If this hadn’t been the second (sort of) time she’d done this, it would have been impossible. As it was, it was just difficult. Very difficult. Ear-freezing, stomach-rumbling, muscles aching difficult. But she was getting there. Herself. And her horse, Kirrok. No guards, no prayers, no magics. Just her, her encyclopedia she suspected Kirrok was getting tired of carrying (how much weight did each page of ink add?) and the strangest sense of déja vu.
Snow was still a shock. She hadn’t spent much time in it before the… Before. Her father had always felt she was too important to even risk getting a chill. It had taken a hundred years, but she’d finally reached her teenage rebellion. And so she’d rushed to the snow. And it had been awful. Somehow, the cold still managed to worm its way through all her layers of snowquill down. Not that here, sweltering in the sun, was any easier. He’d cleared out all the moblins, scattered after… after It had dissipated into so much smoke, not even leaving dark embers. But the monsters had left their refuse behind, mounds of jagged rock and bone that she had to navigate.
Eventually though, riding on the crunch of the rocky path beneath her, she almost forgot her aches in Kirrok's rhythmic step. Discoveries of two lizards and a beetle had cheered her, samples stored away in her encyclopaedia beside her pencil sketches. She had been ashamed of her drawing skills before, but if she'd lost so much already, she thought she may as well leave behind shame as well.
And then she was there.
At the edge.
Hyrule behind and the endless sea beside her.
It was so still up here, beside the wind gently drawing broad, lazy strokes with the grass, and breezing softly, almost apologetically through the trees. Time's passing was only betrayed by the slowly lowering sun, fat above the horizon, bleeding its light into the clouds.
Rolling out below her was Hyrule, spreading endlessly, hills and mountains crashing up from the ground, remnants of ancient clashes between great ships of earth far greater and older than anything she had ever known.
But those ancient collisions looked so calm. It all looked so calm. Why had it never been so for her? The forests looked still, the deer and boars concealed by distance. Even the castle looked small from here, a temporary infraction upon a land much larger. She knew there were villages hidden in there, buzzing swarms of people who all wanted something from her.
And then there was the sea, stretching out forever and ever. The cliff face dropped sheer into the waves. She could see them crashing against the rocks gleaming in the slowly fading sunlight. For all its nearby frenzy, the far-sea looked calm, its steady strength concealed by distance.
From here, she could see everything. She could see her kingdom.
It was sprawling. It was ancient, and powerful and glorious and she had spent a hundred years fighting for it for reasons she had believed would all make sense afterward.
And they hadn't.
She felt the anger again. It welled up inside like tar seeping out, but she felt so – disconnected from it. She could see it building up, she felt the weight in her chest, but it still felt like someone else. Disinterestedly, she inspected it over like a stick-wielding child tipping over a rock. There were no interesting bugs beneath it, or perhaps they were simply buried too far under the damp soil, so she and the child picked the rock up, peering at its surface for any new developments since the last time this rock had appeared before them.
She was angry. She was angry that she had been left to save the kingdom, that her father had died and left her, that her champions had failed her, that He... had fared no better. Angry that she had been left alone to save everything, that Hylia had only appeared after she had already lost everything, consolation which was too late and too little.
She was angry that she didn't deserve to be angry, that she hadn't suffered, not really, not like her champions had, not like her people had, that even her father had done everything he could in the end, robbing her of a justified anger, of a noble rage, instead leaving her with a churning, roiling anger that just made her feel sick.
But being angry had never helped anyone, she could hear her tutors say, a succession of old people who had all inevitably grown frustrated of her.
She lit a campfire. Properly. With a flint and steel and gathered wood, layered properly to let the air circulate. The way He had taught her, so long ago, and the way her father had been so furious at her for learning. She refused to use Hylia's gifts that had come too late, to call upon Din's fire, and she refused to use the refuse of that time, one of the countless fire-swords or flame-sticks Its minions had left behind.
She sat. The flame danced before her, her focus drifting. It crackled in a certain way, or wavered somehow, smoking wisping away, and, dreaming, she heard the wrathful scream of the Calamity, jolting her from the halfway-dream into waking.
Link was sitting on the ground beside her.
It almost felt nostalgic.
He didn't look at her. He just stared silently into the fire.
He had never started a conversation before. Why would he start now?
Because he had to. Because she deserved something after all this time.
She resumed gazing into the fire. Surely, finally, he’d start the conversation.
Eventually her cursed curiosity got the better of her. She glanced over. He was just looking up, staring at the stars. The anger, reduced to a low simmer, roiled and churned and twisted itself around again.
She tapped him on the shoulder. He finally turned to face her, his eyes the same watchful, open blankness which gave nothing away she had known so well.
She signed stiffly. Not calm, but restrained. The roiling, unfair anger had returned, and she felt sick. She had never had much patience for pleasantries, and today, she had even less.
“I hated you. More than I had hated my father. More than I hated that thing that danced around the castle, gloating for a hundred years. More than I hated Hylia for never answering me until everything was gone. And more than I hated myself for being too afraid to be other than what my father said that I was and too weak to even do that well. I had to wait and watch as you went on your grand adventure, to see you dawdle around Hyrule. Every time you wandered, every mountain you climbed for the sake of the mountain itself, every hill you tumbled down, every person you helped who was not me I hated you more.”
She stood. Somehow, everything around seemed clearer. She could taste the air - salt, fresh and clean.
“I hated you because I had asked you every day about what you would be if not the royal guard and you never gave an answer until I was not there to hear it.”
The gulls and distant crashing waves were soft, muffled by distance, far too quiet to smother her heavy breaths and thumping eardrums.
He didn't move. He just turned and gazed into the fire, looking at the shapes only he could see.
Then, he replied, turning back towards her. He signed:
They held each other’s gaze, still once more.
“Why did you come here?” she signed jerkily. Still curt, still hurt, but less… something. She didn’t know what, but she felt less full, less pent-up. Her words still poured out.
“I studied your maps, the old atlases, but there’s nothing here. No shrines, no ruins, not even a Korok. Why did you come here? What did this place have that was so much more important than the castle?”
She didn’t ask the last part. “More important than me?”
He was taciturn. He always was. But this time, she saw him smile. Not a ‘real’ smile. Not one anyone else would have recognised. His lips did not move, and his eyes didn’t twinkle. But there was a lightness in his face she'd seen a few times before. When he found a new flower, or a lizard or a bird. When a camp dog pranced around him. Perhaps it was that his brow became slightly less creased, or there was some twitch in his ears. But he smiled.
He stood up, and walked toward the very peak of the hill, Hyrule on one side, the sea on the other. She stood up and joined him.
He spread his arms out wide towards the coast that tracked its ungainly way around Hyrule, the cragged rocks and rough waves and small villages with winding smoke and the specks she knew were people and the ducks she could see flying and the forests so much more lush now everything was over and the distant spray of the falls and the grass and the rocks and the horses and the bugs she knew would be wriggling about in the dirt after the rain.
She had seen it all before, of course. Seen it all at once, just minutes ago, and seen it all personally, as she’d followed Link’s journey, seeing everything he had seen, which had ended up being everything. But they’d done more than see, hadn’t they? They’d run, and rode horses, and surfed down mountains and crashed. They’d shivered and sweated, climbed and fallen. They’d found chunks of salt which seemed to remind them of an impossible huge sea they’d never seen.
But they’d also found life. So much of it, not just surviving in the ruins of what had been, but thriving. They’d played with children, fetched them apples to bake a pie for a mother who would never return and a sister who always would. They’d built a town, where all Hyrule was brought together. Before they’d saved the kingdom, they had saved its people over and over and over.
She saw her kingdom, sprawling and ancient. She had seen it all before, through someone else’s eyes. She couldn’t wait to see it all again.