Take me inside the hour you became miserable, lost your soul…
—The White Devil by Justin Evans
THE LADY IN THE TOWER
Stooped in the sullen darkness, where the very stone was rendered black, the shrine of Beauty crumbled, entombed in a weary young woman.
She had been comely, once. Regality lurked in the upward tilt of her chin, in the pale curls coiffed at the back of her neck, in the set of her mouth. She sat with her shoulders drawn back, her spine straight. Though her gown was faded and the hem of her skirt grimy, nobility lingered in its sumptuous cut, in the trace of purple in her bodice. Hers was the ageless grace after which the poets had hungered, once.
Yet little of the grace remained. There was something raw and ruined about her, something ravaged, something hopeless. She stank as the tower and the streets of the market sprawled below stank, of putrid sickness and sewage. Her wheezing breath was the only sound in the room. A draft crawled across her neck; she shivered.
The girl ducked over her bloody fingers, the fragment of canvas, and the needle she held. The needle was dull and crimson-tipped, a testament to her lack of skill. She had destroyed her hands, in a mad attempt to be useful here in the dark tower whose shadow straddled the walls of Market Town. For many days she had gouged them, purposely driving the needle beneath her nails when spasms of wrath came upon her. The patience for which her child-self had been famous was now expunged, driven to madness, ravaged, hampered, destroyed. She could no longer wait for her skill to develop, could no longer lean against the stained glass panes, tracing the mullions with her blighted fingers and dreaming of lighter days. Could she have wept for innocence and innocent habit lost, the tears would have fallen. But they too had been expunged.
Driven out, alongside her vision.
She sometimes dwelt upon the lighter days, as she sat sewing. In the musty quiet, days when the breath of spring was upon the land came again to her, and she felt again the horse that she had often rode, in the company of noble men and maidens. How beautiful the world had been, breathless with colour, drunk upon daylight's dewy kisses. She remembered the dawn haze, and how it had washed the lake, boiling from the surface of the water to swallow the bars and beads of sunlight, the trills of finch and martin, the voices of nobles, thrumming the lakeshore. She and her entourage had often visited the lake, watching the mist clear and heaven unveil herself amid the remnants of filmy dew. And along the shore, where the gray Field crumbled into patches of brush and sand, Pleasure raised her lilac tent, in the form of picnics and excursions, cotillions danced al fresco, hours upon the lake.
How sweet life had been, careless and festive, without the weight of care! Mortals were not cursed by prophetic dreams, or driven from their castles, hunted by madmen, stabbed in their beds. Life was levity, the hours woven with laughter. And in one moment, as seemingly felicitous as the next, it had all been destroyed. Pleasure weighted with care, levity driven to exile, laughter stabbed in its bed.
How quickly did the goddesses take what they had amply bestowed.
The girl twisted the needle in her hands and gave a sharp jerk. The needle parted company with the thread and the girl, laying it carefully it in her lap, proceeded to knot the thread. The thread was full of knots, both of her own devising and of the device of misfortune, and the thread was becoming difficult to work with.
Her fingers were graceless, and the process of knotting arduous. She at last straightened, and ran her fingers down the short length of thread. The loops were too wide, and had come untied. She gritted her teeth, raised the thread to her sightless eyes, and pulled violently at the ends.
There was the muffled rip. The girl gasped, her hand flying to the cloth. The fabric was torn, the seams pulled asunder. A shriek escaped her before she could stop it; standing, the girl threw the fabric aside, and felt it brush her skirt as it fell to the ground.
The solitary ping of a needle upon the flagstones caught her attention. With a cry and wild gesture, she felt her lap. The needle was gone. She fell to her knees, landing with a shock that seemed able to shatter her fragile build. She ran her hands over the floor, patting the stone, uttering little cries. It was gone, no doubt having sprung away upon colliding with the ground, and vanishing into some black recess. Or perhaps it lay right before her nose. No matter if it did.
She rose, sobbing and tearless, and drove her fists into the window behind her. Her lady-in-waiting had not yet opened the shutters, and her fists thumped against the fragmented wood, blossoming into a shower of stings as her hands were pricked. Her mind registered the brief pain. Wildly, she flung her fists against the shutters. The rotten wood sagged beneath her blows. Lunatic buoyancy suddenly swelled in her chest. She beat at the shutters, willing them to burst open, to give way to the window, so that she might shatter the glass with her bare fists and destroy it. Just as devils, as Time, as goddesses, and heroes and love and her Ganondorf had destroyed her—
"Zelda? Zelda! No, no!"
Her violence had deafened her to the entrance of her lady. One moment she beat the shutters, the next she fell against the solid breast of her lady Impa, wrists caught in a scarred, iron clasp. "What are you doing?" Impa shouted. "What are you doing?"
She began to shake the girl, who drooped and sobbed and pulled in a vain attempt to release herself. Finding her efforts useless, she began to blubber, her knees failing her. Somewhere, in the turmoil of her thoughts, she saw the futility of pleading, of demanding, of explaining the wild joy she took from destroying something. Surely, that was what she needed in this tower. No fabric, or useless attempts to sew clothes for refugees, but something to hurt and destroy and blight as she had been blighted. Her hands, she slowly realised, had been her first victims. What next, when shutters and hands were exhausted?
"Zelda..." Impa stopped shaking her and lowered her to the flagstones. "Zelda, what is wrong?"
"I-I can't stand it up here!" Zelda sobbed. "Why do you abandon me? Why do you leave me here? I-I'll shatter the window when you're gone. I'll throw myself out!"
In her mind's eyes, she raised a blade and began to stab her beloved Impa.
Impa sighed. "Zelda," she whispered, "I try and I try. Why don't you tell me you don't like it up here? I would have brought you down. You know I would rather you were not up here. But you wished— You wished to stay here. You remember—?"
"Yes." Zelda raised a hand to her face, to the bandage about what once were her eyes. "I do. Dear goddesses, I do."
A deep, terrible pain suddenly exploded in her head, and she fell against Impa with a dry sob. "But don't leave me here, please!" The pain waxed, as though Death purposed to take her then and there, and then subsided, revealing itself to be naught but a memory. Her lungs gasped for air.
"You will come down," said Impa, pressing her head gently. "I think it will be good for the refugees to see you. They have wished to see you since the Fall."
"His fall," whispered Zelda.
"Yes," said Impa, and her voice was like rock, steeped in strangled fury. "They clamor for the destruction of this tower." Zelda felt her straighten and stand, and the chill air was again upon the princess's skin. "It is a blight upon the landscape, and they remembered how he used to stand at that window, with his monsters..."
"I remember too," murmured Zelda. "He brought me here, in the pink crystal, before he—my eyes—"
"Don't speak of it," Impa snapped. The memory of pain filled Zelda's skull once more.
"It wasn't his fault," she whispered.
"His fault?" Impa's voice was again strangled. "Not his fault? Who, Zelda, who was it who—"
She paused suddenly, and her boots scraped the flagstone, as she spun aside, hissing.
Zelda rose, rubbing at the gooseflesh that had broke out upon her arms. "I'm too exhausted to be angry now, Impa," she said.
"Well what was that before? When I found you pounding the shutters?"
"That exhausted me. I'd lost my needle, and the fact I've lost everything else came upon me, and I was angry..." Her voice slipped bitterly into silence.
"Angry," muttered Impa, "and yet you speak of him."
"Yes, I do."
"Angry that all you ever owned was lost, and yet you speak of him—" spitting the word.
"Yes, Impa. I speak of him."
Zelda stretched out a hand and made her way to the window seat. "I was not angry with him," she said, "or else I am angry with the entire world. But I cannot hate him, nor the world. Only myself, my damned love, only Time—" She stopped abruptly, hissing, and a remnant of the anger was upon her, as she drove a fist into the wall at her side. "He did not ravish me as Time has. As Time has destroyed me and Hyrule and our only hope—"
"Hope has not been destroyed." Impa sank onto the seat beside her. "Remember, the hero came again, and saved us all."
"And destroyed whatever hope kindled for Ganondorf—"
"Zelda!" She felt Impa turn on her. "For Din's sake, what do you want?"
"Him, again." Zelda paused, rubbing a hand against her chest. "Ganondorf. He was my husband, you know."
"And he blinded you!" Impa hissed. "Cut out your eyes!"
"But it wasn't him," Zelda murmured. "It wasn't him and I know, for I'd seen him, as himself, and he was a good, good man..."
"Misguided, yes." Zelda paused again, turned aside. "Misguided and possessed. Just as I am."