Chapter 3: The Longest Night
-The Great Sea: Pago's Bar, Windfall Island
-Exactly seven years since Ganondorf's defeat
Link tossed back another shot of bitter liquor and stared broodingly at the bar, trying to drink away the heavy cloud of depression that settled upon him. He'd gotten like this twice a year every year since leaving Hyrule, but this time was by far the worst. He didn't have it in him to go back to Hyrule again- by now, he was sure Zelda would have forgotten him, or wed, or something equally unpleasant, though he'd dreamt of her every night, cried out her name when he was in the direst of danger, prayed to the Goddesses for her security and happiness. Word had come from Hyrule, intermittently; Telma's little group of rebels had cleverly set up a dispatch of pigeons, and it was in this way that Link occasionally got word to and from home. The country was secure and stable, the economy booming, the reign secure... all was well, it seemed. Really, there was no need for Link to go back. He'd be idle, he'd get bored, and Zelda would have aught to do with him, he was sure...
"Barkeep," Link grunted. The man looked up from where he was polishing a water stained glass- he was portly and balding, and wore a shirt that had seen better days. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and the fabric underneath his armpits was of indeterminable hue. It was dark in the bar, though- for this, Link was grateful, as the Hero preferred to drink himself into a hole under the cover of anonymity. "More."
"You're hittin' the bottle mighty hard tonight, son," said the Barkeep, eyeing Link suspiciously. "Maybe too hard, if you ask me. What's got you troubled?"
"Seven years tonight since I watched my closest friend kill herself," Link stated blandly to the barkeep. "Six and a half years since the love of my life said she wouldn't have me. More," he insisted, and without question the Barkeep handed over a large bottle of liquor.
"Now, I don't normally endorse drinkin' 'til you don't feel, son," the Barkeep said, "but seems you need it. This here's good to do the trick. Have the whole bottle," he added.
"Thanks," grunted Link, uncorking the bottle and pouring it straight into his mouth. It tasted only faintly of alcohol, more like a potion, but Link could feel from the warmth in his stomach that it was doing the trick of getting him slobbering, fall-down, don't-feel drunk admirably.
"Say, son, what's your name?" the Barkeep asked Link. The Hero glanced up, then back down. It had been a long, long time since anyone had come looking for him, whether to kill him or otherwise, but you still couldn't be too cautious. And Link was drunk and vulnerable.
"Klin," Link said, spinning the bottle broodingly.
"How old are you, Klin? Seems a mighty bit's happened to you in all your young years."
"I'm twenty five," Link replied, then took another swig from the bottle.
"Hmm," responded the Barkeep. "Well, Klin, you're still young. Far as I can see, you still got your whole life ahead of you, and there's plenty more opportunity on the road ahead."
"All my life's been the same," grunted Link after a deep pull from the bottle. "Well, mostly. Before a big war in my homeland happened, I lived a simple life on a ranch. Understandably, the war upset everything, and I was one of the men called to arms. I fought, killed, watched my loved ones die... I met the friend I told you of while fighting. She went everywhere I did in combat, and we always fought side by side. She was a clever girl- she disguised herself. I didn't even fully realize that she was a woman until she killed herself the night the war ended."
"Why'd she kill herself?" asked the Barkeep curiously. Link laughed hollowly.
"She said she couldn't remain in this world after all she'd seen of it, among other things. The woman I- I loved, she was there too. She stuck with me for the next half year, but when I finally went to her with my feelings, she said she could never marry me, or be involved with me, and that it was best if I left the country. So leave I did, swinging a sword, and I haven't been back in the six and a half years hence... Valin- my good friend these past few years, an adventurer like myself- he's dragging me back. Says it's time for me to face my fears. I don't want to go back," Link slurred, finishing off the bottle.
"I'd imagine not, son. Now, I'm no expert and obviously I don't know the nitty gritties of your story, but I know women and I'll give you advice. A woman, like a man, likes a good challenge. She don't like to just fall into a man's arms. Well," the Barkeep cut himself off with a chuckle, "sometimes they do, but they want passion and struggle. A whirlwind romance, really. Now, I'm willing to bet that that lady of yours'll come around to seeing things your way and you two can get married if you make it difficult for her."
"What makes you sure?" Link asked, spinning the empty bottle about on its base, though he was having trouble with it- his motor skills were going, bit by bit. The Barkeep smiled genially and leaned forward.
"I got me a wife and seven daughters, Klin. I learned more about women than I'd ever like to know from them. Women? They's hellhounds, but they's worth it in the end. You just gotta bring 'em around."
"Bring them around..." Link mused drunkenly. A light went on in his head then (as lights often do with the inebriated mind) and Link shot up from the bar, teetering a little unsteadily on his two feet. "That's it! I'll... I'll win her over! I'll make her regret the day she told me to leave! And... and... oh." Link dropped rather suddenly back into his chair. The Barkeep watched in amusement as the adventurer laid his head on the wood, drooling a little pathetically. "I hope she didn't get married while I was gone. She promised to wait for me though, Barkeep," Link slurred noisily, waggling a finger in the amused man's direction. "I think. And she said she would miss me. She cried when I told her I was leaving."
"Why couldn't she marry you?" the Barkeep asked curiously. Link dragged his head out and grasped for a bottle. The barkeep quickly filled up an empty bottle with water and passed it to the drunken adventurer.
"She was in a pickle." Link took a slurp of the water and made a face. "Yuck, what is this stuff?"
"Fine brew from across the Sea," stated the Barkeep grandly, "On the house for you, you poor young and troubled man."
"Oh," grunted Link, and proceeded to gulp down more water. "Well. You see, this lady here I was in love with was actually a Princess, and I was a commoner. A goat herder. Nobody. Princesses can't marry goat herders, 'specially if they're nobody, like me."
"How did you come to know this princess?" inquired the Barkeep, now genuinely curious.
"Y' see," said Link, sitting back and gesticulating wobbily as he spoke,"while in the process of saving her kingdom, I ran into her a time or two. Actually, I was the one that saved her from the big bad guy. It was just after that that my friend killed herself. Funny thing- the friend was a relative of the princess, too, sort of. What a messed up world this is we live in," Link added, slapping himself in the forehead. "Oy."
"So, what was the princess's name?" the Barkeep asked Link, getting him another bottle of water. This time, the Hero downed it without question.
"Zelda," intoned the Hero, sing-songing the princess's name. "Princess of Hyrule."
"She's not yet married, I've heard," informed the Barkeep merrily. Link's eyes lit up and a smile of the happiest sort spread across his face.
"Really. So why don't you put your troubles behind you, Klin? Make a new start in the world? Your friend's dead, but there's nothing you can do about that but move on. Woo your princess. If I'm not invited to the royal wedding, I'll be sorely offended."
"You can come!" Link said, throwing his hands up in the air and beaming brilliantly before a frown crossed his features.
"What inn are you staying at?" asked the Barkeep, knowing in the way of seasoned veterans that his very drunk patron needed to retire, preferably sooner than later.
"The purple one," Link managed, and gratefully took the bucket proffered to him by the Barkeep. A moment later, he emptied the contents of his stomach into the receptacle with a groan.
"That'll be a red ruppee," said the Barkeep cheerfully, "tab, bucket, escort service and all. Pay my man when he gets you back to your room." And, sure enough, moments later a large man appeared out of the shadows and helped the poor, inebriated adventurer across Windfall island to his hotel of choice, and the two paused not a few times in the bushes so that Link might vomit in peace and relative seclusion.
Valin was waiting up for his friend, and was quite happy to hand over payment in exchange for his drunken companion. He'd been quite shocked the first time Link came back to where they were staying, wasted, several years hence, but having since heard the same particulars the Barkeep had pried out of the drunken Hero (save for the name of the lady he loved, but Valin could very well guess that), Valin allowed his friend his two nights a year that he never remembered. Hopefully, this would be the last time he would help his overboozed friend to bed and leave a bucket nearby and all candles out of reach.
After all, the man had more than earned his right to drunkenness, but Valin could only pray for no more drunk nights. That more than anything else, any surface appearance, any words, could show that Link was finally truly happy, and one of Valin's deepest fears was that that would never be the case.
Poor Link, thought Valin as he listened to the sound of his friend's retching and labored breathing. Hopefully, happiness would find him and soon. Hopefully, this return to Hyrule would be the cure for all ailments. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully.
-Hyrule: The Queen's Chambers, Hyrule Castle
-Exactly seven years since Ganondorf's defeat
Zelda stood before the tall mirror in her bedchamber, the doors securely bolted and the windows all shuttered, curtains drawn. She was not to be disturbed through this, the longest night of winter, and the whole palace knew it- though the entire country celebrated, as usual, the Queen always appeared to mourn on the eve of her country's great victory. Many chalked her behavior up to humility- that even all these years later, she could not forgive herself the great mishap she'd brought upon her people, and though she would often appear in the mornings to begin the festivities, come evening, the Queen was in self-imposed exile.
In truth, it was not mourning, but a celebration of her own small kind that the Queen enjoyed this night. She'd lit a candle and set it on the floor, close enough to the mirror to give her light but not so close that she might knock it over, and she had traded her finery for a simple gown, foregoing the gloves all together. She lifted the knife she held within her grasp and, delicately, she pricked the tip of her finger. Blood welled at the point where blade and flesh had met and, with slow ceremony, Zelda drew a scrawling symbol on the reflective glass in the rosy ink of her life's water. Content, she stepped back, popping her finger into her mouth for a moment as she waited for the bleeding to stop. When she was satisfied that it had at last, she began to pray before the mirror, excitement speeding her quiet words a little more than was necessary.
Minutes passed without fruit, until, at last, the mirror began to glow. Intense golden light shone out from the dried blood, illuminating the room brighter than it ever was, even at midday. The light brightened and brightened until it was nearly blinding and then, quite suddenly, it disappeared, and Zelda opened her eyes. The glass of the mirror was gone, and behind the mirror was a room quite similar to Zelda's, save for the decidedly darker decorations and the tall, exotic-looking, unspeakably beautiful woman who stood within.
"Midna!" Zelda cried, overjoyed to see her long-lost friend. The twilight princess stepped forward and the two caught each other up in dear hugs. For a long while, neither let go, until at last the Queen of Hyrule stepped back and smiled. "How have you been?"
"I've been alright, I suppose," Midna replied with a smirking smile. "And you?"
"I am doing well as well," Zelda said with a little incline of her head and a grin."Tell me, how are things in the Twilight Realm?"
"Chaotic," Midna said with a roll of her eyes. "In the palace, at least. Madelie and Avon are at their most rambunctious stage- they run around and scream for hours on end and generally cause more terror than Zant ever did, the hellions." She chuckled fondly, though, and smiled at the thought of her children. Zelda smiled, too, as she looked upon her dear friend.
"It seems that little ones are the same no matter which world they live in. And Jynn...?"
"He's doing well. We're all doing well," Midna said with a smile. "I'd never had thought I would be cut out for family life, but I find it quite enjoyable, most of the time. The most shocking thing of all is that raising kids is, in many ways, less difficult than keeping Link from breaking his neck ever was. The man was insane. I don't know why I put up with him," Midna stated loftily, leaning against the frame of her own mirror and inspecting her nails. A glance up revealed her friend's pained face, and the Twilight Princess sighed. "He still hasn't come back?"
"I fear he never will," Zelda replied softly. "It's been six and a half years now- surely if he meant to return, he would have come."
"Zelda, he promised you he'd come back, and if I ever knew one thing about Link it's that he'd die before breaking his word- oh, don't start crying! Link's harder to kill than a... than a cockroach, or worse! He's a madman and he's probably broken every bone in his body twice over by now but... oh, Zelda, don't worry. If he'd died, I'd have known. You'd have known. The two of us share a bond with him... here, let me tell you what I think has happened. Probably that dumb man has lost track of time."
"Lost track of seven years?" Zelda said with a hollow laugh.
Midna's mouth twisted up wryly and her eyes twinkled as she responded. "Why yes, actually. You know, he spent three days toodling about in some cave near Lake Hylia once, and when I got on his case he griped that it couldn't have been more than an hour or two that he was in there- no, I'm serious!" Midna protested as Zelda began to genuinely laugh. "He probably thinks it's only been a year, maybe two, since he left. Sometimes I genuinely suspected that time flows differently for that man. Zelda, he'll be back soon, I'm certain of it."
"Really? Oh, look at me, sniveling away like this," Zelda stated self-deprecatingly, wiping away the faint moisture that had collected in the corners of her eyes. "I only get to see you once a year and I make you comfort me."
"I understand, don't worry," Midna replied, reaching out to clasp her friend on the arm. The blonde woman smiled, and then pulled up a chair, sitting before the empty mirror. Not fully crossing over into the other's world was a safety precaution both women had agreed upon- in case something went wrong, they didn't want one person to be trapped, possibly forever.
"So," Zelda began, ready to talk away the night with her scarce-seen friend. "Tell me how the past year has been- tell me everything."
They talked first of their personal lives- family, friends, loves, and then progressed to politics and the gritty details of secure reign. They reminisced, even argued a little, and, many hours later, they cried some as well as they said goodbye.
"Have faith, Zelda," murmured Midna as the two embraced in parting. The early rays of dawn created a twilight on the horizon- their time was fast fading. "Link will return to you, and soon. I just know it."
"Thank you," she replied into her friend's shoulder, then stepped back with glistening eyes. "Take care of yourself, Midna. Don't let your children drive you to madness."
"Or my husband," chuckled the Twilight Queen- her eyes, too, were misty as she stepped to her side of the mirror. "Well, Zelda..." she mused, looking the Hylian monarch up and down fondly. "I guess this is it for another year."
"Yeah," agreed Zelda, and then smiled at her friend, happy and sad at once. "Don't work yourself too hard, Midna."
This earned a genuine grin. "Same to you," replied the other woman. "Well... see you."
"Goodbye," agreed Zelda, and as the two stepped away in unison, letting the magic that they'd woven between their worlds slip away, the mirror seemed to reappear from nowhere and the world behind it vanished.
Exhausted, the Queen of Hyrule staggered to the window and opened the shutters enough to see the sun peering shyly over the horizon. With a sigh, she sagged onto her bed, ready to do as the rest of her country would do in the aftermath of the previous night's extensive celebration- she was going to sleep the day away.
As she shut her eyes and drifted off to sleep, she remembered that first terrible parting from Midna, and the six partings in the years since. None had ever been so difficult as that first parting so long ago, but Zelda couldn't help but wonder when the tradition would die out- or if it would, even. It warmed her heart that the monarchs of both the light and the twilight realm might continue to meet on the anniversary of their separation. What was it Midna had said before shattering the Mirror of Twilight? "Never forget that there's another world bound to this one..."
As light slipped through the shutters of her windows, the Queen of Hyrule fell asleep at last.
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