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From the Shadows

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“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.

Chapter Text

Hardly a day passed during her tenure in Hyrule that Midna had not cursed the sun and every quirk of the universe that had aligned to position it so close to the land, but no oaths seemed foul enough for her now, standing beneath it with nowhere to hide from an eager crowd. She glances at Link for the umpteenth time, willing the crowd to look away long enough for her to slip into the cool shade of his shadow. The watching humans, however, refuse to oblige, and even as she throws Link another pleading glance, she feels their ogling gaze shift onto her.

Startled, Midna looks up and stares back at them, and sees that Link and Zelda are looking expectantly at her as well. Zelda had been making some kind of speech, had she mentioned Midna? Will the princess be upset that I wasn’t listening? It’s not as if she was saying anything I didn’t already know…

Forcing what she hopes to be a pleasant expression on her face, Midna shifts forward, raising a hand from her side in a non-committal greeting. The crowd bursts into cheers, but the amusement in Link’s eyes tells her she hadn’t entirely gotten away with it.

Zelda had evidently noticed her inattention as well, resuming her address with a somewhat pointed “As I was saying, it was due to the great efforts of Link and Princess Midna that this threat has now been eliminated.” Her words are met with more excitement from the crowd, and a woman with dark skin and intricately braided hair steps through them, putting her hand on the shoulder of the young man who first recognized Zelda and Link. Midna recognizes the woman as the barkeeper that Link became friends with, and the bespectacled man as one of her little resistance group, the scholarly one.

The woman (Tia? Tara? It definitely starts with a T, I know that) makes her way to the front of the crowd, then turns to face the other townspeople. “I’m sure these must be a strange tale to hear, an otherworldly invasion and monsters made from shadow! But I’m sure you’ve heard of the troubles that plagued our Goron and Zora friends, and seen the creatures that prowled just beyond our walls. I know we liked to pretend that nothing was wrong, but Link truly is a hero! I’ve seen his deeds myself!” Did she really expect that nobody would believe the princess? …Had they not believed her? She sneaks a glance at Zelda, whose smile has taken on a rather forced quality. The assembly breaks into mutters, looking thoughtfully at Link. Ouch, guess they didn’t.

Link apparently noticed the same thing, for he steps forward, arms raised for quiet. The crowd obliges at once, leaning forward to see him better. ‘These have been dark times, we’ve all seen it. But now they’ve passed us.’ He pauses, waiting as the Hylians in front repeat his words to those standing in the back. An idea seems to come to him, and he turns to face Zelda and Midna, his face boyish with excitement. ‘Princess! We could throw a party! To celebrate!’

Zelda looks taken aback. “A… party?” Link nods eagerly, and she looks thoughtful, then slowly shakes her head. “I am not certain that this is an appropriate time, Link. We have sustained heavy losses, and there is much to repair across the realm. We cannot allow ourselves to become blinded by victory.”

Midna, however, isn’t so certain. She leans in towards the Hylians, frowning.  “Your citizens’ morale is one of those losses, Zelda. I’m sure you had it rough trapped in the castle, but things were pretty grim out here, too,” she murmurs. The crowd cannot have heard her words, but Link did, and he clasps his hands eagerly, looking for all the world like a child begging his mother for sweets. Zelda looks amused as she watches him, and shakes her head again, smiling wryly this time.

“Let’s put it to a vote, then.” She raises her voice and addresses the crowd again. “People of Castle Town, what do you think of holding a celebration to mark the end of this long night?” A cheer goes up, and the woman (Thalia? Damn it, I thought I was getting better with human names) looks particularly excited. She turns to the princess, but bites her lip in hesitation, rocking back on her heels. Zelda notices her after a moment, and gives an encouraging nod.

“Your Highness, your people in Kakariko village were also impacted by this battle. Perhaps they could be a part of this celebration as well?” Midna manages to bite back a laugh at her eagerness. The Kakariko shaman isn’t interested in you, lady. You’re wasting your time on him. But Zelda looks interested.

“That sounds like a fine idea, Miss…?”

“Telma, your Highness. I run a bar in the town,” she replies, giving a little bow. Aha! I knew it began with a T!

“And you mentioned the Gorons and Zoras too… If they were harmed by Ganondorf’s actions as well, then they should know that he has been defeated, and how the threat came about in the first place. They deserve that much from us,” she mused.

Telma agrees, and returns to the crowd with another bow. Following Zelda’s announcement, the townspeople devolve into a chattering mass as they begin to disperse back to their homes and businesses. Midna feels a tension that she did not know she was holding release in the pit of her stomach as she watches the Hylians scatter, and the feeling intensifies as she notes that the sun is beginning to dip below the town walls. The shadow she had been hiding in had lengthened, and she finally steps away from the castle gate. It feels unusual to walk again, having grown so used to floating along beside Link, or riding on the wolf’s back. It was, perhaps, the one thing Midna truly enjoyed about her cursed form, the silver lining she forced herself to find.

Looking around, the Twili spies Link talking to a small knot of Hylians that she recognizes as Telma’s bar friends. He sees her approaching and waves her over with a grin. ‘Rusl’s planning to return to Ordon in the morning, and I’m going with him. When are you going back to Twilight?’ he asks. Midna stares at him, much as his companions stare at her.

“You’re leaving so soon?” she finally manages. Link tilts his head to the side, frowning.

‘Why wouldn’t I? I don’t live here.’

“I – I know that, Link. I’ve been to Ordon, remember?” The helmeted man Link had indicated, Rusl, looks alarmed at that, but Link nods in agreement. Midna finds herself struggling for words, and to tamp down the inexplicable panic rising within her. Get it together, Midna, what are you doing? Why do you care? Were you planning on having the poor boy follow you around forever, solving all your problems for you? She takes a deep, steadying breath. “I suppose there’s no reason to hang around, then. If you’re leaving tomorrow, then I shall as well. It’s just… strange, that this will be the last night we spend together, after everything.”

Link grins and nudges her with his elbow. She sighs, but smiles in spite of herself. Way to keep your cool, idiot. Rusl is eyeing her differently now, considering her carefully and reaching up to stroke his beard. The armored woman at his side, however, grins and gives her a thumbs up. The implication of her words strikes with the force of a charging Helmasaur, and a blush steals up her cheeks faster than she can beat it back. “Not like that, you fool,” she groans, and Rusl looks away hastily, blushing himself. Link looks between the two with raised eyebrows, and they both carefully avoid his gaze. Midna rushes to change the subject. “It sounds like you have your plans set, then. There’s probably housing available in town, but we can do better. Let’s go find Zelda and demand accommodation from her. We’re heroes now, didn’t you hear?”

She turns and marches away before he can respond, her face still aflame, making for the castle gates. Behind them, the grounds are fully bathed in shadow. The cool darkness envelops Midna like a shroud, brushing away the punishing glare of the sun. It is only a few steps inside that she sees the princess, facing a tall man clad in plate armor. She cannot see his face under his helmet, but she has seen enough of Hylian steel to know that his plate is of fine make, and skillfully decorated with enameled engravings of the royal Hyrulean crest. Standing well behind the man, a cloud of men and women in fine clothing watch the exchange anxiously. Their dress consists largely of flamboyantly colored silks, but the royal crest can be found upon their persons as well, patterned in jewels on heavy brooches or embroidered upon scarves.

Nobody appears to notice the Twili in their midst, and she takes the opportunity to slip amongst the shadows, waiting to speak to Zelda alone. The armored man is gesticulating as he speaks, but only his louder words reach her. “…have fought them off… why bother training… accepting foreign aid…” Midna’s eyes narrow at his last comment, but before she can step back into view, she hears Zelda speak, loudly enough to cut him off.

“Zant was not fighting alone, captain. He was aided by the great beast of legend, Ganon has resurfaced at last. Hyrule has never been able to withstand him, not without the Hero of the goddesses. Without such a Hero, we could have kept fighting but we could not have won.”

“How could you have known that Ganon stood behind him? Did your Triforce tell you? Was it wise to give up so early?” Disdain colors his voice, and Zelda steps back as though slapped, drawing her hand to her chin as though to protect the Triforce upon it.

Silence echoes around the courtyard, and Midna decides she had heard enough. “My, Hyrule is blessed indeed to be ruled by such brave and mighty warriors. Now I do find a military state a bit unrefined, but I’m only a princess, I wouldn’t know of such things. Not much one for management, me.” The man spins around, scowling as he searches for the newcomer.

“Mind your tongue, woman. The Hyrulean monarchy has led this holy kingdom to greatness for centuries,” he barks. How quickly he defends the throne that he was just mocking, the bastard!

“Then perhaps you ought to leave them to it.”

He opens his mouth to retort back, but Zelda raises her arms to silence the two. “Thank you for your concern, captain. You know I always value your expertise on the state of the kingdom’s security. Perhaps we can discuss this further in the morning,” she adds firmly, and the man takes the command to leave with a stiff incline of his head and a muttered “Your Highness”. An angry flush crawls up his neck as he takes his leave. With a sigh, Zelda turns to face Midna, lowering her arms.

“A military state? Rest assured, Midna, that I take orders from no one, including my guard. It is a natural thing, after a disaster, to question how it might have been avoided.”

You allow your guard to insult you like that, and call it natural? A scathing reply rolls to the tip of her tongue, but dies there as she takes a closer look at the princess. Her hair had begun to come down from its intricate braid, straggling across her forehead. She appears rather pale (Humans get like that when they don’t spend enough time under the sun, I think I read about that… How terrible), but it’s her eyes that look a thousand years old. The blue in them is as bright as Link’s, but even at his most drained, Link did not have the same rings of tired red beneath, or the almost wild look of despair hidden in an otherwise schooled expression. Is she thinking about the castle again? Or the work that needs to be done? Midna takes a careful step forward, then closes the distance between the two as Zelda does not move. She puts an arm around the shorter woman’s shoulders, feeling the tension in her muscles.

“It’s been a long day for you, princess,” she finds herself saying, her voice soft, as though at the bedside of an ill family member. “But victory is ours, and it’s finally time to rest. Let’s see if there are any beds around here, there’s still much of the castle standing.” The Hylian sags against her, only for a moment, before finding the strength to hold herself up again. It’s over so quickly that Midna isn’t certain if it happened at all, if not for the ever-increased weariness in her eyes. She keeps her arm around her, half expecting to catch her should she fall, but Zelda walks at her side at a normal pace.

They turn towards the castle, and the flock of waiting Hylians descend upon the pair. They all begin to speak at once, and Zelda dismisses them one by one with a nod and a wave of her hand once they’ve finished. Midna watches them curiously, completely unnoticed in their frenzy to be the first to speak to their princess. What snatches she can make out of their discordant conversations is unimportant at best and utterly inane at worst. Many speak of the celebration to come, and of who to send to Kakariko, Death Mountain, and Zora’s Domain. A number more repeat the words of the captain of the guard, and fret over the months-old decision to surrender to Zant. Zelda spares no more than a few words in response to any of them, but they appear satisfied when they depart. Finally, only one remains, a stooped old man. His clothing appears more practical and muted than his fellows, aside from a golden necklace that shines as brightly as his bald head.

“Your Highness, it is so good to see you return to us alive and well. We were so dreadfully worried when we saw that odd barrier go up, and such a short relief to see it come back down…” He trails off, declining to remind the princess of the terrible blast that destroyed her home. Midna decides right then that this man is her new favorite of the Hylian nobles. He thinks quietly for a moment, a slight frown on his face, before continuing. “The question began to rise, your Highness, of who would lead us in the event that the princess is… unavailable. The council, of course, did our best to keep things running in your absence, but I feel our progress was, ah, stagnated, by the lack of a singular leader.”

“I appreciate your concern, chancellor. I confess that I, too, shared those fears. It is a matter that I’ve given great thought to, and we will surely discuss in greater detail soon.”

The old man looks as though he’d like to say more, but bows his head and walks away when Zelda says no more. She gives a sideways glance to Midna, smiling grimly. “Well now, wasn’t that fun? How I’ve missed my dear advisors,” she says in a low voice. Midna had barely contained her growing amusement, and now that the royal advisors had departed, she allows her laughter to bubble out. Zelda’s smile grows warmer, though she looks no less weary. Their walk had slowed to a crawl when they had been intercepted by the crowd, and only just reached the doors to the castle proper. Zelda makes to push them open, then pauses and looks around. “Where’s Link?”

Midna frowns. “I thought he’d have caught up by now. Hang on,” she says, finally removing her arm from around the princess’ shoulders to rush back across the grounds and into town. She finds the Hero standing where she left him, listening to his friends talk with a relaxed smile on his face. She’s surprised to see him looking alert and cheerful, after all of the fighting he had done that day. He looks up when Midna shouts his name, and waves a farewell to his companions when she beckons him over. “You can see your fans tomorrow,” she tells him when he’s close enough to hear. He rolls his eyes, but the effect is spoiled by a yawn.

The pair make their way back to the princess, who had waited for them where Midna left her. “I was just curious, you didn’t have to go get him,” Zelda tells her, but she looks amused all the same.

Together, they step into the castle, and Zelda leads the way to a side wing that she tells them is reserved for guests. “It’s not quite as formal as the royal chambers, so I don’t think Ganondorf will have bothered with it,” she explains, her voice hopeful. Indeed, the building appears to be largely intact, with only some shattered windows and a thick layer of sediment on every surface, shaken from the stone walls and ceiling when the castle trembled under the earlier explosion.

All is quiet as they cross long hallways and elaborately decorated rooms, and the silence seems to weigh on Zelda, who glances over her shoulder before speaking again. “I had thought that my citizens would take the news of the invasion much worse than they did. That went… rather well.”

Midna snorts derisively. “Did it? Your nobles didn’t seem to think so.” Zelda groans, shoulders slumping, finally giving the first sign of frustration.

“My council hates working together, I should have expected this. I should have had some back up plan in place,” she mutters. She glances back at Midna again, thoughtful. “Do you think your advisors will have had the same problem without you?”

“Oh, they had their leader, remember? Zant was the king,” she sneers, twisting her hands into fists. He probably killed them all off, got rid of the competition. She had forced herself not to think of home for so long, instead focusing single-mindedly on her mission, and the realization now hits like a blow to the gut. Silence settles upon them once more, thick as the dust around them.

After a moment, Zelda tries again to break it. “Everyone will know you two are heroes, now. I do not wish to understate my gratitude for all you have done.”

Midna tries to keep the edge of bitterness from creeping into her tone, but isn’t entirely successful. “They know that about Link, certainly. Everyone saw him running around, here and in Twilight.” I only hid in his shadow, the whole time. Hide and run away and get other people to fix things for you, that’s all you know how to do, isn’t it? …Well, what’s one more time? “Link,” she begins, then hesitates. How much more can I ask of him? When will it end?

But he smiles. ‘I wouldn’t want to do all of that explaining alone. Want me to come with you, to meet your people?’

Well, that was easy. “I’m starting to think you know me too well.” She shakes her head, but can’t stop herself from smiling in relief. “How can I ever make it up to you?”

‘Leave the portal open,” he says, promptly. She blinks in surprise. Why does he care?

“I don’t think it’s safe, Link. I – I said I’d think about it, and I will, but I really don’t –”

Link cuts her off with a violent shake of his head. ‘You asked. I’m not letting you leave us that quickly.’

Try as she may, Midna finds herself unable to think of a response to that, and Link looks satisfied. They finally stop walking, and Zelda gestures to the doors around them. “These are bedrooms. Take your pick.” She takes a deep breath, and gives them a weary smile. “It’s finally over. I cannot thank you enough, both of you. Hyrule is deeply in your debt.” Link inclines his head in acknowledgement, and Midna copies the action. What more is there to say?

Again, all is quiet as they each make for a separate room, but the stillness does not threaten to smother them this time. In the darkness of her chosen bedroom, Midna finds herself reminded of the peaceful solitude of her home. She drops off to sleep, imagining the perpetual black snow of Twilight drifting up around her.

Chapter Text

“What a day, eh, Link?” Rusl says heartily, reaching over and clapping Link on the back as they cross into the boundary of Ordon Village. It had been a long afternoon of travel, made all the longer by Link knowing that teleportation was possible, and having grown used to it. Hours passed by, flying far more slowly than the earth beneath Epona’s hooves. Rusl put up a commendable effort in carrying a conversation, at first, but was forced to concede to silence when it became obvious that Link could not hold the reins and reply to him at the same time. Still, theirs was not an unpleasant trip, with the calming sounds of hooves hitting the ground and the wind in their hair. Link has to admit, sluggish as it was, it felt nice to not be in a life-or-death hurry to get somewhere.

The silence does not end once they entered the village. None of the children had arrived yet, as Rusl had explained when they set out, they were only just preparing to leave from Kakariko in a horse-drawn cart. It would be painfully slow going, he confided, as if their current pace was not. Even with his warning, it is startling to Link to see the village so empty and quiet. Only one figure had come to greet them, although it takes Rusl a moment to notice her in his musing. “Good to be home, good to be home… Ah, there’s Uli!” He rushes off towards his wife, his traveling companion easily forgotten in his exuberance.

Alone, Link turns back up the path they just went through, back to his own house. What a day, Rusl. As if in a daze, he climbs the ladder to his house as he had done a thousand times before, hardly seeing the worn wood beneath his hands. As he throws himself onto the thick straw of his mattress, for the first time since all of this began, he doesn’t think about how good it is to be home and safe. He closes his eyes, and wonders if Midna feels the same way to be back home; as if her skin is on backwards, as if the whole world had been shifted a foot to the left and nobody else seems to notice. He scowls and shifts, punching his pillow into a better shape. He wonders if the mattress beneath her back is also unbearably scratchy and lumpy compared to the ones they had woken up on that morning.

x X x

It ought to be criminal, creating a bed as plush as this one. Or perhaps, criminal to not have made it readily available to the entire kingdom, and not just to the royal family. Is this where the town’s taxes go to, feather beds and embroidered pillowcases? A bitterness rose within him, the age-old resentment of a poor man coming into contact with the ultra-wealthy for the first time, but it was quickly smothered by the softness of the woolen blanket against his cheek, finer than any cloth ever spun in Ordon. What manner of creature produced the fiber for this? It’s no goat, Ordon has the best goats in all of Hyrule.

Admittedly, the down was so deep that it was hard to push himself out of bed, his hand sinking into the mattress when he tried. It took a few minutes to extricate himself, and as soon as he remembered where he was going that day, he wished he hadn’t. The Twilight Realm was cold and angular, a far cry from the cocooning warmth of the bed he just forced himself out of. Midna proved to be as difficult to coax out of bed as he had been, her mood not improved by Link leaping onto her in a final effort to wake her.

They were soon on their way, a few slices of buttered toast clutched in their hands, as Princess Zelda had insisted that they take some sort of breakfast with them before leaving her hospitality. She had been almost irritatingly alert as Link and Midna stumbled blearily past, although looking back, Link wasn’t certain they would have found their way back out of the castle before noon without her guidance. It wasn’t until he stood once more before the Mirror of Twilight that he registered how Midna’s hands were balled into fists, and her back unnaturally straight. She didn’t look back at him as she activated the portal, but her voice was even higher than usual as she spoke. “Ready to go, Link?” Without waiting for an answer, she stepped through, leaving him to follow behind.

He nearly ran into Midna as he appeared on the platform before the Palace, as she was standing stock still before a small knot of Twili citizens. A harsh voice split the air. “Who’s there? This is Twili ground, you’re not welcome here! Go back where you came from!” Peering around her, Link saw that the speaker was another Twili, tall and lanky like the others. Unlike the others, he held aloft an elegant rapier with an elaborate basket hilt, the point of which was aimed up at Midna’s throat. A scowl twisted the man’s face, until recognition filled his eyes. “Midna?” he breathed, his sword arm falling slack.

She stepped forward, hands raised in a gesture of surrender. Link could not recall ever seeing her so… submissive? She’s nervous. The word didn’t sound right, associated with someone so bold, but what other word was there? Her hands were steady, and her voice as well, but the fact alone that she hadn’t immediately assumed control of the situation was unnerving enough. “Now let’s all just calm down, all right, Taivo?”

“Midna,” he repeated, shoulders relaxing in relief. “Gods be good, I thought the Usurper had killed you. He said that he did, what a fool I was to believe it.”

She raised an eyebrow, and lowered her hands back to her side. A cocky smirk crossed her face, and just like that the Midna that Link had gotten to know so well returned. “A fool indeed. It’ll take more than that to get rid of me, cousin.” Her smirk vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. “I thought he killed you too,” she said quietly. The Twili, Taivo, gave a weak laugh.

“I won’t ask your forgiveness for our security measures, I’m afraid. We’ve seen some strange folk around here, lately. Nothing good has come of it.” It was then that he saw Link, and whipped his sword up once more to point damningly at him. “Like you! What are you?” he cried, his guard raised again in a heartbeat.

Another Twili gasped, and scurried out from the crowd. Far shorter than him, they had to jump to grasp his arm, and lowered it hastily. “We’ve seen that one around before, Taivo, that’s the one that retrieved the Sol spheres!” A murmur of interest rippled through the crowd, cutting through their anxiety like a blade. A strange chittering noise filled the air as they all peered at Link, a sort of communication that he had not heard before. I’m probably the only human they’ve ever seen. It had only gone on for a few moments, but the weight of their unfathomable red eyes was already heavier than he would have liked. Is this how Midna felt yesterday?

She addressed the group, but her words did not reach Link past those glowing little eyes before him, so unlike Midna’s or Taivo’s. Like her, he had an unusually humanlike face, with bright yellow eyes and wavy orange hair that fell to his shoulders. He also wore clothing, if only a wide sash of black and gold cloth tied around his waist, into which he had tucked his blade. Her cousin, she said? Zant’s body was more like theirs too, is that just something the royal family has?... Is Zant related to them? As quickly as the question had come, so too did the resolve to never, ever pose it to Midna. It was almost a relief when she turned to Link at last, asking permission to transform him into a wolf to demonstrate how he was the Hero of Twili legend, the divine beast acting in the will of the gods. Here, in the cold and dark of the Twilight Realm, it felt natural to be a wolf, or at the very least, to no longer be human in this land built specifically to destroy them.

The rest of the princess’ address passed uneventfully, no doubt with many of the same words that Zelda had used yesterday, and with Link more comfortable in his wolf-skin than his own. Were those alien gazes softer now, more understanding, after so many Twili had been forcibly turned into monsters by Zant? Link didn’t know, but the wolf didn’t care. The world, any world, was always simpler in this form. He sat quietly at Midna’s feet, feeling her hand come down to pat his head absently. Once that would have bothered him, but such a long time ago that was. He watched idly as the black snow of Twilight rose around them, yet never seeming to make contact with anything solid. Was it cold to the touch, like the snow he knew? Did it matter? The wolf wanted to race through it, like it had through Snowpeak, so much more at ease in the deep drift with its thick fur and extra set of legs than Hylian Link had been. He thumped a leg, eager to stretch and run, and felt Midna’s hand on his head again, a silent command to be still.

Did time pass here, in this realm with neither sun nor moon? Link could not tell, but eventually Midna’s explanation of Zant and Ganondorf’s attack ended, and the gathered Twili chattered amongst themselves again. She looked down at him. “Do you want to be human again?” she asked, reaching for Zant’s curse shard. He began to shake his head. Twilight was bad for humans, it wasn’t right, the wolf belonged here. But something nagged at him, some half-formed concern that he was using the wolf to hide, and he nodded instead. Midna quirked an eyebrow, but conceded, and with the usual hot stretching feeling, Link stood on two legs once more.

Words came to him suddenly, bypassing his brain entirely as he shared them. They had something to do with that feeling, he knew, and with what little he could glean from those stares of the Twili citizens. They’re hiding too. ‘Midna, something’s wrong. This isn’t how things usually are here, are they?’ She laughed.

“Of course it isn’t, didn’t you hear? Everyone had gone underground, or had been cursed themselves. I don’t know what you’ve been imagining but that’s now how I run things,” she said haughtily. Her earlier anxiety appeared to be entirely forgotten, or at least entirely hidden.

‘Do you think they could use a celebration too? Same as us?’ Midna laughed again, but Taivo, who had yet to leave like the others, looked interested.

“A celebration? Of freedom from the Usurper? Oh, go on, Midna, what better reason is there for a party?” She groaned, and swatted at Link’s head. Her reach was far longer than he expected, still not used to seeing this new body, and ducking his head was no longer enough to dodge her.

“See what you’ve caused now?” But her cousin pressed on, and she sighed, still admitting defeat faster than Link would have liked. “All right, all right, let me just get this one back home first. He has a ride to catch to his village, don’t think I’ve forgotten…”

x X x

At first, it’s a relief to find Ordon as small and sleepy as ever, and it only takes a of couple days for Link to fall into a rhythm, not quite the same as his old life but as close as he can manage. Waking at dawn, idling the day away on the ranch, and passing back through the tiny village to his treehouse. All is calm and quiet, and the only action of the day is herding the stubborn goats back to their pen. True, he had never been one to wake earlier than Fado before, and now he passes his time practicing sword fighting against a set of clumsy hay-stuffed dummies, but the similarities to his old routine are enough for him. Finally, Link is able to rest.

It doesn’t last as long as he would like. The arrival of the children from Kakariko brings some small uproar, but it’s only hours before Ordon slumbers again, as ever. It’s only after a few hours more that he tires of his new shadows of Talo, Colin, and Beth, and decides to give them the slingshot that they had so envied, another lifetime ago. Even after their own adventures, they’re pleased enough with the toy, but it’s not long before they begin to demand demonstrations of Link’s newer weapons and tools. The ball and chain is a particular favorite, at least before Jaggle reluctantly takes Link aside and quietly asks that he smashes fewer pumpkins, even if it’s for the kids’ entertainment. Link blinks at him in astonishment as he walks away, remembering the days when the man would have shouted himself hoarse at them all for wasting valuable food.

The stillness of the village begins to grate on Link, his nerves winding tighter and tighter with each passing day with no danger. Surely, there must be some monster lurking nearby, but where is it? Where? He starts jumping at every sound, pulling his sword at every movement in the corner of his eye. The children begin to shun him, uncomfortable with his restlessness, and his only solace becomes time spent with Epona, and with Ilia, once she finally arrives in town. The adults in town speak nothing but praise of their hero, seemingly oblivious to his growing unease. Sera refuses his rupees at her shop, and Uli cheerfully tells him that she would have named her baby after him, had the child been male. The men of the town insist on continuing their nightly watches, as had become their custom since the children were taken away, yet they refuse to allow Link to join them, telling him that such boring duty is below a great adventurer like him.

It all comes to a head one night at Jaggle and Pergie’s house, having finally accepted a dinner invitation that he had been dodging for a week. Like the rest of the village, the couple had been treating Link with a new reverence, speaking to him in hushed tones and unusually eager to please. Without his enterprising brother to occupy him, Talo’s hero worship of Link had reached new and unbearable levels, surpassing even that of Colin. As his mother prepares dinner and his father sets the table with their finest dishes, Talo capers about underfoot, finally getting shooed from the kitchen by Pergie.

Link sits quietly on their sofa, hands clenched in his lap, trying to ignore clattering of cookware that so reminds him of the clattering of bones. He had been dreaming of Arbiter’s Grounds lately, hordes of the undead chasing him across pits of quicksand and bottomless voids that threaten to swallow him whole. In his dreams, every enemy had been invisible, and without Midna at his side, he’s unable to transform and see their true forms. He cannot fight and he cannot hide, and soon all he sees is darkness as they drag him down below the sand. He closes his eyes, trying to relax before his hosts see his disquiet. Suddenly, Talo leaps onto the couch beside him, overbalancing and grabbing Link’s arm for stability. In a flash, Link’s sword is out of its scabbard and at his throat, a battle cry dying on his lips as he sees the fear in the boy’s eyes. He drops the blade and steps back in horror, the clatter of metal on stone as it hits the floor unbearably loud. Beneath three pairs of wide eyes, he snatches his sword back, and rushes out of the house without a word.

Overnight, the most popular man in town became the least popular, and Link relishes and curses the sudden solitude. Nightmares of his more harrowing adventures grow more vivid, and many mornings find him reaching for his sword, his most trustworthy companion. But as he remembers what happened that night at Jaggle and Pergie’s, he forces himself to be grateful that nobody is around him. Boring days melt into dull weeks, and even the refuge of his oldest friend is torn away as Mayor Bo forbids Ilia from visiting him. To her credit, she manages to sneak out twice, until Bo asks Beth to keep an eye on her, citing concern for her delicate health. She fought bitterly against him, proclaiming that she felt perfectly fine now that her memory was returned, but it seemed that the mayor had gained a fierce new protectiveness over his village after the attack and refused to back down.

And so it was that Link found himself alone at the spring one morning when a tall, thin man in a red suit came upon him, greeting him with a loud shout. “Mister Link, there is a letter for you! I left it with the mayor, he said he would get it to you. Onward to mail!” he cries, and hurries into the forest without a glance behind. He blinks in surprise, then scrambles to his feet and rushes into the village. When he arrives, he sees Bo and his daughter outside of their house. Ilia looks at him questioningly, but Link shakes his head, indicating her father with a nod. She scowls at his reluctance, and beckons him over so aggressively that the mayor notices. To both their surprise, he too waves Link over, and Link peers over his shoulder at the letter in his hand.

The paper is a crisp white, and the broken golden seal bears the royal Hyrulean crest. The handwriting is clean and precise, and though he cannot see a signature, it’s clear who wrote it.

Mayor Bo,

It is our great pleasure to welcome the citizens of Ordon Village to Hyrule Castle to join in a kingdom-wide celebration of our new era of peace.

The rest of the letter is hidden under a fold in the paper. Once Link looks up, Bo wordlessly hands over a second letter, written on an unusual greyish-green paper. Link rips it open eagerly and reads the unfamiliar curly handwriting, a grin spreading over his face.

Link,

I wasn’t planning on ever setting foot in Hyrule again, but you got my cousin all wound up with your stupid idea, and he made me go see Zelda about it and then she got on my case and now I have to go to this stupid party too! She thinks it will be a “valuable opportunity to gauge the well-being of our citizens and their interactions with each other”, but I think she just wants to see me again. Try not to get too jealous! This was your idea, so you better be there!

Midna, Twilight Princess

He feels Ilia’s chin on his shoulder, reading alongside him. Once she’s done, she turns to her father, clasping her hands in glee. But Bo puts up a hand to stop her before she can ask. “No, no… It’s too far away, Ilia, too far from home. It’s not safe out there.”

“Father, you’d be there too! The whole town’s invited, didn’t you see?”

“No, I won’t be there, nobody is going. It’s not safe.” He folds the letters back up and tucks them away in a pocket, ready to end the conversation.

Ilia puts her hands on her hips. “Is Ordon safer? Weren’t the kids taken from their beds, right here?” Bo flinches as through struck, but his daughter presses on. “Besides, I’ve been to Castle Town before, didn’t you see me there, Link?” He, too, flinches as Ilia turns to him, her eyes burning fiercely. He nods, but she doesn’t look away, demanding a more explicit confirmation.

Link sighs. ‘Yes, you were there.” Ilia turns back to her father, triumphant, and only Bo sees his next words. ‘Rusl goes there too, he’s safe there,’ Link adds, and only now does Bo look thoughtful.

“He does, doesn’t he?” He strokes his moustache in thought, and a warning look from Link quells Ilia from interrupting. Slowly, a smile spreads over his face. “Very well, here’s what I will do. I will ask Rusl if he would agree to escort the two of you into town. You may attend the party, then he can bring you home.”

Ilia splutters for a moment, words escaping her in her fury. Link merely frowns. ‘Why don’t I bring her? She’ll be safe.’

“Like you kept Talo safe?” Bo shoots back, but he winces at his own words as well as Link and Ilia. In his mind’s eye, Link can see the dark-haired boy again, fear carved into his young face. He lowers his head in shame, but so does the mayor. “No, Link, I’m sorry. That’s not fair of me.” He heaves a great sigh. “Rusl won’t want to leave his family, not with the baby. And you, you did save the children’s lives, and my Ilia too.” He lapses into thought, and this time Ilia gives him his time, although she squirms with impatience.

Finally, Bo smiles again, and retrieves Zelda’s letter from his pocket. He holds it out to Link, who accepts it before the offer is taken away again. By this point, other villagers have come to see the disturbance, and it seems Bo noticed them too. He stands straighter, and speaks in his loud, official voice. “It would not be proper for Ordon to not send a delegation to this event when we’ve been invited by the princess herself. Ilia, you may go, Link is capable enough of defending you.” Ilia gives a shout of excitement and hugs her father, then hugs Link, then dashes back into her house. Feeling the weight of the villagers’ eyes on him, some curious, some hostile, Link gives the mayor a nod of acknowledgement and hurries back to his house, the letters from the two princesses clutched tightly to his chest.

Chapter Text

After the cloying stillness of Ordon Village, the air of Hyrule Field tastes fresh and full of promise as Link races across it. An excited whoop escapes him, and he urges Epona on ever faster. It feels too soon that grass turns to cobblestone beneath her hooves, and Link slows their pace to a stop. He hears a shuddering exhale in his ear, and twists around in surprise to see Ilia sitting behind him.

“We’re – we’re not going… that fast… on the way back…” she gasps, unclenching her arms from his waist. Link feels an ache in his ribs where she had been clinging to him, and wonders how he could have failed to notice his best friend’s presence. She slides off the horse’s back, stumbling as she hits the ground with stiff legs.

He looks at her sheepishly, dismounting as well. ‘I forgot you were here,’ he admits. She raises an eyebrow at him, then shakes her head and looks away with a smile, sternness melting away immediately.

“It’s good to see you so excited,” she says softly. She looks towards Hyrule Castle, rising above the walls of Castle Town, lights glowing against the rapidly darkening sky. “I never thought I’d see a place like this.”

‘You’ve been here before,’ Link reminds her, but she shakes her head.       

“That doesn’t count. I don’t remember it, you know that.” They stand in silence for a minute more, Ilia’s eyes wide as she drinks in the sight of the castle. Finally, she takes a deep breath, and turns to face Link, her eyes bright. “Shall we go in, then? Oh, actually, hang on…” She begins to fuss with her dress, a modest gown of soft goat’s wool that is rather warm for the season, but the most formal garment she owns. She had tried to cajole Link into dressing up as well, but he refused to hear it, stubbornly donning his regular mail shirt and leather greaves beneath his green tunic. Eventually, she declares herself ready, and they both give Epona a pat farewell before making their way into the town.

The streets are emptier than Link had ever seen them, their footsteps echoing off the stone. The only other sound is the bubbling of the fountain in the main square, and a low rumble of speech from inside the castle. As they approach, they find the castle in an entirely different state than when Link had last left it, cold and empty and broken. Colorful lanterns line the path from the town gates to the main doors, which had been flung open to allow light and sound to pour out over the grass. String instruments strain to make themselves heard over the roar of the chattering crowd that grows louder with every step closer, until the pair reach the doorway.

Inside, the hall is packed with partygoers, bedecked with flamboyant clothing in every color. Some sit at tables, some stand, and some dance. Clustered throughout the crowd, standing taller than the Hylians, are knots of Gorons and Zoras, laughing and drinking and dancing with everyone else. Along the walls are tables laden with food (including one table, Link notices, whose plates are loaded with rocks), and torches burn merrily on the walls. He cannot see the musicians from the doorway, but their efforts are only slightly more pronounced now that they’ve come closer. “There’s so many people,” Ilia leans in to whisper, her eyes wide with awe. Link nods in sympathy.

‘I’m not really used to it either,’ he confides. Ilia raises an eyebrow at him.

“You will be after tonight. How many of these people came out just to see you, Mr. Hero?” she teases. He groans, and she throws an arm over his shoulders with a laugh, and together they walk into the lights and sounds of the celebration.

Hardly a step over the threshold, the pair is met by a group of Hylians, who leap up from their seats by the door. “Ah, Link!” one of them calls, his tone casual, as though they had not all clearly been waiting for him. Ilia gives Link a sly grin.

“That didn’t take long,” she whispers. “I’m sure they only want to talk to you, I’ll see about getting us some food.” She slips off into the crowd before he can stop her, and is quickly lost amongst them. Thanks for your continued support, Ilia. The group appear to make no notice of her, and with startling efficiency, they gather behind Link and begin to herd him into a side corridor, away from the crowd.

The same man speaks again as soon as the door closes behind them. “Link. Might we speak with you someplace a little quieter?” He phrases it like a question, as though he had not already made and acted upon the decision. He is old, with thick grey hair and fine blue robes, and his voice is far more solemn now that he had Link’s attention. The scholarly effect of his outfit is somewhat dampened by the gleam of gold thread woven into the fabric, matching the many rings that glitter on his fingers as he extends his hand. Link takes it and shakes, and the man puts his other hand atop Link’s, preventing him from pulling away or speaking in return. “My name is Mirel. Such an honor to meet you at last.”

A woman steps forward to stand at Mirel’s side, with dark brown hair at odds with the deep lines around her eyes and mouth. Her heavily painted face reminds Link of the clowns who live by Lake Hylia, her skin unnaturally pale and her lips crimson. It distracts him from the finery she wears, a flowing velvet gown accented by a heavy cluster of gemstones at her throat. “We’re here to represent the Hylian noble families, to welcome you to Hyrule Castle.”

Link blinks in surprise at that, and she waits for a response that does not come. After a moment, she tries again, still smiling widely. “We also wish to extend our gratitude for your services to the kingdom, and the bravery and strength that you have displayed.” The nobles behind her lean in, watching him intently. “You have our thanks,” the woman prompts.

Mirel still has both of his hands on Link’s, and frowns slightly when Link pulls his away. Words evade him for a moment, and he replies with the first ones he can think of. ‘Isn’t this the princess’ castle? She already told me I was welcome here.’ It occurs to him only after a moment that this was rude, but he finds it hard to feel guilty. Seeing these men and women dripping with opulence, and knowing it was all carefully chosen to impress the common folk attending the celebration, angers Link. They’ve never done a hard day’s work in their lives, I’m sure. By what right do they deserve to place themselves so high above us? He has no illusions that if he were not wearing the green tunic of the Hero, they would have seen him only as a pitiful farmer boy, unworthy of their notice. Under their unrelenting stares, he dearly wishes that they had indeed passed him over.

The woman’s smile falters, then returns brighter than ever. “But of course.” She makes to say more, but Mirel puts a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sure we’ve taken up enough of the Hero’s time here, Yllys. Let us get to the point.” The woman, Yllys, nods and pats his hand, which Mirel quickly snatches back. She retreats to join the group still watching Link carefully. Some of their cheerful smiles have dimmed, he notices, though they stretch wide as before. Mirel clears his throat, and Link looks back to him.

“Has the princess informed you of the Accolade of the Goddesses?” Link slowly shakes his head, and Mirel nods solemnly. “It is an ancient tradition, an award that is presented only to the Hero chosen by the goddesses, such as yourself. A very rare thing indeed, it has only been presented four times before you.”

His words leave Link feeling as though he had been doused in ice water. ‘There have been… other Heroes? More than the one who first wore this?’ he asks, plucking at his tunic.

Mirel’s eyes widen. “But of course. Four others, as I said. Their stories are the stories of the history of Hyrule, I would have thought any loyal citizen would know of them.” A low hum breaks out amongst the group behind him as they whisper to one another. Link raises his chin, daring any of them to meet his eye. Go on, say something. The stupid goat herder doesn’t even know his royal history. You’re all thinking it, go on and say it.

They do not say it, and he scowls. He chooses his next words carefully. ‘The only history of Hyrule that I need concern myself with are Ganondorf’s actions in my lifetime. It has proved more than sufficient for my task.’ He clenches his hands into fists, stopping himself from continuing. It was my sword, not your books, that defeated Ganondorf. He takes a deep breath, attempts to relax his face into something resembling a smile, and loosens his fingers again. ‘Well, thank you for telling me this, Mirel. This Accolade of your sounds… fancy.’

A woman laughs from behind the assembly, and Link feels his smile grow genuine at the sound. Mirel whirls around, the movement sending his robes glittering in the torchlight, as Princess Zelda approaches. The nobles hasten to bow before her, but her eyes are on Link. “Fancy is certainly the word for it, the ceremony has been noted to grow longer and more ostentatious every time it is performed. Hyrule has sometimes gone centuries without it, and we tend to get a bit carried away.” She casts a wary eye over the assembled Hylians. “I apologize that I was not the first to welcome you to your own party, Link. I had expected to be informed of your arrival at once, but perhaps I had not made that clear enough.” Her tone is light, but the group shrinks away from her, ever so slightly. Link shrugs.

‘I wanted to stand on my horse and shout for you as soon as I got to the town, but my friend thought that’d be rude. Now I know for next time, look for the green man yodeling on a horse.’ This earns a quickly stifled snort of laughter from someone he does not see, and Zelda’s eyes sparkle with amusement.

“I’ll hold you to it,” she warns, and puts an arm around his shoulder, firmly leading him away from the nobles and further into the castle. The familiarity surprises him; it’s the sort of action he would have expected from Midna. But as soon as they turn a corner, she drops her arm again and sighs. “I had hoped that lot wouldn’t swarm you until I had the chance to warn you, no doubt that’s why they failed to tell me that you were here. The ceremony is indeed an old tradition, but I doubt that it is one you will find to your liking.” They walk together for a moment through the labyrinthine castle hallways, the princess lost in thought, and Link content to follow her.

“Mirel was right though, that the award had been presented to the great Heroes of the past. But there’s something else that goes with it, something you might like.” He looks at her, but her eyes are fixed on the path ahead of them. They stop before a set of double doors, and she places a hand on one. “The stories of each Hero have been recorded, exactly as they themselves told it. We also have paintings of all of them, done by the best artisans in the land. We keep them in here, where the public is able to visit them.” The princess finally looks back at him. “Would you like to see?”

Link hesitates. He would like to see, dearly so, to look upon the boys who had borne the weight of the destiny they shared across the ages. He wonders what threat had called them to action, what terrors they had faced, and how they had overcome their trials. He reaches for the doorknob, then stops, his fingertips barely brushing the cold metal. Midna’s words come back to him, the ones he had read a dozen times over in her letter. This was your idea, so you better be there! He draws his hand back and shakes his head, taking a step away. ‘I’d love to, but not tonight. Midna will kill me if I abandon the party before she even gets here.’

Zelda gives a rueful laugh, but steps back from the door as well. “You’re right. Perhaps tomorrow, then?” He smiles and nods, a gesture she returns. The princess looks almost a different woman than when he last saw her, much like her castle. She appears well-rested, and smiles lift her lips with little effort. Like Link, she still wears her armor, but the hunted look in her eyes is gone. “She will also kill us if we’re not there to greet her when she arrives,” she sighs.

With that, she leads Link away again, back through the noisy main hall, then back outside onto the front lawn. The partygoers had begun to flow outside, looking for a reprieve from the room that had grown steadily warmer and more crowded as the celebration progressed. The previously unseen musicians had set up outside as well, where they could at last be heard clearly over the cacophony.

The princess tips her head back and looks up at the sky. “Oh, we’re just in time,” she murmurs. “Good, that’s good…” Link follows her gaze to see a spiral of teal light form in the evening sky, and feels a grin stretch across his cheeks at the familiar sight. The portal opens, and a moment later, a small group of Twili are standing before the castle. The crowd does not notice them right away, but once they do, silence is quick to fall. One figure steps in front of the rest, tall and thin. Narrow red eyes survey the assembly, many of whom shrink away from her alien gaze. But the woman has eyes only for one human, who had rushed forward as soon as he saw the figures drop from the portal.

“It’s good to see you again, Link,” Midna says, her calm tone at odds with her sharp-toothed grin and sparkling eyes. Link laughs and throws his arms around her, and she lets out a startled giggle. After a moment, he feels a pair of slim arms wrap back around him. I didn’t realize I missed her so much. It startles him to see his friend so much taller than him; even after spending a day with her true form, he couldn’t help but imagine her in her familiar impish body when he thought of her.

After a minute that feels like an hour, or perhaps it was an hour that felt like a minute, he releases her and steps back. Princess Zelda had approached them, and she loudly announces to the watching partygoers that the Twilight Princess and her guests had arrived. Indeed, standing behind her are a cluster of a dozen Twili, standing in the realm of Hyrule for the first time. Link recognizes the man Taivo, who gives him a little wink when he catches his eye. The Twili look around rapidly, although with their inhuman glowing eyes it’s hard to tell if they’re nervous or curious. As he watches, he sees one of them look up at the night sky, and quickly nudge their fellows and direct them to look upwards. They whisper eagerly together, and the sound carries over the suddenly hushed crowd until Taivo clears his throat.

“Hyrule Princess, I must say, I was told there would be a party and you have not disappointed. What a blessed realm you have.” He grins at her and bows. Zelda blinks several times, as though uncertain if she were being insulted, before mustering a smile in return.

“I am glad you like it. It is a historical event indeed to have your people here.” Midna makes a scathing noise.

“A historical event, who cares? It’s a party, princess, not some conference. We’re here to celebrate Zant and Ganondorfs fall!” At her words, a cheer rises from the crowd, and the spell of silence is broken. The party guests resume their activities, and Midna throws an arm over Link and Zelda’s shoulders. “It looks like you’ve started already, show me what’s been going on,” she commands.

“There are a few people that I think you two would be interested in meeting, particularly since your adventures have taken you all across the country,” Zelda tells her. They follow her curiously as she weaves through the crowd, smiling and waving with practiced ease at the Hylians who bow to her as she passes. They see a few Twili as well, some having been quick to integrate with the other partygoers, and Link notes that they make no genuflection to their own princess that he can discern, aside from the occasional friendly wave. Midna makes no remark upon this as she lazily returns their greetings, but he notices a sideways glance from Zelda with each one.

Finally, they approach a pair of Hylians, both garbed in thick leather over plain earth-toned shirts. The man wears his long brown hair loose, allowing it to cascade over well-muscled shoulders. The woman by his side is short and squat, with iron grey hair framing a heavily lined face. “Hort! Jarama! I hope you are enjoying yourselves,” Zelda calls. The man looks up, and nudges the woman. They both incline their heads to the princess, and look curiously at Midna.

To Link’s surprise, Zelda begins to sign with her hands. ‘Link, Midna, this is Hort and Jarama.’

The man, Hort, reaches out to give the pair a firm handshake. ‘I’m the royal Goron ambassador, took over for the lady when she lost her hearing.’ She scowls and moves to elbow him, though Hort dodges her with a grin.

‘They didn’t want to phrase it like that though, no. Told me it was cause I got too old to make the climb, didn’t even mention the explosion,’ she complains. ‘Don’t know who decided I couldn’t make it up the mountain anymore, I sure didn’t.’ She looks pointedly at Zelda, who grimaces.

‘That was my father’s decision, I cannot overturn it. Not after a replacement had been appointed.’

‘Royal ambassadors?’ Link asks quickly, sensing the well-worn tracks of an old argument.

Jarama nods, her expression still stern. ‘The Gorons have ones too, who come down to Hyrule Castle and Lake Hylia. And the Zoras have theirs, between the three of us. But you won’t catch them on Death Mountain, a volcano’s no place for a fish. They meet at the base, in Kakariko.’

Beside her, Hort scans the crowd, then points into it. ‘Speaking of Zoras,’ he says, then calls out loud. “Hey! Kilei!” The Hylian he waves over is a teenage girl, with tiny silver bells threaded into her long brown braid. Hort gives one of them a poke as she joins them, making it ring softly. ‘I think I saw a jester wearing these, did you rob him?’ he laughs. The girl scowls.

“It’s a party, Hort,” she retorts, before noticing Jarama and switching to signing as well. ‘Oh, sorry Jarama.’ She turns back to the older man. ‘I see you didn’t bother to do anything special for it, you wear that ugly old apron every day. When was the last time you even visited the forge?’ Hort only laughs again, but is quick to change the subject, surreptitiously smoothing down the front of his thick leather apron.

‘Kilei, this is Link and Princess Midna. Kilei’s the Zora ambassador.’ She gives a squeak of surprise to see him and the princesses, and quickly shakes his hand while dropping into a curtsy before Zelda. It’s a somewhat awkward movement, and her face is crimson when she rises again.

‘I like the bells,’ he tells her. She blushes even deeper, but a giggle escapes her when he adds, ‘Maybe you can give one to Hort so he can dress up too.’ The grin falls off Hort’s face as Jarama roars with laughter, and she holds him in place as Kilei quickly dismantles her braid to pull off a bell. Midna laughs as well, but Zelda merely smiles and bids her ambassadors farewell. Link and Midna hasten to join her.

“I’m glad they’re enjoying the party, at least,” she says as they walk away, more cheerful than Link had ever heard her. “It would not have happened without them making arrangements with the Gorons and Zoras. They have also passed on their gratitude to you two, for the help you have given their people.”

Midna nods thoughtfully, then stops dead. It’s a few more steps before Link and Zelda realize that she’s no longer with them, and they turn to look back at her. She seems to break out of her reverie once she feels their concerned gazes upon her. “I have an idea,” she says slowly, brows furrowed in thought. She frowns at the ground for a moment more, then looks at Zelda. “Might I speak with you about it, princess?” She nods her agreement, and steps back to stand at the Twili’s side. Link moves to join them, but is stopped by Midna’s raised hand. “For once, this isn’t something I need your help on, Link. You should be enjoying your party.” Her tone is unusually gentle, but he suspects that she will not be swayed on the matter. But it had been so nice to see her again… Feigning nonchalance, he smiles and waves the pair away, then turns back towards the crowd.

The party proves to be an admirable distraction, and Link is quickly able to shake off his feeling of abandonment and lose himself in the celebration. The next several hours are a whirl of bright lights, loud music, and a louder crowd. He had never heard such din in his life, nor seen so many people in one place. The initial unease around the Twili guests quickly turns to curiosity, and gradually to complete nonchalance by the more inebriated partygoers. The string ensemble he heard earlier finally gave up entirely as their audience overtook them completely, but they were quickly replaced by a pair of Gorons on heavy drums. Their beats pulse under the eager conversation and drunken singing, like the low rumble of the volcano from which the musicians hail.

Link floats through the crowd, eventually meeting up with Ilia again. He is surprised to find her accompanied by the Zora Prince Ralis, who had been attempting to explain the story of how she had saved his life. The two friends dance with Ralis’ Zora friends, unable to master the oddly mesmerizing moves they were performing.  After breaking away, they are quickly overtaken by a cluster of young Gorons who attempt to heckle Link into trying a rock cake (now made with real rocks!) before being thwarted by the arrival of their patriarch, Darbus. They duck away into the crowd as he scolds the children, and allow themselves to be swept away with the movement of the disjointed dancers.

As the sky begins to lighten, the guests cling to the night, not wanting the excitement to end. The Twili, however, look rather uneasy to see signs of the rising sun. They rejoin together from where they had dispersed throughout the hall and gardens, muttering nervously in their unfamiliar language and pointing towards the horizon. Finally, Midna and Princess Zelda emerge from the castle and stand before the guests. By their side is Darbus and Prince Ralis, and the crowd falls quickly silent as Darbus shouts for their attention in his booming voice. Together, the leaders of the four races call the party to an end, and announce the beginning of a new age of peace and prosperity. All four appear filled to the brim with confidence, and as the crowd shrieks with cheers, Link feels their eyes fall proudly onto him. Something swells within him at the sight, and just for a moment, all traces of fear and uncertainty feel banished from the world.

Chapter Text

“So, is it nice to see Hyrule again?”

“No.” Zelda stares at her, but Midna’s not looking; her eyes are closed, her head tilted back with a small smile on her face. In the darkness of the room, lit by a single taper candle, her brilliant orange hair and geometric skin markings seem to glow. The candle was lit for Zelda’s benefit; it was immediately clear that Midna was utterly at ease in the pitch blackness of the room, and Zelda rather suspected that she could see well enough in the dark while the human had fumbled with the tinderbox. As their silence stretches out, the sounds of the festivities outside deafened by the many thick stone walls between them, she cracks open an eye and looks at Zelda with a lazy grin. “We often called it the world of light, doesn’t that sound grand? Nobody ever mentioned how terrible light actually is.” She laughs, but Zelda does not join in. After a moment she quiets, and something in Zelda’s expression sobers her. “I thought you all floated around without a care in the world, with every luxury imaginable at your fingertips, the whole world bending to your whims.” She sighs, resting her head in her hand.

Zelda allows herself a wry smile. “If I could give my people that life, I would. But as much as some of them may try to pretend otherwise, no one leads a life free of strife.”

They both whirl around in alarm as a deep voice sounds behind them, followed by a hearty laugh. They listen carefully as a pair of men move past their door and down the hallway, singing along to what must be a song playing outside. Their footsteps are hesitant and clumsy and their voices are slurred, and the two women watch the door as the drunks cheerfully pass them by. Their suddenly stiff postures relax, but only slightly. “Hyrule is so loud,” Midna muses, once the noise fades away. “I knew it would be bright, but I didn’t expect how noisy it would be.”

“I know what you mean,” Zelda mutters, thinking of her advisors, still rankled that they deliberately worked around her to intercept Link.

“Do you?” Surprise flashes across Midna’s face. “Do your histories tell much of the Twilight Realm, then?” Zelda shakes her head. How could they have, when Hylians sent through the Mirror were intended to never return? “There are very few of us, compared to the human population. There are advisors and such in the palace but outside of there, it’s easy to go days without seeing another soul.”

Sounds lonely. “Sounds peaceful.” Midna smiles, and closes her eyes again.

The princess leaves her to her thoughts for a moment before clearing her throat. “It is good to see you again, Midna, but what was it that you wished to speak to me about?” She had led them away from the castle grounds that the party had spilled into and into a private room, careful to avoid notice from the nobles who would no doubt be eager to invent gossip over her seeking a private audience with the leader of a foreign nation.

The Twili keeps her eyes closed, but nods her head in the direction of the door they had entered through, indicating the celebration they had left. “I had an idea, from those people you just introduced us to. If you and Link want the Mirror to stay open, and for our worlds to remain connected, then perhaps there should be an ambassador between us.”

Zelda thinks of the Twili who had arrived with Midna; their cautious glances around at the world so unlike their own, their nerves visible even through their near lack of recognizable facial features. It was true that she wanted to leave the portal open, and had hoped to keep in close contact with her sister kingdom, but it did not seem that the Twili could abide being in Hyrule, and vice versa. “Would… would your people want to have a Hylian in their midst? Or for one of their number to travel to Hyrule?”

The taller woman shrugs, the motion fluid and almost careless. “Many won’t. But many do. The ones you saw today are leaders of the different clans around the realm, or delegates to them. Some of them still, after all this time, think of Hyrule as their true home.” She glances over with a mischievous smile. “I warned them that Hyrule may not be to their liking, far too bright and loud, as I’ve said. But they didn’t want to pass up the opportunity.”

“Have you given any more thought to our kingdoms working together to rebuild?”

She waves a hand, as though to brush off the idea. “Well, that’s where the ambassadors would come in, wouldn’t they? Coordinating resources and all that.”

Zelda’s eyes widen in spite of herself. “So you agree then? You’re leaving our worlds linked together?”

“I promised Link I would, didn’t I?” she grumbles. “And besides, this party of his seems to have gone well too, hasn’t it?” She pauses. “Uh, has it? We sure left quickly, didn’t we?”

The princess laughs, and Midna smiles. Together, they exit the room and make their way back to the roaring crowds. There they part again, and hours pass by as Zelda winds her way throughout the celebration. She sees Link a few times, at one point struggling to copy a complicated Zora dance that even Kilei would not attempt. She smiles as he gets his limbs so twisted up that he staggers over, roaring with laughter. She sees a local fruit vendor juggling apples for the amusement of a cheering trio of Gorons, one of whom quickly picks up the skill with a pair of rocks. Multiple drunken Hylians invite her to dance with them, much to the dismay of their sober friends, but she declines all offers, despite the pounding of the Goron drums thrumming through her, far more persuasive than any partygoer. She does not see Midna again until the end of the night, for it had been Prince Ralis who found her and brought her over with the princess and Darbus. As Midna and Link had saved both of their lives, the other two leaders were more than happy to receive Midna’s rather terse letter informing them of her decision to attend the celebration.

Only minutes after the address of the four race leaders, Zelda is surprised to see Midna gathering her people in preparation to return home. “Leaving so soon? We have much to discuss.”

She glances at her over her shoulder. “The sun is coming up quickly. We cannot stay here.” Indeed, the cluster of Twili are watching the horizon with apprehension. Zelda nods.

“I hope we might meet again soon, Midna. I think it’ll be… nice, having another princess to talk to.”

Midna raises a thin eyebrow. “All that talk about working together and ambassadors, and you just needed a friend? There are easier places to find one of those, you know.”

Zelda swats at her arm, surprising herself with the display of playfulness. Midna only grins in response, before going to join her fellows to warp back home.

x X x

The full light of the morning finds the princess and her Hero standing once more outside the doors to the Hall of Heroes, which she and her staff refer to more informally as the Portrait Room. Link had met her here mere hours after the end of the celebration, and when he gives a great yawn she struggles not to respond in kind. Still, his eyes are bright and eager, and as soon as she open the heavy door, he begins to look around the room with great interest. However, he seems to cross the threshold with a caution at odds with his apparent enthusiasm, as though unsure what to expect. He does not reach for his sword, at least, as she had seen him done multiple times during the celebration when the eager crowd had pressed in a bit too closely. She follows at a distance, unwilling to further test his nerves.

The room is semicircular in shape, and mostly bare of decor to allow attention to be focused on the four large paintings that hang in gilded frames upon the wall. The portraits all depict young men with blonde hair and green clothes, of different ages but all with the same fierce determination on their face. The princess pretends not to notice as Link looks down at his own outfit, self-consciously smoothing down the worn cloth. Even after his adventures, Link seems to be only now taking in the fact that this was truly the traditional garb of the Hero, and his own place in that line. He falls to his knees. Zelda reaches out an instinctive hand to catch him, across the room and several seconds too late.

Link looks younger than Zelda had ever seen him before; his eyes, normally so wolfish even in human form, wide with awe. They fall upon the most ancient of the portraits first, a young man soaring through empty sky on a large red bird. Then a child with a golden sword, looking up at an ordinary flower that towers over him. Four boys with identical mischievous grins and that same golden blade stand in a battle formation. Finally, a child and a teenager, each with an arm out to hold up a small blue instrument together. Like all Hyruleans, Zelda had grown up with the tales of these past Heroes, and like all in the royal line, had grown up knowing they were entirely true. Would anybody believe the truth of what our Link has gone through? She tears her eyes from the paintings to look at him again, still on the floor and gazing up at his legacy.

Minutes pass, and the young man remains overwhelmed by the history before him. She wants to say something, anything, to break the silence that stretched out. All that comes to mind is a tidbit from her history lessons. “See how old the first portrait is? That’s the Hero who forged the Master Sword, the one you now carry.” Link finally looks away to glance at the princess, then slowly rises to his feet. He draws his sword with a practiced hand, then drops down again before the first of the series, kneeling and holding the blade aloft as though to be knighted. His head bows, and Zelda wonders if the Hero of Time had done this as well, when he first came to this place with that blade. As the stories told, both he and Link grew up in isolation from the kingdom, and hadn’t heard of the Master Sword until their time had come to wield it themselves. Zelda suddenly feels as though she’s intruding on a private moment, and leaves him to his ritual.

It's several minutes more before Link enters the hallway where the princess is waiting, his sword sheathed once more. She lays a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve done them all proud, Link. Your place on that wall is rightfully deserved.” He looks up at her, a relieved smile breaking across his face, his gloved hand coming up to cover hers. They stand together quietly, until Zelda feels the tension finally ease from his shoulders.

She looks at the legendary blade on his back. “I am glad to see that the Master Sword has served you well, and broke that curse Zant put on you.” Link nods, and smiles, reaching up to pat the hilt like a beloved hound. She doubts that he wants to hear what she has to say next, but presses on. “It has also fulfilled its role in defeating Ganondorf, as you have. I think we’ll be safe returning it to its pedestal. We can have a new blade made for you, of c–” She’s cut off by Link shaking his head.

He does not look surprised by her suggestion, but his expression is firm. ‘She’s not ready to sleep yet,’ he says, and walks away, leaving the princess to stare at his retreating form in bewilderment.

x X x

The rest of the princess’ day is less interesting, and far less enjoyable, and Zelda finds herself thinking of what Midna had said about the quiet solitude of her home with a growing wistfulness as her council of advisors prattle on and on. She had informed them of her intentions to work with Midna to rebuild both of their kingdoms, and to keep a connection between the two. All had gone well at first, and most of the assembled men and women appeared interested, if not outright relieved, to have another community to work with in facing the mammoth task before them. Those who hesitated, concerned about whether the crown even had the resources to send aid to another kingdom, were quickly mollified by pointing out that the aid would be mutual, which also meant that neither party would be left in debt to the other.

Buoyed by the success of the festivities the night before, the princess was all too ready to call the meeting to an end, until Aram, the head of the royal treasury, asked to speak. She cheerfully indicated for him to continue.

“Your proposal sounds most agreeable, your Highness, most beneficial indeed, but I must confess a thought that troubles me. This Princess Midna, she is the leader of this Twili race? The race responsible for the darkness that was only just lifted from our lands?”

Zelda frowned. “The Twilight throne had been stolen from her, and it was that usurper who led the invasion. It was Midna who fought with the Hero to stop it and free Hyrule and Twilight both. She is not our enemy.”

“Yes, your Highness, of course, perhaps this individual is friendly to us. But you do recall the history of the creation of these Twili? The descendants of criminals and practitioners of foul magic, who knows what kind of society such villains could have forged in the darkness?” Muttering broke out amongst the council, and Zelda slumped back in her seat with a sigh. He’s not listening to me, and they’re going to listen to him. Of course this had been going too well. She resigned herself to a long wait for their arguing to die down, and for the better part of an hour the group worked themselves into a terror, describing a return of the shadow beasts that had stalked them in the never-ending night and of a second attack that Zelda was surely welcoming into their kingdom, just as she had the first time…. It was with that comment that she decided she had heard enough.

She raises her voice, not looking up from the knot in the wooden table that she had been studying for the past several minutes. “Be silent! This is pointless. I have already made the decision to work with Princess Midna. I was not putting it to a vote, only letting you know of our plan as a courtesy.” She sees movement from the corner of her eyes and knows that they’re all looking at each other nervously. Finally, it’s Aram who speaks again.

“Begging your pardon, your Highness, but…” He takes a deep breath, appearing to brace himself for something. She waits, her face carefully passive. “You say that this new leader is what makes the situation different. How can you be so sure that this other princess is trustworthy? How can we know that she means well for Hyrule?”

Zelda gives a blink of surprise before schooling herself once more. We would not have defeated Ganondorf without her aid, and still you question her motives? She thinks of her decision to transfer her own spirit to save the Twili’s life, and how her belief in her and Link to be able to defeat Ganondorf had been true. It had been a split-second decision, driven by some impulse she had not known, and yet for all that she risked it was one that she knew she could never regret. She thinks of the moment when her spirit had been returned to her, when she suddenly came back to herself with her heart and mind full of the bitterness and despair that had been Midna’s. It had lasted only a moment, as though she had run her fingernails over something unpleasant that sent a jolt up her arm that she would be unable to recreate a second later, while the memory of the sensation remained.

She sees that her council members are leaning towards her, their expressions serious as they watch intently for the princess’s response. “I know her heart well,” she says simply, and rises from the table. The council hastens to their feet as well, but she has already swept from the room without a glance back.

She strides down the long castle corridors, lost in thought, until she hears a man call out to her. She turns, cursing inwardly and wanting nothing more than to return to her chambers in peace. Approaching her is not any member of her council but instead the tall, armored form of Captain Lee, head of her royal guard. The princess hails him with a raised hand, but does not slow her pace as he moves to her side. She looks up at him, but half a minute passes before he speaks.

“I wanted to apologize to you, your Highness,” he says, bowing his head. “My behavior these past few weeks has been unacceptable, especially my actions on the night of Ganondorf’s defeat.”

“Thank you, captain,” she begins, but he shakes his head, unwilling to accept it just yet. He stops walking, and she reluctantly follows suit.

“I offered you great insult, I even questioned your Triforce. I have been thinking about that, in particular. It is a wise leader, your Highness, that knows their own strength, and their limitations. As your captain I should have been the first one to support your decision, and as your friend, I should know the price of rushing blindly at a powerful foe.” His words lack the sting of bitterness that she expected.

Zelda softens. “My overconfidence has cost you dearly before, Lee,” she says quietly. “It is not a mistake I intend to make again. I owe you that much.”

He nods, mouth tightening, and there’s a ring of metal on metal as he claps an armored hand over his chest. “My thanks, Zelda.” She feels as though she ought to say more, but what words can she offer him that she hasn’t said a hundred times before? She turns to leave, but sees his mouth open once more. As she turns back to face him again, she’s surprised to see his face turn pink.

“Is there something else troubling you, captain?” Best get it all out now while he’s in a generous mood.

“Not quite. But I did… hear some things. What might trouble you, your Highness.” Zelda had known this man for many years, but never has she seen him as flustered as he is now. She waits for him to elaborate, trying to hide her surprise and impatience, as Captain Lee rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Nobody’s talked to me about it, not directly, but I don’t think they’ve talked to you about it either,” he finally says, his tone hushed.

She frowns. “It’s not like you to beat around the bush, who is talking about something troubling and what are they talking about? Why was I not informed at once?” she commands. But Lee puts up his hands, placatingly.

“It’s not monsters, nothing like that” he says hastily, and she lets out a sigh of relief. “It’s more… personal. I overheard your advisors talking about you. Not my place, your Highness, and I apologize, but I thought it was something you’d want to know about.”

The princess hesitates. The proper thing to do would be to ask her council members if there was anything they needed to tell her in private, but for once, she didn’t want to do the proper thing. Perhaps it’s something about seeing Lee act so uncertain, as he had as a boy constantly overshadowed by his brother, that makes her feel young and daring and almost mischievous. She takes a step closer, glancing around to ensure that they are alone, and lowers her voice conspiratorially. “What were they saying?”

Lee grimaces, and rubs his neck again, his gloves and helm clinking together. “They’ve spoken to you about a line of succession, right?” She nods her confirmation. “What they left out is that they’ve begun to discuss which of them would marry you, to continue the royal line.” He pauses, waiting for her reaction, and continues quickly when he sees none. “It got pretty heated, arguing about who would be the best suitor, and which families have produced the most sons. They know you won’t like it, your Highness, and I know it too, but I think you ought to know these kinds of talks are going on.”

She steps back again, forcing her expression to remain neutral. Her muscles feel stiff as she nods and says, “Thank you for telling me this, captain.” He gives a short jerk of a nod in return, and reaches up to snap shut the visor on his helmet to hide his flushed face. Zelda wishes she could conceal herself as easily as she strides away, every step longer and more forceful until she’s half running down the halls to her private chambers. It feels far too long before she’s able to throw open the door and fling herself onto her bed, pounding a pillow with her fist with a ferocity that almost surprises her.

Bastards and cowards, all of them, how dare they? Angry tears prick her eyes, and she glares at the pillow she had been beating as though it was at fault. She knew, of course, that it was her duty as the nation’s princess to marry and bear children to continue her rule. Her own parents had not even known each other before their betrothal, their union having been organized as part of some political agreement. The only things they had in common were their disdain for the common royal practice of arranging marriages and their love for their daughter, both of which meant that they resolved at once to allow her to choose her own king when the time came. The council knows this too, my father made it no secret. They grew far too bold without me, but where is that boldness when I need them to do anything?

It felt good to rage and seethe, and Zelda allows herself to indulge in her fury until the sun begins to fall over the horizon. Anger is good, it is something to hold onto, to keep her afloat instead of wallowing in self-pity and helplessness.

It isn’t enough, however, to prevent the thrill of fear that chases down her spine as she glances out the window and beholds the darkening sky. Immediately she chides herself for her foolishness. The sun sets every night. And it will rise again in the morning, just as it ought to. Are you a child to fear the dark? She knows, of course, that for entirely too long the sun had not risen at all, no matter how many hours and days she had sat at the window and waited for it. She rolls over in her bed, turning her back to the window and her mind to the problem at hand, rather than problems of the too-recent past.

She knew that a marriage should not be such a foreign concept to her, and had overheard all too many conversations between wealthy girls her age, comparing the assets and merits of the boys around them. But that’s the problem, isn’t it, that the conversations were overheard? Both as an only child and as royalty, Zelda had been distanced from the girls who might have been her peers, and she had never known any other princesses, the way that her father had grown up friendly with neighboring princes. A thought strikes her, and she sits bolt upright. I do know another princess now. One who also has a kingdom in crisis and no heir.

How could she have forgotten so quickly, when they had spoken last only that morning, when her afternoon had been devoted to defending her character and her people to the council? Surely, Midna would understand the position she found herself in, she might even have some advice on the matter. Relief floods through her, and she sinks back on her pillows once more. A wave of exhaustion rolls over her, the excitement of the celebration finally fading away and leaving only a long night and a longer day without sleep. I’ll talk to Midna about this, she’ll understand. And it’s time I visit her realm for once, to see what damage and resources are there. She yawns, and tugs her blankets over herself, still fully dressed. It’s supposed to be quiet there, at least, she said it was quiet.

Sleep takes her quickly. In her dream, she rises from her bed and goes to brush out her hair as usual, and is unsurprised to look in the mirror and see a head of bright orange locks that gives off its own faint light in the dark.

Chapter Text

Upon seeing the Twilight Realm for the first time, Princess Zelda’s response is to shiver. It could very well have been an involuntary response to having left behind the searing heat of the Gerudo Desert, but Midna isn’t certain. Her wide eyes dart around the palace courtyard, landing briefly on every living creature in sight. Her hand drifts down to her side as she catalogs the potential enemies, where a thin silver blade hangs. Paranoid, are we?

Midna steps closer to the Hylian princess, raising a hand in greeting. “Nice sword, I hope you’re not planning to use it?”

The smile Zelda manages is weak, but a smile all the same. “It’s… something of a compromise. I’ve been finding it harder and harder to go anywhere without being tailed by guards, who know that I’ve ordered them to keep their distance, and it was easier to agree to arm myself than to argue against them following me...” She trails off, distracted as she turns her gaze to the sky, and shifts out of the way of a particle of twilight that floats up besides her. The movement was clearly intended to look casual, but Midna does not miss the way her eyes carefully follow it until it is out of reach, nor the way the princess reaches for the Triforce on her hand, as though willing it to protect her.

Midna decides she had seen enough. “The twilight you know was an abomination of Zant’s, a cursed fog to blot out the light. The clouds here are perfectly natural, it’s really not much different to your sun going down.” Zelda nods slowly, but her hand remains on the hilt of her sword.

It won’t do to have her so jumpy, not if she expects to get any work done. Midna continues, her tone as light and casual as she can make it. “I was surprised to learn that your sun sets at all, you know. The world of shadow is always in shadow, but the world of light is not always in light? Pretty shoddy work, don’t you think?” Zelda does not laugh in response, but her smile brightens.

“A world of shadow… It is always this dark here?” Her gaze sweeps up to the sky again, but her uneasy expression giving way to curiosity. Midna, however, frowns.

“Actually, no, it isn’t,” she admits. “I don’t know if it was from being sealed away, or if Zant used some foul magic on them, but the Sols are not as bright as they should be.” She gestures to the palace plaza before them, where stands two identical glowing spheres, resting in their pedestals where Link had returned them only weeks before. Zelda takes a step towards them, eyes wide, but with interest rather than fear.

“These are the source of light in our world, what everything needs to live,” she explains. “Zant had hidden them away, and it had… terrible consequences. Link recovered them.” Zelda continues to examine the orbs, even as she replies.

“Well now, you just said that your realm is always in shadow, and here you have light. Shoddy work indeed.”

Midna laughs. “You need light to cast a shadow, don’t you? Without it, all you have is darkness.” Zelda nods thoughtfully, but when she finally looks up, Midna is relieved to see amusement in her eyes. After another minute, she is satisfied with her inspection, and returns to Midna’s side.

She begins to reach for a pouch at her side. “Well then, as I’ve written, I’m here so that we can begin to catalogue –” Midna shakes her head, and she closes her mouth into a frown.

 “Not in the plaza, it’s too open. I know a place; we’ll be left alone there.” Zelda nods, and with the familiar feeling of vanishing into shadow, Midna warps them away.

They reappear on a floating platform, some piece of earth that was sent into the air long before Midna was born. There are many such islands in the kingdom, but this one is a favorite of hers particularly for the small pond that sits near the center of the platform. It is hardly more than a glorified puddle, but stubbornly grows thin stalks of reeds and hosts lily pads all the same, and the water is clear and fresh. She throws herself down onto the grass and stretches, grinning up at Zelda’s shocked expression at the improper display. “There’s nobody here,” she assures her, gesturing to the empty air around them. “Take a seat, won’t you?” She pats the grass beside her in invitation, and the Hylian slowly inches away from the platform’s edge, her eyes, already so much wider than those of any Twili, round as saucers. Not so fun, is it, finding yourself in some strange realm? No sooner than the thought takes her does Midna feel guilty for it. It wasn’t Princess Zelda who sent you to Hyrule, but you wouldn’t have gotten home without her. She allows her voice to soften. “It’s perfectly sturdy, I come here all the time. And if you were to fall, I’d just teleport you back up. I won’t let you come to harm, Zelda.”

The water is perfectly still, with no breeze to ruffle its surface and distort its reflection of the ruddy sky. Zelda carefully lowers herself to the ground, reaching out a hand to inspect the ghostly pale stalks of grass, which Midna knows feel like any other plants in Hyrule. Curious, she leans forward to dip a finger into the pond, watching the resulting ripples spread out until they lapped almost imperceptibly against the water’s edge.

Midna gives a teasing smile, though the moving water twists it in her reflection. “It’s just water, princess. Nothing special.”

“Some of us aren’t as accustomed to interdimensional travel, Midna. Can you fault me for being curious? Didn’t you feel the same when you first came through the Mirror?”

“Can’t say I did, no. But I’ll admit I was pretty preoccupied at the time.” She had managed to keep the bitterness from her voice, but perhaps something in her face gave her away, for Zelda’s expression is solemn as she nods. She remains quiet for a moment, until the ripples still and the water returns to a glassy mirror, then claps her hands together. The sudden sound makes Midna flinch, but Zelda does not appear to notice, suddenly all business.

“So, as I was saying earlier, I was hoping to plan the restoration work that we had discussed before. I think we may open with cataloguing the damages, then evaluating their resource needs, then ranking them by severity and necessity, then allocating resources accordingly.” She looks up from the water. “Shall we begin?”

Midna stares at her incredulously. “Zelda, I wanted to show you this place because it’s somewhere to relax.”

“Yes, and it is lovely, but –” She is cut off by Midna leaning over and pressing a long, thin finger to her lips.

“So relax!” She makes a point of stretching out expansively, enjoying the smell of the earth in her nose and the feeling of grass on her bare skin. She lies on her back and watches the clouds roll past, thick and dark against the glowing sky. Midna hears Zelda move nearby, but doesn’t look over.

Minutes pass in silence, as they so often do in the Twilight Realm.

A frog croaks, unseen even on such a small stretch of earth, but all the louder for it. It cuts through the stillness with its low, rumbling cry, and Zelda smiles to herself.

“There’s a pond in the castle gardens, much larger than this one. I used to fall asleep listening to the frogs there, they’d come out at night when the weather was warm.”

Midna had seen Hyrulean frogs as well, but remembers one in particular. It had been a rainy night, when she and Link had taken shelter under a tree, and she turned him into a wolf so that he might stay warmer with his thick pelt. For his health, she had insisted, the last thing she needed was for her champion to fall ill and be too useless to swing a sword. But Link had smiled all the same.

The musty smell of wet dog was thick in her nose, but she had huddled close to him through the night, appreciative of his warm and soft fur. When the sun rose again, weak and pale behind the still drizzling clouds, she had found Link chatting with a squat bullfrog that seemed to scowl up at him. She had been prepared to scold him for wasting time, until she discovered that he was only asking the frog to keep quiet, so as to allow his friend to sleep…

She swallows uneasily at the memory, but Zelda does not seem to have noticed. She looks around their platform again, curious once more, perhaps put at ease by the familiar sound. Midna watches her for a while, an amused smirk tugging at her lips, but allows the human to explore in peace. Zelda remains seated, perhaps still frightened of the empty sky that yawns open beneath them, and her eyes follow the black snow that rises around them. She flinches as one particle strikes her, but as it passes through with no effect, her tension finally seems to lessen.

“You were right, Midna,” she finally says. “It is quiet here, and peaceful. I think it would be nice to have a place like this at home.”

It isn’t a comment that requires a response, but Midna is not eager to get to the real purpose of Zelda’s visit. “What about your gardens?”

“Those are nice, but my advisors know to find me there, if I’m not in the castle. Don’t get me wrong,” she adds, somewhat hastily. “I value their opinions and trust them enough to delegate portions of the kingdoms functions to them. They’re worthy leaders of their fields, and I cannot be expected to be an expert in everything.” She seems to be convincing herself, and Midna smiles, wondering how often Zelda must have given herself such a speech.

The conversation seems to have moved close enough to the topic of work, and Zelda claps her hands again, ready to begin their new joint restoration process. She had come prepared, drawing large stacks of paper and tightly rolled scrolls from her pouch, far more material than Midna would have guessed could fit into such a container. She makes extensive use of a heavily marked map of Hyrule, which she steps through in agonizing detail, province by province. Though most of the information offered is her own, she still takes thorough notes, and listens with uncomfortable intensity while Midna summarizes the reports she had been given by her various tribe leaders. Even with the papers held as close to her face as she can get away with, she feels as though those strange blue eyes are piercing through her.

Finally, the ordeal ends. Zelda looks down at her notes, clearing her throat. “To summarize, then: my kingdom has extensive fire damage to Castle Town and Kakariko, and many residents of both were killed. We have ample wood, but need metal. Your kingdom has metal, but needs wood. You have little structural damage, but far more residents are missing or dead.” She looks up. “Rebuilding homes is my most pressing issue. What do you need done first?”

Midna frowns. What more can you ask these humans to give you? When will you learn to stand on your own feet?

She can see them so clearly, in her mind, the dreadful masked figures that had once been her people, hunched and prowling on all fours like animals. Link had been turned into a beast as well, but there had been a nobility to the wolf that these abominations lacked, as creatures of Zant’s twisted design. Midna shudders involuntarily, and closes her eyes, hardly even noticing Zelda’s soft noise of concern.

She had spoken to them, these doomed souls, both as their potential prey, when she first saw the transformation take place, and as their princess, when the fighting was done. The Usurper had cursed us both, why should they have been my enemies? I thought we could work together, but they couldn’t understand me. Zant was mad, and it turned them feral, isn’t that what they said? The stories she had heard since returning home were terrible; whispered confessions of uncontrollable rage and hate that turned to fear as their once overwhelming numbers started to dwindle, and of the despair that ran beneath them, the complete loss of self as their minds and bodies were twisted by this unknown magic. She had seen the changes begin, how they had started as soon as the Sols were locked away, but had no idea of the depraved depths they would reach. It shook her more than she wanted to admit, to see and hear such sorrow from a population she had always known to be calm and gentle, and to know that much of their blood was on her hands. How many of them did Link and I kill? How many never came home because of us?

Midna opens her eyes to see Zelda leaning closer to her, her brow furrowed as she awaits an answer to her question. There were some still out there, she knows it. “I do not know,” she says slowly. “Some of my people are still transformed, and I’m sure it has to do with the Sols being weakened. But how do I restore them?” Immediately she knows that she had said too much, as Zelda gazes into the water as though lost in thought. Midna shakes her head vigorously. “Do not trouble yourself with this, princess. This is an issue for Twili scholars and mages, we can handle it ourselves.”

Zelda does not look up. “The Sols function like our sun, isn’t that what you said? Sunlight is certainly a resource we have.”

“Are you suggesting that I have my most vulnerable subjects stand out under the sun? No good can come of that, Zelda, it might kill them.” But the Hylian only shakes her head, slowly, and reaches up to twine a lock of hair around her finger. She remains quiet for so long that Midna starts to think she had moved on, when she speaks again.

“What if the Sols themselves are brought to Hyrule? Perhaps it would rejuvenate them?”

Midna groans, regretting having mentioned them at all. “It’s too risky. Losing the Sols in the first place is what created the shadow creatures that took over your world.” Zelda looks up at that, her eyes bright and sharp.

“I see.” She leaves it at that, and Midna allows herself a relieved sigh.

She gets to her feet, and offers a hand to Zelda, who looks up at her in surprise. “Sounds like we’re all wrapped up here, then. I’ll bring you back to the palace.” But Zelda does not stand, instead gazing into the water and biting her lip.

She takes a deep breath, a dull pink flush rising in her pale cheeks, to Midna’s great surprise. “There is something else that I was hoping to speak to you about, Midna. A problem that’s… somewhat personal, but one that I know you share.” She looks down at her hands, fingers twisting themselves together. Midna lowers herself back to the ground, leaning in close, waving a hand in a gesture to continue. It’s a minute more before Zelda speaks.

“I was hoping to come to you for advice, or at least sympathy. You might know that my kingdom is without an heir to the throne, and that nearly proved disastrous, Ganondorf would easily have killed me without yours and Link’s aid. This problem should be mine alone to resolve, but evidently there are advisors of mine who do not see it that way. I’m told that they’ve taken it upon themselves to decide which of them should marry me to produce an heir. The presumption…” A snarl of disgust works it ways across her face, and Midna reaches a hand out to pat Zelda’s, in an attempt to soothe her. At the motion, Zelda unclenches her fingers, revealing angry red crescents where her nails had dug into her palm. She looks down at them in surprise, much the same way that Midna looks at her.

“That does sound unpleasant, Zelda, but I can’t say I understand how they think this is an appropriate solution. Just find someone to declare next in line to the throne, why bother with a marriage? I’ve named my cousin as mine, so that’s all settled here.”

Zelda stares at her, but for once, there’s no sign of amusement on Midna’s face. “Just… pick someone? Even if they’re not of my blood?” Midna rests her head on her hand, thoughtful.

“Well, someone worthy and capable, obviously. But surely birthright isn’t the best indicator of the ability to rule. Taivo has proven himself a strong leader in my… absence… but he had to grow into that position. When his father died, he wasn’t interested, and I was named in his place.” She sighs. “Of course, Zant thought the throne would go to him. You know how that went.”

Zelda shakes her head, disbelieving. Not for the first time since entering the realm, she gazes down at the back of her hand, where the Triforce lay hidden. “The royal family of Hyrule is an unbroken line from the goddess Hylia. She watched over the Hylians long before this kingdom was even born, and we must continue that legacy. I can’t… I cannot leave my realm in the hands of anyone else.”

Midna tries not to smile, not when Zelda is so clearly distressed, but she doesn’t quite manage to stop it. “If you say so. Seems like you’re overcomplicating things, but if the tradition means that much to you, then I’ll leave you to it.” She rises to her feet again, and this time Zelda follows, though her brow remains knit in concern. After everything we’ve discussed, this is what you’re worried about?

But Zelda, it appears, is not yet prepared to let the matter drop. “So you didn’t always know that you would be queen? Were you not raised for the role?”

The question strikes Midna as odd; she had never considered that other kingdoms might select their leaders in any other fashion. Clearly, Zelda had not considered that either. “Nobody really knows, do they, until they’re chosen? Someone could be bright and promising in their youth but end up a lunatic warlord, to give an entirely random example. It would be a terrible thing, to determine your next leader on the basis of their birth, wouldn’t it? I did grow up in the royal family, but any of its members or servants could rise up, if they have the skills.”

The other princess seems to consider this for a moment, twirling and twirling her hair around her finger again, Midna’s eyes following the movement. When she finally speaks again, her tone is thoughtful, but detached, as though discussing a mild academic debate. “My parents were king and queen, and I always knew that I would be queen, and that eventually I’ll need to have children to rule. It’s true that there have been bad rulers, ones who did not deserve the position that they were born into, but we’ve spent our whole lives preparing for it. We study history and diplomacy, economics and literature, anything that could guide us. Every moment of our lives is devoted to the kingdom.”

No wonder you’re so tense. Midna shrugs. “I suppose that makes sense, but I think I still prefer our system. It doesn’t involve any sort of marriage arrangements, at least.” Zelda groans, and pinches the bridge of her nose, eyes screwing shut.

“Well, thank you for listening, at least, Midna. I’ll admit, I was hoping you were facing the same problem, if only so that I’d have someone to commiserate with. But I am glad to hear that there is one less issue facing you.” She sighs. “I suppose I’ll have to write to my mother about it, she knows what it’s like. But I do not want to have a marriage like hers, and she wouldn’t want that either.”

“Wait, if your mother is alive, then why isn’t she the queen?” As soon as the question is blurted out, Midna fears that it had been rude, and far too personal, but Zelda does not appear offended, nor even surprised.

Her eyes open again, and she peers up at Midna with a wry, empty smile. When she responds, her tone is unusually cold. “She abdicated when my father died, several years ago. She put me in charge and went home.” Midna blinks in surprise, and Zelda lets out a humorless laugh. “It was a terrible scandal; it was considered indecent how quickly she left. But nobody was surprised she did it, she never felt like Hyrule was her kingdom, however long she spent there. I’m not old enough to be made queen yet, I’ll be coronated when I turn twenty-five… or when I wed.” She wrinkles her nose.

Beneath the disgust in her expression and the scorn in her voice, Midna can feel the lingering distress of the once-abandoned child, and softens her voice. “Does she know what’s happened? Does she know that there’s been a war, or your role in it?” The human’s slight frown answers for her, and Midna quickly moves on, unwilling to continue dwelling on the pains of the past. Why did she tell me this? What good does it do to drudge these matters back up?

“Let’s get out of here,” she says briskly. “We’ve been at this for long enough, I hope your guards haven’t stormed the Mirror yet to bring you back.” With that, she raises an arm and teleports the pair back to her palace, where they land in the plaza that they departed from.

They remain quiet, until they pass the Sols resting in their shrine, and Zelda stops walking. She gazes thoughtfully at them, then up at Midna as she approaches. She speaks quietly, her tone gentle. “You know I’m here to help you, right? You’ve done so much for me and my kingdom, and it was because of us that you suffered so much. I hope you know you can trust me.” Zelda looks at her, her smile soft and encouraging, but it’s too much, and Midna can hardly meet her eyes.

You’ve already given me too much. I was weak and you saved me, you gave me everything you had to do it, and that can never happen again.  “I know that. I do trust you, why else would I have brought you here, to my home?” The words taste too much like lies, and they hang heavy on her tongue as Zelda’s smile grows wider. It reminds her too much of Link, how easily he had trusted her, had followed her through every peril to the ends of the world. How she had come so close to getting away clean, to escaping back home without him ever having to find out who she really was, the truth of what Zant had done. He still smiled to see her after learning the whole story, innocent and hopeful as ever, but Midna could see the pity in his eyes when he thought she wasn’t looking.

Her words seem to be enough to satisfy the princess, however, who looks at her with a kindness that almost stings. Against the cool darkness of twilight, Zelda stands warm and soft and gentle, entirely out of place, as unnatural as Midna had no doubt looked in the realm of light. She wants to look away, to wipe off that smile that she does not deserve, but she is anchored in place, and she’s drowning, drowning.

Chapter Text

What had started as a mild morning at Hyrule Castle had progressed into an impenetrably thick layer of clouds, glowering down at the Hylians in the garden with a sullen grey menace. The development had not escaped the notice of the royal treasurer, who gives yet another wary glance upwards.

“Perhaps this conversation should be brought indoors, your Highness.” They had been discussing the state of the treasury for nearly two hours now, and Zelda’s head spun with figures that Aram had carefully prepared for her. He had painted an unpleasant picture of depleting coffers and rising costs, and half of their meeting had been spent arguing over raising taxes on the surviving Hylians in order to fund the reconstruction of their homes and farms. It was a grim calculation, where fewer citizens meant less income, but the reason for the higher expenses was the same reason that the citizens could not afford to pay. Nor could they raise tariffs on Goron or Zora goods, as those populations were suffering as well and could be forced to dry up trade entirely.

Of all the topics that Zelda was expected to be familiar with, economics had always been one of her least favorite, and it had taken every bit of her patience to hear the man present his arguments. She can almost hear her mother’s voice, and the line that she had repeated so often to her squirming young daughter. A queen holds herself with dignity and grace, Zelda.

As though summoned by the very thought of Hyrule’s previous queen, Aram looks thoughtful, still gazing at the sky and reaching up to stroke his tiny beard. “Perhaps…. Perhaps, we might take a loan from Labrynna. The queen would give us a better rate than Holodrum, I’m –”

“If the queen truly cared for Hyrule, it would be her standing here having this discussion with you,” she says, too sharply. Dignified and graceful, as ever. The treasurer merely bows his head, murmuring some words of acquiescence, but shame floods through Zelda for snapping at him. This discussion has merely been a presentation of facts, not some inconvenience he constructed just to trouble you.

She is spared from responding by an eager female voice cutting across the gardens. “Hey! Zelda! Is this where you’ve been hiding all day?”

Aram turns sharply towards the approaching young woman, surprise and alarm plastering his face. Zelda recognizes the bouncing black curls of his daughter, Juni. “Juniper! Show her royal Highness some respect!” he barks, turning beet red, although she appears entirely unrepentant, coming to a stop besides them with a bright grin beneath sparkling eyes. Tunille, never far from her sister, joins them as well.

“Magnificent one!” she cries, sweeping into an exaggeratedly deep curtsy. “Please, if I might beg a boon of you, tell my father that you don’t ask your friends to stand on such formalities.”

Zelda turns dutifully to Aram. “I don’t ask my friends to stand on such formalities.”

Tuni nudges her with an elbow. “Tell him that we’re your friends, so that applies to us,” she clarifies.

“I have never seen this woman in my life. How did she sneak past my guards?” At this, the woman groans, throwing up her hands theatrically.

“I don’t know what you’ve been feeding them lately, but I want some. I’ve never seen them so alert.” Zelda smiles. Neither have I.

After many generations of inactivity, it meant something again to be a soldier of Hyrule, and the royal guard seemed to take a new and fierce pride in their duty. It had not taken long for the princess to tire of their constant presence, but she could remember what her father had often told her as a girl, chafing under the careful watch of what she saw as little more than armored babysitters. Keeping your guards with you sends a message. It doesn’t say that you cannot protect yourself, but that you are worth being protected. These men would die to keep you safe if they must, never forget that. Those words meant little enough to her as a child, but when the day came that she watched her soldiers cut down around her, Zelda was grateful to have had them standing by her side as she faced the King of Twilight.

With some difficulty, Aram steps between the girls and the princess. “I apologize for the interruption, your Highness. Now, I understand your position on taxes, but I must ask you to consider an outside loan as an option. I can draft a letter tonight.”

Zelda nods and tries to stifle a yawn, but not quickly enough. Juni’s eyes light up.

“You’re boring the princess, father!”

“No, no, I’m merely tired.”

“You’re tiring the princess, father!”

She snaps her fingers in front of her face, a grin unfolding behind them, though Zelda doubts that she only just thought of whatever idea she’s about to share. “I know just the thing. You need to take a break, Zelda. Get out of the castle for once, relax.” For a wild moment, Zelda wonders if Midna had somehow put her up to this, so similar does it sound to her complaints during her visit.

Aram gives his daughter a pained look. “The princess is perfectly capable of setting her own schedule. It is not our place to decide that.” Zelda offers him a sympathetic smile; his girls have long been possessed with the stubbornness of a Goron.

“I’ll hear you on the loan, but not to Labrynna. I don’t see why –”

What Princess Zelda did not see would remain a mystery to Aram, as Tuni had already taken her hand and begun to tug her away, towards the castle gates. “I know just the place,” she declares, as Juni takes up a position behind Zelda, ready to keep her from retreating. They’re not going to leave us alone to talk, and they’ll just keep interrupting if they stay. Best get this over with now. She sighs, but follows her away.

The first drops of rain begin to fall as the ungainly trio make their way past the castle gates, and Zelda uses the mild distraction to attempt to wrench her hand from Tuni’s surprisingly iron grip. “This is hardly dignified,” she grumbles, coming to a stop.

Juniper lets out a long-suffering sigh. “No, it isn’t, but you drove us to these lengths, your Highness.”

Her sister nods. “Now, we could just walk along normally, if we knew that you wouldn’t just run back off to the castle the second we let go.”

Zelda scowls at the pair, who look back at her with unconvincingly wide, innocent eyes. “I wasn’t aware that this is a hostage situation.”

“A hostage? Where? I only see our nation’s lovely princess, walking with a pair of highborn ladies through the town. Such a calm and cheerful group, the people will say.” Zelda’s eyes narrow.

“You owe me for this,” she warns. Tuni shrugs, but releases her hand, though Juni keeps her position behind her. The princess rubs her sore wrist as they navigate the town, the sisters waving cheerily to vendors as they pack up their goods and prepare to take shelter. By the time the ladies come to a stop in a back alley, the rain had begun to fall more heavily, and Zelda squints through it to read the sign on the building.

“Is this what was so important I had to be taken from my work? A bar?”

“Not just any bar. There’s an inn too!” Tuni beams at her, reaching towards her hand again as the princess’ pace threatens to slow.

“The castle is in perfectly decent condition; I have no need of an inn.”

“Don’t rent a room here then.” Zelda glowers at her back as the sisters continue to march forward. She lingers behind, unwilling to see the smug look she can so clearly imagine on their faces. The bright chiming of a bell sounds as they open the door, and the cheery tune does little to improve the princess’ sour mood. Still, as the ladies cross the threshold, she follows behind with only a moment’s hesitation.

The room within is warm and clean, populated with simple wooden tables and a bar that stretches against the wall. A handful of townspeople had chanced the uncertain weather and nursed their drinks in amiable silence, and few spare a glance for the newcomers. One teenage boy, brown haired and dressed in a complicated, multi-layered shirt, leans out from a table tucked away in the corner of the room.

On the stranger’s back, the purple hilt and winged crossguard of a sword become visible, and Zelda gasps loudly to see the Master Sword. How did I not recognize him sooner?

Link gets to his feet, his hand raised in greeting, and the bar patrons swivel in their seats to look towards the door. Zelda turns around to look at the sisters, who smile at each other proudly. What a fool I am to have played along with this. With every eye in the room on her, she steps towards them, unable to keep the harsh lines of a frown from gathering on her face like storm clouds. She manages to keep her voice low, and the pair have to lean in to hear her. “There are people in my kingdom with their homes burned down and their town walls torn open, who live in fear of the day that monsters will return to finish the job that they started. If you do not care about the weight of your father’s work in restoring this damage, so be it, but I did not think that I would need to explain to you the importance of my position. Do you really think I have nothing better to do than to harass a traveler?” They stare at her, wide-eyed, and the princess offers them a last disgusted look before turning back to the room at large.

Carefully ignoring the other patrons, she inclines her head towards Link. “I apologize for the interruption. My companions thought that I would want to visit you, Link, and while it is good to see you well, it was not my intention to intrude upon you.” She begins to turn towards the door, already preparing to deploy the dramatic-yet-nonchalant sweep out of the room that had punctuated the end of so many tiresome discussions for her in the past. Before she can make her escape, however, Link steps forward.

‘There’s no trouble, your Highness. I was actually hoping to ask you something, if you had the time free.’

She wants to tell him to come visit her in the castle, to make an appointment like everyone else, but the words do not come. The cheerful jingle of the bell sounds again as the door swings shut behind her, and Zelda no longer feels Juni and Tuni standing nearby. After a moment’s thought, her anger seems to have fled out the door with them, leaving behind only weariness, as she so often felt these days. The princess tries to muster a smile for the Hero. “Certainly, I always have time for you.” You owe him that. An appointment? For the boy who saved your kingdom? A smile splits across Link’s face, and she follows as he leads her back towards his table, where sits a half-eaten bowl of stew.

He gestures vaguely to a pair of chairs, but does not take a seat himself, instead digging through a pouch at his belt. As Zelda takes the one across from the bowl, Link withdraws a battered letter, which he carefully smooths out against the table before setting it down. ‘I would like to send a message to Midna, but I was hoping that you knew of a better way to reach her than to travel across the desert to the Mirror of Twilight.’

Zelda nods. “The Mirror is the only way to physically visit her, but she set up some sort of relay for sending letters. I understand the magic that sends it across the land, but not the part that actually gets it through the Mirror. But it works, and quickly enough. If you like, I can send your letter out, and have the response delivered to you.” Link hesitates for a moment, staring at the wrinkled paper as though trying to see through to the wood beneath it, before carefully sliding it towards the princess. His eyes do not leave the letter as she places a hand on it, and she wonders if he wants to snatch it back.

“I will not read either message, of course,” Zelda assures him, and finally he looks up again with a faint smile. Up close, she can see dark shadows under Link’s eyes, and notes the way that he seems to slouch in his chair, having retaken his seat.

‘Thank you. I appreciate your help.’ They sit together quietly for a moment, Zelda straining to return to the castle but not yet willing to walk through the rain to do so. The other customers appear to take no further notice of them, however, and she tries to force herself to relax as the minutes pass. Link toys with his stew, but does not take another bite, and they both watch silently as it visibly cools and the broth thickens into an unappetizing paste.

The bell above the door rings again, and Zelda glances towards it, expecting to see the sisters returning. A Hyrulean soldier in a training uniform stands there instead, helmet tucked under his arm as he makes his way to the bar. Zelda turns away again, uninterested, when a woman with brown skin and braided hair storms out from a back room towards the man, pointing a finger in his face and swelling with rage.

“OUT!” she roars, and the soldier quails under the strength of her fury. “Out! How many times must I tell you that you and your men are not welcome here!” He had begun inching backwards from the moment the woman made her appearance, and by the time she finishes, his hand had scrabbled blindly for the doorknob and he flees into the now pouring rain. The woman looks satisfied, but the exchange surprises the princess.

She steps away from the table, and the woman’s eyes grow wide at her approach. She ignores her spluttered greeting, intent on the scene she had just witnessed. “Madam, have my soldiers been giving you trouble here?”

Zelda now recognizes her now as the bar owner, and moreover one who was popular with the community and particularly scrupulous with her business taxes. Her concern deepens; complaints were quite rare for citizens like these, and often more serious. The woman – Telma, if the establishment had been named after herself – takes a moment to calm herself, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, though her frown remains. “It’s not that they’ve given us trouble, your Highness. But they haven’t given us anything else, either, and there’s the problem.”

Zelda’s brows knit. “Do they have outstanding debts with you? Because –” She trails off, watching Link shake his head, moving away from their table as well to stand by Telma’s side.

Telma gives an agitated huff, plants a hand on her hip, and begins to describe an incident with a gravely injured Zora boy, and how she and another civilian needed safe passage across the plain to Kakariko to seek medical treatment. “Oh, they were all full of bravado and might,” she scoffs, “until the first mention of monsters. Then they couldn’t get out the door fast enough, and the only fighter left was Link here, isn’t that right, honey?” He gives a terse nod.

She pinches the bridge of her nose. I wish it had just been a debt owed. “Please, please tell me that the Zora did not die as a result of their cowardice.”

‘He’s ok now. This was Prince Ralis.’ Zelda bites back a groan and closes her eyes. Oh, not just any Zora then, it’s only their new leader. It had been painful enough to learn of the execution of Queen Rutela, not just due to the respect she had for her Zora counterpart after years of friendly relations, but for how easily Zelda could have been in her place. She does not wish to imagine what could happen if the Zoras had then lost their prince at the hands of the Hyrulean army. At best, we could lose trade with them, probably any diplomatic relationship as well. At worst, we could lose all access to the Zora River and Lake Hylia, and maybe even cause a war, if they blamed us for Rutela as well. And would they really be wrong if they did?

The clinking of glass makes her open her eyes, and she sees that Telma had moved to stack a set of glasses left on a nearby table, scowling at each one as if they too had failed to come to her aid. “What would we have done without you, Link? No, I don’t want any of those cowards sullying my bar, if they wanted to leave so badly then they can stay out. The only warrior we need is right here.” She shoots a warm smile at Link, before growing stern again. “And he doesn’t pay here, I don’t want to see any more rupees waiting for me on your tables or in your room, understand?” Link turns to her, and behind his back, Zelda cannot see his words of protest, though the unimpressed look on the barkeep’s face tells her that this is not the first time this point has been argued.

The pair appear to think that the matter of the soldiers is settled and done, but Zelda frowns, deeply concerned. Have the knights really deteriorated so badly? How did I not see that happening? It is not, unfortunately, the first story she had heard of her soldiers being unhelpful during the invasion, but openly refusing to defend civilians is an offense she cannot ignore. They’ve been so enthusiastic lately too, is that truly pride or just shame? She shakes her head. “Madam,” she calls, and Telma and Link look over to her. “Do you recall who these soldiers were? They must be removed from their posts; they’ve proven themselves incapable and unworthy. I cannot rely on such men, and I thank you for informing me of this.”

The barkeep smiles, and puts a hand on Link’s shoulder. “Not everyone can respond to a crisis with bravery and strength,” she says, looking fondly at him. “I’m sure your men are trained well, your Highness, but some things cannot be taught.”

It is a fair answer, but something about it strikes the princess as too complacent. We have to find a way to teach it, their performance wasn’t good enough. “That may be so, but perhaps their training was still lacking in some way…” Zelda lapses into silent thought, which is quickly interrupted by Telma, who looks thoughtful.

“You’ve killed hundreds of monsters, haven’t you, honey?” she asks Link. He gives a wary nod, and reaches up to touch the hilt of his sword, as though half expecting them to appear at their very mention. “Probably more than whoever’s doing this training has, do you think? Maybe you could sit in on a session, see where they’re going wrong.”

Zelda opens her mouth to insist that she couldn’t ask a civilian to take on the task of training royal knights, but Link straightens and turns around, his eyes bright. ‘I would be honored to do so, if you’d like.’

“The decision would not be up to me,” she warns. “I can appoint a captain of the guard and pose suggestions to them, but direct recruitment of any kind is up to the captain. A princess isn’t supposed to be involved in a battle.”

Link raises an eyebrow and sets his jaw stubbornly. ‘There are only two people I would trust to fight by my side, and they’re both princesses.’ The smile that grows on Zelda’s face might be the first genuine one she has worn all day.

The pounding rain, however, is quick to wash it away as she and Link step out of the bar, making for the castle. The last several inches of her skirt quickly grows sodden and heavy as they wind through the empty streets, and by the time they reach the knights’ usual courtyard in Hyrule Castle, the soaked material sticks to her legs with every step. Zelda thinks longingly of the fireplace in her bedroom, and of sitting before it in a warm and dry bathrobe.

She hears the soldiers before she sees them, the clanging of metal on metal and the cries of men who would rather be anywhere else in the world. As she approaches, she finds a knot of men still standing and fighting, while a larger crowd sits on the ground against the castle wall, thoroughly splattered with mud. A tall, armored figure off to the side surveys them, unmoving as rain sheets off his helm. Zelda calls out to him.

“Captain Lee, I’m surprised to see your men out in this weather.” Lee does not turn from his troops as Link and Zelda approach.

“Are you here to ask me to stop?”

She doubts that he would if she asked him to. “Certainly not. Rain has not been known to keep monsters at bay.” The captain gives a grunt of assent, and the three watch the sparring soldiers through the rain. One by one, the remaining trainees succumb to the slippery mud beneath their feet, and once fallen, join their seated fellows in watching the match. Finally, there remains only two fighters, whose swords meet in a clash that rings through the courtyard, and the impact of which knocks them both off their precarious balance and into the muck. Lee shakes his head, and Zelda can imagine the hard line his mouth must be set into as he finally turns to face her.

“Who’s the boy? A new recruit, then, are you?” Before Zelda can explain, Link gives a firm nod.

The captain circles him, looking him up and down, suddenly businesslike. “I’ve seen this kind of clothing before, but not often. Are you from that village across the gorge, the farming one? Good muscles, you a farmer, then?”

‘Goat rancher.’

He nods. “Stubborn things, those goats, and strong too. That’s good. And that’s not an easy life, either, you’ll be used to hard work, not like these city boys.” He spares a contemptuous glance at the trainees, still seated and grumbling. Zelda hides a smile; hailing from Kakariko, Ordon might be the only village that Lee did not consider a city. He claps his hands and rubs them together, and the resulting ring echoes around the courtyard. “Well, I like what I see so far, and that’s not something I get to say often. Take off your sword and fetch a training blade from one of the lads cowering over there, then come face me. I want to see what I’m working with.”

With almost exaggerated care, Link unstraps the Master Sword as he walks towards the wall of trainees, and Zelda watches as a look of amusement dawns on the face of the teenager that he speaks to, one of the two last men standing in the sparring match. The soldier hands over his blunted training sword, and receives the sacred blade in return. As soon as Link turns away, the soldier attempts to draw the blade from its scabbard, and confusion clouds his amusement as it does not budge. The captain does not appear to have noticed the exchange, busying himself instead with removing his armor with the help of a trainee that he had called over.

By the time Link returns, four more men had attempted to pull the sword, and were now staring incredulously at his retreating back. ‘I told him that I needed to exchange swords, and he asked where I stole this one from.’ He scowls. ‘I said I found it in a deep, dark, forgotten cavern, and that that’s where I’ll leave him if anything happens to it in his care. He thought that was funny.’ His mood seems to lighten, however, as he watches the Master Sword be passed around the group over the next several minutes, all trying and failing to draw the blade. Finally, it reaches a soldier who seems to recognize the relic, eyes widening and grip softening as he cradles it in his arms, staring almost helplessly at Link.

Finally, Captain Lee declares himself ready, and leads his potential new recruit towards the circle of churned mud where the soldiers had been sparring. At his command, he and Link both ready their edgeless weapons, and the duel begins.

Chapter Text

As if through unspoken agreement, the duelists begin to circle each other, sharp eyes carefully cataloguing and calculating their opponent’s every movement as the rain hammers down around them. Link shakes soaking hair out of his eyes, and it plasters itself against his forehead. Captain Lee, with his brutally short-cropped hair, smiles to see Link’s early disadvantage. Link smiles back. You’ve fought giants deep under the lake or shooting flame high above the ground. This is just a man, and one who thinks a bit of water is enough to defeat you. Nevertheless, he moves carefully, all too aware that any man put in a position of authority over the royal army must have some great skill with a blade.

They continue to circle for a few moments more, until it becomes apparent that the captain is happy to let his opponent make the first move and set the pace. Link gives him an experimental swipe, which Lee catches easily with his own sword, before pushing back, hard. He shifts his weight to his back foot, which slides backwards in the mud from the force of the shove. So he is strong, and quick enough. But unarmored, and proud. He takes a step back to resume his fighting stance, and Lee lunges towards him, his blade coming down in an arc of iron that Link quickly sidesteps. Undeterred, the next strike comes from the side, and Link, who had raised his right arm automatically to catch the blow on his shield, curses and lifts his borrowed blade instead to take the hit before responding with an attack of his own.

For a few minutes, they trade blows, still sizing each other up. The world narrows, and Link hardly notices the relentless rain, let alone the stares of the watching princess and crowd of battered trainees. All that matters is the captain, and his sword, and the treacherous ground beneath their feet. Every motion seems to slow down, and for the first time in weeks, he can think with an icy clarity, utterly certain of each action. Without the use of his ever-present shield, blocking blows with his blade proves to be a new exercise for Link, who relishes the challenge. Maybe this guy can teach me something new after all. He follows the captain’s lead, observing how he seems to prefer catching blows on the flat of his blade, rather than the edge. Finally, a slice is aimed towards his head, and Link ducks below the swipe, and rolls across the ground behind his opponent, untroubled by the mud that coats him thoroughly. He leaps to his feet again, and whips his blade towards Lee’s unguarded back. Not too hard, not too hard, he doesn’t have armor. He draws back at the last second, tapping the captain just hard enough to know that he had been hit. The older man spins around to face Link, surprise etched on his face for a moment before wiping it away with a bark of laughter.

“First contact goes to the challenger!” he crows, as delighted as if he had landed it himself.

The battle resumes at once, and the captain appears to have concluded his observations. The aggression of his attacks increases, as well as the glee on his face and in his voice as Link continues to repel him. His grin grows wild, but his dark eyes remain sharp and focused. The force of the captain’s strikes and the slick weather threaten to loosen Link’s grip on his weapon, and his knuckles turn white as he clenches it more firmly. Their soaked clothes cling tightly to their skin, and they both find their movement restricting as the fight goes on, even as the rainfall finally diminishes. Link manages to land three more hits before his opponent gets his first, although the man’s smile only grows wider and wider with each strike. Despite having the upper hand, as Link shakes his hair out of his eyes yet again, he decides that he doesn’t want to let Lee land a second hit.

He ducks down, as though to roll again, and the captain, already expecting the maneuver, bends down as well, aiming a slash to his side in anticipation. But Link had leapt, launching himself over Lee’s back instead, striking twice, in midair and upon landing. The captain topples over, the wind knocked out of him, too breathless to laugh or call out as he had with his challenger’s previous successes. He’s down. Don’t let him get back up.

Link jumps again, loosing a wordless shout as he prepares to bring the fight to its end, the best way he knows how. The blunted tip of his sword points down, the full weight of his body behind it, a move that he always relied upon to cleave through armor or scales or flesh or bone.

Lee’s grin gives way to a flash of fear, and in an instant, Link is transported to that moment in Ordon, in Jaggle and Pergie’s house. A lifetime of memories in the village had been tainted in that moment, painted red and shattered. The stubbled, gruff face of the man below him becomes the unlined face of a young boy, a boy that Link had known since his birth, rowdy and innocent and perhaps closer to death by Link’s hand than he had ever been as a captive of King Bublin.

He drops his blade.

It falls into the mud with a splat that Link doesn’t hear as he lands heavily, one leg on either side of the captain’s fallen torso, bending over him and meeting startled brown eyes to his own blue, his expression almost pleading. Captain Lee’s breath comes almost as heavily as Link’s. “I yield,” he gasps, all signs of excitement faded away. “Let me up, would you? I yield.” Shell-shocked, Link obliges, reaching down and pulling the man up from the muck that coats them both. He bends again to retrieve his fallen sword, but Lee does so instead, and offers it to Link, hilt first. He looks at him appraisingly, but Link refuses to meet his eyes, certain that there lies a bite of resentment. “I see why the princess brought you here, I’ve never had a recruit who could fight like that.”

Shame colors Link’s face, and he looks away, unable to think how to respond. I almost killed him. Here’s a man trained in combat, and I almost killed him. And it was easy. With the focus of the fight ebbing away, he notices that the deluge has reduced to a chill mist, and a bitter cold cuts straight through his sodden clothing. He reaches out to accept the blade that Lee holds out to him, hoping that the trembling in his hand will be attributed only to the weather, and the dull iron is cold and unwelcoming in his grasp. Link wants his sword back, his Master Sword, his reliable friend that somehow feels warm with a faint life that only he can sense. On legs stiff with cold and exertion, he stumbles his way back towards the wall of soldiers, blindly holding out the hilt of the training sword until one of them offers back the blade of evil’s bane.

Despite the muck clinging to him, Link straps the sword to his back with automatic movements, as he does every morning. He reaches over his shoulder and draws the blade, missing the looks of shock and irritation that sweep through the men before him as he succeeds where they had failed, however surreptitious they tried to keep their attempts. Link closes his eyes and presses his forehead to the hilt, unconcerned with holding the naked edge so close to his face. Minutes pass as he holds the pose, uninterested in any part of the world around him. All is as it should be, his sword back in his hand, and the weariness that seems to slough away from him at the feeling, as if eager for a real fight. This blade knows who you are. Do you?

He may not yet have an answer to that question, but a sudden intake of breath behind him tells him that Captain Lee does, having approached his challenger. “That sword… You’re…” Link turns to face him, in time to see his eyes, wide with shock, quickly narrow in suspicion. He casts an accusatory glance towards Zelda, who stands closer to them than Link had expected, but she merely shrugs in return. Link shakes his head.

‘She probably wanted to tell you, but I wanted to be accepted on merit alone.’

Lee lets out a brusque laugh, still looking back and forth between the two, and finally amusement seems to win out over irritation. He does not smile, but one settles into his eyes nonetheless. “Merit? Well, you’ve got that all right. What’s your name, son?”

‘Link.’

He hesitates for a moment, perhaps waiting for a surname, but when none is forthcoming, he clears his throat and announces to the courtyard at large: “Link, Hero of Hyrule, it would be an honor to have a fine warrior like you join our company. I will accept you as a knight-in-training, if you will agree to serve your kingdom with integrity and valor.”

Link bows his head, uncertain how formal an occasion this is meant to be. ‘I will, I swear it.’ His vow is enough for the captain, who nods once, and claps a hand to his shoulder. The trainees break into applause, punctuated with a few whoops and whistles, and Link sheathes his sword, ill at ease under the attention. You should probably be smiling. He smiles, probably.

The captain allows the celebration to carry out for a half a minute, then raises his arm for silence. “I’ve just spoken to her royal Highness, and I have an announcement I would like to make. Though many of you started here under the command of my brother, I have been working with you for a good few years now. It has been a privilege to do so. The soldiers of the Hyrulean army are the finest in the kingdom, the strongest and boldest and most honorable in the land.” He pauses, and a single man cheers, lost in the crowd. After a pregnant pause, another man cheers, then claps, and slowly a wave of applause and whooping crashes over the crowd, even stronger than before. Sounds like they’re not too used to getting compliments.

Lee watches them impassively, and Link knows exactly what news the princess had given him. He glances at her, standing off to the side, watching closely with a guarded expression. The celebration slows to a stop, and an eager anticipation settles over the group. A terrible look passes over the captain, setting his face into a deep scowl, eyes colder than the mist that swirls thickly around the courtyard. His voice drops and drops, hardly more than a whisper, yet none of the men seem willing to move an inch closer to hear better, all traces of merriment erased. “So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard just now how some of our merry band abandoned their posts when their country needed them most. Imagine my disgrace when I have to hear from the princess how the men that I had so carefully trained proved to be weaklings, cowards, and oathbreakers.” Lee lifts his sword to point into the stricken-faced crowd, selecting a group of soldiers, whose peers quickly step away from them, as though fearing infection. His voice rises so that all can easily hear him, though it is no mercy. “A knight’s first duty is to defend the kingdom, and those who live within. A knight’s second duty is chivalry, to defend the weak and innocent. Tell me, what good is strength without courage? You have forsaken your vows, and you have failed Hyrule. Leave us now, and do not return.”

For an achingly long minute, nobody moves, the glare of the captain freezing his men more effectively than any Gibdo. Finally, the crowd shifts, and the trainees who had not been indicated continue their slow migration away from their condemned brethren. Silence falls around the courtyard, filling their ears and weighing them down. Even Link squirms, despite the knowledge that he alone had succeeded in the task that the soldiers had refused to attempt. Finally, disgraced and defeated, the guilty soldiers shuffle away from their ex-comrades-at-arms, gazing pleadingly at men who do not meet their eyes. Only the squelching of their footsteps through the mud disrupts the menacing silence, but it is not enough to break the spell that seems to hold their peers captive, looking anywhere but at the departing men.

Kingdoms rise and fall before Captain Lee speaks again. “We’re done for today.”

To their credit, the trainees make their exit at a normal pace, though still unnaturally silent. As soon as they leave their captain’s sharp sight, however, the sounds of frantic footfalls can be heard as they bolt for their quarters. In a matter of seconds, only Link, Lee, and Zelda remain in the courtyard. The boy hesitates, uncertain if he had been dismissed along with the others.

Zelda approaches Lee and lays a hand on his arm, concern written on her face and her voice gentle. “The failures of these men are not your own, captain. It was your soldiers who stood by my side when Zant took the castle, who fought bravely against overwhelming odds. I couldn’t have asked more of them.” Lee pulls his arm away, but too slowly; the move seems half-hearted.

He turns away from the princess, his expression shadowed, and finds his newest trainee standing nearby. “It seems that we needed you more than I expected, Link. Reliable men are harder to find than I thought.” Link accepts the compliment with a nod, and hopes that the unclenching of the captain’s jaws is a sign of satisfaction.

Zelda raises her hand in a gesture of farewell, then gathers her sodden skirts in preparation to leave. “That was well fought. It has been good to see you again, Link.” Addressing the captain, she adds, “This certainly wasn’t a typical recruitment, but don’t forget his instructions.” Her tone is almost carefully casual, but Lee throws her an irritated look as she walks away, and runs a hand through his cropped hair.

“Right, right. Instructions.” His voice becomes flat and even; he obviously has given this speech many times. “Trainees are given room and board at Hyrule Castle, though you are not required to take it. Do not confuse that with open access to the castle. You’ll get a room and three meals a day, and 30 rupees a week. If you live and eat elsewhere, pay is 100 rupees a week. You are expected to maintain your own equipment, keep your room clean, and report here for training six days a week. If you do not have a sword and shield, a set will be given to you. It’ll be used, though, so consider saving to get your own arms in town. Training equipment is castle property and is maintained by the army as a whole. Any questions?”

There is only one thing on Link’s mind. ‘Yeah, where do we go to dry off?’

x X x

A week into the training of Hyrule’s newest royal soldier, Link finds himself bested by an enemy more persistent than any he had faced in his travels so far. Not for the first time that afternoon, he whips his hand away from the tunic he had been holding, and after a careful inspection, sticks his bleeding finger into his mouth in a display of his most advanced medical technique. He aims a glare at the fabric in his lap, where a needle glints at him innocently, encouraging to give it just one more try.

When he had been presented with a stack of training uniforms a week previously, he had taken little consideration of the requirement that he keeps them clean and free of damage. A bar of laundry soap and a sewing kit had been provided to him, but instructions on their use, unfortunately, had not. After half an hour’s hard work, Link holds up the blue and white shift, and frowns at the cluster of uneven stitches that are more offensive to the garment than the original tear had been. Shaking his head, he bends to his task once more, and quickly becomes so absorbed that he fails to notice the tall, blue and black figure emerge from the shadow of his doorframe.

“Fascinating. Does all human needlework involve passing the needle through the flesh as well as the fabric, or is this more of a bloodletting ritual?”

He jerks in surprise at the familiar voice, and the needle seizes the opportunity to embed itself into the flesh of his finger yet again. He winces, and makes a futile attempt to slide it back out without his friend noticing. “I got your letter,” Midna says easily, and with a wave of her hand, the familiar, worn paper appears before her. “I figured it would be better to wait until I could reply in person.” With his hands occupied, Link can only nod in greeting, but Midna grins as she welcomes herself into his room and takes a seat at the end of his bed.

She looks around curiously. The room is small and devoid of decoration, but not uncomfortable. The furnishings are well crafted, if plain, and consist of a bed, a chest of drawers, a table, and a chair. The sole decorations in the room are the cheery red quilt spread over the bed and the Triforce carved into the door. Every door in the castle has one, on each side, but it makes Link feel as though the goddesses are watching his every move. “Not too shabby a place for a brand-new trainee. I was expecting something more… communal.”

Link smiles wryly. ‘The mess hall is communal,’ he says, having finally extricated the needle. He wrinkles his nose. ‘And the showers. I don’t know whose idea that was.’

Midna roars with laughter, drowning out the sound of the approaching footsteps in the hallway.

“Whoa.”

A lanky teenage soldier stands in the doorway, eyes wide, the hand he had raised in greeting falling limp as he takes in the sight of the alien woman before him. “You’re, uh, you’re not supposed to have guests here,” he falters, eyes fixed warily on Midna, who offers him a toothy grin at his obvious discomfort. “Better take off before the captain sees.” He hurries away, but doesn’t make it out of earshot before Midna bursts into laughter once more. Link only shakes his head at her, and carefully packs away his sewing kit before they depart together, grinning and moving with deliberate slowness when she clicks her tongue impatiently.

Despite Link’s delay, the soldier’s warning had come just in time; as the pair leave the barracks for the courtyard, the clanking of armor alerts them to the presence of Captain Lee, who catches sight of them. “Link,” he says, with a brief nod of greeting. When his eyes land upon Midna, however, they narrow, and he stops in his tracks. Link looks between the two in surprise, only to see her face twisted into a matching expression of intense dislike. “And a good evening to you too, your… Highness.” He speaks the words as though they had been soaked in acid, scouring them of any potential courtesy, and stalks away before she can respond. Link raises an eyebrow at Midna, but her attention is fixed entirely on the captain, and she cranes her head to continue to glare at him without interruption as they continue on their separate ways. She only faces forward again after the pair turn a corner and a stone wall separates her from the object of her ire, though her glower remains.

She waits until they make it through the castle gates before bursting out, “That’s the man you’ll be working under?” When he nods, her scowl deepens. “He insulted the princess,” she growls. Were she not so deadly serious, Link would have laughed; he could not count the hours that Midna had spent waxing eloquent on Princess Zelda’s many inadequacies and weaknesses, and musing what a wonder it was that the kingdom still stood under such woeful leadership. With what information she had drawn such confident conclusions, Link never asked, but time spent criticizing the human monarchy was time not spent criticizing him, and so he had nodded along amiably wherever a response seemed to be required of him.

He nods along amiably now, but walks a little faster, passing in front of his friend before she can see the small smile that spills out onto his face. They exit the town through the south road, ignoring the startled looks of the shopkeepers they pass by, and emerge onto a stone plaza overlooking Hyrule Field. Link leads the way to a stone railing and leans against it, looking down at the fountain on the level below him. Midna looks up instead, the ruddy light of the setting sun painting her face, her irate expression softening at last. Link leaves her to enjoy herself for a moment, entertaining himself with nudging pebbles with his boot until they fall into the water below.

“So… what’s up?”

The words are simple enough, casual enough, and when he glances over, Link sees that the woman still faces the sky, and had merely cracked an eye to peer down at him. He sighs, uncertain where to begin. When I wrote to her, I wanted to talk about Ordon. But does that matter anymore? Words come to him slowly at first, and he describes what had become of his life since their adventures came to an end. Unwilling to open their conversation with anything unpleasant, Link skates over the details of his time in his hometown and merely conveys a sense of restlessness and unease, feeling guilty as Midna gives him an understanding nod when he falters. She hops up onto the railing and looks down at him, perched like a bizarre owl and swinging her feet like a child, as he describes his decision to leave the village, and how he ended up a knight in training. Finally, he talks about the training itself, the long days of drills and sparring matches that he wins with a casual ease, and the awestruck praise of his new peers.

‘It’s just… they all treat me like I’m some fancy warrior. They tell me that I fight like I was born to do it, that I’m a machine made for battle. But that’s… I’m not…’ he trails off, uncertain how to describe the pit of dread that freezes him to the core every time he hears the words, and the laughter that the other trainees put behind it. They think it’s a compliment. They think it’s a good thing, to see my hands soaked with blood, that’s what they want too. They think it’s glory, but nothing honorable lies there. Link looks down at his fingers, half expecting to see them bloom with crimson at the very thought, but instead he sees Midna lean down towards him, watching him intently with ruby eyes that see too much.

“These men know you only as a soldier, of course they will only see you as one. How else would you expect them to treat you?”

He throws up his hands, frustrated. ‘I just want to be a normal boy. Is that too much to ask?’

“Yes.” He whips his head up to stare at her, but there’s no trace of laughter on the Twili’s face. “You’re not a normal boy. The gods decided that themselves. If you keep insisting on leading a mundane life after that, you’ll always be disappointed.”

‘So this is just my life now? I didn’t ask for this.’

Midna smiles now, or at least offers a bitter mockery of one. “Power never sits easily on the shoulders of those who bear it. A ruler lives in the service of her people. I’m sure there are many who would say that a warrior does as well.”

‘But I didn’t choose that. No more than you chose to be a princess. It’s not right,’ he insists.

“I did choose it, and so did you. No, really,” she adds firmly, as Link sets his jaw mulishly and narrows his eyes. “I could have declined my crown, and let it go to Zant instead. When he stole it from me, I could have stood down and accepted him as king. I wouldn’t have been a princess. You could have abandoned your friends and the light spirits to their fate, and gone back home. You wouldn’t have been a warrior.”

He can hardly believe what he’s hearing. He takes a staggering step back, staring at her, but she only tilts her head, looking at him with an expression of mild interest. ‘No, we couldn’t have! How could you –’ She holds up a hand, and he lowers his, fuming.

“Even if an option is too abhorrent to consider, it still exists. We still had choices, even if only one path could lead forward.”

Link considers this for a moment, and slowly leans forward against the railing once more, burying his head in his hands. I couldn’t just leave them. Even if the gods hadn’t chosen me for the task, I would have had to try. He looks up. ‘I get your point, but I don’t like it,’ he grumbles. ‘Why do you have to pick the worst times to be right?’

She gives a long-suffering sigh, tossing her hair dramatically. “I can’t help it. When you’re always right, that has to include the worst times, doesn’t it?” Midna somehow manages to say this with a straight face, though it breaks instantly as Link laughs and gives her a playful shove, and she grins fiercely in return. When he had first written his letter, he had hoped to receive sympathy or even advice, but did not expect that the very presence of his friend would improve his mood so much. Whatever path I’m stuck on, I’m just glad that I do not have to walk it alone.

Even with Midna’s words in consideration, however, something bitter still sits too close to Link’s heart. It may have shown on his face, as Midna watches him carefully before asking, “There’s more, isn’t there?”

He frowns, and bends to scoop up a handful of pebbles instead of responding. One by one, he drops them into the fountain, and Midna watches quietly until his hand is empty, unusually patient. ‘I wish things could go back to the way they were. But that isn’t going to happen, is it?’

“No, it won’t. I think everyone wants that.” She sighs. “Princess Zelda says that’s not a bad thing, that this is a chance to rebuild to something bigger than before. Maybe that’s all right for her, but my people don’t like change. We don’t do a lot of it.”

Link tries to smile sympathetically, but it comes out as a grimace. ‘Not a lot changes in Ordon either. Everyone tried to act like nothing happened there either, but they couldn’t. Then they tried to act like I was the only one who saw what was wrong, like I couldn’t handle it.” He paws at the ground for another pebble and throws it, not into the fountain but over the field, as hard as he can. Something about putting words to his jumbled thoughts makes them real, makes his anger real, and it sickens him. ‘I couldn’t stay there. I just want to go home, but I don’t know where that is anymore.’

“I know,” she says, too softly. “I know.” She doesn’t say it, but she doesn’t need to; if the situation had been different in the Twilight Realm, she would have said so. And she certainly wouldn’t be looking at him the way she did, gentle and understanding. It looks almost out of place with her sharp features, but even more unnerving against her usual fiery boldness. Midna had always known what to do, where to go next, had always been the one to push him when he faltered and to find the path when it became clouded. Link had not realized how much he relied upon her stubborn direction until it was gone.

She puts an arm over his shoulders, and they sit together quietly, side by side, and watch as the sun disappears over the hills. As the first stars begin to appear in the deepening sky above, Link begins to speak again, certain that the Twili can see him quite clearly in the fading light. ‘I think you’re right. I just need to accept that true peace will always evade me. And really, do I deserve it after what it took to obtain it?’

Midna snorts and shakes her head. “That’s not what I meant at all, don’t be dramatic. You’ve brought peace to both our worlds, of course you deserve it.”

But Link refuses to hear it. ‘Look how many creatures we had to kill. How many battles I’ve fought.”

He suspects that Midna sees what he’s getting at, as she continues to gaze into the sky, her voice too light and careless. “Against monsters.”

‘All of them? Were all of them monsters?’

Her face falls, and he regrets his words as soon as he sees it. “No,” she whispers, stricken. “We – we had no choice, Link. They would have killed us.”

‘Wouldn’t we have deserved that?’

“No!” she says again, her voice strong and sharp. She grasps his shoulder and turns him, forcing him to meet her eyes. They look haunted, and shame grows in him for adding to her troubles, for trying to unburden his own guilt onto her. Did you really think she never noticed who those beasts were? Did you think that only you cared? “Those were my people. They were good and peaceful and gentle. But not after Zant got a hold of them, they weren’t Twili anymore. That’s his crime, not ours.”

Something in his expression must not have convinced her that he agreed, because Midna takes his other shoulder as well, and she leans in closer, her voice urgent. “Listen, you did what had to be done, and you can’t blame yourself for it. And you can’t blame yourself for having been good at it, or for being good at it now. The gods chose you to fight their battles, and so you became skilled in combat. Now you have a job that uses that skill. You speak of it as if you reveled in the bloodshed, but I know you didn’t.”

‘The other soldiers do. They’ve never seen a real fight, but they want to.’

“Let’s hope that they never do, and be ready for whatever comes.”

They speak no more of anything of importance, and the moon is high in the sky when the pair finally part once more. To Link’s surprise, Midna follows him back to the castle, but from there he makes his way back to his quarters alone. Sleep takes him unusually quickly when he lies down, and a dream comes upon him at once, as if it had been waiting for him.

All is black and silent, and the loss of sense unnerves Link. He moves to draw his sword, but finds that there isn’t one waiting on his back. Panic envelops him at once, and he fumbles through the darkness in search of a weapon. What he finds instead are words, spoken by no voice but as clear in his mind as if he had read them from a page. A sword wields no strength unless the hand that holds it has courage. Remember that, Link. Remember what I’ve taught you.

A shiver runs down his spine; from fear or excitement, he cannot tell. Link knows those words. ‘I remember,’ he insists.

The way of the sword is a hard and lonely path, but the way of the Hero makes it look easy.

It is. I understand.’

Do you? Somewhere, in the near distance, a wolf howls. A part of Link longs to howl back, but his human mouth cannot form the sound, and he closes his eyes to listen carefully instead. Isn’t my job as the Hero over? Ganondorf was defeated. I did what I was chosen to do.

He had only thought the words, but a reply comes anyway. Your task is complete but your work is not done. Rest while you can, but remain on your guard.

‘I am always on my guard. I am tired.’

You must do this. I am sorry. This is not the life I would have chosen for you, for anyone. I am sorry. The wolf howls again, but it sounds so mournful that Link no longer wishes to join it. The sound echoes on and on, and it lingers in his heart when Link wakes once more.

Chapter Text

While the hour had been late in the world she had just left, Midna is not surprised to see a pair of Twili still at work inspecting the Sol spheres that sit before her palace upon her return. Their weakened state had not gone unnoticed, drawing flocks of researchers, mages, priests, historians, and everything in between from all across the kingdom. They look up at her approach, grins unfurling across their pale faces. She does not recognize them, though the markings on their chest and arms identify them as scholars. The shorter of the two, a stout woman with long hair, waves her over eagerly. “Great news, my princess!” she burst out as soon as she’s within earshot. “We have been measuring the light output from the Sols every day. They are returning to their previous levels.” Midna nods, having heard this report before.

Her companion, a tall man with a scarred face, gestures towards the orbs in question. “Over the past several days, their strength has been returning at a greater speed. If today’s pace keeps steady, their full light will be restored in about two weeks time. If the rate of growth keeps steady, it could be only a few days more.”

“That is indeed good news, I’m glad to hear it.” They beam at her, but despite her relief at the update, concern still nags at her. “Are there any theories as to what sapped their power in the first place? Or how it is healing on its own?” Please have something, we cannot remain powerless to the whims of such crucial artefacts. They shake their heads, crestfallen, their eager smiles flickering and fading like a snuffed flame.

“Zant used magic that was strange and foreign, we cannot blame ourselves for being unable to understand it,” Midna says quickly, cursing herself for having spoiled the good news so quickly.

The woman gazes towards the palace, lips pursed in thought. “The Sols are entirely resistant to magic, as far as we know. I wonder, how were they even removed from their pedestals in the first place? This could have been what damaged them,” she muses.

Midna frowns; she had never considered that. As far as she knew, nobody had ever attempted to move the Sols in living memory, simply for a lack of a reason to do so. Not even the most mischievous of pranksters or basest of criminals would dare interfere with their precious light source in any way. “Link just picked them up and carried them here, I suppose Zant carried them away the same way.” She kneels down, and lifts one of the spheres from its pedestal, ignoring the gasps this draws from the scholars. It is heavy, far more so than it had appeared when Link hefted it easily overhead, and pulses with an internal warmth. She turns it about in her hands, inspecting it for any obvious signs of physical damage, and returns it when she finds none. “Well, it looks pretty normal. Guess that would be too easy, if we only needed to turn it over to find the problem. And someone would have found it already if we did.” Midna rises to her feet and looks back at the scholars, who watch her with identical expressions of shock.

The man reaches towards her. “Princess, are you hurt? Please, let us see your hands,” he says, voice soft with concern.

She frowns, and holds her unblemished hands up for her inspection. “I am not hurt. I have not heard anything about a Sol causing harm.” The researchers glance at each other in surprise, much the same way that Midna stares at them, brow furrowed. The man nods at the woman, and twists his arm towards Midna, showing her an oddly round burn mark that left his skin an almost human shade of pink.

“I merely brushed against one of them, and it burned like glowing iron. We began recording temperature as well as light output, and found that they increased at the same rate.” He reaches a hand towards the other Sol, but stops a few inches away, grimacing.

Midna moves over as well, and bends down to place a hand on it. Her brows knit. “It isn’t hot. Kind of pleasant, actually, like it had been sitting out in the sun.” She speaks the words without thinking; the woman’s eyes widen.

“Out in the… sun? What do you mean?”

“Have you seen Hyrule?” The woman shakes her head slowly, but the man nods, grimly tapping the scars on his face with a long finger. “The humans… they only have one Sol, but it’s very large, and it sits in the sky beyond the clouds. They call it a sun. It makes their world very warm and bright.”

“It… didn’t burn you?”

She laughs. “Oh, the sun certainly did, I would have to stay in shadow while it was up.” Her smile fades. “But not… anymore…” A thought occurs to her, the memory of the golden serpent Lanayru and its cursed light, setting her aflame. Midna had never known such pain, the agony eclipsed only by the growing dread that her approaching death would leave Zant’s false claim to her throne unopposed, her people abandoned to his cruelty and madness. She remembers the surprise on Zelda’s face as Link brought her to the castle, the coolness of her hand against Midna’s burning skin, the small, sad smile on her face as she faded away… Another spirit of light had poured its power into her, not the searing brilliance of Lanayru but something warm and welcoming, like a roaring fire that keeps away predators in the night. When they left the castle and stepped into the sunlight of Hyrule field, Midna had felt its warmth on her skin and thought of the first days of spring, when the blossoming sun was full of promise and life; a memory she had never personally experienced. She turns away from the Sols, biting her lip.

“No… it doesn’t burn anymore. I suppose… that’s why I could touch the Sol.” She inspects her hand more closely, but finds the blue and black flesh entirely unmarred. What had she done to me? What does that make me, a Twili who walks in the light? She had thought little of it in her cursed form, but it unnerves her to have returned to a body that no longer behaves the way it used to, as if a very poor caretaker had worn it in her absence.

She hears one of the researchers take a step towards her, but does not turn back to look. “But how –”

A low growling fills the air, and as one, the group turns towards the palace where the sound had originated, in time to see a lanky shadow slip out of sight. “Is someone there?” the man calls, before Midna can shush him, unwilling to make the first move against an unknown enemy. Link would have charged right for it, he never showed fear. Does it look wise or weak for me to stay back? For a moment they hear nothing, then another growl rumbles towards them. It sets Midna’s hair to standing; even when her palace had been crawling with Zant’s filth, she had never heard such a sound.

She had, however, seen the prowling shape that suddenly lunges from the distant gloom; and judging from the expressions of resigned horror on the faces of her companions, they had as well. Masked and dreadful, a beast they had come to call a Twilit Messenger rushes towards them, howling its fury. The trio dash forward to meet it, before a terrible thought strikes Midna. She whirls around, turning her back to the beast to scan the plaza around them, eyes wide and wild. They never attack alone. Where are the others? She doesn’t find any before the Messenger is upon them, reaching out with a thin, well-muscled arm to grab the princess. She leaps back, and back again as it swings with the other arm. “Watch out for backup,” she orders the scholars, remembering a moment too late that they very well may have been transformed into the very same beast no more than a couple months ago.

It does not press her retreat, instead remaining in place, hunched and growling and waiting for her to approach. She had never seen these monsters so idle; they were powerful enough to defeat enemies that outnumbered them, and had always seemed gleefully aware of the fact. It’s waiting for its companions, it has to be, why else would it stop?  The scholars edge forward, arms outstretched and faces grim, while Midna stays behind with the Sols, every nerve alert for the presence of additional combatants. It is of course the very design of Twilight to remain ever in shadow, but never had its pools of darkness looked more menacing to its ruler, each teeming with potential enemies that lurk in wait.

The beast, to her surprise, ignores the slowly approaching scholars almost entirely, offering them little more than a flick of its great masked head in their direction before focusing upon the princess. It has no eyes as far as she can tell, but some primitive instinct tells Midna that she’s nothing more than prey before an attentive hunter. She feels naked, fighting without her wolf-eyed human, with his keen blade and his steady hand. She knows enough about combat to hold her own in a battle, but not one like this, where she does not wish to cause harm to her assailant.

The Messenger is oddly agitated, filled with a nervous, twitching energy rather than the typical prowling arrogance of a warrior who knows it will win. It skitters backwards towards the palace, then stops after several feet, and inches its way forward again, only to leap back once more.

The scholars draw within a few feet of it. “Come out into the light, my friend,” the man calls, holding out a hand as if expecting the shadow beast to take it. “You’ll feel better, you can come back home and be safe.” The beast does not so much as twitch a tendril in his direction, instead uttering another menacing growl. It takes another step forward, and the Twili pair leap upon it, each seizing an arm and pinning it to the ground in a movement so well coordinated that it may well have been practiced. The beast struggles, but keeps its attention upon Midna, who begins to draw near.

The woman shouts to her. “Princess! The Sols! Bring one here!” Bring the– of course…. She spins back to the nearest pedestal, and with a grunt of effort, she lifts the glowing sphere from its seat once more, the warm energy within churning merrily. As the light begins to move closer, the creature begins to thrash desperately against the Twili restraining it, their teeth gritting against the strain. Its shrieks grow high and piteous, louder with every step that the princess takes towards it.

As soon as she gets within a few paces of the struggling group, Midna thrusts the Sol outwards, so that the Messenger is bathed in a wash of pale blue. She had expected to see the beast transform at once back into a normal Twili, as the others had done. Frightened and half-mad, perhaps, but recognizable. Yet as flakes of Twilit corruption peel away from it, the flesh beneath is an angry red, a far cry from the healthy blue, black, and white that the poor creature originally bore. It cries and flails, and despite its obvious pain Midna dares not remove the light and allow the curse to linger and fester. The Sol begins to grow hot under her fingers, uncomfortably so, and she clenches her teeth and squeezes her eyes shut against the burst of pure white light that shoots from it towards the cursed figure writhing on the ground.

It falls still, leaving only the sounds of heavy, rasping breathing.                                                                        

Behind closed lids, she senses the light ebb away once more, and cracks her eyes open once more. Curled on the cold stone before her is a young girl, a normal Twili girl, worryingly thin but otherwise entirely unremarkable. Wait… there’s something wrong with her…

The female scholar notices as well; her eyes widen, and she gets to her feet and hurries to Midna. She leans in close, dropping her voice to a whisper. “Princess, something is wrong. She doesn’t have a clan. How is that possible?” Indeed, the girl’s skin appears entirely free of any teal tribal markings, leaving her oddly blank; an unheard-of anomaly.

She carefully returns the Sol to its place, thinking hard but producing no solution. “Zant’s magic was foreign and twisted, I do not think this will be the only thing he leaves behind that we cannot explain. We should be careful,” she whispers back when she returns, unable to keep down a pang of guilt. That’s the second time I’ve been stuck with that answer, and it won’t be the last. It’s not good enough. Would there be any documentation of Ganondorf’s magic in Hyrule?

The man is speaking softly to the newly restored Twili, who he had coaxed to her feet. “Dear one, which clan do you belong to? Who shall we inform that you’ve come home?” The girl doesn’t look at him, instead gazing at the Sol spheres, shivering violently. Undeterred, he continues. “What is your name? Where have you been?”

“My… my name?” She sways on the spot, and the man puts an arm around her at once. The girl flinches at the contact, but makes no move to run or attack. He nods reassuringly, then looks at Midna and gestures towards the palace behind them. She takes a deep breath, pushing down her feeling of growing unease.

“Yes, let’s get her to the palace with the others. Keep an eye on her. If she doesn’t remember herself by morning, send a missive to all the tribe leaders. Someone is bound to recognize her and come fetch her home.”

At the sound of her voice, the girl looks up at Midna, and her yellow, oval eyes widen almost into circles. “You? It can’t be you! Where is the king?”

“The Usurper is dead. He cannot harm you now,” the woman says, gently. The man nods encouragingly, but the unmarked Twili continues to stare at the princess. Though she continues to tremble, her gaze is unrelenting. We haven’t seen any like this one before. What did he do to her? The girl was hardly the first of Zant’s troops to have been dragged, snarling and ferocious, to the Sols to be cleansed of their transformations, but even the most feral monsters had been quick to return to themselves. Most were able to return home within days, but the more injured remained in the Palace of Twilight, under the careful eye of a team of healers handpicked by their clan’s leader.

Midna tries on a soft smile, unnerved by the girl’s intense attention. “You’re safe now. Welcome back.”

“Where is the king?” she asks again, almost plaintively. “Why is she here?” She looks around, as though hoping Zant would appear. Midna shivers at the thought. He is dead. He is dead, Midna, you saw to that yourself. She looks back at the girl, who the scholars each have by a shoulder, walking slowly into the palace. He is dead. And once all of my people are accounted for and healed, his legacy will die as well. She knows it will not likely be as simple as that, but she cannot bear the alternative.

Once returned to her quarters within her palace, Midna inspects the palms of her hands once again. Even after the burst of heat from the Sol, she sees and feels no damage to her skin. How curious… I wonder if there are any effects like this for Zelda. Whatever that connection was, she only felt it for a moment, isn’t that what she had said? She shivers at the memory, the odd combination of relief and loss she had felt as the human’s spirit took its leave of her.

Another memory of the princess rises over it, one far more recent, from earlier that night.

x X x

After parting with Link in Hyrule Castle, Midna had found that she was not yet ready to return home. Intuition guided her better than any scrap of conscious memory through the castle, and she found herself standing at the end of a narrow corridor, before a wooden door with a highly polished brass doorknob. Beneath an archway at the other end of the hall stood a pair of guards, but even the keenest human eyes could not hope to discern a Twili in a shadowy chamber who did not wish to be seen.

These guards did seem to lack the keenest ears, however, as they did not react to her knocking on the door. There was a soft ‘oh’ of surprise on the other side, and she entered to see the Hylian princess sitting in a small room behind an ornately carved wooden desk. Stacks of papers and books cluttered its surface, and more books waited in tall shelves that lined an entire wall. On the opposing wall was a modest fireplace, its stone mantle adorned only with a small potted flower. The fire was the main source of light in the dim room, as heavy velvet curtains had been drawn shut over the large window behind the desk.

Zelda half rose from her chair as the door opened, but she fell back as she saw her visitor. “Midna! I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I came to visit Link, and thought I’d see you while I’m here.” Zelda gestured to a chair in front of her desk, and she took a seat, tipping it back on two legs and putting her hands behind her head leisurely.

“I have a letter for you, actually, one moment…” Despite the intimidating stack of papers on her desk, it was only a few seconds before she fished out the message she was searching for, and held it out. “Nothing urgent, just an update on our reconstruction progress.”

Midna took the letter, and vanished it to peruse later. “Are things going well, then? How are you?”

She sighed, running a hand through her hair. “My more rural citizens sustained the most losses of property and life, yet they seemed to recover faster than anyone else. Much of Castle Town is still in crisis mode, as well as the noble families. But those are the voices I hear the most from.” She shook her head with a wry smile. “Perhaps I should move to the country and be done with it.”

Or they just don’t care to involve the crown in their troubles. It doesn’t get more rural than Ordon, and Link said they were taking it badly. Midna certainly was not about to disclose her friend’s personal problems to his princess, however, so she merely smiled in return. “Maybe you should. I’m certain that nobody from the castle would follow you out there.”

“I know, I know… It was only a joke, anyway.” I didn’t know you could joke. She didn’t say so out loud, but her failure to laugh on cue was enough of a giveaway that Zelda shook her head again. “I am well enough, however. How are you?”

Midna tilted back further, testing the stability of the chair as she gazed up at the ceiling. “Just fine.”

“And the kingdom? How are things faring there?”

“Just fine.”

She heard a heavy sigh. “Do you remember, Midna, the moment that my spirit had been returned to me, after you had freed me from Ganondorf’s control?”

“I do.”

Another sigh, then a silence that stretched out too long. Zelda finally broke it. “Will – will you look at me?” She sounded almost sad. Not close to tears, but waving at them in the distance.

The last thing she wanted was some kind of heart-to-heart, but she slowly lowered the chair back on all fours, and leveled her gaze at the princess. She was surprised to see Zelda’s wounded expression, and even more surprised at how badly it stung to know that she had caused it. “I have always done my best to be fully honest with you. I have come to consider you as not just a peer but a friend, someone dear to me. It had only lasted for a second, but I thought that I had seen you that day, all of you. And that you knew me.”

“Yes, I remember,” she muttered. It was not a memory she liked to recall. Midna had never been one to openly share anything so vulnerable as her emotions, and it had served her well throughout her life. Unintentional and benign as it had been, she had not enjoyed the thought of another soul brushing so close to hers.

“I am not proud of the state that my kingdom was in when I met you, or the state it is in now. When I speak of my problems to you, I am attempting to hold up my end of our agreement to work together, to let our nations be sisters as they should always have been. If you do not wish to do the same, then please say so now, that we may put aside this farce.”

That took her aback. “Does my word mean so little?”

Zelda scowled, though her voice remained level. “What word? You haven’t said anything to me. I share everything I know with you, but hear nothing back. Sometimes I wonder if you went and destroyed the Mirror after all.”

“I promised that I would not do that.” She slunk down in her chair, her long legs tangling awkwardly in front of her. Humans are so nosy, aren’t they? …But she cares enough to ask. That’s a rare friend indeed. “And… I promised that I would trust you, didn’t I? You’re right, princess. I’m sorry.”

“Thank you,” Zelda replied, lowering her head, but allowing the corners of her lips to turn up.

Midna took a deep breath. Words came to her slowly, but for once she attempted to let them out instead of laughing over them. She wanted to do right by the princess, who had given her so much. “So… how have I been?  It’s been…. Weird. Like I’m not… me? It’s hard to explain…”

The Twili attempted to put words to her experiences, ones that she had been unwilling to admit even to herself. They came slowly, as though dragged through mud, but as she spoke, Midna found herself feeling lighter, as if the load she shared with the other princess was a physical one. She spoke of returning to her normal body and feeling like someone had changed it while she was away, every limb suddenly too long and gangly like a growing teenager. Of the endless waiting for more shadow beasts to return to their homes, and the long and slow and uncertain healing process that awaited them. She spoke of helplessness, of paranoia that her throne was not yet secure, that she could not afford to present anything but an invincible figure to her people. It embarrassed her to admit to such failures, but had the Hylian not had already seen her at her weakest, and had chosen to risk her own life to save her? Zelda proved to be an ideal audience, listening carefully and making all the right noises of sympathy and understanding, and Midna found that the words flowed more and more easily once she began.

Hours had passed before they trickled to a stop, and the two sat in companionable silence, Midna’s heart far lighter than she would ever have believed possible. She felt as though something terrible had been extracted from her, a poison she had not known she was carrying. The fire had burned low and the curtains had been opened to admit the pale threads of moonlight, when a knock sounded on the door. Zelda’s head whipped up, instantly alert, and Midna gave her a cautious look. “Should I not be here?” she asked quietly. After the conversation, however one-sided, that they just had, she was reluctant to leave so suddenly.

Zelda grimaced, eyes fixed upon the door. “You are always welcome, of course, but…” She trailed off with a poorly concealed sigh of relief as Midna melted into the shadows, invisible to the human eye. Another knock echoed around the small room, and Zelda cleared her throat and invited the knocker to enter.

An unfamiliar human crossed the threshold, his hair grey but thick, his face lined but proud. He bowed to the princess, smiling broadly. “I thought I might find you here. You work yourself far too hard, your Grace,” he laughed.

Zelda stiffened at once at the strange honorific, but managed a soft smile beneath flashing eyes. “The hour is late; I am certain that you meant to say “your Highness”.” Humans and their titles, what does it matter? It sounded polite enough. Hidden in the darkness, Midna watched the pair carefully, a foreboding feeling rising in her, suspecting that whatever conversation lay ahead might be laced with political implications beyond her understanding. It left her feeling inadequate, almost shamed, as if she had failed in her own royal duty.

The man shook his head, refusing the excuse that Zelda offered. “Not at all, dear princess. A woman as beautiful and wise as yourself could contend with even the golden goddesses, I have no doubt.”

Her smile, and all pretense of warmth, vanished. “There are some who would consider that blasphemous, Lord Mirel,” she warned, her voice cool and formal.

“Blasphemy? Oh no, it is merely history, is it not?”

“Her Grace took a mortal form many, many centuries ago. Mine is the blood of mortals, like anyone else.” She cleared her throat and raised her chin. “Now, is there something that you needed from me?”

“Indeed there is, though I do not ask it lightly. As I’m sure you know, dear Zelda –”

“Your Highness,” she interjected, her tone now utterly frozen, though her expression remained curiously blank.

A frown crossed his face briefly, but he smoothed it away quickly into a smile, and stepped closer to Zelda’s desk, resting his hands on the back of the chair that Midna had just vacated. “Your Highness,” he acquiesced, “I would like to remind you that my own family is also an old line of noble Hyrule, and that I myself have fathered and reared strong and worthy sons.”

“Many congratulations.”

The old man, Lord Mirel, took a deep breath. “It would be the greatest honor, beautiful Zelda, to provide to you, and this great kingdom, with sons of your own.” He took another step closer and knelt before her, putting a hand over his heart and bowing his head. “I have come to ask for your hand in marriage.”

The princess blinked once, the only sign of surprise to slip through her iron grip. “No.”

To Midna’s surprise, he gave a low laugh, shaking his head. “I certainly cannot deny your strong spirit, your Highness. But, though it pains me to do so, I must ask you to recall the disaster that we so narrowly avoided. I’m sure you understand how eager we all are to ensure that the kingdom is not left leaderless.”

She nodded. “Of course. This is a concern that I share.”

Mirel brightened, looking up at her. “I am glad to hear it. Will you consider my offer, then? For the good of the realm?”

Zelda turned her head away, gazing instead into the fire. “I cannot. Now, is there anything else you needed of me?”

“Yes, there is.” Mirel returned slowly to his feet, allowing himself to frown. “Princess… Hyrule is at peace now, yet you are not. You have not been eating, you have not been sleeping, you have even insisted upon travelling to that accursed land of shadow.” It took a moment for Midna to realize that he referred to her own kingdom, and she silently seethed, eager to eject this fool from the study herself if Zelda delayed any further.

The man attempted a smile, though it did not meet his eyes. “We, your council, have grown worried about you. Your strength is our strength, and we look only to support you. Please, let me help you in this.”

She snorts, allowing herself a look of disdain before wiping her face clear once again. “What, by supplanting me and becoming king?” Midna moved closer to the old man, still unseen, suddenly deeply intent upon his reaction. If this little human thinks I’ll let him put Zelda through what I went through…

He had the grace to look alarmed by that, finally taking a step back. “No, not at all! We thought it would help put your mind at ease, to have your lineage secured. I do not seek to rise above you, never…”

She watched him for a long minute, her face wreathed in shadow as the fire guttered ever lower. When she spoke at last, her voice was firm. “Mirel. You have been an advisor to my father since long before I was born. You work in my castle as the head librarian. You have a seat in my court. What I ask of you is that you perform those duties to the best of your ability. That is how you can help me.”

The old man stared hard at her, as though seeing her for the first time. “I… your Highness, I come here with the blessings of your council. We have agreed that I–”

“Go wed the council, then. I do not appreciate you discussing such matters behind my back.” She stood, and looked down on him, coldly impassive. “If that is all, then you may go.”

“I – of course, your Highness. It is an honor to serve,” he said, bowing low, before pausing at the door. “My greatest concern is for the kingdom. I hope that you know that.” With that, he swept over the threshold, closing the door gently behind him. In the tomb-silent room, the soft tap of the door against the hinge was unbearably loud.

Midna reappeared as soon as she heard him walk away. Uncertain what the princess needed to hear, she tried to keep her tone light. “So, someone finally got the nerve to say something directly to you.”

It did not work: Zelda turned away from her, biting her lip. “I – I think I would like to be alone now, Midna. I’m sorry that you had to see that.”

All right, that wasn’t the right thing to say, was it? “I’m sorry that you had to see that too,” she replied gravely, and Zelda gave a short, strangled laugh, devoid of any true enjoyment. Midna lingered for a moment, uncertain if she should say something more comforting, but did as she was asked instead. As she closed the door behind her, she thought she could hear the muffled thump of flesh on wood from within. After a hesitant moment, no further sounds came from the study, and she finally turned away and left the princess alone, making her way through the darkened castle to return home.

x X x

Back in the Twilight Realm, Midna sits in her own study and smooths out a piece of paper. The letter that she had been given sat to the side, now opened and read. It had contained a rather dull description of a new trade deal with some foreign kingdom, in which Hyrule was to receive payment up front for the goods to follow, and how the money was already fully budgeted for a fleet of construction workers. Midna is confident, at least, that her letter will be a more exciting read.

Princess Zelda,

Shortly after leaving your kingdom this evening, a member of Zant’s army arrived at the palace. The curse on her was lifted, but there seems to be lasting damage that will need investigation. This is the first person to have returned home all week, the numbers have been dropping rapidly and it may be time to assume that anyone unaccounted for will not be coming back.

She puts her pen down, prepared to end the letter there. After a moment’s thought, however, she picks it up again. That’s not all that happened. You promised, you’re going to tell her everything from now on. You’ve already talked her ear off, she’ll want to hear this. She taps the pen for a minute, thinking, then returns to the letter. With her other hand, she flexes her fingers, still marveling at the complete lack of damage.

Something strange happened though, with the Sols that I told you about. It made me think of something I wanted to ask you…

Chapter Text

Princess Zelda,

Shortly after leaving your kingdom this evening, a member of Zant’s army arrived at the palace. The curse on her was lifted, but there seems to be lasting damage that will need investigation. This is the first person to have returned home all week, the numbers have been dropping rapidly and it may be time to assume that anyone unaccounted for will not be coming back.

Something strange happened though, with the Sols that I told you about. It made me think of something I wanted to ask you. After you had healed me from Zant’s attack, I have been able to withstand the light of your sun, and I just learned that I am also able to pick up and hold the Sol spheres with no ill effects. I had seen Link do this and thought nothing of it, but I’m told that they are normally hot enough to burn the other Twili almost instantly. I wonder if this has anything to do with having housed your spirit for a time, but I do not know, and I’m certain that this scenario is quite unique. Have you experienced any kind of side effects like this?

I also wanted to ask, are there any Hylian texts that describe Ganondorf’s magical abilities? The power that he gave to Zant is far outside of our knowledge, and his treachery continues to blindside me. I cannot allow that to continue, nor can I accept being left with no explanations if it does.

I enjoyed talking with you tonight, although I apologize for having rambled for so long. I promise that I’ll try to write more regularly, but be careful what you wish for!

Thank you for listening.

Midna

x X x

Dear Midna,

Your experience with the Sols, or with any light at all, is curious indeed. I cannot say that I have experienced anything similar, although I wouldn’t mind being able to vanish into shadows like you can. It was a bit impulsive, what I did to heal you, and I’m just relieved to hear that I hadn’t made anything worse.

If we have any details on Ganondorf’s magic, I am not aware of it, but I can find out. Unfortunately, he has always been a very private man, until he isn’t. The best account of him will likely be from the Hero of Time, we have his story here in the castle. I do not know if Link mentioned it to you, but there is an award for the Heroes of Hyrule called the Accolade of the Goddesses. I should probably check on the preparations for that, now that I think of it. It involves a portrait being made of him and the tale of his adventure being recorded, and we have those records from past Heroes. I will take a look and let you know what I find.

What sort of magical damage are you looking into? Are you all right?

It is always a pleasure to hear from you. I know many long-winded people, but I do not count you among their number. Let me assure you that whatever you have to say will always be of great interest to me.

Best of luck,

Zelda

x X x

Dear Zelda,

The Twili who returned to us was a young girl, who we found bore no clan markings. I asked you about Ganondorf’s magic because this is entirely unheard of, we are all born with them. It has been a few days, but they have yet to return, and she shows no interest in returning home. Two different clans have claimed her as one of their missing members, though she has yet to give her name. She refuses to speak to me, so my only reports come secondhand. The only time she speaks is to ask after the king (her words, not mine), who she refuses to believe is dead. Some days I can hardly believe it either.

I hope you are well.

Midna

x X x

Princess,

Another Twilit Messenger was found today, the first since the last girl was found. It was dead, and recently so, likely of starvation. It had been lurking outside of the palace, and when we brought it into the light of the Sols, it was another clanless Twili. It was a man, much older than the girl had been. When she was told what we had found, she seemed upset, but only asked that we inform the king. She would not divulge the name of this individual either, but did say that Zant would want to “make a new one to replace him.”

I’ll admit that I’m starting to be glad that she will not speak to me, or even in my presence, now. I don’t think I would have liked to hear this conversation directly from her.

Midna

x X x

I do not wish to cast any doubt on your abilities, Midna, but it does concern me that there are such strange creatures lying in wait around your palace. Enough so, even, that I would recommend installing some sort of guard, if you have not done so already.

Wishing you well,

Zelda

x X x

Dear Zelda,

We have no warrior clan from which to assemble a guard; the realm has always been at peace. That was actually one of the reasons why Zant wanted to take over. I do not think anyone is eager to experience battle again.

It is kind of you to worry for my safety, but I am fine. The only tricky part of these encounters is that we do not want to harm these creatures, in case they can still be saved. With this past incident I’m starting to consider if we will need to change that policy, but I do not want to give up on them so easily. I am glad that I can confide in you, at least, so that I may avoid causing undue worry here.

Thanks for that.

Midna

x X x

Dear Midna,

I hope that you are right, that nobody wants to fight any more. There are always men who seem gentle and kind until they get their first taste of blood, and find it to their liking.

I don’t know whether you’ve been in touch with Link lately, but I saw him today. Preparations have finally begun for the Accolade, and I introduced him to the painter. Typically we commission a Hylian artist, but the Artisan’s Guild recommended a Zora. Her work is impressively lifelike, I think she will do very well.

You may be pleased to know that Link asked for you to be included in the painting, and insisted that you had just as much right to be there as he did. It is traditional that the Hero appears alone, but he did not like hearing that. He does not have to tell his story by himself, however, if you should wish to join him for that. I have noticed that you enjoy talking much more than he does, and it would be a shame to leave your record brief.

Speaking of those records, I looked through the tale of the Hero of Time, and found only limited descriptions of Ganondorf. He had, in a future that was prevented from happening, obtained the Triforce and its unlimited power, and used it to transform Hyrule. As far as I am aware, he has not ever successfully entered the Sacred Realm, and I think he would have made it very clear if he had. Whatever power he has wielded against us, at least it did not come from the fully assembled Triforce, and for that I am duly grateful. I’m sending you the notes I’ve taken. I hope they can be of use to you, though I do not expect it.

Yours,

Zelda

x X x

Zelda,

To be honest, I don’t think I’d like to stay still long enough to have a picture done. I doubt that Link would either, but he’s overcome greater trials than that. Besides, I spent much of his adventure hidden in his shadow, so who’s to say that I’m not in the painting after all?

This whole Accolade affair sounds terribly stuffy and formal, really. I can’t imagine that Link would look forward to it at all. But perhaps it sounds worse than it is. I had never really liked writing letters for that exact reason, but you’re easy to talk to, and it’s not so bad.

When you see Link again, can you tell him I said hello?

Midna

x X x

Dear Midna,

I held a meeting with my council today, and while I have no news for you from that, something happened afterwards that I found highly irritating. Loath as I am to think about it again, do you remember how our last meeting was interrupted by Lord Mirel coming to ask for my hand? He asked to speak to me afterwards, for the first time in weeks, and I had assumed that he wanted to apologize for having addressed me so familiarly. But far from that, he asked me to consider marrying his son instead! I was so outraged that I was entirely speechless, and he spoke a great deal about his accomplishments, personality, and physical features. It was rather like hearing a dog breeder describe their most prized hound. I am sure that you would have known just what words would send him running, but I did not, but in the end I was rescued by the Lady Yllys.

It is a poorly kept secret that Yllys seeks to marry Mirel herself, and I had hoped that she had come to spare me from this conversation. Instead, she offered the hand of her own son, a man called Jovani. If she had a similar speech about his virtues, I did not hear it, as I walked away at this point. What has gotten into these people?

I already knew that Mirel’s son, whose name is also Mirel, is a good man, quiet and fond of books. He works with his father in the castle library, and frankly he is much better suited for the job. Had he spoken to me himself, I might have been willing to consider it, but as it is, I do not think that I would have any kind words for him if he did. As for Jovani, all I know of him is that he lives in Castle Town, but is something of a recluse. Even Yllys admitted to not having seen him in some time.

This has gone on long enough, but I know of only one way to put an end to it for good, and it is not a prospect that I look forward to. I know that this is not a problem that you are facing yourself, but if you have any words of advice, I would like to hear them.

Your friend,

Zelda

x X x

Poor Zelda,

It must be a terrible thing, having the most popular hand in Hyrule. I’m starting to think that all of these men know something that I don’t, I better throw my hat into the ring before the competition gets too stiff! It would put an end to such tiresome conversations, at the very least. Seems to me that your problem is that you’re both a powerful and capable ruler and a clever and beautiful woman, it’s really no surprise that there would be many people interested in you.

I’m afraid that I have no advice for you, other than to name an heir and be done with it, as I have. In the meantime, I know that you are bound to treat these people kindly and politely, but I’m not. If you need me to come set them straight, say the word and I’ll be there.

Good luck,

Midna

x X x

Dear Zelda,

I met with a group of priests today who were concerned about leaving the Mirror of Twilight open, that it would offend the goddesses of Hyrule. I was surprised that they cared what they thought at all, but told them that I had your support, and that your family carried the bloodline of a goddess. They liked that answer, but I wanted to make sure that I had my facts straight. This had been something that you have mentioned a couple of times, but how is that possible? The gods hidden in the Twilight are creatures far beyond the understanding of any priest, and nobody in their right mind would possibly attempt to procreate with such beings.

To be honest, we’re not certain that they are true deities at all, merely that they were the original inhabitants of the Twilight Realm. It was they who transformed the first humans sent here into Twili, preventing them from wandering the land as broken spirits until their deaths. This was the first and last direct encounter that our people have had with them, although they seem to accept the offerings that the priests leave them. I do not know what those offerings are, that is a secret kept by their clan.

Midna

x X x

Dear Midna,

I have had a very similar conversation with my High Priestess, and admit to using the same defense. It is a very weak one, as the connection is tenuous and it was the golden goddesses, not Hylia, who ordered that your people be banished. But it ended the conversation quickly all the same.

You do have your facts correct, although there is a part that you are missing. It is not that a human attempted to mate with a goddess, but that Her Grace decided to take a mortal form for herself. It happened before this kingdom was ever founded, so any divine blood that remains runs very thin indeed.

It really sounds more exciting than it is, I hope it doesn’t change your perception of me. I’m still your Zelda.

x X x

Dear Zelda,

I have no news today, but there is something I wanted to talk to you about. I must confess that I’m still not very used to the idea of being a princess. I never actually sat the throne before now, did you know that? My uncle had made his decision of who would succeed him, but it was sealed until his death. That’s not the usual practice, but Zant had made his ambitions clear; perhaps this was meant to hold him off. In any case, I learned of the king’s death and of my new title at the same time, and so did Zant.

When he came looking for me, I hadn’t recognized him, wearing all that strange clothing and that awful helmet. I thought it was a stranger come to give me condolences or congratulations, but instead it was someone I once considered a friend, whose voice I knew well. He had never before sounded so enraged. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody sound like that in my life. He demanded that I gave him what was his. I told him that he already had it. I knew what he was asking for, and for a long time I wondered if I could have answered better, if I could have prevented what happened next. But I do not believe that was possible; he was already too far beyond reason.

I am certain, at least, that I am a better ruler than Zant was, or could ever have been. The bar has never been lower, but it’s a start. Do you ever feel as if it was a fluke that put you on the throne? Do you ever question your abilities? What do you do then?

Your friend,

Midna

x X x

My dear Midna,

It took me a long time to get used to the idea myself. When my father died, I never thought I could feel so alone as I did during the funeral. Practically the entire country attended, of course, but they all seemed so far away from me that they were half ghosts themselves. I thought about that a lot, when twilight covered the land, and that old feeling became reality. My mother was by my side for the funeral, but as soon as it was done with, she began preparing to leave. I felt as if I was losing both of my parents at the same time, and I wanted to hate her for it, but my anger couldn’t reach her through my grief. Perhaps that’s for the best.

The first time I put on my mother’s crown and sat on my father’s throne, I felt like the smallest creature in the universe. I had done both before, as a child playing dress up, with no thought to the future before me. Yet it felt completely alien now, knowing that I would have to do it again the next day, and the next, and the next. I was so afraid of making the wrong decisions and causing harm to my new charges, and absolutely certain that I looked to all the world like a little girl still playing games. I do not like to think what would have happened if Zant had chosen that time to attack my kingdom.

I relied on the chancellor to keep court, and spent much of my free time praying to Nayru for guidance. I had been born with my Triforce, marking me as her own, but it was months before it awakened. I rose one morning to find it glowing bright and warm to the touch, and I put on my crown and sat on my throne and welcomed my court, and I suspected that I might just know what I’m doing. I still suspect that now, and isn’t that all we can ask for?

Of course I question myself and my decisions, it would be complacent of me not to seek improvement. And I do not think that anybody is above doubting themselves. Trust your instincts, and trust in your friends. You’re no fool, Midna. I know you will do well. You already have.

Yours,

Zelda

x X x

Dear Midna,

Funny how the sun setting is what usually reminds me to write to you. I used to much prefer sunrises, the shift to nighttime always left me feeling saddened, as though I had missed out on something. I don’t feel that way anymore, it’s almost a relief when evening falls now. Perhaps I really have been working too long.

I have something that I would like to discuss with you in person, if you wouldn’t mind. It isn’t terribly urgent, and I have no preference of whether we speak in my kingdom or yours. There is just a matter that has been on my mind for some time, and that I do not think is suitable for a letter.

Zelda

x X x

The searing heat of the Gerudo Desert never failed to strike Midna like a physical blow whenever she encountered it, and the sun never burns hotter and brighter than in the moments when she first emerges through the Mirror of Twilight. As soon as her hand materializes, she uses it to shade her eyes, and finds the Hylian princess standing before her in the same pose, squinting in the bright sunlight. Her long hair is rapidly coming loose from her braids, though as she runs a hand through it, a knot of concern forms in Midna’s stomach at the sight of her agitation.

As Midna steps down from the platform that fades away behind her, Zelda moves closer to the walls, waving her over into the shade, where the worst of the dry heat falls away almost at once. The Twili follows her gratefully, leaning back against the cool, rough sandstone. “Thank you for meeting me, Midna. I only had one question for you, but it’s rather… private.” Color begins to suffuse her cheeks, but Midna is not surprised, having noticed that it often does when the princess allows herself to discuss anything personal. She takes a step closer, leaning in as though to discuss a secret. But Zelda does not yet speak.

One gloved hand cards through her hair again, while the other reaches into a pocket to withdraw a letter. Midna recognizes it as one of her own, though now adorned with a thick map of creases from having been unfolded and reread far too many times. “It’s good to see you,” Midna offers, in an attempt to nudge the conversation into motion.

Zelda seems to struggle with herself for a moment, but when she opens her mouth, her words tumble out as if they had been pressed eagerly against her lips. “Did you mean it? What you had written?” Now that they stand out of the sun, her eyes are wide, and she gazes imploringly up at her.

Midna stares back, nonplussed. “I have never lied to you, Zelda. What are you –?” But the letter is pressed into her hand, and she flicks it open.

Poor Zelda,

It must be a terrible thing…

She quickly closes it again, and feels heat rise to her face as well. Oh. When the princess had neglected to respond to this message, she had merely taken it as a rejection, and continued on with only a slightly bruised ego. She should have known her words would come back to her, that Zelda would see through her flippant tone. She brings a hand to the back of her neck, no longer willing to look into Zelda’s eyes but unable to tear her gaze away. Words come to her slowly as she tries to recall the reasoning that had led her to write such a letter in the first place. “It was a long, long time ago, but we were once Hylians. This was once our world too. If we’re going to keep the Mirror intact… why not open it all the way?” She takes a deep breath, closing her eyes. “Yes, I meant it.”

Unfortunately, Zelda waits until she opens her eyes again before responding, her tone guarded. “You know this is no small thing to offer, or to ask of me. Whoever I select must be trusted to manage the entire country. Your responsibilities would double. Forgive me, but I did not think that you would find that an enticing prospect.”

“I know how it works, princess.”

“What would you look to get out of such a union?”

Midna holds back a sigh, not eager to be having this conversation, but fully aware that she had brought it upon herself. “There are Twili who still consider Hyrule their true home. They don’t feel entitled to it, like Zant did, but there are many who might like to return. Most of us are perfectly happy in the twilight. But for those who are not… I want to give my people what no one ever could before. I want to give them the chance to see the light.”

“And you?”

She gestures to the Mirror, its brilliant surface almost too bright to look upon in the unrelenting sunlight. “My home is through there. It always will be. But there are things that I have come to appreciate about Hyrule, and its people.”

“My advisors won’t like it. The neighboring rulers won’t like it.”

Is there anything that they do like? She shrugs. “I’m not asking them. What do you want?”

The princess raises a hand for her hair again, and Midna fights down an urge to take it and hold it down. “I want… this peace to last. Treaties and alliances are often sealed with marriages, so this would not be entirely unusual.”

Midna shakes her head. “Not your kingdom, what do you want? You have no shortage of suitors, but do you actually want any of them? Any of us, I suppose,” she amends after a moment’s thought. She recalls the old man who had come to Zelda’s study in the castle, and wrinkles her nose at the thought of being included with the likes of him.

But the Hylian is not looking at her, instead gazing into the shifting sands in the distance. “You know…” she begins slowly. She trails off, brow furrowed in thought. “You know what I want, Midna? I want somebody who asks me what I want and listens to the answer. I want somebody who sees me for the person I am, not for my crown.” She looks back at her. “You know what I have given to this land, and what it cost me. You have made no small sacrifices yourself, coming to the aid of a kingdom that has harmed you.”

“Don’t go getting sentimental on me, princess,” she warns. Finally, Zelda allows herself a smile, her weary eyes softening.

“You would make a fine queen, Midna,” she murmurs. “And our worlds have been separated for far too long…” She reaches for the Twili’s hand, taking it in both of her own, her head bowed over them as if in prayer. Her voice rises, firm and formal, though there is no crowd to address. “Let us unite them once more, light and shadow. I would be honored to have you as my wife, Princess Midna, and I accept your proposal.”

Queen Midna… I like the sound of that. A smile rises to Midna’s face without her leave, and she places her other hand on Zelda’s shoulder. Leaning in, she presses her lips to the human’s forehead. “Two kingdoms as one, as you and I were once one. I think this will make a fine adventure,” she says, pulling away. Zelda looks up at her with shining eyes, and for the first time Midna suspects, as her newly betrothed had predicted, that she knows what she’s doing.