“Do not think this ends here… The history of light and shadow will be written in blood!” Ganondorf’s words certainly are impressive, but perhaps would be even more so if it was not his own blood currently penning this chapter. The princess and the Hero watch in silence as he seems to struggle with himself, then looks down at his hand to see the Triforce of Power abandon him. Though Zelda had been hoping and waiting for this moment, she cannot suppress the thrill of fear that flashes down her spine, imagining her own Triforce vanishing like his did. The desire to tear off her glove and check her hand for the sacred triangle grips her for a moment, but it fades, just as the light in Ganondorf’s eyes do. All is still.
The relief of victory washes over the pair, and the princess bows her head. It doesn’t taste as sweet as she had expected, not while knowing how Midna had sacrificed herself to send Link and Zelda to safety, to launch an attack on Ganondorf that had not been as final as she had planned. After she had already saved me, too. We lost Midna, we lost the castle and everyone in it, and who knows who else died in the attack. What does the town look like? How have my citizens suffered? Do they blame me? Guilt for the last thought comes hard on the heels of the thought itself, and Zelda chastises herself for being selfish. People have died, two realms left in ruin, and you’re worried about the public’s opinion of you? Movement catches her eye, distracting her from what’s shaping up to be a lengthy internal tirade.
She sees Link turn away from Ganondorf, distracted by something over the hill. The light spirits, all four of them, converge upon a tiny figure. Her heart lifts. It can’t be, it’s only because you were just thinking of her. They’ve come to retrieve the Light Arrows, that’s all… The spirits turn to face Link, acknowledging the boy who had gone through such trials to save them from the smothering twilight, and vanish. The figure remains, sitting alone.
Link sees her too; a smile breaks through the shock on his face and he rushes up towards her. Zelda is slow to follow, lost in disbelief. She hears Link’s shout of joy, and a familiar high-pitched laugh, and crests the hill to see him launch himself at a tall, slim figure, knocking them both to the ground in a hug that threatens to never end. Zelda is quite certain that she’s never seen this woman before, but she knows the voice shouting at Link even if she doesn’t recognize the grinning face. “Midna?”
Midna looks up at the sound of her voice, her narrow eyes bright with mischief, and she draws a jagged black shard out of thin air. Pressing it to Link’s arm, he has a split second to frown at her before being transformed into a wolf. With no arms to wrap around her, the Twili easily extracts herself from his grip and stands. “So good to see you, princess,” she says lightly, as if nothing unusual had just happened. It feels unnatural to Zelda to hear her voice coming from a different face, even more so than to watch a human be turned into a beast before her eyes. Her surprise must have shown, for Midna smiles widely and spins in a circle, showing off her new (old?) body. “Zant’s curse was not broken with his death because it was Ganondorf’s power holding it in place. But now…”
The wolf gives an annoyed huff, sitting up and pawing at her hand. Midna looks down at him. “Did you need something, Link?” she asks sweetly. He growls in response, and she laughs, then presses the strange black artifact to him again. A moment later, the Hylian is on two feet again, a scowl on his face as he pointedly turns his back to her. Surprise flashes across Midna’s face, but she recovers with a devious grin. Zelda steps forward, holding her hands up between them.
“We should return to the castle. Let’s get your sword, Link, and go announce the good news to the townspeople.” He and Midna nod, and Link leads the way back down the hill, to where the lifeless Ganondorf still stands, the Master Sword buried in his chest. They stand around him, silent. Link moves to retrieve the blade, but halts a step away, his arm outstretched towards the hilt. Is he going to… just yank it out? Despite the terrible actions of the evil man before them, such an act seems cruel, and Link seems to struggle with the idea as well. Midna looks carefully between the two men, then snaps her fingers. Link gives a cry of alarm as the sword vanishes in a swirl of twilight, only to reappear on the grass before him. He snatches it up at once, carefully inspecting the blade for damage. Midna looks amused.
“How many times have I warped you around Hyrule like that, Link? Surely you know it won’t do any harm.” Link does not reply until he is satisfied with his inspection, reverently sheathing the blade again. It is the first time Zelda has seen him speak, and she misses the first part of his response, having been watching his face and not his hands.
‘-how important this blade is. If lost, it cannot be replaced,’ he finishes. Movement catches his eye, and he turns away from the princesses to chase after his horse, who had made an appearance across the plain.
Midna frowns. “Neither can you, Link,” she replies, though he is already gone. Zelda looks after her curiously, but she says no more. She takes a deep breath, then turns to Zelda. “I can warp us back to the castle, when you’re ready.” She gives a terse nod in return. Is there still a castle? There was an explosion… Panic grips her heart for a moment as she thinks of all who live in the castle, who would have had no time to evacuate – before she remembers that Ganondorf had already killed them all long before Link and Midna arrived to challenge him. Her heart returns to her, filled with lead.
The women stand together, watching the distant figure of Link grow larger as he returns to them on horseback. “I’m not bringing the horse,” Midna tells him as he arrives, her flat tone allowing no argument. Link shrugs, unconcerned, dismounting and leaving the red mare behind with a few pats on the head. He moves to stand beside Midna, looking at her expectantly. Midna tilts her head upwards, and Zelda feels for the second time the strange sensation of growing lighter and lighter, as if she were being drained from the head down, before she loses feeling in her limbs entirely. She tries to blink but has no eyes, has no body at all…
Weight returns to her all at once, and she stumbles before Link’s arm materializes in time to steady her. He smiles at her sympathetically, and she straightens as Midna appears before them again, fluid and graceful in her landing. Zelda looks around, and her jaw falls open in horror. “The castle…”
They stand in what had, hardly an hour ago, been the throne room. Hardly any of the walls remain, the stone instead scattered in large pieces across the trampled gardens outside. The damage radiates from a scorch mark on the floor, at the foot of the now missing throne, where she had last seen Ganon. Black soot had spread across shattered tiles and settled into the shredded carpet. Zelda feels the strength that carried her through these awful months abandon her, and falls to her knees. “What happened here?” she asks, more to break the silence than anything else. She and Link had seen the explosion all the way from Hyrule Field, and Midna had been in it. Zelda turns to face her, suddenly awestruck. “How did you ever survive this?” she asks in a hushed tone, cursing the waver in her voice, however imperceptible it may be.
The Twili puts a hand on the back of her neck, avoiding the Hylians’ gazes as a blush crawls up her cheeks. “Must have been the Fused Shadows. I certainly don’t know the extent of their power,” she mutters. Link and Zelda continue to stare, and Midna picks at an imaginary stray thread on her cloak. Finally, she clears her throat and claps her hands together, speaking more forcefully. “We need to tell the townspeople what happened. Wouldn’t want anyone trying to come in here looking for survivors, the place might come down on them.”
Link nods, and steps forward, extending a hand to his princess. Zelda takes it and he pulls her back to her feet, taking several deep breaths to brace herself. He releases her. ‘I’m sorry,’ he says, his blue eyes soft with sympathy, then puts a hand on her shoulder. Zelda appreciates the warm weight, but it is only a moment before he seems to remember himself and draws away again.
“Are you coming?” Midna calls, already at the doorway but still avoiding eye contact. She taps her foot, in discomfort or impatience, Zelda cannot tell. With a final glance at Zelda, Link hurries ahead, but she is slower to follow. Every step feels as heavy as the shattered masonry that lay about them, and she knows she will have to pack away her shock and grief when it came time to face her people. She had always prided herself on presenting a calm face to the public, and dearly wished that she could have done so during the invasion. Now’s the time you can make it up to them. You can rest later. Zelda feels another hand on her shoulder, and turns to face Link again. To her surprise, she finds herself looking up at Midna. “Ganon is dead. We have good news to share along with the bad,” she says. Link glances back at the pair, questioningly, but Midna makes a shooing gesture and he slowly turns back around.
The princesses begin to walk together, Zelda very aware of the thin hand still on her shoulder. All is quiet for several minutes as the group makes their way to the castle entrance. Outside the throne room, the damage to the building is not quite as severe, and Zelda had seen none of it since her surrender. She refuses to look at anything but Link, leading their way through the wreckage that he had already navigated today. At her side, Midna remains silent as well.
What do you say to someone at the end of a war? It was the doing of Hylians that she became cursed in the first place; cursed, overthrown, and banished. What words can heal such suffering? She had felt it for herself, Midna’s utter loss and despair, but finds herself lost for words. “Link was certainly happy to see you,” she says, finally. Midna does not return her smile, instead closing her eyes and bowing her head gravely, finally withdrawing her hand. Her voice turns soft.
“He shouldn’t have been. Link, he… he gave up so much for me, princess. He fought so hard and traveled so far, all at my command, he only ever wanted to bring his friends home. And if anything had happened to him… I would have dismissed it as the frailty of his race and found myself another hero. Nobody else could have done what he had done, nobody could have withstood the effects of twilight, let alone face Ganondorf, but I would have thrown him away. He knows it too, I never made it a secret.” She swallows, and her voice drops further. “I don’t know if I can ever make it up to him.”
Zelda isn’t certain how to respond to that, and they walk in silence. It’s Midna who breaks it, with a pointed clearing of her throat. “How do you feel about getting your kingdom back, princess? Must be a relief.” The cheer in her tone is strained, and Zelda guesses why.
“You have yours back too, Midna. You can go home.” The Twili doesn’t respond, doesn’t even smile. After a moment, Zelda decides to answer her initial question instead. “I’ve dreamed of this moment for so long, but it doesn’t feel like I thought it should. Hyrule is again the realm of light that the goddesses designed, and my people are free and safe. But they are wounded, we are wounded. We won’t be able to repel a second attack, should one strike now.”
“There won’t be one, not with Ganondorf gone,” Midna says, rather quickly, as if to assure herself as well as Zelda. But Zelda shakes her head, growing frantic, the worries that she had held down for so long bubbling up and threatening to choke her if she doesn’t spit them out.
“My knights could not repel Zant, and I surrendered to him. Why should anyone trust me now?” Midna opens her mouth to protest, but Zelda finds that she cannot stop the words from flowing out. “It was I who invited darkness to the realm, and only I who knew the source of the fear that gripped them. Innocent citizens suffered due to my weakness, and they will all know it soon enough. It was you who saved them, Midna, you and Link. We owe everything to you.”
“Then perhaps I ought to be the princess of Hyrule, and you of Twilight.” Her tone is light, if only for a moment, before growing hard as stone. “My people will welcome you before me, I am certain. When Zant took over, I fled. I was not strong enough to face him either, princess. But you stayed and suffered alongside Hyrule, while I abandoned my land to their fate.” Zelda had never seen such bitterness on her face as there was now; not as she had faced down Ganon, nor even when she had first stumbled into Hyrule, cursed and desperate.
“You came back for them,” Zelda tries, but Midna won’t hear it, her hands balling into fists and her lips twisting into a snarl. Zelda is somewhat taken aback to see that her teeth are still pointed, even in her natural form.
“Link went back for them. Zant had cursed them as he had me, transformed them into monsters as well, but I dared not show my face to them. It was Link who liberated them while I hid in his shadow.” They reach a doorway that had been blocked by fallen rubble, and Link waves the women back as they reach him. Midna looks affronted, until she sees him pull out a bomb, and they back away as the resulting explosion clears the entryway. Link, however, only steps a few feet back, entirely unfazed by the detonation. He continues on as if nothing had happened, but keeps the bomb pouch in hand as they begin walking again.
Midna walks more slowly now, her brow furrowed in thought. Zelda slows her pace to match, and looks curiously at her. A moment passes before Midna seems to notice her. “That… reminded me of something. If I am able to reclaim my throne now, that means I will be able to destroy the Mirror of Twilight. I have abandoned my responsibilities as a ruler, but I can start to put it right.”
Zelda stares at her. “Put it right? The goddesses themselves left that Mirror, they wanted the portal to exist. Would you deny their wishes?” Midna stops dead, now the one to look surprised.
“It was also the goddesses who banished my people from their world, Zelda. Would you deny them that?” she shoots back. Her red eyes seem to burn into Zelda with the challenge. “It was the Mirror that allowed the invasion to happen, it let Ganondorf into my realm and Zant into yours. Light and shadow can’t mix, as we all know.”
“But one cannot exist without the other. You and Link worked together to defeat Ganon, why shouldn’t Hyrule and Twilight work together to repair the damage? Each side is at fault for having harmed the other.”
Midna shakes her head, but the pair hear the sound of a throat clearing, and turn to see that Link has rejoined them, his expression equally serious as theirs. ‘Your palace is also in ruin, Midna, and your people were hurt too. Why shouldn’t both kingdoms heal together?’
Midna gives him a weary look, but tries to laugh. “Ah, Link, I see what’s happened. You’ve fallen in love with me and don’t want me to leave. I understand, really, I get it all the time.” Link doesn’t join in.
‘I was serious. I think Princess Zelda is right.’
The Twili looks between the Hylians, back and forth as though waiting for one to break and admit to the joke. But there is no joke, and she finally sighs. “Very well, I will consider this. I’ll leave the Mirror intact until we decide.”
‘Thank you, my love.’ Midna snorts and shoves him, and he does laugh this time. Zelda only nods in acknowledgement.
They continue together to the castle gates without further incident, all three quiet with thought. Zelda does not slow her pace as they stride across the ruined gardens. If she stops walking now, she feels as though she can never start again, and be stuck in the ruined castle forever. Perhaps that would be easier than having to tell her people what happened, and who had been responsible.
She steps in front of Link and Midna and takes a deep breath, then pushes open the great doors into Castle Town. A crowd of townspeople had gathered on the other side, wide-eyed and anxious. They hardly step through the doorway when a voice calls out from amongst them: “Link? Link, is that you?” The speaker is a thin young man at the forefront of the group, pushing his glasses back up his nose as he takes in the trio before him. His eyes widen. “Could it be – are you the Princess Zelda?” She gives a brief nod, forcing a polite smile on her face, as he falls into a bow that the rest of the assembly hastens to copy.
She hears mutters through the crowd, many of her own name, many of Link’s. They grow louder and louder, steadily rising into cheers. “The princess is alive!” “You did it, Link!” “Gods be praised, is that really the princess?” Her smile grows genuine, and beside her, Link is beaming as well. Despite seeing Ganon defeated once more, despite finding Midna alive and restored to her true form, it is only now that she allows herself to relax. At last, light has been restored to Hyrule, and Princess Zelda feels as though nothing can darken it again.