[WARNING: Contains Twilight Princess spoilers!]
All I ever wanted out of life was to lead a simple yet happy one. I wanted a life where I could enjoy the comforts of home in a small cottage in
. I had always dreamt of a husband that cared for and loved me unconditionally and the joy of raising children in the traditions that my father had taught me. It was a quaint dream but one that would have been full of compassion and peace. For a moment, I thought all was within my grasp; I thought that my dreams were within reach. How did things go so horribly wrong? Ordon Village
All I ever wanted out of life was to selflessly serve my kingdom with honour and dignity. During the early years of my reign, my people had repeatedly invited me to share their humbler joys—of family and companionship—with me, and through them I experienced a joy all my own, filling myself with their happiness. Truly, I never had felt the need to personally partake in those experiences firsthand. For a moment, I had believed that it would have been enough to do so, that my life was indeed made rich through them. Why then does my life now seem to be falling apart?
You couldn’t have imagined how excited I was to finally see Ordon again after so many moons. My prior amnesia had made the mere weeks of my absence from the ranch feel immeasurably long, and I had wanted for some time, quite desperately, to see my father once again, not to mention Rusl and Uli (still with child as of last I heard, but certainly not for much longer!), Sera and her darling cat, hopeless yet amicable Fado; the list of faces I longed to see seemed endless.
As we made the journey in Telma’s stagecoach, I was already envisioning the scene in my mind. After greeting each and every last one, making sure to spend a few moments with my father’s arms around me in welcome, I would go bathe once again in the cool spring outside the village, ride through the woods on my mare Jezebel, and then sit back for a few days—maybe a week!—just to absorb and reacquaint myself with the simplicity of ranch life before finally (and willingly, mind) returning to the daily toils of Ordona. I had spent far too long in Kakariko and subsequently
, too long away from the ranch, trapped within the fates of an adventure far too great for my tastes. I yearned for that simplicity. Castle Town
After thanking Renado for his infinite patience, assistance, and protection as well as giving
Ludaa promise that I would visit soon, I stepped down from the wagon and watched them depart before turning around and running excitedly into the arms of my father. It seems that he was just as joyful to see me as I had been to see him as I felt a few tears coming from his eyes when he scooped me close; this from a man who rarely smiled, much less cried. I was crying myself, smiling fiercely at finally being returned to the village and people I loved, and at once I knew things would be alright.
Later that evening a small festival was held outside of my father’s house to celebrate not only my return but also Beth’s, Talo’s, and Malo’s as well. Tables were brought together for a small feast, and it seemed that everyone was quite interested in our tales while away from the province. Parents were inspecting their children for bruises while quizzing them for descriptions of Kakariko and other out-province places. Father did not feel the need to ask me such questions yet; he knew that I would tell him my thoughts once I had settled in. This is, thankfully, the way I secretly wished it, for I did have many thoughts on my mind, and some of them I was not willing to share just yet. I was waiting...
Waiting for him. Waiting for him to return at midday tomorrow. He promised. And I needed his strength before I felt I could finally come to terms with the horrors—among... other things—of our Twilight journey.
The processional had started at eleven bells under the light of the full moon, and the citizens of Castle Town walked in mourning from Southgate through the alleys of town, past the main square, and then through the archways where once stood the castle gardens, now littered with debris and marbled dust from the castle’s demolition. I had not led them in this funeral march through the town as their princess but as a fellow mourner, grieving for the lives that had been lost to the Twilight that had overtaken Lanayru, Eldin, and Faron. I spoke highly of all those who had been lost, giving them all—whether they had fully deserved it or not—burials with honours merely for having suffered beneath the turmoil of our conqueror Zant.
As I had spoken, I felt the grief of my people swell into me, and in turn it caused my voice to nearly falter upon more than one occasion—as I knew it would. I truly wished that I could have joined my subjects in their tears of silent goodbye, but I could not, for they looked to me instead as their leader, their pillar of strength when near all else had been taken from them. Just when I thought I was at my strength’s end, I felt a hand gently rest upon my right shoulder, warm to the touch and infinitely comforting. It was his hand, Link’s hand, and instantly he lent me his strength and his courage, allowing me to borrow them until the end of my solemn prayer.
The crowd finally dispersed by the time the bell tower rang again, proudly declaring midnight across the town, and I sought to retire to a summer-cottage lent to me by one of the kingdom’s country lords, yet before I abandoned the funeral pyre, I beckoned Link to join me for a small dose of conversation. He had been such a strengthening force both during my imprisonment as well as over the past few days since Ganondorf’s defeat. He agreed, eager to accept my invitation, and we settled down within the lush sitting room for tea and conversation.
“I hear you’re leaving,” I prompted Link as I peered at him from over my teacup.
Link laughed for a moment quite merrily. “I see that your network of spies is in more places than I had guessed,” he mused jokingly.
“I hardly need any such network of spies when you go broadcasting such news to half the town, good sir.” I giggled lightly, amused by the witty banter, but soon enough my eyes returned to him so that he might properly answer my question. “Is it true?”
As he caught my gaze and inquiry, he cleared his throat uncomfortably. “It is. I promised Ilia... and everyone, really, that I would return to the ranch. I can’t escape that promise.”
“I would not have you abandon that, Link,” I said calmly, smiling at him. “I understand that they returned to
early this morn once the celebration proper had concluded, and I would not want to keep you away from your friends and family.” Ordona Province
As I said those last words, I seemed to catch a wince of pain within Link’s visage, as if I had somehow—by accident—caused him some grievous harm. Yet he seemed to recover with sufficient speed such that I was questioning whether or not I had actually seen it. He nodded, flashing a smile to me. It seemed genuine enough; maybe my mind was playing tricks on me.
“You’ll still visit, I hope?” I asked with faux-innocence. In truth I wanted him to return. Despite the lack of noble blood within his veins (though truly he had earned the right many times over!), he was in many ways an equal, a partner... nay, a friend. He was a confidante as well. I had always taken interest in those surrounding me regardless of status. I celebrated their joys and mourned their losses; I helped all when I could and shared conversation with all I could afford. Yet with Link, the interest struck a deeper chord that I could not quite fathom. It was as if history had been rewritten and had recast him as my childhood playmate that had never once strayed from my side, one with whom I had shared an infinitude of memories and emotions, one who was inextricably entwined with my own being.
I wanted him to return one day. I wished for that imagined history to retain its reality.
“Of course!” he said emphatically with a grin. “It would be a pleasure.”
I smiled in relief, suddenly finding myself falling back into my chair. How had I managed to creep towards its bitter edge, awaiting desperately his reply, without realising it? Had my fear of a final farewell been that strong?
Placing that thought aside for the moment, I was certainly placated, and I nodded happily. “I am pleased to hear it, Link,” I responded warmly. “But night draws upon us, and I fear that I shall need to retire in order to attend to tomorrow’s affairs. Will I see you before your departure to Ordona?”
“I’m afraid not,” he said as he rose, prompting me to do the same. “I’m going to head out around dawn so that I can be there by the noon sun; I’ll be expected there, and the last thing I want to do is keep the ranch from working just because they’re waiting for my arrival.”
“‘Tis a shame that I shall not see you upon the morrow.”
Link looked at me and shook his head. “Don’t cast it that way, Zelda,” he replied encouragingly. “This isn’t a good-bye. You have my promise I’ll be back. And, if that’s not enough to please you, I’ll throw in the promise that I’ll write you a letter from time to time. Happy yet?”
I chuckled in slight amusement and nodded my head, though in truth, I knew that I would still miss him regardless of the number of letters. “It shall certainly suffice,” I said, deluding myself. Crossing the room towards Link, I reached forward and bestowed upon him a very light and gentle embrace, one that he returned awkwardly yet caringly. “Then we shall see and hear one another anon. Ride carefully, Link.”
“And you, don’t work too hard, Zelda,” he said with a chortle, and I laughed in the wake of his cheerfulness. We waved one another a farewell before he was gone from my borrowed home to his own.
Yet no sooner had the door closed than a wave of loneliness washed over me, and my spirits plummeted without explanation. I stood hovering at the window overlooking the Northtown streets, watching him disappear from my view, yet still I remained there, frozen in place, until at last the single bell of the next hour chimed.
“He will write,” I finally said to myself, forcing myself to withdraw from the window. “He will write,” I repeated. If nothing else, it was a nice delusion.
The next day, against my lofty plans to catch up on weeks of lost sleep, I was politely ordered out of bed at five bells by my father. Taking a brief peek through the window revealed that the sun had indeed not arisen over the eastern horizon, which did not aid in my encouragement to immediately comply with the request, even thought it would have been a request I would’ve instantly obeyed had I been on my standard routine.
Once I had dressed and descended the stairs to meet my father for breakfast, he deeply apologised for the early intrusion, but Colin had made it known quite strongly that Link would return this very day, and he should be given an extra special welcome, something that should be even more grandiose than yesterday’s small celebration. Father apparently had considered and approved of the idea and had decided, apparently, that my artistic touch would be necessary to plan such an occasion.
No longer quite so upset about being awoken so early, although still bleary-eyed, I organised the children—much less eager to be awake after having stayed up so late due to the festivities—in making some decorations. Having known Link for longer than I can remember, I knew he was not impressed by extravagance, so we endeavoured to keep the décor quite simple. I guided Colin and Talo in the construction of simple paper chains in the shape of Triforces, which would be strewn about the village from rooftop to rooftop, while Beth and I made a few quick sketches of Link in chalk upon spare planks of wood that would be hung upon Link’s cottage door.
Once the sun had risen, we moved our operation outside to bask in the warm, summer sun, which made work all the more enjoyable. I would occasionally distract myself from the crafts to watch Father and Rusl roasting one of our precious herd for the feast tonight while Sera and Pergie prepared the breads, vegetables, and desserts. Time seemed to pass faster than I could remember it ever passing, yet by eleven bells, all our decorations had been finished and hung. It was quite a relief to be ready at such an opportune time, for I knew Link had wished to be back by midday. After one last check over the preparations, I secretly slipped out to the small pool just inside the village gate, first for the purpose of treating myself to that bath I had been eager to take but also to greet Link before the village knew of his arrival.
It wasn’t long after I had finished my soak before I heard the familiar snorts of Epona coming down the lane. Not wanting to miss my chance, I left my shoes resting upon the soft ground and ran barefoot to greet the boy—nay, the man—whom I had been waiting for. He was gingerly leading the horse by the reins, yet upon seeing me he rushed forward and threw his arms around me as mine responded in kind. I beckoned him to tarry for a few moments by the pool with me so Epona might take a well-deserved drink, and Link relented, delaying his actual arrival for a few precious moments.
“I never properly thanked you,” I said softly in reflection.
Link looked at me first in confusion before finally waving off my concern. “It’s perfectly alright; you were going through a lot then.”
“No, it’s more than that,” I said, shaking my head. I started reciting my entire adventure, from my kidnapping back to my final return back to Ordona. I had been so frustrated when my memories had left me, not being able to remember anyone I cared for, but there were much deeper and darker fears that had arisen that as well. Knowing that I could have died several times, the thought of being alone forever, and the nightmares I had dreamt—still dreaming, in truth—all of them plagued my days without any hope of escape. But Link, even when I had not truly remembered him, had always been my source of strength, the sole comfort that kept those demons at bay, the beacon of hope that my life would find solace one day.
“You, Link, you’re the reason I carried on day after day,” I said without hesitation. “And now I look back to the very beginning, when I had gotten cross with you that day for overworking Epona. I had been so childish then. I feel like an idiot now. If nothing else, this big... thing we all went through, it’s opened my eyes in a way. You mean a lot to me, Link. And as I said in Kakariko, ‘Whenever you return, I’ll be waiting for you.’ I meant it then; I still do. I’m... really sorry for getting upset.”
“Ilia, it’s alright, really.” He placed an arm around me, and I leaned my head against his shoulder, smiling now, finally feeling that my life was returning to normal. “We’re both alive, and we’re still the best of friends. And we’re both home now. We can forget that all of the bad stuff happened.”
“I don’t want to forget that, Link,” I answered. I sat up and looked at him seriously. “I don’t think I could ever forget what you’ve done for me. But I told you that I didn’t thank you properly for everything you’ve done for me, and I doubt this will be sufficient either. But, until I get the chance to rescue you some day, this will have to do.” Without waiting for him to pull away, I leaned in and kissed him gently upon the cheek. I smiled a little bashfully as I backed away, trying also to stifle a giggle after seeing the surprise upon his face. “Thank you, Link.”
“Y-you’re, you’re welcome,” he said in a stutter, chuckling slightly.
With that, I couldn’t help but playfully laugh alongside him. “Come, I shouldn’t steal you away for any longer. The ranch is dying to see you again.” After putting my shoes on, I stood up purposefully before taking his arms and pulling him up. “After all, there’s going to be a party,” I added.
“You know me all too well, Ilia,” he says with a laugh. “Let’s go.”
The parade of petitioners that had come the next morning had been incredible. I had lost count of those of those who had stopped either to pay me visit or to inform me of some pressing need after a mere hour’s time, and still they streamed out and far beyond the door of my borrowed sitting room. Where the line’s end could be found was beyond my knowledge, and yet after a mere hour I had become quite restless, imagining that I had already listened to each father, mother, and child in all of Hyrule multiple times already.
I sat motionless upon the cushioned chair, eyes trained upon each petitioner before me in the appearance that they had my undivided attention. Yet despite my outward calm, internally I was immensely restless. I found myself unable to concentrate, my mind distracted by random thoughts that fluttered about like gossamer butterflies—dazzlingly brilliant and speckled with colour, their trifles manifold more entertaining than this ritual. Only during the brief respites between petitioners could I truly lose myself to my daydreams, therein finding a pleasure that felt almost forbidden—certainly not princess-like—only to realise moments later that I must once again suspend such indulgences. Each time that I was dragged away from that heaven, my psyche would be bruised with ever increasing trauma, making the swelling pit in my stomach all the more discomfiting.
At twelve bells, the petitioning period was over at last. Though I had long since concluded that I was practically incapable in concentrating wholly on the pleas of my people, I had persevered through the session for their sake. Yet at the appointed time, as genuinely as possible, albeit still guiltily eagerly, I dismissed myself from them and left to my chambers. Once alone, I took advantage of my freedom. I laid upon a small sofa in front of the window, basking in the sunlight and the blue sky. My eyes drank its warmth briefly as I immersed myself into the light. Soon I felt myself at ease, only then allowing myself to fly back into the paradise that had earlier entertained me. I closed my eyes and imagined.
“Princess, are you truly ill?”
I had heard neither the door open nor the visitor enter. I looked up to see the wry smile and crossed arms of my advisor Shad. His eyes watched me with scepticism, as if he could see through my form. A smile must have pursed my lips without my knowledge, and I quickly sought to restore my outward composure. Yet my façade had already been exposed; it was no use hiding my thoughts.
“Do you suppose he made it to Ordona already?” I asked as naïvely as I could.
Shad chuckled briefly to my annoyance. He always had had that mannerism. “Princess, the fields are no longer crawling with the shadow beasts; I would imagine he’s already enjoying being home.”
I looked away from the scholar and back to the sky, shrugging nonchalantly. “I suppose then that it is truth.” Enjoying being home... what sounded like paradise for him sounded so much like a curse for me.
I walked toward the field where the Ordon goats were out, contentedly grazing upon the tall grasses of the clearing. There was a spring in my step as I walked the familiar trail through the village. Though the trees were already starting to wear their autumnal raiment, alerting me that I had practically missed out upon the last month of summer, I was in too good a mood to pay the scene much mind. Whether the trees were green or bright orange, whether the sun was shining warmly or the wind proffering a slight chill, I was perfectly content with life for the first time since my kidnapping.
Settling back into the Ordon lifestyle had certainly helped that process along considerably. Change was certainly something I accepted reluctantly, and so I delighted in the near constancy of the ranch. Uli having her newborn babe (born just two days ago) after so many months was truly the perfect tempo of change for my blood! I loved being surrounded by the same rustic buildings, the familiar scents, and the people I had grown up with. Yet strangely enough, it was not the old familiarity that pulled most strongly at my heartstrings.
I leaned up against the gate outside the goat field and found Link—no longer wearing his greens—atop Epona in the enclosure’s centre. I paused as my eyes drank him in, losing myself to the sight of him running his mare through the small obstacle course he and Fado had set up. She was an amazing horse, and he was an amazing rider, better than I had ever noticed before. It was plain to see he loved her... even if he wasn’t as meticulous in caring for her as I’d like him to be. But still, it was an admirable trait, one of many admirable traits.
“You neglectin’ yer chores again, Ilia?” came a gruff voice from behind me.
I jumped at the sound of my father behind me, squeaking rather conspicuously. I spun around a little too quickly and inadvertently backed myself into the fence, the fence that I had completely forgotten I had been leaning upon seconds ago. I could’ve sworn that, as hard as I hit it, the fence should’ve toppled over, but apparently Rusl had built it much sturdier than it looked. I looked up to Father and I cast a rather stern smile at him. “By the goddesses, don’t scare me like that!” I cried out.
My father chuckled to himself, his belly nearly bouncing as he did so. Still his lips were sealed in a rigid line, as expected, yet I could tell his mood was jovial and not serious. “Sorry, darlin’. Didn’t mean to scare you. I just noticed you were up here watchin’ Link.”
My cheeks flushed pink as I turned back to Link. By this time, he had noticed the two of us at the gate and waved at us, which I was a delighted to return. “Yeah, you caught me. I had finished my chores earlier, so I thought I’d...” I’d what?
“You and the boy have been spendin’ quite a bit o’ time together, haven’t ya?” he asked me as he watched Link turn his attention back to the obstacle course.
I giggled a bit in unexpected glee. “Yeah, we have,” I answered. It was worthless trying to keep secrets from Father. He could always read my thoughts as if I had
scribbled them on my forehead. I continued watching Link and Epona leap over the small barriers in the middle of the pasture, and my mind started wandering, reflecting on all the years we had spent by one another’s side as close friends, on the past week since our return.
Link and I had always been inseparable, yet our bond somehow felt much stronger than it had ever felt. One night we would sneak out into the thick of the woods and share a campfire together without the town watching over us. Another afternoon, we joined the children in abandoning our chores for ten minutes to have a swimming race, which, of course, turned into a splashing competition. We hadn’t had such fun since our younger years. Whatever had developed between us, I was drawn to it like a moth to candlelight.
I’ll admit it; I’d fallen for the guy.
I felt an arm on my shoulder, and I looked up at my father, who was still watching Link ride around the field on the horse. For a brief moment, I could’ve sworn I saw some emotion upon his face, but if there had been, it disappeared in a flash. “I’m happy for ya, Ilia. Darn happy.”
“Letter for you, Your Highness.”
An envelope was suddenly tossed atop my desk. It landed flat upon a piece of parchment I had been working on for the better part of the past hour, and it slid quickly across it, bumping into the tip of my quill, causing my flowing script to become a scrawled marking upon the document. It was only then, in frustration, that I paid my messenger any heed.
“Be careful, Ashei! These letters to our neighbouring kingdoms are of the utmost import!”
She seemed to not to be at all concerned by the slight. With a shrug she simply dismissed it and sat down in a chair on the other side of the room. “It’s from Link, Your Highness. You did send me to see him.”
I felt the blood drain from my face before carelessly dropping the quill upon the desk—splattering a few precious drops of ink on the already stained letter—and fetching my dagger to tear the letter open. I had to have been a sight, for my anxious efforts earned a chuckle from the warrioress. It took longer than I wished to open the letter since my hands were nearly quivering as I slid the dagger beneath the wax seal to extract and clutch at the message within.
I scanned through the contents quickly at first and then subsequently poured through it with careful reflection. My eyes drank his words with surprising vigour, almost as if I had been parched for so long that I had forgotten what it was to drink. As I read, a growing knot formed in my stomach, twisting my insides in unimaginable torment. I reached the end of his letter, yet I could not put the paper down. My eyes returned to his last paragraph, reading it again and again, each time redoubling my sympathies for the man:
Zelda, though Ordon is where I dwell, it no longer feels like my home. What should I do?
“He feels lost,” I said absently, almost forgetting that I still had company. I held the letter to my bosom, my heart going out to him. With my thoughts distracted as if in a thick fog, my focus aimlessly wandered for some time before I finally found my messenger, the girl who had been my closest confidant other than him. “His adventures have changed him, yet Ordon still remains unaffected by the Twilight, Lady Ashei. He no longer sees it as home, and he constantly seeks to keep himself distracted, as if such diversion will resolve this woe.” I sighed then, placing the letter neatly upon my desk. “He asks for advice; I know not what to tell him.”
Ashei furrowed her brow, her face near illegible. There was no surprise covertly hidden in her expression, but her precise thoughts eluded me. Finally, she stood and came to me, placing a hand upon my shoulder. “Hey, you know as well as I that he’s got it rough, yet he’s got to have some patience. He’s been away for over a month, and the village hasn’t changed a wink! The village will catch up to him eventually. The best he can do ‘til then is be with his friends and to talk his problems through. He needs someone who’ll be there for him when you’re not; I mean, what better friends could I have had when I first came to Hyrule other than Telma and Shad, yeah?”
I considered her words thoughtfully, my heart gradually finding a newfound ease. With a gracious nod and a polite thank-you, I invited her to stay as I began writing my reply upon a clean sheet of parchment. I felt the need to have it sent without delay.
I had thought that the whirlwind that had blown through my life would've ceased upon my return to the village, that my life would have gradually relaxed into what it had been before I had left. Quite the opposite was true, however. Though much of my daily routine—most notably with regards to the ranch's operations and chores—had indeed been restored, something I had not expected to develop had started to occur.
Our fireside chats deep in the forests about our village had seemed so innocent a month ago with Link just settling back into the relaxed pace of life in Ordon. Yet with every secret meeting we arranged, the closer we became. The third time we stargazed whilst sitting next to one another; the next time we leaned against one another and talked about our aspirations; the next he took my hands in his and remained quiet, just enjoying the awkward bliss. I had never imagined that he would be here, now, sitting upon my bed in my small and simple loft, coyly caressing my back and stomach as I nestled my head into the nook between his shoulder and neck, breathing peacefully while silently encouraging him.
With the sound of the door opening below, I quickly pulled away from his caresses almost in embarrassment. With winter quickly approaching, Father had said he'd be out late into the eve chopping wood for the town, preparing for the coming chill of frost and snowflakes, and so Link and I had found solace not deep in the woods but in much more intimate quarters. I had barely talked to Father about my relationship with Link, instead finding much more comfort in my beau than Bo himself. I cast Link a glance as my cheeks flushed with rose; he returned his bashful stare.
The sound of knuckles rapping against the banister trickled upstairs, followed by my father's voice. "Ilia, Link, ya mind me coming up fer a minute?" Link and I exchanged nervous glances and brief nods before I finally called out that he might.
I proceeded to straighten out the imaginary wrinkles in my clothes as my father ascended the stairs. At first, the thought of him catching us had seemed imposing, yet I could tell when I saw him that his demeanour wasn't angry or grim. I saw his eye twinkle as it caught the light of a candle... and a wry curve twisted across his lips.
He took a chair from the corner of my loft and sat it in front of us, seating himself a moment afterward. He remained silent at first, merely watching the two of us carefully. Had it not been for the vaguest hint of his intention, I would have been shrinking away as if I were in trouble. I dared a glance to Link, and surprisingly the one who had faced so many ills of combat certainly was more timid now than he had been with me just before. I reached out and placed my hand atop his before looking curiously back to my father.
A broader smile stretched across his moustachioed mouth as he nodded approvingly. "I got to thinkin' a bit while I was choppin' wood earlier. I took a small break and went over to visit my dear Elspeth's grave and had a chat with m'self." His eyes became just a tad misty as he looked over our heads, the barest hint of emotion overtaking him. I placed my other hand upon Father's knee to give him some encouragement, and that brought his attention back to us. "I was rememberin' when she and I were still courtin' many years ago, and her pap came to chat with me.
"He had been the previous mayor of Ordon Ranch, y'see. He came and said, 'Bo, yer a mighty fine lad, and m'dear Ellie is wild about ya. And you've got a good head on yer shoulders. I've been thinkin' long and hard about this, and I've decided that you're as good as any to be the next mayor.'"
Link was near surprised by the suddenness of this story, not to mention the likely implications of what he was asking; even I felt my jaw open in astonishment. Link blinked momentarily, and then stutteringly he replied, "M-m-mayor Bo, are you asking—?"
"Now don't you interrupt yet," Father stammered. "This is hard enough for me." He paused a moment to clear his mind. "What I'm tryin' to say, Link, yer a mighty fine lad, and m'dear Ilia's wild about you. And you've got a good head on yer shoulders. You'd make a good mayor if you wanted, that is, if you'd take m'dear Ilia."
Link was still in disbelief, trying to cope with the words he was hearing. I turned to him and gave his hand a gentle squeeze and a warm smile. He then turned to me, smiling bashfully yet remaining silent just so he could look at me. "If-if you'd have me, Ilia."
My heart rejoiced and leapt high. "I most certainly will, Link."
Link's fourth letter had been waiting for me upon my desk while I had been away, visiting the neighbouring kingdom of Marith. I had approached it with great hesitation, for the contents felt thicker than his recent correspondences. I had decided I would wait to open it until I could find time to solidly commit to it, when I had had ample time to prepare for whatever it would bring. Of course, despite my resolution, it served as nothing but a distraction, staring at me with fixated gaze, silently compelling me to break my vow and pour over the pages.
I had broken that vow. I had read its contents. Now, my life was in shambles.
Zelda, it had read, you had been right all along. Finding my place back in Ordon had been a matter of finding my place in the hearts of my fellow Ordonans.
It had been an innocent enough suggestion, I told myself. After Ashei's reassurances, I had convinced myself that it would put him at peace, that he would be finally content with the ranch life. And she had been right; he had certainly found that.
I still longed for adventure though, the next paragraph began, and I could not give that up. Yet I found that solitary adventures never brought true comfort, yet having a companion to share in those expeditions made them so much more intriguing and fulfilling. Again, it was a perfectly fair conclusion. Even I, secluded as I could be in those magnificent towers of the castle, longed to share the lives of others, and so I made myself available to share in their lives.
At long last, I finally found the spirit of a fellow adventurer in my best friend Ilia. He proceeded to describe their campfires, walks, competitions, conversations, and experiments. It seemed all so naïve, all so simple. It was just what I had wished for him.
But goddesses, of all the Ordonans, why couldn't he haven chosen someone else? Rusl would have been honoured to accompany Link into the woods; the Ordonan children practically worshipped him and would've followed him anywhere he wished! Even Mayor Bo would have been most willing to mentor him, to talk with him at length.
That fire in her heart and spirit soothes my soul. I think I've fallen for her.
The mayor offered me her hand. I graciously accepted.
We're to be wed on Midwinter's Eve.
From my perch upon the small hillside that overlooked the pasture about Link's dwelling, I watched Link stagger towards Epona as he carried a heavy rucksack of his belongings. As he heaved the pack somewhat roughly and awkwardly onto the horse's back, I cringed as Epona whinnied in annoyance. I couldn't help but frown at slight carelessness Link was exhibiting, although the emotion was a fleeting one since Link was fairly quick, as he always was, to make amends with her, giving her a scratch between the ears and a half-carrot's worth of thanks.
As I watched him readjust the pack to more properly balance it, I couldn't help but sigh a bit in lamentation. Seven days seemed like an eternity, especially now with the temperatures falling and the days already shortening. (We had experienced our first snowfall three days prior, and though most of it had melted beneath the rays of yesterday's sun, there were still signs of it tucked away in the shade of the hills and trees.) With each night getting longer, I told myself that I couldn't fathom spending the next six nights without Link by my side, without his kisses and his caresses to entertain and to exhilarate. I knew I was being naïvely girlish and silly, perhaps even selfish, to pine at length on account of a week without my betrothed, yet still my heart beat for his constant love. After all, it was a month and a half's time until our wedding-day, and I already had the glow of a blushing bride whenever we were together.
Nevertheless, I could not help but allow Link the privilege of the journey to Castle Town. Given his experiences in the rebellion he led against the Twilit King, as Link likened to call the dark conqueror, he had made friends and acquaintances amongst the villagers there—Telma, Shad, and Ashei, among the many it seemed!—it was only natural that he wished to return to pay visit. Such was my yearning as well, in truth, though my memories of Kakariko were much stronger, with Luda's letters for me only fanning the desire in my heart. So too had Link written and received letters from those he trusted in the castle city, and near unanimously they had all concurred that he should return to them in order to congratulate them for finding a fitting fiancée. How could I deny such a warm welcome?
As Link finished the final preparations for his journey, I quickly retreated down the steps cut into the hillside and hurried back to the opened gate to where Link and Epona were readying themselves. I had promised him that I would see him off despite his early departure. As I reached the fence, I tarried there for but a moment to behold him with my eyes so that I would not forget his every feature before finally rushing forward to greet him.
He must have heard my moccasin-covered feet rushing against the grasses, for his eyes quickly darted in my direction well before I finally reached him. A soft smile came across his face, and he let loose of the saddle buckle he was fitting in order to greet me. He swept me up into his arms, and if only it had not been quite so cold such that I could've felt the heat of his touch upon my arms as he lifted me into the air. My eyes caught his gaze, and as always I found myself incapable of looking away. My feet gently touched the ground again, but I could hardly feel it as I still felt as if I were floating upon the clouds Link had described from the Oocca's home in the sky. Before I could actually realise it, his lips were caressing mine in a soft kiss, and only then did I free myself from his trance, returning the affection in kind. For that moment, it was as if it were any ordinary sunrise where I had sneaked through my father's bedroom before dawn to steal a few moments with my lover before the sun had risen and the roosters had announced the day.
For a moment, it felt like he weren't rushing away to Castle Town for half a fortnight. Yet at the same time, there was no escaping the harsh truth of the matter.
I abandoned the kiss and looked into his eyes one last time, eager to see the sparkle there within, the sparkle of love he saved solely for me. It was there, just as it always was. "I'll miss you while you're away," I reminded, even though I doubted he had forgotten.
"As will I," he said, his features softening as he spoke the words.
"You'll only be gone a week?" I asked. Even though I already knew the answer, my heart yearned to hear it once more, if only to confirm that I was worrying for no reason at all.
"I solemnly swear by it," Link answered with a nod. "By the goddesses themselves, I shall return by mid-afternoon of the 25th."
"Then all is well; my heart is at ease." I smiled and squeezed my arms about him one last time. Though it was only a week, I wanted to ensure that he never forgot for a moment that he was wanted every second in Ordon where I awaited his return. Safe travels, then," I said. "My love travels with thee."
"I won't doubt that for a moment."
He took Epona's reins and guided her carefully across the bridge. I watched until he was out of sight before finally returning to my father's home. The sun was rising, and much to my chagrin, even the palpitations of my heart would not stave off my daily chores.
The knock upon my chamber-door had been a common enough sound not to have raised my excitement. Only the timing, in fact, had caused me to raise my brow with curiosity. It was well into the evening, the sun long eclipsed by the horizon and the ever shortening days of late autumn. My personal chambers were dimly lit with only a dozen candlesticks pushing back the darkness of the evening, allowing me enough light to continue to play at reading my book. It was a work of fiction, this one, which was atypical for me, yet it proved to be sufficient distraction these days. In my mood, truly I wished not to be disturbed, and so I allowed the knock to go unanswered.
Yet moments later, the knock came once again, interrupting me from my thoughts. I looked to the door with some amount of scorn, wishing for my would-be guest to come another time, even if a better time seemed out of the question. However, upon the third knock, my impatience conquered my prudence, and after carefully setting the book aside so that I could resume moments later, I went to answer the door.
To my surprise, it was Link, come to pay me visit.
"Link! Come in, come in!" I said in surprise, feeling that I had stumbled over my words. I gestured him into my chambers, something that would, to many, be highly unorthodox, yet in that moment the astonishment overwhelmed me. In fact, I knew not precisely what I was saying. After all, before me was my hero and friend... my equal...
Before I could close the door, Link had taken me in an embrace, and I found myself incapable and unwilling to resist its sway. With a smile upon my lips, I fell into his embrace, sighing happily. "Sorry it's late," he told me in apology. "This was my first chance since coming to properly come and see you."
"Nay, nay. You are always welcome."
After a moment, I closed the door to allow us privacy, and I brought the lit candelabra from beside my bed into the adjoining sitting room so that we might converse. Though it was dark, and the ninth bell was soon to sound, I could not turn Link away, most especially because I wished to talk with him at length now that I did not have to do so in letter form. Yet I could not help but find beginning a long conversation awkward, in part because it cut me to even think about it. Though the intensity of the wound had passed, the scar was still visible upon my psyche. As such, we began with simple parlour talk: the Ordonan harvest was going well despite the Twilight's setbacks, communications between Hyrule and both the Gorons and Zoras had improved dramatically, Uli had given birth to a baby girl Jesell, and several Hylians and Gorons had moved to Kakariko. There was good news to be had; even Link's betrothal was an occasion to be joyful, yet I could not be brought to mention it first.
"Ordon Village isn't the same," said Link finally after a small lull in our conversation.
I turned my head quizzically toward Link. "You had mentioned as much in your writings," I replied. "Yet that was before your most recent letter... about Ilia."
Link smiled briefly at the mention of her name, though it was a passing expression. "It's all true. I do love Ilia; I find a much needed peace in her. Yet..."
He looked away as I pried, and I felt sorry for encroaching, even though he had been the one to begin the discussion. "Every night, as I fall asleep, I find myself thinking about the sights I've seen. I yearn to journey into Faron, Eldin, Lanayru, or beyond. I cannot help but remember the times that Midna and I travelled across Hyrule; I long to do so again."
"The Twilight Realm and Midna are sealed away, Link; that age, whether regretfully or no, has been put to rest."
"I know that much," he said wearily. "Yet it need not be with Midna. The world is bigger than I had imagined. And certainly there are lands beyond Hyrule, Zelda?"
"Naturally. From the Lost Mountains in the west to the Great Sea in the east."
"Then I wish to see it all some day. No doubt Rusl has seen many of the same sights in his day."
"It appears, perhaps, that it is not Ordon that has changed, but that it was you that changed."
"Perhaps," he said after a pause. His face was wistful, idly dreaming of a world he could only imagine. "Perhaps I just wonder that I will never get the chance. I love Ordona and Ilia, yet..."
I could tell his thoughts; I could read the indecision and the desire written plainly upon his face. Yet in that moment, I faced a dilemma. Here was a friend suffering beneath the curse of a dream, a dream of something beyond that which he could obtain. Despite his odes about being at peace, his passion for his betrothed Ilia, Link felt trapped, truly not at peace with himself. I wished to tell him that his upcoming marriage to the mayor's daughter would not grant him the freedom he sought and pursued. Yet every such thought was tinged with jealousy towards the Ordonan girl; she had obtained something I never knew to want, yet now I secretly desired her position: a princess envious of a ranch-girl to the point where I considered taking her lot. Was it right to dissuade him? Would it be just?
"Perhaps you still need time," I finally said, regretfully deciding against my impulses. To do so otherwise would have betrayed our friendship. "After all, Ilia and you... you are to be wed in a little over a month's time, yes?"
"This is true."
"You always talk of her favourably. You find peace in her. This is still so?"
I paused before speaking. I knew the words, yet I wished not to say them. "Then be comforted by it. Find peace in her."
Finally Link found some shred of conviction within his soul. He looked at me as resolutely as he had when I had first seen his lupine form. With a single nod, he answered, "I shall. Thank you for your words of wisdom... and your encouragement."
The day had proven to be relentlessly distracting. Since midday, after having tarried for nearly a hour just outside the village awaiting both Epona's and my fiancé's arrival, I had found myself glancing over my shoulder towards the village entrance every few minutes, anxiously expecting their sudden return to the village. I expected the cause for his tardiness was perhaps due to either having been temporarily waylaid by one of his Castle Town acquaintances or artificially delayed so that he might take one last opportunity to sleep late. Neither were reasons for which I would be able to blame him; I myself might have committed both offences! Yet simultaneously, I could not help but let my anxiety grow into worry, my worry lead into disapproval, and then disapproval gave way to displeasure.
I knew that his eventual arrival would cause me to forget all my pains and annoyances, yet, so long as he was absent, each moment proved to be quite the torment. This was why, after finding absolutely no motivation in actually completing my own chores with any finesse, I had leapt at the chance to assist Sera in peeling potatoes and chopping onions for her family's supper. Not only did the company (despite how unpleasant it would be with her incessantly nagging about her husband) provide a most welcome distraction, it had the side benefit of having a window directly overlooking the village entrance, allowing me the first opportunity to welcome Link back the very second he arrived.
Yet even after all my generous allowances of time for possible excuses, dusk had come, but Link had not.
I shared supper in almost perfect silence with my father; to my relief, he had read me well enough to know my mood was not one for conversation. Once the meal was over, I dared to abandon my share of the cleaning in order to hasten off alone to Link's cottage, where I climbed the ladder to his front stoop. Still, no light shined from inside. Yet still, I was convinced the glimmer of hope existed that he would come anon, so I presumed to sit upon his stoop with my arms crossed, brow furrowed, and eyes focused upon the long foot-bridge leading to Faron Province; there the night sky overhead with its sparkling stars beckoned me into its dark embrace.
So entranced was I by the scene that I never once heard a visitor approach.
"Ilia," a gentle voice called from below. The voice startled me, yet it took only half a moment to know it came from Rusl. The moment he had my attention, he gave me a compassionate look. "You're going to freeze up there dressed like that. Your father sent this along."
I gave him a brief nod and a thankful smile for the jacket he was holding, yet I wasn't ready to abandon my post, not even to come and retrieve the offering. "I should have expected Father would be concerned about me; thank you for bringing it along," I replied. I knelt over the edge and reached down for it, expecting him to toss it to me. "Tell me, how is Jesell doing? Is she still proving to be quite the handful?"
Rusl chuckled. "She is indeed, but you're changing the subject, and you know it." With that Rusl approached the ladder and climbed up to the stoop, draping my coat atop me before sitting down at my side.
He let a pregnant pause pass before speaking again. "You know, Link wasn't originally from Ordon here. You—and he—were too young to remember it though. He and his father moved here from Kakariko when he was three. His father was a Hyrulean soldier, and his wife had recently passed away during childbirth; Link's sister apparently didn't survive the ordeal either. Link's father—Eland, I believe his name was—stuck around for a few months before a summons forced him back to Castle Town.
"There were a few skirmishes in some of the border villages with the neighbouring kingdoms. And seeing as how he wouldn't be able to properly care for Link out in the field, we took him in and cared for him. Eland, well, he'd come and go, visiting as often as he could. And he always promised young Link he'd return. And Link would always wait for him to come back. But one time, he didn't. We received a letter telling us that he'd been killed in the field. We never really told Link the full truth about—"
"Why are you telling me this?" I interrupted, looking to Rusl. "Surely you don't think he's—"
"No, no, nothing of the sort. Sorry, I wasn't clear. What I'm trying to say is that Link has a history out there, Ilia. There's a part of him that no doubt yearns for the land out there, the land his father roamed. Always has. I've talked with him long enough to know that desire. You should have seen the look on his face when I gave him the opportunity to visit Castle Town just a few months ago."
"But you experienced all of that too, Rusl, being a soldier. And that didn't stop you from settling down here."
Rusl grinned and shook his head. "I think you forget that it took a while for Uli to tame me. I was in Castle Town a lot more than Uli would've liked back when we were courting."
Goddesses, was that true? I tried to think back the three or four years it had been to Rusl's and Uli's wedding; I had been but 13 summers then, and I had been much more preoccupied with Link and tending the little ones to be too terribly concerned with those nearly twice my age! But still, even with Rusl's admission, it didn't sit well with me.
"Link promised though. You know as I he never breaks his word like that."
Rusl sighed and placed a hand on my shoulder. "Circumstances happen. I try to be true to my word, but sometimes you can't help it. But I'll tell you, it's less important that Link is absolutely true to every last word than it is how true his heart is to you. I'm sure he's regretting not being by your side tonight. He'll be along as soon as he's able. Do you have reason to doubt that?"
A jealousy within me wanted to say yes, but deep down I couldn't help but shake my head. "No, I have faith in my betrothed." I felt a smile flicker at my lips. "Thank you, Rusl. It really is hard without him here with me."
"Uli told me the same many a time. You should head home before you catch cold, dear. Wouldn't want you sick for your love's gallant arrival."
I nodded, finally feeling much better about the circumstances. Link would be along; he always was, and that was the most important matter.
It had been much to my surprise (though also to my secret joy) that, once Link had endeavoured to pay me visit so soon after his arrival in Castle Town, he continued to do so nightly. It truly was a delight to play host to him during this season of relative normalcy; despite the immediacy and strength of the bond we had forged in those scant days together, there had scarcely been enough time with which to properly be introduced given the demands of my people and the necessary repairs that needed to be undertaken. But as for my part, for a reason to which I could not put a name, discussing matters of any sort with him had an easing effect upon me, allowing me to drop some amount of pretence and be authentically myself.
Yet unlike our encounter but a few days prior, despite my encouragement and reassurances then, nary a moment occurred when Link initiated conversation concerning either Ordon Village or his forthcoming marriage. Even whenever I treaded upon the topic, no matter how delicate my approach, an icy stiffness seemed to overtake him, and the awkward disquiet would not pass until we had moved on toward other subjects.
As a result, we oft would discuss more neutral subjects. Link's growing favourite seemed to be matters concerning the world outside Hyrule's borders, especially those of which I possessed some familiarity. In my borrowed cottage, Link had managed to discover an old atlas, and its tattered pages could occupy his imagination and fascination for the better part of an entire evening! He would ask about the cultures of the people of neighbouring countries, whether the climates were as diverse as our own, whether I had met foreign royalty there, or even if I knew of any stories or fairy tales that were commonly told within those lands. Only sometimes could I prove myself useful amidst his spirited questioning; when I could not, no doubt he filled in the remainder with his own theories and fantasies.
His repeated reminders about his promise to return to Ordon on the 25th of the month had caused me to dread his eventual departure, yet given the many nights we had spent together in vivid conversation, I had fancied that I would be able to bid him farewell upon the eve of his departure. Yet much to my grief, as I waited at my window upon that evening, both the twelfth bell of midnight and the darkness from my candelabra extinguishing itself came before him. Instead, in a most unladylike fashion, I sulked to bed, feeling that not being able to wish him off was a most grievous injury, a slight magnified by the intimacy of its source. The foulness of my disposition was not one to ebb quickly either, remaining with me from sunup throughout the course of the day.
For this, during evening of that next night, I had been sourly tempted to neglect the visitor knocking upon my cottage door, and had it not been for its repetitive insistence, I would have seen fit to commit to that decision. Yet, as it were, I finally relented and hastily unlatched the hinges.
"Link?" I said, grasping for words as I opened the door. There were many questions on my lips, but none were able to escape my bemused astonishment.
"Princess," he replied with a slight bow of his head and a wily grin. He stared into my eyes for a few seconds before shifting slightly. "Mind if I come in?"
"Oh, of course." I only then realized that I had yet to move, depriving him entry. I graciously permitted him in and closed the door before taking a seat within the sitting room. "I ask you to forgive my surprise; I did not believe you were to be in town tonight."
"I... changed my plans." He took a seat at the opposite end of my sofa after shedding his woollen cloak; he turned to face me with a shrug and a most peculiar expression. "I don't expect the ranch will fall to pieces or catch fire by being just one day behind schedule."
I raised an eyebrow momentarily at this, but I chose to silence my protests on the matter. My choice inevitably made rather little difference as, within but a few moments, our lively conversation had stirred anew, distracting me sufficiently from analysing whatever motives might be behind his resolution.
The fever pitch in our voices continued to build the more we conversed. And, as could be predicted, our conversation again began to glide away from the matters of our kingdom and into those of the far, distant lands, lands about which I had only heard rumours, and many of those rumours, while utterly fantastical, seemed to be wholly unbelievable.
"Your soldiers, do they often get to see other worlds?"
I paused; I felt as if I had been abruptly awoken from some deep ensorcellment. "My... pardon me?"
"Your men, do they often travel with you to other lands?"
I regarded him with a curious gaze, suddenly suspicious yet still wanting to give him the benefit of my doubts. "I certainly do not travel out-province, much less out-kingdom, without any sort of entourage, if that is what you ask."
He seemed to be pleased by the admission; his eyes gleamed as he if were postulating some sort of plot. "You wouldn't, perchance, be looking for a young, brave warrior to provide any sort of accompaniment or assistance then, would you?"
It was then when the entire picture I had foreseen (and yet also feared) was unveiled before my eyes.
"Link," I answered, now with more rigidity, "surely you must know. Any guard or soldier within our army is allowed an entire year's leave whenever he is to be married. There is no benefit separating a man from his bride so soon after they are wed."
He did not answer immediately. I almost dared to continue my feint at admonishing him for thinking so poorly of his fiancée; I almost dared to demand him tell me why he would risk such a foolhardy and ill-considered question. But as I stared at his face, radiant and passionate as I saw it, I could not bring myself to be so harsh with him. I couldn't bring myself to deny him of the privilege that, in secrecy, I would have ardently accepted (nay, proposed!) had he not been otherwise pledged to be pledged to his country girl. To be perfectly candid, yea, I jealously wished for that opportunity of his company on such a trip.
Yet my training as nobility reminded me of the propriety I had to exude. To make exception for him would not only be uncanny; it would also bring about gossip and reports to which I did wish to subject neither Link nor myself. And more so, no matter how much it hurt my heart to do so, I could not bring myself to interfere so directly with Link's marriage.
I paused briefly, trying to force the words from my lips. "I would not dare ask you for such favours when you are to wed in just a month's time."
Yet in response, he merely chuckled blithely. "'Twas only a joke, Zelda. You know I wouldn't dream of abdicating my responsibilities. You know me."
As he grinned at me, I had no choice but to politely twist my grimace into a smile. In that instant, I felt only remarkably certain of two things. First, I truly did not really know Link or his intentions; it was impossible for me to discern if it were an honest joke or a graceful lie. Second, and more disconcerting, was that I did not know whether I wished for it to be an honest joke or that graceful and tempting lie.
Later, after we bade one another our final good-byes and I watched him depart down the road, my own mind, against my better judgement, departed for those faraway kingdoms. And there by my side was a certain knight whose loyalty was never failing.
The peace that Rusl had managed to instil in me had kept my mind from focusing upon his absence during the course of the next day. My faith and trust in Link's devotion to me had spun a web of hope that had caught me before my more bitter instincts could entrap me in either anger or jealousy. All the day, joy and happiness followed me, and I executed my chores and tasks with a brightness that surprised even my father. Towards dusk, I had managed to round up the children—Beth, Talo, Malo, and Colin—and we began to sing, dance, and play a few rounds of ring around the rosy before dizziness overtook us, causing us to collapse upon the grass in delight.
Night came, and with the waning moon, my spirits begin to falter once again. I lit a candle and placed its stand upon my windowsill, allowing it to shine out into the darkness outside, trusting that, maybe, should Link return yet that evening, he might spot my frail beacon and chance a visit, believing I might still be restlessly awake in my bed. The candle flickered into nothingness before I could find slumber.
Day came. The sun had yet to crest over the horizon, yet I was quick to throw off my bedsheets, throw on some clothes, and make my way to the pool so that I might bathe before the start of the day. En route I stopped once again at Link's cottage, knocking feverishly and testing the bolt that kept the door closed; still he had not arrived. As I bathed (much more quickly in these colder days), my hope for Link's soon return began to fade with every passing minute. Hour after hour passed, and even though it was unlikely that Link would ever return before eleven bells, each groaning tick from our ancient clock caused my expression to glower deeper.
It wasn't until sometime after three bells as the sun began its slow descent in the west when a knocking upon the cottage door sounded. As I was already mid-stride with the dusting and sweeping of the house, I simply called, "Come in!"
Lo and behold, it was finally Link that entered. "Hey, Ilia," he said sweetly.
Hearing his voice after so many days of want caused a lump in my throat, and much of me wanted to rush into his arms and greet him with warm kisses. Yet a cynical thought grasped me firmly, and it convinced me not to yield so quickly. Questions were raised up in my mind, and I needed answers and explanations before I felt safe within his arms. "Hello, Link," I said, my voice carrying an icy ring.
Link seemed to pick up on it swiftly because, in but a moment he had his arm around my middle. "Is something the matter?"
"Link, you are aware of what day today is?"
He paused, not answering with all haste. "Well—"
"Today is the 27th day of Brumaire," I said with as much neutrality as I could muster. "You're late." He stepped away after I had spoken, now realizing the cause for my displeasure. I halted my sweeping so that I could finally take a proper look at him. I gazed into his elegant blue eyes and sighed heavily. "Is everything alright?"
"Er, well, mostly, yeah. Most everything was alright. Castle Town was still in one piece. Well, except for the castle of course, of course."
He paused for a moment, but then his eyes grew serious.
"The day I was to come home, I was asked to go on a special errand."
I looked at him, suddenly intrigued despite my attempt to remain unconvinced. "Oh?"
"The Gorons have been contributing a fair bit of stone in order to help the repair effort, but some bandits living in the mountains have been robbing the traders before they could make it to the Goron mines. They, well, they asked me if I wouldn't mind accompanying them to ensure the next delivery went smoothly. I told them I was to travel back to Ordon, but they begged me to help. I couldn't say no. And, well, it's a long ride out and back. By the time I returned, it was already past dusk, and I didn't want to chance the ride home that evening. So I came home this morning, as soon as I was able."
"So that means you would've passed through Kakariko on your way there?"
"Of course we did. Only way into the Goron city."
"Did you happen to see Renado and Luda as you passed?" Suddenly, I felt rather excited, hoping that there might be some amount of news from that province.
"Sadly, no. We didn't actually stop along the way. We pretty much pressed straight through in order to make good time. Missing them?"
I smiled a bit, feeling a bit coy as memories from months ago flooded into my mind. "Of course; I miss them deeply! I long to visit, but there hasn't been the free moment yet. Perhaps once spring comes. Just after the winter snows and before the busy season here. Depending upon the weather cooperating, naturally. And of course," I added, "there are other factors to consider as well."
As I said those words, I couldn't help but blush furiously. There was a lot to consider before the month of Floreal came. Of course, the flower-growing season would have just started, and it would have been a shame to be late to market with them. But more importantly, by that time, Link and I would have already been married several months; who could say I would not already be with child, eagerly anticipating a playmate for Jesell. Even if the birth were to be many months away, so much preparation needed to be taken, and given the queasiness Uli had encountered during her early months, I was not so sure that it would be conducive to be frolicking about all of Hyrule.
This besides, I knew I would soon have the opportunity to see them both in almost a month.
"Well, if the goddesses allow it, I will be more than happy to accompany you there," Link replied. A smile crossed his lips again, and I could not help but relent and return the gesture in kind.
All of my bitterness for the past two nights, I decided, was all for naught. Rusl's wisdom and insight had proven themselves; Link remained faithful to me in his journey. And truly, that was more important. I rushed toward Link and flung my arms about him, squeezing him close. I soon felt the warmth of his embrace, and I soaked in it as I would the midday sun of summer. My love had returned, and I was whole again.
"Come on," Link prompted. "Let's go out into the woods. We've got some catching up to do."
I looked at him faux-admonishingly. "I've been covering for nearly half your chores in your absence! And now you want me to abandon mine too?"
"They'll be there when we get back; this can't. I'll stay up with you to finish everything if I need to. Come," he beckoned.
I conceded. Just this once.
Yet oh how grateful I was that he convinced me.
"Y-your Majesty," he stuttered as he nearly jumped in surprise. He quickly turned and bowed deeply in an effort to excuse himself. "I had not heard Your Highness come in!"
I had just returned from the ceremony that officially initiated the venture to rebuild Hyrule Castle. As it was a ceremony with an amount of pomp and circumstance, naturally it required both my attendance and approval. The plans were nowhere near the scale or majesty of the original, yet this was more than acceptable; as I saw it, bankrupting the city for decades to come solely for my own extravagance was the epitome of folly.
Upon my return, I could not help but be momentarily startled to find Shad idly strolling about my abode, casually examining the rare trinkets and antiquities owned by my noble benefactor. His fascination had to have been severe not to overhear my entrance, yet the scholar never would be so bold and audacious as to intrude over such a triviality. His presence here within was the result of something else entirely.
"'Tis quite alright," I reassured him, offering him a pleasant expression. "I was merely surprised, nothing more. You're among my advisors; I can tolerate you here in my absence, even if it is a highly unusual circumstance."
A rosy hue flushed upon his cheeks, as if my accepting his presence had been a veiled admonishment. "A thousand pardons, milady. It was not my intent to intrude so, but I was obliged to do so upon this occasion. 'A matter of relative importance,' I believe it was put to me."
I furrowed my brow, bemused at the state of affairs. Despite the claimed importance, the seriousness in his voice was actually nonexistent. Instead there was merely wanton excitement, and as such he remained slow to discuss the purpose of his visit while dallying passionately in the prelude.
He seemed to notice my expression, and this returned his focus. "Sorry, I digress, milady. While at Telma's place, we, all of us in the Resistance, that is—other than Rusl that is, since he's in Ordon naturally—we were discussing matters in the back room—as we've been wont to do for—sorry, I'll go straight to the point, milady. Verily, we were almost accosted by the local postman, who was most eager to give us all these." The scholar held up a cream-coloured envelope bearing his name and already opened. "He had one for you as well, but you had been absent from your residence when he had tried to deliver it. Knowing of our acquaintanceship, he impressed the task to me to hand-deliver this envelope to you, making it very clear I was to do so at the earliest possible opportunity as could be mustered."
"And so you came directly here to do so?"
"Correct you are, milady, exquisite deduction. Given its importance, I did not wish to delay." Quickly he pulled an identical envelope from a handbag upon his shoulder, depositing it into my fingertips. I scanned its face to see my name scrawled in emerald ink, along with the sole designation of "Castle Town" for an address. A smile rose to my lips; I recognized the handwriting! I expeditiously reached for my dagger and took out the folded parchment contained within.
I read it.
A chill rushed through my body.
I blanched, the blood running from my face.
"It's an invitation?" I responded. The words contorted unbidden to form a question, a question in part for Shad yet in part meant for no one at all, almost as if I were questioning the circumstances and expected at any moment to wake up from a most absurd dream.
Yet I didn't wake; the letter remained in my hand.
"Right you are. A most splendid occasion to be had as well, as you most certainly have read!" A smile had exploded upon Shad's lips, and already he was next to me, his arm outstretched as he began to envision the scene unfolding within his imagination. "The feasting! The decorations! The dancing (even though I'm quite afraid I possess two left feet). And there before us, our hero and close friend Link shall be among us. And we're to be invited to share the joy of his blessed union!" He paused to look at me, apparently only now having realized my less than ecstatic reaction. "Princess?"
His address finally cleared my head from the paralysis that had up until then seized it. I finally feigned a smile, a façade that was not terribly difficult to present for, yes, part of me was genuinely joyful for Link's upcoming union. Yet, in truth, it was not the only desire welling deep inside my soul.
"Do not mistake me, Shad; I am most delighted for Link. To be quite candid with you, I've known of his engagement for some weeks now and have been praying ardently for him and his lucky fiancée. And I'm honoured he would consider it desirable to have me attend his wedding-day celebration. Yet..."
"Pray don't tell me you're not thinking of attending?"
"Shad, I cannot help but consider declining and simply sending my regards. The ceremony is scheduled for Midwinter's Eve; the road to Ordona will likely be laden with ice and snow, making for rather treacherous travel. Moreover I would hate to be so selfish as to risk the lives of my guard merely to ask them to accompany me along the journey for a man with whom they are barely acquainted."
Shad chuckled. For a moment, I had suspected that he had expected such objections, yet apparently his mirth was for quite a different reason. "Many of us at Telma's said just about as much, but Telma wouldn't hear any of us declining the invitation. She's quite committed on attending, and she plans on bringing the wagon and has invited us all to ride with her. And she specifically told me to offer you the same invitation as well. Unconventional though it may be, having the Resistance as your travelling companions means that you'll find no safer place in all the land of Hyrule than with us. You needn't invite your guard along. Besides, Link will be expecting you to be there; you wouldn't want to disappoint."
Much to my dismay, every reasonable pretext that I could possibly offer had been dashed to nothing with one deft manoeuvre by the scholar. Even before I had known of Link's arrival, I had been preparing to steel myself into declaring my absence as I was not certain if I could be fully joyful in the moment of his nuptials with Ilia. Yet, with his many visits still echoing resoundingly within my mind (and with haunting words of his offer to be a young, brave warrior who could provide me with accompaniment and assistance), the thought of shattering his hopeful expectations proved enough weight alone to break my stubborn will.
"Then I have no choice but to accept Telma's gracious offer. I would be delighted to discuss the necessary logistics with Telma whenever she is able."
"Excellent! I assure you that it will be a gala not to be missed. You will not easily regret it."
Inwardly, I grimaced. That was yet to be seen.
I swallowed with difficulty. "I'm ready."
I could not help but tremble as the veil was carefully set upon my head and draped over my face. The chills creeping up my spine threatened me with a dizzying sense of vertigo, and in automatic response I tightly closed my eyes, praying that I wouldn't faint before I recited my vows. The sensation made it all seem so surreal, as if today were but the mad illusions of a dream.
"I'm not just imagining this, am I?" I asked Uli in an attempt to convince me otherwise. My voice was breathy and almost nonexistent as the manifold emotions threatened to overtake all conscious control of my frame. "Today indeed is the day?"
"Frimaire flew by quite quickly, didn't it?" came the reply. I risked opening my eyes and immediately found her adoring smile. "The winter months always seem to last forever, so I can scarcely account for the time myself! But enough about the season; look at you! As elegant as I've ever seen you in all your 17 summers. Here, take a peek at yourself in the mirror; I remember on my wedding-day that I couldn't believe it was finally here until I had a good look at myself."
I did as instructed, and certainly I was pleased with the result, awed in fact. I could distantly remember the days of my youth when I had clutched my mother's wedding-dress, running the layers of cotton and lace through my fingers, dreaming of the day when I myself might wear the treasure. Seeing the cornflower gown—slightly loose in places but otherwise near perfect in fit—adorn my otherwise ordinary figure was rather breathtaking. Ribbons of silk—certainly inferior to most that sold in the Castle Town markets but superior to everything I owned—decorated the hem and waist while a necklace with a triad of pearls hung about my neck. With the exception of all our livestock and workhorses, this single possession was perhaps the most expensive object in my father's house, and what a striking possession it was.
"You are right, Uli; today is certainly the day."
"Then come, Ilia. We don't want to keep everyone waiting, certainly Link most of all!"
My heart fluttered; the thought of him made me beam.
I barely felt like myself from that point onward; from thence forward each sight and memory seemed to blur with the rest of them. I had a faint recollection that Uli had brought me downstairs to my father—dressed in the frivolous colours of joy and celebration—who then took my arm in his and helped me take one step after another along the long path cleared of the fallen snow that led towards the small, wooden bridge that spanned over the mountain stream running through our village.
As we began rounding the fence encircling my father's home, I began to see glimpses of those familiar friends from Ordon Village and beyond. They quickly caught sight of me, and soon all of their faces had turned to me as their anticipation of seeing the bride melted away. The unsteadiness in my gait and shakiness in my breath suddenly disappeared as I delighted in the radiance of their love for me. Their fondness and adoration enfolded me, and in response I straightened my posture and strode out confidently to be amongst them.
As I walked towards them, I caught a glimpse of Fado seated next to Colin. The latter was eager to wave to me as he knelt upon his wooden chair, facing backwards towards me, while the other clumsily gave me a nod of appreciation. Warmed by their presence, I waggled my fingers to Colin and smiled affectionately towards them both.
Behind them were solemn Renado and Luda, and my heart melted at seeing them! I had yearned for months to finally be reacquainted with them, and my excitement grew as I hoped to secure some time later to greet them.
I also saw Ashei and Shad seated next to one another. Shad had been slow in facing me, and I chuckled airily to see the cavalier nudge her companion and point in my direction. My grin met theirs, and for a moment the memories of my times when them in Castle Town were revisited.
Yet I froze in place when I saw the guest seated next to them.
Princess Zelda herself.
As her frosty blue eyes gazed into mine, the cold of the wintry air pierced my body, my poise and dignity were dashed to ruin. Panic flooded my mind as my feet were spellbound by paralysis. I felt as if she were staring into my soul malevolently, her unfriendly stare judging me and finding me unworthy. Her calculating look seemed devoid of joy and celebration for reasons I could not fathom if for no other reason than that this was a wedding and a time for festivity! Yet in truth, there were other reasons which made her stern appearance bemusing and unwelcome.
Why would she be here? I knew that Link had met Her Highness during his journeys, but... I had never known she was close enough to invite for such an occasion! He barely spoke of her otherwise; I had thought his suggestion to do so had been mere joke!
Yet as we watched one another, I could not move my head and break free from her ensorcelling eyes. I was forced to take her in, and soon my mind automatically created hasty comparisons between her and I. Hers was a form with which I could not compare. Her garments were exquisite and remarkable, her dignity pristine, and her face glowed with perfection. She outshone the rest of the crowd by far. Her superiority was obvious, even over me dressed in my mother's very best yet substandard gown.
My feet only stirred as a result of my father urging me forward, his gentle pull guiding me towards the bridge. Yet even then, I felt terribly clumsy and awkward, my feet staggering and tottering as if they were about to buckle and cause my body to collapse in a broken heap in the snow. A sudden touch of my father's hand fortuitously jerked my attention away from her, but though I had broken free from her trance, the damage to my psyche seemed permanent. Though my legs continued to manufacture stride after stride, leading me closer towards the bridge, I felt my heart had stopped beating, and doubt began to drown all thought.
Yet no sooner than I had realized I was but a few paces away from the bridge, I looked upward unexpectedly to find Link and all his handsomeness with an outstretched arm extending to me. I gawped. I was transfixed. I was mesmerized anew. All of the thoughts of Her Highness were obscured by the love within his pale blue eyes, his rich wine doublet, black breeches, and pulled-back blond hair. He held his hand out for me.
Only for me.
I took it, realizing that this was sufficient for all my doubts.
The words Auru spoke were barely intelligible as I took my place at Link's side. There might have been talk of love or devotion or sacrifice for one another. But all of me had decided that the ritual and the rite were no longer important. All I desired were to hear his solemn vow, to give him mine, and to begin the rest of our lives in peace everlasting.
"By the grace of our goddesses, I shall."
Our lips met.
I sat in stoic and pristine silence as I watched Auru tie the unity cord around Link and Ilia's hands as they chastely kissed, symbols that, all but technically, established the couple as husband and wife. The entire journey through the snowy fields and meadows, I had steeled myself in preparation for witnessing this inevitable scene. As I had crossed the treacherous, icy bridge, clutching anxiously to the thin ropes that held it aloft above the deep gorge, I thought nothing could possibly be worse.
But yet it was. There was an icy pit hollowed within my stomach, a well of frigidity whose source was not the frost-laden weather. There, before me, was my friend and my equal, yet now he was but one whom I had all too late discovered for, here and now, he had declared to the world that there was another more equal to him than I, that Ilia was more important than his fealty to me. His life was forever married to the governance of Ordona and all her needs. And as these revelations struck me as the ocean waves lap at the sandy beaches in a storm, my ego found itself incapable of coping with them. My defences were not resilient enough to keep distress from gaining purchase within my mind.
Though surrounded by so many of their friends and neighbours, all of whom were applauding them with vigorous enthusiasm, I was resigned to being devoid of all thought and emotion save the notion that I was utterly and horrifically alone.
The nuptials and rites completed, Link, Ilia, and the guests arose and began to feast and celebrate in earnest. Succulent pig, cucco, and goat were at hand coupled with baked bread, soups, and spiced vegetables from the recent harvest. Mead and wine were aplenty, and many found pleasure with the drinks. Yet even with such a long journey behind me and the aromatic smells emanating from the banquet table, no hunger came to me as I passed by, my seclusion consuming every grain of hope and joy within my frame.
Instead, as villagers and city people alike began to dance with one another beneath the joyous melodic refrain and accompaniment of fiddles, lutes, lyres, drums, and flutes, I remained seated upon the outside of their gathering, contemplating precisely the reason for my disappointment.
Life had been simple before; I found joy in the blessings of all I encountered and sorrow in their losses. Though there had forever been a difference in status between them and I, such times spent with my people had always proven enough to touch my heart. Yet as I watched Link dancing in the line opposite his bride, I knew that it had been him that had changed everything. The magnitude of his sacrifice, steadfastness, and chivalry had exceeded that of anyone I had ever met. I had called him an equal, and I had let my heart transcend the space at which I had kept everyone else. Though the honour and nobility of the members of the Resistance were great indeed, they had not managed the same feat as Link, and so still I never fully entrusted them with all my secrets, remaining always at arm's length.
Link was the one person I had selected, the one person I had made dear to my heart, and now I was losing him, nay, had lost him. He had become everything, exceeded the joys of Ashei and Shad, Auru and Rusl all together; he had outshone the connection betwixt my people and I.
In reflection, I could understand Princess Midna's own plight now with crystalline clarity; my sacrifice for her had inverted her own view of humanity, just as Link's had managed to effect such a change in mine.
"A fair maiden as you doesn't deserve to be so ignored while so much dancing is to be had."
I turned in surprise to see Link standing beside me, smiling rather smugly. For an honest moment, I had wondered how he had managed, when once I had been watching him with such scrutiny, to steal himself to my side whilst escaping my notice. Had I truly been so lost in thought over the man, my dearest friend?
"Alas, I am appalled to say I committed a folly by not bringing with me a proper escort to do so," I replied in jest, diligently putting forth the effort to conceal my private thoughts. "Mayhaps if I could travel through time to correct my mistake, I should have."
"Proper escort? No, no, I don't think you should have any need, Zelda."
I perplexedly raised my eyebrows.
"Allow me the privilege, milady; I would be honoured."
His voice had the intonation of false nobility, yet his mannerism was as sincere and tender as the true meaning of his words. I met his warm, blue eyes by automatically letting a soft smile grace my own features, and, as he offered his hand to me, I found myself reaching for it without consciously thinking of the many reasons why I should not.
In mock-stately manner, we marched eloquently to the centre of the crowd. Link and I paused to face each other, and for a moment I began to wonder if there were indeed any such dances shared between the nobility and the country-born, yet Link soon clasped my right hand in his own. With a smirk, he simply said, "Follow me."
The music began to play something akin to a lavolta, and the lively melody quickly swept my feet into its rhythm at Link's behest. Despite the dance appearing to be much more impromptu than the stately songs of the Court, I found the basic step neither difficult nor unfamiliar. Within but a few measures, all awkwardness had evaporated, allowing Link and I to develop an uncanny synergy, him leading me effortlessly as we began to encircle our clasped hands. Forward, back, forward, side, forward and glide. I locked into his eyes, and I could read him so clearly. After a stanza, he led me into a twirl, undoing it a quatrain later. We exchanged places, passing close to one another. In fast waltz-time, we drew close and separated again. Each step was improvised mere moments before, yet Link's leadership and my grace felt incapable of mistake or falter as my eyes intoxicated themselves upon his image.
The meter gradually began to intensify, accelerating as if to challenge our synchronicity. I leapt from place to place, hastening my steps as the cadence demanded. The crowd began to clap out the beat, and it only encouraged the effort I invoked. Faster and faster, twirling and spinning and leaping. At points, I felt like I barely touched the ground, somehow impossibly floating through the air about Link's conjoined hand! The hem of my dress ebbed and flowed, flared and fluttered accordingly, playfully brushing across the snow as if it were a third partner in our duet. And as the finale ushered itself to us, Link concluded with a final spin that pulled me against him. He caught me by my side at the end of my pirouette, ultimately holding me from behind.
It was only then, with my heart pounding and my breath fast and heavy that I noticed that the other dancers had vacated the circle to watch our display. The applause and shouts of encouragement that greeted us warmed the ice-cold day, making it feel like spring were but moments away. I leaned back against Link, not caring for the moment of how inelegant, unstately, or improper it might seem; in that moment, I knew that he and I were just as we had always been since the day we had recognized our friendship. Though not my knight, he still was. Though not my constant companion, yet he was. Though not my lover, yet...
The thought pierced my mind as a nail hammered into a wooden plank. My eyes found Ilia watching us with apprehension and disapproval. Time slowed, and in that instant I saw the country girl for whom I had always wished her to be, an unworthy suitor of my Link. She may have had her victory this day, but I had attained an equal triumph of my own. Nothing she could do would ever smear this vision from her memory; she would forever have to live with the incessantly nagging reminder of how exceptionally close Link and I had become.
Yet the nail soon splintered my ego, and with it my own world began to crumble. I began to gape in horror at the direction of my perverse thoughts. I realized that this entertained fantasy was incongruous with fact. My victory was nothing. Link had chosen Ilia, not myself. Who was I to come between them, and to what level had I stooped to believe I should shatter that reality? What sort of Twilit monster was I to think such thoughts!? I shrank away my hauteur and moved quickly from Link's side to restore a more proper distance between us. I turned to him in disgrace. He seemed to sense my sudden change in disposition for his bright glow was shortly replaced with bemusement and sadness.
"Zelda?" he inquired, his voice filled with concern for my well-being.
I attempted a laugh to dampen his dismay. "Thank you. You have no idea how much I enjoyed this." Before listening to his reply, I shifted my gaze downward before retreating whither I had come, never once daring to match his gaze again.
Our marriage was blissfully perfect. Just as snow continued to cover the ground as it had during our wedding-day, it seemed as if nothing at all had changed in the early weeks soon thereafter. Yes, they were differences; most of the village had proven helpful in moving my limited possessions from my father's home to Link's, a task that had been no marginal feat given that the entrance to his abode was a good many feet above solid ground (for the purpose of keeping would-be intruders from gaining entry, I was told, given its position outside the inner gate). And granted, Link and I were finally allowed the privileges of the marriage-bed, and I already found familiarity in having his body next to mine during the night-time. Yet the early months of the year was not the busy season for the ranch as the weather forced all indoors. Each succeeding day simply promised more of the same activities: knitting new garments, chopping more firewood, and cleaning after the flock. I had to admit that I adored the simple monotony of the season.
Yet just a month of marriage began to bring unwelcome changes in my husband. Each day as he would return to our cottage, he would always be in such a restless state. As nightfall approached, he would finally return from the woods covered with fluffy snow. However, as I finished the preparations for our supper, no matter the dish, he would pace eccentrically in front of the fireplace, wordless and barely acknowledging my presence until it was complete. Many a time I would tear myself away from my diligent housekeeping in an attempt to calm him, yet my efforts would only succeed for precious few seconds before he would entertain some other agitated habit.
"After dinner, let's retreat into the woods," he once suggested as I began setting the table. "You know, just like all the times we did after we got back to Ordon."
I looked at him curiously yet without understanding. "Link, the pond is frozen solid. In case you hadn't realized, it's not autumn any longer."
He chuckled, laughing off my concerned protest. "I'll build a nice, big fire for you. We'll be fine."
I looked at him with an earnest effort to divine his intents. His face was, finally, once again animated and eager, perfectly mimicking Pergie's puppy after being given a new bone. My eyes flicked to the window to see the air full of falling white, but one more look at my husband caused me to finally relent. I could not pass this moment up. "It had better be a big fire," I replied with mock-scolding.
Nevertheless, despite my promise, I could barely manage to walk but a half-mile before my body was entirely numb from nose to toe. I begged Link to return home, pleaded that I wouldn't make it to our campsite, much less last the entire night. For a few paces he persisted upon continuing, but soon the chattering of my teeth caused him to reconsider. He humbly apologized for forcing the trek upon me and graciously escorted me back home.
I had expected him to come in with me and warm himself by the fire next to me. But as I looked back to the doorway, I saw a glazed look in his eyes, and I knew that, for the first time since Midwinter, I would be in a bed without my lover's body to keep me warm.
Since then his agitation seemed to grow daily without any cure. My presence seemed to provide him temporary reprieve, yet it was hardly within my capability to be with him in every hour of the day. And despite the comfort I could offer him, my inquiries regarding the cause of his troubles repeatedly went unanswered. All I would get in response would be a shrug and a frustrating "I don't know." We would go to bed, and though he lay next to me, his heart felt miles apart. And as if to match his heart, often by morn I would find his body missing as well when I would wake, and I knew yet again he would be aimlessly roaming the forest, seeking for something he could not find.
For almost a month it continued, until one day, as I began the trek home from Uli's, Fado quickly ran towards and caught up to me, his heavy breathing producing a stream of wispy clouds. "Ilia, gal, wait up! You ain't seen your other half 'round?"
"Link? Wasn't he supposed to be with you exercising the flock today?"
"Well yeah, he was supposed t'be there. Thing is, he ne'er showed up this afternoon, and I can't find 'im anywhere. I'm tempted to herd the goats up myself, but I don't know if that'd be wise, y'know? They like 'im better than me, y'know. But the sun's comin' down awful quick; may not have much choice."
My brow creased first with worry, yet soon it was replaced with outright panic. Despite how oddly my love had been acting of late, still he had been diligent in his chores and his service to the ranch. This was the first time in all my memory I could recall him doing such a thing. Had something happened to him? Had he not found his way back after leaving in the middle of the night?
"Don't worry," I told him, though I was telling myself the lie more than him. "I'm sure he's around; I'll scour the village for you."
"Thank ya, Ilia. Hope he's alright."
"I as well."
I quickly rushed home so I could deposit some of my things before going in search for him, yet to my absolute shock, lo and behold, all along my love had been here, sitting at our dining room table.
"Link! There you are! Fado has been—why haven't you—what are you doing?"
"Writing a letter, dear."
The reply was all but an understatement as well; his letter was quite the correspondence as his scrawling already filled an entire page with a second being filled as I watched.
"But Link, to whom could you be writing? And all when Fado needs you! You know as well as I the postman doesn't journey this far into the mountains until the first of Germinal at the earliest. The path is far too treacherous until spring."
"Ashei's here," he explained hastily with an intonation of exasperation. "Meeting with Rusl right now; I promised I'd finish this letter for Zel before she left."
He stopped and turned to me; his face was unfriendly, clearly becoming increasingly irked with each of my interferences. "Zelda? Princess Zelda?"
Hearing Link say her name—and so informally at that!—was like him plunging a dagger into my abdomen. My lungs refused to inhale. My mind couldn't handle the slight! Yes, I had known that he knew of the princess, was acquainted with her to boot. But the scene from the wedding of their dance flashed before my eyes, and suddenly it all appeared in a tragically different light.
There was something there, hidden all this time.
I watched him with a simmering—soon seething—anger that quickly was becoming uncontrollable. As he turned back to his letter, continuing to write as if I had never interrupted him, my ire had peaked.
"You will write to her, pour your heart out to her, but yet you will not speak to me!? I have held you close every night you deemed me worthy to return to; I have done everything I know to provide for you and console you! But now this!? The... that woman! You will write to Her Royal Highness about... goddesses even know what you're writing about since you refuse to tell me anything at all!"
"Ilia," he tried to say calmly, abandoning his efforts to write as if to give a feeble peace offering, "you wouldn't understand."
It wasn't enough. "You're right! I don't understand! Because you haven't given me the opportunity! But please, please. Don't let me interrupt you as you proffer your heart to another woman."
"It's not like that!"
I couldn't withhold a snort as the cynicism within me escalated. "I'm sure. I'm sure it's exactly as you say. Given how well acquainted you were with her at our wedding, I'm so very sure."
With haste, I turned on my heel and stormed from the house in a rage. Link chased me to the porch, yet I pulled free from his effort to grab my arm before glaring at him to leave me be lest he be truly sorry. I descended the ladder and proceeded into the heart of the village, my legs unthinkingly carrying me straight to Rusl's house. Without knocking, I threw open the door, and Link had been true; Ashei was there, leaning nonchalantly against the wall as she spoke to Rusl beside her.
As they turned to me, I rose a finger threateningly to the cavalier. I felt an onslaught of words rising to my tongue with vicious alacrity.
Yet in the periphery of my vision, I found Uli holding and rocking her little Jesell, shushing her softly that she might sleep.
The words that I had been ready to speak were now a mess of incoherent syllables, lacking substance to properly express myself. I refocused on Ashei once again, and I knew. She had done me no ill; it was unjust to see offence from her.
Yet my temper wasn't muted in the slightest. I had to speak lest I explode from fury unabated. I breathed heavily and tried to straighten my stance in an effort to appear calm. I turned to Rusl and said, "You need to have a long talk with my husband."
I turned and left.
I stole entry into my father's manor, scaled the stairs two at a time, and crawled beneath the covers of my old bed, my anger ebbing gradually through the constant wash of tears.
"Letter for you, Your Highness."
I quickly arose from my reading nook that overlooked the Castle Town streets and made as if to catch a letter that I had expected would have been casually tossed my direction. Yet my automatic gesture received no letter, and only after a moment of silence did I discover that Ashei had instead placed it eloquently upon my desk. She grinned at me with a joking yet devious defiance.
"You've learned," I replied in jest. "You could be a proper courtier yet."
"From whom is the letter?"
She raised an eyebrow, and her grin grew. "Who else, yeah?"
I shot her a spiteful glance, knowing precisely the bent upon which her thoughts lay. I had received nothing but torment from the cavalier since Midwinter's Eve. Nevertheless I had indeed earned the dishonourable mark for my lack of restraint at the wedding festival—not to dare mention that the hero's and my lengthy correspondence helped not the accusation. Still, the lesson I was supposed to have gained from my experience did not prevent me from reaching for the letter to open it without delay.
"I hope you won't mind if I demand to know what he wrote you, Princess."
"I believe I've earned the right this time, yeah? I personally hand-carried the letter all the way from Ordona; not even the postman risks himself during this season. I should also mention that Link was in quite a pitiable state when he handed it to me. I'm concerned, yeah."
"You managed to travel to Ordon Village in such weather? I—well, I suppose you would be acclimated to such climates."
She smirked. "Read it to me."
I looked at her reproachfully. "Allow me some semblance of privacy first, Ashei. Trust me; if all is as you say, then I shall not keep any secrets, this despite how I fear I may regret so."
Her mirth remained opaque, even as it was strained by my effort to force patience upon her while I leisurely read every last paragraph.
The words that Link had written to me matched precisely that which Ashei had mentioned; I had not expected to see Link in such a state on paper barely two months into his newfound happiness. His penmanship was at times nigh illegible in his haste to scribe his letter, and Link's written thoughts were quite erratic and full of tension. He gave me apologies, confessions, and appeals. I could see that the emotional burden that he carried
was great, a weight that exceeded his will to bear it.
And yet, his entreaties for sympathy did not fall gently upon my eyes; instead, by the time I had finished, I was clenching the sheets of parchment with an intensity I could not have predicted.
"Here," I ultimately said to Ashei, my voice rising slightly as I fought to contain it. I quickly made an effort to subdue my voice within a façade of calm as I proffered the document to her. "Were the circumstances otherwise," I cautioned, "I would not dare to consider permitting you to read this. Yet despite my apprehension, you do have a right to be concerned. You should be aware."
Ashei was quick to all but snatch the letter from me and read with rapturous intent. I retreated once more to my alcove as she did so, glancing idly out the window as I tried to process Link's words. I fought with the letter's syntax and semantics alike in an endeavour to divine some alternative meaning by which I should feel less offended and more compassionate towards Link's poor state. Yet no matter how I parsed the appeal, it always led to the same grim conclusion.
"So, Princess, care to educate me as to how this is bad news, yeah?"
"Well, maybe I'm mistaken, but isn't this what you've been waiting to hear for months, yeah?"
I blinked. I swallowed.
Had I truly been that obvious?
Of course it had been. Nothing ever seemed to pass beneath her consideration.
Not that any of this mattered now.
"What is done cannot be undone," I countered. "The sands of time have already been set in motion."
"So that means you're giving up on him?"
"I've no choice! Don't you understand what it is that he's asking, Ashei?"
"He's asking for another chance, yeah."
"He's asking me for an annulment!"
"And!?" I shrieked in disbelief. Remaining where I was, I turned from Ashei and covered my eyes with both hands, trying to blot out the world and my building frustration. "It's folly! I simply cannot."
"And why can't you?"
"It would be beyond improper. The stain it would leave on—"
"Well to hell with impropriety, yeah?" I quickly turned to Ashei, stunned with her outburst, yet even then she continued. "The way I see it, the facts are pretty simple. First, Link likes you, and you like him, even if you won't admit it. Second, I've known from the start that you'd be much more a solid match for Link. Just from the look of him, I knew he'd feel trapped in Ordon, and I can't say I blame him, yeah? And third, fond as I am of Ilia, she looked like she was ready to claw me a good one after she burst into Rusl's, I guess to confront me over the letter; she deserves happiness, don't you think? She ain't going to get it from Link, not now, yeah?"
"Stop! Stop this insolence this instant!"
I looked dangerously at Ashei, my eyes incensed with a fury that could not simply be dismissed. Ashei almost continued subjecting me to her nonsense, but one look at my condition caused her to reconsider. Her mouth closed, and I could see the dawning realization that I was not unwilling this time, unlike my ordinary concessions I permitted, to remind her of her inferior status.
"I will hear none of that, Lady Ashei! None of that was by my choice or done by my hand!" My voice was filled with clear and icy undertones as I strode about the room, glaring at Ashei and her audacity. "Yea, I will admit to you that... that... that I did and do feel a strong affection for the man. I will admit that! There, art thou happy? But he has made his choice. He chose Ilia for himself, and he gave a vow to her too, Ashei, a vow that does not cease to be just because he has somehow realized all too tragically late what his heart has secretly wanted and with whom he might find that." I huffed slightly even as I envisioned the scene. "Even despite what he thinks he yearns for in a bride, frankly, Ashei, I am exceedingly doubtful that he would find such freedom and adventure in a union with me, dare I even speak the possibility now.
"And who am I to approve of such a dissolution of their marriage? Who am I to bring shame and humiliation upon a girl who, near as I can objectively see, is innocent from all of Link's foolhardiness? They've been wed for barely two months before Link decides that he has had his fill of her, and what? Only to thoughtlessly cast her aside for someone more worthy of his heroic tendencies—to be the prince consort to a princess, soon to be coronated as queen? And what would the people believe of me? That I, having not been given away to an esteemed suitor while my father was yet alive, that I, having not even the opportunity or privilege of even playing host to an eligible suitor since Hyrule fell to the Twili, had to resort to petty theft so as to obtain a man for myself? Never mind if he is daring, heroic, and gallant; 'Lo, have you heard the tale of how Her Highness dirtied herself and despoiled a peasant girl of her true love?' 'Aye, and she had the gall to drive to Ordona herself to sever their ties and drag him to the castle! I would bet even now she keeps him under lock and key!'"
As I had marched the perimeter of the room, discharging the unexpressed, corrosive emotions that I had nary a confident to which to entrust them, I found that my painful rage was soon spent and extinguished, leaving me only with feeble emptiness, insatiable loneliness, and despair. Tears had apparently been coursing down my rosy cheeks for some time, my chin already soaked with the ensuing waterfall. I could not catch hold of my emotions or breath, even as I dropped to the floor. I leant against the wall, unable to express my anguish further. My fate had been sealed on Midwinter's Eve by Link's untimely choice, and now I felt the sorrow of that day wash over me as if the scars pockmarked over my whole frame were once again reopened wounds, fresh, raw, and bleeding.
A comforting arm was soon cradling my stomach, and Ashei crouched behind me. The embrace was awkward, perhaps for the cavalier as well, yet it was enough to find some remote semblance of peace and strength deep inside. There was still loss and brokenness surrounding me, but I knew I had a comrade sharing my strife. Even if she did not agree with my prerogative or my fixed course of action, there was sympathy.
Yet even then, my body ached for affirmation, for ardent support of my decision. I needed to guarantee that Ashei would not betray my confidence, that she might truly understand the temptation I felt to her ploy and the rigid resistance I had to maintain for the sake of all Hyrule lest it fall to ruin in my weakness. My mind was immediately supplied with an age-old quatrain that had bored itself into my memory in my youth:"But woe to those who'd come between a man"Is that Oberon?" Ashei asked.
And bride with pure and blessèd marriage vows.
Ignominy! aye haunt their earthly span!
Let all who witness treat them worse than sows!"
"Yes. The last stanza of Act IV in The Fall of King Ghalin. One of the first plays I remember seeing as I was growing up. Seeing the revenge Lord Normand takes against the king in the final act has remained with me all these years, just as these words he bellows to the crowds in the penultimate act."
There was a long pause, and I was determined not to shatter it.
"I understand," she finally said.
"He will nonetheless expect a response."
"Tell him, 'I'm sorry.'"
As the third month of the year had strolled on, the future had seemed to become increasingly more difficult to predict. Ever since I had been old enough to tell the seasons apart, I had always relished the late days of winter if only because I knew that spring—my favourite of the seasons—was very nigh. The month of Ventose had always symbolized hope and promises of warmth and soon-to-come brightness while Germinal became the ever joyful deliverer of those promises. The snow would turn into rain and the white would melt into green... and eventually the pastel vibrancy of flowers. Before my mother had passed, she would joke with me that she could always tell when spring was coming by the way I perked up in the late winter days.
Yet this year, my world was entirely topsy-turvy and upside-down. This year, I honestly didn't know what tidings spring would provide.
Despite the uncertainty of the present circumstances, even I had to admit that there were symbols of promise all about. Rusl had talked with Link—"sternly" as it had been told to me—soon after Ashei's surprise appearance in Ordon a month ago. As disconcerting and embarrassing as it had been to bring my marital troubles into the public light of the town, doing so had led to some improvement. Link and I would host and attend dinners together, and he attempted to shower me with grace and charm whenever we were about. Link no longer disappeared in the middle of the night to places unknown. And since Ashei's untimely visit, Link had not once breathed the name of the princess in my presence. And perhaps the greatest respite of all was that, as each day passed, no lengthy response to Link's letter from Hyrule ever arrived. If there had been some secret relationship taking place behind my back between Link and Her Royal Highness, I had at least convinced myself that it was nothing of which to be ardently jealous.
Alas, however, all of these promising signs could not nor would not relieve my heart from its heavy burden. I felt no true release from my wearisome melancholy because I could tell that every cause for hope was merely a façade to hide a much deeper and darker truth. Every effort Link spent upon me seemed to be a feint to fool the other villagers, perhaps even myself. Though cordial to me in public, every emotion came across as being forced, as if his heart truly wasn't behind his words and deeds. At home he remained aloof and detached, barely listening to my words lest I raise my voice to elicit a proper reaction. And even though an eventual reply had come from Her Highness—one I never heard, even if I knew it to be excessively brief—Link hadn't failed in the interim to anxiously gaze in the direction of the village entrance to watch for a courier, as if he expected a substantial missive from the princess as long as his own.
Even worse yet was that Link consistently niggled me about my promise to journey with him to Hyrule once the snow had melted. I hadn't been entirely convinced to travel when Link had posed the idea even before we'd been married; my resistance to the idea was now considerably greater.
And if the complexities of our marriage weren't considerable enough, the goddesses had been kind enough to make them even more so with the promise of a child. Little Petra—or Tavion, were it to be boy, though I could hardly keep my preference from being easily discoverable—had made herself known to me with this month's absent moon-flow. And though I had for years passionately dreamed of the days of raising a family and having children of my own, I had to admit that the prospect—though still exciting—seemed so much more frightening now as the natural worry of scarring my offspring for life through improper parenting began to take shape. Yet that fear in my chest was only magnified manifold with Link's strange and unpredictable state. I knew I could trust Link's promise to protect Petra; his word and dependability had always been second to none. Yet I could tell that his excitement to the news had been forced as well, an attempt to coddle me into security and safety when elsewise I felt everything but.
He would love our child, that was certain. I just didn't know if he loved me.
And as the equinox arrived, I knew the answer.
"Hey, Ilia," Link said with counterfeit sweetness (though I couldn't deduce it at the time). "How are you feeling?"
I finally opened my eyes and turned towards him, giving him a severe look. He surely had known I had been feigning sleep for some time beneath the covers of our bed. I felt terrible, though it was not Link's fault for once. I had known from Uli's experience that the earlier months of pregnancy could be difficult, but sympathizing with another's experience and enduring it oneself were two entirely different matters.
"I feel like I have the flu," I finally said before flopping my head unceremoniously upon my pillow and groaning loudly. "And whatever it is you've just burnt in the kitchen is also not helping that."
"Oh, sorry," he said with an ounce of guilt. A part of me unfortunately relished his reaction. "So..."
His last word struck my curiosity. Knowing Link, I could sense that something was weighing on his mind, something that he desired to say but wasn't sure if it were wise. I peeked up at him again with a single eye and plucked up the courage to discover it. "So?"
"So... well... if you're that sick..." He paused. He infuriatingly paused.
"Out with it, Link. What are you thinking?"
"Well, it means you're probably not feeling well enough to go."
"Go? Go where?"
"You know. On the trip."
"Ah. Yes." To Hyrule.
This was not boding to be a good morning.
"No, no, I'm not," I answered dismissively. "Sorry, but if Uli was any indication, I'm probably going to miss out on any opportunity to go before the flower season hits. Right now, all I can dream about is feeling better by then."
"Yeah, I figured," he said tentatively, yet it was evident that he was still tiptoeing around eggshells about something.
I took the bait. "There's more."
He turned away, looking back into the kitchen so that I couldn't see his face. It didn't hide anything from me; in fact, it spoke more clearly than his actual words.
"I need to go. To Hyrule."
"Ugh, goddesses be damned, Link. How am I not surprised?"
I should have been surprised by my own outburst—quite unlike me to dare say something with such intensity!—but I couldn't be bothered to care. I could see precisely where it was all headed. Link said nothing in retort and kept his distance; every moment of silence continued to tear ribbons from my heart. I had thought the emotional calluses I had earned from enduring his insensitivity had hardened me for the day I for the last month had instinctively feared might come. I had, to my discredit, told myself time and again that Link was too noble, that I was beyond irrational to believe that he might simply abandon me like refuse. I had become convicted enough to believed that, if nothing else, he would at least abide by his vows, even if his love for me had already died. Yet all those fears that I had quelled and bottled returned to the fore as my heart raced in panic and apprehension.
I pulled my sheets over my face to hide a tear that began to trickle down my cheek. Not that he was looking to see it, but I couldn't bear to show him my humiliation.
"So," I began, "when should I expect you back? Or maybe I should ask if I'm ever going to see you again." Using poisonous sarcasm against Link didn't actually make me feel better, but it at least would keep me strong enough to face his presence until he walked out the door.
He sighed softly. "Actually, I wanted your permission to go."
"I'm all but bedridden this morning, and you want my blessing to leave me? Would it actually make a difference if I told you not to go?"
"Fine. Then go. I reckon my father can care for me in your absence if you must."
"I can help you get there if—"
"Don't pretend, Link. Do what you need to do."
The mysterious silence returned for a moment. In that space, I dared to think I might have changed his mind.
"I'll bring Uli." A pause. "Thanks."
Boots marched to the door.
The door creaked open.
Then it slammed shut.
I had failed.
He didn't love me anymore. Petra... perhaps. But me, no.
The arrival of spring always aroused a dithery spirit in me. My father would always tell me that I was renowned for my aversion to the cold and blustery winter months and that my very emotions mirrored the seasons themselves. While the second day of spring was by no means the comforting brilliance and scorching warmth of midsummer, it was such a significant improvement from its predecessor that I always seemed to radiate an uncanny joy whenever the season finally came round.
Today was hardly an exception to the norm. While I had reserved the early hours of my day to once again receive the beseeching and pleas of my people, I had every intent to escape what had felt all season long to be a confinement within this apartment so that I might stroll through the castle market and appear amongst my people as I was wont to occasionally do. The promise of such activity carried me easily through the procession of Hyruleans, Zora, and Gorons alike without feeling remotely taxed or burdened.
But if I had believed that my anticipation of the lovely day alone would overcome everything that stood between my long-awaited stroll and I, I was terribly mistaken.
I should have anticipated his arrival.
I should have expected that he would soon arrive after the winter thaw.
I should have been foreseen that my simple and curt—though sympathetic—reply would be deficient and leave him wanting.
And even more vitally, I should have prepared better for the occasion when I would have to face him once again.
To Link's credit and my relief, he remained at the end of the queue, always allowing any tardy arrivals before him. It would simply not have portended well to be compelled to address the nature of our "relationship" with so many onlookers watching in bemusement and, naturally some, with bitter jealousy. I would barely be able to fault them for such emotions either; I was viewed as my people's arbiter, holding a fair ear to all their plights and a compassionate yet wise tongue to decide upon their matters. To see me hold Link in so obvious a higher esteem would tarnish their image of their magnanimous ruler.
Yet all the while, I also feared what private discussion my hero would seek to have with me when there was none other to see or overhear. At least, in the interim, I would have some time to formulate my strategy.
The crowd thinned as the morning waned. Some recognized Link as the hero from his adventures months ago and either waved or whispered a hello. Others eyed him with a surprised look and a raised eyebrow, wondering why someone of his distinction would be waiting amongst the poor and the unprivileged. I knew quite well why, or at least I had a reasonable premonition as such; yet as I occasionally glanced his direction, his expression was entirely and uncannily indecipherable and foreign to me. Whatever his exact intent was eluded my ability to accurately deduce.
After the remainder of the petitioners had cleared and I had waved my guards away, Link spoke. "Zelda, I—"
"Tut, tut, Sir Link." I waved his greeting away with my gloved hand. "This is still the petitioning hour; I should expect better manners."
A perplexed grimace overtook his face; it was clear he was uncertain whether to take my interruption as mere quip or true censure.
"Very well," he began, assuming the latter. "Princess, I have—"
"Correction, actually. Queen Zelda now. Knowing the nature of the snowy paths leading to the Ordona Mountains in winter, I presume you, Mayor Link, departed the village before word of my recent coronation would have arrived. My apologies for not provisioning another means of informing you otherwise."
Link seemed taken aback, clearly now shaken and deterred from his offence. He twitched slightly as he gazed at me, as a dog trying to comprehend a completely unfamiliar command from its master.
"I don't understand," he finally said. "Why are you—?"
I allowed a small smile, one not of kindness but out of selfish smugness. "Because, Sir Link, I am presuming that you are here to petition me for something. Am I not correct?" Slowly, he nodded in response. "Then without regard of what it is you are here to request of me, I need you, Sir, to be duly aware of precisely whom it is you are asking it." I slowed as I finished, letting my words linger amongst the silence between them.
And yet I hated myself for this charade. I was still genuinely displeased by Link's last correspondence; the words still burnt freshly in my memory. Yet simultaneously I knew my weaknesses well, oh so very well. And Link, my Hero of the Twilight, was such a weakness. I desired to shower him with compassion, sympathy, and heartfelt kinship, yet to do so would be to lose this key battle of wits. Were I to yield ever so slightly and dare listen to his plea with kind ears, I would doom myself to defeat in but a minute's time. He would have me, and I could not afford such a loss.
Nevertheless, my demeanour had effectually given him pause, forcing him to retreat and likely alter his strategy and the exact wording his request.
"Okay," he replied after a long thought, "then here we go. I wish to become one of your royal knights, to serve and protect... my queen... so long as my life is useful to her."
"Why?" I asked with faux-naïveté. After all, he had already given a complete explanation for his desires a month ago, but I sought to give him one final chance at redeeming himself in my eyes. "Why is it you ask for such an honour?"
"Why? You ask to me why? Did you not read my letter? Is that why I barely received an answer?"
"Oh, I read your letter. To the last word, I read your letter, Sir Link. Your ennui with the Ordon life, your disconnection with your wife Ilia, your lust for adventure in the fields of Hyrule and beyond, and what I am presuming to be a longing to find passion in my embrace? Yes, I read your letter."
"Well, there you have it. My feelings haven't changed. Not this past month, and I doubt they will any time soon."
I sighed, again with at least half of me in legitimate disgust. "How dare you! How dare you say that in such a blasé manner? How dare you play my heart against your bride's? How dare you turn your back upon Ilia so soon—no, no, no. How can you dare to break your marital vow at all?" My mouth hung open in disbelief as I finally stood up as if to appear more threatening. "And your responsibility to Ordon, you would abandon it without so much as thinking twice? Unbelievable! There are not words fierce enough to describe the sheer audacity of the full weight of this request!
"Dear goddesses, have I failed to see you so erroneously all this time? I had once believed that you were once a man with bravery, honour, and dignity! Yet now I see that it was all just a hollow shell all this time: a pretty exterior with nothing but cowardice, disloyalty, and selfishness festering within!"
"Zelda, I'm not—!"
"No, Link, no. This is what you are, a shadow of what I believed you to be."
"And to imagine that there was once a time where I would—"
I froze in mid-sentence, knowing precisely the direction towards which my thoughts had bent. And though my heart knew my feelings toward Link to be true (and yet, to my chagrin, still were true to some extent), the wound that those words would carve were I to voice them was too severe for comfort.
"But no," I continued, filling in the void. "No. The circumstances are different now. You and I are different now. Our friendship... our friendship is different now." My voice faltered a bit as my heart rebelled within me. "This is over. Go home."
"Zelda," he said again, "don't send me away like this."
I finally turned toward him again, and for once his eyes weren't gazing imploringly at me. Now, they were cast downward with sorrow and shame. I could read in his face a secret shame at being ultimately rejected and being forced to return to a broken life, a life that he had ruined with his own hands. To his credit, there were no tears, but it would not have taken much to crush what spirit remained intact.
"I think I have no choice but to do so, Sir Link. I should not... and will not make you a knight. And moreover, at present, you and I have nothing more to say here to one another."
Saying the words pained me as much as hearing the words pained him. I kept telling myself that it was for the best for everyone—Link, Ilia, and myself. He was needed there. He had to go back to Ordon. He had to return to his wife. But I could not get over the fact that, in one fatal stroke, I had slain the only true friendship I had ever known. I was condemning my friend to an eternally loveless marriage.
And I was sending away the only man I had ever hoped to be with and to love. Perhaps the only man I could ever love.
Why did it have to be this way?
"Link, go home. Go home to your wife and your village."
Wordlessly he left.
The door of my father's house opened. By the clattering of boots upon the hardwood floor, I knew it was a man. And since from the sounds it seemed he hadn't dared venture further in than the threshold of the dwelling, I knew it wasn't my father.
It could be only one person to enter as such... and to do so in otherwise so silent a manner.
"Welcome home," I called out dryly from upstairs.
"Hey, Ilia," Link replied. "Um, do you mind if I come up?"
"That depends, love. Are you leaving Ordon Village?"
"No, I'm going to be staying. Forever, like I promised."
Some iota of relief flooded into me. "And have things changed?"
He paused for a minute, seemingly in reflection.
I almost choked on my breath. The word took me by surprise.
"... and no," he said.
And it was precisely clear which was which. My temporary elation deflated.
"I'm very sorry to hear that."
"I am too."
"Well then. Husband, no, you may not come up."
I could hear a sigh of lamentation.
"But I will meet you back at the house," I added.
"I can live with that."
"Not before eventide though. I'm really not in a state to face you."
"And you've got chores to do."
"Yeah, quite a few actually. I should get on them."
There was a lull in the conversation as we hesitated to say our goodbyes. It was silly to do so; it wasn't the final farewell that I had been fearing.
"See you this evening if not before, Link."
The door opened and closed.
"I love you," I said to the emptiness. I didn't know why I still felt that way, just that I did. And that it hurt—oh so much—not to hear him say it back.
"—and yet no one knows what happened to the Rito people; yet odd as it will sound, of all the tribes, only the Zora actually possess actual artefacts of their existence; you know, feathers, jewellery, and clothing. So the conclusion has always been that the Zora were actually once the Rito themselves."
"And this is proven history?!"
"Well, it would explain the mystery of why the Zora live atop Hyrule's tallest mountain."
I laughed with a bit of incredulous mirth. "Master Auru, this is quite unlike you! This sounds like Shad's wanton speculations instead of a history text."
He sighed in humorous defeat. "I will acknowledge that I am echoing Master Shad a trifle, young Zelda. Even if the conclusions appear sound."
I could not help but laugh. "You two make quite the pair of scholars."
"Many thanks. Now allow me a curiosity of my own, if you please."
"Please pardon my surprise at this, though I cannot help but curiously wonder, out of all the other possibilities within Castle Town, why it is mine whose company you've sought tonight during such an exquisite Spring Festival."
"Cannot a girl enjoy a simple evening with her old teacher?"
"Such is possible, I must admit, though such isn't your intent given how you are otherwise evading giving a direct answer."
"I am, alas, found out." I paused briefly before confessing. "I have a personal question."
"As I remember, Master Auru, you are not married."
"That is correct."
"How have you managed to be content all these years as such?"
He chuckled casually at my inquisitiveness. "Certainly you are not thinking of dying an old maid, young Zelda? I highly doubt that such will be your destiny as well."
"Still, illuminate me."
"Ah, you are not the first to ask me such. But allow me to say that never once have I claimed to be content as a bachelor. Surprised? Yes, yes, I have yearned constantly for a companion in my life but to no avail. My first love, Caroline, she never loved me in equal measure; instead I endured watching her marry another, and in time my jealousy and heartbreak caused our friendship to dissolve. The first of many tales of tragedy."
"Ah," I said, letting my sadness show.
"Why do you ask such a question though? Is it that you found someone you wish to marry but tragically cannot?"
I gritted by teeth.
I looked into Auru's eyes.
And shook my head. "No."
And yet every time I thought I had convinced myself, still I knew that it was merely a sweet, little lie.
All I ever wanted out of life was to lead a simple yet happy one. I wanted a life where I could enjoy the comforts of home in a small cottage in Ordon Village. I had always dreamt of a husband that cared for and loved me unconditionally and the joy of raising children in the traditions that my father had taught me. It was a quaint dream but one that would have been full of compassion and peace. For a moment, I thought all was within my grasp, thought that my dreams were within reach. How did things go so horribly wrong?
All I ever wanted out of life was to selflessly serve my kingdom with honour and dignity. During the early years of my reign, my people had repeatedly invited me to share their humbler joys—of family and companionship—with me, and through them I experienced a joy all my own, filling myself with their happiness. Truly, I never had felt the need to personally partake in those experiences firsthand. For a moment, I had believed that it would have been enough to do so, that my life was indeed made rich through them. Why then does my life now seem to be falling apart?
Wistfully yours, my love.
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