Author's Note: Thank you to BabyKoalaPrincess for you wonderful beta reading and editing!This story would not be the same without you!!
Autumn had come.
It was in the dizzying spirals of the leaves, red and orange and golden, as they danced on the wind that carried in the first stark tendrils of chill air. It was in the smell of things, the crispness, the fat orange pumpkins that sat around Castletown at marketplace stalls. It was in the laughter of the children as they chased each other through the streets, waving streamers hailing the coming of the changing of seasons. It was in the way the skies were crisp and blue and clear.
The Queen of Hyrule had dressed in red to match the leaves and left her tiara at the palace. She was taking the weekend off: "for mental health reasons" she'd said.
"I'm going to go on a ride around the country and clear my head in the cold autumn air."
"That isn't safe, highness," murmured one of her portly chancellors from beneath a bushy white mustache. At this, Zelda smiled.
"As long as it isn't mentioned, nobody will know I was gone, and if I don't wear anything bearing the royal symbol, nobody will know it is me. I'll take a sword, too, so I'll hardly be defenseless- and, these are times of peace. I won't be attacked."
Nothing they had said could sway her.
She galloped along through the countryside, reveling in the abandon of her skirts and cloak flying in the wind and the frigid slap of air across her cheeks, eyes watering with the wind and cold, happy to be released from her consuming life at the palace; the worries, the pain, the frustration and the loneliness abated as she rode. When she tired, she slowed her great black stallion, sweating a little, pink-cheeked with exhiliration and distinctly mussed. She took a moment to gather her bearings- she was in Southern Hyrule field, just beyond the edges of Ordon. For a moment, her hands stilled on the reigns of her horse. With an uncertain glance, she gazed over her shoulder at the rosy peak of Death Mountain in the distance, golden hair blowing in the breeze as a flash of sunset colored leaves blew past her face; she'd intended to put down for the night in Kakariko, but the woods with their vibrant hues and tantalizing birdsong seemed so inviting…
Nudging her stallion gently onward, the Queen of Hyrule rode as a stranger into Ordon.
The woods were peaceful and picturesque; Zelda felt as though she had ridden into an ancient and timeless, magical place. The birds were singing, but even their song only seemed to add to the feeling of silence and peace. Small forest creatures darted to and fro in the leaves, which crunched under the feet of her great ebony horse and rained down from the treetops, brushing her cheeks like strawberry goldenrod kisses and catching in the loose locks of her hair. The day was not too warm, though the sun was out, and despite the mild chill, Zelda found herself reveling in her temporary freedom.
She rounded a turn in the path and found herself looking out at spirit's spring, and she crossed her left arm over her bosom, bowing from her horse, showing her respect for the guardian of the forest. As Zelda did this, the wind in the trees seemed to sigh and the water rippled merrily. Satisfied that she'd paid her respects, she gently moved on.
She continued for a while longer through the peaceful woods, passing by a small, abandoned cabin, over a long bridge and past another spirit's spring. As she rode, her thoughts wandered… she thought for a moment on the beauty of Hyrule, and then the joy that she held that Hyrule was safe once more. This, in turn, led to thoughts of Link, the hero…. she wondered where he had gone after the final battle, for he'd all but vanished. A spear of loneliness shot through her at the thought of his absence, but she shook it off with masterful control.
"You never really knew him, and he never knew you," she chided herself. "You didn't lose anything."
Looking around, she knew she was in Ordon now; the trees were startling shades of red and gold, unparalleled in their beauty, pure and beautiful as the province in whose soil they took root. She looked at the forest before her and saw a clearing of sorts up ahead- it was the town, and just as well, she thought, for the sun would go down in a little over an hour. Already, the shadows had drawn long as the coming of winter had altered the life of the sun's light.
She entered the clearing and noted a house atop a rise in the rocks, high above the ground; she wondered why it had been built as such, looking at it. She saw the tall window and realized that whoever lived here must serve as a kind of lookout for the village- why, she was willing to bet that the view of Ordon Valley was unparalleled from such a height. Not bothering to read the nameplate of the resident, Zelda continued on, towards the village.
Ordon Valley was breathtaking by autumn. It was richer in golden hues than the royal treasury, and slashes of ruby and scarlet screamed to the eye from trees and bushes all about. An artist would have been in raptures at the sight- Zelda made a mental note to have a painting of Ordon Village commissioned when she returned to the palace in a few days.
She passed by a woman who knelt with a newborn babe beside a clear, cool stream that reflected the crystalline blue sky above. "Miss, beg your pardon," Zelda called out to her over the quiet babble of the brook and sighing of the trees. The Ordonian woman looked up with a smile. Zelda liked her immediately.
"How might I help you, milady?"
"Is there an inn in this village, miss?" Zelda asked courteously, doing her best to appear natural. She didn't want to be recognized, and didn't think she would be.
"No, milady," responded the woman, standing. Zelda dismounted, smoothing her simple red gown with her crimson clad hands as she did so, walking to meet the mother. "We don't get travelers often, and especially not your kind- we are only a ranching village, after all."
"Can I rent a room or a bed in someone's house, perhaps?" Zelda offered. She smiled. "I promise not to make trouble."
At this, the Ordonian woman smiled as well. "The only bed for rent belongs to one of the goat herders at the ranch- you might inquire there." And she pointed to a well-worn path across the creek.
"Thank you, miss. For whom should I inquire?"
"Link," replied the woman easily. "Ask for Link."
Zelda felt as though she'd been hit in the stomach, perhaps with a heavy book- Link? Link, the Hero of Hyrule, who had come from nowhere and vanished back into it just as quietly? Surely not. Thank the Goddesses her smile was still in place.
"Thank you, miss," Zelda said, then led her horse by the reins through the town. She walked up the path the Ordonian woman had specified and found herself at a ranch moments later, just as the sun's light turned to liquid gold on everything.
"Woah now!" a man's yell disturbed the peaceful silence of the ranch. Zelda's eyes sought out the culprit and she immediately found him— and a very angry looking goat. Her mouth dried and her stomach dropped out as she recognized the man.
It was Link.
With effortless ease and grace he grabbed the goat by its rounded horns, stopping it in its tracks. The muscles of his biceps strained and, in a moment, he'd thrown the goat to the ground with a grunt. He dusted off his hands as though it was nothing and, cowed, the goat got up, bleating a little pathetically.
"There now," Link murmured, scratching the thing on its side. Perking up a little, the goat raised its head and began to amble towards a large pen where all the other goats were contained. "See now, it's not so bad, being caged up," Link was telling the goat as he walked beside it, a hand on its flank. "Sometimes it's even possible to be happy. And, besides, I'll let you out first thing tomorrow, and you can run about and eat grass and raise as much hell as you want. Sound good?"
The goat bleated. Zelda took a step back in shock, mind reeling. The goat seemed to understand him perfectly.
"Easy does it," Link murmured to the goat, opening the gate and ushering it into the pen. Once it was in, he shut and barred the gate, reaching through the bars to pat several of the big blue beasts on the head. "I'll be back for you tomorrow, fellas." And he turned and began to walk away, towards Zelda.
Make the first move, she willed herself. Gathering her calm, she took a step forward.
"Hello," she called out to Link. "I was told I might inquire about a bed for rent?"
"I've got one," Link replied in that strange dialect of his; it was not any one strain of provincial speech, but all of them mixed together. "How long are you looking to stay?" He was approaching her, trying to make out her face through the gloom of early twilight- her pulse beat quicker.
"Just overnight," Zelda told him. "I'm simply passing through."
"You picked a strange village to pass through," Link commented, turning suddenly to his horse- Zelda hadn't even realized Epona was there. With another uncomfortable jolt, Zelda realized that the horse was looking straight at her. The horse knew. This was getting ridiculous. "Ordon Village's only got one entrance and exit. I wonder, then, that you're here."
"I…" Zelda paused, looking down at her gloved hands, which tightly grasped the reins of her horse. She imagined she could see through the red silk to her knuckles, which (she was sure) were white. "I was out for a ride in the woods."
"The Faron Woods aren't safe for a lady to ride in alone," Link said, adjusting a strap on Epona's saddle.
"The trees were so lovely," Zelda murmured under her breath. Against all probability, Link heard her.
"They are this time of year. But if you've got the luxury to ride wherever you want, I suggest you go see Hyrule Castle. I bet the trees there trump my modest Ordon." He was smirking, she could tell- he knew it was her.
"They don't," Zelda informed him bluntly. "Are you quite done gloating that I'm here, Link?"
"Not at all, Princess," he replied, turning to face her. His eyes shot straight through her, and she remembered the last time she'd seen them; he'd been dirty and covered in blood, his and Ganon's, and there was death and grief in those eyes. She had used what magic she had to get them back to Epona from the desert- from there, he'd taken her back to the ruins of the castle.
"Are you going to come back?" Zelda had asked him as he halted Epona beyond the walls of Castletown.
"Not for a while," he'd replied, slicking his gummy hair from his eyes with a blood-encrusted hand. "I need time."
"I'll be here," Zelda had promised.
For what, she hadn't been certain at the time, and even still she was uncertain, but there was something between them, something pulling at her. "I didn't come to see you," she told him a little irately, now feeling that her vacation was all but ruined. "I came to…" she cast her mind about for an excuse. "To see the trees, as I told you, and to check on the children who were kidnapped by Ganon's minions."
"Colin, Malo, Talo, and Beth are all well. Beth is going to go to Zora's Domain next month to visit Ralis."
"Young love?" asked Zelda curiously. At this, Link shrugged.
"I suppose. I'm escorting her there," he added.
There had been someone else, too… something niggled at the edge of Zelda's mind. "Wasn't there another? A young woman who was a particular friend of yours?"
"Ilia," Link grunted, turning away suddenly. "Yes."
"And what of her? How does she fare?"
"Why do you care, Princess? Why did you not send letters instead?"
Zelda felt her temper flare— only Link could do that to her, it seemed. "It's Queen now, Link," she corrected him, swinging easily onto the back of her great black stallion. "And I wanted to come to Ordon myself. Is that such a crime?"
"No word, no letters, nothing for three months. Not even a thank-you," Link stated acerbically, likewise swinging up onto Epona. "And you drop in out of the blue?"
"I was giving you time and space, Link," Zelda bit back, unable to contain herself anymore as they began to ride, arguing, down to the town. She gripped her horse's reins tightly and said to him over her shoulder, "At least, that was what you seemed to want when you said you'd be gone for a while. Besides, I didn't even know where to find you!"
"Well I'm not particularly difficult to find, as you can see," he told her grumpily, spurring Epona a little faster to match her pace.
"I couldn't spare men to go search for you! In case you haven't noticed, I'm in the process of rebuilding my country."
"Your country," mocked Link. They'd entered town now, and Zelda thought for a moment about the attention they'd attract with their rapidly rising voices. Then, she decided she didn't care. "Tell me, Princess, where were you when the Veil of Twilight descended? What did you do for your people then?"
"I saved their lives!" she responded, affronted. "If I hadn't surrendered to Zant, he'd have killed every last living thing in Hyrule- yes, even you, oh mighty hero," she added sarcastically.
They were both yelling now- people were venturing out of their houses to watch the goat herder exchanging verbal blows with the strange woman in red, the woman that whispers spread was Queen of Hyrule.
"And you left me to clean up your mess," Link yelled at her. "Who regained Hyrule with their blood? Who broke bones, starved, spent nights out in the cold, faced countless horrors, all in the name of Hyrule while you stayed cozy in your little tower room?"
"I was a prisoner!"
"Then you should have escaped!"
Zelda threw up her hands.
"You're impossible, Link- I should have escaped? Zant would have destroyed Hyrule if I had!" she told him in frustration. "Your grasp of action and consequence is childishly simplistic, to say the very least. To you there's good and there's bad!"
"There's Twilight between, Princess, or have you forgotten?" he asked her bitterly.
"I'll never forget Midna!"
The force of her words shocked him into silence. Zelda's chest was heaving with emotion. She'd stopped her horse and was glaring at Link, the faintest glittering of crystal tears in the corners of her eyes.
"Without Midna, you'd have been nothing, and now that she's gone, you feel like you're nothing again, and you're taking out your frustration on me. Well guess what, oh mighty hero," she drawled angrily. "I'm not going to put up with your whining. I messed up and I did- am still doing- everything in my power to fix it. Yes, you had to step in. Yes, you did me an amazing service, but that doesn't mean I'm putting up with your childishness! So, if you'll excuse me, it's clear I'm not wanted here in Ordon. I'll be riding back through the woods to Hyrule now."
She kicked her horse into action, not waiting for his response, and bolted through the rest of the town, leaving murmurs spreading in her wake. Behind her there was the thudding of Link's horse, following.
"You can't just ride through the woods in the middle of the night," Link yelled behind her.
"Well I'm certainly not staying here," Zelda yelled over her shoulder, whipping around a corner.
"I'd rather the company of monsters than spend another moment with you."
"And I'll have to clean up the mess!" Link was right behind her now and they were careening through the darkening forest. Anger emboldened Zelda.
"Nobody made you save Hyrule, you know. You had a choice. You could have just come home- so don't blame me!"
She wasn't looking where she was riding- her stallion startled at something, halting, prancing sideways and bucking. Zelda was thrown into a pile of leaves and she lay there, body throbbing. Link had pulled Epona to a halt and dismounted, swiftly running back and kneeling beside her before she could fully gather her senses.
"Are you alright?" he asked her, gently touching her arm as she began to push herself up.
"Thank the Goddesses that pile was there," she mumbled, righting herself. Her back hurt, but she wouldn't show it. "I'm fine, Link. I'm going back to the castle now."
"You're not going anywhere after a fall like that," he said, firm but gentle. The anger that had he'd been boiling with moments ago had vanished. "Take my hand, I'll pull you up."
"I don't need your help," Zelda bit back, pushing herself to her feet. She walked wobbily over to her stallion and tried to remount- a shooting pain in her side had her falling back, back…
Straight into Link's awaiting arms.
"You're coming with me," he said, tightening his hold on her and marching off through the forest.
"But, Link, my horse!" protested Zelda- she wasn't going to try to get up, she didn't think, but she didn't know why. His arms around her felt nice, she decided, and she was touched that he cared enough to carry her back to Ordon, And, she didn't really feel like riding back to the castle early. Link paused for a moment, then turned and looked at the great black brute, who was tossing his head and snorting.
"Don't you think you've done enough damage? Come on, you- and you too, Epona."
"He won't listen to you-" Zelda began, but then watched in awe as her horse began to follow, docile as he rarely was. "How did you do that?" She watched his face, hoping her question hadn't angered him again. He appeared calm, though, and only deliberated for a few moments before answering plainly.
"Ever since I was transformed into a wolf, I've been able to… connect with animals. It's not like talking to them, but if I speak, they understand, and it's easy enough for me to pick up on what they want. I've always been good with animals, though; now I'm just better."
With his civility, the last of Zelda's desperate anger had melted away. "Zant's curse was a blessing in disguise," she observed. "Link, I'm sorry about what happened."
"You were right, though," he said quietly, walking through the forest. The leaves crunched beneath his feet and overhead, the sky purpled like a celestial bruise. "I made a choice, just like you did. Arguing about it now won't do any good."
"I'm glad you feel that way," Zelda murmured. She let herself relax a little then; certain that Link wouldn't get mad at her again and drop her painfully if she made one wrong move, she allowed herself to lean her head back against his chest as he carried her.
"So did you really come to Ordon just to see the leaves?"
"The forest is beautiful in autumn," Zelda told him simply. "I wanted to ride through it and appreciate its beauty."
"It's dangerous out here," he chided her, though his arms around her seemed to tighten protectively. Zelda didn't know why, but she flushed, heating up with happiness. "You shouldn't have been riding through the forest alone."
"I wanted to be alone," she said quietly. "I was also armed- I'm really actually quite good with weaponry, didn't you know?"
"Still," Link murmured, hoisting her a little higher. "I don't like it."
Zelda smiled- Link had been protective of her from the moment they'd met. She remembered the argument they'd had before the horseback battle with Ganon.
"I'm not letting you out there! He's a madman- he'd kill you without a second thought!" Link yelled at her. His eyes were rimmed red with grief for Midna, but the set of his jaw was strong and determined. How Zelda admired him, this unstoppable hero- and how utterly irritating he could be, too.
"Well he's going to try to kill me either way, so don't you think it's best I contribute what I can?" she snapped. "I can help you, Link," she said, waving the light arrows in his face. Ganon was fast riding towards them, but for a moment, she didn't care. Link was so damn stubborn! "This is my battle as much as yours- this man is the reason why my country has fallen. Let me take my revenge. Besides, don't you think I'll be safest with you, on horseback? Couldn't I get run over if I was just standing around? Be reasonable." Ganon was drawing nearer…
Link looked for a moment like he wanted to shake her- he went so far as to brace her shoulders with his hands. His grip was soft, though, and he glared her down.
"You're impossible, Princess," he said to her, and Zelda felt a strange jolt in her stomach when he spoke to her in that low, soft voice and looked at her that way… then, without decorum, he jumped atop his horse, pulled Zelda up after, and they bolted out of Ganon's path just in time.
Zelda sighed, breaking the silence that had stretched out between them, previously punctuated only by the crunches of the leaves underfoot and the breathing and snorting of the horses.
"Of what are you thinking?" Link asked her.
"The time that you and I fought side by side," she replied absentmindedly.
"I was ready to strangle you," Link said without chagrin. "You shouldn't have been out there in harm's way."
"What choice did I have? We've been over this," Zelda stated malicelessly. "You know you'd have done the same thing in my place."
"No, it isn't," replied Zelda. "For once, can we please, please, please not argue?"
He opened his mouth to argue. Zelda threw up her hands.
"That's it! That's exactly it, Link! We can't say two words to each other without arguing over them. Why is that?"
"We're not going to discuss it."
"Yes, we are!" contradicted Zelda, squirming in his arms. "Link, this is absolutely ridiculous."
He stopped walking and looked down at her helplessly.
"Can we discuss this later tonight, Princess? There are other things I'd like to say before we take the conversation in that direction."
"In what direction?"
Link looked at her flatly and resumed walking.
"You're more impossible."
"Shut up, Princess."
"No, Link, you shut up," responded Zelda, temper flaring… again…. "And for another thing, would you please call me Zelda? We're practically equals anyhow."
"We aren't equals," he stated, stopping again, obviously floored. "You're the Queen!"
"I'm glad to see you got that right, at least," Zelda responded laconically. "So what if I'm the Queen? You're the reason why Hyrule isn't covered in a cloud of eternal dusk anymore." She wanted to laugh at the argument reversal- they'd completely switched sides from earlier. Clearly, they were arguing for the sake of arguing.
"I didn't have that much choice- I got sucked into the Twilight and when I came out, Eldin told me I was the Chosen Hero and that it was my duty. Besides, I'm a goat herder. Always have been, always will be."
"That's a shame," Zelda stated quietly as they walked out of the woods into the clearing where Link's house was. "I was going to have you elevated to lordship once you returned to Hyrule."
He nearly dropped her, but caught her at the last minute, his arms closing around her.
"I can withdraw the order… oh, Link, do put me down, I can walk the rest of the way to your house."
"Can you climb the ladder?" he asked her in concern, setting her gently on her feet. His hands lingered on her waist.
"Yes, Link," Zelda said, smiling slightly and rolling her eyes. "But first, let me see to my horse-"
"No need," Link told her. He then turned to the horse. "You there, come on, hurry it up." The horse shook his head and trotted over to Link, who had his saddle and saddle blankets off him in moments. Zelda watched in awe as he looked straight into the horse's eyes and told him to stay within the clearing. In a few more moments he had Epona unsaddled as well and was moving towards the house. Zelda followed.
"Here, let me take something," she said, gently removing her saddlebags from Link's grasp. "I can carry it- really, Link, I'm fine."
"You can't climb up the ladder with those," he told her simply.
"Yes, I can. Watch," Zelda said, and had gracefully scrambled up the ladder in moments, saddlebag still securely over her shoulder. "Is the door open?"
"Yes," Link replied, and she pushed into the house, which was dark. "Don't move, Zelda- there's a hole in the floor and I don't want you to fall into the basement."
"Right," Zelda said, eyes trying to adjust to the darkness within. She looked out the windows as the very last of the light faded, and as the sky completely darkened, what little warmth remained seemed to be sucked from the air.
Link was beside her in a moment, then moving past her. She heard the sound of his clunking and thumping deeper within the house, and then a fire blazed out of the grate, filling the place with gentle orange light. Zelda set down her saddle bag and looked around. It was a small house and a little empty; she stood on a blue and tan rug, and to her right there were some gardening tools, a mop and bucket, and the saddles of the horses. Zelda looked at Link, who was moving around near the hearth- reaching for utensils that hung on a rack above the fire, grabbing some mis-matched crockery, picking up one of the ears of corn that sat on a shelf.
"I'll make us some dinner," he said, moving around. "Make yourself at home."
Zelda moved to inspect the bookshelf, which was shoved against a wall underneath a ladder and overflowing with tomes- she stooped for a moment to browse some of the titles.
"You've been reading up on the old legends," Zelda commented, surprised. "Interesting."
"I decided to find out if there were any more prophecies I'm supposed to fill," Link stated nonchalantly. "You know, I wanted to know whether or not there were any more cosmic forces that were going to upset my future."
"Find anything?" Zelda asked absently, moving past the bookshelf to the small table, which was piled high with more tomes. A few sketches of goats hung on the walls, and there was a waterstained kettle on the table. An empty vase sat on the floor- she wondered if it had ever contained flowers. "Did you sketch these?"
"Yes to both," Link stated, stirring something noisily in a pot. "For the sketches… well, sitting around and watching goats all day can be kind of boring, so I took it upon myself to draw them. For the prophecies… that's personal."
"It's a prophecy," Zelda said, looking around and swinging her arms, a little unsure of what to do with herself. She liked being here in Link's house, though- it felt natural, right. She liked it, and she liked Link's nearness; she suspected that that, more than the surroundings, more than the absence from the palace contributed to her current state of content. "It's nothing I couldn't find out."
"And you're going to go to the trouble of looking it up?" Link asked her.
"No, because you're going to tell me what it was. Do you mind if I look upstairs?"
"Feel free," Link said, idly waving a soup spoon. "And no, I'm not going to tell you the prophecy."
"Did you consider," Zelda said, climbing the ladder, "that perhaps I know of it already? After all, I am the Queen. It's in my best interest to know these things."
"Well, if you're so smart, your Royal Highness, what is it?"
"I'm going to let you tell me. After all, it involves you," she said, pulling herself up over the ledge and looking around. "Unless it involves me. Does it involve me?"
"I don't know," Link admitted. "It's a little ambiguous."
"Well tell me. We can put our heads together and figure it out," Zelda encouraged him, looking around. There was another bookshelf up here, piled high, and some more sketches, as well as a photograph. "Say, Link, do you have a bed?"
"I sleep on pallets," he said absentmindedly. "The prophecy goes as such:
Thrice the Hero's heart shall need
Though the firsts shall fail, third will succeed.
Crowning glory steals his might
As tall's made he midwinter's night."
"That's it?" Zelda asked, leaning back against the wall and sitting on the floor. "There wasn't any more?"
"No," Link replied. The smell of soup wafted through the small house and Zelda's stomach gave a loud rumble.
"That smells good."
"Do you have any idea what it's about?" Zelda asked him.
Zelda rolled her eyes and moved over towards the ladder. "No, the prophecy."
"Some." He didn't turn as she began to climb back down.
She touched down on the floor and moved over to stand beside him. For a moment, she thought about pushing the subject, then changed her mind. She'd argued with him enough for one night.
"Well, then… what shall we talk about?" she asked, taking his elbow with a smile. He was staring pensively into the soup.
"Hyrule," he told her. "Tell me how Hyrule is doing."
"The reconstruction effort is nearly complete," Zelda said with a glowing smile. "The people have really banded together- it's heartwarming. That's actually why I was in Ordon… or, rather, why I'm not in the castle, working. I get a break."
"For how long?" Link asked her, dipping a small spoon into the soup.
"Only for another two or three nights. I need to be back by the midweek." She found herself face-to-face with a spoon full of hot soup. "Uh."
"Do you think this needs pumpkins? Careful, it's hot." He shoved the spoon in her mouth and unceremoniously dumped the soup down her throat. She coughed as it scalded her, but beyond the burn, it was delicious.
"No, I think it's fine," Zelda told him, rubbing her throat absently. Link paused for a moment to look her up and down- there was a heat behind his eyes as he took in her scarlet clothes which were now a little wrinkled and mussed- a patch of dirt clung to her skirts from her fall.
"You're less formal when you're not in princess pink," he said to her, turning back to the soup.
"I beg your pardon," Zelda stated, moving back, affronted. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"It doesn't mean anything," he told her, scratching his shoulder. He was wearing simple blue trousers and a long, loose white linen shirt today, different from the green of the hero and different from the clothes of the people in the village, just as he was so different from both now as well.
"Does so," Zelda argued. "Tell me what you meant."
"Nothing," stated Link, pulling the soup off the fire. "Just, when we were in a pickle, you know, with Ganon trying to take over Hyrule and all that, you were all formal. You said things like, 'verily, Hero, forsooth bequeath me with your skills-ith that we might vanquish this evil tyrant.'"
"I do not speak like that," replied Zelda, affronted. "And besides, I didn't really know you- I wasn't going to be informal."
"And you know me better now?" He'd turned that penetrating gaze on her again, the one that made her feel hot and itchy underneath her layers of red silk. While Zelda groped for an answer, he quickly cleared off and set the table.
"We experienced two unique losses together," Zelda mumbled after a while, looking at the floor. "I suppose that counts for something."
"Hmm," he murmured, filling two bowls on the table with soup and laying out spoons. He set the pot back on the flames and pulled out a chair for Zelda. "Milady, your soup awaits."
As she sat, she noticed he'd given her the bowl without the chip- her crockery was newer looking, a white and blue china pattern, whereas he ate from a wooden bowl. He set down a loaf of bread before her as well, and though the meal was modest and simple, Zelda thought to herself that it outshone all the elaborate and lonely dinners she'd ever had at the castle. She realized with a jolt that she felt whole, more whole than she had felt for a long, long time. A glance at Link showed he was busy pouring drinks- she contemplated him and the growing feeling within her bosom, wondering….
"If someone had told me a year ago that the Queen of Hyrule would be dining at my table I'd have died of laughter," Link stated somberly as he sat down across from Zelda, handing her a glass of goatsmilk. She looked at him in surprise as she tucked her napkin into her lap, then saw the gleam of humor in his eye and smiled.
"If someone had told me a year ago that a goat herder would be my favorite person in the country, as well as the savior of all I hold dear, I'd have…" she paused, looking at Link with a smile.
"Told them to get out?" he offered helpfully, ripping off a hunk of the bread.
"No, asked when I'd get to meet you. You're an interesting man, Link, and one that I intend to get to know more about… assuming we can get through a conversation without arguing with each other."
"I'm not interesting," Link said with an easy wave of one of his big, long-fingered hands. Zelda wondered what it would feel like on her skin…. then shook the thought from her head as he continued. "I'm just a goat herder."
Cue yet another argument. "You're plenty interesting," she told him plainly. "You're an interesting person. People want to meet me and talk to me because I'm the Queen and they think that's interesting, not because I have an interesting personality. In reality, my life is boring… well, when the throne isn't being usurped by power-hungry, bloodthirsty maniacs. What's interesting about diplomatic meetings and headaches?" She took a sip of her soup. It was delicious.
"Congratulations on your coronation, by the way," Link stated. "I'm sorry I missed it."
"You missed a bunch of stuffy nobles and talking, and then a bunch of boring promenades," Zelda informed him candidly. "Trust me, you're better off."
"I thought you were the kind that liked to dress up in pretty gowns and parade about," Link said without malice.
"I'd rather ride around the countryside on horseback," Zelda admitted. At this, Link looked up. He cocked his head to the side and studied her in a way that made her feel exceptionally warm.
"And tell me, Zelda," he said, and the way that he said her name made her heat up in all sorts of indecent ways, "have you ever spent the night on a cold pallet in the middle of nowhere, praying you'd wake up the next day, with only your threadbare, tattered blankets and your horse for warmth?"
"No," Zelda responded softly. "I've known only luxury- you know that. Only my imprisonment in the tower was difficult- my blankets were few and the room was cold, but it was nothing compared to the troubles of my people."
"You have been fortunate," Link commented. Then, he smiled. "Though sleeping under the stars is something I would recommend. It's a wonderful experience- on some nights, I'll take my blankets outside and just watch for comets until I fall asleep."
"I've never really been stargazing," Zelda admitted shyly, wondering why she was telling him at all. "The lights around the castle are too bright for many stars to shine through."
"The stars are most beautiful when seen from Lake Hylia," Link told her, setting down his spoon. She noted he'd already demolished most of his soup. "Out there, the dust from the land is a little more settled, so the sky is clear- and on windless nights, the lake acts as a big mirror, so it's like being in the sky. Granted," he added with a grin, "the Sky City of the Oocca is a good place to watch the stars, but it's so windy and often cloudy that I wouldn't really recommend it."
"Why, Link," Zelda commented with a smile, "I do believe you know more about Hyrule than any man, woman, or child alive."
"I don't know much about her Queen, though," he admitted. Zelda decided at that moment that she was very tired of heating up every time he looked at her like that.
"Not many do," she said softly, looking down, a strand of dirty blonde hair falling into her eyes. "I confess, I could have anything in the world my heart desired… except for true friends."
"So tell me," Link instructed her, food now forgotten as he looked across the table at her. "Tell me about yourself."
"Quid pro quo," Zelda told him. He cocked his head to the side, and she smiled. "It's a phrase in ancient Hylian- yours for mine is what is basically translates to."
"Fair enough. So, tell me, Zelda…" he began, leaning forward. "Tell me about your life… the important things," he added as she opened her mouth.
She told him- told him everything, about her parents and her siblings, about the fever that took her whole family from her and left her Princess, about the overwhelming task of running a country when you were only fifteen, about how she had only finally settled into her role as High Princess three years later when Zant struck…
In return, he told her about growing up in Ordon, about being an orphan, raised primarily by his uncle and mentor Rusl. He told her about the village children, about learning to herd goats, and riding, and swimming, and how that had changed one day when the village had been raided by orcs.
A long time had passed and the food had been eaten and the fire was growing cold when they at last landed upon a difficult subject: matters of the heart.
"Weren't you ever in love?" Zelda asked Link lazily from where she reclined on Link's sofa (which he'd pulled out of a corner by the basement), fingers brushing against the worn rug below her. At this, Link grew distant- his eyes seemed to see into the past. Zelda straightened and watched him for a moment- emotions flitted across his face; nostalgia, anger, sadness. He was sitting on the other end of the sofa.
"Yes," he finally responded quietly. "With Ilia."
"What happened with her? You avoided my question earlier…"
Link looked at her directly then, and she saw the grief in his eyes. She wanted to go to him, to touch his cheek and smooth his hair out of his eyes- she sat up fully and moved towards him a little, laying a gentle hand on his arm. "Please, Link. Tell me."
"We were promised to each other before everything happened," he told her quietly. "She was the reason why I originally left Ordon- well, her and the children. When I'd found her, she lost her memory. It took me a long time to recover it," he added quietly. "By the time she had… I'd changed too much. And also, over the course of her stay in Kakariko, she fell in love with Darbus."
"The Goron leader?" asked Zelda, surprised. "Human-Goron matches are rare."
"Yes," agreed Link. "But… they're happy."
They both remained quiet and still for a long moment. Then, slowly, Zelda spoke. "You loved Midna too, did you not?"
"I did," Link affirmed. "But not quite in the way I loved Ilia. Midna and I went through so much together that being parted with her felt… almost as though my soul had been ripped in two."
They were quiet again. Zelda marveled at how she felt near him- at ease, relaxed, overwhelmingly complete. She grieved for him, as he was plainly hurting. Desperately, she cast about for something to say to console him.
"There used to be a tribe in the desert called the Gerudos," Zelda told him quietly. "It was a tribe of women. When they came of age, they would be sent into the desert with a few of the other women who had just come of age and made to survive. There are tales of Gerudos killing themselves when their trialsisters- that's what they were called- died. They went through so much together that they were of one mind and heart, though not body. It wasn't a love like soulmates or married couples- it was somewhere between a sibling bond and a codependency. I imagine that things were much the same with you and Midna."
"Yes," Link admitted. "Seeing her go was hard… wasn't it hard for you, too?"
"It was the hardest thing I ever had to experience, harder in some ways than losing my family," Zelda murmured, touching her bosom. "When Zant purified, I gave her my soul, that she might feel the light of day and not dissipate like a shadow. She and I were truly as one," Zelda added quietly. "I felt as though I might die."
"I'm sorry," Link said quietly.
"Don't be- it was Midna's choice, and she's happiest now. We have to accept that," Zelda said, and tilted her head back so that it was resting on the sofa. "I only wish she hadn't destroyed the mirror."
"As do I. What of you, though, Zelda? Have you ever loved?"
Zelda was quiet, thinking, remembering. "Yes," she replied at length. "Before the war I was involved with a duke from another country… I thought we would marry. He turned tail and fled at the first whiff of trouble, though," Zelda added bitterly. "I suppose he didn't love me after all." She wondered that she'd told him so much; not only about the duke, but about everything. Even though they fought, being near Link just set her at ease… and yet, there was something unrequited that she felt that grew with every word they spoke to each other, something she knew had been there all along… but she was too afraid to look more closely at what it might be.
"I'm sorry," Link said again, touching her hair.
"It's fine. It's certainly for the best of the country- a man like that would be a terrible king."
"Speaking of which," Link asked, and Zelda noted that they were now completely side by side, their bodies touching in many places. Again, the sense of rightness. "I had wanted to ask you. How did you get to be Queen without taking a husband?"
"I threw a royal fit," Zelda said solemnly. At this, Link chuckled a little, and she smiled at his response.
"No, truly," he asked her. "How did you do it?" And there seemed to be a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"I don't know," she stated honestly, wondering why he was pushing the subject. Perhaps… but, no. "I'd petitioned for matriarchal status before, but the board of chancellors always said no. They came to me out of the blue after the war, though, and said they wanted me to be Queen…" A glance at Link's face confirmed Zelda's growing suspicions. "You did it! You… somehow you arranged it!"
"I did nothing of the sort. I would never threaten your stuffy board of chancellors with blackmail and disgrace."
"Link!" Zelda was appalled. "You can't- you can't do that!"
"It worked, didn't it?" he asked her with a smile. Zelda put a hand to her forehead and shut her eyes, turning away.
"I can't believe you," she said. "Oh, Goddesses, you give me such headaches…"
"The feeling is mutual, Princess," Link teased, ruffling her hair. She swatted his hand away and made a frustrated noise.
"I can't stand you."
"Sure you can," he replied; she could hear the grin in his voice. Exasperated, she turned back to him.
"Really? Because I had the distinct impression that we did nothing but irritate each other. Why else would we fight over every little thing?"
"Because," said Link, sounding suddenly serious, "…well, I don't know about you, but…" and he stopped, as though his tongue had tied itself in a knot.
"Link? What is it?" Zelda asked, every bit as serious now as he was, hoping, praying, for what, she was too afraid to think of...
"Do you remember that prophecy?" His voice was quiet, low.
"Yes, why?" She was confused; what was he getting at?
Link twiddled his thumbs. "Recite it."
"Oh… ah, you'll be in need three times. The first two times someone tries to help you out they'll fail, but the third they'll succeed. And then… something about crowning glory and being tall on midwinter's night, whatever that means."
"Close," Link replied. "It was more about my heart, remember? Zelda, please, tell me…" and he stopped and looked away.
"Tell you what?" she asked him. He sighed.
"We'll approach it from this angle," Link said simply. "Zelda, tell me this. Hypothetically speaking, if I were to invite you to stargaze with me, would you go?"
"Of course," she replied, startled.
"And if it was cold, would you move towards me for warmth?" he asked, edging towards her. She didn't back away, though her heart began to race.
"Yes," she told him.
"And if my arms came around you, would you pull away?" Slowly, his arms encircled her.
"No," she said. Her voice was low, quiet.
"And… if I was so bold to press my lips to yours…" his mouth was nearing hers. "Would you object."
"Never." It was a whisper, a prayer, a promise, and then slowly, his lips descended upon hers. They remained like that for a glorious moment, and he pulled away, looking straight into her eyes.
"I propose that we can't get along because we're both too proud to admit that there's something between us."
If he hadn't been so right, Zelda would have argued. But, then again, he was right, and if she argued it would only prove his point. Instead, she said nothing, searching his eyes instead.
"Link," she said quietly, touching his cheek, knowing in a moment what she wanted from him, with him. "I wish I were a normal woman, for your sake."
"Don't," he chided her, smiling. "If you were normal, you wouldn't be so delectable."
"I am not delectable," she informed him, feigning outrage.
"Oh, but you are," he told her, smirking now. "There's the way you tilt your chin up when you're angry, and the way your eyes sparkle under the sky, and how utterly regal you look, even when you're standing in the middle of an Ordonian pasture with leaves in your hair…"
"There weren't," Zelda said, pulling back a little in mortification. Link chuckled and leaned over her.
"There were," he reassured her. "You were wearing a ruby crown of leaves."
"I wish I weren't the Queen," Zelda said quietly.
"Thrice the Hero's heart shall need
Though the firsts shall fail, third will succeed.
Crowning glory steals his might
As tall's made he midwinter's night." Link recited, touching her hair. "I don't mean to alarm you, but is there a chance this prophecy is about us?"
"Us?" Zelda was startled, then thought about it. Ilia and Midna… and then her. And… crowning glory… "Oh."
"Any bright ideas?"
"Oh. But… oh."
"You're rather eloquent tonight," he said, though he looked a little pale and nervous. "I'd want… I'd want to be with you no matter what, Zelda. You should know that. But I think…"
"Prophecies have been wrong before," she told him quietly. "You don't have to obey them."
"You're impossible," he told her.
"I am not, you're the impossible one- you act like fate doesn't give you a choice in anything," she told him, temper (once again) flaring. "And furthermore-"
Whatever she was going to say was silenced with a kiss as Link pinned her to the sofa beneath him. For half a second she thought about struggling, but then melted into the sweetness of his embrace.
This was what she had wanted for so long, what she'd been looking for, she realized. This was the solution to the lonely dinners in the castle, the rides through the woods to see the leaves, the fights, the constant work. She'd been searching for the answer to her problems, searching for Link.
She'd found him.
"Zelda," he murmured against her skin, kissing her cheekbones. "You are so amazing. Would that I could spend each day with you..."
"Queens can't involve themselves with goat herders," she murmured, touching his hair. "But lords of elevated and distinguished rank are fair game… like you will be when you finally return to the castle. If you'll have me, that is," she added, a little abashed. He pulled back, surprised, looking into her face.
"Would the people accept me?"
"Who that knew you, knew of you and your deeds wouldn't?" Zelda asked, laughing. Little tears had gathered at the corners of her eyes. "Oh, Link, you can be very silly sometimes. Please, say you'll come to the castle. Please."
"If I don't?" he asked, and she knew he was egging her on. She pushed him off of her and glared at him as he laid on the couch, looking perfectly content.
"If you don't," she told him sternly, "I shall send a hundred of my best soldiers after you and force them to bring you back to the castle."
"It'd be a shame to lose a hundred of your best men," Link said, cracking his knuckles. "They wouldn't know what hit them."
"I'd also lock myself away in my tower and try to figure out a way to revive Zant. Then you'd have to come back," Zelda said with a grin. Link glowered at her.
"You're a vile woman."
"And you're an obnoxious man," she told him, pinching his cheek. Then, suddenly shy, she turned away. "But, obnoxious or not, I do care for you very much."
"Even though you can't stand me?"
"Especially because I can't stand you," she told him, looking at the hearth. The fire had died down to embers- it was getting cooler. "But I want you anyway."
"Hmm," he murmured, rolling his shoulders. The silence stretched out between them- Zelda felt tense suddenly. At last, he spoke once again. "You know, Zelda, I've been thinking."
"I hope you didn't hurt yourself," she said dryly.
He made a gentle kick at her. "Well, if you're going to be like that, I'm not telling you."
"Tell me," she told him, poking his leg. "Tell me."
"No, no, clearly you don't want to hear it," he said with a long suffering sigh.
"I do! Link, tell me!"
He looked at her very slyly in a way that made her heat up all over again. "I will if you kiss me," he said to her. Zelda blushed.
"Well, alright," she mumbled, a little embarrassed but rather thrilled at the way things had turned this evening. "That's not too terrible." She leaned down and gently brushed her lips against his, her long hair curtaining their faces. His hand came up to cup her cheek as they kissed, gently, and tenderly; Zelda felt as though she would faint with pleasure at the way his lips moved on hers. At last, she pulled away.
"So what was it you were going to say?" she asked him, looking down at his contented smile.
"Ah, yes." He stretched. "You know, Zelda, I've been thinking… and before you can ask, I assure you I'm quite alright and did not hurt or strain myself in any way during the process. But… I've come to a very serious conclusion." His smile belied his words.
"And that is?" she asked him, fingers trailing across his shirt. He grabbed her hand with his and brought it to his lips, kissing it, but he did not release it. She laced her fingers with his.
"Hyrule needs a King."
"I quite agree, although I'm afraid I don't know anyone up to the job," she told him with a long-suffering sigh. Internally, her heart was pounding.
"I might be up to it," Link told her, sitting up, still holding onto her hand. His thumb was gently, gently brushing back and forth across her knuckles. She loved the sensation.
"What are your terms?" she asked, falsely guarded. Link looked at her very seriously.
"Several. First, you have to kiss me every day- it's terrible, I know. Second, when I decide we're going stargazing and only taking one pallet, you're not complaining about being stuck with me on the rocky ground. Third, you have to rub my feet when I've had a bad day."
"And what will you do in return?" Zelda asked him. "Aside from be my King."
He seemed to give it a lot of thought. Then, at last, he smiled at her.
"I'll never refuse you anything. I'll hold you when you cry and I'll challenge anyone who dares to insult you and your honor. I'll even write you romantic sonnets."
Zelda was incredulous. "Link, can you write sonnets?"
"Of course. They're not necessarily good, but a sonnet is a sonnet. What else will I do for you?"
"Pick me flowers, just because," she told him. "Argue with me every day over silly things. Make me laugh when I'm tired and stressed out."
"And am I allowed to come to your bed?" he asked her quietly. At this, heat stirred in Zelda's womb.
She sighed, hoping the flush of desire wasn't evident on her skin. "I suppose. Hyrule will need heirs. And these are the terms of your surrender?"
"It's not my surrender, it's yours," he told her simply. "But yes, we have a deal."
"Shall we shake on it?" she asked him, jostling their laced hands. He grinned.
"I'd prefer to seal it with a kiss," he said, voice low and seductive. "Agreed?"
"Agreed," Zelda nodded. He kissed her again, tenderly but with more force. For a long moment, they did not part. When they did, Zelda studied him.
"When are you going to come back to the castle?"
"In a month," he promised her, catching a lock of her hair between his fingers. "I'm sorry, love, I know it's a long time- I have to stay here and finish up some things. I'll tell them at the ranch I need to leave, and I have business I need to tie up with Rusl, and then I'm escorting Beth to Zora's Domain…"
"Say it again," Zelda said, squeezing his hand. Link looked at her in confusion.
"I'm escorting Beth to Zora's Domain?"
"No, what you called me," she told him. He looked blank for a moment, then smiled.
"Love?" He then looked her straight in the eyes. "I love you, Zelda. I have since you sacrificed yourself to save Midna."
She smiled as well. "I love you too, Link… I have ever since I first looked into those fierce blue eyes of yours…"
"Yes, I am rather ferocious," he preened. He made an irresistible target.
"…I mean, there was no way I could resist that lolling tongue, that ratty grey fur, the stench of the dungeons… the dog breath…"
"I do not have dog breath," Link insisted. "It's cruel of you to say so."
"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings," she teased, looking at him for a long moment, then looking out the dark window.
"I think I can forgive you. I do have a question for you, though," he stated, and she looked back at him expectantly.
"Did you recognize me when you woke up after…." he trailed away, fluttering his hands. She understood.
"Yes and no," she replied. "I recognized you by your eyes- wolf's eyes. Proud. Wild. Before then you'd intrigued me, and… I'll confess, I'd developed an infatuation with the idea of you… but it was when I saw you with your sword in hand, ready to defeat Ganon, that I really, truly began to love you. I just didn't quite know what it was at the time," she confessed with a small laugh. "But… oh, Link, I love you."
"And I love you too," he told her, wrapping his arms around her. They stayed like that, in a tender embrace; Zelda felt herself relaxing… her breathing became lighter. The world began to slowly melt away into the warmth of Link, the smell of Link- like fields… she was lying in a field with Link by her side…
"Are you tired?" his rumbly voice cut through her drowsiness a little, rousing her from the in-between place where she'd been.
"Yes," she replied with a yawn. Link smiled, pulling back from her, and touched her cheek one last time before he stood from the sofa.
"Let's go to bed. Tomorrow, or perhaps the day after, I'll escort you through the Faron woods, and then I'll be at Hyrule Castle before you know it."
"And then we'll be together?" she drowsily asked, watching as he laid out a thick pallet on the floor.
"Always," he promised her, walking to her and pressing a kiss to her forehead. He indicated to the pallet. "Sleep now, Zelda."
"Alright," she said with another yawn, and crawled underneath the heavy sheets. She watched him moving around for a moment, then called out to him. "Link?"
He paused. "Yes, Zelda?"
"Stay with me?"
He turned and looked at her, smiling. "Of course." He quickly finished what he was doing and kicked off his Ordonian shoes. He walked over to her and crawled into the bed behind her, draping an arm over her.
"I love you, Link," she told him, and marveled at the way it sounded so right, how the words on her lips were the most natural thing ever, like the way her body fit so perfectly against his.
"I love you too," he murmured, and she felt his arm tighten around her. "Sleep now. Good night."
"Good night," she mumbled, and was asleep in moments.
Outside the small, cozy house, autumn took full grasp of the forest, painting her colors of love and victory over everything in sight, bathing the world in cool air and spinning up into the starlit night, scattering scarlet leaves like rose petals before the feet of the white bride, winter.
Thrice the Hero's heart shall need
Though the firsts shall fail, third will succeed.
Crowning glory steals his might
As tall's made he midwinter's night.
A/N: I just wanted to clarify the meaning prophecy, to avoid confused reviews. The first two lines are pretty obvious- Link will fall in love three times. The first two times he loves, he will lose them, but the third woman he loves, he will love forever. "Crowning glory steals his might" refers to his kingship. He will be crowned king, and because of this he will no longer be able to be adventurous. "As tall's made he midwinter's night" refers, again, to coronation. "Tall" is a metaphor for high, important, and (obviously) this happens on midwinter's night.
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