight. "I will come back when things are all as they should be in Hyrule and when I know that I may lay down my blade for you with unimpeded, unquestioning loyalty."
"See that you do," Zelda whispered and then, oh so tentatively, she laid a hand on his cheek. "I will miss you, Link."
"And I you, Zelda," he replied, smiling regretfully into her eyes. "If while I am gone Hyrule has need of me, send word to Telma, in Castletown. She'll know how to reach me, or if she doesn't, one of her friends will."
"Travel safely, Hero," Zelda whispered, raw with emotion. She wanted nothing more than to throw herself into Link's arms and beg him not to go- but she couldn't. It wouldn't change anything, and would only cause them more pain. She'd been a fool to admit as much as she had in the first place.
"Fare thee well, Queen. Know that what conquests I make, I make in your name." Link stepped back and bowed before Zelda. Tears threatened to overwhelm her and she couldn't open her mouth for fear of sobbing. Seeing her pain, Link shut his eyes, as though her pain was his.
"You may go." She motioned for him to leave and, sighing sadly, he turned to go. Before he reached the door, Zelda couldn't help but blurt out his name. "Link!" It was strained, torn. He turned back to look at her, sadness in his eyes, in every line of his form.
"Yes, Highness?" he asked her quietly. His formality was nearly her undoing.
I love you, screamed her heart, even as she grasped for something, anything else. "Quest well," she finally managed, though her voice shook with tears. "When you return, you shall have a dukedom."
"It is no dukedom I want," he told her morosely. "Simply you."
Zelda nodded, laying a hand against her heart to show she understood. With one last lingering glance, Link left, and as the door shut behind him, Zelda crumpled to the floor, completely unable to restrain her tears.
She was now utterly, completely, and totally alone.
-Termina: Snowhead Mountain
-One year since Ganondorf's defeat
Link shivered in the cold, pulling his cloak tighter around him as he stomped through the snow, leading Epona by her reins. He didn't have any snowboots- pity- and, much to his chagrin, the snow was up to his waist. Furthermore, it looked like a blizzard was setting in, which was bad, bad news for him. He needed to find some shelter and fast.
He'd been dumb and defiant- taken the mountain pass from Hyrule to Termina in the first throes of winter, and now both he and his horse were paying quite the price for it. It was cold- painfully, almost unbearably so- and Link truly had no clue where they were going. He was trying to follow the signs, but many of them had been buried in the thick mounds of snow. So he relied on the rising and setting of the sun, as well as the orientation of the stars, to guide him.
He only hoped he hadn't made a fatal error in his decision to flee Hyrule so soon.
Snow began to fall in flurries, slowly at first and then faster. Link looked around desperately- where would he and Epona sleep? Where could they sleep? They needed somewhere that wouldn't be completely covered by snow at the blizzard's end, with ventilation for smoke and something for Epona to eat, if such a place existed. But there was no shelter to be found, and so, unhappily, Link walked on, Epona right behind him all the while.
It snowed, harder and harder and harder, and Link began to feel fear for himself and his horse. If he couldn't find somewhere safe for them to sleep, he might as well just give up and die- for in the blizzard, that was what they would do. But all the world was white, it seemed, and that was no good at all. He pulled his cloak tighter around him, visibly shaking from the cold, and hunched forward to keep his warmth centered. Onward he trekked, hoping, praying...
He ran headfirst into a wall and something metal. Stars swimming before his eyes, he fell back into the snow, dazed and aching. He groped for what he'd hit and found what felt like a rung with his hand- now all he needed was the strength to pull himself back up. But the world was getting whiter and whiter, and he couldn't see...
Trapped outside in a howling blizzard in the middle of nowhere, Link, savior of Hyrule, lost consciousness.
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