Princess Zelda was in trouble.
Really, she shouldn't have been. It was the morning after the ball held for her eighteenth birthday, and all had gone well - better than 'well', in fact, at least for herself and for one other. But, as so often happened when one lived in the public eye, she had not gone unnoticed.
Her old Teacher, now promoted to the position of advisor, was pacing the floor of her study, muttering, "Hmms," and "What now"s under his breath. Zelda sighed, set down her quill, and gave him a hard look.
"Really, it's not like grumbling over it will change anything," she pointed out. "Surely my happiness should be your priority?"
Teacher wrung his hands. "But Your Highness!" he practically whined, "This would be for the good of the land! You can't claim the title of Queen unless you marry, and you simply must have heirs or your family line will end!"
Zelda frowned. "I don't mind having an heir," she admitted quietly, "But I simply don't understand why I must find someone appropriate to be bound to for life when I'm quite happy with someone else."
He turned to stare at her.
"But how will you have heirs if you don't marry?"
"I'll ask Link. He's my best friend, and I'm sure he would be a fine father." Despite herself, she coloured a little - the method of getting heirs in the first place could... be awkward. And before Teacher could protest, she continued, "But I don't want to marry him. I told you - I grew out of that crush by the time I was fifteen. And, once again, I've already found someone."
He stared at her a bit more.
"But your choice of... consort," he practically croaked, "It's - well, queer. It's not Princess-like behaviour! What would your ancestors think? They would be ashamed! Your Highness, it's just not natural for two women to -"
"That's enough," she said suddenly, the temperature in the room dropping several temperatures. "Teacher, you have overstepped your bounds. Dismissed."
He started at her again, then turned on his heel and strode out.
And Zelda gazed after him, then dropped her head into her hands.
Several hours later, Zelda could be found buried up to the waist in a chest almost larger than her. She was kneeling on the dusty carpet of what had once been her grandmother's room - the chambers assigned to the ruling monarch's mother, the first since their family's arrival. If her mother had lived, one day this would have been hers.
And that, of course, was assuming that Zelda was ever crowned queen.
Really, she already should have been, she decided as she rummaged through a collection of old clothing. Her mother had died when she was small, her father two years before the incident with Malladus. And admittedly, eleven was too young to rule - but after Chancellor Cole's demise (and four more chancellors between then and fifteen), she really should have been crowned.
But no. She had to marry for that. Somehow, it didn't seem fair that she could be the best ruler New Hyrule had ever seen, but she was still prevented from claiming her title simply because she was unmarried.
Sniffling, she tossed another pant suit aside (Grandmother Tetra hadn't been fond of dresses), reaching in once again - then yelping and withdrawing her bruised hand when it hit something hard.
Huh? She couldn't have hit the bottom already, it didn't match up with the outside.
That was curious. Carefully, she peered inside, clearing away more clothing - there was the bottom of the chest, but several inches above the ground.
A hidden bottom? Sliding her hand through the corners, wincing as a splinter snagged her finger, she finally paused - there was a very slight depression there, right at the edge, right in the centre of one of the short sides. She pushed down -
- And the other side levered up.
Success! Eagerly, Zelda set the false bottom aside and peered in, gazing at the items beneath in some wonder. White pants, a pair of sandals, a skimpy purple top, a blue vest, several bits of red cloth - yes, she recognised them. The pirate's outfit her grandmother had worn when they had arrived, the ones duplicated in the stained glass above the Great Hall - now here, before her eyes.
And other items, too. Her blade - well, it was only natural for a pirate queen to have one of those. Some form of odd blue rock wrapped around in cord - that, she couldn't quite work out, so she set it aside carefully.
And... pictographs. She had hoped to find those, hadn't believed she would, but there they were - gently, she lifted them out, careful not to tear the century-old paper and settling cross-legged so she could view them in comfort.
Tetra and her pirate crew - she smiled a little at the sight of the Link she had known, a little more at the sight of Niko - he had strongly suspected that her Link was the grandson of the Hero of the Winds, but given that he had disappeared only a decade after their arrival at New Hyrule, the question was academic at best. And there was another familiar face (of a sort) - Gonzo, grandfather of Alfonzo.
What had happened to the others? Had they had children and grandchildren, too? Zelda smiled a little sadly as she brushed her fingers across the surface, dislodging dust.
Oh - there had been another person there. Small, female - there had been another girl onboard? - with blonde hair and pointed ears like Tetra, dressed in a maroon skull-print dress. That was strange - she had known that Tetra's crew had consisted of six men, and eventually the Link of that time - nowhere had another girl been mentioned.
Curiously, she started shuffling through the other pictographs. They weren't in any particular order, it seemed - there was a picture of the pirates, then there was a picture from her own childhood, very small and solemn and perched on Tetra's lap. But all through it, a theme was emerging - Tetra and the girl in the skull-print dress, practising sword duels, travelling along the Spirit Tracks, spending time down by the shore.
And then Zelda came across a picture that almost made her heart stop.
They were older, here - young women, perhaps her age, perhaps a few years younger or older. And it was undoubtedly a moment of intimacy - the girl who had once worn a skull-print dress and her grandmother, so close they were practically on each other's laps, seated in a hidden corner of the garden holding each other's hands. The girl's eyes were closed, Tetra's were focused on her, a gentle smile she had only rarely seen crossing her face.
Hastily, Zelda glanced away so the tear that had slid down her cheek wouldn't land on the pictograph.
So then... not only had her grandmother been her favourite person in the world. Not only had she practically raised her after her mother's death. Not only was she the person Zelda had idolised and adored - she was also another one like herself.
And she wasn't even around for Zelda to tell.
Finally, wiping her face, she started to put Tetra's things away - the pictographs (although she kept the one in her hand, along with one of herself and her grandmother playing the Spirit Flute), the pirate clothes, the sword and stone. The false bottom was replaced, the clothing folded and set back inside neatly, the chest closed with an almighty bang. Taking sure she remained unnoticed, Zelda slipped back into her own room, setting the one of Tetra and herself on her nightstand and the precious pictograph in a box of treasures she had had since she was small.
She needed to know. Taking a breath to steady herself, she counted to ten, then left the room to contact Link.
She had someone she had to pay a visit to.
The sun was blazingly hot today. Zelda gazed out at the waters of Aboda Village, squinting slightly at the glare, then subtly wiped sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand and silently thanked the Spirits that she had chosen to dress lightly and casually for this visit.
"Will you be okay?" Link asked as he carefully escorted her off the train. Zelda glanced at him, then smiled a little sadly, clutching the book the pictograph had been stashed inside of.
"I think so," she nodded, then leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek - even as friends, she was still more affectionate towards him than anyone else save one other. "Thanks."
He grinned, scratching at the back of his head, then nodded. "'Kay. I'll be in the shop," he confirmed, then set off - probably to talk trains with Alfonzo again. Zelda smiled faintly, then set off down the path to Niko's house, hesitating before knocking.
"Come in!" came Niko's aged voice, "Door's unlocked!" Zelda nodded, then pushed the door open, peering inside - in the past few years, his health had taken a turn, leaving him largely bedridden. Of course, it was to be expected - he was over a hundred and twenty years old - but still, it saddened her. He was the last of her grandmother's crew, after all.
Still, the room was cheery. Niko was sitting up in bed by the window, flipping through the book of stamps she and Link had collected for him. "Hello, girlie," he beamed. Zelda smiled back automatically - he was one of the only ones to not call her Your Highness, and she definitely found it refreshing. "I'd bow, but I think my knees'd break."
"It's good to see you, Niko," Zelda laughed a little, drawing a chair over to his bedside. "I hope you've been well?"
Niko glanced out the window and smiled. "So long as I have the sea breeze, I'll always be well," he told her, then grinned. "It's a pirate thing."
Ah - an easy way to get to the heart of the matter. Zelda nodded, fidgeting with a frayed corner of the book. "It's a pirate thing I came to ask you about, actually," she said, then took a breath and opened up the book, gingerly handing him the pictograph. "Who is she?"
For a long, long moment, Niko simply gazed at it. "Where did you get this, girlie?" he asked her quietly, a pensive note to his voice.
"My grandmother's things." Flushing slightly, she looked away. "I was... I wanted to..." She shrugged. "I just had to. Who is she?"
Niko stared at the pictograph for a moment longer, then handed it back to her. "Aryll," he said simply. "Link's sister. She was nine when she joined us - and Tetra was already twelve and acted so grown up, but..." He shrugged. "Everyone thought she saw Aryll like a little sister, and that she was going to end up with Link. Nudge even had a bet on it. A hundred rupees! Boy, he was sore when Tetra chose his little sister instead..."
So she had been right, then. "So... my grandmother loved a woman?" she asked, wonder in her voice.
Niko glanced up sharply. "Don't go judging her 'bout it. She always was a free one - never was going to stick to the rules. It doesn't make her a bad person, girlie, you mustn't think that -"
"I don't," Zelda said simply, and Niko stopped short. And then she glanced away - the only ones she had ever told this to had been Link (who had approved), Teacher (who had not), and a girl waiting for her across the border, and she was admittedly leery about telling a fourth. "I like girls as well."
Well, Zelda observed idly, that had stopped Niko in his tracks.
"Good luck," he finally croaked. "She hid herself. Married, because she thought she had to, had your father, then ditched the poor sucker she had convinced to marry her. Caused an uproar, you know - royals usually prefer to be miserable and follow the rules. Well, she did that, but she still didn't see her again. Left for sea - she's why Link left, you know."
Slowly, Zelda nodded. "Teacher told me that it - wasn't natural for girls to like girls, or that it wasn't Princess-like behaviour. Well, getting turned into a ghost isn't really Princess-like behaviour, but that still worked out! I guess if Grandmother was like me, too, then..." She shrugged, not even positive herself what she was getting at.
Niko didn't seem to get it either, because he abruptly switched tracks. "You know," he observed, "I don't know if she ever showed you - when the old place flooded, they washed up with this chest, too. It was pretty water-tight! I'd have a look at it, it's probably in the archives."
And he winked at her. "Never know what you might find out about your ancestors."
A chest in the archives? Zelda had no idea what he was getting at, but it was worth checking out, at any rate. "Is there anything about Grandmother in it?" she asked curiously.
"Oh, no. This is from way earlier. This is from before the Great Flood, even!" he grinned, last remaining tooth twinkling in the sun.
Zelda stared at him, then closed the book and tucked it under her arm. "I'll have a look," she promised, then stood and replaced her chair. Sincerely, she added, "Thank you for listening to me, Niko. It - I greatly appreciate it."
"Any time, girlie," he told her gamely, and settled back with his stamp book as she left to find Link.
A few hours later, Zelda was striding back into the castle, raising a hand to wave as Link made his departure. They had taken a detour, stopping the train near the beach, and had promptly spent over an hour talking, making plans. It was a little terrifying, yes - but then, this would be a perfectly acceptable compromise.
Oh, but Teacher would fuss...
It was a quiet, almost somber princess who returned to her chambers, slipping the pictograph out of the book and replacing it in her treasure box. Perhaps one day she'd have it restored, she thought idly, show the world exactly who her grandmother had been. Perhaps one day they would know, and no one would look twice at two girls together. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.
It was almost evening by the time she finally mustered the courage to head down to the archives. They weren't very big, she reflected - nearly everything was from after the Flood. A few artefacts from her ancestors, a cutlass that had belonged to Tetra's mother that she carefully set aside - but, ah. There, in the furthest corner, covered in an inch-thick layer of dust - an old chest, battered and waterstained.
Reaching out to brush the dust off the lid, Zelda took a breath and pushed it open. The ancient hinges groaned, the lid threatened to fall off entirely, but eventually it did open, and treasures from before the Flood were revealed before her wide eyes.
She would have to be careful. Quickly and efficiently, she tugged off her elbow-length gloves, replacing them with the small, thin ones supposed to be used for handling delicate items. And delicate indeed they would be - the chest was full to the brim with books, scrolls, bundles of paper, all printed with Ancient Hylian.
Well, she had her cipher, worked out when Tetra's mother had been young in order to translate the script on another old book (which had turned out to be a law book - the idea of pirates carrying around an old law book amused her, for some reason). Clutched in her hand, she painstakingly translated the old words - the first scroll proved to be nothing more than some sort of diplomatic summons for another land she had never heard of, and she carefully set it aside.
By the time the sun was beneath the horizon, Zelda had worked down a system of sorts. She had set out a long, clean roll of cloth, setting down each item with a numbered place card on top of it - each corresponded to a list she was writing, cataloguing the collection with a description of each item as best as she could tell.
The historians would have a field day. (To say nothing of the cooks - as soon as she worked out what a deku nut was, she was definitely asking about that recipe she had seen in the cookbook.) Zelda's personal windfall so far had consisted of a tapestry bearing her family tree - as soon as she was able to, she could use the information on it to update the small one they already had. Who had known that the name 'Zelda' went back over five hundred years before the Great Flood? Or that at least four of her ancestors had borne children but never married, yet had still claimed the title of Queen?
It wasn't until she was almost at the very bottom of the chest that she found it.
A little leather-bound book, the pages inside handwritten, starting childishly and slowly being refined. There were dates at the top, pinpointing this to a little under a century prior to the flood. Zelda's heart flipped - it was a diary.
Hands shaking, she set it aside and catalogued it. The rest she went through almost impatiently - a child's history primer, some old law scrolls, a book of art - they were all numbered and noted down, then carefully replaced.
Pinning the list to the lid, she turned to pick up the two items she hadn't returned - the old tapestry family tree, and the diary, its old leather cool and stiff against her gloved hands. Tucking the tapestry under her arm and cradling the diary as carefully as the greatest treasure, she hastily returned to her room.
And then she settled down to read.
Almost immediately, she was engrossed. It was slow going, with her cipher, but soon she was picking up the pace, the old letters becoming more familiar. That, she decided, was probably because she couldn't have stopped reading if she had tried.
The diary was from a nine-year-old princess - using the family tree, she pinpointed exactly which Zelda it was, and nodded. But numbers and dates weren't the interesting thing here - its content was far more fascinating than anyone could have expected.
Her ancestor, it seemed, was... not quite normal. Perhaps, a little queer, like herself. Pouring over the childish words, Zelda could begin making conclusions - her ancestor, this other Zelda, had never felt right in her body, oscillating between feeling like a girl and feeling like a boy and feeling like neither in particular. This was entirely new to her experience, and yet she could still feel commonalities with herself.
The story went on. The princess's father was slain, the castle invaded. Her ancestor and her protector went on the run. There was a boy called Link - another one? - trapped in a seven-year sleep, and a man called Ganondorf - hadn't he been the one Tetra had fought? - who had claimed a power that wasn't his.
And, all through it, her ancestor's increasingly eloquent and precise words describing the world around them, how she had felt like a boy in a girl's body and now a girl in a boy's body, how nothing had quite fitted the way she had wanted.
No, perhaps 'she' was the wrong word, then. It was unfortunate that the Hylian language lacked neutral terms, then.
Still, she kept reading. Link (so this was the legendary Hero of Time! Zelda hadn't realised she had been reading the diary of such an important ancestor!) woke up, he and her ancestor became... close. The words were subtle, but Zelda could still guess what had happened in that temple. Between that entry and the next was a gap of days, and she returned to the tale to find a story of revelations, capture, and defeat, of how her ancestor had changed her body to something more like herself, to how the Hero of Time (she couldn't really think of him as 'Link') had stayed, promising to help the princess in any way he could.
Her ancestor was crowned before she turned eighteen - no marriage involved, Hyrule had needed a firm leader, now. To the rest of Hyrule, their ruler was Her Majesty Queen Zelda the Wise, a beautiful, fair young woman.
But behind closed doors...
I am engaged in a struggle between the public and the private. The public sees me as perhaps they should - Her Majesty the Queen, perhaps soon to marry and bear children, a girl who had survived the war by hiding. But in the sanctity of my bedchambers, I am simply Zelda - not quite a woman, not quite a man, but simply who I always wanted to be - myself.
Impa knew, but now she is gone. Link remains my confident, best friend, and lover - perhaps the oddities of his upbringing allows him to see past protocol, but I will not question it. He is the one I return to every night, the one who understands, the one who is tender, the one who takes
Blushing to the tips of her ears, Zelda hastily skipped the next few lines. Fascinating or not, she didn't need to know that much about her ancestor.
remains an 'unsuitable' suitor. The public demand a strong royal family, and that denotes that my choice of husband should be royal himself. And yet, how can I be unloyal to Link? He is the one I choose, and yet we are unable to have any future together. The public does not want their future king to be a boy from the forest.
And there was another similarity. Zelda sighed, ruffling the pages - she too was being forced to pick an appropriate husband, to marry and have heirs, and to abandon the one she actually wanted.
She longed to reach into the past so that they might talk. Zelda suspected they would have much in common.
It was the early hours of the morning by the time she finished reading. The diary had stopped a little after her ancestor's twenty-eighth year, and Zelda wiped her damp eyes - it had been a sad ending, her ancestor saved after civil war had broken out, but the cost being the Hero of Time's life. The last words of the diary burnt themselves before her eyes even as she closed them.
If this is to be my punishment, then I will accept it. I will marry the suitor selected for me, I will become a wife and a mother as well as a queen. No longer can I afford to be myself. This is my penance, and I will accept it and swallow down my true self and go on, because I must.
The diary wrapped in cloth and tucked safely beneath her pillow, Zelda drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
She was floating above an unfamiliar field, white clouds dotting a stunningly blue sky, casting shadows across a sea of green. To one end of the field, a white castle rose from the town that surrounded it, nearby a mountain dwarfed it by an order of magnitude. There was a forest somewhere behind her, she knew - a lake to one side, a desert stretching far beyond the borders.
Hyrule, in the time before the flood. Zelda knew this with something beyond a guess, some greater instinct telling her where - and when - she was.
What it didn't explain was why she could hear lyre music.
Between one thought and the next, her feet found the grass again. There, behind the tree, perched on the sunny top of a low, broad wall - there sat a young man, long tanned fingers plucking at the strings, unruly golden-blonde hair falling into eyes that were revealed to be as red as the sunset.
She knew him. Had known him from the moment she had read the diary. And so she settled down in the grass in front of him, looked up, and said, "Hello, Zelda."
He blinked, and suddenly the tanned skin was fair, the golden-blonde hair reddening, the red eyes shifting to sky blue. "Hello, Zelda," he repeated, a faint smile on his uncovered face. "Are you enjoying your dream?"
Zelda almost giggled. "I am, thank you. This is Hyrule before the flood?"
A nod. "Hyrule as I knew it. It's beautiful, isn't it?"
She nodded solemnly, gazing across the green expanse. "It is."
There was silence for a moment, and when Zelda glanced back up, the Sheikah was gone and the Princess was there. Prim and proper, hands folded over her silk skirts, but the look in her eye sad. She was older, her belly rounded - this must have been after she had married, Zelda realised suddenly, after Link had died. "It's gone, now. But you are the custodian of our future - I have no doubt at all that you can do it."
Zelda hesitated, then nodded. "I read your diary," she admitted quietly, "It - you said that you had to appear like - well, like that to the public, but in private, you could be a woman, or a man, or something in between. Why?"
"I wanted to be myself," she shrugged, and now it was a much younger girl that sat there - perhaps nine or ten years old, a wisp of blonde hair curling out of her silk head dress as she scowled childishly. "I don't wanna be a girl, I'm not! But I'm not a boy, either - I'm just me!"
Dreams were disorientating. Zelda nodded, distracted by the changes - a Sheikah, a Hylian boy who looked the same, a woman, a little girl. "You wear so many faces," she said quietly, "All these masks and disguises - who are you?"
Her ancestor met her gaze, then nodded. Zelda's breath caught - the person sitting there now was the definition of androgyny, narrow hips and shoulders but with a soft, subtle curve to the waist. Arms and legs that were neither muscled nor soft, but merely lean and capable. The girlish curve to the jaw was gone, a little firmer, a little more defined, but the skin that covered it was still soft and unmarred by any trace of stubble.
But the eyes - still the same bright sky blue. The beautiful androgynous being brushed a strand of strawberry-blonde hair from hir eyes and smiled. "I am Zelda," sie shrugged, "Nothing more."
Zelda - the younger one - gazed up, then smiled as well, a little more sadly. "Were you happy?" she asked suddenly, almost immediately wanting to kick herself after asking the question. "In the end - were you able to be happy?"
The elder hesitated, then simply didn't answer. "I had eleven years of being able to be myself," sie said quietly, and reached out to set hir hands on the younger's shoulders. "May it be a lifetime for you. You are Zelda - you are your own person."
And Zelda slipped her ancestor's hands off her shoulders - then immediately pulled hir into a hug. "Are you proud of me?" she asked, whisper-quiet.
"Always," came the returning whisper.
And then a new voice - "'Course we are, silly girl! We're family, you know."
Eyes widening, Zelda broke away - there, behind her, with her snow-white hair pulled up in a loop and tapping one booted foot on the ground, was Tetra. "Grandmother," she choked, and practically threw herself into her arms.
Tetra chuckled, petting Zelda's hair like she had done when she had been small. "Go be magnificent, Little Fishie," she murmured, and Zelda smiled at the old nickname. "You go back and tell that stuffy old bastard who's boss, huh?"
Secure in the knowledge that she was loved, secure in the arms of her beloved grandmother and with the meeting with her ancestor to reflect on, Zelda nodded. "Come back and visit some time," she murmured, dropping her head to Tetra's shoulder in sudden exhaustion.
When next she opened her eyes, sunlight was streaming through her windows.
It didn't take long for Zelda to prepare her study. First, she had a letter to write - the punctual postman would have it there by the next day, she hoped.
Next, she would send a summons for Link to meet her as soon as he returned from a delivery to Whittleton. She had made her decision, now, and now she just wanted him to be at her side - not as her lover, but as her best friend. She wouldn't have it any other way.
Finally, she sent a message for Teacher to join her in her study, three things carefully hidden away in the top drawer. All she had to do was wait, and then she would make her ultimatum.
It didn't take long for Teacher to join her. He took one look at Zelda's solemn expression, then frowned faintly - something was afoot.
"I've made my decision," she said calmly, and his head jerked up. "I will marry Link, and he will be the father of my child."
As she had expected, a smile spread across the man's face. "I'm very glad to hear that you've come to your senses," he started, "This is a step towards maturi--"
"I'm not finished," she continued, and he stopped cold. "I will send a letter to our neighbours and ask -"
"Your Highness, you can't!"
"- join me as my consort, and Teacher, I'm sorry, but I am not willing to give up who I am."
He simply gazed at her for a long moment. Zelda swallowed hard, then reached into the top drawer, slipping out the family tree.
"The Hyrulean Royal Family, prior to the Great Flood," she said simply. "Four of my ancestors had children but never married, and they still claimed the title of Queen - or, in this one's case, King. There are no indications that their subjects thought ill of them because of it."
And then the diary. "My ancestor, Zelda of the time of the Hero of Time. She - if that is the correct term - married and had children, but only after her lover died. Because she had never felt totally like a woman - her lover was a man, and sometimes, so was he. And after his death, she was rarely happy again."
And finally, the pictograph - from the way Teacher's eyes widened, she could tell that he knew precisely who was in the picto. "And my Grandmother, Teacher," she said quietly. "My Grandmother, who I know you always thought highly of. She loved a woman, and that didn't make her unnatural. It was just another part of who she was and who she chose to love."
Taking a breath, she gestured to her evidence - the pictograph, the diary, the family tree. "I have nothing to be ashamed of," she said steadily, hands folded on her desk. "Nothing. I will marry my best friend and have children. I will claim my rightful title. I will stay with my consort. I will be myself."
And she raised her head, locking her gaze with her teacher's. "And I will do it knowing that my ancestors are proud of me the way that I am."
And without another word, she rose from her desk and walked away. She had a new day to plan.