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Into the Wild

Chapter Text

    "Push, your majesty!"

    The queen squeezed her eyes shut and pushed with a deep groan. If the doula hadn't been yelling right in her ear, she may not have actually heard her coaching. The whole world seemed to fall away and all she was aware of was right inside this room. As the contraction subsided, she gasped for air and panted heavily. Any second now, another would overtake her.

    "You're crowning, your grace." the midwife said just as the next contraction hit. 

    She screamed through gritted teeth as she pushed again. It hurt worse than anything she had ever experienced and yet, she couldn't stop and dwell on the pain. Her body seemed to know what to do and her consciousness was just along for the ride. 

    She opened her eyes and looked up to the midwife. The old woman was still focused on what was going on down at her entrance but seemed to notice the queen's gaze upon her. "The head is out. Won't be long now. Keep pu-"

    "GRRRR!!!!!" Another contraction shut out whatever else the midwife said. This one mightier than any before. Tears or sweat, she wasn't sure which, trickled down her brow and it was another moment before she could breathe again and she gasped for air. Before she had truly caught her breath, another contraction pushed the babe the rest of the way out. 

    The queen lay back on the bed gasping for air. She was exhausted and all she wanted was to hold her baby and fall asleep but her body wasn't done yet. This was a momentary reprieve before the afterbirth came but the worst of it was done.

    "A girl, your majesty! A beautiful, perfect baby girl!" The doula said right in her ear. 

    The queen made a noise somewhere between a laugh and a sob. The sounds of the baby adjusting to this new world drowned out anything else anyone could say and her whole world narrowed to the child. 

—————    

    Outside the room, the king waited impatiently while pacing the room. It had been hours and his wife's screams had grown hoarse but the most recent ones were the most heartbreaking he had ever heard. His beloved queen was in pain and there was nothing he could do! Worst of all, he had put her through this. 

    "How much longer can this go on for?" He questioned the guard desperately.

    The guard looked just as panicked as the king felt but offered no answer. The king grabbed his shoulder and forcefully moved him out of the way of the room. Just as he was about to barge out, the door opened and one of the doulas poked her head out.

    She looked startled that the king was right there but composed herself quickly. "A beautiful, healthy, baby girl, your grace!" She smiled and the king's legs nearly went out from under him.

    A girl! He nearly wept with joy at the thought. He was a father! At long last! All of the years trying for this moment had finally come!

    "You may come in now." The doula said and backed out of the way of the door. The king almost didn't hear her as he was still in shock at the first bit of news he'd been given in hours. He steadied himself and stepped through the doorway to see his exhausted, sweaty, pale wife looking the most radiant he had ever seen her holding the most perfect child he had ever laid eyes on. 

    He wasn't aware how, but suddenly he was right beside the bed wanting to touch the baby but afraid of breaking such a tiny creature.

    "Her name is Zelda, dear husband." His wife's voice brought him out of his reverie and he looked at her in awe. This absolute mess of a woman was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and she had filled his life up in one moment with more love than he'd ever thought possible.

    He looked back down at his daughter. "Zelda..." he breathed. "Princess Zelda..."

    The family stayed together in the bedroom the rest of the night. The queen and baby both slept but the king could barely blink, much less sleep for he didn't want to miss one second of his daughter. So he stayed up holding his new daughter, cradling and rocking her as she slept, dreaming of all of the wonderful things she would one day accomplish. 

—————

    The next morning, the king's personal assistant quietly peeked into the room. The king was still wide awake, sleeping child in his arms. He looked up at the intrusion and was about to get angry until he saw the look on the man's face. The short, white-haired man, normally jovial and rather comical looking with his skinny arms and legs around a plump body – almost spider-like – now had fear in his eyes. His matching white moustache trembled slightly as his lips pulled back into a frown. He knew not to interrupt unless there was something dire that required the king's attention.

    The king stood and very carefully placed the sleeping baby in her bassinet. A moment later, the nanny walked into the room and walked over to the chair the king had been occupying, ready to keep watch of the new royal baby while the queen slept. He quietly followed his assistant out of the room.

    Once outside, the man turned to his king, "I'm sorry for intruding, your majesty, but there is a fortune-teller here with a prophecy you really must hear..."

    Rhoam had never known his assistant to be a superstitious sort so he frowned in confusion but proceeded to follow his assistant down the corridors to one of the sitting rooms. Upon opening the door, he understood immediately why his assistant had fetched him. 

    The fortune-teller was an older Sheikah man, well respected amongst the tribe. Impa had always spoken highly of this man and nothing had ever been said to Rhoam to suggest this man was in any way losing his mind. His wisdom had carried the clan through many difficult times in the past, so whatever message he had to share must have been important.

    The Sheikah man stood from his chair and bowed deeply to the king. His white hair was pulled back into a top knot and the lines around his mouth and eyes showed his advanced years. He gestured for the fortune-teller to rise and relay his message.

    "Forgive me, your majesty, for the intrusion. I understand congratulations are in order and I wish I had a message to celebrate, however, my news is dire." The old man's eyes carried a sadness as he proceeded to relay the prophecy. "The signs are clear that Calamity Ganon's return is imminent. In order to prepare for his eventual coming, the ancient technology of the Sheikah clan must be unearthed." The man paused to allow the news to sink in. The others in the room shuffled nervously and glanced at one another in the silence. He took a breath and continued, "The arrival of your daughter as the red star scars the sky is what gives the prophecy certainty. The ancient texts speak of this and..." He paused again, as though he didn't want to believe what he was about to say either, "The visions I and the others of our village have had can no longer be ignored." 

    The king looked out the window towards Hyrule Field and unmistakably, a red comet marked the sky. This, along with the other signs the Sheikah had seen meant that this was not merely a bad dream... this was real. The threat of Ganon would come and his daughter would need to unlock a sealing power granted only to the daughters of Hylia.

    "Gods save us..." Rhoam breathed upon hearing this news. For the second time, his legs nearly went out from under him. He had barely even had a single night with his new daughter and already she had a crucial role to fulfill that he could not in any way prepare her for or help her with. Her mother would need to do so but the princess was just a newborn. How much time did they have?

    He looked over to the opposite wall to the portraits of past kings and queens in hopes of drawing wisdom from their likenesses but the paintings offered him nothing but a sense of dread. On the adjacent wall was a tapestry that told the story of the last cycle, ten thousand years ago, with the princess and the ancient hero confronting Calamity Ganon in the center, surrounded by spider-like mechanical machines called Guardians. At each of the four corners, were the appointed champions from each race aboard their enormous mechanical beasts. This tapestry gave the king a glimmer of hope.

    After relaying his message, the Sheikah man bowed to the king again and "With your permission, Your Highness, I'll take my leave to begin preparations."

    The king nodded, knowing that Impa would follow soon with plans on how to move forward. The assistant left the room as well so the king sat in silence by himself. As a father, he wanted nothing more than to protect his daughter from the evils of the world and yet as King, he had a duty to his people to sacrifice his daughter's upbringing to focus on sealing away the ancient evil. He wasn't sure how long he sat there thinking but the sun had risen high into the sky by the time he finally stood and went back to be with his family. Perhaps his queen could sooth his conscience.

—————

    SPLASH!

    Link looked up from the puddle he had landed in, squeezing his eyes shut to keep the mud out. He started to lift himself up but soon another kick in the ribs knocked him down again. He wanted to cry but refused to let his tormentors have the satisfaction of seeing the pain they caused him.

    Groose and his cronies laughed as he fell back into the puddle, "And this time stay down! Maybe next time you'll think twice about showing me up in class!"

    It was all Link could do to keep his mouth shut. It wasn't his fault that the older boy fought with his size and not with his brain! He had swung hard and left his flank wide open for the much smaller boy to deliver the finishing strike. Link was four years younger and still could best everyone in his class. Everyone made a big deal out of it and called him a prodigy but he wished they wouldn't. That's why meatheads like Groose and his friends picked on him.

    Once they laughed their fill, they walked off and once Link was sure they were out of sight, he stood up and did his best to brush himself off. Looking down at himself, he bit his lip nervously as he thought about what his father would say when he saw him. Trudging back, he was still dripping and covered in mud when he got back to the dorm room he shared with his father. 

    Link peeked in and tried to see if his dad was here. His boots and sword were here so that meant...

    "Link, where have – What happened? Were you playing in the mud again? How many times do I have to tell you!" Link cringed as his father walked over and took him by the arm into the bathroom. 

    His dad lifted him into the wash basin and started stripping him down. "Next time this happens, you're washing your own clothes! Every day this... week..." His father trailed off as he noticed the bruises that were beginning to form on his son's ribs. The realization hit that this wasn't just from a four year old rough housing. 

    His tone softened, "Who did this to you?"

    Link looked down at his feet. He was embarrassed his dad had noticed and didn't want to get the other boys in trouble.

    "Son, if this happens again, I want you to come straight to me. If you need to defend yourself, I will stand up for you." The deep grooves in his father's face seemed to soften with his little smile. 

    Link just nodded in response.

    "Tomorrow the platoon is to go to Zora's Domain. Just a formality. I will make arrangements for you to come with us." His father lifted up Link's arms and scrubbed some of the mud away. Link had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from wincing as the cloth rubbed over his bruised ribs. His father continued, oblivious, "It would be good for you to see a new culture and learn from their fighting style." 

    Again, Link nodded his response. It was a relief to get away from Groose and his gang of thugs for a few days but it did worry him that if he came back, it might get worse. 

    Once he was all cleaned up, his father lifted him out of the wash basin again and set him on the stone floor. "Now go get your pyjamas on and head to bed. We'll be up early tomorrow." 

    Link yawned and nodded a third time and turned to follow his orders. He pulled open the drawer from the simple wooden dresser beside his bed and found the soft night clothing. Pulling the shirt on over his head, he plopped himself down on the bed and fell asleep before he'd gotten his second leg into his pants.

—————

    Morning arrived early but Link was ready for this new adventure. He was awake before his father and had gone to the practice range to work on his archery. After splitting 6 arrows in a row, the only thing holding him back from working on the next level up was his size. There just simply weren't any bows small enough that would help him advance any further. This frustrated him to no end so he placed the bow back on the rack and reached for a sword instead. Just then, his father rounded the corner. 

    "Come, Link. We are leaving soon." His father's gruff voice caught his attention quickly and Link put the sword back and followed his father out of the yard. 

    As they walked through the barracks, Link caught sight of a familiar red pompadour and he looked at his feet before Groose could make eye contact. He could still feel the hateful gaze upon his back as he passed. Soon they met up with the platoon. His father was the highest ranking knight going on this mission so none of the men would question him bringing his son along and they all seemed to like the precocious young boy anyway. He knew to keep quiet and stay out of the way while they were working and they enjoyed sparring with him. His skills had improved dramatically since he had officially started the classes and already he could hold his own against most of the knights. His incredible speed made up for his size disadvantage. Overall, none of them minded the last minute addition. 

    Once his father had checked everything over one last time, they headed out. It was about a full day's journey to Zora's Domain. The knights all had their own horses to ride but Link would have to ride in the wagon with the supplies as he was still too little to have his own steed. 

    The road bumped along and Link watched the horses in the pasture as they passed the Lon Lon Ranch. He liked horses and longed to have one of his own. Once, the ranch owner's daughter, Malon, had let him ride bareback on one of the fillies. The horse had seemed to like him right away and didn't mind his antics but he did fall off when he tried to stand up. Malon had told him not to but he hadn't listened. He had to answer to his dad the next day for it. 

    The memory made him smile and he hoped he'd get a chance to visit again soon. 

    Throughout the journey, Link watched the land change from open field and grasslands to wetlands when they crossed the river to windy rocky outcrops as they approached the domain. A company of Zora warriors met them along the path and escorted them the rest of the way to the domain. Link marvelled at the bizarre humanoid creatures. Their armour didn't make much sense to him either as it didn't really seem to cover any of the vitals but they all carried spears or tridents. Their fishlike heads fascinated him as each one was slightly different but they all had a fish tail that hung down off the back of their heads while the sides of their heads had fins as well. A few of the Zora eyed him curiously as well but said nothing to him. 

    They got closer to the domain, the delicate architecture and white stonework rose up around them. A covered bridge was the main entrance to the domain that stood high above a lake fed by several waterfalls that surrounded the area. In the center of the lake, a statue shaped like a fish stood tall over everything else. One of the soldiers told him that was where King Zora lived. 

    Link noticed some splashing in the water nearby and when he stood up to get a better look, he saw a few young Zora seeming to play in a shallow pond. He glanced back at his father. No one seemed to be paying attention to him so he jumped off the wagon and walked over to the edge of the water where the Zora children were playing. 

    As he stood at the edge, one of the Zora noticed him. She was older than the others in the pond with more red on her than the other grey or blue Zora. And she was really pretty. Red fins framed her delicate face similar to how hair would on a human. She was also decorated with a silver and blue jewelled headpiece along with matching jewellery on her neck, arms, waist and legs. The way her fins fanned out over her hips was similar to a skirt. 

    "Hello there. What's your name?" She asked quietly. There was a warmth to her golden eyes that instantly made him trust her.

    "I'm Link," he responded, still watching as some of the other children splashed around. Most of them had noticed him now and were watching curiously. 

    The red Zora smiled, "I'm Mipha. This here, is my little brother, Sidon." She indicated to a really small Zora. He also had more red on him than the other Zora but was still quite a bit smaller than Link. He could definitely see the family resemblance though. The other Zora there, he noticed, weren't all as young as he had originally thought though Mipha was certainly the oldest. The others ranged in age from between Mipha and her brother and they all looked at him curiously. 

    Finally, one of the blue Zora piped up. He seemed to be a little older than Link but around the same size. "Come swim with us, Link. I'm Bazz!" 

    Link took off his tunic and rolled up the legs of his trousers before wading in. The water was cool but refreshing and once he was swimming around, the others approached him. They were far more graceful of swimmers than he was are he paddled after them.

    He did notice Mipha frowning at him. She seemed concerned but said nothing as he splashed around in the water. 

    "I'm Rivan." Another blue Zora said.

    "And I'm Gaddison." said another. 

    Link smiled big at the warm welcome. He liked them already!

    The little red Zora, Sidon, swam up to him and pulled on one of his pointed ears. "Are you a Hylian?" 

    Link laughed, "Yes! I'm from Castle Town. My dad and the other knights are here visiting."

    Sidon seemed to realize how forward he'd been and a pink blush spread across his cheeks as he ducked under the water.

    Bazz looked towards the domain, "Wow! I'd love to see that!"

    "Me too!" Rivan and Gaddison said in unison as they swam off to see the spectacle. Sidon began to swim after them as well. 

    Link started to follow but Mipha stopped him. "Wait, Link. Those bruises... I can heal those for you."

    "Huh?" Link said, confused. Before he could say anything, a blue light shone from her hands and he felt a cool tingling where he was bruised on his ribs. He stared in wonder at the healing magic and Mipha giggled at his expression. 

    "It's ok! It'll help." When she pulled her hand away, the bruise was gone. Link looked up at her in wonder.

    "How did you do that?" He asked, wide eyed. 

    Mipha just laughed, "It's a gift of mine. Come. Hop on my back and I'll take us to the domain."

    Link obliged and soon they were racing up the river and up a waterfall to where he saw his father and the rest of the knights. It was everything Link could do to hang on but Mipha seemed to know what speed he could manage. Bazz, Gaddison, Rivan and Sidon were there as well along with a bunch of other adult Zora. Mipha put him down on the ground and took her place beside the massive King Donphan Zora. 

    While the adults were talking, Link looked around. The domain seemed to glow brighter as the sun was setting. What had his father called the rock that glowed at night? He wondered if that's what they had used to build this place. The place was surrounded by waterfalls and huge cliffs. Link hoped he would get a chance to explore it before they had to go back to Castle Town. 

    After a few moments, Link's father handed the king a gift and the two laughed like old friends. The atmosphere became less serious and the other knights seemed to relax as well. Link noticed Mipha smiling at him and he grinned back at his new friend. He really liked it here and he could tell this was going to be a really great stay. The travel had worn him out though and soon, his father was leading him to the inn. Once Link found a bed, he was out like a light.

—————

    In the morning, Bazz was waking him up by tugging on his sleeve, "Link! Come with us! I want to show you something."

    Link looked around and saw Rivan and Gaddison as well just behind Bazz. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed as he stood. He stretched and yawned then followed behind the others as they led the way. Soon they were in what looked like a practice yard like in the barracks in Castle Town. There were lots of tridents, spears and swords lined up on the racks. Link picked up one of the swords and gave it a few swings to get a feel for it. It was much lighter than the ones he was used to.

    Bazz watched him carefully, "Hey, I'm not great with swords but you seem like you know what you're doing. Can you show me a few things?"

    Link grinned and nodded. At last, someone who wouldn't get upset by his skills! Link went on to show him the basics and helped to correct his posture and form when Bazz tried it out himself. 

    "There you go! Now you got it!" Link praised and Bazz gave him a pointy toothed grin in response while he kept practicing what Link had shown him. 

    Gaddison and Rivan were practicing with the spears and Link gave them a few pointers as well. They listened intently and tried out what Link had recommended and grinned big when they got it right as well. Link felt at home here and these people really seemed to like him. 

    "Hey Link! Want to have a sparring match? I think I've gotten better now that you showed me what to do!" Bazz grinned at the challenge. 

    Link laughed, "You bet!" They both picked up practice swords, touched the blades together in a salute and started. Link and the Zora circled each other. Bazz was a bit bigger and stronger but Link was faster and more skilled with a sword. Bazz sliced across and Link ducked underneath. Bazz sliced downward and Link dodged to the side. When he saw an opening, time seemed to slow down and Link was able to get a few hits in before jumping back. 

    "Hey, wow! How did you do that?" Bazz said incredulously. 

    Just then, Link noticed Mipha watching them and he turned towards her. She smiled warmly and said to the others, "You were sure up early! Have any of you had breakfast yet?"

    They all looked down guiltily as Link's stomach growled loud enough for everyone to hear. 

    Mipha giggled and motioned for them all to get along and have breakfast.

—————

    The days spent there consisted of Link spending more and more time with his new friends. Link wasn't nearly as graceful in the water as his friends so they took turns pulling him along through the river system around the domain. They had heard word of an Octorok that had been causing trouble and armed with their own spears and tridents (and under the watchful eye of a hidden Mipha), Link, Bazz, Rivan and Gaddison travelled downstream to hunt it down. It didn't take them long to find it. The second major bend in the river was its home and the four of them took cover around a rocky outcrop as they came up with a plan. Rivan and Gaddison would be the distraction. They circled out on either side of the creature and took turns having stones spat towards them, dodging at the last second while making lots of noise. Bazz took Link out into the middle of the river then leaped into the air, tossing Link as high as he could. Once in the air, Link threw is spear at the Octorok and skewered it right between the eyes. It fell back and seemed to deflate with a small puff before sinking under the water. Rivan retrieved the spear and the group made their way back.

    When they arrived, Mipha had already shared the story of their feat with the other Zora and the four of them were praised by every adult they walked past. 

    One of the older adult Zora, Muzu, with a distinctly flat head shaped more like a manta ray than a regular fish like the others, dubbed them The Big Bad Bazz Brigade and the four of them earned praise from Princess Mipha as the saviours of the Zora. She indulged them but Link appreciated it all the same. 

    Soon, it was time to head back home to Castle Town. Link's new friends gathered to say their good byes. They had learned a lot from Link and he had learned a lot from them. His own skills as a swordsman had improved dramatically since coming here and he felt confident that even Groose and his cronies couldn't best him any more. 

    "Good bye, Link! We'll miss you! Come back and visit soon!" The brigade all waved their goodbyes and Link smiled back at them. He really hoped he would get a chance to come back soon. 

    Mipha and Sidon were also there to say goodbye to him. Sidon was shy and hadn't said anything to Link the entire time but Link liked him all the same and waved good bye to the little red Zora. 

    Mipha smiled softly, "I feel that we will see much more of you, Link. I look forward to it. Safe travels, young one!"

    Link smiled back, "I'll miss you guys too and I'll try to come back as soon as I can!" He waved then hopped up on the wagon for the ride home.

    He watched from the back of the wagon, waving to his friends until they were out of sight. He was sad to leave them but he knew that one day he would see them again.

Chapter Text

    "Who's the new guy?" Groose asked the soldier sitting beside him in the mess hall. The transferee had been going on, loudly, about all the thing's he had heard about their Princess Zelda. Most of the things he was saying were far from respectful. While Groose agreed that Princess Zelda was a fox, he knew better than to speak that way in this company.

    "Can anyone confirm that?" The ginger new guy said, smirking. "I heard her ass is..." 

    Everyone was silent and staring at the doorway. The new guy turned to look and a young, blond haired, blue eyed knight stood in the doorway. 

    "That's our princess you're talking about." The blond youth said without a hint of amusement before making his way to the table.

    The new guy felt cocky upon looking at this young man. He was clearly way too young to be of any authority. "And what is it to you?"

    The boy calmly stared down the newcomer. From the corner of his eye, the new guy could see a few of the other knights shaking their head as if to tell him to quit while he was ahead. Who did this guy think he was?

    In the blink of an eye, the boy had a sword to the new guy's throat. "It is a matter of honour. I will not have my men speaking about any woman that way, much less our princess."

    The new guy stood up in anger, knocking the bench he'd been sitting on over in the process. "What's your problem? I'll kick your ass!" The new guy went to pull his sword from his side. 

    The youth used the flat of the blade to knock his hand away from the pommel of his sword. "If you need me to drive the point home, I'll gladly do it outside." 

    The boy turned on his heel and paced out the door to the practice yard. The new guy stood there stunned for a moment then turned to the soldier nearest him, "Who is that guy?"

    "That's Link. He is the best fighter here... by far." The soldier responded soberly.

    "Well he has never fought me!" The new guy said stubbornly as he followed Link outside. 

    Out in the yard, Link was waiting with his sword in hand in the practice ring. Everyone in the mess hall followed the new guy outside. He took his spot across from Link and everyone formed a circle around the ring.

    "You'll regret messing with the great Mido!" Said the red haired soldier. Link only held the sword at ready – an invitation to begin.

    Mido launched forward in an assault slashing and bashing downward with his sword. Link blocked three attacks before pushing in and body checking Mido backwards to create some space between them. The two circled each other and Mido launched in again, this time with a horizontal strike. Link blocked it again and this time hit Mido with the flat of his sword in the side. 

    Mido smirked at what he thought was a missed opportunity for Link to finish the battle. He'd been clumsy but he'd been lucky. Everyone else watching was smirking for a different reason though. They all knew it had been done purposely.

    Mido started to lunge to the side with a strike but deked the other way last moment and did another horizontal slice. Link parried the blade and tapped Mido with the flat of the sword on his rear as he went by. The audience roared with laughter and Mido raged. He launched in with an all out offensive. Slash, strike, slash, swipe, stab! One after another his attacks came. Somewhere in his flurry, he managed to hit Link in the gut with the pommel of his sword. Link grunted and bent over. This was his chance! He swung his sword in a downwards strike but Link shot to the side and came in with unbelievable speed with a flurry rush of his own. Mido was flat on his back, his sword on the other side of the ring before he even knew what happened. He did a mental check of his body – only bruises. Link had been careful to only use the flat of the blade during the entire fight. 

    The battle was over and Link moved to place his blade carefully on the rack again. Mido wasn't done yet and he stood up and ran in and tackled Link. The two fell to the ground and Mido punched the back of Link's head repeatedly. Link bucked his back end up, throwing Mido's balance off and rolled out from under his opponent. Just then, two swords were at Mido's throat, effectively holding him in place. 

    Link looked to the two soldiers. Groose and Cawlin had gone from bullies to loyal friends over the years. When Link had come back from Zora's Domain, the next time they tried to beat him up, he'd been ready and was able to take all three of them down. They never messed with him again and eventually, they even came to like him even though he was younger and much more skilled than they were. Jealousy had made way to admiration.

    Link nodded to them and Groose turned to Mido, "This is finished." There was no arguing with the statement. When Mido looked around, he saw all of the onlookers ready to charge in – hands on pommels. This really was over. He looked to Link and bowed his head in defeat.

    "If I hear you speaking that way again, I won't go easy on you." Link said flatly once he was standing. At that, he turned and walked back into the mess hall. 

    —————

    Morning class started with an announcement. Those graduating the knight's academy at the end of the week were invited to a ball in their honour. The king and princess would be there so they were to be on their best behaviour. The instructor read off a list of names of those graduating. 

    "Link, Groose, Cawlin, Strich, Mido..." He went on listing the names but Groose, Cawlin and Strich all looked to each other grinning, then over to Link. At long last! They were graduating and would be knighted! 

    Link looked over to Mido who only scowled at him back. The others who were graduating were all looking around still. About half of the class would be graduating. The academy was well known for being the toughest in all of Hyrule to graduate from but those who did, would almost be assured a spot in the Royal Guard. 

    "There will also be a tournament." The instructor announced to the class. That brought everyone's attention back to him. "The winner shall become Princess Zelda's appointed knight."

    A murmur went over the students gathered. That was a lifetime appointment. The only one who would rank higher was the King's appointed knight. The stakes were high. 

    "The tournament will be held in three week's time. The ball shall be held on the last day of the tournament. Do not miss it. Instead of class, you may use the rest of the week to practice. Dismissed."

    —————

    At the end of the week, the graduation ceremony was a non-event. Those graduating were given a Hylian shield and a certificate. Upon receiving it, there was no further honours held for the graduates until the tournament and the ball. The next two weeks were their own. 

    Link quickly stowed his certificate in his room, packed his things and set out to find his father.

    Of course, his father already knew he was graduating but he still wanted to see him before he set out. Link found him in his room. When Link was ten years old, they had assigned him his own quarters so he rarely saw his father. As fortune had it, today was his father's day off. 

    The older man sat in his chair, icing his shoulder. Years of swordplay had worn away at the joint and though he could still fight like any royal guard, the damage seemed to stick with him longer than it had in his youth. He looked up to his son as he came in. "So, you're leaving."

    Link nodded. 

    "Where do you plan to go?" He could wager some guesses but the answer surprised him more than he had expected it to. 

    "The Lost Woods." He said. As usual, he didn't offer up much more than the basics.

    The older man blinked in surprise. "The Lost Woods? Why?"

    Link looked down. He'd never been great at expressing himself. "I... feel I've been summoned there." 

    "Summoned? What do you mean?" His father was confused and alarmed. The stories of those who couldn't find their way out of the Lost Woods were... disturbing. Even if he did find his way out, would he be back in time for the tournament and ball?

    Link shook his head. He couldn't explain it but he looked his father in the eyes, "I will be back in time for the tournament. I promise."

    There was a surety in his voice that his father hadn't heard before. He only nodded, forced to trust that his son was capable of what he said he would do.

    With that, the boy left.

    —————

    Link took the East road from Castle Town and followed the road North at the fork. Shortly, he passed a stable bustling with activity from mostly travelling merchants. He kept his distance, not wanting to delay his journey any more than was necessary and continued along the road North. 

    Soon, he came to a wooded area. After a few steps, the fog became thick. When it cleared, he was not where he had been before. The path was lighted by torches and trees with ominous faces carved into them surrounded him. He looked behind him and it was more of the same. This must be the Lost Woods. He couldn't see far beyond his immediate surroundings as the fog still hung in the air. A sense of foreboding washed over him as all the stories he'd heard as a child raced through his mind but it was followed by a reminder of the dreams he'd been having lately that called him to this place. He squared his shoulders and began his way through the maze of the Lost Woods.

    He walked to the torches and stopped. He looked to his right and saw another set of torches. He walked toward them and to the left, he saw another set of torches. So far, so good so he followed the torches until there were no more. He was deep in the woods at this point. He could no longer see where the path led and he could understand how people became lost here. The sense of foreboding had only grown as he'd walked on. The fog seemed to be closing in on him more and more with every step and a feeling of claustrophobia began to settle into him. 

    Puzzling over how to continue into the woods, he looked down and saw a tree branch. He picked it up and lit the end before walking farther into the woods. Tendrils of fog reached out toward him and he found himself shying away from them. The looks on the faces of the trees went from ominous to downright aggressive. The jagged edges in the holes in the trunks resembled fangs and goosebumps formed on Link's skin. He stopped walking and looked around him. He couldn't see where the torches had been any more and everywhere he looked was the same. His stomach began to sink into the earth as he realized he could no longer find his way back. Shapes began to appear in the fog but he couldn't quite make out what they were. He closed his eyes and listened to try and orient himself where his eyes were only playing tricks on him. 

    When he opened his eyes, he looked up at the lit tree branch. There was no wind and yet the flames seemed to blow in a certain direction. Had the torches done the same thing? He frowned and slowly followed where the flames blew then stopped when they appeared to blow in a new direction. He followed along where the flames showed him. He wasn't sure how long it took for people to turn into stal monsters in the Lost Woods but with no other indications of how to navigate the woods, he continued to follow the flames.

    When he was certain he'd become hopelessly lost, the flames changed direction again and he looked toward where they pointed and saw that the woods seemed to open up and a different sort of light shone through. With cautious curiosity, he walked towards the new area and spotted little creatures peeking at him from behind leaves but as he drew closer, they disappeared. Soon, they became more brazen and he could see that the leaves were actually their faces. What were these creatures? They seemed more curious than threatening so he pretended not to notice them.

    Soon, he came to a clearing with a massive tree in the center. More of those little creatures scuttled about and a few didn't bother hiding from him. When he got near to them, he could hear a rattling sound that seemed to come from them but he couldn't quite figure out what the exact source of the noise was.

    Right before the tree was what had summoned him here.

    A stone triangle pedestal was elevated from the surrounding grass and in the center of it was a blade.

    He walked slowly up to it. It was finely crafted – the best he had ever seen. The pommel was a deep purple with a winglike guard and the Triforce emblazoned on the hilt. As he reached out to touch it, he heard a creaking sound and a deep voice.

    "Hmmm... Who have we here? Ahhh.... You've returned, Young Hero."

    Link looked up, startled to see the source of the voice. The enormous tree seemed to be looking down at him under branches that resembled large, droopy eyebrows. What did he mean that he had returned? Link had never been here before.

    "Oh... what's this? You are not the same one as before. Tell me, what is your name?" The tree questioned. The leaves shivered as the deep voice filled the clearing. Two more branches split beneath a bulbous nose into a long moustache. Link got a sense of awe from the tree. One this size must be ancient and the deep grooves in the bark seemed to indicate it's advanced age. What had this tree seen before? Had he seen the Calamity Ganon from 10,000 years ago as the legend told?

    "My name is Link, Great Tree." Link responded with a bow.

    The tree seemed to chuckle and the leaves shook as he did so. Link noticed more of the little creatures peeking out at him. "I've not been called that in a long, long time. Many have called me the Great Deku Tree. I even watched over a lad just like you once who called me that." The tree spoke fondly of the memory. His face then grew serious. "You are here because the sword calls you. Only one worthy of becoming it's master can pull it from the pedestal. A few have come before you and challenged the trial of the sword. As you can see, the sword still remains in its resting spot."

    Link looked down at the sword before him. "What happened to those who tried and failed?"

    The tree was silent for a moment before answering gravely, "The sword took their lives. It is the price of failure."

    Link nodded. These were the stakes. Was he worthy of the blade? It had called him here so surely it must have seen something in him.

    He carefully took hold of the pommel and just as he was about to pull, he was transported to a new area. He looked around and spotted three red bokoblins in the distance. He then looked down at himself. He was in only his undergarments with the master sword in his hands. Had he pulled the sword out? Did this mean he had been found worthy?

    Suddenly a voice came to him telepathically. The Trial of the Sword will test your worthiness. Survive the trial and you shall become my master.    

    Link looked down at the sword in his hand and nodded. He looked up at the bokoblins as they turned and noticed him and lifted the blade to defend himself. As the first one swung a primitive wooden club at him, he blocked the attack and sliced the bokoblin clear in two. He turned to face the other two. One had a bow and the other had another club. Link dodged an arrow from the far one and narrowly avoided being hit with the club by the closer one. Link ducked and stabbed at the nearest bokoblin and it cried out as it died. He pulled the blade from the body just as an arrow pierced the dying creature's flesh. Ducking down, he sprinted to the remaining bokoblin before it could string another arrow and buried the blade into it's heart. The creature died quickly and disappeared in a puff of smoke along with the other two bodies. A circle in the ground lit up nearby. 

    Cautiously, Link walked towards it and stepped into it. The room melted away and reformed with new monsters. These ones stronger than the last. He worked his way through each of the challenges, each one becoming more difficult until at last, he faced a lynel. 

    As he stepped off the glowing circle, he couldn't help noticing the skeletons of warriors who had come previously. He bowed his head in respect then looked up to face his foe.

    He was panting from the previous battles and his muscles ached. Time seemed to stand still here as the sun hadn't changed position the entire time he'd been in this realm but surely it had been at least a day. Fatigue nagged from deep within his bones but he couldn't stop here. The bones of past warriors could attest to that. He wiped the sweat from his brow and looked toward the beast.

    The lynel seemed to wait for him, eyeing Link down as Link also sized up the creature. Its horselike body was golden with brown stripes running down its sides. Where the neck would have been on a horse, a similarly patterned, muscular human-like torso stood upwards topped with a small, catlike face framed by a majestic white mane. Two vicious looking black horns protruded from the beast's forehead.

    The fearsome beast roared in fury and charged towards him with a savage blade. As it swept across the ground where Link had been standing, he timed his backflip perfectly to dodge the hit. When he landed, the momentum of the sword swipe had left the beast wide open and he rushed in for a flurry attack, slashing and stabbing at the muscular midsection of the humanlike torso. The sword was growing heavy in his hand and his slashes were sluggish and sloppy. The beast roared again in rage and reared back, pawing out at the air with massive hooves. Link threw himself to the side at the last second to avoid the hooves and landed hard on his side, knocking the wind out of his lungs. He gasped for air as he stood and narrowly avoided the oncoming charge as he rolled to the side. When he stood, the beast had skidded to a stop beside him and he leaped onto the creature's back slashing away as it bucked and reared to try to throw him off. Soon, he was tossed to the ground and rolled into a kneeling position. When he looked back at the creature, he was encouraged to see that he had managed to leave the beast bleeding from the front and back. As he stood again, the beast shot a fireball at him. Heat seared his tunic as he narrowly escaped the flames as he dodged to the side. The beast charged again and Link barely managed to backflip out of harms way. He could feel a gush of wind as the sword slashed under his head. Link's ankle rolled slightly as he landed but he ignored the pain. He had to finish this quickly or he would end up in that pile of bones too. As the beast charged him again, he leaped, stabbing the blade deep into the creature's eye. He pulled the blade out, using his feet for leverage and pushed himself into a back flip, prepared to continue the battle but the beast collapsed, defeated. It disappeared in a puff of smoke and the now familiar circle lit up. 

    As Link stood up to limp to the circle the voice returned to him. You've proven your worth, Hero. Return to the forest and pull free the Master Sword.

    Link made his way towards the circle and found himself back where he'd stood originally with his hands on the pommel. He lifted the sword and felt his energy draining as the sword inched free. The fatigue that had settled into his bones screamed at him to stop but he stubbornly kept pulling at the blade. Searing pain shot through his ankle and up his whole leg. Air seemed to be sucked right out of his lungs. Just as he felt that he was about to drop, the blade slipped free and he stumbled backwards. As he regained his composure, he lifted the sword skyward.

    The familiar creaking of the enormous tree's movement broke Link's reverie, "Master of the Sword that Seals the Darkness, you shall face many trials. When the reincarnation of the demon Demise returns, you will need to face him. Prepare yourself. Rest here before you continue on." Came the deep voice of the Great Deku Tree.

    Link nodded and saw an opening in the tree trunk. He could see a light inside and some of those little creatures inside. He limped up the stairs that led to the opening and the little creatures didn't run hiding. They came up to him, surrounding his feet, "Hero! You've returned! You pulled the blade free! We're saved!"

    "Not yet we're not. He still has to face the ancient evil before we can be saved!" Another responded.

    "Quit smothering him! Give him some room! Hero, we have a bed for you to sleep in. We Koroks have been waiting a very long time for you to return." A third one said. Link squinted as he looked beyond this one and spotted a leafy spot that they had referred to. His vision was blurry and took a moment to focus on anything he cast his gaze upon. This is what constituted a bed for these creatures but was much too small for Link. Regardless, he was thankful as he was exhausted from the trial and whatever the sword had done when he pulled it free. He slumped down on the pile of leaves and examined the blade. It was a flawless design and despite all the fighting he had done with it already and the centuries it had rested in the pedestal, there didn't appear to be a mark on it. 

    "I brought you more leaves! You're so big, we didn't expect to need a bigger bed, Mr. Hero." 

    Link looked at the little creature and smiled as it lay down the leaves. "Hey, what do you mean when you say I've returned? I have never been here before."

    The creature tilted it's head at him quizzically. It didn't appear to have eyes or a mouth so it was hard to decipher it's expression, "You're the hero. You always return. Maybe not in this life, but your soul always returns for the sword."

    "My soul?" Link looked down at his hands. Was that what made him worthy?

    Once the pile of leaves was made big enough for him, he lay down and was surprised at how comfortable it was. He rested the blade against the wall and quickly fell asleep.

    When he woke, he found a scabbard beside him that perfectly fit the sword.

    A nearby Korok spotted him awake and waddled over, "We made this scabbard for you, Mr. Hero, to protect the blade."

    Link smiled in return. "Thank you."

    He lifted it up and swung it over his shoulder. It fit him perfectly too. He stood up and stretched. He felt renewed! After testing out pulling the blade free of the scabbard and sheathing it again a few times, he was satisfied and anxious to move on. As he started walking towards the path to the Lost Woods, the Great Deku Tree's deep voice stopped him.

    "Hero of Hyrule, I pray that time is on our side but I sense an impending evil soon to break loose. Be prepared and seek out the descendant of Hylia. The two of you together must seal away the forces of darkness."

    Link nodded and turned to walk out of the forest. 

    The path out was just the opposite of the way he had come and he found himself back where he'd started. He followed the path back to where he'd seen the stable. When he got there, he found that only one day had passed. He still had plenty of time before the tournament. Perhaps it was time to see some of the world. He was at the foot of Death Mountain and Zora's Domain wasn't that much further either... He forked over 50 rupees to rent a horse from the stable, tied his belongings to the saddle and headed off towards Death Mountain. 

    The road took him a great deal of the way but soon, it became too hot for the horse's hooves. He dismounted and let the horse roam. It might stay nearby but if not, the stable keeper had assured him the horses know their way back. He took his belongings from the saddle, drank down a flame-proof elixir and continued up the mountain. The heat was intense but the elixir made it bearable for him. As he proceeded up the mountain, little lizards started darting along the path before him. He heard a strange sound and when he rounded the corner, he came face to face with several monsters with piglike faces. 

    He pulled his sword free of the scabbard and swung at the first red bokoblin to get to him. He severed it's head in one blow and the next one was right behind it. He ducked under it's swinging sword and drove the blade up under it's rib cage. The creature croaked and dropped when he pulled the blade free. He spun to avoid another attack from a blue bokoblin and sliced the blade through it's spine. More of the creatures rushed him then and he quickly dispersed of them with a spin attack. One of the blue creatures remained and before it could attack him, he defeated it with a jump attack, piercing the blade down the creature's neck. 

    The blade was covered in purple blood and Link realized he didn't have anything to clean it off with. Just then, a voice caught his attention.

    "Way to go, little guy! Wow! I didn't think a Hylian could get that strong! Come with me! I'll make you the best roast you've ever had! I can't believe what I just saw! We should be Brothers!" The big, white bearded Goron chattered on. Link smirked and nodded. He was hungry so he wouldn't turn down a free meal.

    Link followed the Goron back to his house. The big, brown Goron was a more or less rounded creature like many of his race with a disproportionately small, round head, though his beard gave the impression of a larger head than he really had. He had massive arms and hands and tiny legs. A chain wrapped from shoulder to hip and held an enormous stone crusher to his back. He learned the Goron's name was Daruk and that he was a well respected Goron warrior. Link had met a few Gorons over time but they had mostly been travelling merchants. He liked Daruk immediately though. 

    Link sat down on the floor in Daruk's house as Gorons weren't big on chairs and listened to his new friend chatter on. "Wow, little guy, that was really impressive! I've never met a Hylian who could fight like that. Hey, what's that sword you're carrying?" He looked closer at it with his beady black eyes and he gasped, "Could it be.... The Master Sword?"

    The Goron came closer to inspect it. "Gee, it sure is dirty! Here, use this to clean it off!" He handed Link some sort of flameproof sponge and Link set to cleaning off the blade. Soon, it was good as new and he placed it back in the scabbard. 

    "That's pretty neat, little guy! Oh! The roast is almost ready! Dig in!" Daruk lifted the roast onto the counter and to Link's dismay, it was a rock roast. He should have known. He didn't want to offend his host though so he took a little piece and swallowed the pebble whole. He did his best not to grimace and Daruk just laughed.

    "That's the way, little guy! Say, what's your name anyway?"

    Link swallowed another pebble and was glad to get to chat instead of eat. "I'm Link."

    The Goron took a big bite of the rock roast and with a full mouth, asked, "So tell me the story of how you got that blade!"

    Link went on to tell him of his journey into the Lost Woods, then meeting the Great Deku Tree, the trial of the sword, the little Koroks and their leaf bed and finally, making his way here. He made sure not to leave out any details for by the time he was finished, Daruk had eaten the whole rock roast. 

    "Gee, sorry little guy! I didn't mean to eat it all! Are you still hungry?" He scratched the back of his head looking around for something to feed him.

    Link just laughed, "It's ok. I have provisions." He pulled out a sandwich he'd grabbed from the kitchen before he left and started chomping into that. He saw the horrified look on the Goron's face and just laughed, "Hylians can eat things other than rocks."

    Daruk cleared his throat and did his best not to look so disturbed but that news clearly didn't sit well with him. 

    The rest of the evening was spent with the two sharing stories with each other of their pasts. Link's time in the academy as well as his time in Zora's Domain. The friends he'd met there and his time in the Big Bad Bazz Brigade... it made him want to go there even more. He wondered if they would remember him. Daruk told him about his childhood and how he was afraid of dogs. The two were fast friends and Daruk insisted they become sworn brothers. Link didn't really understand it but he got the idea it was a pretty big deal amongst the Gorons and took it as an honour. He stayed the night at Daruk's house and in the morning, the two headed down the side of the mountain. Daruk insisted he knew a shortcut to the domain and wanted to show him the way.

    Along the way, they encountered another group of bokoblins and the two of them made quick work of the little piglike creatures - Link with his sword and Daruk with his enormous boulder crusher. One swing from that weapon and the creatures flew out of sight over the volcano. 

    "You must be the best warrior amongst the Hylians!" Daruk bellowed excitedly as he jogged back over to Link. Link just scratched his head uncomfortably. "I mean really! I bet you could even give one of us Gorons a run for our rubies! Hey! I know! We should have a friendly match!"

    Link hesitated in answering. Frankly, he didn't know if he could win against a Goron but he wasn't afraid to find out. But that wasn't why he was hesitant.

    "Well, we can wait until the next time you're in the area. I don't want to hold you up on your journey." Daruk continued to Link's relief.

    At the foot of the mountain, they parted ways, waving good bye and Link promising to visit his new friend again some day. 

    Before him was Zora's Domain and his old friends were somewhere in there. 

As he walked along the Great Zora Bridge, some of the elders eyes bugged out at the sight of the blade on his back. He could hear them whispering in awe, "Could it be?" "Is that the sacred blade?"

    He suddenly became self-conscious about it. Sealing the darkness would be a great task but... was he up to it?

    Soon he spotted a familiar red-scaled Zora and though he was happy to see her, his previous thoughts made it hard to smile. 

    "Link! Is it really you? My you have grown!" Mipha smiled warmly at him. She was shorter than him now and though she didn't look like she had aged a day since the last time he had seen her, he did take notice of the more feminine qualities that he hadn't had as much of an eye for as a child. "The others will be so happy to see you!"

    She took his hand and led him towards where a bunch more familiar youths gathered. "Bazz, Rivan, Gaddison, look who is here!"

    It took a moment for Link to recognize them since they had grown since Link last saw them. Gaddison was more of a silvery grey than the other two and wore a more feminine chest plate than the other two had. The fishlike tail on the back of her head hung lower down her back than the others as well. Rivan was a darker blue, nearly black, with a lighter blue webbing on the fins on his forearms. Bazz was similar in colour to Rivan but had fins that were more transparent and was clearly the more accomplished warrior with more ornamental armour.

    The three blue Zora looked up and grinned their pointy-toothed grins at him, "You're back! The brigade is finally reunited!" Bazz said. 

    "It's so good to see you! You got big!" Rivan exclaimed, taking a step back.

    Gaddison was behind him examining the sword on his back. "Hey, what's this, Link? What a fine sword!"

    Link looked down at the ground, suddenly uncomfortable. 

    Mipha noticed the change in Link from the last time he was here and frowned with concern. She looked at the blade and suddenly realized what may have caused the change in her friend. "Link... Is that.... The Master Sword? How did you find it?"

    Link hadn't thought much about the consequences of having the legendary sword. When the blade had summoned him, he hadn't even really known it was the blade calling out to him – only that he had to go to it. Once he saw it resting in the pedestal before him, he had thought only of claiming it for himself. It wasn't until he'd come to the domain and felt all the eyes on him that he realized that he would be responsible for saving them. The blade reminded them of the return of a great evil. If he failed...

    Mipha quickly realized this wasn't something Link was prepared to talk about and changed the subject. "Link, you have grown. It must have been... at least 15 years since you were last here. Tell me, are you a knight yet?"

    Link nodded, more comfortable with this subject. The tournament was coming fast so he was hoping to do some training with his Zora friends beforehand. 

    "I see..." Said Mipha looking down. "So I guess you won't be staying for long..."

    Link felt sad at the realization as well and just shook his head.

    Mipha nodded. "I understand." She paused then looked up smiling, "Well, I guess we might as well make the most of it then!"

    A shadow of a smile crossed Link's face and was gone just as quickly as it had come. He felt such a weight on his shoulders that he hadn't expected. He barely heard his friends as they drew him toward the practice yard.

    That evening after a day of practice, Link walked towards the inn. Mipha caught up to him and put a hand on his arm. Her comforting touch stopped him and he looked into her sad eyes. "Link... Did something happen? You seem different... Distant even."

    Link looked into her concerned eyes. He wanted to tell her but she didn't deserve to have him put his burden on her so he just shook his head and continued towards the inn. It was better if she didn't have to think about it as he did.

—————

    After a week of training with the Zora, he felt that it was time to return to Castle Town and train with the others for the tournament. He waved his good byes and set out. He hoped he would get the chance to see them all again soon but he didn't know when he would get another chance. 

    The way back had more monsters on it than he remembered encountering as a child. Then again, he was travelling alone so perhaps they were just more ballsy than before. He dispensed with them easily and continued on his way. Soon, he was on the road in Central Hyrule. He made a minor detour to pass the Lon Lon Ranch. 

    He walked through the gate and saw Malon out by the horses. Her red hair was unmistakeable and she was standing by a fine horse with a chestnut coat and white mane and tail. 

    "Who is this beauty?" Link asked as he approached. Malon turned, red hair waving over her shoulder at the sudden movement.

    "Link! You startled me!" She smacked him in the arm lightly. "This is Epona. Isn't she beautiful? And such a sweet girl. She likes it when I sing to her."

    He put his hand up where the mare could sniff it and he looked into her big brown eyes. He reached down and pulled an apple out of his pouch and offered it to her. She happily munched on the apple and when she finished, she nudged him as though asking for another.

    "Now Epona, don't get greedy!" Malon laughed. "She seems to like you!"

    Link smiled. Horses always seemed to soothe his spirits. His smile quickly faded as he looked up at the castle in the distance. The sword on his back weighed heavy on him. 

    "Will she be for sale soon?" Link asked, still staring off towards the castle. 

    Malon smiled, "I was hoping you would ask! Yes, in about a month, she will be ready to go. She still needs a little more training but I was actually training her with you in mind! I knew you two would get along great!"

    Link nodded and headed out to continue his journey back towards the castle. 

    When he arrived, he made the mistake of going through the main gate of Castle Town. All eyes were on the sword on his back and it stopped people in their tracks. Muttering and whispers about the sword reached his ears and he picked up the pace to get back to the barracks as quickly as possible. By the time he got to his room, he was sweating. He'd never felt so afraid before in his life. Everyone knew what this sword meant. All the excavating the king had commanded had exposed a few small machines they called Guardians but it hadn't quite solidified the prophecy in a lot of people's minds. The sword on his back was undeniable though. Calamity Ganon would return... and soon.

    Link hadn't lost a battle since he'd been outnumbered by Groose and the others as a child. He was the most skilled swordsman in his class and his mentors even thought he might be the most skilled in all of Hyrule but did that mean he could defeat the ancient evil as he was destined to do? 

    He felt panic starting to come over him but suddenly the door to his room swung open and his father stood in the doorway. "Son, I heard – Are you ok?"    

    Link blinked and despite the storm going on inside him, his face suddenly went neutral and he nodded.

    His father seemed sceptical but didn't push the matter. "I heard you found it... is it true?"

    Link removed the scabbard from his back and held it in front of him, drawing the blade. His father looked on, his expression serious. Finally he looked at his son again, "This is a great responsibility. The king needs to know immediately. Excuse me. I will come see you later." At that, his father left the room, and thank Hylia he closed the door behind him and Link proceeded with his panic attack. 

—————

    "Are you quite certain, sir knight?" The king demanded.

    The tall knight nodded, "Yes, my liege. It is the Master Sword the boy carries."

    The king sighed. The signs were becoming more visible. The Sheikah prophet had been right. He had died shortly after delivering his message but they knew enough now to get started. Several guardians had been unearthed and so had the Divine Beasts but that hadn't been solid evidence of the truth of the prophecy. His heart broke for his daughter. He had pushed her so hard to unlock her sealing power but since his wife had died... She would have to work harder at unlocking her birthright. 

    "Thank you, sir knight. You are dismissed." The knight bowed and walked from the room. 

    The king's assistant opened the door to let the knight out and started to follow him out the door. The king halted him. "Bring me the boy with the Sword that Seals the Darkness."

Chapter Text

    Link followed the little man through the halls of the castle. He had never been this deep inside and he wasn't quite sure where they were going. The man turned into a room filled with books. Every wall was covered in them and he wondered if anyone could have possibly read every book in here in their lifetime. His mouth fell open at the sheer volume of books but his attention was drawn back to his guide as he pushed a book case and it swung open to reveal a secret room within. Link went in first, before the guide's gesture.

    The king was sat at his desk, writing in a small book. He looked up as Link entered. Link immediately dropped to one knee, head bowed. 

    "Rise." 

    Link stood, head still bowed. The king stood as well.

    "You may look up. You carry the Blade of Evil's Bane. It is I who should be bowing to you." And at that, the king lowered himself to one knee and bowed is head.

    Link didn't know what to do. Before he could say or do anything though, the king spoke again.

    "You, who are our saviour from the ancient evil that threatens this land. I had prayed that you would not need to appear but I am relieved that you have. You are destined to save us from the coming Calamity and deliver us to salvation."

    Link scratched the back of his head uncomfortably. Thankfully, the king rose and faced him then. 

    "Show me the blade." The king commanded. Link pulled the sword from its scabbard and held it out in front of him.

    The king examined it from where he stood before nodding curtly and waving a hand at Link to put the blade away.

    "Tell me of how you acquired the Master Sword."

    The king gestured to a chair that Link hadn't noticed before now and he took a seat when the king also sat. 

    "I.... ah...." Link started, not sure of where exactly to start. The king waited patiently. Link looked him in the eye, took a deep breath and spoke, "Well... a few weeks ago, I dreamed of the Lost Woods. There was someone there calling for me and I had to go to them. Even when I woke, that feeling of being summoned remained."

    He told the king of how he'd gotten through the Lost Woods, the Great Deku Tree and the Trial of the Sword. King Rhoam listened patiently, hands folded on his lap, eyes unwavering upon his subject. When he finished his story, the king only studied him. 

    Just as Link was becoming even more uncomfortable at the intense scrutiny, the king spoke again. "My kingdom is indebted to you. Without the sword on your back, we wouldn't stand a chance against the great evil that looms over this land. Anything you want or need.. just ask and you shall receive. Tell me, boy... Link... Is there anything you want?"

    Anything he wanted? Frankly, he wanted to put the sword right back where he'd found it and have someone else take it instead but it was too late for that. It had to be him now. The sword had chosen him as its master. Link shook his head in answer.

    The king nodded in response. "I understand. You may return to your barracks and prepare for the upcoming tournament. I am looking forward to seeing your abilities in action."

    Link stood, bowed and left the room. The guide closed the secret doorway again and led him back to the barracks. 

    He followed behind the much smaller man but barely noticed the turns and hallways they took. Link had seen the king before, of course, but never had he been summoned for a private audience. He hoped this wouldn't be a more frequent occurrence now that he carried the Master Sword but deep down, he knew that this change was just the tip of the iceberg.

    Back in the room, the king sat heavily down in his chair again. The sword matched the descriptions and drawings from all of the texts. It was the last and most obvious sign of Calamity Ganon's return. 

    He glanced down at the diary he had been writing in and read over the date again. It was the date his queen had been taken from him and his daughter had lost her only teacher. His heart broke again at the thought of having to push her even harder to unlock her powers but the choice was no longer his. He had to be a king and not a father for the fate of the world rested on her shoulders.

—————

    The next morning, it seemed everyone knew of Link's acquisition. When he came to the mess for breakfast, all eyes were on him. He had left the sword in his room in an attempt to avoid attention but it had been inevitable. 

    When he sat down, Groose sat down beside him. "So... where is it?"

    Link shook his head. Cawlin sat down on the other side of him. "How did you find it?"

    Link put his fork down and sighed. They weren't going to leave him alone. 

    Strich sat down across from him, "Can we see it?"

    Link stood, picked up his plate and walked out of the mess back to his quarters leaving everyone speechless. He knew it was rude but he could feel the panic overtaking him again. He had to get better at controlling himself. 

    That night, he was plagued by nightmares. A darkness loomed over him and no matter how he swung his sword, it just went through the dark mist, never hitting home. He fought and fought but to no avail. The darkness kept creeping closer until it surrounded him and he began to drown in it. As he gasped for air, all the faces he had seen since he pulled the sword free flashed across his mind. Each of them was dead. 

    He woke up panting and sweaty. It was clear he wouldn't be getting any more sleep tonight so he picked up the sword and headed for the practice yard. At this hour, no one else would be about and he could practice in peace. 

    He went through the motions of swordplay. It was the only way he knew to clear his mind of unease and yet, still, the fear remained. He held the blade out in front of him and looked at it. The legends said the sword had been created by the goddess Hylia, not forged like a regular sword. Whatever hand had crafted it, had done so with great skill as no folds could be seen in the metal. It never seemed to lose its edge or shine, either. The cross guard opened upward like deep blue wings and a light blue leather strap criss crossed around the hilt. Link ran his fingers over the tri-force that was engraved just above the rain guard. Why had it chosen him? Had it called out to anyone else? The legend said that the blade would choose a courageous knight to wield it. He sure didn't feel courageous since he had pulled it free. 

    He let his arm drop to his side and looked up at the sky when he noticed a light on in one of the towers of the castle. This one was set away from the others. Zelda's study. She must know how he felt. She had a role in this as well and she had been struggling for years to acquire her power. He suddenly felt a sympathy for her that he'd never felt before. Frankly, he had never much thought about it before but now that their destinies were tied together, he understood how lonesome she must feel.

    But you are not alone, Princess. I am with you now. You may not realize that yet, but we are in this together now. He thought as he gazed up at her window.

—————

    The day of the tournament finally came and the king had demanded that Link use the Master Sword in the competition. As he walked out onto the field, the crowd gasped. It was still the opening ceremonies so he wasn't going to be fighting just yet but the sword on his back still brought about uncomfortable reactions. No one could deny the prophecy of the return of Calamity Ganon anymore.

    The knights lined up along the field and faced where the king and princess would sit. A moment later, a horn announced their arrival. The king looked regal and all the knights fell to one knee, head bowed in honour of their royal highnesses. 

    When the king told them to rise, Link noticed Zelda sitting at his side. He hadn't noticed her following the king before he had bowed. He had seen her before from a great distance but the rumours were true of her beauty now that he could see her up close. Long, blond hair fell down her back while a braid circled her head like a crown. Her gown, though regal, was somehow still simplistic in its design. White with royal blue accents. He recognized it as the same blue as the hilt on the Master Sword and he briefly wondered if that's where the royal family had chosen that colour from. She looked straight at him and he stared down at the ground. He could still feel her gaze upon him despite avoiding meeting it. 

    Soon, they were commanded off the field and entertainers came out while the knights prepared for their matches. 

    First, the more experienced knights would joust to give the recent graduates time to warm up for swordplay. 

    Link sat in silence, running the cleaning rag over the Master Sword over and over. He barely heard when his name was called and he had to be called a second time before he looked up and realized it was his turn. He walked out onto the field and faced his opponent. What had been his name? Colin? Link hadn't known this student. He must have been from a different academy. By the look of his armour, he guessed he was from somewhere to the south. Link couldn't see much past the knight's armour but he had seen him before, warming up. He had a bit of a baby face and his sandy hair was cut simply, parted in the middle. 

    They touched blades in salute and began to circle one another when the flag dropped. Colin lunged suddenly at Link and he dodged to the side. The other man was fast but Link was much faster. He waited for his opponent to face him again before Link made another move. Colin did a horizontal slice and Link backflipped out of the way. When he landed, he saw that Colin had overextended himself with that attack and he saw an opening for a flurry attack. He hacked and slashed away at his opponent and when he backed away, Colin was holding his side. His armour had protected him from mortal wounds but the impact still caused pain. He could see his opponent wince through his slat in his visor and knew he had the advantage. They circled again and Colin seemed more cautious than before. Link would need to force his hand. Link feigned a lunge and Colin guarded that side, exposing his flank. Link struck with a horizontal slice that caused Colin to stumble forward. Link continued his assault and with a few more attacks, the match was called. Link was the victor. Afterwards, the two shook hands and went their separate ways. 

    Link watched the other matches from the sidelines, trying to size up the other competitors. Many of them, he already knew but there were a few, like Colin, that he had never encountered. He glanced up towards where the Hyrulean Royal Family was sitting and saw the princess still staring at him. It made him uncomfortable to be under her cold gaze so he went into one of the tents setup nearby. He pretended to be cleaning his blade but really, he was just looking to hide for a little bit.

    Soon, it was his turn again and the princess watched him coldly. She looked at him like she despised him. He wasn't sure what he had done to deserve such bitterness, but he did his best to ignore it. This opponent was a classmate named Pipit. While talented as a swordsman, Pipit had a bad habit of becoming easily distracted. Link knew how to win this match. 

    Several more matches went on before they proceeded to the next round. Sixteen knights remained and the Gorman Troupe performed while they set up the matches. 

    Link checked the board and saw that he would be facing Mido. He hadn't run into Mido since their encounter in the practice yard but he didn't trust his opponent to play fair so he would need to exercise caution. 

    Their match was called and the two young knights entered the arena. They touched blades in a salute and before the flag had fallen, Mido had launched into a full on offensive. Link moved quickly to block attacks and countered when he could but he realized he was moving backwards quickly and would soon run out of space. Gritting his teeth, Link countered a vertical slice and shoulder checked his opponent off balance then continued past with a slice to the other man's side. Mido bent over in pain but spun quickly and recklessly launched into another attack. Link was ready for it this time though and backflipped to avoid an attack Mido had thrown his entire body weight into. Missing had thrown off his balance and Link used that momentum to create an opening. Link launched in to deliver a series of blows that knocked the other man off balance. Link delivered a final bash over the shoulder of his opponent that sent him crashing to the ground. Link held the sword to the other man's throat and the match was called. He held his sword there a moment longer than necessary as Mido stared defiantly up at him. Link's eyes narrowed then he put his sword away. A hush went over the crowd as the tension reached them. 

    A horn blew and the announcer stepped into the ring to break the tension as Link strode out. Another victory for Link. He avoided looking at the princess as he walked off the field but he could sense her eyes on him. 

    The next round pitted him against another knight he hadn't yet encountered. He had been watching his opponent's battles though and already knew the other man's weaknesses. Link was easily able to defeat this opponent and on he went to the next round. 

    Link looked at the board for the next round. He was up against Groose. The bigger man was strong but he was slow and Link had defeated him many times in the practice yard. 

    Groose approached him with a grin. "Guess it's you and me, Link! May the best man win! I know you've beaten me before but I've gotten better since then and I'd do anything to be Princess Zelda's appointed knight!"

    Link nodded and glanced over his shoulder at his sword. Before, he'd wanted the position out of honour but now... there was much more at stake. 

    When their match was called, the two entered the arena. Groose was nearly twice the size of Link and he was also several years older. The two of them had been through a lot together and they knew each other's fighting styles. Link hoped to surprise his opponent with some of the moves he had picked up from the Zora. 

    When the match started, Link prepared to do what he normally did against Groose which was wait for him to tire himself out before rushing in to finish the battle but it seemed that Groose had learned patience. 

    Link circled and when no opening presented itself, Link decided to make an opening. He rushed in to attack but Groose held up his shield to block. Link leaped instead, using the shield as a springboard and did a flip over the larger man, landing in a skyward strike. Groose howled in pain as the sword sliced down his back. Again, the armour only prevented fatalities, but not injuries. 

    Link saw his opening and rushed in delivering another series of blows. Groose stepped back away from the attacks and held up his shield, ending the onslaught. Unexpectedly, Groose shoved Link with his shield and followed with a stab that Link narrowly avoided. That was a new move from Groose! 

    Link parried the attack and saw another opening as time seemed to slow down. He rushed in for another flurry of blows that left Groose doubled over. Time went back to flowing normally and Link jumped back, prepared to attack again but Groose dropped to his knees. The match was called and Link was again named the victor.

—————

    The final round the next day was him versus a newcomer named Rusl. 

    Link had overheard some other knights the evening prior, discussing him and how skilled he was. This was an older man who had seen combat before as a regular soldier and had enrolled in a southern academy later in life. He must have been quite skilled to have been accepted since most academies only accepted children who could be easily trained. When monsters had invaded his village, however, he had felt a responsibility to do more. 

    The two entered the arena and touched swords in a salute to each other. Link sized up his opponent. The other man was slightly taller than Link but had a slim build. Armour hid any clear weaknesses but Link could remember seeing the man limp slightly while walking off the field from a previous match. Which leg had been injured?

    When the flag dropped, Rusl rushed in with an attack. His swordsmanship was flawless. He would attack and leave no opening. Link was able to return the odd blow but blocking and parrying did little to create a significant opening. The two circled each other, engaged in attack and counter attack. Link noticed him favouring one of his legs. It was subtle but Rusl put far less weight and time on that leg than the other. A direct attack on the leg was illegal in the competition, but there were other ways to take advantage of this weakness. 

    Link rushed in with a body slam forcing his opponent to put weight on his injured leg. The man winced and Link took the opening. He rushed in again and sliced across his opponent's body causing the man to double over. Link spun and knocked the other man again onto his injured leg. His stance wobbled but he was able to right himself. Link would have to act fast to keep up the advantage. The two clashed, shield to shield, but Link had a new trick up his sleeve. He shoved his shield into his opponent and stabbed at the same time pushing his opponent off balance onto his bad leg. One more slash and the injured leg gave out and Rusl fell. Link put his sword to his opponent's throat and the match was called. 

    Link shook hands with Rusl and walked off the field. He sat down to wipe his blade clean again, though it didn't need it. He was amazed that the blade hadn't dulled at all during the entire tournament and it still shone as though it was new. 

    Groose walked up to him, grinning. "I tried my best but you still won. I knew you would. Congrats, Link! All your hard work finally paid off!"

    Link nodded to his friend and a few minutes later, he was called back out for the victory ceremony. Link had won first and so won the trophy as well as the coveted position as the princess's appointed knight. 

    The princess herself came down from the stands to give him the trophy. She looked as though she would rather have been anywhere else and his heart went out to her. "Congratulations, champion Link. You've demonstrated great skill during this tournament and I present you with the champion's trophy." She mentioned nothing of the appointed knight position and Link wondered if that was still part of the prize. He would find out later, he was sure. 

    With that, she walked off the field and away from the tournament. Though the crowd cheered, Link just continued to gaze after her.

Chapter Text

The nerve... He won that tournament with ease even against other very skilled swordsmen. He no doubt just waltzed into the Sacred Grove and picked up the Master Sword as well... Does the goddess laugh at me so?

Zelda was back in her room preparing for the ball that evening. She threw the gown onto the bed in frustration.

To make things worse, he is to become my appointed knight. Father must truly despise me... And so must he...

The thought tore at an old wound. After a decade of prayer, the sealing power that was her birthright still evaded her. A single tear paved a wet path down her cheek where many tears had fallen over the years.

"And why does he have to be so perfect? You couldn't have at least made him ugly?" Zelda said to the goddess though she knew her words would never land on divine ears.

"Maybe he has an extra toe... or a tail." Impa’s amused voice chimed in from the doorway causing Zelda to look up. There, she saw Impa leaning against the door frame of her bedroom, smirking with her arms crossed.

Zelda looked down, "You weren't supposed to hear that."

Impa chuckled, "I know...” Her expression softened a little as she lowered her arms to her sides. “Your frustrations reflect on him. You mustn't be so hard on him... or yourself. The powers will unlock in time. And you do not know his story."

Impa was right and that agitated Zelda even more. If she had been born a commoner, she would be allowed these petty emotions. A princess had to be above that though. It still hurt that this.. nobody.. had found his place in the legend before she'd even had the slightest inkling of her own powers. Zelda averted her eyes. At least in the privacy of her own room she could be a little petty.

"Don't stay up too late for this ball. Tomorrow, you must venture out to meet the Champions." Impa reminded her as she turned to take her leave. "But don't forget to have some fun, too." The Sheikah woman winked over her shoulder as she walked away.

Zelda sighed and held the gown up as she looked in the vanity mirror. The pale blue dress sparkled from thousands of diamonds sewn into the fabric. The neckline was low cut into an off-the-shoulder sleeve. The waist was tiny but her corset was already done up to accommodate the dress. The skirt was an enormous ballgown style. It truly was beautiful.

A moment later, her hand maidens arrived to help her prepare for the evening ahead.

—————

"So you get to be the princess's appointed knight. Is that why you don't want anyone saying anything about her? Because you want to be the only one who gets to see her getting changed or bathing or getting ready for bed?" Mido's voice came from behind Link as he made his way through the streets of Castle Town on his way back to the barracks.

Before Link even had a chance to think, he had turned and held the Master Sword to Mido's neck. "How dare you..."Link growled. A few passers by had stopped to watch. With great willpower, Link pulled himself away. "Jealousy does not befit a knight of the Royal Guard. I would defend her and her honour with my life."

Groose, Cawlin and Strich were approaching as well as a few of the other knights from the tournament.

"What is the meaning of this?" Link's father's voice boomed from behind him. "Link, sheath your blade. No blood shall be spilled on these streets on my watch."

Link sheathed the Master Sword, not breaking his gaze with Mido. The red haired newcomer sneered at Link but wisely stayed silent.

Satisfied that the encounter was over, Link's father motioned for Link to move on. Link turned to walk back to the barracks when Mido just couldn't keep his mouth shut.

"Such a waste. I heard a rumour that you prefer fish anyway. I wonder then if it's true. If so, you know there's a brothel in Castle Town that might tie you over until you can visit your fish princess again." Link spun and launched at Mido, tackling him to the ground and punching his head repeatedly into the cobblestones.

THUD!

Link felt a sudden pain in the back of his head and the whole world went dark.

—————

When he woke up, he was in his father's quarters, lying on the bed. He blinked as the room spun and slowly took shape. He groaned as he tried to sit up and fell back down as he felt a wave of nausea come over him.

"Foolish boy..."His father growled. Link turned to see him sitting in the chair beside the bed. "I pulled some strings to keep you out of the cells but you can't go around picking fights."

"Picking fights?" Link said incredulously, "Did you not hear what he said about our princess? About the Zora princess?"

"I heard!" His father boomed but seemed to soften as Link winced. "It is very honourable to protect a woman's virtue and reputation but you must control your impulses. Fighting like that in the middle of the streets in Castle Town is likely to get you arrested no matter what the reason. Tonight, you must be at the ball if you intend to become her appointed knight."

Link ignored the spinning of the room as he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He steadied himself there. "She doesn't want me to be her appointed knight."

"It isn't up to her." His father replied.

Even better... Link thought sarcastically.

"Now, can you stand?" His father asked. Link nodded and stood up. "Good. Go get ready for tonight and for Goddess sake, don't get into any more fights."

—————

Music filled the grand ballroom as the guests arrived; noble women in colourful, provocative gowns with impressive hairstyles looking for husbands; men dressed more simply yet still lavish; graduating knights in their formal uniforms. Zelda was on welcoming duty. As each guest came in, she welcomed them to the castle and exchanged pleasantries. The women eyed her with barely concealed scorn, jealous of her position and beauty. The men eyed her with interest. They wanted the seat her father would someday vacate and a place in her bed. She knew it had little to do with interest in her personally. It had hurt when she first realized that but she had eventually learned it was just part of life as a princess. She had also learned what mask to wear in front of these people.

The victor of the tournament came in and everyone in the room took notice. His blond hair tied back at the nape of his neck but enough of it hung wild to give him a somewhat untamed look. His uniform made him look sharp and collected but he walked with the deadly confidence of a skilled warrior. His gaze found her and didn't break from her, however. "Welcome, Sir Link."

He was silent as he looked at her. She started to feel uncomfortable but fortunately, the music picked up again in a lively waltz. The servants seemed to come to, realizing they had been staring and went about handing out hors d'oevres and glasses of wine.

He still hadn't said anything and Zelda started to feel a bit awkward. "I think many of the ladies here hope that you dance as well as you fight."

He nodded and said nothing.

It was all she could do to keep from fidgeting but fortunately the next guest had arrived so she excused herself and went to greet them. She could feel his gaze upon her back as she walked away and it made her shiver. Just then, a servant walked by with red wine and she picked up a glass off the tray and took a sip. Tonight, she would need more courage than was naturally afforded her.

Once all the guests arrived, the dancing started in earnest. Noble men requested her as a dancing partner for nearly every song and she had to politely oblige. There were more than a few times she had to subtly but firmly put her partner's hands back where was proper and as one dance ended, she snuck out to the balcony for a break and some fresh air.

Girls her age were supposed to love balls and dancing and being courted but to Zelda, it felt like a waste of time. With her powers still evading her and research on the ancient Sheikah technology still underway, this sort of nonsense was merely a distraction from what truly mattered. She looked down into the courtyard at the guardian that had been brought in recently. Her father had requested the researchers bring it here so he could oversee their progress personally. Thus far, there hadn’t been much success but it was still early in the process.

There was a young couple nearby who had clearly dropped some of their inhibitions. Perhaps it was the wine or perhaps the dancing but the young man was pushing the young woman up against the guardian and lifting her skirts. Zelda was about to call down to them to watch out when the guardian came alive. It spun and a laser shot out from the eye at the fountain in the courtyard. The fountain burst apart and stonework went flying in all directions. Zelda’s eyes went wide at the chaos that unfolded below.

Several screams broke through as the music cut short and the guardian started locking onto the guests in the courtyard, shooting its laser at them. Fortunately, it missed hitting anyone but it continued to rain havoc on the party as the ground exploded under fire. The guardian moved quickly on its six spindly legs, similar to a spider’s and soon, it was at the door leading into the hall. Out of nowhere, Link appeared and the guardian locked onto him.

"Watch out!" Zelda screamed from her spot on the balcony just as the machine shot another laser at the young man. Somehow, Link bounced the laser back at the guardian and the returned fire seemed to deactivate it. Zelda stared in awe at the machine and looked back at Link... Was he holding a pot lid?

Several Sheikah and royal guards appeared to remove the wreckage and the music slowly picked up again. Everyone slowly turned their attention back to the party, though a certain uneasiness lingered in the atmosphere.

Zelda searched the crowd again and Link had vanished. She started to head back inside again to search for him to find out how he had done what he'd done and as she rounded the corner to the staircase, she bumped into just the man she was looking for. "Oh, I'm sorry, I – "

He held out his hand to her in an invitation to dance.

She looked at his hand then up at him. It seemed as though she had imagined the whole thing. How could he go from taking down a guardian to asking her to dance in a matter of seconds?

She slowly placed her hand in his, still in shock and when they walked down to the grand ballroom, she glanced outside and saw the wreckage. So she hadn't imagined it.

The last dance ended and the next one started. He led her onto the dance floor and turned to face her.

"Do not let your hands stray, sir knight." Zelda warned and she thought she saw confusion flash across his face before it went back to that impossible, unreadable neutral expression. She felt the muscles in her neck tighten in irritation.

The music started playing and he held her a little closer as they began the steps of a waltz. He was very sure of his footing and easy to follow. While his eyes never broke from her face, they never once bumped into another couple. She felt light as a feather in his arms as they stepped and twirled around the floor and the whole room seemed to melt away except for the two of them. She was painfully aware of the proximity of his body and she could feel her heart pounding in her chest. As the dance ended, he dipped her low to the ground and lifted her up again with his strong arms. He then took her hand and bowed to her before walking off the dance floor, leaving her bewildered and vaguely aware of every set of eyes in the room upon her.

Another man approached her to ask her to dance but she barely heard him as she watched him vanish into the crowd. She needed to catch her breath... what had just happened?

—————

The next morning came very quickly and Zelda did not feel nearly rested enough as they headed off to Rito Village to meet with the first of their Champions – the renowned Revali. Though she had never met the famous Rito, tales of his accomplishments were told far and wide.

The two knights who accompanied her were well known to her. They had watched over her since she had been a small child. She felt confident that she was quite safe with them and comfortable, relieved that the champion of the tournament wouldn’t be accompanying her on this journey as he had yet to be formally appointed as her knight.

The same could not be said of her mount. He certainly had a mind of his own and would tug on the reigns if he felt she was even the slightest bit off balance. As they journeyed through the mountain range, however, the two of them came to an uneasy truce. "Perhaps next time I shall give you an ordinary saddle and bridle and make you earn back your royal gear." She said as the stallion flicked an ear back towards her. She pursed her lips in response to his attitude. It seemed to remind her of a certain knight back at the castle.

After a long day of riding, they found themselves at the stable just outside Rito Village. She was happy to leave her horse in their care and walk the rest of the way up to find Revali and give her poor legs a rest. As it was, she felt bow-legged when she dismounted and it took her a little while to become used to walking again.

As they walked up the steps of the village, a flock of hatchlings stampeded past and their beautiful mother called after them to watch where they were going. They were so tiny and light that Zelda barely felt them brush against her legs. She smiled as they reminded her of little, colourful chickadees. Soon, they were at the top and the Rito chieftain waited for them.

Zelda entered his hut and bowed to him. He bowed in return.

"Great Chieftain, the threat of Calamity Ganon looms over us all. I come seeking a champion to pilot the divine beast, Van Medoh. I have heard of one, Revali, a talented Rito warrior with the spirit to tame the divine beast. Where might I find him?"

The owl-like chieftain grumbled in thought. He truly was ancient. One of the oldest creatures in the land next to the Zora who lived hundreds of years.

"Revali... Yes... Revali..." The old bird hummed and hawed. Zelda began to question how reliable this chieftain was and if he even knew what she was talking about. "I believe... Yes... You will find him at the flight range. Fly straight from the landing."

"I can't... Alright." Zelda started to explain she couldn't fly but then thought better of it. She bowed to the chieftain again and took her leave, motioning for her knights to follow her. They took their horses from the stable and set out into the snowy mountain peaks towards the flight range. She was dressed in a snowquill tunic made especially for her. A gift for her birthday from the Rito. She was glad to be able to make use of it.

They rounded the bend up the hill and spotted a blue Rito warrior get thrown from a whirlwind. He landed roughly and he cursed that he needed to try harder.

The snow crunched under her horse's hooves, and he turned his head to eye her sideways.

"You know, your highness... it's rude to eavesdrop." He stood to his full height, braided feathers flowed in the wind behind him. Zelda dismounted and stepped forward.

"My apologies. I went to the village and I was told I could find you here." The Rito had his back to her.

He turned after a long pause, "You have need of me... To defeat Calamity Ganon." He eyed her for a moment. "To slay the beast once and for all..." He turned his head to the side for dramatic effect. "It will be my great pleasure."

Zelda smiled and brought her fist to her heart, "Thank you, Revali. If we work together, I am certain we will be able to defeat – "

"HOWEVER!" He shouted, cutting her off. He turned and crouched, wings spread. He gave the slightest flap of his wings and an updraft suddenly formed around him. He flapped his wings again and shot, spiralling into the sky. He went so far up that he became only a spec to their eyes.

A moment later, he plunged downward, bow in hand, and shot bomb arrows into targets on the cliff face. Three targets exploded and Zelda had to cover her ears as the booms echoed through the canyon. Soon, more explosions circled the flight range as each target was destroyed. Out of the smoke, the Rito shot upwards and landed gracefully on the railing of the launch pad.

"I know I play the biggest part in helping that... ahem... that little knight with the darkness-sealing sword. Am I correct?" He eyed her again and she stood her ground. "Well, if he loses his confidence after seeing me in action, don't come crying to me!" And with that, he took off again. Zelda stood there, stunned for a moment before she regained her composure and walked back to her horse.

She wasn't quite sure how to take this Rito. He was certainly sure of himself. Uncertain if that was a good thing or a bad thing, she decided to leave before they overstayed their welcome.

—————

Next on their list was Daruk of the Gorons of Death Mountain. Again, they left their horses at the stable at the foot of Death Mountain and made their way on foot. They each had several flameproof elixirs to take them up the mountain. They found they didn't even have to go very far before they ran into just who they were looking for. A big, white bearded Goron rolled down the mountain and stopped just before rolling into them.

"Sorry about that! Didn't know you were gonna be there!" The Goron scratched the back of his head, "Say, aren't you that Hylian princess?"

Zelda smiled, "Yes, I am Zelda. Tell me, where might I find Daruk?"

The Goron laughed, "Right here, your majesty! That would be me!"

"Oh wonderful!" She laughed. It felt easy to be light hearted around this easy going Goron. "I come seeking your help with piloting divine beast, Vah Rudania. Your strength is renowned in our kingdom and I can think of no better Champion for the divine beast."

The two of them began walking side by side down the mountain path. "Ah, count me in, tiny princess!" He seemed to turn serious suddenly, "I'm the fearless Daruk after all and if Hyrule needs my help, I'll gladly lay down my life!" He brought one massive hand in front of his face and made a fist as if to emphasize what he was saying.

"Thank you, Daruk!" Zelda said, looking up to him.

Daruk looked forward as they walked, "Not sure if it's Calamity Ganon's fault or what, but I hear monsters have been attacking people more than ever lately." He turned to look down at her again, "Times like these... you shouldn't leave the castle without a horde of mighty Gorons to watch your back."

Zelda became sad at the thought. "You sound like my father. He's assigning a knight to watch over me wherever I go." She looked down in frustration. "I hear the top contender is the most accomplished swordsman in all of Hyrule." Anger nearly boiled to the surface just thinking about the blond haired, blue eyed swordsman.

Daruk gasped and turned to her, "That could only be..." Something caught his attention and he looked ahead of them, "Huh? What the..."

Zelda followed his gaze and saw a group of bokoblins running toward a large rock.

"They really are all over the place these days..." Daruk said with a hint of frustration. "Hmm? Is someone being attacked? Wait here, Princess!" At that, he charged towards the group of bokoblins with a massive stone breaker in hand. Her knights ran to her side, prepared to defend her if need be.

Daruk let out a mighty roar as he wailed into the first bokoblin. He sent a blue bokoblin and a red one flying and their screams echoed over the mountains. With a mighty spin attack, he dispensed of the rest of the monsters and Zelda had to wait for the dust to settle to see what had happened.

Daruk stood in the middle and a few stragglers ran off screaming. "Hmph! Spineless little cuccos!" He yelled after them. "No monster stands a chance when fighting me, the almighty Daruk!" He laughed triumphantly with his stone crusher resting over his shoulder.

Zelda and her knights raced up to him and out of the corner of her eye, she spotted what the monsters were attacking. "Oh!" She went a few steps closer, kneeled down and held out her arms invitingly. "You're safe." The dust cleared and the cowering dog stood up and came trotting over. With a happy bark, it started licking her face as if to thank her. She laughed at the sweet little creature as she pet him. "It seems our friend here was the one being attacked. Precious boy! You saved his life! ... Huh?" She turned, smiling to Daruk but her smile quickly faded when she saw the Goron shaking in fear.

The dog barked and Daruk threw his stone crusher into the air and took cover under a protective red sphere. "Well..." she said, surprised at this development.

The dog then ran off down the path back towards the stable turning back to bark a couple more times and wag his tail happily.

"Good riddance! ... And stay safe!" Daruk yelled. It was all Zelda could do to hide her amusement. "I'm sorry you had to see that side of me," He looked down and scratched his head. He was clearly embarrassed by it. "As a kid, dogs always chased me." He turned towards her, still looking sheepish. "I still panic when I see one of those critters."

She couldn't help but tease him a little, "I never imagined the great Daruk would have a weakness."

Daruk was looking away down the path where the dog had run off to. "So tell me, Princess..."

She tilted her head and smiled, "Yes?"

"Calamity Ganon isn't... uh... some sort of dog monster... is he?" He looked at her with genuine concern in his eyes.

"Huh?" She was surprised by the question but the amusement she'd held in before bubbled up through the cracks and she covered her mouth to try to hide her laughter but it was too late. She couldn't stop it. Fortunately, Daruk was a sport about it and started laughing too, seeing the comedy in the question. The two laughed until their bellies hurt and Zelda had to wipe tears from her eyes. "My goodness, thank you! I haven't laughed that hard in a long time!"

"Hahaha happy to be of service, Princess!" He grinned down at her. "Say, don't be a stranger if you're ever in this neck of the woods! I make a pretty mean rock roast, you know!"

Zelda grinned back, "I have no doubt! Thank you, very much Daruk. I hope to see you soon. My father will send word of the plans." She looked back down the mountain and thought of her next destination. "I still have two more Champions to meet. Forgive me for not staying longer but I must get going."

"Not a problem! It was really nice to meet you, Princess! I'm sure I'll see you again! You take care now! And consider what I said about a horde of Gorons to watch your back."

—————

The next morning, they walked into Zora's Domain and spoke with King Donphan Zora. He directed them to a waterfall up on the cliff as for where to find Mipha. She walked up to where the Zora princess was crouched down by the ledge. The princess must have known of her coming and without turning, she asked "So Princess... May I ask who the other chosen Champions are?" She stood and faced the Hylian princess.

Zelda looked down, "Goron vigilance, Daruk. Rito confidence, Revali. Gerudo spirit, Urbosa. And also..." Zelda steeled herself, "The Hylian with the Sword that Seals the Darkness... Link..."

Mipha looked down with a small smile. She was also familiar with the boy. Zelda gritted her teeth and pushed down her agitation.

"Oh." Mipha stepped closer to the edge and looked down at her little brother splashing in the water at the base of the falls. "Sidon! Hurry and swim up here!" She called down.

Zelda stepped closer to look down. How in the name of Hylia could such a little Zora swim up such a huge waterfall? "Mipha... Perhaps he is still too young to swim up this big waterfall."

Mipha put a hand to her heart and held her trident down at her side. "One day, Princess... I must leave him. To face my fate with Ruta." She smiled over her shoulder at the princess then leapt down to the waterfall, surfing part of the way before gracefully diving into the water beside her brother. She turned to her sibling and smiled sweetly, "Join me. We'll go together so you can get a feel for it."

The little, red Zora hung onto his sister's back. When he had a firm grip, she turned to the waterfall. "Let's go!" And she launched them both up it. Leaping from the water a couple times to gales of her younger brother's laughter. When they reached the top, she took his hand as she did a flip and gracefully landed them on the ground. She knelt down beside him and cupped his cheek, "Sweet Sidon... Should fate ever part us, I'm counting on you to protect our beloved home from harm... Understood?"

The young prince just nodded once. She smiled down at him again, "I believe in you... Now... Shall we try one more time?" She held up one finger as though challenging him and was rewarded with a big, pointy-toothed grin. The three of them on the cliff all laughed at his adorable antics.

Zelda felt that she was intruding on a special family moment and excused herself. There was one Champion left to visit and it was the one she most looked forward to seeing.

—————

As the group approached Gerudo town, Zelda had to leave her knights behind as no Voe... men... were allowed within the walls. They awaited her summons at Kara Kara Bazaar. With a couple of Gerudo warriors as her escort, she walked down the main drag to the fortress of the Gerudo Chief, Urbosa. Inside, the tall, red-haired guards surrounded the chief and Urbosa looked at her seriously.

"State your business, Princess." This was a seriousness she had never seen from Urbosa. She suddenly felt like she had trespassed.

"Gerudo Chief Urbosa, Hyrule has need of your assistance in piloting the divine beast, Vah Naboris. Will you accept the title of Gerudo Champion and help us in sealing away Calamity Ganon?"

Urbosa's firm voice boomed in the stone room, "Princess of Hyrule, I accept your proposition without hesitation." Zelda sighed with relief. A twinkle in Urbosa's eye told her this was all for show but her serious expression and tone continued. "Not only are they planning to resurrect Calamity Ganon, it seems the Yiga Clan is also after our treasured heirloom." She eyed the thunder helm sideways then looked back at the princess. "You have my word. I won't rest until the Calamity falls."

"Gerudo Chief Urbosa... On behalf of Hyrule and its king, I thank you." Zelda bowed her head in respect.

That evening, Zelda met Urbosa for a walk just outside the walls of Gerudo Town under the moonlight. They both laughed at the seriousness of their meeting before.

Zelda finally felt like she could relax and be herself. "I've never seen you so serious, Urbosa!"

Urbosa looked to her with a hand on her hip as they walked, "Oh my. I can't say the same. Ten years ago, you rarely smiled, my little bird."

That nickname brought about a sadness in her she couldn't explain. Zelda stopped walking and turned to the older woman, "Urbosa, I feel like you've called me little bird before." She looked down at the ground trying to remember, "I was wondering where you got that name from."

Zelda noticed that Urbosa seemed to be focussed on something else. She stopped walking and looked over her shoulder. The hairs on the back of Zelda's neck went up and a shiver went down her back. Something was wrong!

"Halt! And face me!" Urbosa said to two travellers Zelda hadn't noticed walk by.

The two travellers stopped walking and looked back at her.

"Unlike you traitors, I prefer to fight my enemies head on." Urbosa rested her hand on her scimitar. Zelda was confused. Who were these travellers? How did Urbosa know they were traitors?

The two travellers looked at each other. Urbosa drew her blade and turned to face them. "Do your worst!"

Zelda stepped back as the two travellers seemed to transform into what looked similar to a Sheikah warrior but there was something... off. They must have been Yiga Clan members. They seemed to teleport and one slashed suddenly at Urbosa with a vicious sickle. The Gerudo warrior parried the attack expertly and countered with her own attack. It was all happening so quickly, Zelda couldn't quite tell what was happening. She bashed him in the face with her shield then hit him with the hilt of her scimitar, knocking him to the ground. She placed her shield on her back and held up her hand in one fluid motion. The other Yiga leaped behind her for a sneak attack and Zelda cried out, "Urbosa!"

Urbosa snapped her fingers and lightning struck the attacking Yiga warrior. Both had been defeated.

Urbosa looked over her shoulder at the two traitors as the crawled away to lick their wounds, "Out of respect for our princess, you may keep your lives. Now go!"

Zelda held her hands to her chest. Would her knights have known they were Yiga before it was too late?

Urbosa sheathed her blade and the two Yiga warriors disappeared with only a few paper cards to indicate they had ever been there.

"You asked me why I call you little bird."

"Huh?" The suddenness shocked her back to their previous conversation.

"When you were but a small child... my dear friend called you that, with the sweetest smile that ever graced our land of Hyrule." A sad smile crossed the woman's lips and disappeared just as quickly.

Zelda could feel a lump forming in her throat, "You mean mother..." She tried so hard not to think of her mother. It had been a very long time but the pain was still so deep.

Urbosa looked up at the sky as though looking for her old friend, "It was 10 long years ago..." She looked back down to Zelda, "Your mother had just left this world.. Yet her little bird still spread her wings and became the beacon of light Hyrule needed."

Zelda took a deep breath to try to dam up the tears she could feel gathering as a wave of emotions washed over her.

"Sometimes I forget myself... and get lost in the past." Urbosa finished. There was pain in her voice as well.

Zelda looked up at the sky and wondered if her mother was somewhere up there looking down on her. She missed her dearly. Warm tears trickled down the same old paths as they had for years.

"Come, it is getting late. There is safety within the walls."

Zelda nodded and wiped away the tears before following the other woman back into the town.

Chapter Text

    A letter arrived for Link one morning. It was sealed with the royal crest. The princess was away so it could only have come from the king himself. There was to be a ceremony for the Champions. Since he wielded the Master Sword, that meant that he was automatically one of them. Link sighed. Why did it need to be such a big deal? He hadn't done anything worthy of being called a hero yet. 

    Granted, people were still talking about how he'd taken down the guardian with nothing but a pot lid, but that was different. He hadn't even had the sacred blade with him at the time that happened. 

He lay back on his bed and let the letter fall to the floor. I guess I better get used to this if I'm to be her appointed knight...

    With a deep breath, he stood up, put the scabbard over his shoulder and set out to the practice grounds. It was still early so with any luck, no one would be there yet. 

    No such luck. He got there and the yard was filled with noble onlookers who wanted to catch a glimpse of the knight with the Sword that Seals the Darkness. After a few minutes of practice and the onlookers calling to him to get him to look up, he decided to find somewhere more secluded. 

    He knew some of the back hallways and hidden passages out of the castle and went out to a quieter part of Hyrule field. After looking around, he saw no one and took a deep breath. He took out the sword and looked at it. You've sure caused me a lot of trouble... Hope this is all worth it.

    He heard nothing back but he wasn't really expecting it to grow a face and start talking to him. He lifted the blade and went through the motions of swordplay as he had every morning for years. The motions were so familiar to him that it felt as natural as breathing. The blade was merely an extension of his arm. When he finished, he brought the sword back to the centre and breathed out slowly. That's when he heard a shriek behind him. He turned and saw an older woman jumping up and down. He ran over to see what was wrong and quickly realized his mistake. 

    She grabbed him and tried to rip at his clothes, "Oh my god! You're so much hotter up close!"

    "I – what? Ma'am... Ma'am!" He managed to pull her hands off him but that didn't stop her from planting a big, wet kiss on his cheek. He shoved her in alarm and turned to run. He silently cursed the sword for all this unwanted attention and raced toward the Lon Lon Ranch. Surely Malon would still treat him normally.

    He jogged through the gates and bent over, hands on his knees as he caught his breath. Malon spotted him from the field, "Link? What in Hylia’s name? Are you OK?"

    She walked over to him, leading Epona. 

    He held up a hand to tell her both that he was ok and to give him a moment while he caught his breath. She waited patiently. When he stood up, she burst out laughing 

    Link frowned, "What?"

    She pointed at his cheek still laughing. He touched his cheek and when he took his fingers away, he realized why she was laughing. Lipstick. Great.

    He quickly wiped it off with his sleeve and impatiently waited for his friend to stop laughing at him. 

    "I'm sorry... your face..." she said between gales of laughter. 

    He put on the most pathetic puppy dog face he could manage, "You gotta help me, Malon. They won't leave me alone!"

    That set her off again and she only laughed harder than before.

    Link sighed, "Get it all out...” 

    Tears were rolling down her cheeks and she actually snorted while laughing before she was finally able to compose herself. Even the damn horse seemed amused.

    "You done?" Link asked, clearly not sharing in the amusement.

    Malon nodded and had to bite her lip to keep from laughing again. "Well... Epona is ready to go. If nothing else, she can run faster than any of those women." She said with a smirk.

    "I'll take her." Link growled.

    Link handed over the rupees and took the reins. 

    "You know, Link... You might want to check out the mounted archery course. Get to know your mount a bit better, you know?" Malon said while tilting her head. 

    Link smiled appreciatively and put a hand on his friend's arm. "Thank you, Malon." With that, he pulled himself into the saddle and trotted out the gate. 

————— 

    Several hours later, Link rode his horse back through Castle Town gate and headed towards the barracks stable. 

It didn't take him long to realize something was wrong. The way the women – and some men for that matter – were scowling at him, he groaned internally knowing he was about to find out something he didn't want to hear. He handed the reigns to the stable hand and headed for the mess. 

    He was greeted by laughter and Groose walked up to him, "Heard you have a new girlfriend. Possibly a wife?"

    This was certainly news to him. Link frowned in confusion. 

    "Some woman came running into the town saying you're the father of her babies and that you're getting married." Groose said before bursting out laughing. 

    Link just buried his face in his hands. How humiliating... 

    Looking up at everyone laughing, there wasn't much point in trying to say what really did happen. Instead, he just grabbed himself a plate of food and headed to his father's quarters. 

    His father just watched as Link came in, and slumped against the door as it closed. When Link looked up at him, the older man just raised an eyebrow in question.

    "I don't want to talk about it." Link said bluntly.

    His father just raised both of his eyebrows and went back to his own meal as if to say "Suit yourself."

    The two ate their meals in silence before Link finally looked up at his dad. "Will people ever forget about me? I can't even walk through the streets anymore without getting mauled."

    His father looked mildly amused but was charitable enough to not laugh outright. "I can't say, son. I think the excitement will die down eventually and it'll definitely help once you become her appointed knight... but you'll just have to grin and bear it until then.” 

    Link sighed and set his plate on the table beside him but stayed seated on the floor, leaning up against the door. The ceremony was in a week to give time for all the Champions to arrive. He already knew two of them so that was a bonus. 

    "The princess got back this morning with news that all of the Champions had agreed to the roles. I'm sure you got the letter as well. Once that ceremony is done, you'll be appointed her personal knight." His father announced.

    "Great..." Link said. He tried to sound happier about it but it was tough. He would have to work for someone who hated him... but at least it would get him away from the crazy people he ran into in Castle Town... Hopefully...

    "Don't sound so glum. It's a huge honour." His dad scolded.

    Link sighed again, "I know... and don't get me wrong, I appreciate it... but I know she isn't happy about it."

    Link's dad looked up, "She is strong willed, that's for sure. But she is kind as well. Give her time and show her kindness because she is under a lot of pressure, too. I think she will come around."

    Link nodded. 

—————

    The day of the ceremony arrived. Link hadn't had a chance to see the other Champions until he walked into the great hall. There they all were. Mipha and Daruk both wore their ceremonial garments as sashes. The other two he hadn't met yet but the Rito, Revali wore his as a scarf and the Gerudo, Urbosa wore hers as a skirt. Link had been presented a blue tunic to wear that was to be his ceremonial garment as "the Hero's Tunic" to wear in general. Underneath was a layer of chain mail. He was told that the princess had made it herself though Link suspected she had some help... at least with the chain mail.

    They all stood in a semi-circle facing the balcony where the king stood. Zelda stood directly in front of Link who stood in the middle of the other Champions. Revali and Urbosa were to his left and Mipha and Daruk were to his right. Banners in the same blue as the champions garments hung from the ceiling around them.

    The ceremony started suddenly with the king's booming voice, "Welcome, warriors! I'd like to thank you for joining me here today, and for your bravery in accepting this... fateful task." He looked to each of the Champions gathered with the full weight of the task at hand before continuing. "I officially appoint you Hyrule's Champions and bestow upon you this sacred garb. That blue is a symbol of the Royal Family, one that has been passed down for countless generations. Those garments you now wear were all crafted by my daughter, Zelda."

    Link looked ahead to the princess and noticed the same blue sewn into her own dress. Her back was to him and she stood tall with an air of nobility. Though he couldn't see her face, in his mind's eye, he could see the brave face she put on for this ceremony. 

    The king looked down to her as well, "Zelda. I trust you with the task only a daughter of the royal family can fulfill. Lead our Champions, Princess. And together, protect our kingdom from the threat of Calamity Ganon." He spread his hands  out from his wide body for emphasis and outside, fireworks began shooting off in celebration.

    Link felt like the whole thing was kind of gaudy. He wasn't sure why a ceremony was needed but as a soldier, it wasn't his job to question things.

    Later on, they all gathered outside for a small reception. 

    Link stood near Daruk who also felt a bit like an outsider at this gathering. 

    The big Goron was stretching his arms around, "I tell ya, those formal shindigs really take it outta me."

    "Hmph..." The Rito suddenly caught Link's attention, "This is the Sheikah Slate, eh?" He plucked the little tablet out of Zelda's hands, much to her surprise, and examined it closely. 

    He could hear the steel in the princess's voice, "It is. Apparently there are more uses for it than we originally thought. Sadly, we've yet to decipher all of its secrets."

    The Rito seemed to lose interest and dropped it on Mipha, she had to scramble to catch it. Link bristled.

    Urbosa leaned over to look at the tablet as well, "The princess showed me something strange recently. Somehow it can create true-to-life images."

    "Oh, wow..." Mipha breathed, barely audibly. "I would love to see it." She said looking up. "Um... Princess..." She said, turning to Zelda, "May I ask a special favour of you?" She turned and looked at Link. 

    A few moments later, Purah, one of the Sheikah researchers, had them all gathered on one side of the gazebo. 

    "All right! This spot should work nicely!" The quirky young Sheikah stated as she held the Sheikah Slate up. "Keep your eyes on the Sheikah Slate, everyone!" She seemed to be making some adjustments, "Daruk, can you crouch down a bit? You're as big as Death Mountain!" She laughed.

    "Huh? Oh." Daruk hunkered down a little bit behind them.

    "What's with the glum face, Princess? Gimme a big smile!" The Sheikah grinned big as if to model what the princess was to do. 

    Link looked at her and didn't see her expression change very much even when Urbosa put a comforting hand on her back.

    "Revali, move your tail closer to the group." She waved a hand to indicate for him to move in.

    "Ugh, fine." Revali seemed like he would rather be anywhere but here. Link saw Urbosa roll her eyes.

    The Sheikah laughed again, "Mipha, you look so tense. Deep breaths, ok?"

    "Right!" She said nodding and seemed to shake out some of the tenseness. 

    They all seemed to be ready now.

    "Stay just like that! Here we go! Smiiiile... Click, snap!" Just then, Daruk squeezed them all in a big bear hug and surprised the life out of Revali and Mipha who were on the outside. 

    When they looked at the picture, they all got a good laugh out of it and with that, the ice was broken for the group.

    "Say, I have an idea! Since Link is to be appointed as your personal knight tomorrow, why don't we make a ceremony out of it?" Daruk said with a big grin.

    Link immediately wished he hadn't said anything but Mipha agreed and no one disagreed and so it was decided. 

—————

    The next morning, they all gathered on the Sacred Grounds. The Champions all stood off to the side and Link kneeled before Zelda who was to officiate the ceremony. She held her hand up to him as though bestowing a blessing, "Hero of Hyrule, chosen by the sword that seals the darkness." She already sounded like she didn't want to be there and Link's heart went out to her. "You have shown unflinching bravery and skill in the face of darkness and adversity." Link had a hard time agreeing with that statement. "And have proven yourself worthy of the blessings of the Goddess Hylia. Whether skyward bound, adrift in time, or steeped in the glowing embers of twilight, the sacred blade is forever bound to the soul of the hero. We pray for your protection... and we hope that – that the two of you will grow stronger together, as one." Her hand dropped to her side and she took a deep breath, steeling herself to continue. After, she raised her hand again and continued speaking. 

    To the side, he could hear Daruk speaking quietly, "Gee, this is uplifting. She's making it sound like we've already lost."

    "Wasn't this your idea?" Came Revali's condescending voice, "You're the one who wanted to designate the appointed knight with all the ceremonial pomp, grandeur and nonsense we could muster! And if you ask me, the whole thing does seem to be overkill!" Link actually found himself agreeing with that statement. "I think I'm on the same page as the princess regarding... this boy."

    "Oh, give it a rest." Urbosa chimed in. "That boy is a living reminder of her own failures. Well, at least that's how the princess sees him."

    The princess looked at her own hand and made a fist before looking down. She no doubt heard the conversation too.

    Was that it then? She didn't necessarily despise him... just what he stood for. Well if it's any consolation, Princess, I despise what I stand for too but here we are... Link thought. His father's advice came back to him. He would do everything he could to show the princess kindness and try to show her she didn't need to feel alone.

—————

    After the ceremony, Zelda went back to her room to enjoy the last bit of freedom she had. Starting tomorrow, Zelda would not be able to go anywhere without him. She sobbed into her pillow. He would no doubt make sure she didn't forget to do her morning and night time prayers only to be ignored by the Goddess again and again. 

    She rolled to her side, gasping for air and trying to compose herself. Tomorrow they would head out for the Rito Village again so she could check on the divine beast. Impa had petitioned her father on her behalf that perhaps some travel may be good for her to help with unlocking her powers. She was grateful to the Sheikah. 

    Her research journal sat on her desk beside her diary. Tomorrow, before she left, she would put her journal in her study. For some reason, she felt that if the two were next to one another, the sadness of her diary might seep into her journal. The research was the one thing that really brought her any joy. She picked up the book and read through her notes, trying to calm her nerves. 

—————

    After the ceremony, Link had seen Zelda bee-line for her bedroom. Link had hoped to get the chance to talk to her so after a moment of hesitation he followed her. When he got to her door, however, he stopped, hearing the sobbing within. He placed a hand on the door, wanting to go to her but he also knew he was the cause of her pain. He looked down, hurting for her then turned and made his way back to the barracks. He would keep his distance for now and he prayed that she would come around.

—————

    The next morning, Link was up before dawn to make sure the horses were prepared for their journey. Link brought an apple for each of their mounts and fed it to them before going to check on Zelda.

    She was awake and nearly ready to go. He waited outside her bedroom and as she walked out, she dropped her bags into his arms and continued walking. He waited for her to walk past and followed at a respectable distance. When they arrived at the stable, Link tied her bag to his saddle and led the horses outside. He helped her mount up and she immediately started off, not waiting for him to mount. He had to trot to catch up to her. 

    As they rode their horses through Castle Town, a woman yelled from the crowd, "LINK, HAVE MY BABIES!!" 

    Link cringed and Zelda looked sideways at him with a raised eyebrow, clearly unimpressed. He did his best to ignore it. 

    Soon they were out the gates into Central Hyrule field and following the road along to the North West toward Tabantha. They crossed through the Ridgelands and over the canyon to Hebra Frontier. From there, they followed the road North. 

    The journey was fairly uneventful, which was ok with Link. Though when it did start to rain, Link suggested they find somewhere to take cover and Zelda only kicked her horse faster. 

    Link clenched his jaw. Pushing the horse in the rain like this was a good way to end up with a lame horse but he had no choice but to go after her. 

    By the end of the day, they finally reached the stable just outside Rito Village. They hadn't spoken to each other in hours and that was just fine with Link. He brought the horses to the stablehand and noticed Zelda walking off towards the village without waiting for him so he tossed a bag of rupees to the stable hand and jogged after her. 

    It was dark by the time they reached the village and Zelda was forced to wait out the night. She paid for a room in the inn and settled in for the night. She was perfectly safe in Rito Village so no need for Link to keep such close watch of her. 

    Link got his own room next to hers so he could be close in case anything happened.  

————— 

    In the morning, Zelda woke early and set out to find Revali. Link let her go. She clearly needed some space from him and Zelda was happy for the reprieve. 

    "Princess, what a pleasant surprise. What brings you here? Where is your appointed knight?" Revali said as she approached the launch pad. 

    "I've come to check on Vah Medoh." She paused, and for the first time felt a little guilty for how she had been treating Link, "He is staying at the inn. I am perfectly safe here and have no need of his protection."

    Revali eyed her sidelong but didn't argue. "Well, if you need a lift up to the divine beast, I'd be happy to oblige." 

    Zelda hadn't thought about how she would reach the divine beast. Last time she had seen it, it had been perched on the ground but way up in the air... she had no choice but to accept his invitation.  

    He crouched down to allow her to climb onto his back and she was suddenly thankful for her travelling trousers. This sort of maneuver in a dress would not have been proper. 

    Once she had a tight grip, he created an updraft and shot them both into the sky. Zelda shrieked as they launched upward, not expecting the velocity of their takeoff. 

    "Be calm, Princess. I'll not allow any harm to befall you." Revali said confidently. 

    Zelda clamped her mouth shut but couldn't keep her heart from pounding. When they landed on the divine beast, she had never been so happy to have something firm under her feet.

    Revali gazed at her for a moment, "I'll leave you to your work and come fetch you in a little while. Enjoy your freedom while you can."

    "Thank you, Revali." Zelda nodded to him as he took off again and she turned to set to work. 

—————

    It was around mid-day when Link found himself on the launch pad. It worried him seeing Vah Medoh so high up knowing the princess was up there. The wind could blow powerful gusts the higher up you were and she was so small... it wouldn't take much to – 

    A sudden updraft interrupted his worries and to his chagrin, Revali perched upon the rail before him. 

    "Impressive, I know." The bird preened, "Very few can achieve a mastery of the sky, yet I have made an art of creating an updraft that allows me to soar. It's considered quite the masterpiece of aerial techniques, even among the Rito." He looked sidelong at Link. "With proper utilization of my superior skills, I see no reason we couldn't easily dispense with Ganon." He hopped down from the rail and walked towards Link, circling him. "Now then, my ability to explore the firmament is certainly of note... But let's not – pardon me for being so blunt – let's not forget the fact that I am the most skilled archer of all the Rito. Yet despite these truths, it seems that I have been tapped to merely assist you," He stopped right in front of Link, "All because you have that little darkness-sealing sword on your back."

    Link looked over his shoulder at the blade and it was all he could do to keep from taking it off and handing it to the bird and just being done with it. However, he knew the blade would not accept a new master.

    "I mean, it's just... asinine." He looked up to the sky then looked sidelong at Link again, "Unless... you think you can prove me wrong?" He got right up in Link's face, "Maybe we should just settle this one on one?" He walked away scratching his beak, "But where...? Oh, I know! How about up there?" He extended a blue wing up towards the bird-like divine beast circling above them. He turned back to Link, laughing cruelly, "Oh, you must pardon me, I forgot you have no way of making it up to that divine beast on your own!" He growled the last few words before taking off into the sky, "Good luck sealing the darkness!" He called back as he flew up to Vah Medoh.

    Link clenched and unclenched his fists. One day, he'd teach that little bird-brain about humility but until Calamity Ganon was sealed away, they still had need of him.

—————

    Zelda had walked through he divine beast three times already and made a few minor adjustments. She also wrote some notes about the inner workings of the ancient technology. She came back up to the surface of the divine beast and found Revali waiting for her. 

    "Oh, I'm sorry. I hope I haven't kept you waiting for long." Zelda said as she walked over to the Rito warrior. 

    Revali looked over to her sidelong, "How do you tolerate that knight? Does he ever say anything? Is he mute or just stupid?" 

    Zelda shut her own mouth before she said something she would regret. To be honest, it bothered her that he was so quiet all the time. He had said a few things to her but she could probably count on one hand the number of words he had ever spoken to her and they had all been strictly business. That shut out the possibility of him being mute but she wouldn't have gone so far as to call him stupid, either. Then again, that woman in the street as they were leaving Castle Town did give her pause about her appointed knight.

    "Well, whatever his problem is, hopefully we won't have to deal with it for long. Hop on." The Rito crouched down and allowed her to climb on. 

    This time she tried to prepare herself for the sudden sensation of her stomach being left behind but still didn't quite manage. The sudden jolt up into the air terrified her and the dive downward made her dizzy for how high up they were. Fortunately, Revali was fast and they ended up back on the launching pad before she'd really had time to freak out. When she stepped off the Rito's back, she stumbled backwards but strong arms caught her and helped to steady her. She looked over her shoulder to see that her stoic knight was the one to keep her from falling. Once she was firmly upright, he let go and stepped back. 

    She cleared her throat, "Thank you, once again, Revali. I'm sure we shall see you again soon."

Chapter Text

As they headed for the stable, Zelda’s conscience began to weigh on her and she decided to wait for Link this time. Impa's words came back to her. And you don't know his story. She was fairly certain she did know his story. What really was there to know? He was a gifted swordsman who found success easily everywhere he went. Was that really a reason to treat him with cruelty though?

Link gave her a leg up onto her steed and passed her the reigns before mounting his own. She led the way back and he kept a respectable distance and they continued to travel in silence.

Once they reached the canyon, Zelda decided to try some conversation with him.

"Lovely day today." She offered.

Link looked up at the sky as if he hadn't noticed then back to her and offered nothing back.

Zelda chewed her lip trying to think of something that might get him to speak. "Do you have any siblings?" She asked as sweetly as she could manage.

He shook his head and still said nothing.

"I know your father is a knight... what is your mother like?" That would be safe enough and maybe it would give her some insight on what it would have been like to have a mother.

Link shrugged and offered nothing more.

What the hell does that mean? Any desire she had left to talk to him quickly dissipated and the two continued on in silence.

She did, however, take a Southern detour when the road forked and thought for certain he would say something about needing to get back to the castle on time but even that couldn't get a sound out of him.

When they arrived at Lake Kolomo, she dismounted, tied her horse to a nearby tree and took out the Sheikah Slate. While Link was following suit, she started walking along the shore towards the ruins of the garrison on the other side of the lake.

"From here, we'll make our way to Goron City," She announced, not expecting a response from her silent shadow, "Then, we'll need to make some adjustments on that divine beast so Daruk can manage it as easily as possible. He's figured out how to get it to move... However, it's apparent that we still have much more to learn." Her enthusiasm got the better of her as she thought of the ancient Sheikah technology and she couldn't help but continue on despite her irritating companion, "But to think... that divine beast was actually built by people... That means that we should be able to understand how it works and how to use it to our advantage." She paused, thinking of all of the giant animal-like machines they had found, "These divine beasts... So much we don't know... But if we want to turn back Calamity Ganon, they're our best hope." She slowed then stopped. They weren't their best hope. At best, they were a help... and a useless help if ultimately she couldn't unlock her powers.

She looked over her shoulder to Link, sadness straining her voice, "Tell me the truth... How proficient are you right now, wielding that sword on your back?" She paused, "Legend says that an ancient voice resonates inside it." He glanced over his shoulder to the sword then looked back at her, "Can you hear it yet... hero?"

Of course, he said nothing. Zelda sighed and continued walking toward the ruins.

Excited noises caused her to look up and that's when she saw three bokoblins running toward them.

Before she could move, Link had positioned himself between her and the monsters. As they ran toward them, he twirled the Master Sword in his hand then when they got close enough, he launched at the first one with an upwards slash, shearing the red bokoblin clean in half. The two sides fell outwards and Link had stepped over it to face the next one. He sliced horizontally at it but the creature blocked his attack. The other red bokoblin was about to hit him from behind but he spun, slicing it just under the armpits and it crumpled backwards, gasping it's last breaths. He spun back to the remaining blue bokoblin and kicked it in the gut as it was about to swing it's club. It doubled over and he finished it off by beheading it. He looked around to be sure there were no other threats then took a cloth from his pocket and wiped off the blade before sheathing it.

Zelda just stood there, stunned. He'd killed them so easily and so... brutally. It almost made her feel bad for them. He looked at her, waiting for her to continue with his usual neutral expression. She quickly composed herself and kept walking. When she reached the garrison, she looked around inside, it didn't take her long to find what she had been looking for. "Ah! There it is!" A small, leather bound book lay on the floor under some debris. She picked it up and held it to her chest.

"I forgot this here the last time I was out doing research with Purah." They began walking back to the horses and she put the small notebook in one of her saddlebags. They mounted up and continued on their journey in silence.

Link wished she would talk about her research more but he didn't want to push it. It was nice hearing her be so passionate about something. It helped to distract him from his own worries.

After a long day of riding, they arrived at a stable. Link took the horses to the stable hand and while he was distracted, Zelda paid the stable owner for room and board. They would each have their own bed to sleep in tonight and wouldn't need to camp out in the rain. When Link came back, she told him the news and he only nodded in response.

Zelda shook her head incredulously when his back was turned then looked out at the land around them. This was the Wetland Stable and Death Mountain was almost due North, looming in the distance. Tomorrow, they would make it to their destination.

—————

They set out early the next morning. While Zelda finished her breakfast, Link readied the horses and off they went. They followed the road North until they crossed Thim's Bridge and from there, they took the road Southeast. It eventually curved Northward again and they arrived at the Foothill Stable.

Link boarded their horses there for a small fee and they stocked up on fireproof elixirs before they continued up the volcano.

Their journey, as always, was silent. So silent, that she might have forgotten Link was even there if she couldn't feel his eyes burning into her back constantly. The feeling only made her quicken her pace and soon they'd reached the Southern Mines. One of the workers rolled up the mountain to send word to Daruk of their arrival and they continued their trek.

Daruk met them at the gate to Goron City, "Hey little guy! Princess! Great to see ya make it all the way up here for a visit!"

Zelda couldn't help but smile at the Goron's warmth and genuine cheer at seeing them. "It's good to see you too, Daruk."

"It's getting late! Have you two eaten yet? I've got a roast ready with your names on it!" He turned to lead them towards his home. Zelda was certainly hungry but she thought she saw Link grimace.

As soon as they walked into the little hut, she understood why Link had made that face. She couldn't help but cringe at the thought of eating rocks. "Dig in, guys!" Daruk said, waiting for the two of them to take their share. Link started to reach for a plate but Zelda piped up to save him from having to eat rocks, "Thank you, Daruk. We actually ate just before we reached the Southern Mines. I don't think either of us could fit another bite in without exploding."

Link flashed her an appreciative look and dropped his hand before Daruk could notice.

Daruk looked disappointed, "Aw, shucks, that's too bad. Oh well, more for me, I guess!" And he dug in with abandon. Before long, the rock roast was finished.

"You two must be pretty tired after coming all this way up the mountain. Get a good rest tonight and we'll head on up to see the divine beast in the morning. You two can stay here if you'd like!" With that, the big Goron headed off to bed.

—————

In the morning, the three of them set off toward Vah Rudania. Along the way, Zelda got distracted by a shrine just outside the city.

Link and Daruk stood to the side while she examined the ancient structure.

Before long, Daruk turned his attention to the large lizard-like machine marching its way around the top of the volcano. "That thing sure has been giving me some trouble. I try to get it to do what I want it to do but it seems to just have a mind of its own. Any guesses on what the problem is?"

Link looked back at Zelda, concerned to leave her alone but Daruk quickly put his mind at ease.

"Don't worry, little guy! The Gorons here would never allow harm to befall the princess. Once she is done here, one of them will guide her up to meet us." And with that, Link set off down the path towards the divine beast. Once they got close, Daruk stood and looked up at it but Link had other ideas and pushed him into the ancient machine.

"You want me to explore this thing eh? I guess looking around and understanding its innards wouldn't hurt." So he proceeded wandering around inside.

Really, Link was hoping for some advice from his friend but couldn't figure out how to put his question into words. Instead, he wandered along inside the divine beast with Daruk. The Goron champion paused periodically to examine a structure or to see how different parts connected. After a few hours, the two of them made their way up above and stood on a nearby platform. Daruk seemed much more confident with his role and they hadn't needed to make any adjustments.

"Yeah! I think I'm finally getting the hang of controlling this divine beast!" Daruk stretched his sides and did a few twists to loosen himself up. "I tell you what... sure is a blast piloting a toy like this around." He turned to face Link, "Let those other Champions know, they better eat their gravel if they wanna keep up with Daruk."

He looked up to survey the mountain and Link followed his gaze, "Speaking of which, can you believe this view? Just look at all those delectable rocks sprinkled on those mountains... Mighty tasty!" He suddenly changed his tone to one more serious. "I may not know a whole lot about this Calamity Ganon thing... but mark my words, I'll protect this land of ours to the death! Right, little guy?" And before Link had a chance to blink, the big Goron slapped him on the back so hard he stumbled forward. He winced as he tried to straighten up again but Daruk just chuckled, seemingly oblivious to his friend's pain.

"Hey, by the way... congrats on becoming the princess's appointed knight. That's a really big deal! Protecting the king's daughter..." Daruk chuckled again and put a hand on his friend's back much more gently this time, "No pressure!"

The Goron straightened up again, "Seriously, though. The princess is a strong personality... so strong, she can't quite see the range for the peaks." Link didn't quite understand that idiom. It must have been a Goron thing. "Remember that, and you'll be fine."

The ground began to shake violently and Daruk looked up the mountain, "Huh? What the-?"

Several huge boulders shook free from the mountain and plummeted towards them. Daruk roared and put his fists up just in time to block the rocks from crushing them. A red dome appeared over them and the boulders broke apart and fell harmlessly down around them. Once they were safe, the red dome disappeared and Daruk turned around to face Link again, "All right, so what was I saying?" He turned back up towards the mountain, concern etched all over his face, "That was a little strange... As far as I know, Death Mountain has been quiet for decades. But if the mountain is shivering enough to send down a bunch of boulders that size, then-" He seemed to catch himself and shook his head, "Never mind. Forget I said anything."

A few minutes later, they heard Zelda call up to them, "Are you all right? The mountain shook and I saw some boulders fall..."

"Don't you worry, little princess! We're just fine! Link showed me how I can better pilot this thing too! Check it out!" Daruk proudly maneuvered the divine beast around the mountain and Link had to grab onto an outcrop to keep from falling off.

"Well done, Daruk!" Zelda cheered from the ground when he'd stopped then entered the divine beast to check on the settings.

It bothered her that yet again, Link had easily done something that she had struggled with. What had he changed? Did he mess with any of the settings? When she looked them over, they were all exactly how they should have been. How could he have known?

Link and Daruk met her inside the beast and she turned to Daruk, "It has been a very lovely visit and I hope to see you again very soon. Link and I must be off, though."

She twirled on her heel and walked outside afraid she would start crying or screaming if she slowed down.

Link and Daruk looked at each other in confusion then Link followed after his charge.

Zelda said nothing to him as she marched them down the mountain and Link got a sense that he had done something wrong though he didn't have a clue what that could have been.

Once they were nearly at the foot of the mountain, Zelda turned on him, "What did you change in the Divine Beast? How did you know how to set it?" She demanded.

Link stepped back in confusion and just stared at her.

"For once in your life, could you just say something?" She yelled, exasperated.

Link's mouth opened but nothing came out. He didn't know what she was talking about. He hadn't changed anything in the divine beast. They hadn't touched any of the controls.

She made a frustrated noise and continued down the mountain towards the stable. Link gave her some space before following behind her.

They stopped at the stable to rest until morning but Zelda didn't wait up for Link and found her spot to rest for the night. When he came over to where she was seated, she turned her back to him and he got the hint to leave her well enough alone. Whatever he had done, had really upset her this time. In the morning, she still wasn't speaking to him and once she got on her horse, she took off at a canter and Link really had to hurry to keep up.

They arrived at the castle at noon. She dismounted, handed the reigns to a stable hand and went straight up to her room. Link watched after her as he dismounted from Epona. Once she was out of sight, he turned to his own horse and patted her on the cheek. He would care for the horses and give her some time to cool off.

—————

Several days passed and Zelda had done her best to avoid him. He still didn't know what he'd done to upset her so much but he knew better than to bother her about it right now. He did his best to perform his duties but also give her space. It turned out to be quite the balancing act and most of the time, he just tried to stay out of her sight. 

After a week of her avoiding him, he was about ready to confront her about it. He made his way up to her room and knocked on the door.

No answer.

He knocked again and there was no answer.

He opened the door and pushed it open before looking in and again, no answer.

When he did look inside, the princess was no where to be seen. Suddenly alarmed, she looked around trying to figure out where else she could be. Foolishly, he'd allowed her to sneak out without him noticing.

He cursed under his breath and headed down to the stable. After questioning the stablehand, he found out she had taken the west road out of the castle. He didn't have time to get Epona ready so he just grabbed the first horse he saw that was saddled and ready and headed off at a gallop, watching the road for signs of where she could have gone.

—————

Zelda crouched down to examine the pedestal in front of the shrine. She stood and touched the Sheikah Slate against the ancient symbol of the Sheikah tribe. When she lifted it away, it was just as it had been before, "Hmm... Nothing. Just as I thought."

She looked up at the shrine before her, "Hmm... It appears that this structure was designed to be exclusively accessed by the sword's chosen one."

Just the thought of him being able to get inside but not her made her blood boil. "But designs can always be worked around, at least I hope." She took a few steps back, trying to get the full picture for some sort of clue. "How do I get inside? I need to activate it somehow."

The sound of a horse neighing and galloping up the hill pulled her from her reverie. She gasped and turned around to see him riding up the hill. He jumped from the horse's back while the horse was still moving and continued to run up to her.

She tensed up then put the Sheikah Slate back in it's case at her hip and marched toward her horse. "I thought I made it clear that I am not in need of an escort." She stopped in front of him, huffed and put her hand on her hip as she looked to the side, "It seems I'm the only one with a mind of my own." She looked back to the stoic knight and put her hand to her chest to emphasize, "I, the person in question, am fine, regardless of the king's orders." She started walking past him towards her horse, "Return to the castle and tell that to my father, please."

She continued to walk to her horse when she could hear him walking along behind her. She turned on her heel and snapped, "And stop following me!"

That stopped him in his tracks. The confused look on his face made her feel guilty for how she was behaving. He hadn't deserved to have her snap at him like that but she wasn't ready to apologize for it either. She mounted her horse and set off back to the castle.

By the time she got back, she felt truly wretched for how she'd behaved. She had been ignoring him for a week and the first time she saw him, she lost her temper. No one deserved that. And yet, she couldn't help but feel more angry at him for making her feel guilty for it.

After tossing and turning for half the night, she eventually got out of bed and went out to the walkway leading to her study. She stood out by the ledge and looked up at the sky.

Mother... why couldn't you have left some clue about how to unlock my powers? She prayed while making a fist on the stone rampart.

A noise down below caught her attention. She looked and saw Link going through the motions with the Master Sword. His movements were crisp and flawless yet fluid as though they were one continuous motion as one slice led into the next stab and so on.

She watched him for a time, entranced by his fighting dance and it made her think back to the ball where they had waltzed. He had been as graceful then as he was now.

He looked up to her and she stepped back to hide behind the railing before he could figure out she was watching him. By the time she stepped forward again to look, he was gone.

Chapter Text

Several days had passed since Zelda had last seen Link in the courtyard below her study. He had made himself scarce. Part of her was happy for the space he'd given her but the guilt she felt was growing as well.

As Zelda walked back up to her room from her morning prayers, her handmaiden met her on the path. "A letter for you, your grace." The brown haired maiden bowed to her.

Zelda took the letter and examined the seal. It was from Urbosa! "Thank you, Beth."

She picked up the letter knife from her desk and broke the seal.

My dearest Princess Zelda,

I have also sent a letter to your father inviting you to examine the divine beast, Vah Naboris, as soon as possible, but the true reason, is because I know you need a break from castle life sometimes. I'm dying to hear how you've been getting along with your new appointed knight as well. I'm looking forward to seeing you soon.

Urbosa

Zelda smiled as she put down the letter. Urbosa would be the perfect one to speak to about her problem. She prayed a blessing on the wonderful Gerudo woman then fed the letter into her fireplace. If her father found out that it was just a visit to escape, he wouldn't let her go. Now, all she had to do was wait for her father to inform her of her trip out of the castle.

There was a new lightness in her step at the news as she made her way down to the courtyard to get a report from the Sheikah researchers.

The first person she saw was Purah, "Hello, how do we fair today?"

Purah turned and saw the young princess and smiled, "I think we are really making progress! We have almost figured out how to control it! I give it another week or two and when we tell it to jump, it'll ask how high! Snap!"

Zelda examined the guardian before her. The memory of it malfunctioning during the ball was still fresh in everyone's mind but the more they learned about them, the less likely it was for such an event to be repeated. She grinned as Purah motioned towards her research notes and Zelda sat down cross-legged on the ground with the notebook, picking out every little detail she could.

When she looked up, Purah was making some sketches of the machine's inner workings. "Purah, have we learned any more about the divine beasts, Vah Naboris and Vah Ruta?"

Purah was startled out of her sketches when Zelda spoke, "Huh? Oh, I forgot you were there! Um, yeah! Look at this book over here." She waved to her right without taking her eyes off the guardian. Zelda took a moment to figure out where she was indicating but then saw a notebook sitting on a rock nearby.

She opened it up and read through those notes as well, copying a few important details into her own leather-bound notebook. This would come in handy if she had to make any adjustments while she was in Gerudo Town.

After a little while, she left the researchers to continue their work and went down to the library to see, yet again, if she could find any information on the coming Calamity, the legends of the goddess, or the ancient Sheikah technology. All she could find were books she had already read countless times. She sighed and instead picked up a book on Hyrulean flora.

As she flipped through the pages, she found a beautiful blue and white flower called the Silent Princess. She had seen these growing in the field but had never seen them in the gardens.

With a new question in her mind, she picked up the book and headed towards the gardens.

She found the head gardener tending to a patch of carrots and squatted down beside her to get her attention.

The elderly woman looked up to her and smiled, "Good morning, Princess. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

Zelda smiled. This woman had always indulged her any time she'd had questions about the plant life in Hyrule. She also seemed to know quite a bit about the insects and amphibians that lived in the kingdom. She opened the book to the page on the Silent Princess. "Why don't we grow these ones in the gardens at the castle?"

The old woman examined the picture, "Ah yes, the Silent Princess." She suddenly looked sad. "We have tried growing them domestically but there are some things in this world that are not meant to be tamed."

Zelda looked down at the picture again. It was a beautiful flower but there was something about it. She tried to imagine it growing in the garden but found that no matter where it might have grown, the natural beauty of the flower would have seemed... dimmed.

She stood up and walked to the East Gate from Hyrule Castle. As she walked around in the field she found more of the flowers and plants listed in the book. She made a mental note of the plants and their potential uses.

Eventually, she took a seat under a tree. The sun was at its peak. She leaned back and not for the first time, wondered what her life might have been like had she been born a commoner with no destiny to fulfill. Might she have raised horses at the Lon Lon Ranch or would she have sailed the seas down by Lurelin Village? Perhaps she would have braved the cold in Tabantha or just lived a simple life in Hetano Village.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a horse and rider making their way up the hill towards her. She recognized the red horse with the white mane and tail and knew who the rider would be. She pushed down her irritation and stood up.

Link rode up to her and bowed his head to her.

"Please, do not let me interrupt your day. I'll head back into the castle and you can continue your day off." She thought she saw him frown slightly but he was quickly back to his regular neutral expression. She walked back towards the castle and felt his eyes on her the entire way. Once she reached the gates, she looked back over her shoulder and he was gone.

—————

"Zelda." King Rhoam looked up as she entered his study. He gestured for her to sit in one of the chairs he occasionally had brought in when he was expecting company.

She sat and looked expectantly to her father. "You summoned?"

The king continued writing in his book as he spoke, barely looking up to her again. "It seems the Gerudo Champion, Urbosa, is having some difficulties with her divine beast. As the leader of the Champions, I shall send you and your appointed knight to see if you can make some adjustments to it for her."

Zelda hid a small smile. "Yes, Father."

This time he did turn to her and she made sure her face was neutral again. "Do not neglect your prayers while you are away. Do not use this as an excuse to play at being a scholar. Do you understand?"

Her heart sank, "Yes, Father..."

He eyed her for a moment then gestured for her to leave before turning back to his work.

She stood and walked to the door when his voice stopped her again, "And no running off from your knight."

Zelda tensed, "Yes, Father..." She said. When he seemed to be done this time, she took her leave and headed back to her bedroom to ready herself to leave in the morning.

Her handmaiden was there waiting for her to help her prepare for bed.

"Beth, I am leaving tomorrow for Gerudo Town. I shall not need your help for a little while yet. Please, deliver a message to Link for me. Let him know we leave at dawn." The young girl's eyes seemed to light up at the realization of the excuse to see the knight up close. Not you too... she thought with disdain.

The girl left with her message and Zelda sat down at her vanity before looking up into the mirror.

Her hair was styled into a braid that wrapped around her head like a crown while the rest fell down behind her shoulders. Her green eyes held a sadness to them. Did her knight see that too when he looked at her?

She looked down and saw that a new flower had been picked and placed on her vanity. "A Silent Princess..." She breathed. She reached out to touch the delicate petals and felt a profound sadness when her fingers brushed against it. Its time had been cut short to sit as a decoration upon her vanity. In that moment, she felt an affinity to the flower. Whatever purpose this flower might have fulfilled, could never be realized as now, it's destiny had left it to slowly wither in a vase. Just like her. Whatever she might have been would always be overshadowed by her destiny to seal away the ancient evil. If she would ever be able to...

A single tear forged a path down her cheek and dripped off her chin onto the petals. "I'm so sorry..." she whispered to the flower.

—————

In the morning, Zelda met Link in the stables and he tied her bags to the saddle before giving her a hand up. As usual, she didn't wait for him to mount up so he had to rush to catch up.

She didn't seem to have the same level of determination she normally did today and instead, seemed sadder. He kept a respectable distance back and just watched her ride. She seemed to have a few issues with her horse. The two didn't trust each other but he knew that now was not a good time to give her riding advice. He could certainly sympathize with the horse, though.

They rode in silence until the cliffs narrowed around them in a canyon and Link couldn't ignore the uneasy feeling in his gut.

She seemed to be able to sense it as well as she subconsciously moved her horse closer to his. Link was thankful to not need to say anything and kept a careful eye. They were getting closer to the Yiga Clan hideout and they could be a sneaky bunch.

His own mount seemed to sense that this was a dangerous place but didn't seem overly on edge right at the moment. Link took that as a sign that there weren't any imminent threats and relaxed a little bit but still kept watch.

They made it to the stable just outside the desert and Link paid to have their horses boarded until they could return. Zelda had wanted to continue through the night but Link refused. This area was too dangerous to travel at night.

Come morning, Zelda was nowhere to be found. Link cursed and headed out toward the desert. There were several sets of footprints but they all stayed along the same path so he followed along.

Idiot... How could you let her slip away like that? She is going to end up getting killed if she keeps doing this! And it'll be your fault, appointed knight! He thought to himself in frustration as he jogged through the sand.

By about noon, he reached the Kara Kara Bazaar. He asked a few of the merchants if they had seen a young woman with blond hair and green eyes pass through. They all said they had not that long ago and she'd continued on to Gerudo Town.

"Just follow the path. If she gets into Gerudo Town before you reach her, you won't be able to follow. Only Vai may enter the fortress." One Gerudo merchant told him.

He nodded his thanks and raced along the path. He arrived just in time to see her walk through the gates. He called to her but she just looked over her shoulder at him, smirked and kept walking.

He clenched his teeth in rage. Insufferable woman...

He spotted a shaded lean-to a little ways down the wall and walked over to it to take a seat while he waited for her to come out.

After awhile of sitting there, a Gerudo woman walked over to him and handed him a note then without a word to him, she turned and walked back into the city.

Perplexed, he opened the letter and was surprised to find it was from Urbosa.

Link,

She told me that she had run off on you. I will keep her safe until you can join her. I have a plan. Meet me on top of the inn at Kara Kara Bazaar tonight.

Urbosa

He had no choice but to go with it so he made his way back to the bazaar to wait for her.

—————

Link sat on top of the inn and watched as the last sliver of light sunk behind the distant mountains. He wondered how long he would have to wait here for Urbosa to arrive. At least the princess is safe...

He sat for nearly an hour when he heard her climbing the ladder up to where he sat. He stood up as she reached the top.

"Good, you came." She said while handing him a bundle of cloth.

He looked inside and found that it was a Gerudo woman's outfit. He looked back up at her and said flatly, "You're joking."

She laughed a big belly laugh at his response then shook her head, "I'm afraid not! If you want to come into the town, this is the only way. Make sure you wear the veil or the guards will know for sure. You don't strike me as the particularly hairy type so it should work."

He looked back down at the outfit in dismay then sighed in resignation. He then looked back at Urbosa.

"Hmm? Oh!" She turned around to give him some privacy while he changed. Once he was dressed, he cleared his throat to let her know it was safe to look.

Urbosa managed to hide her smirk but couldn't keep the amusement out of her eyes. "Well, how does it feel?"

Link did his very best impression of a woman, "I feel like a natural woman."

Urbosa burst out laughing at his high pitch voice and had to wipe tears from her eyes, "Try not to speak. Goddesses, she better appreciate you for this!"

"Agreed..." he mumbled under his breath.

The two of them climbed down and made their way back to Gerudo Town. The guards didn't give him a second glance when he walked through beside Urbosa and he was surprised to see how lively the town was even at this hour. As they neared the other end of the square, Urbosa leaned down to whisper to him, "They won't let you in the fortress and the princess probably wouldn't be too happy to see you anyway... Well... after she stopped laughing that is."

Link growled.

"I'm just teasing!" She chuckled, "Anyway, you'd best lay low in town. I'll send a message if anything happens." She made her way up the stairs and half way up, she winked at him from over her shoulder.

As humiliating as this was, he did appreciate what Urbosa was doing. While they were in the town, Zelda was safe and likely wouldn't be going anywhere tonight. He decided to explore.

—————

In the morning, Zelda set out early on her survey. She wanted to examine a place called the Seven Heroines. She had read about it in a book once and had always wanted to see it.

As she walked through the market, her heart almost stopped when she thought she'd seen Link. No... It couldn't have been. No men are allowed within these walls. She spotted an odd looking woman with similar blond hair to Link's and she let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding. Relieved, she continued on out the Eastern Gate.

Behind her, she heard an odd scratching sound getting louder. When she looked back, she saw a sand seal approaching... pulling Urbosa. "Don't even dream of leaving me behind, Princess." Urbosa smiled. She saw that there was another sand seal being led along.

Urbosa brought her sand seal to a stop beside Zelda. "Here, take this." She passed Zelda a shield and after one more look back at the Gerudo woman, she understood. She put the shield down and stood on the back of it and picked up the sand seal's reigns.

"Follow me!" Urbosa flicked the reigns and her sand seal took off. Zelda didn't even have to do anything and hers took off as well, nearly pulling her into a face plant. After a few seconds, she started to get a feel for it and by the time they passed Kara Kara Bazaar, she was quite comfortable surfing along behind the sand seal.

She pulled up alongside the Gerudo Champion and laughed with glee. This was amazing! Never before had she experienced anything like this. To move through the desert with ease... even the heat of the sun baking down on them was made gentler as the wind cooled her skin. She felt that she could do this forever and never grow weary of it.

Much too soon, they arrived at the gigantic stone statues. Time had taken their toll on them and they had started to crumble, though there was still enough standing to provide a number of clues as to their identities.

The ancient text on them was in an old tongue that she didn't know but she sketched the writing into her notebook to look into later.

The statues were virtually identical but they each had a unique symbol and before them was a pedestal that appeared to be missing something. She looked around for what could have possibly been in the pedestals before but a recent sandstorm had covered much of the area. It would require much more work than she'd expected to uncover some secrets.

Urbosa stood nearby looking up at the statues. Once, her people revered these statues but the stories of them had been lost over the ages and even the Gerudo didn't know who they were anymore.

She watched Zelda search over every detail with great scrutiny and smiled to herself. The Gerudo woman didn't have the patience for research like Zelda did but it was charming to watch the young girl be so passionate about something.

She flicked her long, red hair back over her shoulder as she turned to face towards Gerudo Town. I wonder how Link is faring... She thought. Her conversation with Zelda the night before had been telling. It had become clear to her that Zelda had misjudged her knight but had become set in her ways. The boy didn't deserve the treatment he'd been getting from the princess, but she could certainly understand how the princess was feeling. Urbosa felt that she owed it to the two Hylians to try to mend the gap between them. Besides, she could sense there were deeper emotions involved than Zelda was letting on... or maybe deeper even than the girl realized. Whether or not those feelings were returned, Urbosa believed strongly that Zelda should acknowledge them at some point.

Zelda would have happily stayed and studied the structures for days but Urbosa urged that they head back before nightfall. Besides, Zelda still wanted to see the divine beast.

"Are you comfortable yet with the controls of Vah Naboris?" Zelda asked as they walked up the ramp onto the massive camel-shaped machine.

Urbosa ran a hand along the wall with a fond smile on her face. "I feel like I could control her in my sleep."

Zelda smiled back as they wandered through the beast.

A green light lit up the main room to indicate the electric current was actively running through the beast. It looked awkward walking around from the outside, but from the inside, it was actually a surprisingly smooth ride.

The sun had set by the time they walked out onto a balcony where some pillows had been laid out. Urbosa had clearly spent some time here.

The two of them sat down on the pillows and Zelda told the older woman of her theories on the ancient statues.

"So tell me, Princess... Why did you leave Link behind? Seems to me the poor guy is just trying to do his job." Urbosa said with a sidelong look. She suspected she knew the reason already but wanted to hear it from the girl.

Zelda looked down, "Because I feel suffocated when he is around. Success seems to come so easily to him and yet... and yet despite everything..." She trailed off fighting back tears that were threatening to form. She took a deep breath, "It's not fair."

Urbosa looked up at the sky, "Life isn't fair, Princess. What may seem easy to you, may have taken a lifetime of dedication for someone else."

"Are you mocking me?" The younger girl scowled at the Gerudo woman.

Urbosa threw back her head and laughed, "I swear I'm not. I just want you to give him a chance, that's all."

"You sound like Impa..." Zelda said, hugging her knees.

Urbosa looked sidelong at the girl again, "I must have the right idea then."

"Hmph!" Zelda looked away in frustration.

"Just think about it. He really isn't so bad, you know." Urbosa smiled. Despite the hackles going up on the younger girl, she felt like she was making progress.

Zelda looked back at Urbosa, biting her lip, "Fine... I'll try..."

Soon, her eyes started to grow heavy and she nodded off onto Urbosa's shoulder.

—————

Link had seen Zelda leave the town and tried to follow but had lost them when they took off on the sand seals. No longer needing the disguise, he switched into his regular clothes and hid the outfit away in case he would have need of it again.

He headed towards Kara Kara Bazaar but still couldn't find any trace of them. He wasn't sure where to go or what to do but Urbosa had mentioned that she would send word if anything happened. Despite her crazy cross-dressing plans, he was grateful to her and he knew that Zelda would be safe with her.

As evening fell, he headed back to the city and waited under the lean-to he'd sat at before. No sand seals came racing by with passengers he recognized so he continued to wait, starting to grow anxious as the hours ticked on.

Finally, a Gerudo woman approached him with a note just like before and left without saying a word. The seal was again from Urbosa.

He opened it and read the note.

Meet us on Naboris.

He stood and ran toward the gigantic machine in the distance. As he walked out onto the balcony where they sat together, the worry washed away when he saw how peacefully the princess slept.

Urbosa looked over her shoulder at him as he approached. "Ah, well.. you certainly got here fast. I should have expected as much, from the princess's own appointed knight." She looked down at the sleeping princess and her voice grew fonder, "She was out on a survey all day today. Still as the sands now..." She paused as a shadow of a smile crossed her face. "So...?" She glanced back over her shoulder at him, "Spill it, boy. Have the two of you been getting along all right?"

Link looked down trying to think of the best way to put it. Bluntly, no. Not at all. But she seemed to already know that.

"It's ok..." She looked back down at the princess again, "I know. Your silence speaks volumes. She gets frustrated every time she looks up and sees you carrying that sword on your back. It makes her feel like a failure when it comes to her own destiny."

Before Link had a chance to feel even worse than he already did in that regard, she continued, "Don't worry, it's not like you carry blame in any of this. It's unfortunate. She's put in more than enough time." Her voice was sad as she looked down at the sleeping princess. "Ever since she was a young girl, she's gone through rigorous daily routines to show her dedication..." She looked up at the sky as if remembering a particularly painful event, "She once passed out in the freezing waters trying to access this sealing power... And she has nothing to show for it..." She looked back to the princess, "That's the motivation driving her research. I'd be doing the same thing." She brushed a stray hair from the girl’s face. Had the two not looked so different, Link might have imagined that Urbosa was her mother. The tenderness of their bond was too deep to be merely friendship. "She really is quite... special." Her attention turned back to the knight and there was a slight edge to her voice, "You be sure to protect her with your life." She looked back at him again, voice softening. "It's quite the honour."

Link already knew that though and despite her frustrating antics, he would still have given his life for her. It was more than that she was the princess and he was her knight. Even if she didn't have royal blood, she still would have held his loyalty.

Urbosa looked out at the desert, "The night brings a chill... It's probably time we take her in." She looked up as though an idea occurred to her and put her hand under her chin with a mischievous grin, "Or..."

Before Link could figure out what she had in mind, she held out her hand and snapped her fingers. Lighting cracked open the sky around them and Link ducked instinctively.

Zelda awoke with a fright and launched herself away from Urbosa defensively, "Urbosa! What was that?! Did you feel that?" She looked around spotting Link, "Wait, what – how did you – what are you doing here?!" She demanded accusingly.

Again, before Link could react, Urbosa threw back her head and laughed heartily. At least someone was amused by this...

"Wh-what's so funny?" Zelda asked trying to sort out the situation in her mind. Link held back a smirk. Urbosa certainly had her own way of dealing with things.

As the Gerudo woman collected herself, she turned to the princess, still grinning with amusement, "Come, let's get inside where it's warm."

The three of them collected the pillows from the ground and brought them inside. Once they were set up, Link excused himself and sat at the entrance of the divine beast. This time, Zelda wouldn't be sneaking past him.

Chapter Text

That morning, the three of them headed back to Gerudo Town for Zelda to collect her things and be on their way.

She washed up and came down to meet Urbosa. As the two of them walked to the gate to meet Link, Urbosa turned to her, "Don't forget what I said. Try to give the boy a chance. I think you may find you have judged him a bit harshly."

Zelda looked down, "Yes, Urbosa. I will... I will try."

Link waited for them in front of the guards and Zelda tried a weak smile. As usual, his expression didn't change and already she felt herself getting frustrated with him.

Once they were outside the gates, Zelda turned to her friend, "Urbosa... thank you. It has been so good to see you."

Urbosa leaned down to give her a hug, "It always is, Princess. Don't be a stranger." She turned to Link, "You two look after each other now. The Yiga clan has been more active lately."

Link nodded and Urbosa winked at him.

They turned and proceeded to walk towards the Kara Kara Bazaar. Zelda looked up at the sky as they walked. It was still early enough that they didn't need to worry about needing to cool off, but by the time they would reach the bazaar, the sun would be at it's zenith and some hydromelons would certainly help cool them off.

The pair walked along in silence and Zelda wracked her brain on topics to potentially break the ice today. She gave up after a few of her past attempts ran through her mind. It was like talking to a wall with Link. Why couldn't the hero have been someone a little more... charismatic?

Link stopped suddenly and Zelda looked up, "What's the matter?"

He drew his sword and Zelda looked around trying to spot what had him on edge. There was nothing she could see. In fact, she didn't even see any birds or lizards around. That certainly was strange but was it worth being this on edge?

"Run." He spoke so quietly she wasn't even sure he'd said anything. She looked at him, puzzled and was about to ask him why when he shoved her towards the bazaar and yelled, "Run!"

She started running and looked back over her shoulder as five Yiga Clan members materialized around Link. One of them spotted her and yelled something so she turned back towards the bazaar and ran as fast as she could.

Her heart was pounding so hard she couldn't hear the footsteps behind her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw one of the Yiga chasing her. There was a rock just ahead of her and if she could reach it, she could put it between her and the Yiga while she tried to think of a better plan. Just as she approached, two more of them jumped out and blocked her path. She stopped and tried to change direction but the one that was behind her was too close. She stepped back and stumbled, falling backwards. The three of them approached slowly and she started backing up against the rock. The one that had chased her got to her first and lifted his vicious sickle above his head to strike her. She lifted her arms in defence and closed her eyes against the attack, letting out a scream as he began his slice. Metal clashed against metal and the blade never found her flesh.

She looked up in time to see the attacking Yiga fall to the ground, dead.

She looked the other way and saw Link standing between her and the other two Yiga, ready to take them on, too. The look on his face was menacing and the other two attackers took a step back, clearly reconsidering their plan.

Link lifted his blade and the two Yiga looked at each other and vanished leaving only a few talisman cards fluttering in the wind where they had been.

Zelda breathed a sigh of relief and tried to get her heart to slow. Finally, Link turned around and after one more survey of their surroundings, was satisfied that there would be no more attackers. He sheathed his sword and looked down at Zelda, offering her a hand up. She took it without taking her eyes off his face and he lifted her easily to her feet. She stumbled, still shaking from the encounter but he caught her and steadied her.

"Are you all right?" He asked, concern etched into his face. That was the first time she had seen his expression change so much.

She nodded, not trusting her voice yet.

He nodded decisively, "We should go."

She nodded again and glanced back to where Link had been. Five Yiga member bodies lay in a circle where Link had been and the one that had tried to kill her lay beside her. Link’s hand on the small of her back guided her towards the bazaar as he walked closely next to her.

—————

They stayed the night in the stable where they'd boarded the horses. It was safe enough there for them both to be able to get a good night of sleep. The rest of the journey to the stable had been done in silence as usual but Zelda's mind raced. The events played through her mind on repeat and every time she tried to make sense of them, one thought came out above all the rest. He saved me. Without a thought to his own safety and despite how I've behaved since he became my appointed knight... he still saved my life.

Once they were at the stable, she watched silently as Link talked to the stable owner and negotiated beds for them for the night. She had always thought his face was so hard and so stern.. had his stoic expression always been softer than she'd thought?

Once he handed over the rupees, he looked back at her and a soft smile graced his lips. She gave a small smile back before he listened to the rest of what the stable master had to say.

She looked over to the paddock where the horses were kept and spotted her white stallion and Link's red and white mare. Epona was it? Come to think of it, she didn't even know the name of her own horse. Did he have a name? She would have to find out when they got back to the castle.

She walked over to the fence and watched the horses as they calmly grazed, oblivious to the events of earlier.

Epona looked up and trotted over. She hadn't noticed Link approach and he smiled as he patted the horse's nose and offered her an apple. The mare happily munched down and nudged him as if asking for more. Her horse just looked up at her but stayed where he was. Her face fell. She had always had trouble with her mount.

Link passed her an apple and she looked at it dubiously before picking it up and cautiously holding it out to her horse. The stallion eyed her for a moment before walking over and stretching his neck out to take the apple and trotting away again with his prize.

She sighed.

"You must take the time to soothe your mount. It's the only way they will know how you truly feel." Link said as he scratched Epona's forehead. He clearly knew what he was talking about so she looked back at her mount, determined to gain his trust one day. "Give it time. He'll come around." Link said softly.

They headed back to the fireplace where a cook pot was propped up overtop. Link put a few of his own ingredients in and started to stir as the stew heated up. They sat in silence for a time. She wanted to say something to him but every time she tried to build up the courage, she could think of nothing to say. Before the stew was finished cooking, she found her bed in the stable. They didn't have a separate room like they did in an inn but it would do for the night. She took out a small book from her bag and started to write about the day's events. When she had finished writing, she found her eyes growing heavy.

—————

In the morning, they had a breakfast of leftover stew. There wasn't much left which surprised Zelda since she had thought he'd made a rather large pot.

She had trouble trying to think of things to say again but she was determined to break the ice today and see if she might be able to scratch the surface of her silent knight.

She cleared her throat as they started packing up their things. He looked up at her expectantly but said nothing. Again, her courage evaded her and she shook her head.

The horses were saddled and waiting for them when he tied their belongings to the saddles then gave her a leg up. This time, she waited for him to get in the saddle before they started on their journey.

Once the stable was out of sight, an idea occurred to her. "Link..." He turned to her, "I'd like to go to the Spring of Courage before we head back to the castle." He nodded.

That was easier than she'd expected and they continued to ride in silence. It was noon before they stopped again and made use of a cooking pot near East Post Ruins along the river Hylia.

Link sat over the cook pot, stirring the hearty soup. Zelda had found an apple nearby and offered it to her horse. He was tied to a tree so he couldn't go very far. He took the apple eagerly though and allowed Zelda to give him a few pets on the cheek.

"Soup's ready." Link said as he searched through the bags for two bowls. Zelda came and sat down beside the fire as he passed her a bowl.

"Thank you, Link... it smells incredible!" She blew on the spoon to cool it down before taking a bite. It tasted just as good as it smelled.

She finished her bowl and handed it to Link. "Seconds?" He asked.

She shook her head, "No thank you, I'm quite satisfied."

He shrugged and filled up another bowl for himself.

She looked down. This was as good a chance as any, "Link..." He looked over at her but continued to dig into his soup. "I... I wanted to thank you. For saving me from the Yiga." He shrugged it off as though it was nothing. "... And... to apologize." This time he looked up at her. Was that surprise on his face? Was she truly so awful? "I have... been hard on you when you were only trying to do your duty. I have made it much harder than it needed to be and you didn't deserve that."

He looked at her for a moment, unsure of what to say. Ultimately, he either chose to say nothing or could think of nothing to say. Zelda decided to take the bull by the horns.

"I've been wondering... Why are you always so quiet?" She smiled softly hoping he would accept her olive branch.

He put his soup down and cleared his throat. It took him a moment to collect his words but Zelda waited patiently. Finally, he spoke softly, "With so much at stake and so many eyes constantly on me..." He paused, there was a sadness in his voice she hadn't expected to hear, "I have to stay strong and take on any burden. People would lose hope if they ever heard me complaining or if they thought I was afraid."

It was Zelda's turn to be silent as she took in what he said. I've judged him so harshly... and I was so wrong about him... She knew exactly how he felt. It was the same as she had felt her whole life only the same burden that tortured her, forced him to bottle up and stop expressing himself. Her heart went out to him.

"Are you afraid?" She asked finally. She wouldn't blame him if he was. Honestly, she was terrified. He chose not to answer and she didn't push him. After a few moments of silence, she spoke again, "We are more similar than I imagined, you and I. This is a burden we share and my hope is that... that we no longer have to keep it bottled up. Even if we only share our thoughts with each other, I hope that we can depend upon each other to see it through."

He was staring into the fire and as she finished speaking, he looked at her again, "I would like that." He said softly.

She smiled and waited for him to finish his second bowl... then a third bowl. She picked up the two bowls and laughed as he leaned back rubbing his belly, "My, if I didn't know better, I'd think you hadn't seen food in a month."

He chuckled – the first time she had ever seen him break his constant neutral expression in such a fashion, "I've always been  able to eat a lot."

"I'll have to remember that and bring extra provisions next time!" She giggled as she walked down to the river to rinse the bowls.

She didn't notice when the birds stopped chirping but she dropped both the bowls in the river with a start when an arrow stuck in the ground inches away from her hands.

"Link!" She cried out as she spotted the piglike creatures on horseback across the river.

She started running back to the camp and the thundering of hooves was her only alert before Link came charging out of the bushes on Epona, Zelda's steed being led behind. He passed her the reigns while he pulled out his bow and took out the nearest one as it was preparing to fire another arrow.

She quickly mounted up and kept behind Link. She moved just in time as another arrow stuck in the ground where she had been standing.

He took out the other archer with an arrow of his own and three more bokoblins with clubs started riding behind them.

"Run if you need to. I'll find you." He said as he drew the Master Sword.

Zelda nodded as they came across the bridge towards her. He blocked the way off the bridge to buy her some time. Just then, the one at the back blew a horn that carried far, alerting other monsters in the area of the attack.

"Damn..." Link cursed and swung his sword as the lead one was about to reach him. He sliced it crosswise from neck to armpit and it fell with a sickening thud to the ground. Its mount took off immediately.

Zelda saw more approaching from behind them, "Link..."

He had taken out the second one by the time she looked back and with a final swing, took out the next one. "Go! Across the bridge! Keep going and don't look back!"

She didn't wait for further instruction and spurred her steed over the fallen bokoblins and raced across the bridge. She disobeyed his command and looked back once as she reached the other side of the river and saw an army of them emerging from the trees. Some were on horseback, others were archers shooting from the trees at Link. He swung his sword and blocked an arrow that would have flown true.

She hesitated but he called after her, "Go! I'll be fine!" So she did. She galloped as fast as she could. Every time she tried to turn towards the castle, she was blocked by more of the piglike bokoblins on horseback. She was forced to go further North and was nearly all the way to Death Mountain when she finally found a spot to hide. Her poor horse was foaming at the mouth and sweating, ribs heaving under her legs by the time she stopped. She waited to let the horse catch his breath and reached down to pat his neck appreciatively.

After a few minutes, his breathing slowed back to normal and she no longer heard the thundering of hooves out searching for her. She dismounted and peeked out from behind the outcrop they were hiding behind and didn't see any of the monsters anywhere. She looked back at the horse, "What do you think... should we wait here for Link or find somewhere better in case they come searching for us?"

The horse huffed at her and started walking towards her only stopping when she was positioned to mount up. She hopped on and they proceeded cautiously through the woods, looking for a good place to settle down and wait. She stopped to listen for any sign of approaching monsters every so often, only continuing when she was certain it was still safe.

—————

Link managed to hold off most of them, using the bridge as a funnel to keep the number of enemies he fought at once to a minimum and picked off the archers in between waves of attacks.

Eventually, there were few enough that he felt like he could start after Zelda. Epona reared up as he turned her and galloped down the path after the Princess. He was slowed a few times as the horseback bokoblins caught up with him but he managed to take them out. Soon he was able to gallop full steam ahead.

He spotted hoof prints in the path a few times that showed him the direction they had traveled and he followed them until he found a rocky outcrop where they had stopped temporarily.

From there, he didn't find any hint of her until he spotted her horse at Woodland Stable. My god... she ran all the way here? The poor horse looked ragged. Fortunately, one of the stable hands had grabbed the horse and was taking care of him.

"Where did the horse come from?" Link demanded of the stable hand who pointed toward Death Mountain. He looked up towards where she pointed and spotted Zelda climbing the cliff face. She was up fairly high but there were a number of monsters not far behind. He spurred Epona after her and when he reached the cliff face, he stood in the saddle and jumped up as far as he could on the cliff and started climbing. A few other monsters raced up to him and Epona roared, rearing up. He glanced over his shoulder at them. The mare's ears were pinned back as she beat the three bokoblins down with her hooves. She grabbed one with her teeth and whipped it into the cliff before stomping it to death. Atta girl!

He climbed as fast as he could, taking a leap here and there to try to catch up. After a few moments, he was right behind the lowest one and grabbed its ankle. The bokoblin lost its grip in its surprise and fell to its death down the cliff face. It wailed as it fell and the other three bokoblins looked back and spotted Link. Two of them stopped and drew their weapons and waited for him to catch up. The other one continued climbing after Zelda. This had given her a bit more of a lead, however.

Link looked around and spotted a ledge nearby. He started climbing towards it and reached it before the bokoblins could get to him. He drew his bow and took the two of them out quickly. He then aimed his bow at the third and released. The arrow flew true and the monster fell. Link then continued up the cliff after Zelda. He was right behind her when they reached the top and Zelda gasped as she peeked over. Link looked up a moment later and saw what made her panic. Three lynels awaited them on top of the cliff. The first one had already seen them as well.

Link climbed the rest of the way up and drew his bow just in time to shoot the beast in the face.

It didn't do significant harm to it as he didn't get it right in the eye but it was enough to give the beast pause. He used this moment to leap onto its back and slash away with the Master Sword. It roared and bucked, nearly throwing him but he was able to drive the sword deep into the lynel's spine and it collapsed under Link. He leaped down from the dying beast just as the second one charged up.

Link hadn't been quite ready for this one and it hit him in the gut with his club. Link went flying and hit the cliff face, sliding down. He groaned as he started to stand and saw the beast charging toward him again. This time, he threw the Master Sword and it spun vertically piercing the beast's forehead. It continued to charge but fell just before it reached Link.

He stepped on the lynel's face and pulled the sword out. One left and it had just spotted him. But not only that, about ten more bokoblins mounted the hill and raced towards him. Gritting his teeth, he glanced over at Zelda who had found a shelter behind a rock face.

"Zelda, how are you with a bow?" He said, taking his bow off his back and readying it to shoot in the Lynel's face.

"What?" She asked, alarmed. He loosed it and the arrow stuck in the lynel's eye. He then tossed the bow to her and his quiver while he raced towards the lynel to finish it off while it was stunned. Exhaustion made his arms and legs feel leaden but adrenaline kept him moving.

She knocked an arrow and took aim at the approaching bokoblins.

Link did a jump attack with a yell and stabbed the lynel in the belly. It doubled over and grabbed its guts and Link took the opportunity to slice across its throat. Seconds later, it fell and Link was able to turn to face the approaching bokoblins. With much relief, he saw that a couple of them already had arrows sticking out of them and he charged forward to face them. After a quick spin attack, there were only three left. An arrow took down another one of them and Link was careful to line the other two up so they couldn't both attack him at once. He launched in as the bokoblin lifted its club and left itself wide open so he sliced horizontally and the monster fell in two pieces to the ground. The final one was right behind the first and managed to make some space by swinging the club. Link jumped back and felt it graze his head. The lack of impact knocked the monster off balance and Link kicked it to the ground where he then buried his sword in its heart.

When he pulled the sword free, he stumbled and fell backwards into a sitting position, exhausted. Zelda ran up to him and dropped the bow nearby. "Link! Are you alright? You're bleeding!"

She examined the cut on his head where the club had just missed him. His body ached from both exhaustion and the bruises he'd gained from the second lynel.

She leaned back, "That cut doesn't look too bad actually. You're fine for now." She frowned down at him with concern etched into her expression, "But you know, there's a fine line between courage and recklessness. As brave as you are, that does not make you immortal." She chided before surveying the battle field. A hint of fear snuck into her voice, "It seems that, not only is the frequency of these types of attacks on the rise... but the scale of beasts we are facing is intensifying as well." She looked down, "I fear that – I fear that this is an omen which portends to the return of Calamity Ganon." She stood up and wiped the dust off of herself and steeled her tone of voice. "And, if that's the case, I'm ready to expect the worst. We'll need to make preparations as soon as possible."

Link pulled himself to his feet and followed her as she started to walk back down the mountain to find their horses. Adrenaline was still pumping through him though it was starting to dissipate and aches and pains that had previously been masked by the excitement of battle were beginning to make themselves known.

As they got down the mountain, Link stumbled. The force of the blow from the lynel had done some damage. Zelda noticed and rushed toward him, "Link! Are you..." she put herself under his arm so he could lean on her while he walked and he winced as she touched his ribs.

"I don't think we're going to make it to the Spring of Courage on this trip, Princess..." He said through clenched jaws.

She nodded, "We will head back to the castle at once."

They walked like this to the stable where they found both of their horses safely kept. Zelda helped Link down into a chair and spoke to the stable master.

"I need you to send a messenger to the castle." She wrote a quick note and handed it to him. "Please make sure this gets into Impa's hands." She also passed him a small bag of rupees. "Make haste."

The stable master looked at the bag of rupees and shook his head and passed it back to her. "Service to our princess and the hero does not require payment at this stable." With that, he took the note and spoke to one of the stable hands. The boy nodded and readied himself to head out. He left at a gallop.

Zelda walked over to Link, "Impa will meet us on the way. Can you ride?"

Link nodded and stood with a wince. Zelda helped him up and asked for their horses. The stable hand shook his head, "No can do, Princess. They can't go anywhere in this state. You rode 'em too hard."

She looked at the two haggard horses and reluctantly had to agree. "Give me two other horses then." The boy nodded and went to ready them. She helped Link back inside and gently lay him down on one of the beds.

"I'll be ok..." Link said softly.

Zelda shook her head, "You need rest. I have never seen anyone fight like that before. You saved my life yet again... The favours I owe you are adding up quickly." She smirked.

Link chuckled and winced, holding his ribs.

"Let me see." She said and pulled his tunic up. Had she not been so focused on his wounds, she might have blushed at what lay beneath his tunic. He was certainly in excellent shape! When she got to his ribs, a nasty bruise was forming over them. She touched the skin gently.

"Your hands are warm..." he whispered closing his eyes.

She pulled her hand away, realizing how intimately she was touching him. "I'm sorry, I should have asked..."

"It's all right." He reached up and took her hand, "I never asked if you were ok."

Her breath hitched as he touched her hand and she looked up to his face. His blue eyes filled with concern. Even in this condition, he was still more concerned about her than he was about himself. "I – I'm ok."

"Say, you're a pretty good shot with a bow." He smirked and she blushed, looking away to try to hide her reaction. He let go of her hand but the feeling of his rough hand holding her’s stayed with her.

They stayed like that in silence until the stable hand came over and informed them that the horses were ready.

She helped Link up and again, helped him walk out to the horses. Getting him onto the horse was a bit of a challenge but he gritted his teeth and climbed up. Zelda climbed up after he was safely in the saddle and the two of them rode off towards the castle.

After a time of riding in silence, she noticed something was off with Link. He started to slump over. "Link? Link!" She leaped from the saddle as he started to fall. Somehow, she reached him in time to break the fall. He landed on top of her and he moaned in pain.

"Link! What's wrong? What do I do?" Zelda was panicked as she rolled him onto his back. His eyes were closed and his breathing was erratic. "Link! Please say something!" She shook his shoulders lightly to try to get a response from him and he winced.

"Princess..." She leaned closer to him, "Cut it out, would ya?"

She stopped shaking him and frowned. She looked up for some inspiration of what to do. Just then, the sound of hooves approaching quickly caught her attention as she spotted a white haired woman in Sheikah clothing approaching. "Impa!"

She dismounted before her horse came to a full stop and she examined him. "What happened? Did he get run over by a stampede?"

Zelda laughed, partially to keep from crying, "Almost. A lynel..."

Impa nodded, "I think his ribs are broken and he seems to have taken a good hit to the head. We need to get him back to the castle."

Zelda helped Impa get him upright and into the saddle. "You'll have to ride behind him to keep him from falling again." Impa said and helped her onto the horse.

Zelda put her arms around the hero and held onto the horn on the saddle. Impa mounted her horse and took the reigns of theirs and started leading them quickly but at a smooth gait back to the castle. Link was starting to lean again but she quickly adjusted so he was leaning against her. Careful to avoid touching his ribs, she gently wrapped an arm around his shoulders to steady him. She could feel her ears burning at his proximity but pushed her embarrassment aside to deal with the emergency at hand.

Once there, they were met by several other Sheikah who helped carry Link to the infirmary.

Zelda watched after them unsure if she should follow. Purah assured her she would come grab her once she could come see him.

Even with that knowledge, however, she found she couldn't leave the door outside where he was being treated. Quite awhile went by before Purah poked her head out and seemed surprised to see Zelda still waiting there.

"Snap! Link will be fine." She said with a grin. "He is sleeping right now but you can come see him if you're quiet."

Zelda nodded and followed the Sheikah woman into the room. Link lay on a bed. His tunic lay on the floor beside the bed and his ribs were bandaged with some herbs to help accelerate the healing. She picked up the tunic and folded it, placing it on the table beside the bed. Purah brought a chair over and Zelda sat down in it facing her knight.

Tentatively, she reached out and took his hand in her's. "Link..." she breathed. He was sleeping soundly and didn't seem to be in any more pain. She was relieved but her heart went into her throat when she thought about what he had done for her. First the Yiga then all those bokoblins and moblins and then the lynels and more bokoblins... He had done all of that for her. She may be the princess and he might be her appointed knight but his actions had gone beyond his duty. He had done that for her. Her eyes burned and she resolved to work to become a Princess deserving of such a knight.

She stayed with him until her eyelids grew heavy and she fell asleep in the chair beside his bed.

Chapter Text

Link woke and found the pain in his ribs had lessened considerably. He started to reach up to touch his head but found a hand in his own. He looked down and saw Zelda, asleep leaning on the bed and holding his hand. He furrowed his brow in confusion. Had she been here all night?

He looked up to the window and saw that the sky was dark still. How long had he been here? His stomach growled telling him he'd been here awhile and Zelda awoke at the sound. She looked up and let go of his hand quickly, a touch of pink tinting her ears, "Link... How are you feeling?"

He did a quick assessment, "I think I'm okay." He tried sitting up but his ribs protested painfully. "Still a little sore." He amended.

She put her hands on his chest to prevent him from trying that again. There was concern in her expression but he could she was relieved as well. "Are you hungry?"

Link nodded.

Zelda smiled, "I'll find you some food."

She stood up and walked out of the room.

Link found that he was sad to see her go but was touched that she'd cared enough to stay with him. Her hair was a mess and she was still wearing the same clothes she had worn when they had been attacked. She must have been really worried about him. Guilt settled in his stomach. It was his place to worry about her, not the other way around.

She returned a little while later with a few bowls of soup. She set them on the table beside the bed and helped Link to sit up before handing him the first bowl.

Link dug in eagerly and only slowed when he saw that Zelda wasn't eating, "Aren't you having some?"

She shook her head, "I'm fine. I know you have a big appetite so I brought a lot."

"That was kind of you... Thank you." He said and continued eating.

Zelda traded him for the second bowl, "You're very lucky, you know." He eyed her sidelong as he ate. "Impa thought your ribs were broken when she first saw you and I am surprised they weren't with the hit you took from the lynel. It turns out it is just a nasty bruise. A few days of rest and you should be fine."

He looked down at the bowl. The second one was empty but he was still hungry. Zelda seemed to read his mind and traded him again for the last bowl. "That's a relief." He said before starting into the last bowl. It explained why he felt so much better so quickly.

"You also had a pretty nasty goose egg on your head. That explains why you were so out of it." She continued.

He hadn't really noticed that because his ribs had hurt so badly but that certainly did explain a lot. As skilled a fighter as he was, taking on that many enemies at once and for such a prolonged amount of time... He was lucky to be alive never mind that he was relatively uninjured. When he finished the bowl he looked down at it, "Thank you... For helping me back there. I'm sorry you had to do that. I'm supposed to be protecting you, not the other way around."

Zelda's mouth hung open for a moment before she could compose herself, "Link... You saved my life. Several times over. If you hadn't been there... It was the least I could do after all you've done for me." She got the sense that she was only scratching the surface of how badly she had misjudged him.

He frowned, clearly concerned. "That was so close to the castle. They are becoming more brazen." He didn't want to order her around but he felt he had to tell her not to leave the castle alone anymore but she seemed to read his mind again.

"I won't go anywhere without you again. I was lucky before. And foolish." She said.

Link smirked, I'll say...

Zelda took the last bowl and set it on the table with he others. Link started to try to stand again but his ribs protested and Zelda pushed him back onto the bed, "I don't think so! You won't be going anywhere until Impa or the other physicians say you're well enough. I can't have you out risking your neck for my sake."

He chuckled quietly, "That's kind of my job..."

She bit down a smile, "That's not the point... you have a role to play too... and besides, I – "

The door opened and Impa walked in, cutting Zelda off. She blushed at what she was about to say but decided the interruption was for the best. Link didn't seem to notice.

"Ah! I see you're feeling better, Link. Good to see you awake." The Sheikah woman smiled at him.

Link cleared his throat, "How long will I have to stay here?"

Impa furrowed her brow for a moment, "At least until tomorrow. We'll reassess then and after that, light duties for a few days. No fighting until you're healed. That's an order!"

Impa mixed up a few herbs and walked over to the bed to check the bandages. She unbound them and Zelda blushed and had to look away. She'd seen his body before but that had been different. She hadn't really been able to notice his abs and the muscles on his chest. She bit her lip as she slowly peeked back, unable to resist a second look. Link was focussed on what Impa was doing and didn't seem to notice. The Sheikah put the new herb mix on the bruised area and wrapped the bandages back around.

"I'm going to make you a tea. I'm sorry, it won't taste very good but it will help with the healing." Impa said then left the room to prepare the drink.

Link looked up at Zelda, "I didn't think of it until now but.. how are the horses?"

"I wasn't – what?" She started and blushed, "Oh, I didn't think of that either... I'll go check right now."

Link frowned at her with concern, "Are you ok?"

She stood quickly and headed for the door, "Yep! Just fine!" She stepped out and took a deep breath. What in the name of Hylia was that?? Get yourself together!

She made her way down to the stables and was relieved to see both of their horses having a well deserved meal. They had already been brushed and washed and looked in much better shape. These two saved them just as much as Link had saved her. She found some apples nearby and offered one to each of the horses. Epona took hers happily but her white stallion eyed her warily before taking his cautiously.

"Thank you... I feel bad that I don't even know your name yet. An oversight on my part that I intend to remedy immediately." She spotted a stablehand mucking out a stall nearby.

"Excuse me," she said as she approached the boy.

He dropped his shovel and bowed low, "You're highness! I'm sorry, the horse won't be ready for a bit. I can prepare one of the others for you instead."

She smiled and shook her head, "Thank you but that won't be needed. I'm just wondering, what is the name of the white stallion I ride?"

The boy looked at her as though he was trying to decide if she was playing a cruel joke on him. "His name? He hasn't got one that I know of, your highness. Unless you've named him and no one has told me."

For some reason, it hadn't occurred to her that it was up to her to name him. She looked back at the stallion who was eyeing her from his stall and a smile spread across her face slowly as a name came to her. "Victory."

The boy stepped closer, "I'm sorry, your majesty. I didn't hear what you said."

She looked back to him, smiling, "His name is Victory."

The boy smiled slowly back, confident this wasn't some sort of trick. "That's a fine name, Princess."

Zelda walked back over to the stallion and stood at the door to his stall. "The name suits you well, Victory." She said with a smile to the horse. He flicked his ears towards her with interest and slowly reached his nose out to her.

"I think he wants you to pet him." The boy said to her. Zelda tentatively reached her hand out and touched his nose, running her hand along with the hairs down his face. After a moment, he seemed to lose interest and went back to his meal. That was progress and she would take it as it came.

A short while later, she headed back up to the infirmary and found Link grimacing as he took a sip of the tea that Impa had prepared for him, "Is it really that awful?"

Link nodded.

Zelda giggled a little, glad that she didn't have to drink it. "Well, you'll be glad to know that the horses are fine. They are down in the stable enjoying some oats."

Link breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good. We ran them pretty hard. They probably need a good rest as well."

Zelda nodded, "Yes. I can't imagine either of us will go far from the castle for the next few days so they will get their rest."

—————

Zelda had her own duties to attend to but came to visit Link in the infirmary whenever she was able and was happy to see him healing quickly. By noon the next day, he was free to go back to his regular room in the barracks. While Zelda was happy he was feeling better, it saddened her because she couldn't go to spend time with him as easily there and instead had to come up with new excuses to see him.

There was another obstacle to work around as well and that was the daily prayers that she had neglected on her travels. The king had taken notice of her spare time and had increased the amount of time she was to spend on prayer.

"If you have time to play at being a scholar, then you should be using that time to focus on your duties. If Calamity Ganon broke free tomorrow, you would not be ready so you must dedicate your time to unlocking your powers." He scolded after she'd nearly bumped into him in the hallway on her way to  the stable.

So many times, she had practiced what she would say to her father the next time they had this argument but as usual, the words escaped her when the time came. His foreboding figure and stern expression quashed any argument she had before it could ever even make it to her mouth.

Instead, she looked down at the ground, defeated. "Yes, Father."

She did her best not to shrink under his intense scrutiny. After a moment, he continued his tirade as though he hadn't already driven the point home. "Your mother had already been able to use her powers for years by the time she was your age. If you do not start taking this seriously, you may not be able to fulfil your role. This whole kingdom will no longer exist if you cannot unlock your powers. Do you understand what's at stake?"

Zelda nodded over the lump in her throat. Her eyes burned as she held back the tears that threatened to flow. She would not let him see her cry. "Yes, Father. I understand."

"Hmm..." Zelda didn't dare look up at him. The tone of his hum told her that he wasn't convinced but thankfully, he wasn't going to press the issue further. "Then go. Pray to the goddess."

"Yes, Father..." she said one last time and thankfully, her voice didn't break.

He walked past her and she waited until he was gone before she broke into a run to the one place she knew she would be alone.

—————

When Zelda didn't show up at the stable, Link went to go and find her. He rounded a corner near the library and Zelda walked pushed past him without a word.

"Princess?" He called after her. She didn't answer and continued swiftly down the corridor. He looked in the direction she had come from and didn't see anything that gave him a hint as to what was the matter. He looked after her and after a moment's hesitation, he followed after her. We were finally getting along. I'm not going to let her start hating me again.

He followed her to her bedroom where she slammed the door after she'd gone inside. He paused again but against his better judgement, he went up to the door, about to follow her inside when he heard soft sobbing on the other side. Unsure if he should give her space or try to talk to her, he stood awkwardly at the door. After a moment, he decided to at least try to talk to her. If nothing else, he would let her know he was there if she needed him. He knocked softly and listened.

The sobbing stopped and was followed by a sniff. After a moment, the door cracked open and she tried to hide her red, puffy eyes.

Words escaped him for a moment. Even when she was crying, she was beautiful. "I don't know what happened but..." he started but Zelda just shook her head.

"Please don't concern yourself with my foolish outbursts..." she said softly. Her voice was a little raspy from crying.

That wasn't good enough for Link, "You said that you wanted to be able to trust each other with our problems. We are in this together." He paused waiting for a reaction of some sort. None came. He sighed, "Look, I won't make you talk to me if you don't want to but... Just don't forget that I'm here for you."

She either couldn't or wouldn't meet his eyes so after a moment, he turned to give her space but as he started walking away, he heard the door squeak open further. "Thank you, Link..."

He turned back around and she was standing in the doorway. She still couldn't meet his gaze but it was clear she wanted to reach out to him.

"Would you... Come with me while I pray?" She finally looked up to him, eyes pleading. He didn't know what was wrong but it was something.

He nodded, "Yes, of course."

She smiled weakly and excused herself for a moment to change clothes. Link waited in the hallway and a few moments later, she emerged in her prayer gown. He couldn't help staring at her. It was a simple, white gown but it somehow made her look like the ancient goddess of legend. He didn't know much about the old lore but he'd heard tell that the Hyrulean royal family were descended from the goddess herself and in this moment, he could certainly believe it.

Zelda smiled shyly and walked toward him. When he didn't say anything, she did a twirl, "What do you think?"

"You look beautiful..." he breathed.

She hadn't quite expected that out of him. Blushing, she looked down and a moment later, she walked to his side and the two of them headed toward the goddess shrine.

—————

That evening, Link made his way back to his quarters. He'd been offered a room upgrade with his new position but had declined. He had always wanted to live a simple life but that privilege had been denied him when he'd pulled the Master Sword from the pedestal in the Lost Woods. That being said, he would still take simplicity where he could.

He rounded a corner and spotted Groose, Cawlin, Strich and Mido down the other end. They all looked up but didn't seem too happy to see him.

Mido spat on the ground where Link was about to step. Link looked over at him and did his best to keep his expression neutral. He didn't want to fight the other knights.

Groose's large form turned towards him, "Too good to come see your friends now, eh?"

Link frowned. How could they have thought that?

Cawlin and Strich chuckled and stood behind their bigger friend. This brought flashbacks of when he'd been much younger and couldn't take the three of them on all at once. Link knew that he could beat them all now and so did they so he thought it was unlikely for them to pick a physical fight but that didn't mean they couldn't still try to hurt him in other ways.

Mido piped up next, "Think you're hot shit now that you're the princess's appointed knight and carry that sword on your back? You're still just the same old commoner you ever were and don't think she'll forget about that when this whole Calamity Ganon thing is over... If she can even use her powers!" He laughed cruelly.

Link held his expression neutral and said nothing. They were just trying to goad him into a response and he refused to give in to them.

His lack of response seemed to frustrate Mido. "First the fish princess... We'll know what happened if the castle ever starts smelling like fish."

That did it. He grabbed the red haired knight by the throat and slammed him into the wall.

Mido laughed, "Don't try and act like you're better than any of us. I know you're thinking about her that way. Don't tell me you've never tried to take a peek into her bedroom now that you have access..."

Link threw Mido to the ground and glowered at the others daring them to say anymore. They all knew what would happen if they pushed him further and wisely stayed silent. He turned and continued to his quarters, silently berating himself for allowing them to get to him so much. Zelda and Mipha both deserved so much better than knights that would speak about them in such a way.

He got to his room, closed the door and leaned his forehead against it. He'd be lying to himself if he tried to say he'd never thought of Zelda as more than just his princess or even as more than just a friend. Today, just seeing her in her prayer gown was torturous but he'd never presume to be more than he was. He was her appointed knight. Nothing more.

He turned and punched the wall in frustration. His fist went through the wooden wall. Well that was smart... He sighed and lay down on the the bed examining his knuckles. A few scratches but no serious injuries. Just what you'd need... a broken hand. Then how would you defend her?

He looked over at the Master Sword. "This is all your fault, you know." He could blame the sword all he wanted but ultimately, he knew it was his own doing and he couldn't seem to stop torturing himself. These last few days of healing had been some of the happiest he'd had in a long time. Certainly since before he'd found the sword, anyway. Part of him really believed that Zelda had finally been happy too but he'd be an idiot to think that had anything to do with him.

He looked out the window toward the lone tower that was Zelda's study and saw that a candle was lit. She was there now, likely pouring over her research notes as she often did before she turned in for the night. Just then, the candle blew out and a moment later he saw her walk out onto the rampart and stop to look out towards the barracks.

"Zelda..." he breathed.

Chapter Text

Link was almost fully healed. The bruises on his ribs had mostly faded and the sharp pain he'd once felt was now only a minor tenderness to the touch. Impa had agreed to a day outing to the royal ancient tech lab. The road was reasonably well guarded already so there wasn't much reason to expect an assault like before.

Once they'd gotten there, Purah had immediately told them to head out to the field to take pictures of different things they saw. She wanted to test out what she called the Hyrule Compendium.

It didn't take long for Zelda to start capturing the images on the Sheikah Slate.

"There's one!" She snapped a picture, "Oh! And another!" Snap. She snapped pictures excitedly at different flowers and plants she spotted.

Link had obviously known about her passion for ancient technology but the enthusiasm she had about plants was a new revelation.

"The flowers we have in Hyrule aren't just beautiful... They're also quite useful as ingredients for a variety of things." Snap, snap, snap. Her enthusiasm was contagious and Link found himself looking about trying to spot different plants as she continued to snap pictures.

She gasped and Link gazed over her shoulder at the flower that appeared on the screen. Her whole demeanour changed as she leaned slowly toward one particular blue and white flower. "This one here is called the silent princess. It's a rare, endangered species."

She leaned in close to get a breath of the gentle fragrance of the flower and closed her eyes against its sweet perfume. She opened her eyes and continued, "Despite our efforts, we can't get them to grow domestically yet."

Link leaned in too to get a better look and she reached out gently to caress the satin petals. "The princess can only thrive out here in the wild." She leaned back on her heels and Link sensed a sadness in her, "All that we can hope... is that the species will be strong enough to prosper, on its own."

Link leaned towards Zelda. He understood why she felt sad in that moment. She, too, seemed to bloom when they were out here. Though he'd only really scratched the surface with this new side of Zelda and his new, and improved, relationship with her, he could already tell that her true passions involved learning and using her sharp mind. He wanted to comfort her but just then, she gasped and lunged forward.

"Is that what I think it is?! Look at this!" She turned to him full of excitement again. She was holding something in her hands and Link frowned, not sure he liked where this was going. "I don't believe it, but I actually caught one!"

She shuffled closer on her knees, "This delicacy is known to have very, very potent effects under the proper circumstances." She opened her hands, "Tada!" And revealed a frog. It looked up at him with yellow, amphibious eyes and croaked. Link couldn't hide his grimace.

Zelda continued on excitedly, "Research from the castle shows ingesting one of these can actually augment certain abilities." Her attention shifted from the frog to Link and his stomach sank as she went on. "We wouldn't be in a controlled environment out here, and with your level of physical fitness... you'd be a perfect candidate for the study!"

She shoved the frog toward his face, "Go on! Taste it!"

She shoved it again and Link took her hands and lowered them to the ground for the frog to hop out of.

Zelda watched it disappointedly then looked up at him accusingly, "Why did you do that?"

He looked down at her, "Princess, I'd lay down my life for you. I'd go to the edge of the world to protect you. But I have to draw the line at licking frogs."

She tried to hang onto an angry expression but couldn't stop the laughter from bubbling up. "I'm sorry, I guess I got a bit carried away."

Link smiled, relieved that she could see the humour in the situation, "It's ok to be passionate about things. Goddess knows you deserve to have something that makes you happy."

Zelda smiled softly at her handsome knight, "I do..."

Before Link could respond, Purah called out to them from the lab, "Hey!! Come on back! I want to show you something!"

The two of them looked at each other and walked back to the lab side by side.

They walked inside and Purah waved them over excitedly, "Look at this!" She pointed to the ancient text.

It was in an ancient language that neither of them could read. They both looked up at Purah who just beamed at them. Zelda finally spoke up, "We can't read it. What does it say?"

"Huh? Oh! It's about the Shrine of Resurrection that we had found. It's a medical facility like we suspected. It seems it can heal any wound no matter how grave. As long as the patient still has brain functionality when they are put into it, they can still be revived! SNAP!" Purah spoke very quickly in her excitement and Link and Zelda really had to focus to take in everything she said.

The knight and princess looked at each other with worried expressions and then turned back to Purah. "What kind of injuries would necessitate such a facility?" Zelda breathed as fear tinged her voice.

Link feared the same thing and since there was only one shrine of resurrection...

Purah tapped her chin as she speculated, "Well, I'm not certain it ever was used. There is no record of it ever having been used that we have found. With any luck, we won't need to use it either but it's good to know it is there just in case."

"How long would it take to heal someone who was badly injured and on the verge of death?" Link chimed in with his own concern.

Purah read over the script again, "It says here that there is a long-term stasis function to heal mortal injuries. It can take weeks, months or even years though the longer the patient is in stasis, the more serious side effects can occur."

Zelda frowned, "Serious side effects?"

"Yes, serious side effects. Like memory loss and that sort of thing." Purah was still absorbed in the script while Zelda and Link exchanged a troubled look.

"How long until we restore full functionality to it?" Zelda asked.

Purah looked up at her as though suddenly remembering the princess was there. "Well... We still have a lot to learn! I'd say another month or so until we can at least get it to work if we need it. Robbie is there right now trying to learn whatever he can about it."

"I pray we never need to use it." Zelda said gravely.

—————

It became routine for Link to accompany Zelda to her morning and evening prayers. He had never been much of one for prayer himself but he would be a comforting presence for her if it somehow helped.

After an hour of kneeling in front of the goddess statue, Zelda finally stood and turned to Link who stoically stood guard nearby.

One thing that Zelda appreciated about Link is that he never made her feel inadequate when day after day her prayers produced no results. He never said anything about her lack of powers and if she started to feel down on herself about it, he would just listen to her. Not once did he tell her that she needed to dedicate more of herself to her prayers or that the goddess would grant her the sealing powers when the time was right. He actually listened to what she had to say. When she once felt like she was talking to a wall with him, his silence was now comforting.

They turned and silently began walking back towards her room. As they reached the door to her bedchamber, she paused and looked up at him, "Impa says you are healed enough to resume your regular duties. I've been thinking, I'd like to go to Zora's Domain and check on Vah Ruta as we have with the other divine beasts."

Link nodded, "I'll prepare the horses."

—————

Epona nudged him gently as he reached a hand out to scratch the sweet spot behind her ear and he laughed in response, "Don't worry, I brought you an apple." He reached into the pouch and produced an apple for his mare which she enthusiastically accepted. He saved the other apple for when Zelda got here to give to her stallion. He'd noticed that the trust between the two of them had improved in the short time since she'd started trying to work with him.

After opening the stall door for Epona, he lead her out and tied her lead to the ring on the wall then went to fetch her riding gear. She had already been brushed and was ready for a good ride after several days of rest.

He had just done up the last buckle when Zelda came down to join him. He looked up at her with a grin, "Good timing! I was just about to start on Victory." He reached into his pouch and handed her the second apple. She took it with a smile and brought it to her mount. The white steed took it gingerly and munched away at it as Zelda gently pet his nose.

The rosy cheeked stable hand approached with the riding gear for the white stallion and opened the stall door to lead him out. Link shook his head, "Thank you but we'll do it today."

The boy bowed to Zelda and went back to his duties. Zelda just looked at Link inquisitively.

"Actually, you'll do it today." Link said with a smirk.

Her eyebrows rose at that but she set her jaw determinedly. "All right."

Her horse had already been groomed as well so all that was needed was to put on the riding gear.

Link walked her through the steps – first the saddle pad, then saddle. He showed her the correct positioning and how tight to do each of the buckles. The marks in the leather were a pretty good indicator for future reference. She followed his instructions without hesitation and admired her handiwork with the saddle before he passed her the bridle.

She pressed the bit to his lips and he obediently opened his mouth to accept it. She pulled the leather straps over his head and tightened the buckles then turned to Link for approval.

He nodded proudly to her and she beamed back at him.

They lead the horses out to the gate and mounted up. "How does it feel?" Link asked her as she found her seat in the saddle.

She got a feel for it then smiled broadly, "It feels good!"

He grinned back at her, "Good. The more you work with your horse, the more he will get to know you and trust you."

Zelda reached down and patted the horse's shoulder affectionately and they headed out into the field. The domain was due East from the castle so they followed the road from the East gate. They rode side by side in silence.

After a time, Zelda turned to Link shyly, "I've heard you have spent quite a bit of time with the Zora."

Link continued looking forward, "I guess so." He said somewhat dismissively.

Zelda bit her lip. There were rumours about how close Link was with the Zora Princess and though she had no claim to her appointed knight, the thought of the two of them together troubled her.

"How well do you know Mipha?" She asked trying her best to sound casual.

He eyed her sidelong then smiled fondly, "She is a close friend of mine. She would always heal me when I'd do something stupid and get myself hurt."

Though he'd called her a friend, it did little to make her feel better.

"She was one of the first people I met when I first went to the domain as a young boy." He continued, "She was always kind to me. As a boy, she was almost maternal towards me but as I grew up... I don't know. Things changed."

Her heart clenched in her chest and she took a moment to collect herself. "Do... Do you love her?"

He looked over at her in surprise, "Love her? I mean, I care about her, for sure, but I don't know if I'd say I love her in that way." He paused eyeing her again and Zelda did her best to try to act casual again, "I know what the rumours say but she is and only ever has been a friend."

Zelda tried her best to hide her relief at this admission. He was eyeing her curiously and it made her a little nervous so she changed the subject. "Are there any other women who hold the keys to your heart? Not that long ago, I seem to remember girls offering themselves to you in the streets of Castle Town." She teased.

Link cringed, "I hope you know I did nothing to encourage that..."

Zelda threw her head back laughing, "Though I questioned it at the time, I know now you are not that kind of person."

It was Link's turn to look relieved. "Thankfully they seem to have forgotten about me."

"I don't know if I'd go that far. I have seen the way girls look at you. The madness has gone away but they certainly haven't forgotten about you." Zelda watched his response but her knight remained stoic as usual.

Their journey continued with light conversation sprinkled around companionable silence. The terrain changed as they traveled past the wetlands. Coral-like plants in bright colours started to decorate the landscape and mosses grew out of seemingly uninhabitable rocky outcrops. Even the creatures along the river seemed to change. Zelda pointed out some turtles she saw swimming in the river.

Link glanced where she pointed but something else caught his attention. There was a strange looking rock up ahead and he managed to push Zelda out of the way just in time as the lizalfos suddenly leaped toward them. She fell behind him unharmed but the creatures claws ripped into Link's sword arm. He ignored the sharp pain and drew the Master Sword. The lizalfos was fast and could spit projectiles.

"Stay behind me!" Link shouted as Zelda took cover behind her knight. The creature was thankfully unarmed besides the natural weaponry of its claws and teeth. It jumped backwards to create some space and Link gestured for Zelda to hide behind a rocky outcrop. When she was safely sheltered, he could focus on the creature attacking them. It spat a water cannon at them and Link deflected it with his shield, swatting it out of the way. The creature squawked and leaped forward. This time, Link was ready and back flipped safely out of range before he launched towards it with a flurry attack. After a few deep slashes, the creature fell.

Link surveyed the area and didn't see any more enemies so he turned to Zelda.

She gasped as she spotted his arm, "Link! You're bleeding!"

He looked down at it as if spotting it for the first time. Blood dripped down his forearm and made the hilt of the sword slippery.

Zelda took his arm in her hands and examined the wound before pulling a bandage from her pouch and starting to wrap his arm.

Link felt a little foolish with the attention, "I'll be fine."

She ignored him and continued to wrap the wound tightly. "We'll take a better look at it when we reach the domain."

She let go and Link walked down to the river to wash the blood off of his sword. Once satisfied, he swung it a few times to dry it then sheathed the blade.

It wasn't much further to the domain and Zelda picked up the pace so she could tend to his arm sooner.

Link felt like it was a bit of overkill but went along with it because he knew better than to argue with her about it.

As they reached the domain, a blue Zora approached, "Link!" He yelled and ran over to them.

"Bazz!" Link responded with a big smile.

"We didn't know you were coming! What a wonderful surprise!" The blue Zora grinned with his pointy teeth. He then seemed to notice Zelda and bowed low. "Your highness! I'm sorry we didn't have time to prepare a proper welcome."

Zelda waved away the formality, "It's quite all right. I should have sent word."

Bazz turned back towards Link, "I'll let the others know you're here. Princess Mipha will be most pleased to see you!" He turned and took off back towards the domain.

Link and Zelda exchanged a look and continued along the bridge to the domain.

Zelda ran her hand along the cool stone, "I believe the domain was built with luminous stone so at night, it glows. Have you ever seen it?"

Link nodded, "Yes."

"I'd like to see that, too." She whispered as a familiar red Zora ran up to them.

"Link! Princess Zelda! What a pleasant surprise!"

"Mipha!" Zelda smiled at the beautiful princess. "Sorry for not sending word. It was a little last minute."

Mipha shook her head, "Do not fret. You are both always welcome here."

Link remained silent through the exchange but Mipha noticed the bandage on his arm, "Link, you're injured!" She took his arm and examined the bandage. Blood was beginning to seep through. "I'll heal you. Come, let's go to Vah Ruta."

The red Zora took Link's arm and led them to the lake where the elephant-like machine was kept.

A boat was kept in the lake that clearly got very little use. Algae was growing along the bottom of the wooden boat and moss was growing along the top of it but it was still fairly sturdy. The three of them got in and Link went to take the pole that would push them out to the divine beast but Mipha took it before he could and cast him a look that quelled any arguments. He took a seat beside the Hylian princess while Mipha brought them out to the center of the lake.

Once there, Link held Zelda's hand as she stepped onto the ledge then helped Mipha up before climbing up himself.

They walked through the divine beast and Mipha pointed out some of the controls to Zelda who looked on with fascination. Once they reached the main terminal, Zelda became absorbed with the ancient technology.

"We'll leave you to it then," Mipha said to Zelda as she led Link away. Zelda cast them a strange look but said nothing. Link felt uneasy, thinking of their earlier conversation.

Mipha led him out onto the divine beast's trunk and they sat on the very tip of it.

"Let me see your arm." She unwrapped the bandages and examined it before putting her hand over it and a familiar cool feeling washed over his arm as it was bathed in blue healing light.

"I was thinking..." Mipha started softly, "This reminds me of the time we first met."

Link smiled as he thought back to Mipha healing his bruised ribs.

"You were just a reckless child... always getting yourself hurt at every turn." Mipha smiled fondly, "Every time, I would heal you. Just as I'm doing right now." She paused as they both watched her healing powers in action. The skin was knitting itself back together before his eyes and the pain had subsided to a refreshing coolness.

"I thought it was funny how, being a Hylian, you looked grown-up so much faster than I did." They looked up into each other's eyes, "I was... I was always willing to heal your wounds. Even back then." She smiled shyly as she looked back down at his arm.

The last hints of the wound faded along with the blue light as Mipha moved her hand back to her side. Link examined his arm and flexed it to test it out. It was good as new again.

"So if this Calamity Ganon does, in fact, return, what can we really do?" They both gazed out toward the lake thoughtfully, "We just don't seem to know much about what we will be up against." She spoke the truth and was just as troubled by it as Link was. Link looked up at his old friend as she continued to gaze down toward the water. "But know this: that no matter how difficult this battle might get... if you – if anyone ever tries to do you harm..." she looked back up and met Link's eyes. "Then I will heal you."

She looked down again. Her expression was sad but hopeful. "No matter when, or how bad the wound... I hope you know... that I will always protect you." She seemed to be trying to get to what she really wanted to say yet was having difficulties actually saying it. He'd never seen her seem so apprehensive with him and it worried him.

She paused, holding her hands together, "Once this whole thing is over, maybe things can go back to how they used to be when we were young. You know..."

She looked up and into his eyes again, "Perhaps we could spend some time together."

It all came together for Link then. To Mipha, this was more than just a friendship. Link was torn. She was such a dear friend to him yet he didn't reciprocate her feelings. He thought back to his time with Zelda while he was healing and how happy they had both seemed but... She was the princess of Hyrule. If they even survived the Calamity... He was a commoner. He had no hope with her. Perhaps... perhaps he could learn to love Mipha the way she loved him. Though she was a princess, she wasn't held to the same strict rules as the Hylian princess.

After a momentary pause he looked down and nodded, "I'd like that..."

Mipha smiled and had been about to say something when Zelda called out to them, "Mipha, I'd like to show you something!"

Mipha hesitated but decided to hold off on whatever she'd been about to say and instead, they headed back to the main control unit to meet up with Zelda.

Link stood back, torn, as the two princesses discussed some adjustments Zelda had made to Vah Ruta. One of them was nothing but a dream to him but one he wanted more than anything. The other was closer to reality. It was something that still might be able to make him happy. He cared deeply for both of them but one way or another, he couldn't help feeling that somehow, someone would wind up getting hurt.

All the way back to the domain, the two women discussed the inner workings of the ancient technology and Link listened in silence to them. They both seemed oblivious to the war raging inside him.

Back at the domain, a feast was being prepared to honour the princess and the Hylian Champion.

Bazz caught his arm as the two princesses walked ahead of him to the feast. "You seem off, Link. Everything go ok up there?"

Link looked at his old friend and put a hand on his shoulder, forcing a smile, "Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks, Bazz."

The blue Zora looked sceptical but didn't push the matter further. Link took his seat between the two princesses. Both of them continued their discussion of the divine beast over him and Link leaned back to allow them to see each other since he had no part in this conversation. He looked across the table and saw Mipha's little brother, Sidon, staring at him with eyes wide. Link smiled at the little Zora and was rewarded with a big, toothy grin. I hope you don't end up with the same problems I have, little guy.

"Link, do you remember the lynel of Polymus Mountain?" Mipha's question brought him back to the moment.

Link nodded.

"Well, every time anyone goes up there to leap off the waterfall, it attacks them! Fortunately, no one has been grievously injured but I fear it is only a matter of time before – Link, where are you going?" Mipha and Zelda watched after him as he stood up and proceeded to walk towards the mountain.

The two princesses looked at each other in confusion then Mipha stood and walked after the swordsman. Zelda watched after them both, fear and sadness in her gaze.

Mipha caught up to him as he started climbing the hill. "Link, you can't really be thinking of attacking the lynel!"

"Turn back, Mipha. I can handle this." He continued walking. There was more than one reason he didn't want her here. Some space from both princesses was welcome right at the moment.

It seemed he would only get half of that space as Mipha continued to follow him and argue with him. Most of the way, he ignored her protests but continued to insist she turn back. The lynel wielded shock arrows which the Zora were particularly sensitive to. He would have a harder time defeating the lynel if he had to worry about her safety as well.

"I won't leave you to take it on by yourself. Are you mad?" Mipha shouted stubbornly.

A thundering of hooves caught her off guard and Link grabbed her before jumping them both out of the way just in time. He set her down and turned to face the lynel.

He drew his sword and started trying to draw its attention away from Mipha. It charged at him and swung it's massive blade over the ground and Link backflipped out of range. The beast was off balance when it slowed its charge and Link used that moment to slice at the tendons on its horselike legs. The lynel roared in pain and fury. It swung it's huge sword again and Link had to jump back again. The lynel used the opportunity to make more space and pulled out its bow.

Link sprinted away from where Mipha was standing and yelled, drawing it's attention to him. One hit with the shock arrow and the Zora Princess would be in real trouble.

The arrow flew wide but landed in a puddle that Link was just stepping into. Electricity shot through his body and he lost his grip on his sword. He fell to the side and blinked at the numbness running up his legs. He looked to the side and saw his sword just a few feet away. He rolled over to grab it but his fingers fumbled on the hilt. The shock still had a lingering effect.

The lynel saw it's chance and charged the prone hylian. Link gritted his teeth and grabbed the blade, holding it upright as the lynel approached. Link leaped up dragging the tip of his sword through its midsection as it came into range. The beast put its huge hands on its belly to hold his innards in. It doubled over in pain and Link executed a spin attack that took the creature's head clean off. The lynel fell to the ground. No longer would it torment the Zora.

Link pulled a cloth out of the pouch at his side and wiped his blade clean before sheathing it. He looked down at his hands, flexing his fists a few times to try to dispel the tingling feeling remaining from the electric shock.

Mipha stared at him in awe. Her heart swelled with wonder and pride at her dear friend. While it pained her that she couldn't have him yet, he'd given her something she hadn't dared think she might get. He had given her hope.

Chapter Text

After the feast, Zelda made her way out to the fountain in the center of the domain. She hadn't been able to eat very much since her mind was occupied elsewhere. King Dorephan had asked her a few obligatory questions and other guests had also spoken with her. She had been sure to answer politely but soon, the conversations went their separate ways and left the princess behind. Several had wondered where Mipha and Link had gone off to and there was some speculation further down the table that Zelda couldn't quite make out but she knew their guesses had little to do with the lynel.

She gazed at the glowing structures before her. The way the domain was crafted was truly incredible but she wasn't quite able to appreciate it in the way she had hoped. Her eyes wandered up the mountain. Polymus mountain, where Link and Mipha had headed towards was the home of this fearsome lynel. She knew Link could handle his own against the beasts as she had seen him take down three at once, but he'd also been injured so she worried about him.

At least Mipha will be there to heal any wounds... Zelda thought with a tinge of jealousy. When her knight had been injured before, Zelda couldn't do anything to help. Everything she had tried to do just seemed to hurt him even more.

She walked toward the railing at stood around this level of the domain and leaned against it. The two had been gone for quite some time now and Zelda began to wonder if someone should go looking for them but a part of her also wondered if they really wanted to be found. The princess had heard the rumours about the beautiful, red-scaled Zora princess and her own courageous, handsome knight. The most innocent rumours spoke of their closeness while the more vulgar ones hinted at a physical relationship between them. Her heart ached at the thought of what the two of them might be doing together right now. Had there even truly been a lynel or was that just an excuse to have some alone time?

Zelda straightened, If they are together, there is nothing to be done about it right now. I have no claim to him and he is free to do has he wishes with any woman who will have him. She turned, determined to give the matter no further thought, and headed towards the inn.

Despite her determination, she was awake the whole night, plagued with thoughts of what could be happening between her knight and the Zora princess. As the hours dragged on, her knight didn't return to the inn until the early hours of morning and he snuck into his own bed quietly.

Zelda's tears flowed silently down her cheeks as she watched him fall asleep.

—————

When Link woke, Zelda had already prepared the horses for their journey. She was clearly ready to get going so he skipped breakfast and headed toward where they had kept their horses.

Mipha walked over to them as Link tied his bag to the saddle. "You're leaving already?"

Zelda stiffened, "We must get going. I am to pray at the Spring of Courage before we head back to the castle."

Link frowned toward the princess, noting her change in posture, before his attention was brought back to the Zora.
"I'm saddened to see you go. You only just arrived."

Link smiled at his friend and was about to speak before Zelda cleared her throat, "I'm sorry for such a short visit but with the prophecy looming over us, there is very little time to waste."

"I understand. Safe travels and please come back to visit when you can." She said this while looking at Link.

Link just nodded to Mipha and climbed into the saddle.

Zelda spurred her horse forward at a trot and Link hesitated a moment, looking between his charge and the Zora princess before spurring Epona after her. That was strange...

When he caught up to her, the path narrowed so they had to ride single file. He couldn't see her face to determine if something was actually wrong or if she really was that eager to continue on their journey. Link had never been to the Spring of Courage but she had mentioned it to him before along with the importance of praying at each of the springs to unlock her sealing powers.

It wasn't until they reached the wetlands that the road opened wide enough for them to travel side by side but every time Link started to move in beside her, Zelda seemed to speed up so he instead fell in behind her.

While they had often ridden in silence together, this was not the companionable silence they had grown accustomed to recently. This was a heavy silence that weighed on Link and he couldn't help wondering just what he had done wrong this time or if something had been said to her while he was up the mountain.

Finally, as they were approaching Kakariko Village, the home of the Sheikah, Link finally spoke up. "What is troubling you, Princess?"

She shook her head in response.

He was about to press further when the sound of hoofbeats caught his attention. He looked out into the field they were crossing when he spotted four bokoblins riding horses and galloping their way.

Link cursed and Zelda gasped as she spotted them too. "Ride towards Kakariko. I'll take care of them and give you a head start."

"I won't leave you behind this time." Zelda responded flatly.

"Just go!" He yelled, exasperated but the enemies were almost upon them so Link spurred Epona forward as he drew the Master Sword. He didn't hear whatever Zelda said and soon, as the nearest one raised its bone spiked club, his blade struck home in the monster's side. It dropped the club as it held its side and shrieked in pain.

The next one raised its bow and took aim at Link as he circled around. He could see Zelda in the same spot as before, trying to hold her mount steady. Link raised his shield in time to deflect an arrow then spurred Epona into a gallop towards Zelda. He smacked the white stallion on the rump as he went by and the horse cried out as it launched forward. Zelda screamed as she tightened her grip on the reigns. Link turned back to fight the pursuing bokoblins and took out another one along the way. The swipe with the sword didn't hit in a way to kill it but the impact knocked it from its seat and Epona's hooves finished him off.

The remaining two were archers and Link dodged a couple of arrows in his approach. The first one was knocking another arrow when he reached it and Link swung his sword through the wooden bow, breaking it and continuing through the bokoblin. The last one had knocked another arrow and was taking aim again. Link saw it aiming for his horse so he steered his mount in an erratic path towards his target so the arrow flew wide, landing harmlessly in the grass. It tried to quickly prepare another arrow but Link's sword dispensed of the bokoblin before it could get a chance.

Link rode his horse around to gather the reigns of the other horses and tied them to the horn of his own saddle, leading them along with him.

Zelda had managed to get her horse under control at this point and rode back towards him. He could almost see the steam shooting out of her ears but her anger dissipated when she spotted the four horses he was leading.

"What do you plan to do with them?" She asked as she pulled her horse along side the others.

He nodded toward the steps leading up to the village. "I'm not sure where those monsters got them from but I'm sure the Sheikah would be able to give them good homes."

That seemed to calm the princess somewhat as she examined the horses. The signs of abuse at the hands of the bokoblins were obvious. The horses' ribs and hips were protruding and there were sores where the monsters had beaten them into submission.

Her expression softened with pity for the poor beasts. They rode together in a more comfortable silence and as they approached the village, several Sheikah ran out to meet them.

"Princess! Champion Link! We didn't know you were coming." One of the men said as he ran up to them to take the extra horses. He looked the beasts over quickly and looked up questioningly towards the princess.

"Please have these creatures wounds cared for and give them a decent meal. They have been through quite the ordeal and deserve a tender hand now." Zelda replied to the silent question.

The man nodded and handed the reigns off to the others as they approached. A small boy ran out to them as well and the man turned to him, "Baile, run to the inn and have two rooms prepared for the Princess and the Hylian Champion."

The little boy nodded and ran back toward the village. "I hope you did not have too much trouble reaching us..." the man said with concern as he watched the horses plodding back toward the village.

Link shook his head in response and Zelda chimed in, "Just those four bokoblins. Link was able to dispense with them easily, though."

The man nodded and walked with them to the village.

The excitement of a royal visit had set the village abuzz as they walked in. The horses had been led to a stable behind the inn and the message of their arrival was spreading around them as people stopped to look up at them as they passed. Link still wasn't comfortable with all of the attention but Zelda handled it with the ease of a lifetime of practice.

He didn't know if she was still upset with him or if she had moved on but he decided to wait and see how the remainder of the day went before he would decide whether or not to bring it up again.

They dismounted in front of the inn and passed the reigns off to the Sheikah who worked there. Zelda rubbed her rear and did a little stretch before walking up the steps and into the building. Link hesitated a moment before following her. Inside was packed with Sheikah. Rooms had been prepared for them and a hot meal was being made. Link hadn't eaten since the day before and he didn't know if Zelda had eaten anything for breakfast so the aroma that reached them certainly was welcoming.

The Sheikah didn't have chairs and instead had pillows they would kneel on around a low table for eating at. It wasn't the epitome of comfort but after a full day of riding, he was thankful not to have to sit normally.

They stood and walked slowly through the room to stretch their stiff legs until food was brought out a short time later. They kneeled and both ate heartily at the delicious meal of seafood stir fry over Hylian rice. Link finished his first and a second bowl was brought out. Zelda finished hers and headed up to her room in silence.

Link finished the second bowl and went up after her. He knocked on the door but there was no answer. Maybe she is just tired... it was a long day... he thought before turning in to his own room next door. As he settled into his bed and started to fall asleep, he could hear faint sobbing in the room next door.

—————

The day had not been easy for Zelda. She was hurt but couldn't even really explain why to herself. She had no claim to him and he hadn't made any indication that he was interested in her back as anything other than a friend or as part of his duties as her appointed knight and yet...

After tossing and turning for most of the night, she finally got up, wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and stepped out of her room. She tip-toed towards the balcony then gasped when she stepped out and saw fireflies floating on the air above the stream that trickled through the village.

The lights on the little bugs flickered as they seemed to dance to the music of crickets with the odd owl adding its own notes as accompaniment.

She hadn't heard him approach but looked up at him when he reached his hands out to rest on the rail beside hers. She picked up her own hands and drew the blanket around herself tighter, feeling a sudden chill from the damp air.

He looked back down at her and gave her a small smile that made her heart ache all over again. She had been unfair to him yet again today. He had known something was wrong and had even asked her about it but she couldn't possibly tell him what she was upset about when she knew she had no right to be upset about it in the first place.

She gave a weak smile back then looked back out towards the fireflies. She could feel his gaze upon her for a moment longer before he, too, looked out as the insects performed their aerial dance.

The view gave them an excuse to remain silent despite the growing chasm between them though Zelda knew that she couldn't ignore it for long and would need to come up with something to tell him.

"Couldn't sleep either?" Link finally asked, breaking the silence and the magic of the fireflies' dance.

Zelda shook her head, "I... couldn't turn my mind off." That was true at least.

Link nodded. There seemed to be more he wanted to say but couldn't bring himself to say it. They were silent for a moment longer but then Link spoke up again, "I'm sorry... if I've done something to upset you."

Zelda blinked back tears and waited for the lump in her throat to dissolve, "It's not... I – I'm just nervous. About the Spring of Courage." She lied.

He eyed her sidelong as though he didn't quite believe her but didn't question her on it. "You're worried about your powers..." He said finally.

Zelda looked down, embarrassed. This was the first time he had ever directly addressed her inability to access her birthright.

"I don't know when or how you'll be granted those powers but I can't imagine a goddess you're descended from keeping them from you when the world needs them most." He said softly.

As always, he managed to address her fear on the subject without adding any pressure for her to pray harder than she already was. He never made her feel like she was inadequate with regards to her own role in the prophecy. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes and he met her eyes before she leaned into him. He hesitated then wrapped his arms around her as soft sobs shook her small frame. He held her until the tears stopped and she pulled away. She wiped her eyes on the blanket wrapped around her shoulders. "I'm sorry..." She whispered, embarrassed.

"Don't be." He replied, soothingly. She couldn't look up to meet his gaze but she could feel the warmth in his eyes as he gazed down at her. He looked out at the night again and spoke, "We should go back inside. Whether we continue to the Spring of Courage tomorrow or not, I have a feeling it will be a long day."

Zelda nodded and led the way back into the inn. He walked with her to her door and she turned to look up at him. "Thank you, Link."

He nodded and looked down at her. Tension seemed to pull them closer together as they gazed into each other's eyes. Link leaned in and Zelda tilted her face up toward him but he reached past her and opened her door. "Good night, Princess."

She blinked a couple of times before blushing then stepped into her room. "Good night, Link..." she said before closing the door and leaning her forehead up against the wood. What just happened?

—————

A moment later, Link walked into his own room and sat down on his bed before letting out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. You fool... you almost kissed her! She is the princess and you are just a knight. You can't forget your place, you idiot!

He lay back on the bed and for the second night in a row, neither of them got much sleep.

Chapter Text

Zelda lay in bed late into the morning. Sleep had evaded her yet again and finally, she gave up on the idea entirely and got up. She dressed and ran the comb through her hair before venturing downstairs into the common area.

There were no other hotel patrons as they had all gone off on their business earlier but there was one younger Sheikah woman sweeping dust out the door when she came downstairs. Her white hair was pulled up into a top knot in the traditional Sheikah style and she wore a black jumpsuit under the traditional white and red robes, tied with a wide sash around her waist. She looked up as the princess set foot on the landing, red eyes meeting green.

"Good morning, Princess. Breakfast is past but I can put something together for you if you would like." The Sheikah woman bowed and started heading toward the kitchen.

Zelda shook her head and smiled softly, "Thank you, but that won't be necessary. Just some tea would suffice."

The woman nodded and went into the kitchen. Zelda kneeled at one of the low tables and waited. A few minutes later, the woman emerged with a pot of tea and a cup that she set down in front of Zelda.

"Thank you." Zelda smiled up at the woman who smiled back before setting her tray down on a counter near the door to the kitchen. "Has Link been up yet?" She asked as she poured the tea for herself.

"Yes, Princess. I believe he went to the stable to check on the horses you brought yesterday." The woman bowed as she excused herself.

Zelda bowed her head back in the Sheikah fashion and took a sip of the tea. She had hoped to be on the way to the Spring of Courage by now but it had been an eventful few days and a day of rest was badly needed.

Kakariko Village was arguably even safer than the castle was for her since the Sheikah tribe had been sworn since time immemorial to serve and protect the royal family. Every man, woman and child in this village would lay down their life for her if it was called for.

As she finished her tea, she picked up the cup and tea pot and walked them over to where the woman had left the tray.

The woman looked up from her work and smiled. "Oh! I nearly forgot. Forgive me, Impa arrived this morning and is in the manse at the bottom of the hill if you wish to see her."

Zelda looked up quickly at this news, "Impa is here? Will she be here long?"

The woman looked apologetic, "I'm sorry, Princess. She does not usually say."

Zelda bowed to the woman and headed for the door. She glanced toward the stable and thought she caught a glimpse of her knight's blonde head but kept walking down the hill.

Beside the stairs leading up to the manse, there was a small child placing offerings of apples to the gods stone bowls that were set out before several small statues. The girl looked up at Zelda and grinned. Zelda just smiled back at the young girl as she approached the two men guarding the stairway to the manse.

"Princess, Impa is upstairs waiting to see you." They both bowed to her and she bowed back respectfully before making her way up the long staircase. At the top, she slid the door open and slipped inside. Impa was drinking tea and sitting on a pillow, clearly waiting for her.

The two locked eyes and immediately broke into smiles at seeing each other. "Impa, what a pleasant surprise. I hadn't expected to see you until we got back to the castle."

Impa's red eyes beamed at her young friend, "I wasn't expecting to find you here either. It must have been a long journey for you to have slept so late." Suddenly she looked concerned, "Though you don't seem to have gotten much rest..."

Zelda's smile must have faltered as Impa put her hands on her hips, tilted her head and raised an eyebrow, "Out with it. What is troubling you?"

Zelda knew better than to try to keep secrets from this woman. She sighed and looked at the floor, all remnants of a smile fading from her face. "Matters of the heart, Impa... I'm not even sure I can explain them."

Impa gestured to another pillow on the floor and went to fetch another cup. Zelda settled herself on the pillow while Impa poured a second cup of tea and passed it to her. "Start at the beginning."

—————

Link wasn't sure how long he slept but given how tired he was, it couldn't have been very long. A rooster crowed to announce the daylight seeping over the mountains and Link groaned. He pulled himself into a sitting position and stretched his arms over his head. No point trying to fall back asleep now...

He stood, did a few more stretches and dressed before stepping out into the hall. He paused as he walked by the Zelda's room, looking at her door and remembering the events of the night before. He sighed and kept walking down the stairs to the common area.

The room had a few other travellers who glanced up at him as he came down the stairs but otherwise paid him no mind. He kneeled at a table and was brought a plate of egg stir fry. He ate heartily and when he was finished, had another bowl. He'd always had a healthy appetite since he was a small child and never seemed to suffer with the weight issues other people were more prone to.

When he had eaten his fill, he stepped outside just as Impa walked past the inn. "Impa!" Link said with surprise.

The woman looked up at him with surprise, "Link! What are you doing here? Where is Princess Zelda?"

Link nodded his head toward the inn. "She is still sleeping. It's been a few long, sleepless nights since we left the castle. All is well, though. A rest in the village will do her good."

Impa stared past him through the door to the inn and nodded, "I understand. Please let her know I am here when she wakes. If she will be staying here for a little while, I'd like to visit with her."

Link nodded and Impa continued down the hill toward her massive house in front of the waterfall.

Link went up the hill that overlooked the village and followed the trail past the newly uncovered shrine. A few small children played in front of it but they ignored him as he walked past. The trail led through the forest to a pond with a bridge across it. On the other side was a small clearing with a pedestal that had a small bowl carved in the middle. Something was supposed to go there but whatever it was, clearly was nowhere near it. Another ancient mystery.

It was quiet here and he wouldn't be interrupted. He pulled the Master Sword from the scabbard on his back and looked down at the blade. Despite everything it represented, it felt comfortable in his hand. The blade was well balanced and was a good weight for him. The reach was just about perfect for him as well. It was like it had been designed specifically for him. In a way, it was designed for me... He thought back to what the Koroks had said about his soul being reborn. He wondered what the heroes before him had looked like and if he was very similar to any of them. There wasn't really any way to know so after a moment, he pushed the thought aside and started going through the motions of swordplay as he tried to do every morning.

He moved with a fluidity and grace of a dancer as in many ways, battle was a dance. His father had made him learn to dance as a child as well to help with his footwork. Knowing how to waltz had even come in handy for him once. The thought broke his concentration and he smiled at the memory, briefly wondering if he would ever have another chance to repeat it.

He started over and went through each of the motions in order with precision and deadly accuracy. He finished with the sword returning back to center as he let out a slow breath. Once more, he looked over his blade before sheathing it and making his way back down the hill.

He stopped at the inn again but Zelda was still in her room. He passed on Impa's message to the woman who was working and went out to the stable.

Epona and Victory were well cared for and the four other horses were there looking much more relaxed and happy than they had the day before. He offered them each an apple and noticed all of them had a salve on each of their wounds from the bokoblins. He scratched one of them, a brown one with a dappled rear, under it's chin as it munched on the apple.

Awhile later, he thought he spotted Zelda walking by and stepped out of the stable only to see her walk up to the huge house at the bottom of the hill. She would want some privacy with Impa so he went back to tending the horses.

—————

"I see..." Impa said sagely as she tapped her chin with her index finger while looking thoughtfully at the floor. "As your elder, I should tell you to stop concerning yourself with matters of the heart and to focus on your prayers. But as a woman..." Impa looked up at the princess with a gleam in her red eyes, "Understanding what is in another's heart will always be impossible until you first understand what is in your own heart."

Zelda frowned, "What is that supposed to mean?"

Impa poured herself some more tea and emptied the pot into Zelda's cup before looking back up at her, "It means you need to figure out what you want first. What he wants will make more sense to you once you understand that part of things."

Zelda looked down shyly, "You won't... Tell father about this, will you?"

"Of course not!" Impa seemed almost offended by the question and Zelda immediately felt more at ease. "What you tell me in confidence, will stay confidential. Always."

Zelda smiled up at her friend, "Thank you, Impa. Truly."

"Any time, Princess. So, what are your plans from here?" Impa sat up straight and took a sip of her tea.

"In the morning, we will head for the Spring of Courage. I will pray there then we will make our way back to the castle. Goddess willing, I'll have some new sealing powers by the time I get back. That should make my father happy." There was a hint of bitterness in her voice but Impa did not need to ask to know what the matter was now. It was the same problem she had always had. The powers had evaded her no matter how hard she tried to access them. Impa's heart went out to the younger woman but there was nothing she or anyone else could do.

"I will pray for you as well." Impa said softly in response.

—————

After a few hours, Zelda walked into the inn and smiled when she spotted Link. Her conversation with Impa had soothed her heart and she no longer felt the anguish she had felt the day before whenever she looked at him.

Her knight smiled back at her and motioned to the other pillow set up near the table he was kneeling in front of. She made her way over and kneeled across from him.

"How was your visit with Impa?" Link asked softly.

Zelda looked down but Link could see the hints of a fond smile on her face still, "It was... insightful."

Link knew there was more to it but chose to respect that the conversation was between the two of them and would remain as such. If she felt he needed to know more, she would tell him.

She looked up, "I'd like to leave early tomorrow for the Spring of Courage. Today was badly needed but I do not wish to delay our journey any more than necessary."

Link nodded. "I'll make sure the horses are ready by the time you are up."

"Thank you, Link." She looked more determined than he had seen her look in recent times and it was a look Link was pleased to see in his princess. There were times he thought she had given up hope on being able to fulfill her role but he knew she was stronger than that and this determination told him he'd been right.

Food was brought out to them just then and both of them ate enthusiastically. It wasn't until both of them put down their utensils that either one realized that they hadn't spoken at all during their meal.

They looked up at each other from across the table and Zelda smirked as she pointed to a spot on the side of her own lip.

Link wiped his mouth and found a bit of sauce that had tried to escape and he grinned back at her with his newly cleaned face. Zelda just laughed and the ease of their companionship returned.

After their meal, the sun was beginning to set behind the mountains and Zelda wanted to go for a walk through the village. Link accompanied her, of course. The fireflies hadn't appeared just yet but they sat on a bridge at the top of the hill that the village was built on and dangled their feet over the stream below. They sat like that in silence for a time before Zelda finally spoke.

"I've always wondered what it would be like to have been born as just any regular person. No kingdom to inherit, no destiny to fulfill... To just be Zelda... Without the Princess bit."

"You could always just run away." Link quipped before catching her sidelong glance with a smirk.

Zelda laughed, "As if I could with you looking out for me! I seem to remember doing just that a few times and you still found me."

Link laughed as well, "Yeah, you really weren't very good at it."

She smacked him lightly on the arm, "Oh stop. I got past you still!"

"True..." he admitted, "I'm glad you don't want to run away from me all the time anymore. That makes my job a lot easier."

Zelda looked down at the stream below them. "I'm sorry for that. I had misjudged you so terribly back then."

"It showed." He responded lightly. When she didn't respond right away he continued, "Why did you despise me so much then?"

She sighed, "It seemed like everything came so easily to you. You appeared out of nowhere with the Master Sword and were already a fantastic swordsman. Then when you walked through Castle Town women just threw themselves at you."

Link cringed, remembering that ridiculous phase. Thankfully, the madness had seemed to subside somewhat since then. "I'd hoped to forget about that..."

Zelda laughed, "Not if I have anything to say about it!" He smirked back at her, "Looking back, it was clear you didn't like it either but I'd already made up my mind about you. Eventually, though, I understood that I'd been wrong about you." She looked back out to the village, "And... you turned out to be not just my appointed knight but a very dear friend, as well." She looked over to him, "And for that, I am eternally grateful."

Link smiled back softly and they continued to gaze at each other for a moment before Zelda looked up to the sky. "It is getting late. If we are going to be up early, we should probably turn in."

He nodded and stood, offering his hand to help her up which she took. He lifted her easily and they walked side by side back to the inn.

Link walked her to her door again as he had the night before and Zelda turned to him. "Good night, Link."

"Good night, Zelda." Before there could be a repeat of last night's confusion, Zelda opened her door and stepped inside, closing the door behind her. A few seconds later, she heard his door open and close.

Finally, they both got a good night of sleep.

—————

Link woke early and went down to the stable to get the horses ready. The horses they had brought with them were much less skittish today and seemed happy to see him. He gave them each a pat before getting Epona and Victory ready for the day's ride. By the time he was finished with the last buckle on the bridle for the white stallion, Zelda came in. She had her small travel bag in her hand and was dressed in her usual travel clothes. She wore fur-lined leather boots, dark brown riding pants, a white blouse with gold embellishments sewn into the bodice with royal blue velvet covering her chest and shoulders and around her waist. The Hylian crest was emblazoned on the chest in gold. She also wore dark brown leather riding gloves and wide, tan leather belt featuring the Sheikah eye imprinted into the leather that the case for the Sheikah Slate was attached to. Her hair was done in her usual fashion with a braid around her head like a crown while the rest of her hair flowed free down her back. Her look was practical but there was still no mistaking her for anyone other than the princess of Hyrule.

She stepped toward her stallion and ran her hand down his nose as she took the reigns in her other hand. The stallion blew out through his nose and nibbled at the case that held the Sheikah Slate. She laughed lightly, "You know I brought you a treat, don't you? You'll have to wait until that bit is out of your mouth I'm afraid!" He huffed and both Link and Zelda laughed.

Link finished tying her bag onto the saddle and he helped her mount up before getting up onto Epona's back as well. The two rode their horses outside and found Impa waiting for them.

Zelda smiled upon seeing her friend, "Farewell, for now. I hope it won't be too long before we see you back at the castle?"

"Likewise." The Sheikah woman responded with a smirk.

Link bowed his head to her and Impa looked up at him, "Take good care of her, Champion. The future of Hyrule is in your hands."

Link just nodded in response though he sensed there was more of a meaning to her orders than what was on the surface.

With that, the pair headed off down the winding canyon path towards Kakariko bridge. Once they had rode out of sight of the village, Link turned to Zelda, "I got something for you." He reached into one of the bags tied onto the saddle and pulled out a bow and quiver of arrows along with a harness for easy carrying but easy access when needed. He passed all three to her and she looked up at him in surprise before taking them.

She examined the bow. It was a finely crafted Sheikah bow that was a perfect size for her. It was already strung so she tested the draw weight. It felt heavy enough to do some damage if needed but not so heavy to tire her quickly. She gently released the pressure on the string and looked at the quiver and harness. They were also a Sheikah design for a smaller person – just the right size for her. She looked up at Link and her expression changed from one of amazement to happiness, "Thank you, Link! It is wonderful!" She immediately tried on the harness and adjusted the buckles to fit properly before attaching the quiver to her hip and finally the bow on the rest on her back. It was perfect for riding as well.

Link smiled when he saw it all on her. Just what he had hoped for – the set was practical as well as beautiful. More importantly, she wouldn't have to rely solely on him to protect her. If something happened to her, she could still defend herself. He already knew she was a good shot but he still intended to stop at Duelling Peaks Stable to let her get used to this bow.

Zelda's smile faded as the initial excitement wore off and the realization hit her for why he had given her the bow and she looked to him gravely. "Let us pray I never need to make use of it."

—————

At the stable, Link paid for the horses to be boarded for the night before being sent on back to the castle. The rest of their journey would need to be on foot to get to the Spring of Courage from where they were. He also paid for them to have their own beds for the night.

Once that was finished, it was still early in the afternoon. He set up a few targets in the field behind the stable and Zelda practiced. After a few shots, getting used to the draw weight, she was able to hit a bullseye more often than not, even adjusting for wind.

Once she felt confident with the bow, they collected the arrows and proceeded to walk through the field towards the gate to Fort Hateno. There was a pond nearby that had drawn one of the small herds of wild horses for a drink. They paused, watching the herd. The stallion who led the harem eyed them cautiously but felt safe at such a distance.

Zelda gasped when she spotted a foal amongst the herd and pointed him out to Link, "Look! Up close to his mother, in the middle!"

He looked where she was pointing and spotted the little bay foal. He was cautious, feeding off his father's behaviour but eventually, his short attention span got the better of him and he mischievously trotted a few steps away before running back to his mother and bumping into her. He frolicked playfully around the herd and the other mares seemed to patiently tolerate his antics.

"Isn't he adorable?" Zelda breathed, barely containing her excitement at being able to watch something so special.

Link smiled in response to both the foal and Zelda's pure joy in the moment. Somehow, the things that made her light up like she was now, seemed to make the threat of Calamity Ganon vanish and Link tried to soak in as much of these moments as he could.

The two of them sat in the field watching the wild horses for about an hour before the herd moved on and the sun started to set. They headed back slowly toward the stable, pausing a few times to explore some nearby ruins.

The smell of something delicious cooking wafted towards them as they approached the stable. The two exchanged a look of curiosity and followed their noses to the source. One of the other travellers apparently had been quite the cook! He had made enough rice and cuccoo curry for everyone staying at the stable. One of the merchants passed each of them a bowl and utensils and proceeded to pass more food out to the others who were starting to gather.

Link and Zelda took a seat near the fire and began to dig into their dinner while a travelling minstrel started playing a tune on his flute. One of the Gerudo travellers got up and started dancing to the music when she finished her bowl. It was an acrobatic dance to go with the exciting pace of the song and the crowd was mesmerized by the performance. When the song and dance ended, everyone applauded the pair who were both grinning and turned to shake hands amicably afterwards.

Next, another person got up and told an exciting tale of an adventurer long ago who had saved another land when a skull kid stole an evil mask and tried to make the moon crash into the center of their town. The hero, who had been but a child, only had three days to save the town but managed to do so by playing the Song of Time on his ocarina just as the Hero of Time had so long ago.

Link really enjoyed that story but Zelda leaned over to him after and explained it was just a myth.

Several others took turns telling stories of adventures over vast oceans, in dreams, and in worlds that seemed to mirror their own. After the sun had set, the minstrel got up and started playing again. His music was lively and several people got up to dance under the beautiful clear night sky. At first, people just danced their own fashions but eventually a few people paired off to dance together, changing partners with each song.

One of the merchants approached Zelda and held out a hand, "May I have this dance, Princess?"

She glanced at Link who just smiled over at her. She smiled back at the merchant and took his hand, "Yes, you may!"

The two danced and twirled around on the dirt in front of the stable. The whole group was laughing and the couples dancing were having their own conversations. The merchant was light on his feet and was able to steer her with confidence around the other dancers. Zelda was grinning widely at such an experience. To be amongst her people and not have anything expected of her beyond just having a great time was one of the most freeing feelings she had ever experienced. She longed for a life where she could live in such a way but knew that tomorrow morning, she would have to go back to the way things had always been. Tonight though, she would make the most of this opportunity.

She caught a glimpse of Link midway through the dance and saw him watching her with a small smile on his face. She was pleased to see he was still having a good time, despite her leaving him alone. There were others sitting and watching the dancers too but he hadn't ever been one to strike up a conversation with a stranger that she had ever seen.

As the dance ended, she thanked her partner who bowed low to her, "T'was an absolute pleasure, Princess!"

She turned and spotted Link still sitting where he had been when she left him and set her shoulders as she walked over.

He watched her approach and she bowed low to him before extending her hand to him, "May I have this dance, sir knight?"

He chuckled and took her hand as he stood up and led her out to where the others had been dancing. The music started and it was another lively jig. This wasn't a style that Zelda was overly familiar with but Link seemed to know what he was doing and she was a quick learner. It was fast paced and required some jumping on both of their parts. At one point, he looked down at her, "When I lift you up, tuck your chin down and lift your knees to your chest."

"What?" Was all she was able to say before he lifted her. She did as she was told and he flipped her before she landed safely back down on the ground. She looked up at him in shock when she landed then they both laughed at the achievement.

The next song was a bit slower but still upbeat. This style of dance was a little simpler with more of a two steps forward and one step back pattern. Link didn't surprise her with any more acrobatics but she still felt exhilarated when the song ended.

Just then, another traveller tapped Link on the shoulder, wanting to take his turn dancing with the princess. Link laughed and with the princess's smiling nod, passed her off to the new dancer.

The night progressed with them dancing together when they could but having a few dances with other travellers each spattered in between. It was quite late in the night when the two finished the last dance they could before exhaustion started to set in. The minstrel started to play again but Link and Zelda looked at each other and shook their heads at the same moment.

"I think it's time to turn in." Link said softly.

Zelda nodded and the two of them turned back towards the stable. Feeling particularly brave, she reached out and gently took his hand. He looked over at her in surprise but didn't let go. They walked hand in hand back to the stable. There were already a few people inside getting ready to go to bed or already sleeping. The two of them had beds next to each other but still in the open so there was no chance of hand holding turning into anything more but as they got to their beds, neither of them seemed to want to let go.

"Good night, Princess." Link said softly as he gazed down at her.

She gazed back up at him and smiled, "Good night, Link."

Reluctantly, they let their hands fall to their sides and both got into their beds and sleep quickly overtook them.

Chapter Text

In the morning, they woke and had a light breakfast before gathering their belongings and heading on their way. Most of the others who had been at the party the night before had decided to sleep in but Zelda was eager to get going.

They travelled along the road for the first leg of the journey between the Duelling Peaks. Link walked beside the princess quietly. Her determined voice finally broke the silence, "The legend says that the ancient princess awakened her powers at the spring. There are three springs in Hyrule that I know of – the Spring of Courage, the Spring of Power and the Spring of Wisdom. One for each part of the Tri-force. I'm not sure why, but I feel that perhaps praying at the Spring of Courage, I will awaken my own powers."

Link watched her quietly. He hoped she was right but at the same time, he didn't want to put any more pressure on her. He had seen before the effect that failure had on her and had no intention of adding to it.

As they were walking out of the shadows of the Duelling Peaks, they walked by an old beggar woman on the side of the road. She cupped her hands toward them, "Please, spare some rupees for a poor, old woman..." she begged.

Zelda's expression softened from one of determination to one of sympathy and she reached into her pouch.

Something in Link's gut put him on edge and he immediately drew the Master Sword and stepped between the princess and the beggar woman. The woman suddenly shifted and transformed. Her tattered grey cloak fell away to reveal a blood red jumpsuit. Her face disappeared behind a mask with an inverted Sheikah eye and a sickle appeared from under the rags. She launched at Link who barely had time to push Zelda back before blocking the attack with his sword.

The Yiga woman laughed as she jumped back to create space. It wasn't clear who the primary target was, but taking out either of them would guarantee victory for Ganon and there was no way Link was going to let that happen.

An arrow flew past Link's shoulder and sliced through the fabric of the Yiga's arm leaving a few drops of blood to spill free before landing harmlessly in the ground behind the enemy.

Link launched in with his sword, using the distraction to his advantage and managed to catch the Yiga off guard though she still managed to get the sickle up in time to block the attack. Metal clashed against metal and Link pulled his sword back before stabbing forward again. The woman swung her sickle and hooked the blade harmlessly past her. Link used the momentum created to spin and continue with a horizontal slice, aiming lower than the Yiga anticipated and managed to slice across both of her knees. Her legs gave out under her and she began to fall toward Link. He lifted his blade just in time for her to fall onto it as he shoved it up under her rib cage.

The sickle fell to the ground harmlessly and Link pushed the woman off his sword letting her fall in a heap on the ground.

Zelda made a wide berth around the fallen Yiga member and retrieved her arrow. Link wiped his blade clean then sheathed it again.

He looked around and saw no other potential attackers, "I'd like to get off the main road. The Popla Foothills aren't far and the spring is just on the other side. The Yiga Clan knows we mostly travel on the main road so if we stay off that, we are less likely to encounter them." It was worrying to find one so far from their hideout. Where else could they be hiding?

Zelda hadn't taken her eyes off the fallen woman but she nodded at what he'd said. Link gently took her arm and steered her on, not wanting to stay in this spot longer than they had to.

They stayed in the hills, climbing higher where it was easiest to do so. Periodically, Link would climb to a vantage point to get a better idea of their location before they would continue on.

There were a few spots where they needed to truly climb up a rock face. Link would climb up first then reach down to give Zelda a hand up. Eventually, the hills started levelling out again then they started climbing down the hills again. Ahead, they could see a huge forest that hid the Spring of Courage.

Link would climb down the steeper sections first. Though Zelda was reasonably adept at climbing, a mossy ledge proved slippery at one point and Link managed to catch her short fall and keep her upright and uninjured.

It was an arduous hike that didn't allow for much conversation as they had to focus on their footing for much of it.

At last, there was only one more cliff to climb down before they reached the ancient catlike statue an ancient civilization had built to house the spring.

Link looked up and saw the clouds starting to roll in. "We should climb down and head into the statue's mouth. The spring is inside and I think we will want to be under cover for the night."

Zelda looked up and upon seeing the black clouds hanging ominously overhead, she nodded.

As Link climbed down and onto one of the huge paws, he had to take his time as the moss on the rock face made the climb treacherous. Once down, he nodded to Zelda who then started to climb down as well. The wind was starting to pick up so she had to climb a bit faster than Link would have liked. Just as she reached the bottom, the rain started.

The paw didn't fully connect with the mouth of the statue so they had to jump to make it inside. Link jumped first and landed with a splash on the wet rocks.

Zelda stepped back to get a running start when lightning cracked overhead. She yelped in fright and ducked.

"Hurry! We need to get inside!" Link yelled over the wind and rain.

Zelda took a deep breath to steady herself and started running. Her foot slipped just as she started to leap and wasn't able to launch herself as far as she needed to. Link managed to reach out and grab her arm as she reached out to keep her from falling. The rain nearly made her arm slip out of his grip but he managed to steady her swaying before pulling her up to safety. She collapsed into him when he pulled her over the ledge, breathing heavily from the adrenaline.

He held her against him as they both calmed their nerves, neither wanting to think about what could have happened. Another crack of lighting overhead made them move further into the statue.

Inside was a pool of water. There was a platform shaped like the Tri-force risen up from the water. The wind outside howled but inside, the water was calm.

Link laid out their belongings to dry. Fortunately, they hadn't been in the rain long enough for everything to get completely soaked. Their bedrolls were mostly dry. At the back of the spring was a statue of the goddess Hylia.

Zelda sat down on the smooth rock surface near Link and looked up at the goddess statue. Her expression was one of both determination but also apprehension. Link knew without asking why she was afraid.

"All you can do is try. If it doesn't work, we will just keep trying until it does." Link said soothingly.

Zelda looked at him and took a breath, "You're right." She took her bag and searched through it for her prayer gown. When she found it, she looked around for a place she could change in private. There wasn't anywhere that would provide her with some privacy and she couldn't exactly ask Link to go out into the storm while she changed.

Link saw her looking around and guessed at her dilemma. "I won't look. I promise." And turned his back.

Zelda smiled to herself and removed her wet travelling clothes. The gown was a little damp but otherwise fine. She glanced at the pool before the goddess statue and realized there wasn't really a way around getting wet anyway. Once changed, she hung her old clothes over some rocks to dry. Link was still dutifully faced away.

"You can look now." She said with amusement. He looked back over his shoulder at her and that same expression crossed over his face that he always had when he first looked at her in that gown. Zelda blushed and looked down at the ground.

Link continued to set out their belongings to dry while Zelda waded into the pool of water. The deepest part went to her waist but the water was a surprisingly comfortable temperature. Once she stood before the statue, she looked up at the smooth face of the goddess statue and wondered at the accuracy of it. Was that truly what the goddess looked like? It seemed a little rounder than she would have expected but then again, the people who had carved this catlike statue had also stylized it considerably.

She clasped her hands together in front of her and bowed her head over her hands.

Goddess Hylia... Hear my prayers and see me fit to carry the burden of my bloodline. Grant me the powers to seal away Calamity Ganon.

She prayed with every fibre of her being, praying to Hylia as well as the three golden goddesses, Din, the goddess of power, Nayru, the goddess of wisdom and Farore, the goddess of courage.

After several hours, she still heard nothing. Nothing felt different other than the ache of her muscles from holding the same position for so long. Eventually, she sighed and relaxed her arms, stretching the stiffness out of them. She looked up at the face of the goddess and wondered with some resentment if the goddess was laughing at her.

She looked back over her shoulder and saw Link sitting on the raised platform watching her quietly. He knew better than to say anything but the look on her face told him everything he needed to know. She hadn't been successful.

She started wading back towards him. The dress clung to her legs and started to hinder her movements. Link stood and took her hand to help her onto the platform.

She nodded her thanks, not able to meet his gaze in her failure.

"It’s late. We should try to get some sleep." He said softly. He turned his back to give her some privacy.

All of her clothes were wet now as even her spare travel clothes were hung to dry. While their bedrolls had stayed mostly dry, unfortunately, her clothing had gotten the worst of it. She sighed, defeated.

Link glanced over his shoulder at her and realized what she was looking at. He immediately removed his tunic and passed it to her. "Wear this. Can't have you catching a chill." He smirked.

Zelda looked at it and looked up at him, blushing and trying her best to keep her eyes on his face. She didn't really have much other choice and took the garment from him. "What will you wear?"

He looked down at himself then back up at her and shrugged, still smirking.

Her face went even more red in response and she turned away quickly to hide her embarrassment.

She could hear him chuckle as he turned his back to her. Jerk... He KNOWS he has this effect on me!

She quickly changed out of the prayer gown and into the tunic. It was large enough on her to hide the really important parts but her legs were scandalously bare. She hung up the gown to dry and turned around to see Link had turned back around to face her.

"DON'T LOOK!" She said, mortified as she stepped behind the nearest rock to hide her legs from him.

He raised an eyebrow at her, "How am I supposed to protect you if I can't look at you?"

She sputtered, "It's – I'm – well –" He laughed and turned around. She quickly darted out from behind the rock and got under the blanket of her bedroll. She hid her face, too, quite certain she would never be able to look at him without blushing ever again.

Link turned back around when he heard her stop moving and couldn't help but grin when he saw her hiding under the blanket. He knew he shouldn't have looked but couldn't help it and her reaction had been too good a reward to pass up. Besides, she had great legs!

After a few minutes, she still hadn't come out from under the blanket. He pulled some food out of the travel bag and looked over at her, "You hungry?"

She peeked just an eye out from under the blanket and Link couldn't help but laugh.

"Will you stop laughing at me?" She said, clearly vexed. Unfortunately, this had the opposite effect than she had hoped for and he just laughed harder.

"Are you quite finished?" She said when he was finally silent.

Link bit his tongue to keep from laughing again and nodded. He split the food to give her half and handed it over to her. She lowered the blanket down as she sat up and took the food from him. She still wouldn't meet his gaze as she ate.

They sat in silence for awhile before Zelda finally spoke, still not looking up. "You never did tell me about how you found the Master Sword."

Link swallowed the food in his mouth and glanced over at the sword lying beside him. It had been the source of so much anxiety for him. The weight of the world had been dropped on his shoulders the moment he pulled it from the pedestal and he still wasn't certain he was up to the task it had assigned to him but he had no way of escaping his destiny. If he tried to run from it, that would mean that everyone he cared about would die and he couldn't leave them to that fate. He and only he could face Ganon. But at least he wouldn't be alone.

He looked up at the princess, the amused gleam in his eye had faded, "It called to me." She watched him silently waiting for him to continue. "It summoned me to the Lost Woods. I didn't know what was calling me but I knew I had to go."

Zelda frowned, "The Lost Woods?" She had to admit, such a location would certainly keep the sword well hidden.

Link nodded, "I think it must have guided me through the forest somehow because I managed to get in and out safely. First, there were torches that I followed but then the torches ended so I lit one and followed which way the flames blew until I found a hollow log that led to a clearing. When I made it through, I saw what had summoned me. The sword's tip was embedded in a platform much like this one, waiting for the legendary hero to pull it free." He said the words 'legendary hero' scornfully. No matter how long he had the sword for, he didn't think he would ever be able to live up to that title.

"It was standing in the grotto being watched over by the Great Deku Tree. The one from the legends... yeah, it's real." He smirked a bit at that. Growing up, he'd always thought that was an embellishment added in for children but so much from the legends had turned out to be true. There wasn't much now that he wouldn't believe.

"I'd like to see that one day..." Zelda said wistfully.

Link was silent for a moment before meeting her eyes, "Once this is all over... once we defeat Ganon and you seal him away... I'll take you with me when I bring the sword back there."

Zelda smiled softly at the promise and nodded.

Link looked down again, not finished the story. "The tree told me that I wasn't the first to try to pull the sword free. I'm not sure who the others were and if they had been called to the sword like I had been but there was a steep price for failure. I knew I would die if I failed to pull the sword free but... Being the reckless idiot I am, I tried anyway and was lucky enough to succeed."

It was Zelda's turn to smirk. She knew exactly how he felt. "Well, for what it's worth, I'm glad it was you who managed to pull the sword free. I can't imagine sitting here and having this conversation with Groose or Mido or some stranger."

Link raised an eyebrow at her, "I didn't know you knew any of their names."

"I don't often have need to speak to them but particularly with the academy in Castle Town, it is often in my best interest to keep tabs on the students as they may be guarding my life one day." She shrugged but Link was actually somewhat impressed with the admission.

"So... does that mean you knew who I was before I graduated too?" He asked casually.

She burst out laughing at the question, "How could I not hear about you? You were a prodigy as a child, the son of a high ranking royal guard... the instructors and knights said you were likely the best swordsman in all of Hyrule. That sort of news reaches royal ears quickly. I even came to watch a few of your classes when I was growing up but I tried to stay out of sight because I didn't want to distract anyone."

He was taken aback by this news, "Really? I had no idea you came to watch! I hope I didn't do anything too stupid..."

She chuckled again, "Not that I saw. You were always so serious when it came to practice but you always seemed jovial with the other students. Laughing and joking with them. They all seemed to respect you quite a bit. When you became my appointed knight, you were always so serious and quiet, at first I wondered if you were even the same person I'd seen before."

Link scratched the back of his head uncomfortably, "Sorry about that... I knew that you didn't like me so I tried not to make things worse but I still had a job to do. It was tough to find a balance and I'm not sure how well I managed even now."

It was Zelda's turn to look uncomfortable, "I didn't help you with that. I'm sorry to have made things so difficult for you."

The silence stretched between them until Zelda cleared her throat, "So... did you just pull the sword out? How would it kill people who failed?"

"Ah, no, not exactly." He said, thinking back, "I had to face a trial to first be deemed worthy. It was a series of battles each more difficult than the last and all I had to defend myself with was the sword. No shield and no armour."

Zelda thought about that and imagined the skill he would have had to show to be able to succeed in such a trial. She had indeed been wrong about him.

"The last battle was against a golden lynel. I could see the old corpses of those who had tried and failed before me around the battle field and I didn't want to end up one of them. When I defeated the lynel, I was transported back to the grotto and then I was able to pull the sword free. But even that came with a test. It drained my energy and just when I felt like I was going to drop, it pulled free."

He paused again, looking sad, "It wasn't until I got to Zora's Domain and saw everyone looking at the sword and saw the fear in their eyes that I realized what it meant to be the one who held the Master Sword."

Zelda watched him for a moment. The sadness changed into steely resolve and she knew that he would never back down from his duty. As much as it pained him, he would do everything he could to protect Hyrule and everyone in it. She looked down at her own hands. These hands were supposed to be able to seal away evil and cast light over her kingdom. She clenched her hands into a fist. Yet again, these hands had failed to grasp the powers that should have been her birthright.

She pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them, resting her chin on her knees. "At least Hyrule has one ray of hope. If you can do your part to defeat Ganon, perhaps it won't matter if Hyrule's princess cannot seal him away..."

Link watched her sympathetically. He knew how hard she had tried. Her daily prayers and devotion should have been enough but for some reason, the goddesses still denied her the powers she needed. "Maybe your powers will unlock only when you need them." The argument seemed weak even to him but there wasn't much more he could say to comfort her.

She looked up at him sceptically. "My mother had powers and so did her mother before her." Link looked down and Zelda softened, "I'm sorry. I know you are just trying to help." She sighed, "We'll head back to the castle at first light."

With that, she lay down and pulled the covers over herself. It was dark but Link watched her for a moment longer wracking his brain for anything he could say or do that might help but nothing came to mind. Ultimately, no one knew what would finally awaken her powers. Her mother had taken that secret with her to the grave and it was up to Zelda alone to figure it out.

He got into his own bedroll and slowly drifted off to sleep.

—————

Link was up at first light. He tried to move quietly so as not to wake the sleeping princess but she was an early riser as well. He had moved her now dry clothing closer to her and when he saw her stirring, he went to stand guard at the mouth of the statue.

When he heard her boots splashing behind him, he turned around and saw her all packed and ready to go. Fortunately, it had stopped raining and the way to the castle wasn't nearly as much of a climb.

Zelda was quiet for much of the journey and Link didn't push her to conversation. He knew what was upsetting her and there was nothing he could say that would help.

The way off the statue had a little wooden platform that helped them down so no jumping was necessary this time. He still took her hand to help steady her as she stepped down and led the way where it was necessary. The spring was in a jungle so the first leg of the journey was along the fringe of the trees and eventually over a small hill where they then followed along the edge of Lake Hylia.

The lake was beautiful and another time, Link would have loved to stop and spend some time at it. The ancient stone bridge across the center was showing its age but had still maintained its sturdiness. The waters were calm and gentle and a few small islands were the only things breaking the surface. As they walked along the shore, a few flashes of silver spoke of the healthy fish population. It was a deep lake – the largest in all of Hyrule – and there were rumours of treasures to be found at the bottom that even the Zora couldn't reach.

The wind started to pick up mid afternoon and Link looked upwards to see dark clouds beginning to form. "Looks like another storm is coming. We should take shelter."

The river Hylia fed into the lake and at the top of a hill beside the mouth of the river was a tree and an offering stone under a small stone shelter. Just as they reached the top of the hill, the sky opened up and rain poured down on them. They both sat under cover of the rock for a time. Fortunately, this was just heavy rain and no lightning this time.

After awhile of sitting there, Link started to feel restless as neither of them could think of anything to talk about. Link stood up and drew his sword to practice. He started at center and slashed his sword diagonally downward one way, then the other. Horizontally one way then the other then diagonally upward one way then the other followed by a stab low and a stab high. He went through each of the different motions of a sword. Attack, parry, defend. Soon, he lost himself in the movements and everything else fell away. He no longer felt the rain as it poured down on him and plastered his hair to his face. The wind howling in his ears became a voice saying what movement came next. Even the threat of Calamity Ganon faded away to a distant worry as he went through every technique.

"I doubt this will let up any time soon..." Zelda's soft voice broke through his focus. He continued the techniques but suddenly he was aware of her presence again. "Your path seems to mirror your father's. You've dedicated yourself to becoming a knight, as well." He continued doing the last techniques in the sequence but kept one ear focussed on her. "Your commitment to the training necessary to fulfill your goal is really quite admirable."

He finished with a slow breath out, bringing the sword back to center then glanced over his shoulder at her.

"I see now why you would be the chosen one..." She finished. Link realized he was surprised to hear her say that. He still didn't feel like he should be the chosen one but it was surprisingly comforting to hear her say it. He held the Master Sword up in front of him and examined it.

She looked down, sadness returning to her eyes, "What if... one day... you realized that you just weren't meant to be a fighter." Link lowered the blade and turned to look at her, concerned. "Yet the only thing people ever said was that you were born into a family of the royal guard and so no matter what you thought, you had to become a knight."

Link had never really given his own path in life too much thought. His father had been a knight and it had always seemed to suit Link as well. What could have or would have been otherwise wasn't worth thinking about because it had never been what he'd wanted. He knew, though, that she wasn't really talking about his path.

She was still looking down, emotion heavy on her voice, "If that was the only thing that you were ever told... I wonder then... would you have chosen a different path?"

They were both silent for a time. Link was looking down trying to come up with something – anything – to say. Finally, he sheathed the blade and sat back down beside her.

"When this is all over..." He started, still not sure if what he was going to say would help or not, "Whatever you choose to do... I will support you. I will fight for you."

Zelda forced a smile that didn't reach her eyes. "Thank you, Link."

Chapter Text

True to Zelda's prediction, the rain did not let up any time soon. It continued well into the night and the two of them were forced to make camp under the little rock ledge. Link didn't bother with the bed rolls because there wasn't enough room to lay them out where they would stay dry. Zelda had fallen asleep with her head on Link's shoulder so he kept watch.

Link's mind kept wandering back to what she had said earlier. Her depression at her failure to awaken her powers was draining her. That was plain as day to anyone who paid attention and Link was worried about her. The worst part about it was that there was nothing he could do to help her besides try to be there for her.

In a lot of ways, he understood her frustrations and her anxiety over their destiny but he also understood the resentment she had held for him. I can't really blame you. I would probably have felt the same way you did if our roles were reversed. I actually do feel the same way you did sometimes.

Something in the lake caught his eye. Was the lake glowing? He looked closer when something started emerging from the water... something massive!

His jaw dropped when he realized what it was. "Princess! Wake up!"

He was on his feet before Zelda had completely woken up and she had to catch herself to keep from falling over, "Hmm...? What?"

She looked where he was looking and stood up quickly to get a better look. "Goddess! Is that what I think it is?" Link barely registered what she said as he stared in wonder at the dragon that snaked its way out of the water and over the bridge then back into the water on the other side before emerging again. Zelda laughed in excitement, "I've heard legends but I never thought they would be real! I can't believe we are actually seeing this! Farosh, the spirit of lightning! Link, is this a dream?"

Without looking away from the dragon circling the sky above the lake, Link shook his head. This most certainly was not a dream! They were actually seeing this!

Lightning crackled off the beast's body but didn't reach them where they stood. Legends spoke of being able to find scales from one of the three dragons of Hyrule that each held incredible power but Link was satisfied with just seeing such an incredible creature with his own eyes.

Zelda laughed again beside him, "No one is ever going to believe us!"

Link had to laugh as well, "No, they won't. I had to wake you so at least you would believe me!"

"I'm not even sure I believe my own eyes right now!" Zelda replied.

The two of them watched as the dragon made a few passes over the bridge again then slowly ascended to the sky, disappearing as the sun rose. Neither of them was able to get any more sleep from the excitement of it so Link picked up their bags and the two of them continued toward the castle, conversing about other legends that might hold truth.

"Have you heard the one about the Windfish?" Link asked as they passed a garrison near Mabe Village.

"I never thought I'd believe that one but after what we saw last night, I think I would believe just about anything!"

They arrived at the castle in the late evening and walked through the main gate to Castle Town. The town was still bustling but most of the people with respectable business had long since turned in for the night. Zelda walked closer to Link than she normally did though Link didn't see anyone about that gave him pause. The people of Castle Town had always loved their princess, despite the rumours that spread regarding her lack of powers. More people had hope that she would be able to save them when the time came than people who didn't so Castle Town was still one of the safest places to be out at night. Regardless, Link didn't mind her walking closer to him.

Once they got to the castle, Link walked her up to her bedroom and bid her good night.

They were both exhausted but Link still wanted to make sure the horses made it back without issue before he would turn in himself.

The horses woke when he approached their stalls and happily took a carrot from him. He gave them each a pat, satisfied they had been well looked after, before heading to the barracks. Once he got to his room, he was asleep before his head hit the pillow.

—————

The next morning, Link met Zelda outside her room and accompanied her to her morning prayers as usual. While seeing the dragon had lifted her spirits temporarily, prayer reminded her of her failures and cast a dark cloud over the princess. Link racked his brain for anything he might be able to say or do that would help but nothing came to him. This was a battle she had to fight on her own. So he stayed silent.

Her smile upon seeing him was superficial and Link would have taken on the goddesses themselves if he'd thought that would somehow grant her the powers she sought. On the walk back to her room, Zelda didn't even seem to notice the silence. Once they reached the door to her room, she turned to Link but didn't meet his eyes.

"I'll be in my study." With that, she turned and retreated to her room.

Link stood outside her door for a moment still trying to come up with something – anything – that might help but there really was nothing.

He turned and walked out to the walkway to her study.

He stood guard until something down below caught his attention. The guardian that had malfunctioned at the ball had been restored and the researchers had brought it here to test it out. Link turned and knocked on the door to the study.

"Yes, what is it?" Came the soft voice within.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Princess... but I think you will want to see this." He heard some shuffling inside then Zelda opened the door. She cast him a confused look but then heard the voices below and perked up. She walked quickly toward the edge of the walkway and looked over.

The Sheikah researchers seemed to be controlling where it would walk on those six spider-like legs. It's bulbous head swivelled on its base as it pointed its deadly eye at various targets.

Link looked back at Zelda and saw a faint smile on her face. Relief hit him as he let out a breath he didn't realize he had been holding.

"Incredible..." she whispered, "We're at a point now where we can actually control them."

Link didn't know if she was speaking to him or to herself so he remained silent.

"At the current rate, we'll soon know all we need to know about the guardians and the Divine Beasts!" Her passion for the ancient technology shone through her again. She turned to face him, "And should Ganon ever show itself again, we'll be well positioned to defend ourselves." She said confidently.

Link was about to respond when a commanding voice made him look over her shoulder to King Rhoam.

"What are you doing out here, Zelda?" His tone conveyed his disappointment and if it had been anyone else in the Kingdom, Link would have drawn his sword just then but instead, he had no choice but to kneel.

Zelda spun and brought her hand up as though to defend herself but dropped it to her side when she realized who it was. Link could see her stiffen from where he was kneeling. The imposing figure stepped toward them.

"I..." She clenched her fist at her side, seeming to build her courage. "I was assessing the results of the experiment with the guardians." She said with a little more confidence as she stepped in front of Link, "These pieces of ancient technology could be quite useful against the – "

"I know that." The king interrupted flatly. "They are essential to Hyrule's future, and our research demands that we keep a close eye on them. However, as the princess, you currently have a crucial unfulfilled responsibility to your kingdom."

There it was. It took every bit of will power Link had not to look up at the princess. He had to remain neutral in this matter but he didn't like one second of it.

Zelda seemed to shrink back from her father.

"Let me ask you once more..." The king continued, contempt dripping from his voice, "When will you stop treating this as some sort of childish game?"

Zelda looked up at him in a desperate attempt to defend herself. "I'm doing everything I can..." She clenched her fist even tighter, "I'll have you know that I just returned from the Spring of Courage where I offered every ounce of my prayers to the Goddess – "

"And now you are here, wasting your time." The king crushed her yet again. Link could feel the despair from the princess.

"You need to be dedicating every moment you have to your training." The king continued waving his hand as if brushing aside any other argument she might come up with. "You must be single-minded in unlocking the power that will seal Calamity Ganon away."

"I already am." She said in a last ditch effort. "Don't you see – there's nothing more I can do!" Link could hear her fighting back tears. She was fighting with a growing lump in her throat. "My hope is... My hope is that you – " she paused, trying to gain courage again, "That you'll allow me to contribute here in whatever way I can."

"No more excuses, Zelda!" The king roared, shaking his head. “Stop running away from your duty. As the king, I forbid you to have anything to do with these machines from this moment on and command you to focus on your training."

Link nearly lost control of himself when he heard what King Rhoam said. His heart broke for the princess but he held himself frozen in place.

King Rhoam turned toward where the researchers were working with the guardian down below, "Do you know how the gossip mongers refer to you? They are out there at this moment whispering amongst themselves... That you are an heir to a throne of nothing... nothing but failure."

Zelda was looking down. Link couldn't see her face but he knew there was a tortured look on her as she tried to hold herself high.

The king continued, "It is woven into your destiny that you prove them wrong." He turned back to his daughter, "Do you understand?"

"Yes." Zelda said meekly, head bowed. "I understand."

With that, the king turned away from them and walked back into the castle. After a moment, Link looked up and saw Zelda still in her defeated posture. Head bowed and hands clenched together in front of her. He stood once the king was out of sight, unsure of what to say.

Zelda turned her head slightly, "I'm sorry you had to see that..."

He started to reach out to her but stopped himself, uncertain of what to say or do.

"We will leave for the Spring of Power tomorrow morning. Take the rest of the day to prepare." She put on her strong voice and walked back into her study and closed the door behind herself.

Link stood where he had been and stared at the door for a moment before turning and heading to the barracks.

—————

Link spent the rest of the day packing their gear and preparing everything for the horses for the next morning before heading to the practice yard. He'd destroyed several dummies before he ran out of targets and headed back to his room.

He heard familiar voices call out to him in the hallway but he ignored them and kept walking. A large hand on his shoulder stopped him. It was Groose.

"Link..." Groose stopped when he saw the other man's face.

"What do you need?" Link replied flatly.

Groose stepped back from the tone of Link's voice, "What's gotten into you, man? You haven't been yourself for a long time. We never see you anymore."

I don't have time for this... Link thought, "I've been busy."

Groose frowned and squared up. Link thought for a second he might have to fight the bigger man but Groose's face softened just then, "I know you don't think you're all high and mighty but don't forget you have friends." With that he turned and started walking away down the hall and waved over his shoulder, "See ya around."

Link watched after him in surprise, not quite sure how to take what he'd just said. After a moment, he turned and continued down the hall with yet another thing on his mind. He got to his room and stepped through the door. When he closed it, he looked around.

His room was simple. Just a small bed up against the wall and a small dresser beside it with a small table and a couple of chairs in the corner. There wasn't much in the way of memorabilia or personal possessions. On the desk was a picture of his mother and father in happier times.

There had been a fair in Hateno Village the year before Link had been born. His mother and father had recently been married. His mother had wanted a picture drawn of them by the sketch artist so his father had grudgingly agreed to pay for it. She had died when Link was still very young and his memory was very vague about her. The only reason he really remembered what she looked like was because of this picture. He had inherited her blond locks but her’s tumbled over her shoulders and down her back. She had an easy smile that Link envied and the same blue eyes he had. His father stood beside her in the picture looking stern. After his mother had died, his father moved them into the castle and their house in Hateno Village stayed empty. Link had always wanted to go back there and see it but every time he'd had the opportunity, he'd found something else to fill his time.

Link brushed his fingertips over the portrait wondering what life would have been like if she had survived. Would he have still become a knight? Would he have still been the one to wield the Master Sword? Would he have still met Princess Zelda? Would she have thought differently of him?

The thoughts poured through him when he looked out the window of his small room up at Princess Zelda's study. The lights were out but there was a figure on the walkway. He recognized her immediately, looking up towards the night sky.

"Goddess... if you can hear me..." he whispered, "please grant her the power she seeks. She has given enough..."

—————

"Good morning, Your Majesty." Beth said as she gently touched Zelda's arm.

The princess looked up to her maid, "Is it already time?"

Beth nodded, "I'm afraid so, Highness." She stood up straight and walked over to the closet to prepare Zelda's clothing for the day.

Zelda sat up and stretched before swinging her legs over the side of the bed. She glanced at the window and the sun still wasn't quite up yet. Glancing back over at her maid, she saw her outfit carefully laid out. She stood and walked over to her maid who dressed her quickly.

Beth then sat her down at her vanity and began brushing her hair out. Zelda looked at the flower on her dresser. The Silent Princess that had been there before had wilted and with it, Zelda's spirits as she recalled the dressing down she'd gotten the day before.

When the maid had finished with her hair, she stepped back and Zelda looked in the mirror. She was ready to go. "Thank you, Beth." Zelda said with a forced smile.

The maid bowed and left the room. Zelda looked around once more before heading down to the stable to meet Link. She was dreading seeing him for once not because of anything he had done but the worst part of the encounter with her father was that Link had witnessed the whole thing.

When she walked through the doors of the stable, she spotted him petting the horses. They were all ready to go. The bags were tied to the saddles. Link looked up to her and smiled softly. Zelda's cheeks burned and she looked away, unable to meet his eyes.

She approached and he gave her a leg up onto her mount. She reached down and patted the horse on the shoulder and he huffed appreciatively.

Once Link had mounted up, they rode out of the stable and out the gates. The sun was just beginning to peek over the mountains in the distance and the rays began to warm the earth.

They rode in silence for most of the morning as they headed East from the castle. They neared Akkala Citadel and stopped at the stable for a break late in the afternoon. The castle on the top of the mountain loomed over them.

Link had never served there but his father had gone and taken him along when he was younger. The fortress had been designed to be impenetrable on all sides. It was built on the top of a cliff with the main gate accessible only across a narrow bridge. There were some secret passages out but even those were difficult to access and would have only been for one or two spies to leave or return through. There would never be a high enough number of attackers able to access the citadel at once to cause any real damage. Several sets of cannons stood ready on various ledges to fire on attackers coming from the coast. It stood in the middle of two narrow paths with sheer cliffs on either side so if an army came from the coast, they would have to go through these bottle necks and the cannons and archers from the citadel above would be able to decimate the numbers before an approaching army could come anywhere near Hyrule Castle.

Link used the cook pot to make a stew for them to eat before continuing on.

"We should reach the Spring by nightfall." Zelda said, consulting the Sheikah Slate.

Link looked up at her, "Are you sure you don't want to stop for the night?"

Zelda nodded simply.

Link dug through the bag and found a bowl for each of them before scooping some stew into one of the bowls and passing it to the princess.

She nibbled at it but clearly had her mind elsewhere.

Link watched her for a moment before digging into the food himself. When they were done, Link rinsed them out and put them back in the saddlebags. Zelda mounted up on her own while Link was putting things away. When he was ready to go, she led the way.

They travelled through a canyon and the reds and yellows of the trees glowed in the last of the sunlight. By the time they emerged from Shadow Pass and the canyon opened up to a vast field, the sun had hidden behind the horizon. Zelda and Link rode closer together as darkness fell but with the citadel nearby, this was a very safe area.

They had to ride around a massive quarry. The path was narrow but the horses were sure of foot and they travelled single file. Once on the other side of the quarry, they could see the East Akkala Stable in the distance. They circled around the quarry and found an easy way down into it. The Spring of Power was beside the quarry but had sunken into the ground and the steep walls had waterfalls running down them. Once in the quarry, the entrance was easier to access.

Link hopped down from Epona and took the reigns of Victory so the princess could dismount.

A few Gorons were still working in the quarry but they were on the other side and the two of them had plenty of privacy near the Spring.

Zelda dug through her bags for her prayer gown. She pulled it out and slipped it on then stood before the entrance of the Spring. Link walked up beside her and gently placed a hand on her shoulder.

She let out a breath and walked in. Link followed silently behind her.

He walked onto the stone platform and stood guard while the princess waded into the cool water. She gasped at the cold as she stepped deeper into the water and Link glanced over his shoulder at her but she kept going until she was standing before the goddess statue. Hands held together in prayer before her, she began.

Link listened for any sounds that were out of place and kept an eye out. The moon moved over them and Link realized they must have been there for a few hours already.

He was about to turn around when he heard her speak so he remained on guard.

"I come seeking help..." She said softly to the goddess statue. "Regarding this power that has been handed down over time... 'Prayer will awaken my power to seal Ganon away...' Or so I've been told all my life..." her voice faded out.

Her voice sounded as defeated as she had looked. Link continued to listen as he stood guard.

"And yet... Grandmother heard them – the voices from the spirit realm. And Mother said her own power would develop within me. But I don't hear... or feel anything!" Her voice sounded almost accusing at the Goddess. The resentment she felt was barely being held back. "Father has told me time and time again... He always says, 'Quit wasting your time playing at being a scholar!'" She paused and when she spoke again, her voice broke, "Curse you..." She splashed her fists down into the water, "I've spent every day of my life dedicated to praying! I've pleaded to the spirits tied to the ancient gods... And still the holy powers have proven deaf to my devotion. Please just tell me..." her voice grew shaky, "What is it...? What's wrong with me?!" She sobbed.

Link turned around and watched her for a moment as she hugged herself sobbing. He put his sword down on the platform and hopped down into the water, wading over to her. She turned into him and sobbed against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her, holding her as she cried.

"Link... what's wrong with me? Why can't I do it?" She sobbed against him and he held her against him, heart breaking for her.

"Shhh..." he soothed, "It isn't your fault... nothing is wrong with you." He ran his hand up her back and his fingers ran through her hair. She was cold and covered with goosebumps. He held her tighter to try to warm her. "Let's get out of the water. I think you've spent enough time in prayer."

She nodded meekly as he gently led her out of the spring and back to the horses. She wiped her eyes as they emerged from the arched passageway and Link slowly lowered her to the ground before retrieving his sword and getting some wood together to start a fire.

Link watched her as he piled the wood together and used his flint to start a fire. She just stared down at the fire he was making without seeing what he was doing. Once he got it going, he pulled a blanket out of one of the bags and put it over her shoulders before sitting down next to her. She hadn't moved since he'd put her there and she continued to just stare down at the fire.

He sat with her quietly for a time, watching the fire, unsure of what to say or do until he felt her lean on his shoulder. He looked down at her but her face was hidden as she looked down.

"I'm sorry, Link..." she said so quietly he wasn't really sure he had heard her at first. He frowned with concern. "I'm sorry you keep seeing me like this..."

Before he could stop himself, he wrapped an arm around her protectively, "You have nothing to apologize for. It's not your fault."

"It is my fault!" She snapped. He recoiled slightly, thinking he had angered her but her voice softened, "I'm sorry... But it is my fault. It's my fault I can't harness this cursed power... It's my fault that I'm a failure..."

Link shook his head, "You're not a failure and it isn't your fault. What kind of goddess tortures her most devoted follower this way?"

She glanced up at him but remained silent. Feeling encouraged, he continued, "I think we are going about this the wrong way. If there is an ounce of good in the goddess, she would have granted you your powers a long time ago. If she isn't good, then she clearly isn't worth the worship. That leaves one other option – this isn't how you get your powers."

She looked sceptical, "How then do you suggest?"

Link sighed, "I don't know... but I know you'll figure it out. And if you don't, I'll destroy Ganon so you don't have to use any powers."

She looked at him sceptically for a little longer before her face softened. "I wish I had as much confidence as you do... I've just been disappointed too many times."

"I know... I've been with you for many of them but don't give up. I'll do whatever I can to help you... I'll do anything I can to protect you. If it means dying then... Then I'll gladly lay down my life." He stared intensely into the flames in front of them.

Zelda sat up, partly from the intensity of his voice but also because of what he'd said, "No. I won't let you die. Link, I..." She paused, stopping herself from what she was about to say. "I don't want you to die." She finished instead.

He looked at her sidelong, "We may not get a choice..."

She looked down. He was right. No one knew what they would be facing. "Then I'll face him with you."

Link shook his head, "No chance. It would be much too dangerous. I can't protect you if I'm fighting Ganon."

"Well I'm not going to sit by and let you die alone. If I can't use my sealing power, I'll still do anything I can to help you win." She said determinedly.

Link eyed her carefully but he knew that he wasn't going to win this battle. Even if he locked her in a cage, she had a look about her that said no force in the world would keep her from doing what she said. Where is that look about your sealing powers? I know you can do it... If only I could convince you...

"You should change out of your wet clothes. Can't have you getting sick." Link changed the subject.

Zelda looked down as if only just noticing. She reached over to her bag beside her and found something comfortable to sleep in. She stood and went behind a nearby rock to change. Link stared at the fire until she came back. She sat down again beside him and wrapped the blanket around herself.

They were both quiet again, watching the fire. It started to die down so Link stood up to put more wood on the fire. "You should get some sleep. I'll keep the fire going tonight."

Zelda watched him. "Thank you Link... Thank you for believing in me."

Link smirked, "Somebody's got to."

Zelda smiled back and set up her bedroll.

Chapter Text

Link sat awake by the fire as Zelda slept nearby. Even if he'd tried to sleep, he knew he wouldn't succeed tonight. The events of earlier made him uneasy. He'd felt resentment for the goddesses for quite awhile but that was his first time voicing that contempt.

I meant it, though... He thought, frowning. He picked up a small twig and twirled it between his fingers. There is no way that this is the way for her to gain her powers. If it was, she would have them by now. From everything I've ever heard, her mother wasn't exactly the most pious and neither was her grandmother but she said that they both had powers.

He whipped the twig into the fire and a crackle of sparks flew up. The sudden light illuminated the princess's sleeping face and it was the first time in a long time he had seen her look so peaceful. I don't know what the answer is but I promise you, I'll do everything in my power to help you find out.

He looked over his shoulder to the entrance to the Spring and the calm waters beyond. "If you're real and there is a shred of good in you... give her some sort of sign." He whispered venomously. Of course, no sign came to him or any indication that anything was listening so he turned back to the fire.

Memories of the day before flashed through his mind as he had knelt while his princess was reprimanded by her father. He clenched his fists angrily. Now she wasn't even allowed to do what she loved and there was nothing at all that Link could do about it. He picked up a rock, stood and threw it across the quarry. It skipped and skidded across the ground before falling over a ledge into the water below. Clenching his fists again, he turned away from the fire and saw the Master Sword resting against a rock. He stepped toward it and unsheathed it. Examining it, he held it so the moonlight shone on the metal.

They call you the Sword that Seals the Darkness... can you do that without her power? Is there a way we can take her out of the equation entirely and save her from all of this? He looked down at the blade but no answer came. As usual.

He brought the sword to center and began going through the familiar motions he had gone through thousands of times before. He no longer had to think about what was next. His body moved smoothly into the next movement with precision and confidence. Each slice and stab graceful and deadly. His breathing was slow and controlled and he focussed on his heartbeat as he moved. Slow. Calm. Controlled. The only way he could win against Ganon was to get better. He had to carry this burden for both of them.

He came back to center with a slow breath out then lowered the blade to his side. It was going to be a long night.

—————

Sunlight gently touched down on Zelda's cheek and she opened her eyes to its warmth. Link was preparing something for them to eat by the fire. She looked around and the camp was mostly packed up already. Link looked up at her as she sat up and she could see dark circles under his eyes. Some rest back at the castle would be good for both of them.

"Breakfast is ready." Link said as he prepared a bowl of sausages and eggs for her. He brought it over to her before going back and dishing out for himself.

"Thank you. It smells amazing." She smiled softly at him. He was busy eating and didn't respond. She took a bite but found her appetite had escaped her. She put the bowl down and found her travelling clothes before going behind a rock to change.

She came back and picked up the bowl, slowly picking at it.

Link watched her, looking concerned. "You need to eat..."

Zelda sighed and lowered the bowl again, "I know..."

"You're worried..." Link said softly.

Zelda nodded slowly, "If I can't access my powers... Everyone – the whole kingdom – will be doomed."

"That's enough." Link said with surprising sternness. Zelda looked up at him in shock, "There is nothing more we can do about that so maybe we need to focus on something else. Ten thousand years ago, they had the divine beasts to help them but what about the time before that? What did they do then? Maybe there is another way. We need to keep looking and try to figure out a different strategy."

Zelda tried hard to think of anything that might help them. "I'll consult the library at the castle when we get back. Maybe there is a hint we are overlooking." She knew there wasn't. She had poured over those books hundreds of times before looking for exactly that and had never found a story that didn't involve a descendent of Hylia using powers granted by the goddess to help the hero.

"Good." Link grinned, "I'll help."

Zelda smiled back, "First, you'll get some sleep. You may be my appointed knight, but even you have limits. You must look after yourself. That is an order."

Link raised an eyebrow at her but didn't argue.

They packed up the last of their things and mounted up before heading back to the castle.

Akkala was a beautiful region. The leaves on the trees bore fall colours year round and the morning air was crisp before giving way to a gentle breeze by noon.

The mountains began to level out and rain began to fall as they got into the wetlands. The rain fell so heavy at one point, they had to take shelter under a rock outcropping. A few moments after they took shelter, lightning cracked the sky and Zelda's white stallion started. Link grabbed the reigns from Zelda as the stallion reared up with a scream.

"Whoa! Whoa!" Link soothed and Zelda stepped forward to try to help. Victory's wild eyes seemed to calm as they settled on his rider.

Zelda put a hand on his nose, "There now. It's all right. It is just a storm. We will wait it out."

The stallion huffed but calmed down at that.

Link smiled as he watched the interaction. Zelda smiled back at Link triumphantly.

The storm, though intense, didn't last for long. The lightning spent and the rains slowed and they were able to continue on their way. Once they reached Thim's Bridge to cross the Zora River, the rain let up entirely and the rest of the journey, though already soaked through, was under clear skies.

As they passed through the East Gate of the castle, their clothing was just damp. They dismounted at the stable and removed the gear from their horses before handing them off to the stable hands.

"I mean it... Get some sleep and call on me in the library when you are rested." Zelda said firmly. Link nodded as he untied her bags from the saddle, "I can carry those up. Please, just rest. I am sure I'll be safe from here."

Link nodded again and passed her the bags. He was exhausted so he wasn't about to fight those orders.

Link hung his own bags over his shoulder and headed toward the barracks. He fortunately didn't run into anyone on the way and once in his room, he dropped his bags unceremoniously on the floor, stripped the damp clothing off, hung it over his chair and slumped down on the bed. Within moments, he was asleep.

—————

Why am I doing this... Zelda closed another book with frustration. I've poured through these a thousand times. I'm not going to find anything new.

She leaned back in her chair and let her head fall back so she was staring at the ceiling.

"Your majesty..." Zelda groaned as she sat up again and looked to the young servant boy. "Sir Link asked me to let you know he will be here shortly."

Zelda's heart skipped at this news and she quickly glanced at the candle burning on the hearth. Only four hours... He'll need to turn in early tonight so he can get caught up on sleep. Her heart fell at that but she was still glad he had managed to sleep some.

She turned back to the servant and nodded, "Thank you, please send him straight in."

The servant bowed and backed out of the room.

Zelda stood and put the book she had been reading back before perusing the titles of other tomes.

She pulled another book off the shelf on the history of the Eldin region and laid it out on the table.

Just then, Link walked in looking refreshed. Zelda smiled up at him, relieved to take a break from pouring through books. "You look as though you've rejoined the world of the living."

Link looked sheepish, "Yeah... I'm sorry for allowing myself to get so tired. It won't happen again."

"No, it won't. I won't allow it. From now on, you need to take better care of yourself as well. It is just as important that you not get sick as it is that I not get sick." Zelda scolded with a smile.

Link smirked, "As you wish, your highness." He looked down at the book she was sitting over, "So what have you learned so far? Any leads?"

Zelda sighed and shook her head, "Nothing I haven't already read about..."

Link frowned, "What have you been looking at?"

Zelda stood and lead him over to the shelves she had looked at. "From here to here." She swept her finger along the books she had read through already.

Link studied them for a moment, "These are all histories..." He looked around at the other shelves nearby. "I'll start in this section." He pulled a book about important landmarks in Hyrule off the shelf and they walked back to the table.

They both read through their books in silence for a time before something caught Link's attention. "The coliseum!"

Zelda looked up at him with a blank expression.

"I remember in one of our classes that something had been hidden within the coliseum a long time ago. It was a tool that had been used against Ganon. Maybe we can find something there." Link said excitedly.

Zelda bit her lip sceptically, "I haven't heard that story... but maybe. We will go in a few days. We both could use some rest."

They continued pouring through books for a few hours and finally Link looked up, "I think I'm done for now. None of the words are sticking anymore."

Zelda nodded, "I think you're right. That's enough for today." She stood up and closed her book.

They put the books back on the shelf and walked out together.

"I think..." Zelda started, "I think the coliseum is our best bet at this point. I'll make arrangements for a field survey the day after tomorrow. That will give us time to rest up." She paused looking sad, "The day after, we will have to make our way to Mount Lanayru... to the last of the Springs..."

Link frowned, "Is that what you want?"

Zelda shook her head, "It doesn't matter what I want... My father demands it. If my powers do not awaken there then..."

Link knew how that sentence ended without her having to say it. "Hey..." he took her shoulders and turned her to face him, "No one can say you aren't trying everything."

Zelda looked up at him, "My father can."

"Well, he clearly isn't seeing everything you're doing." Link smiled at her, trying to instil some confidence in her. "We will go if it will lay your fears to rest."

Zelda smiled back weakly, "Thank you, Link."

—————

"Princess?"

Zelda stopped in the hallway and turned around and Link followed suit. "Impa!" The princess beamed and quickly closed the distance to the Sheikah woman. "What a wonderful surprise! What are you doing here?"

Impa returned the smile, "I'm here on some royal business."

Zelda raised an eyebrow, "And what royal business might that be?"

Impa grinned impishly – an expression Link wasn't accustomed to seeing on the normally serious woman, "A birthday, actually."

Zelda blushed, "Really, you shouldn't have come all that way just for that..." She looked down and Link watched her with surprise. How had he not known her birthday was coming?

Impa waved her hand dismissively, "I know you're not interested in a party, but I still wanted to wish you good fortune on your birthday."

"Oh..." Zelda clasped her hands together in front of herself to keep herself from fidgeting in embarrassment. "Thank you, Impa. That's very kind of you."

Link watched the exchange silently. He would have to do something for her but he didn't want to embarrass her if she didn't want to make a big deal out of it.

"I'm afraid there won't be much of a party for my birthday this year." Zelda continued, "I am to pray at the Spring of Wisdom..."

Impa looked suddenly angry, "Really? He isn't even going to give you a day to celebrate your birthday before sending you up the mountain? I'll have words with him..." The Sheikah woman turned to head towards the audience chamber but Zelda reached out and grabbed her arm to stop her.

"It's quite all right, Impa. I must be single-minded..." Zelda sighed, looking down before putting on a happy face, "There will be plenty of time to celebrate after Calamity Ganon has been defeated."

Link could see through the act and it seemed that Impa could as well by the face she was making but the older woman just put a hand on her hip and replied flippantly, "Fine, but don't forget to take some time to enjoy yourself too. Who knows when you'll get another chance."

Zelda nodded, "I will. Thank you, Impa."

Impa turned towards the audience chamber and waved over her shoulder, "I have some other business with your father. I'll see you later."

They watched her turn the corner then Zelda tried to avoid eye contact with Link, turning back the way they had been going.

Link grabbed her arm, "You're not getting out of this that easily! Why didn't you tell me?"

Zelda looked down, "Because it's not a big deal. I have more important things to be concerned with and don't have time to be dealing with further distraction."

Link frowned but loosed his grip and let his hand fall to his side. "I still wish you would have told me."

"I don't..." She looked up and met his eyes and her expression softened, "I'm sorry. I just don't want it to be made into anything."

Link's expression softened as well, "I won't but I think after everything, I should be allowed to wish you a happy birthday." He smirked slightly.

Zelda's expression remained neutral for a moment then she smiled softly, "Yes, I suppose you should. I'm sorry I kept it from you."

"It's okay. But no more secrets like that, okay?"

She nodded.

—————

They left early in the morning to head to the coliseum. The sun hadn't risen yet and the moon cast an eerie glow over the field beyond the castle walls.

"Tomorrow night is the full moon." Zelda commented as she stared up at it.

Link followed her gaze. He'd never much payed attention to the superstitions about the phases of the moon but he couldn't help but feel unsettled by it.

As they travelled, they didn't see any of the regular wildlife they were used to seeing. Deer, wild horses, rabbits and even birds seemed to hide from them.

The sun began to stretch its rays over the land of Hyrule but the usual wake up calls of birds singing were absent. Zelda rode closer to Link instinctively and Link was listening carefully to anything that might preclude an attack. None came and they made the trip undisturbed but the eerie feeling never left them.

They crossed the bridge over Aquame Lake and the enormous stone structure loomed ahead. Time had taken a toll on the coliseum and parts of the walls had caved in. The entrance was mostly intact but just beyond, they could see piles of stone where there had once been stands.

They dismounted and let the horses graze nearby as they went inside. They didn't get very far before Link pushed the princess behind a wall and put his hand over her mouth. He used his other hand to put a finger over his lips to let her know to be quiet. She nodded and he released her. She peeked around the wall and saw a lynel in the middle of the arena. Her eyes widened but she stayed quiet. She turned back to Link and saw him draw the Master Sword quietly. She shook her head angrily. He's not serious!

Link grinned and nodded. He was about to step out when Zelda grabbed his arm and when he looked at her, she mouthed 'NO!' While shaking her head.

He mouthed back 'Yes!' Before trying to step out again.

Zelda pulled him back toward her again and glared at him furiously before looking around and whispering, "If you're going to be an idiot, at least be smart about it! Use the arena to your advantage. Don't just rush in head on!"

Link looked above and saw a hole in the ceiling nearby where he could climb up. He looked back down at the princess and grinned, "Good thinking!"

He took a running start and used the wall to kick off and grab the ledge above to pull himself up. He disappeared above a moment later and Zelda looked for a better spot to take cover.

Link circled around the arena having to climb over some rock piles to get to a spot where he could take on the lynel away from where the princess was hiding. Once he found a good vantage point, he pulled out his bow and knocked an arrow. He took aim, let out a breath and loosed an arrow. It struck the back of the lynel's neck. He had hoped it would sever the spinal chord but it didn't hit such a vital spot with enough power behind it. The lynel roared and turned toward him. It took a moment for the beast to spot him but Link had already launched himself off the second level and drove his sword into the beast's horse shoulder.

It roared again, rearing up and throwing Link to the ground. He managed to flip and land on his feet but his sword was stuck where he had stabbed it in. The lynel grabbed the sword out of his side and threw it to the other side of the arena.

"Damn it!" Link cursed and drew his bow again. He didn't have time to knock another arrow before the lynel charged him. It swung its massive sword and Link tried to backflip out of the way but felt the wind of the blade a little too close for comfort.

When he landed, the lynel swung again and he didn't quite time his dodge right and it caught him in the foot, tripping him. He landed hard on his side and saw the beast rear up to stomp him to death. An arrow struck it in the eye before it had a chance and the beast roared out in rage as he clutched his eye.

Link rolled out of the way and stood up running to grab his sword. The creature collected himself before he could reach the sword and started to charge again. Link felt the earth shaking beneath him as the beast approached and spun, knocking an arrow, drew and loosed the arrow at the beast. It struck the beast in the cheek and the lynel stumbled, giving Link just enough time to reach the sword. He picked it up, spun again and did an off handed slash across the beast's other cheek as it fell towards him.

The lynel's muscular arms flailed wildly and pushed Link back far enough that the lynel could right itself again before Link could close the distance. Link sprinted around the outside of the arena to gain some distance before turning back to face the lynel again but realized his mistake as it took in a deep breath and shot a fireball at him. Link ducked behind a pile of stones just in time to avoid getting scorched.

When the smoke cleared, Link noticed a pile of human bones piled up near the wall with several human skulls piled on top. He gripped his sword a little tighter and peeked around the rock pile. The lynel was galloping toward him again. Link took a deep breath and stepped out to sprint toward the lynel. As it swung its massive sword again, Link ducked and rolled, coming up again just beside the beast. He swung the Master Sword and severed the lynel's leg just below its knee and the beast crashed forward with its next step. Link spun and raced towards its head that had hit the ground with a loud crack. He raised his sword above his head and swung it downward with all his might, crashing through the beast's spine and severing the chord running through.

He jumped back and watched the beast's limbs spasm as it died. When it stopped moving, Link wiped the sweat from his brow and turned toward where the princess was stepping out from behind the wall.

They walked toward each other and as they got closer, Link could see the angry look on the princess's face in greater clarity.

"Was that really worth almost getting killed for?" Zelda demanded fist on her hip.

Link wiped his sword off, trying to act casual, "Wouldn't be too easy to find anything of value here with a lynel roaming the place, would it?"

"That's not the point! We don't even know if there is anything worth our time here! We are just going off something you vaguely recall from who knows how long ago or from what source! You could have died and then we all would have been doomed!" She was yelling now and Link had to take a step back. "Link, you need to be more careful! You are not invincible!"

"I..." Link's rebuttal died on his lips. "I'm sorry I worried you..."

She softened, "Well, we're here now... we might as well start looking..."

Link nodded and looked around. "Any ideas where it might be?"

She turned toward him and raised an eyebrow at him, "This was your idea..."

He scratched the back of his head, "If I was trying to hide something useful around here... I'd probably bury it."

She laughed, "And we didn't bring any shovels..."

Link counted the levels of the coliseum in his head... four. "Maybe it's at the top?"

"In plain sight?" Zelda asked condescendingly.

"Well... it's not really plain sight. We can't see way up there... and there was a lynel guarding the area." Link shrugged.

"I don't think lynels guard treasure like that..." Zelda said, eyeing the corpse.

Link looked around again and spotted a way up to the first level. "I'll take a look up there. You look around down here." He looked back at her, "Unless you've got a better idea?"

Zelda shook her head and started looking around the middle of the arena.

Link climbed up the spot on the wall into a hole in the ceiling where it had caved in. Once he got up, he turned and found a stairwell up to the next level. He climbed up that and had to walk around a ways before he found another spot he could climb up easily.

Before he climbed up, he glanced down at Zelda and saw her take out the Sheikah Slate. Is she taking pictures? He shook his head and climbed up to the next level.

The last level was more like a series of ledges and not a true platform like the others. He looked for a spot that would be easiest to climb and spotted some vines running down one of the walls near one of the ledges. He was part way up when he heard Zelda calling up to him.

"Link! I found something!" He glanced over his shoulder and she had used the Sheikah Slate to grab something buried under the ground and was working on lifting it up somehow. He turned and continued climbing. Once he got up onto the ledge, he looked around. On the next ledge over, there looked to be a chest of some sort. He backed up as far as he could on the ledge and took a running start, leaping at the edge of the rock and launching toward the next ledge. He managed to catch himself on the ledge in the gut and his legs swung under the ceiling, nearly making him lose his grip but he steadied himself and pulled himself up the rest of the way. He walked over to the chest and it was locked.

"Great..." He picked it up and found it was really light. He shook it and heard something rattling around in it but it didn't sound very fragile. He walked over to the edge and looked down, "Watch out below!" Zelda looked up and Link tossed the chest down into the arena before jumping down to the level below. He looked down and saw that the chest had broken open. Lowering himself down over the edge, he swung his legs to land on the next level. From there, he jogged back down the stairs and jumped the rest of the way to the ground.

"It's a key..." Zelda looked at it in confusion then looked at the metal chest she had pulled from the ground.

Link arrived just as she tried the key in the other chest. It fit and she turned it. Click.

Zelda glanced up at Link before she opened the chest and inside was a bow.

"Is this..." Zelda lifted the bow up and once the light touched it, blinding light shone out from it.

They both had to cover their eyes and turn away from the brilliance of it.

Link blinked several times as his vision returned to him. Zelda was looking again at the bow that had blinded them both. It wasn't shining as brightly now but it still seemed to emit its own light.

"It's the Bow of Light..." Zelda breathed in wonder.

Chapter Text

"The Bow of Light?" Link asked, incredulous. He had heard of it before. It had been instrumental in defeating Ganon in the past. It was known to be one of the few weapons that could actually cause him damage. It was an instrument of pure light wielded by the goddess herself. "Are you sure?"

Zelda looked up at him, eyes wide, and nodded. "It has to be. The way it shone light like that..." She looked back at the bow, "I have to admit, I was sceptical coming out here but... this was certainly worth it!"

Link grinned at that and offered her a hand up which she took graciously. "We should start heading back." He said glancing upwards at the sun's position.

Zelda nodded and headed toward the stone archway.

The horses had moved off a little ways from where they had left them but were still happily grazing on grass. Once Link had secured the bow to Zelda's saddle and let go, the light died to a dim flicker.

"Maybe it only glows when it is being held?" Link suggested.

Zelda shrugged, "I'll have to read up on it when we get back to the castle."

Link gave her a leg up into the saddle then mounted up himself and Zelda led the way back.

"Link..." Zelda started and Link turned towards her, "Let's go a different route back."

Link nodded, remembering how unsettling the quiet was on the ride out here. "Lead the way."

They circled around the coliseum and onto the path on the other side of the mountain the coliseum was built into. It wasn't the easiest road but the horses were sure of foot and soon they were walking along the path.

They passed Outskirt Stable and headed North along the path. It was almost evening when they reached Safula Hill.

Zelda reached down and patted Victory's thick neck, "'Be sure to take the time to soothe your mount... That's the only way it will know how you truly feel.'"

Victory huffed appreciatively and Link couldn't help but smile.

"Your advice was quite helpful – thank you." She said to Link with a smile. "This little one and I are getting along quite well now." She paused, tone changing, "At first, I wasn't sure if I should outfit him with all of the royal gear. I thought maybe he should have to earn it first." She smiled again, looking down at her mount, proudly. "But it works! He wears it like a true natural." She turned back to Link again, "I'm trying to be a bit more empathetic. Benefit of the doubt, you know?"

They continued to ride towards Sanidin Park with the sun setting behind it. The stone horse monument seemed fitting to their conversation.

Once they arrived on the stone walkway, they dismounted to stretch their legs. Zelda walked toward the railing overlooking Hyrule field.

"See that mountain?" Zelda asked, looking at the massive mountain on the horizon, "That's Mount Lanayru. It takes its name from the Goddess of Wisdom. Lanayru's decree is very specific." She looked down sounding very somber, "It says: 'No one is allowed, under the age of seventeen... For only the wise are permitted a place upon the mountain.'" She paused before looking up into the distance, "I've prayed at the Spring of Courage and at the Spring of Power, yet neither awoke anything inside me. But maybe up there... Perhaps the Spring of Wisdom, the final of the three, will be the one." She brought her hands up to her breast, "To be honest, I have no real reason to think that will be the case."

The golden sunset silhouetted her figure over the field and again, Link thought he was able to see the goddess herself in the princess just then.

"But there's always the chance that the next moment will change everything." Zelda lowered her hands to her side. Gazing out toward the mountain, she continued, "Tomorrow... is my seventeenth birthday." She turned to face Link, golden locks blowing gently behind her gazing at him with sadness in her green eyes, "So then I shall go... and make my way up the mountain."

He watched her a moment, afraid to break the majesty of her image against the setting sun. "I shall go with you."

Zelda nodded, "Yes... My father has insisted the other Champions see me off and greet me when I return. All of them have agreed except Revali. No surprise there."

Link smirked and saw a shadow of amusement cross the princess's face as well. "I somehow do not think his presence will make a difference either way..." Link commented.

Zelda smiled, "I think not..."

They stood in silence for a moment as the last rays of daylight disappeared beyond the distant mountains.

"We should go..." Link said and Zelda nodded as they started walking back to the horses. They mounted up and continued back to the castle.

It was late when they arrived and Link saw Zelda to her room.

"Link..." Zelda spoke his name and he turned back to her, waiting for her to continue, "Will you... think less of me if I do not succeed tomorrow?"

Link could see the fear in her eyes as she asked this and he reached up to cup her cheek. She gently put her hand over top of his and searched his eyes, "I could never think less of you, Princess."

The fear gave way to a small smile.

"Good night, Princess..." He said as he pulled his hand away.

"Good night, Sir Knight..." She replied before closing her door.

—————

Zelda was enveloped in a suffocating darkness. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she gasped for air that seemed to escape her. Just as it felt like death was upon her, a blinding light chased away the darkness.

When her eyes cleared, a beautiful woman stood alone, haloed by the light. Zelda watched her, entranced.

The woman gazed upon Zelda then began speaking urgently but no sound came forth.

"What are you saying? I can't hear you." Zelda said but the woman's lips kept moving soundlessly.

"Wait! I don't understand!" Zelda cried and the woman began fading into he darkness again. "No! Come back!"

Zelda woke with a start, breathing heavily under sweat soaked blankets. She blinked a few times and looked around her room.

Was that just a dream? Or a premonition?

She pulled the covers off of her and swung her legs over the edge of her bed. She walked to her dresser and pulled out a new nightgown, changing out of the soaked one and into a fresh one then she walked toward the window and gazed out.

The moon was full and bright over the kingdom and she gazed toward Mount Lanayru. A chill spread over her and a sense of impending doom filled her heart.

She moved over to her desk and pulled out her diary. She wouldn't be getting any more sleep tonight.

—————

Link knocked on Zelda's bedroom door. He was earlier than they had agreed upon but he'd decided to take a chance with this. It was a moment before the door opened and Beth, Zelda's personal maid peeked through.

"Sir Link! You're here early. The princess isn't ready yet." She started to close the door but Zelda's voice stopped her.

"Wait." The princess appeared at the door. She was dressed in her travelling clothing and her hair was brushed but wasn't braided the way it normally was yet. "Beth, please excuse us for a moment."

Beth bowed and left the room. Zelda stepped back and opened the door for Link to come in.

He looked around for a moment before settling his gaze on Zelda's inquiring look. "Sorry to bother you so early. I just came to give you this." He brought his hand out from behind his back and presented a small wooden box to her.

Her eyes narrowed in confusion as she slowly reached out to take it. She lifted it up and examined it before glancing back up to Link.

"I thought I made it clear that I didn't want to make a big deal out of my birthday?" Zelda said though her slight smirk showed her pleasure at having received a gift.

Link relaxed a little seeing that his gamble had paid off. "It's nothing really. But I didn't think it was right to completely ignore the day."

To hide her smile, Zelda looked down at the box again and opened it up. A melody started to play as soon as she opened it. It was a familiar tune from her childhood that made her think of her mother. Her eyes widened and she looked up at Link, "Where did you find this?"

"I called in a favour with one of the craftsmen and had him make it custom for you. The court minstrel helped with the melody. He said it was an important song to the royal family – a lullaby that legend says helped the princess and her hero long ago. I thought it was fitting." He watched as she closed her eyes listening to the song play to finish before she closed the box.

She opened her eyes and looked up at him with an expression he hadn't seen on her before. "Thank you, Link. This means so much to me." She wanted to say more but a lump formed in her throat that made further speech impossible. She turned to set it down on her desk, using that as an excuse to hide the tears forming in her eyes. Memories of her mother humming that song to her as she fell asleep drifted through her mind. After a moment, she took a deep breath and turned to face her knight again, "I should continue getting ready. I'll be along shortly."

Link bowed to her and left the room. Zelda turned and ran her fingers over the intricately carved box with a soft smile on her face. A moment later, Beth returned to the room with an inquiring look. Zelda decided to keep the music box to herself and left her maid in the dark as to what the surprise visit had been about. Without further question, Beth began braiding her hair and soon, Zelda was making her way down to the stable.

Urbosa travelled with them from the castle.

"Where were you two all day yesterday? I tried to find you but your maid said you had left early." Urbosa questioned, raising an eyebrow suggestively.

Link could feel the heat rise in his face and Zelda blushed as well before blurting out that they had gone on a field survey.

"We found this!" Zelda took the Bow of Light from the saddlebag. Link didn't realize she had packed it with her but he smiled proudly at her for thinking of it.

Urbosa studied it a moment as it grew brighter, "Is that..."

"The Bow of Light!" Zelda exclaimed excitedly, "Yes it is!"

"Where did you find it?" Urbosa asked incredulously.

Zelda told the story of how they had been searching for clues and had gone to the ancient coliseum to find it. She cleverly left out the part about the lynel as Link was certain that Urbosa would have words for him if she'd found out about that part of the story.

"Impressive! I'm sure that will be helpful!" Urbosa praised. She reached out to touch the bow and recoiled her hand with a gasp after she touched it. "Damn thing burned me!" She looked down at the red mark on her finger with a frown.

Zelda blinked in surprise, "Do you think, perhaps, it can only be touched by certain people?"

Urbosa sucked on the burned finger to try to cool it. "If so, it clearly doesn't like me very much."

They continued in silence and Link thought he saw a worried look on the princess's face.

She must be worried about failing at the Spring... Link surmised but he couldn't say anything to her about it in front of Urbosa so he kept silent.

They walked along Lanayru Promenade and left the horses with some of the guards posted there. There was an outpost where Zelda was able to change into her prayer gown in privacy and they continued to Lanayru East Gate on foot.

Ahead, they saw Daruk and Mipha waiting for them. Daruk waved his massive arm at them, "About time you made it here!"

Urbosa smirked, "We had a bit further to go..."

"Hello Link... Princess... Urbosa..." Mipha said quietly as they approached.

"I guess Revali has decided not to show up... No skin off my back." Urbosa commented wryly.

Link suppressed a smirk.

Zelda looked up the mountain with an unreadable expression. "I won't have time to wait on him. It is a long road to the Spring of Wisdom..."

"You best get going then, little Princess!" Daruk stated. "If Revali shows up, I'll hold him down until you get back."

Link did smirk at that mental image.

The humour didn't reach Zelda though and she looked to Link. He quickly went back to his usual stoic expression and nodded to her.

She turned toward the mountain again and began walking the long path ahead and Link followed.

They weren't very far up the mountain when the air cooled and snow slowed their walk.

Link looked at the princess with concern, "We should turn back and get you something warmer to wear..."

She just shook her head and continued up the mountain path.

Link frowned but noticed she wasn't shivering. There was something different about her today... maybe today was the day she would finally unlock her powers...

The path grew steeper and narrower as they climbed. The snow and ice making the path more treacherous than Link had anticipated but Zelda never showed any sign of being cold. She was set and determined to pray at the Spring and she wasn't about to let anything get in her way.

Link watched some wolves who eyed them hungrily from a ledge. He drew his sword and the wolves backed out of sight, seeming to understand the threat.

As they rounded the final bend of the path, the wicked icy wind seemed to die down and the Spring of Wisdom lay serene before them. Link watched Zelda as she walked ahead of him on the stone dais.

She paused at the end of it. The goddess statue was ahead of them standing tall out of the water. She stepped slowly into the water and walked closer to the statue. Link watched but she still didn't show any signs of being cold. He reached down and stuck his hand in the water and was surprised that it wasn't nearly as cold as the air had been going up the mountain.

The sun was high in the sky now and was beginning to warm the air.

We'll still have to wait for her dress to dry before we can head back down... He thought frowning.

He stood guard as she prayed while an eerie silence filled the spring. It was unsettling and he found himself looking over his shoulder a number of times, half expecting a Yiga assassin to appear out of no where. None came, however, and he was left with a chilling uneasiness.

After a few hours, he heard a splash and a sigh from the princess. He turned toward her and saw her standing in the water facing him and looking utterly defeated.

She started walking towards him and he offered her his hand. She took it and he pulled her up onto the dais.

Without a word, he knew what the outcome was and there was no need to say anything. She wrung the water from her skirts and while looking down, turned her head over her shoulder to him, "We should head back down to the others."

"You need to dry off first. You'll freeze." Link insisted.

She shook her head, "I'll be fine. Let's go." And began walking.

Link followed after her but she was still showing no signs of being cold somehow.

No wolves bothered them on the way down the mountain and the icy winds didn't seem to touch the princess. Much faster than Link expected, they were back down the mountain and the other Champions waited for them – Revali included.

The four of them gathered around as they approached. Daruk spoke first, "Well? Don't keep us in suspense." Even the huge Goron had worry in his beady blue eyes as he walked along beside the princess. "How'd everything go up there on the mountain?"

Zelda paused and just shook her head, looking down.

Everyone was silent for a moment, taking in this news. Revali finally stepped forward and in a surprisingly gentle tone asked, "So you didn't feel anything? No power at all?"

Zelda crossed her arms in front of her waist, still looking down and spoke softly, "I'm sorry, no."

Urbosa saved her the trouble of further questioning, "Then let's move on. You've done all you could. Feeling sorry for yourself won't be of any help. After all, it's not like your last shot was up there on Mount Lanayru." She turned to face up the mountain, hand on her exposed hip. "Anything could finally spark the power to seal Ganon away. We just have to keep looking for that... thing."

Her words seemed to revive hope in the other Champions and they all took turns nodding encouragingly.

Link just watched his princess from where he stood behind her. She was putting on as much of a brave face as she could muster but Link knew this had crushed her. The defeated look she'd given him when she had finished praying had told him everything he needed to know and the last ounce of faith he had in religion fell away from him. No goddess worth worshipping would put her through such torture...

"That's kind of you." Zelda said softly, still looking down. "Thank you."

Mipha stepped forward and her sweet voice chimed in, "If I may... I thought you... Well... I'm not sure how to put this into words..." Zelda looked up to meet the Zora's eyes. "I'm actually quite embarrassed to say it."

Everyone was watching and listening to Mipha now.

The Zora princess looked down, "But I was thinking about what I do when I'm healing. You know, what usually goes through my mind..."

Link thought back to their conversation back on Vah Ruta, Could she mean...

Mipha looked up to meet Zelda's eyes again, "It helps when I think – When I think about –"

A loud boom shook the earth and Link reached out to catch Zelda as she lost her footing. Once they had all regained their balance, Revali shot up into the air and looked toward the castle. Link could see the Rito's eyes narrow from where he was standing and a sickening feeling sunk into him.

They could hear lightning striking in the direction of the castle and a horrible roar that echoed through the canyon.

"It's here." Urbosa stated.

"This is it, then..." Daruk said, clenching his enormous fists.

Mipha's voice seemed unsteady, "Are you sure?"

"Positive." Even Revali seemed sobered by what he'd just seen as he set down beside them.

Zelda seemed on the verge of a panic attack, "It's awake. Ganon!"

An evil magenta and black smoke began to ooze over the mountain and Zelda stepped back in fear.

Daruk turned towards the rest of them, "Let's stop wasting time!" He said commandingly. "We're gonna need everything we got to take that thing down!" He stood tall, "Now Champions! To your Divine Beasts! Show that swirling swine who's boss!" He turned to look at Link, "Link will need to meet Ganon head on when we attack! This needs to be a unified assault!" He lifted his hand in a fist. "Little guy! You get to Hyrule Castle."

Link nodded and ignored Revali scoffing beside him.

Daruk seemed to emphasize his next statement a little more, "You can count on us for support." Revali was quiet this time and Daruk continued, "But it's up to you to pound Ganon into oblivion!" He held up his hand and made a fist as though crushing Ganon in his own hand.

Urbosa walked behind Zelda and put her hands on the princess's shoulders, "Come. We should go." She spoke as a mother would to her child, "We need to get you someplace safe."

Zelda looked up and set her jaw, pulling away from Urbosa, "No." She said firmly and turning to face the others. "I am not a child anymore! I may not be much use on the battlefield... But there must... There must be something I can do to help!"

They were all silent for a moment and Daruk scratched the back of his head uncertainly.

Link stepped forward, "You can come with me. The rest of you to your Divine Beasts. I will protect the princess and we will get everyone away from the castle."

The Champions all looked at each other but none of them argued. They all looked back and nodded in unison.

"I'll be ready to strike when you go to face Ganon." Daruk stated before rolling into a ball and rolling out of the canyon back to Death Mountain.

Revali shot into the air again without a word and headed North West back to Vah Medoh.

Mipha walked with the others until they were back near the water below. "I'll be waiting for the right time with the others. Link, I won't let you down." With that, she leaped into the water and swam back to Zora's Domain and her awaiting Divine Beast.

Link, Zelda and Urbosa retrieved their horses and set a hard pace to their respective destinations.

As they neared the castle, the horses were frothing at the mouth from the hard ride. They rode to Lon Lon Ranch and Malon ran up to them, barely contained panic on her face.

"Link! What's happening?" She cried as she got closer.

He dismounted and handed her the reigns for Epona. "Look after her until I can return. Get out of here if you must. We need to get everyone out of the castle."

Zelda dismounted as well and went to take the Bow of Light out of the saddlebag. A crash of lightning spooked Victory and he took off.

"Wait!" Zelda called after him but the stallion was gone.

Link took her arm to get her attention, "Leave him. We can find him later. We need to make sure everyone gets out safely."

Zelda watched as the white stallion disappeared from sight then looked back to Link determinedly and nodded.

Link looked back at Malon, "Be safe..."

Malon nodded, "You too..."

Link nodded back and turned with Zelda to head toward the castle.

As they approached, the smoky apparition of Ganon circled above the castle. It's massive head was the only thing that had any sort of shape and resembled a the head of a boar. Suddenly, four huge balls of magenta smoke shot out to the four corners of Hyrule. They watched them go and realized with horror what their targets were.

"No... The Divine Beasts!" Zelda cried as she started to run towards the South West where Urbosa was headed.

Link grabbed her and held her back. "We can't help them now. We must play our part. The Champions are strong."

Link looked toward the East where Mipha had gone and found himself praying for her safety.

Zelda stopped struggling against him and stared toward the Gerudo homeland in silent prayer for Urbosa as well before turning again toward the castle.

As they neared the gate to Castle Town, people ran, screaming out into the field.

"Impa!" Zelda yelled and ran toward the crowd. Link raced after her and saw the tall Sheikah woman spot them and run towards them as well.

"Go! Get away from this place!" Impa cried. Link caught up to Zelda and grabbed her, stopping her as through the chaos, guardians appeared, shooting their lethal lasers at the fleeing civilians.

Impa grabbed the princess and pulled her running away towards the South. "Run! The Guardians have turned on us."

Zelda looked over her shoulder back at the castle as she ran, "What about my father?"

"The king is dead." Impa yelled over the screams.

Chapter Text

    Zelda nearly stopped in her tracks but Link grabbed her arm and forced her to run.

    A guardian was right on their tail and Impa turned to face it. "Get the princess out of here! I'll draw it off!"

    Link didn't wait to see what the Sheikah would do and pulled her along behind him as he ran.

    They continued South past the now evacuated Lon Lon ranch and ran along the river, taking shelter within the trees as put distance between themselves and the castle.

    Link didn't know when the rain had started to fall but the ground was muddy and slick.

    He pulled the princess along behind him, sword drawn to cut down anything that got in their way.

    He felt her hand slip from his grip and heard her fall. He turned and stopped running to go and collect her but the way she crumpled on the ground made him stop.

    "How..." she breathed heavily, "How did it come to this?"

    He sheathed the Master Sword and knelt on one knee in front of her, listening.

    "The Divine Beasts... The guardians..." Her voice nearly broke as she spoke, "They've all turned against us..." Her fists tightened on the grass, "It was... Calamity Ganon. It turned them all against us!"

    Mud splatters covered her arms and her white prayer gown. Link knew they should keep running but for the moment, they were safe and Link would give her the time she needed as long as he could.

    She looked up slowly, not quite meeting his eyes, "And everyone – Mipha, Urbosa, Revali and Daruk..." She finally met his eyes, tears flowing from her own, "They're all trapped inside those things..."

    She covered her face with her hands in shame, "It's all my fault! Our only hope for defeating Ganon is lost all because I couldn't harness this cursed power!"

    Link knelt before her as she seemed to collect herself.

    "Everything – everything I've done up until now... It was all for nothing..." She dropped her hands and looked up into Link's eyes, "So I really am just a failure!" She cried then slowly looked down, "All my friends... the entire kingdom... my father most of all..." She looked up and spoke more softly, "I tried, and I failed them all... I've left them... all to die."

    She squeezed her eyes shut and sobbed, collapsing into Link's arms. He held her as she sobbed, thinking of his own friends he had left in the castle and his own father who would have died protecting the king.

    He felt his own heart clench at the thought of all that had been lost all ready. He squeezed his eyes shut and took a breath, pushing those thoughts aside. I have to protect the princess...

    Her sobs slowed down and he took her firmly by the arms and held her up from him, "We have to go..." he said gently yet firmly.

    Zelda sniffed and nodded, standing back up. They began to run again. They paused to catch their breaths at Riverside Stable. There were many survivors from Castle Town there, frantically trying to buy up horses to escape further but the stable owners had to fight them off to keep their own horses in case they should need to abandon the stable.

    "We can't stay here." Link said to the Princess when he saw the accusing looks people were casting their way. We were supposed to stop this...

    Zelda nodded and they continued South along the river toward the bridge that would lead them through the Duelling Peaks and crossed the river again at the Big Twin Bridge. The Duelling Peaks Stable wasn't as crazy but the big swords the stable owners and inhabitants were holding showed Link they weren't welcome there. They continued up the path across Kakariko Bridge where they were met by Robbie, one of the Sheikah researchers.

    "Robbie! Where are Purah and Impa?" Zelda demanded.

    "They're in the village. Impa sent me to wait for you." Robbie replied calmly.

    Zelda released a breath in relief.

    Robbie looked beyond them, "Let's get you two to the village where we can make a game plan."

    They both nodded and continued up the path.

    They met Impa at the entrance of the village where she was giving orders to the other Sheikah. She turned to them, "Good. You made it." She gave them a quick once over and determined they were uninjured. "I want you two to go to Hateno Village. It is far enough away that you should be safe. The men are putting up defences at Fort Hateno in Blatchery Plain back the way you came in case the guardians make it this far." She eyed Link, "We may need you to help support them. Are you up for it?"

    He looked at Zelda, not wanting to leave her side.

    "We will make sure the princess is safe." Impa stated, seeing his expression.

    Link hesitated then nodded.

    Impa nodded back once, decisively, "We will send support as well if it comes to it. Rest up then head out."

    "Wait!" Zelda grabbed Impa's arm, "What about the Citadel? Surely the soldiers there would – "

    "The Citadel has fallen." Impa said flatly and Zelda's hand slowly fell back to her side as the weight of the news hit her.

    Impa moved on to continue giving orders to prepare against the guardians.

    Zelda dropped to the ground in exhaustion and shock and Link slumped against a tree.

    "How?" Zelda stared at the ground without really seeing, "How could the Citadel fall so quickly? The cannons should have..."

    Link moved in front of her and took her by the shoulders so she had to look up at him, "We can't save them now. We need to focus on what we can do and Hateno is something we can still save. Impa is right. We need to rest before we go on."

    Zelda nodded after a moment and Link stood up, helping Zelda to her feet and they headed into Impa's house at the bottom of the hill. Someone brought them both some water to drink as they waited for their muscles to start working again and they gulped it down greedily. They watched the Sheikah bustle around gathering weapons and other supplies before they looked at each other and nodded in understanding. It was time to go.

    Link helped Zelda up and they walked a few steps to loosen up the stiffness that was already starting to set in. He led the way down the path back the way they had come but before they reached the stable, they took the left fork towards Fort Hateno where they met a few soldiers and civilians set to protect the path.

    "Your highness..." One of the soldiers said in awe, "We didn't know you would be coming. We are honoured that you are here to send us into battle."

    Zelda looked at Link then back at the soldier, "I'm honoured to have you in our army."

    The young man smiled at that.

    "Who is in charge here?" Link asked, looking around for someone of rank.

    "I am." An older knight said as he walked over. "Rusl. I fought you at the tournament."

    Link smiled at the memory and put a hand on the other knight's shoulder in comradery. "I remember. I'm glad to see you here."

    Rusl nodded in agreement, "Likewise. And the princess is safe. I'd expect no less from you, Link."

    Zelda smiled, "Sir Rusl, we are indebted to you and your troops."

    "Nonsense. It is our duty to protect Hyrule and the royal family." The older knight bowed to her.

    Zelda indicated for him to rise, "Please, what can we do to help?"

    Rusl looked around, "I think just seeing you is raising the spirits of the soldiers. If you wouldn't mind talking to them, a morale boost after everything we have all been through would go a long way."

    Zelda nodded and set out to talk to some of the soldiers.

    Rusl looked at Link, "How is the castle?"

    Link looked down in shame. "The castle has fallen. The king has fallen..."

    Rusl frowned, "And the Divine Beasts?"

    Link shook his head.

    The older night took a deep breath and sighed, "Well... all is not lost yet. You and the princess are still alive. There is hope so long as you both stand."

    Link looked the other knight in the eye, "Thank you. You have no idea how badly I needed to hear that."

    Rusl nodded then went off to help the others prepare. Link looked around for Zelda and spotted her chatting with one of the younger soldiers. Even covered in mud as she was, she was still beautiful and the look of awe on the young man's face told Link that the boy now had one more thing to fight for.

    You were born for this, Princess... He thought as he watched her.

    "Is that the Master Sword?" A voice behind him caught his attention. Two other young soldiers were looking at his sword. They were younger than Link by a couple of years and clearly very new recruits.

    For once, that question didn't bring him any anxiety. He drew the sword and held it out toward them, "Yes it is."

    The two boys gazed in awe at the fine craftsmanship before drawing their own swords and comparing. The steel of their swords seemed dull in comparison to the shining white blade Link held but that didn't seem to bother the boys.

    "We can't possibly lose with this on our side." One of them said.

    "And with the princess here... We'll beat back those guardians and help you defeat Ganon too." The other said.

    Link smiled at them. I wish I could be that certain... He thought.

    He looked over his shoulder and saw Zelda watching him with an odd smile on her face.

    The boys then asked him if he would show them some techniques so he looked back at them and showed them how to get into a good stance for fighting. When he glanced back at the princess, she was talking to another group of soldiers.

    Their day continued like this until nightfall and the garrison grew quiet. The rain still fell as Zelda walked over to where Link was sitting and took a seat next to him.

    "I keep thinking I'm going to wake up from this horrible nightmare..." She said quietly.

    Link looked at her sympathetically. He'd had a few moments where he hadn't believed what was really happening either.

    She sighed beside him, "I just feel so useless..."

    Link shook his head, "You did a lot for the soldiers here. Many of them were terrified before you talked to them but you've given them hope and you've given them something to fight for."

    She looked up at him and met his eyes, "I think you gave them more hope than I did. You have the Master Sword..."

    "Don't sell yourself short." He replied. "You're still their princess-"

    A horn interrupted what he was going to say and he stood up immediately and looked out over the wall at the field beyond.

    "Guardians..." he said under his breath.

    Zelda looked out over the walls and gasped at the number of them that poured through the Duelling Peaks. The people in the stable started running but the guardians' lasers struck them down one by one. The princess watched in horror with a hand over her mouth before turning into Link's chest, no longer able to watch. He held her and closed his own eyes as the last one fell.

    "You need to go." He said quietly to her.

    She looked up at him sharply, "I won't leave your side."

    Five Sheikah approached them.

    Link watched the Sheikah come closer, knowing they were here to take the princess to safety. "You have to. I can't fight them unless I know you're safe."

    Zelda grabbed his tunic and shook her head, "No. Then don't fight them. I need you with me, Link. All hope is lost if you die fighting them!"

    Rusl looked over at them, "We'll hold them off as long as we can. You both need to survive this."

    Link frowned, not wanting to leave these men to die.

    "We'll be ok. This is our duty." Rusl nodded once at Link and bowed to Zelda, "This battle will be the greatest honour of my life."

    The princess bowed in return to the knight, "I shall carry your honour with me and be strengthened by it, sir knight. Be well..."

    The knight showed a hint of a smile before heading down to the gate to lead the troops out.

    They watched as the soldiers marched out to meet the guardians head on. The archers prepared their arrows but Link knew the arrows would have little effect on the metal and stone exoskeletons of the guardians. Their spider-like legs moved them swiftly over the swamp and ever closer to the fort.

    Soon the guardians in the front stopped and started aiming their lasers at the soldiers. Rusl led the charge and the soldiers started hacking away at the metal hulls with their swords. The cacophony of the assault was cut by the sounds of screams as lasers hit their marks and men died. Bodies flew and landed, lying scorched and limbs stopping at unnatural angles. Moans and groans broke through the rest of the sounds of combat.

    Link watched as three guardians fell to the swords of the soldiers. Three fell but more were coming and already they had lost at least twenty men.

    He looked at Zelda who had her hands over her ears to drown out the cries of dying men. Behind her were the Sheikah ready to take her away to safety.

    He looked back at her, "You have to go now. Before it's too late."

    "What about you?" She demanded.

    "I have to help them retreat. I'll save as many as I can then I'll come find you." He said as calmly as he could.

    She grabbed his tunic again, "No! You'll die if you go out there! That's a suicide mission!" She searched his eyes desperately but he took her hands and loosened their grip on his shirt.

    "I need you to be safe." Link replied, set in his resolve to help the soldiers. He nodded to the Sheikah who stepped forward to take the princess by force if necessary then turned to walk towards the battle.

    She lunged toward him again, "Stop, Link! No! You can't go!"

    He turned and pressed his lips against hers. She stiffened then relaxed in his arms as he held her against him. Her eyes fluttered shut and her lips opened at his urging. He deepened the kiss, savouring all of it that he could, not knowing if he would ever get to do it again. His body and heart had yearned for this for so long and yet he had been denied his desire due to his position. Now, none of that mattered.

    After a moment, they separated and Zelda looked up at him breathlessly with a perfect blush along her cheeks.

    "I will come back for you." Link promised before turning and walking out onto the battlefield.

Chapter Text

The clashing of swords on the metal hulls of the guardians surrounded Link as he rushed into the battle field. Men lay dead around him, scorched marks on their chests and faces where they had been hit by the deadly lasers. The smell of burnt flesh nearly overwhelmed him as he ran past them and into the fray.

In the chaos of the fighting, he managed to get to the first of the guardians and stabbed the Master Sword into its eye just as it was about to fire another laser. It beeped and flashed erratically as it deactivated and dropped to the ground. Link pulled the sword free and rushed toward the next one as the first exploded and the magenta smoke of its corruption dissipated.

The next nearest guardian had spotted him and was taking aim at his chest. The red indicator shone dead center on his chest and as the eye began to blink indicating that it was about to fire, Link jumped to the side, rolling safely out of the blast zone.

A soldier lay dead next to where Link rose again and he picked up the shield that was still attached to the dead man's arm. He attached it to his own arm just in time to use it to deflect a shot from another guardian as he had done with the pot lid at the ball so long ago. The deflected shot crashed back directly into the eye of the guardian, disabling it long enough for a few surviving soldiers to stab their swords into the machine's sensitive eye and destroy it.

Link looked around for Rusl. They need to fall back! They can't win this!

He spotted the older knight and ran towards him. He leaped over another deactivated guardian and hit the ground running when the wind was knocked out of him and a searing pain shot through his right shoulder. He skidded across the ground, wincing in pain when he came to a stop. He coughed a few times as he gasped to get the air back into his lungs. The red dot on his chest showed that the guardian was already taking aim to finish him off but he rolled out of the way at the last second, ignoring the pain in his shoulder as adrenaline pumped through him.

He stood and the red dot was on him again and he held his shield up to block the laser. The pain in his shoulder stopped him from being able to time the deflection properly and the shot obliterated the shield, forcing him to shake the burning leather straps off his arm.

The guardian was walking towards him again on its spider-like legs and Link raced towards it head on. The guardian stopped and took aim again. Link leaped into the air and yelled as he stabbed his sword into the machine's eye before it had a chance to shoot again. He pulled the sword out again as the machine crumpled and deactivated.

He ran towards Rusl and tackled him out of the way just as another guardian shot at the older knight. They hit the ground hard and took a second to get oriented again. When they did, another guardian was upon them. The other soldiers swarmed it and took out its legs as another soldier stabbed his own sword into its eye. It beeped and flickered before it collapsed and deactivated.

Link turned to the older knight, "You have to call them back. There are too many guardians. Fall back to the fort and defend from there. It's a slaughter out here."

Rusl looked around at the dying men around him and the handful of remaining soldiers then nodded at Link. "Fall back to the fort!" He yelled and the soldiers who could grabbed their injured comrades and helped them head back toward the fort.

Link saw one of the younger boys fall and ran to him to help him up. Another guardian was heading toward them and Link realized he wouldn't make it in time to help the soldier.

"Hey!" He yelled, waving his arms to get the machine's attention. It swivelled its bulbous body toward him pointing that red eye at his chest. The boy looked up and saw that Link was drawing the guardian away so he got up and started running.

Link turned all of his attention to the guardian and started running to draw it away and give the boy a head start. A laser hit the ground in front of where Link was about to step and his foot hit the crater left by the blast. Link stumbled and fell into the mud just as another laser shot just above him where he had been running a split second before.

He groaned against the pain in his shoulder as he pushed himself to his feet, grabbing the sword he had dropped in the fall. He turned as the guardian caught up to him and lifted his sword. As the laser flashed at him, he dodged to the left and felt the heat of the laser singe the hairs on his arm. He ran toward the guardian and drove his sword into the eye up to the hilt with a yell.

He heard another yell behind him and saw the boy he had rescued take down a guardian that had been about to fire on Link. He nodded to the boy in gratitude then looked toward the duelling peaks where the guardians continued to pour through towards them.

His stomach sank into the ground at the sight. There are too many!

He turned toward the fort and saw that the first few soldiers were making it back through the gate but the guardians were right on their tails. The archers were shooting at the machines but the arrows were mostly being deflected by the metal hulls.

Link glanced around but the only other soldiers out here were beyond saving. He ran toward the fort, trying to catch up to the guardians and buy the soldiers enough time to get through the gate.

One of the guardians nearby had a visibly weaker spot in one of the legs and as he reached it, he swung the Master Sword, severing the leg and making the guardian stumble. The eye swivelled toward him but it didn't have time to take aim at him before he'd driven the sword into the eye and the guardian fell.

He pulled the blade free and continued to the next one. His shoulder protested painfully as he lifted the blade with both arms and slashed at one of the legs of the next nearest guardian. The sword bounced off the metal armour and Link cried out in pain, clutching his shoulder. The guardian turned toward him and the red dot lit up on his chest.

He launched toward it and drove his sword into the eye but the blade didn't go deep enough to deactivate the guardian. Only the laser was deactivated but the rest of the machine still worked and Link realized too late that the legs made for effective weapons as well. One leg swung and struck him in the gut sending him flying. The guardian was upon him before he'd even come to a full stop trying to stomp him to death. He rolled out of the way of the first leg and barely dodged the next, rolling under the guardian to escape the legs. It tried to move back into stomping range but Link drove the sword up into the underside of the guardian. It flickered and beeped wildly, top spinning as Link tried to pull his blade free. Once he did, the full weight of the massive machine dropped. He tried to leap out of the way but was trapped by the legs of the guardian and ended up with his own legs stuck under the body of the machine.

Link cried out in pain and tried to pull himself free but the guardian wouldn't budge. He fell back and lay facing the sky as the rain poured down on the battlefield. The pain in his legs was now masking the pain in his shoulder.

The world started to go out of focus as he looked around at the carnage left from the battle. The soldiers had taken out a lot of the guardians but there had just been too many. They had been overwhelmed from the start.

"Damn..." he choked out and then coughed, noticing the taste of blood in his mouth for the first time. Ganon had bested them. After everything they had done to prepare... it just wasn't enough.

Sound started to fade away from him as his brain pounded against his skull. When did I hit my head?

Battle cries went from quiet to deafening as the approach of the other soldiers brought him back to reality.

Link watched them approach, a group defending and another group running towards him. They came back for me?

The men reached him and all but two of them took hold of the side of the guardian while the other two took Link by the arms. He cried out in pain as his shoulder was yanked on. The man on his right, adjusted his grip and the pain subsided somewhat.

The men holding the guardian lifted and slowly, the pressure on his legs lessened. Once the machine was lifted enough, the two men holding him up pulled him out from under the guardian and positioned themselves under his arms to help get him back to the fort.

The guardians pushed against the defending soldiers and the ones who had lifted the guardian joined in to help fight back so they could all retreat. The two men carrying Link were the only ones who didn't join the fray.

Link moved his legs. They hurt but they weren't broken and after a moment was able to bear weight on them and carry himself.

He shook the men off him and looked around, "Where is my sword?" He looked back the way he'd come and saw it lying in the mud. He turned back to the men, "Get back to the fort!" Again, ignoring the pain in his legs, he raced back to grab the Master Sword.

The guardians were distracted with the soldiers long enough for him to reach his sword. He bent to pick it up and felt searing pain in his side as he flew through the air upon impact. He landed on his back against another guardian and groaned against the pain coursing through his body. He opened his eyes and saw double of the guardian headed toward him.

He pushed himself to his feet again and every part of his body ached in protest. He stumbled and steadied himself, lifting his sword to face the guardian. It aimed at him and he forced his body to jump out of the way as it fired. He dodged the shot but he stumbled and fell. He righted himself and dodged again just in time to avoid the next shot.

He glanced toward the fort and saw that the soldiers had all made it behind the gate and he sighed in relief. The guardian was taking aim again and he mustered all of his strength to launch forward and drive his sword into the machine's eye deep enough to destroy it. He tried to pull his sword free but his hand slipped off the hilt and he stumbled backwards.

Link reached up again to pull the sword free and the guardian exploded sending Link flying backwards. He landed on his back and the world spun around him. He coughed and rolled to his side, spitting out blood.

The Master Sword lay a few feet away from him and Link rolled over onto his belly and pulled himself over to the sword. He pushed himself up slowly so he supported himself on his hands and knees.

The world was shaking out of focus and he blinked a few times to try to steady himself. Ahead, he saw a figure in white running toward him.

"Link!" The voice seemed faded and he wasn't even really sure he heard it at first.

"Link!" Her voice was clearer now as she reached his side. She knelt beside him, "Link! We need to get out of here! Stand up!"

Link stabbed his sword into the ground and Zelda stood, moving behind him. He used the sword to steady himself and put one foot under him so he was kneeling. He looked ahead of him and saw the red lights of the guardians moving through the grass amongst the deactivated guardians and the human dead.

"Link, save yourself! Go!" Zelda begged him but her voice didn't reach him.

Why did you come for me? He thought, unable to voice the question.

"I'll be fine! Don't worry about me! Run!" She pleaded.

I have to protect you... He pushed himself onto his feet and stumbled backwards.

Zelda gasped behind him, "No!" A guardian spotted them and climbed over two deactivated machines in front of them and pointed it's eye at Link's chest.

I have to protect you... He stood, prepared to die so that Zelda could escape. He couldn't even lift his sword in defence but so long as the red dot was aimed at him, she had time to run.

"No!" She pushed in front of him, shoving him back. He staggered but remained upright. She raised her hand up in defence at the guardian.

NO! RUN! He reached up feebly but his hands didn't reach her before a blinding holy light shot out from her hand, expanding around them to illuminate the entire field.

Everything seemed to slow down. As the dome of light expanded and touched each of the guardians it stopped them in their tracks.

The guardian before them shuddered and the same corrupted magenta smoke that had come from the castle shot out of the machine and dissipated as the guardian collapsed, deactivated.

Link looked around as the other guardians did the same. She did it... She is safe... Then the world went dark.

—————

Light shot out from her hand and enveloped the field. The malice from inside the guardians was expelled and vanished as the ancient machines crumpled around the field.

Zelda looked at her hand, eyes wide, "Was... Was that...? The power..." She heard Link grunt as he crumpled to the ground behind her. She turned and saw him lying on the ground, sword in hand with his eyes closed. She ran to him, "No, no... Link! Get up!" She cried desperately, shaking him.

She lifted his torso so he could sit up and he coughed harshly before leaning back into her arm. "You're going to be just fine..."

Link looked into her eyes for a second then went limp, eyes closing and head rolling back.

Panic raced through her and she lowered her head to his chest, trying to listen to a heartbeat or to try to tell if he was still breathing. When she couldn't hear or feel any signs of life from him, despair overtook her and her body shook with sobs.

A strange sound distracted her. For a second, she feared it was another guardian taking aim at them but when she looked up, she saw the Master Sword. It was nearly destroyed. The edges were dulled and cracked. The life and splendour it had once held was all but gone. Then it flashed with blue light. Then it flashed again. And again.

"The sword...?" She whispered, trying to comprehend what was happening.

—————

The two walked along the shores of the lake. Zelda walked in front with the Sheikah Slate held out in front of her and Link trailing silently behind her. She spoke about the Divine Beasts in an attempt to fill the silence and to distract herself from the feel of his eyes boring holes into her back.

"These Divine Beasts... so much we don't know... But if we want to turn back Calamity Ganon, they're our best hope." She paused, slowing and stopping. She lowered the Sheikah Slate and looked down. Her heart dropped. As much as she wanted the Divine Beasts to make up for her own ineptitude, she couldn't deny the reality that they were meant only to have supporting roles. It was up to her and the irritatingly stoic knight behind her to truly defeat Ganon.

Her frustrations directed at Link when she spoke, "Tell me the truth...How proficient are you right now, wielding that sword on your back?"

He remained silent as always.

Her irritation grew, "Legend says that an ancient voice resonates inside it." She paused, hoping for some reaction. None came. "Can you hear it yet... hero?"

—————

The memory flashed through her mind as she realized that the sword – or rather, the ancient voice inside it – was trying to tell her something.

She watched it flash again, "So he can... He can still be saved?" She whispered.

A sliver of hope dared awaken inside her as she looked down at her brave knight who had been prepared to die to protect her. Oh, you fool! She thought at him, I would be lost without you! Don't you see? You have to live! Not just for Hyrule and not just to defeat Ganon... But because I need you!

"Princess!" A voice called out to her and she looked up to see Robbie and another Sheikah man – the court minstrel – heading toward them. They knelt in front of her. "Princess! Are you all right?!"

"Take Link to the Shrine of Resurrection." She commanded, ignoring their question. Her only concern was in saving the knight she held in her arms. She looked down at his face that looked so peaceful, he could have been sleeping. "If you don't get him there immediately, we are going to lose him forever! Is that clear?!" She looked back up at the two Sheikah men who nodded in response. "So make haste and go! His life is now in your hands!"

The two Sheikah tribesmen lifted Link gently and headed off toward the Duelling Peaks. Zelda watched them go and a piece of her own heart went with them. Please survive...

When they disappeared from her view, she picked up the Master Sword and turned up toward Kakariko Village. Now that her powers had finally been awakened, she had to speak to Impa.

She made her way across the Kakariko bridge and up the hill. The world around her was strangely quiet but her mind was racing. Somehow, in awakening her powers, she had immediately gained the knowledge of how to use them. Memories of past lives flooded her mind and even a faint memory of her existence as the Goddess Hylia before she had given up her divinity to be reborn as a Hylian princess so she could some day use the ancient power of the golden goddesses against the demon Demise and his reincarnations – Ganon.

Her memory stretched across an inconceivable amount of time and even across different timelines. She had lived through the hero's victory, his disappearance, his defeat... And yet in the end, good had always triumphed over evil... and it would again. At last, she was certain of that.

Chapter Text

    Purah met her as she walked through the wooden archway into Kakariko Village. "Princess! Are you all right? Why aren't you in Hateno? Where is Link?" She gave Zelda a once over before looking behind her for the knight then back at Zelda waiting for her answer.

    Zelda looked her friend in the eyes, "Link is being taken to the Shrine of Resurrection." She waited for the news to sink in.

    Purah's face went white as she realized the gravity of the situation. "How badly injured is he?"

    Zelda looked down at the sword she was carrying and lifted it up for Purah to see. The damage was extensive with dents and cracks throughout the metal blade. The sword which had once looked so majestic and eternal now looked old and broken. It no longer shone with a holy light and the metal even seemed rusted in some spots.

    Purah gasped as she looked at the blade and put a hand up to her mouth. When she finally tore her eyes away from the Master Sword, she looked back up at Zelda, "We didn't get to finish our research on the Shrine of Resurrection... but if this is any indication, he could be in there a very long time before he is healed..." She hesitated before continuing, "Do you remember what I told you before? About what the Shrine of Resurrection can do to a person's memories?"

    Zelda nodded, "Yes... given the severity of his injuries... I doubt he will remember anything when he awakens." She looked back up at Purah, "I need to speak with Impa. Where can I find her?"

    Purah looked over toward the manse at the bottom of the hill under the waterfall, "She is in her house." She reached into a pouch at her hip and pulled out a familiar stone tablet. "I was in the castle when Ganon awakened. I knew you kept notes so I went to your room to try to find them... Instead I found this." She held out the Sheikah Slate to Zelda.

    The princess looked at the stone slate and brushed her fingers over the screen and a picture popped up of a Silent Princess flower. I took this picture that day... She thought back to the day they had been out to the Royal Research Lab and she had taken pictures of all the local flora she could find. She smiled slightly as she remembered catching the frog and trying to get Link to taste it. She pushed the slate back towards Purah gently, "Take it to the Shrine of Resurrection. Link will need it when he awakens. There are pictures within it that might help him regain his memories."

    Purah nodded and started to walk past her, pausing at her side, "Take care, Princess..."

    Zelda put a hand on the Sheikah researcher's shoulder, "You as well, Purah."

    Purah continued down the hill on her mission and Zelda looked down the hill at the manse below and headed towards it. The village was bustling with Sheikah who were preparing for battle. Even the children were arming themselves and Zelda frowned at that. I won't allow any further loss of life.

    She walked up the wooden steps and slid the door open. Impa looked toward her with a look of confusion before the Sheikah woman looked down at the sword in the princess's hand and her eyes widened.

    Zelda stepped inside and slid the door closed behind her. Impa gestured for her to sit on one of the pillows laid out on the floor. Once they were both settled, Impa watched her with expectant eyes.

    "Link has fallen in battle. Robbie and another have taken his body to the Shrine of Resurrection. I expect it will be a long recovery." Zelda took a deep breath before continuing, "My powers have awakened."

    Impa's eyes narrowed, "We saw a bright flash in the sky toward the battle... Was that you?"

    Zelda nodded, "Yes. Link had already sustained grave injuries but I was able to deactivate all of the guardians in the vicinity."

    Impa eyed her, "What do you plan to do?"

    Zelda looked down at the sword that now lay across her lap, "I must face Ganon. If I can hold him off until Link is healed then we still stand a chance." Her voice was sad, "But first, I shall return the sword to where he originally found it. It will be safe there until he can find it again."

    "Princess, you know that his memories – "

    "I know." Zelda cut in. "Purah is taking the Sheikah Slate to the Shrine of Resurrection so that he might regain some of his memories from the pictures within it. He was present for every picture I ever took with it. I don't know if they will help but... You must guide him when he awakens. His mind may be fragile so you must be gentle with him, but guide him to remember anything you can."

    Impa watched the impassioned princess with sympathy and spoke gently, "He may not remember his feelings for you... and he may not be the same person when he awakens. You must prepare for that possibility."

    Zelda closed her eyes and tilted her head downward, "I can feel him." She opened her eyes and looked up at the Sheikah woman with a surety that Impa had never seen in the princess. "Even now as his life hangs in the balance, I can feel that he is still there. His feelings for me may be forgotten, but they will not ever be gone. I will be with him when he awakens."

    A silence stretched out between them before Impa spoke, "I'll consult with Robbie and Purah when they return and try to figure out how best we can help him when he does awaken."

    A thought occurred to Zelda, "When he does awaken... once he begins to regain his memories, be sure to give him his Champions tunic. He will need to be undressed to heal in the Shrine so when they bring it back, repair it and give it to him when the time comes. Perhaps that will remind him of his task and what will be waiting for him at the end of it."

    It was Impa's turn to nod, "I will."

    Zelda smiled softly and stood. "I don't know if I'll see you again, Impa..."

    The Sheikah woman smiled at her softly, "You will. Be well. Be strong."

    "You too." The two embraced in a long hug, squeezing each other tightly before letting go. Zelda turned and left.

    She walked out of the village and took the road West out of the village toward Nabi Lake. She took the path Northward.

    There were very few travellers left along this part of the road. The few she did come across barely even looked at her as they trudged Southward along the path. Their faces spoke of the horrible things they had seen while fleeing the guardians and Ganon's malice.

    Zelda forced herself not to think of the people she had lost already. She could grieve once this was all over.

    The rain started to fall again as she approached the Wetlands Stable. Rather than the panic she and Link had come across initially, the place was quiet and sullen. It was packed with refugees who sat all over the floor. Mothers held their children close and others stared into the distance, without really seeing anything. A few small children whimpered, too exhausted to really cry.

    Zelda walked in and spotted a red haired knight. She thought she recognized him from the castle as one of Link's classmates but couldn't place his name. His eyes widened in recognition of the sword she carried.

She walked over to the table he was sitting at and took a seat which was offered to her. The knight lowered his eyes to the table in front of him.

    "Sir Mido, correct?" She asked softly.

His eyes flicked up to hers in surprise, "You know my name?"

    Zelda smiled softly, "I make a habit of knowing the names of all of the knights in the academy."

    He looked touched by her admission then his freckled cheeks burned red and he looked down in shame, "I am no knight, Princess..."

    She tilted her head to the side and frowned, "Why ever not?"

    He hesitated in answering but spoke in a spiteful tone when he did finally speak, "Because no knight would run from battle."

    Zelda listened and realized what he was referring to. "You were at the castle..."

    Mido nodded, tears threatening to fall from his eyes.

    He looked up when she placed her hand gently on his arm, "There is no honour in dying needlessly. I will need the brave knights who have survived to train the next generation of knights and to teach them what they are up against when I face off against Ganon."

    His eyes widened, "You still plan to fight him? Even without Link?"

    Zelda smiled, doing her best to look confident, "I will hold him off until Link can return and together, we will defeat Ganon."

    Mido looked like he didn't quite understand but her confidence did the trick and he smiled slightly, "I swear to you, Princess... I will train knights you can count on and when the time comes... we will be there to support you again."

    She nodded to him, "I know you will."

—————

    In the morning, Zelda set out again early and headed North. The road was even more empty than it had been the day before. The further North she went, the quieter it got.

    She approached the Woodlands Stable just East of the castle along the road. The stable was empty and looked like it had been ransacked. There were no horses in the stable and no people to greet her. She paused her journey to look through it sadly.

    The memory of taking Link here when he'd been injured fighting off the three lynels on the cliffs above flashed through her mind. She closed her hand as she remembered the feeling of his skin when she had touched his wound. I will see him again...

    She continued North past the castle and into the woods, leaving the path behind. The trees grew darker around her as the canopy blocked out the sun and she continued deeper into the woods.

    Fog started to thicken around her and she knew she was headed the right way. Deeper and deeper into the forest she walked as the fog tried to slow her way. Eventually, the fog swirled around her and everything went white. When it finally cleared, she wasn't where she had been.

    This must be it... The Lost Woods. She remembered what Link had told her and knew what she had to do when she saw the two lit torches ahead of her. She followed them to the next set of torches and continued like that until there were no more.

There was an unlit wooden torch on the ground nearby so she picked it up and dipped it into the flames. It lit up and she stood, watching the flames. Despite the lack of wind, the flames flickered and blew clearly in one direction. She followed the directions of the flames and stopped periodically to make sure she was still going the right way as the direction the flames blew would sometimes change.

    This continued as she walked deeper into the woods. The trees grew fewer and fewer leaves and the trunks grew into frightening faces the deeper she went.

    She was beginning to feel like she had made a mistake coming here and every frightening story she had ever heard about people getting lost in the Lost Woods flew through her mind but she pushed those thoughts aside remembering what Link had told her and she kept going, following the flames of the torch.

    Zelda walked around another tree and the flames flickered in a new direction. She followed them down a hill and the fog began to clear ahead of her. A massive hollow tree trunk lay on its side leading down the hill. It formed a tunnel and on the other end it was much brighter than where she stood. She glanced up again at the flames that blew strongly forward. Taking one more deep breath and steeling herself to move forward, she stepped into the tunnel and the flames suddenly extinguished. She dropped the torch in surprise but kept walking toward the lighter end of the tunnel.

    When she stepped out, the air was warmer. The sun touched her skin and she savoured its glowing warmth. She was standing in a clearing and in the center was the largest tree she had ever seen. She stepped onto the stone platform with the three sacred triangles carved into it's surface and saw the pedestal that Link had pulled the sword from what seemed so long ago.

    She knelt before the pedestal and placed the sword to lay across the top of it. It felt strange in a way but a part of her knew the sword to be sentient and so she felt that she owed it an explanation.

    "Your master will come for you." She said softly to it. "Until then, you shall rest safely here." She paused, thinking of her brave knight healing so far away. "Although the Slumber of Restoration will most certainly deprive him of his memories, please trust me when I say that I know he will arrive before you yet again." She knelt, hands together as though praying to the sword.

    A deep, voice resonated through the clearing and Zelda looked up into the face of the great Deku tree, "If I may be so bold... what is it that you are planning to do next, Princess?"

    The branches of the tree split off in separate directions in such a way as to remind Zelda of big, bushy eyebrows set above a broad nose and a thick moustache. The tree had a wide mouth and a wise, grandfatherly voice.

    She stood up to address him and gazed down at the sword resting on the pedestal. "The Master Sword... I heard it speak to me. It seems that my role is unfinished." She looked back up at the massive tree before her, "There is still something I must do."

    The blossoms on the huge tree seemed to shiver as he spoke, "I sense there is great strength in your dedication."

    It occurred to her that he might be the only one still alive when Link awoke and there was so much she still wanted to convey to Link, "Great Deku Tree, I ask of you, when he returns, can you please relay this message..." She stepped forward, "Tell him I-"

    "Now, then..." The tree's deep voice interrupted before she could finish, "Words intended for him would sound much better in the tones of your voice, don't you think?"

    Zelda slowly smiled up at the tree and nodded at his wisdom, "Yes."

    She leaned down and lifted the blade up by the hilt, facing it down toward the slit in the pedestal. She placed the tip in the slot and drove the sword down into the pedestal as far as she could.

    She stepped back from the pedestal and off of the platform where the sword rested. It glowed with a divine blue light as it rested and healed under the watchful eye of the Great Deku Tree.

    Zelda closed her eyes and pictured her knight when she had first seen him with the sword on the tournament grounds. How much had changed since then... Come back to me, Link...

    Her mind flashed back to what he had said right after he'd kissed her on the battlefield.

—————

    "I will come back for you" He promised before walking out onto the battlefield.

—————

    She smiled, knowing that he had meant what he'd said. He would come back for her some day, when he could. With that knowledge, she turned and left the clearing and made her way to the castle to face Ganon.

Chapter Text

Hyrule Field was crawling with guardians. There were far more of them here than Zelda had ever known existed. Ganon must have found even more of them than they had and corrupted their programming to do his bidding. There had been rumours of stores of them hidden somewhere under the castle. Four massive pillars had risen up from the ground surrounding the castle glowing with the same magenta corruption that hovered around the castle where the smoky incarnation of Calamity Ganon circled. The researchers' efforts to find the stores had never amounted to anything but it was clear that's exactly where the overwhelming number of guardians had come from.

Zelda stood in the field, looking toward the distant towering castle. Between her and the castle, hundreds of guardians patrolled back and forth but Zelda no longer felt fear from them. She knew now how to defend against them with her newly awakened goddess-given powers.

She clenched her fists, channeling her anger at her ancient enemy to the task at hand. She closed her eyes and delved into the near endless depths of her powers and brought a trickle of it up to hold in her fingertips, ready to defend against the ancient machines that blocked her path.

Determinedly, she walked forward toward the gate. She hadn't gone far before the guardians approached her. They looked at her with their glowing blue eyes and she stared back defiantly but after a moment, they backed away and cleared a path for her to the castle.

Ganon is waiting for me... She thought, frowning. She continued toward the gate to Castle Town.

Ganon's deafening roar rang out above the castle as she entered the town – or what had once been the town. Rubble littered the streets and even the cobblestones below her feet buckled in a few places. Few structures remained standing completely. Almost everything that she had known in the town had been reduced to rubble around her. A few bodies still lay around her with scorch marks from where they had been killed by the guardians' fire.

She gave a prayer for each one she passed, pausing when she saw a mother clutching her newborn. Both had been killed in the attack and their bodies lay partially buried under a pile of rubble. She closed her eyes again but the image was burned into her memory. She reached again into the power, drawing more of it to the surface. Anger boiled over within her and she opened her eyes with a look of pure hatred but she was no longer where she had been standing in the square of Castle Town.

There was nothing but endless sky beneath her and above her. She blinked as she looked around but was forced to cover her eyes when a blinding golden light shot out towards her. When she lowered her arms, the sacred relic of the goddesses, the Tri-force, shone before her in golden splendour. Holy light radiated from it and she reached out toward it in the distance.

She suddenly became aware of another presence and she turned around to face the most beautiful being she had ever seen. The woman floated on outstretched white feathered wings. Her flowing white gown blowing gently around her along with her long, golden hair. Familiar green eyes gazed back at Zelda.

Zelda immediately dropped to her knees to bow to the goddess Hylia.

"Rise," The goddess's musical voice rang out.

Zelda did as commanded and looked up to meet her eyes.

The goddess had a stern set to her face that made Zelda suddenly fearful, "You mustn't let your emotions control you."

Zelda's brows came together in confusion, "I'm not sure what you mean..."

The memory of a moment ago when she was filled with unbridled hatred toward Ganon flashed through her mind.

The goddess's expression softened, "Calamity Ganon is the reincarnation of the ancient king of demons, Demise. He is the embodiment of hatred and malice. If you allow hatred to rule your heart, his power will corrupt you and defeat you."

Zelda's mouth fell open to speak but no words came forth.

"Love is what awakened your power." The goddess continued, "And love is what will make you stronger. Remember that in your upcoming battle. Believe in the hero and believe in yourself. My power flows within you. With it, you can defeat Ganon."

A single tear forged a path down her cheek as she gazed at the goddess and she nodded, "I will..."

The goddess smiled upon her before another flash of golden light surrounded Zelda and she found herself back in the square, looking up at the castle before her.

Ganon watched her as she set forth again. Every step forward strengthened her resolve.

For the kingdom of Hyrule...

She stepped up the stone stairs that began the path to the castle proper.

For my father, King Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule...

She passed through the castle gates.

For Revali, Champion of the Rito...

The massive wooden doors into the great hall of the castle stood open and she walked inside.

For Mipha, Champion of the Zora...

The red carpet stretched out before her leading to an elaborate stairway.

For Daruk, Champion of the Gorons...

She climbed the stairs that curved upwards to another hallway leading to the dining room. Chairs were thrown about the room and rubble piled in places where the ceiling had caved in.

For Urbosa, Champion of the Gerudo...

She passed the long table and headed into the great library of the royal family. Books had fallen from shelves and one wall had fallen away, exposing the sky masked by Ganon's corruption.

And for Link, Hylian Champion and hero chosen by the goddess...

She stepped into the stairwell that led up to the sanctum of the castle where the beast awaited her.

As she stepped into the room, it stood empty but she could still sense his presence. A wisp of smoke swirled up from the ground in the center of the circular room.

"I will defeat you." The princess said with conviction.

The castle rumbled and smoky malice rose up from the center of the room. She watched as the smoke continued to rise and collect into a growing sphere above her. It grew and grew, pulsing with the same magenta corruption that surrounded the castle outside.

Lighting cracked down on the castle from the wicked clouds above crumbling the stone where it struck.

The smoke shifted and swirled slowly taking form. Zelda closed her eyes and searched through her kingdom for the Shrine of Resurrection on the Great Plateau and watched as Robbie and Purah placed Link's body in the bed and activated the slumber of restoration. When he was lying comfortably, water slowly rose around his body and a soft blue light illuminated his sleeping form. Purah placed the Sheikah Slate in a pedestal near the door and the two Sheikah researchers left, sealing the cave behind them.

Zelda smiled knowing they had made it in time. Her knight would be safe there until his wounds healed and he could come for her just as he had promised.

She opened her eyes to face the boar-like head before her. She drew from the well of power deep inside her and raised her hand up as the beast roared its hatred and charged toward her.

She unleashed the power from her palm and Ganon was sucked into her seal, screaming in rage. As the last wisp of smoke was sucked inside, something grabbed hold of her and sucked her into the seal as well.

Ganon slammed against the seal as she was unexpectedly sucked inside and he nearly broke free as her concentration wavered. She drew more power from the well, solidifying the walls of the seal and keeping him and herself contained within.

Here, neither of them took form. They both existed as omnipotent powers – one good and one evil. Ganon pushed against her powers and Zelda pushed back, slamming him back down and holding him imprisoned.

After a time, Ganon settled down but Zelda knew he was just biding his time and reserving his energy for when her seal weakened.

She found she could see into Ganon's twisted mind. Memories of times long past when he had revived in their world and faced Zelda's ancestors and their heroes shot through her own mind as though they were her own. Through him, she remembered when he had touched the Tri-force and it had broken apart. Infuriatingly, he had held the Tri-force of Power on the back of his hand while the Tri-force of Courage appeared on the hero's hand and the Tri-force of Wisdom had appeared on her own hand. A part of her still felt it there. The Tri-force of Wisdom had appeared on her hand when her powers had awakened and a part of her knew that the Tri-force of Courage had appeared on Link's hand as well even though she hadn't seen it. The three of them were forever tied together through the curse of Demise and the Tri-force because of the Hero of Time so long ago.

When Ganon rested, Zelda extended her mind to look over the kingdom again. Link rested peacefully, healing in the Shrine of Resurrection. The chamber was sealed and would only open when he awoke from healing.

Next she looked to Kakariko Village where Impa, Purah and Robbie met to determine the next steps and how to prepare for the hero's awakening. Deciding to split up around the kingdom in hopes that at least one of them would survive to help Link when he finally rejoined the living, they went their separate ways – Robbie to Akkala, Purah to Hateno Village and Impa staying in Kakariko Village.

From there, she searched the four corners of the kingdom – Zora's Domain, Death Mountain, Tabantha and Gerudo Desert. Each of the Divine Beasts rested. The malice and corruption inside of them from Ganon's influence slept until such a time when the hero came to fight them back again.

She searched the kingdom and saw Akkala Citadel. It held as the last stronghold against the attacking guardians. The knights had fought bravely against the onslaught but were ultimately overwhelmed by Ganon's forces.

Ganon slammed against her seal when she was looking away and she was forced to return her focus to holding the seal against him.

There, they stayed, locked together within her seal in the sanctum of Hyrule Castle. From time to time, she would look out at her kingdom and watch, waiting for the day when her brave knight would awaken. Ganon would push against her powers and she would hold him down, growing weary from the constant battle.

Over time, a cautious peace arose in pockets over her kingdom. Hateno Village was nearly untouched by the Calamity that befell the kingdom. The Gerudo chose a new chief and their town prospered once again. The Gorons continued to mine their mountains and the Rito followed in Revali's footsteps, honing their skills at the flight range. The Zora mourned the death of their princess. The elders held a deep resentment against the hero for dragging Mipha into a Hylian war but the younger Zora who had known him, grieved for both their princess and their friend. A small fishing village on the coast scraped together a modest living. The Sheikah of Kakariko Village trained and prepared for the day when their skills and knowledge would once again be needed. The stables throughout the kingdom once again became the centres of shared information, commerce and humanity that they had once been.

Her kingdom was still under threat but for now, it was safe thanks to the efforts of Princess Zelda and her hero and she held onto that knowledge deep within her heart. When her resolve wavered, she thought back to her time with the hero and her love for him that had awakened her powers and drew strength from that.

For one hundred years, she remained sealed away with Ganon, holding him imprisoned until at last, she felt something change. A flicker of life echoed from the Shrine of Resurrection. She looked out toward it, not sure if she'd even truly felt it. But there it was again.

It is time...

—————

A bright golden light appeared in the darkness. At first it seemed far away but slowly it grew. A voice called out, distant and faint so he couldn't really hear what it said. He listened.

"... Open your eyes..."

It was so quiet, he still wasn't really sure he heard it.

Suddenly, he was bathed in golden light.

"Open your eyes..." The voice said.

He opened his eyes slowly and the golden light slowly faded into blue lights set in circles ahead of him.

"Open your eyes." The voice said clearly.

He was aware then that he was lying in a pool of water. The water was slowly receding from his naked body.

"Wake up, Link."

 

 

The End